I heard police sirens blasting behind me. It was around 3 am and three of my buddies were really drunk and very loud. I tried to calm them down as the cop walked over, to my window, as we idled on California’s famed Pacific Coast Highway. The cold wind gusted and there was a weird fusion of sounds: waves crashing, trance music, sirens... and some very loud, happy guys.
“Sir, are you drunk?” the officer demanded. “Please turn down the music and I'll need you to step out of the car.”
I complied, stepped out of the car and said, “No, I am not drunk. I am the designated driver.”
“We will see. I want you to touch your nose with your hand.” Done.
“I need you to walk a straight line.” Done.
“I need you to touch your nose and walk the line,” he frowned.
“I want you to balance on one foot to the count of 5,” he barked.
“Can you tilt your head back and then touch your nose?” He narrowed his eyes and stared. Done.
“Recite the numbers 1 through 10 forward and backwards.”
I lifted one leg of the ground and extended it into a midlevel front kick. Then, I tilted my head back, touched my nose with my index finger and rapidly recited the numbers forward and backward in three languages - English, then Hindi and finally Japanese.
The officer asked me what I was doing.
“Showing you I am not drunk, and I'm going through your tests of my proprioception. May I now leave now, officer?” Yes, I was showing off a bit, but I spent my younger years rebelling against authority. It was a cold night and the officer's attitude was getting stale.
He looked unhappy at my smartass answer and told me to drive home safely. Done.
Proprioception is the subconscious software inside our body-mind whose main function is to help us find stability. It is actually aware of of the sense of tension, movement and the position of our joints in relationship to time and space. Alcohol makes us numb and impairs the facility of proprioception. The same thing happens when our body is numb or injured.
The impairment of our sense of proprioception impacts Martial Artists in many ways:
- Increases injuries
- Slows down our ability to learn
- Makes one accident-prone
Recently I spoke with my students about softening. One of my long-time students P commented, “It's not easy to relax when I don’t even know when I'm tense. How do I get the awareness to feel my body, so the I can relax?”
Now, I am writing this for everyone in the dojo and anyone else who is interested. In martial arts training, the proprioception is akin to training our 6th sense. The finer control one has over them, the better that martial artist you become.
One of my favorite examples of Proprioception is an old faded Map. You will quickly discover it is very hard to truly navigate with it. In order to, let's say, navigate the vast oceans, you would need a good map. The GPS would also need to be able to triangulate everything to show you where you are, and how to get to where you want. So, much like the cartographers spend time creating maps we can use, the brain maps the body. To have good movement, we need to know how we are organized in time and space.
We need Body Maps.
The brain is a phenomenal organ that has mapped out our entire body holographically (we can discuss this offline or in another post). It also codes the size, shape, position etc. of the body parts quite accurately.
The brain is highly efficient: the more you use a particular limb, like the hands, the more “hard coded” that part of the map gets. The other maps fade away in contrast. Look at the picture - this is one possible way to look at an average body map. If parts of the map are unclear or fuzzy, navigation of the different movement possibilities will be shaky.
Fuzzy maps will first warn you with pain, and if unattended, they go numb. For me, this is the beginning of death. What we need is the ability to make the body “Come Alive.” And this can only be done when we learn to fully feel the body.
FEEL YOUR WAY INTO ALIVENESS! YOU’VE GOT TO MOVE MINDFULLY, GRASSHOPPER!
The brain learns faster than you can think. What the brain pays attention to the most is differences in motion, especially in the Motor Cortex. If you want to code in new body maps, I'll advise the following:
- Move Slowly
- Move Gently
- Move Mindfully
- Move with Internal Curiosity
- Move into Novelty
- Move to Luxuriate
This begins the process of re-educating the mind and making a once unclear body map more well defined. In other words “move to come alive, and stay stationary to go dead.”
I cannot emphasize enough : do not move into pain. No Pain No Gain is a fallacy. As pain increases, the body maps go crazy. Bad body maps mean bad decisions in movement. For a martial artist this could mean DEATH.
So I say unto you “Luxuriate into Gains.” The Internal Martial Arts have a lot to teach here. And so do other Eastern Bodily practices like Yoga.
To feel fully, you must become aware of the whole body - the tensions, the movement and the joints. The best way to increase this awareness is slow, gentle, mindful, NOVEL MOVEMENTS that engage the Sensory and Motor Cortex.
My recommendations for the martial artist include
- Take time to regularly practice all your forms and movements very slowly, almost like tai chi
- Keep your breathing rhythmic - do not hold your breath through stressful movements
- Keep the motion smooth, and look to find where your jerk. This is your body nudging your awareness to a “ fuzzy map”
- Look to cross train for Novelty. If you are primarily a kicker go to a wing chun or boxing class. If you are are stand up fighter enroll in a wrestling or Jujutsu course. If you are a empty hand fighter, sign up for knife or fencing lessons.
- Train your movements/art on Wobble boards (steal the idea from the physical therapists)
- Do some of the Eastern Bloc exercises (Russian and Bulgarian sports psychology) such as vertical jumps, figure 8 patterns, change of direction drills, cross over walking, plyometrics
- Study a serious Internal System such as Yoga, Hsing-I, Bagua or Tai Chi under a very good instructor. This will not be cheap, but it's is worth it
- Stay away from anything that numbs you out (alcohol, drugs etc)
- Most importantly ENJOY THE PROCESS and LUXURIATE your way into FULLY FEELING - think of how/where you can creatively learn to explore and enjoy the whole body proper
This feeling is the beginning to becoming sensitive. Moshe Feldenkrais made an acute observation years ago: as stimulus increases, sensitivity decreases. So decrease your stimulus from the outside to become increase your perception of sensitivity. As you become more sensitive, your awareness and body maps will become richer and you to navigate both inner and outer space with exquisite precision.
Until next time,
Mahipal Lunia, Sensei
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