Thursday, June 17, 2010

Flow

Flow is a psychological term for that state of mind where you are completely immersed, focused and happy in whatever it is you are doing. In this state the concept of time seems to fall away, or at least not matter much.  Your emotions are positive, joyous and in line completely with the activity you are performing. Many of us refer to this state as being “in the zone”, but no matter what you call it, this is the place you want to get to as often as possible to maximize your martial arts practice.

The interesting thing is, you cannot force yourself into a state of flow, but it seems you can work toward a set of conditions that may help you achieve flow more often, or even prolong it when you find yourself experiencing it.  Here is a quote from the Wikipedia page on Flow:

One cannot force himself or herself to enter flow or even predict when he or she is going to enter flow. It just happens. A flow state can be entered while performing any activity, although it is most likely to occur when one is wholeheartedly performing a task or activity for intrinsic purposes.

There are three conditions that are necessary to achieve the flow state:

  1. One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals. This adds direction and structure to the task.
  2. One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and his or her own perceived skills. One must have confidence that he or she is capable to do the task at hand.
  3. The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows him or her to adjust his or her performance to maintain the flow state.

Another interesting attribute of flow is that it seemingly occurs only when the activity you are engaging in is more difficult than average and requires above average skill. By this I mean that you are pushing yourself just beyond your comfort zone for a given activity, but not too far that you enter the realm of confusion or frustration.  If this doesn’t describe martial practice, I don’t know what does. Going too far beyond your personal “average” or comfort zone will prevent flow foster a poor state of mind for learning and staying motivated.

By designing your practice so that your skills are only just being stretched a bit further than your average performance, you create a greater chance of entering flow and having an exhilarating, efficient, and blissful learning experience. There are other studies I have read about that suggest this practice of challenging your mind, but not stretching it too far, is a sweet spot for learning in general, even without flow state. This is something we can all work into our learning/teaching systems.

Friday, June 11, 2010

More Brain Books For Your Practice

Since I am wrapping up the incredible book “The Winner’s Brain”, I picked up a couple new ones today on the brain science of performance/success:

'The Secret Life of the Grown Up Brain' - Barbara Strauch
http://amzn.com/0670020710

and

'The Power of Less' - Leo Babauta
http://amzn.com/1401309704

I will have a lot more comments stemming from reading ‘The Winner’s Brain’ soon.  What a wealth of information that book is!

Reading these books is like stumbling upon the lost instruction manual for our minds. They should be teaching this stuff to our kids in school

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Chair Flying and Novelty

I had some time today to consume more of the awesome book ‘The Winner’s Brain’ while doing some computer work for a client. As mentioned before, it is packed with information about activities you can do to optimize your mind for top performance.

The chapter I read today focused on memory, and making your skills completely automatic.  I can’t speak for other martial arts, but I assume it’s true that most of the arts strive to make your movements and techniques automatic, meaning you are flowing without having to think about it.  This is a main component of Wing Chun since it is a concept based art where we do not react to a given stimulus with specific responses, but rather our skill should become sensitive and automatic so we can respond, without thinking, with any technique that is appropriate. Doing - not doing.  No mind.

When your mind is free of the burden of having to react to and consider which techniques to use in combat, not only will you be more relaxed, but you can put more brain power into other things such as multiple opponents, or what you plan to eat for dinner later. At the beginning of Bruce Lee’s ‘The Tao of Gung Fu’ book, there is a great quote from Lee:

I’d like to inform the public that gung fu cannot be mastered in just “three easy lessons.”  Intelligent thinking and hard work are required”  - Bruce Lee, Seattle 1963


In ‘The Winner’s Brain’, the author brought up the concept of “Chair Flying”, which refers to a training exercise many pilots perform.  The idea is that they sit in a regular chair with a plunger (or something else) between their legs to simulate a flight stick.  They will often put on their helmets and other gear, and then start running through flight scenarios in their heads so that they can ingrain them deep into memory even when they are not flying an actual plane.

Even though we all have drills, solo and two-man, we still need to think of ways we can use our minds to practice no matter where we are.  It has been found through  FMRI scans that when you think about an activity, even the parts of the brain that control the muscle/motor movements for these activities light up despite the fact that you are not physically performing the movements. This means that as a martial artists, you can create ways to train your mind, possibly by contemplating different scenarios, watching martial arts training videos, reading books, taking notes or whatever and train the brain almost as if you were at class training with a partner. As Bruce Lee hinted in his quote, it’s not enough to show up to class and simply learn the movements.  If you are as busy with work and other responsibilities as I am, you need to train with your brain as often as possible even when you can’t actually do your movements.

Another idea talked about in the book, was ‘novelty’.  The author points out that you can increase memory and brain power by taking the time to learn something completely new at least once per week.  This can mean anything from looking up a couple new words in the dictionary to going skydiving.  The activity does not have to be huge, but by challenging your brain to solve new and different types of problems on a regular basis, it will get better and better at being able to solve problems and learn new concepts in the future. 

If Bruce were alive today, I think he would be a huge fan of all the new brain science we have available to learn from, and I have no doubt that he would leverage it to the maximum.

Happy Flying!

Thursday, June 3, 2010
Sifu Arnold (left) and myself (right) working on our Pac Sau drill.  Sifu is going for a low palm strike and I am responding with Gan.
I had a bad work day yesterday.  No, a shit work day.  You know, one of those days where nothing seems to be going right, and you end up chasing a ghost of a problem only to find out you wasted eight hours of your precious time for nothing? Yes, that kind. I don’t have a lot of these because I am generally good at preventing them, but yesterday I was lost.
I did something I try not to do; I let it get to me.  I ended up in a bad mood in the evening, didn’t want to chat with my family, didn’t want to eat dinner, and didn’t want to go to Kung Fu class. I just wanted to sulk in my home office away from the world. I went to Kung Fu class anyway, and it changed my whole night.
I know from my brief experience in martial arts, that I must try to go no matter how I am feeling.  First, I need to practice.  Without regular practice, I could end up spending the next ten years spinning my wheels with a hobby called Wing Chun that I am not very proficient at.  Or worse, I could lose interest and go on with my life only regretting it later.  More importantly for shit days like this one is that I know going to practice will completely change my mind state.  It is simply impossible for me to take the outside world with me into my Sifu’s kwoon. I have no choice but to check my baggage at the door before practice because the practice itself won’t allow me to hold on to it.  It requires my full attention, and even better than that, I love doing it so I can’t stay mad about much of anything.
The best part is, we had an amazing class, and thanks to my instructor, I unlocked some great new insights into my own practice, and learned some powerful new things.  When class was over, I thanked everyone, bowed to Sifu and the Masters on the wall behind him, then headed out.  When I reached down to pick up the baggage I left at the door, it was gone.

Sifu Arnold (left) and myself (right) working on our Pac Sau drill.  Sifu is going for a low palm strike and I am responding with Gan.

I had a bad work day yesterday.  No, a shit work day.  You know, one of those days where nothing seems to be going right, and you end up chasing a ghost of a problem only to find out you wasted eight hours of your precious time for nothing? Yes, that kind. I don’t have a lot of these because I am generally good at preventing them, but yesterday I was lost.

I did something I try not to do; I let it get to me.  I ended up in a bad mood in the evening, didn’t want to chat with my family, didn’t want to eat dinner, and didn’t want to go to Kung Fu class. I just wanted to sulk in my home office away from the world. I went to Kung Fu class anyway, and it changed my whole night.

I know from my brief experience in martial arts, that I must try to go no matter how I am feeling.  First, I need to practice.  Without regular practice, I could end up spending the next ten years spinning my wheels with a hobby called Wing Chun that I am not very proficient at.  Or worse, I could lose interest and go on with my life only regretting it later.  More importantly for shit days like this one is that I know going to practice will completely change my mind state.  It is simply impossible for me to take the outside world with me into my Sifu’s kwoon. I have no choice but to check my baggage at the door before practice because the practice itself won’t allow me to hold on to it.  It requires my full attention, and even better than that, I love doing it so I can’t stay mad about much of anything.

The best part is, we had an amazing class, and thanks to my instructor, I unlocked some great new insights into my own practice, and learned some powerful new things.  When class was over, I thanked everyone, bowed to Sifu and the Masters on the wall behind him, then headed out.  When I reached down to pick up the baggage I left at the door, it was gone.

(click to enlarge and read) Not much else needs to be said here. The picture and text are from the book “Bruce Lee: The Art of Expressing the Human Body”.  I recommend the entire Bruce Lee library no matter which martial art you are studying.

(click to enlarge and read) Not much else needs to be said here. The picture and text are from the book “Bruce Lee: The Art of Expressing the Human Body”.  I recommend the entire Bruce Lee library no matter which martial art you are studying.

Monday, May 31, 2010
From Wikipedia’s entry on Neuroplasticity.

"During the 20th century, the consensus was that lower brain and  neocortical areas were immutable in structure after childhood, meaning  learning only happens by changing of connection strength…"
Decades of research have now shown that substantial changes occur in the  lowest neocortical processing areas, and that these changes can  profoundly alter the pattern of neuronal activation in response to  experience. According to the theory of neuroplasticity, thinking,  learning, and acting actually change both the brain’s physical structure  (anatomy)  and functional organization (physiology)  from top to bottom.”

How does this relate to martial arts? I’m no brain surgeon, but from what I gather through the reading I have done on this subject it means you are not “set in your ways”, and you are not too old to start learning martial arts or anything else you want to learn. You do not have to start something as a small child to become truly great at it. With repeated practice of both mind and body, your brain will physically restructure itself so you can perform better at a given task.  This does not happen immediately though and takes time and repetition.  Much like the process of wearing a path through a field by continuously walking through it in the same place, you must dedicate yourself to deliberate practice so that old neuronal connections can be broken and/or new ones can be be formed. 
The more you practice or think about a subject, the stronger and more long lasting the associated neural connections become. Of course, you have to bring your own set of parameters into the  equation, such as your physiology, amount of free time you can  dedicate, so on.  The book called “The Winner’s Brain" that I mentioned in an earlier post goes into some great detail about things you can do to enhance your ability to become a winner at anything you want to do.  Sometimes hard work is simply not enough, but you have to develop skills that will help you learn more efficiently going forward.

From Wikipedia’s entry on Neuroplasticity.

"During the 20th century, the consensus was that lower brain and neocortical areas were immutable in structure after childhood, meaning learning only happens by changing of connection strength…"

Decades of research have now shown that substantial changes occur in the lowest neocortical processing areas, and that these changes can profoundly alter the pattern of neuronal activation in response to experience. According to the theory of neuroplasticity, thinking, learning, and acting actually change both the brain’s physical structure (anatomy) and functional organization (physiology) from top to bottom.”

How does this relate to martial arts? I’m no brain surgeon, but from what I gather through the reading I have done on this subject it means you are not “set in your ways”, and you are not too old to start learning martial arts or anything else you want to learn. You do not have to start something as a small child to become truly great at it. With repeated practice of both mind and body, your brain will physically restructure itself so you can perform better at a given task.  This does not happen immediately though and takes time and repetition.  Much like the process of wearing a path through a field by continuously walking through it in the same place, you must dedicate yourself to deliberate practice so that old neuronal connections can be broken and/or new ones can be be formed. 

The more you practice or think about a subject, the stronger and more long lasting the associated neural connections become. Of course, you have to bring your own set of parameters into the equation, such as your physiology, amount of free time you can dedicate, so on.  The book called “The Winner’s Brain" that I mentioned in an earlier post goes into some great detail about things you can do to enhance your ability to become a winner at anything you want to do.  Sometimes hard work is simply not enough, but you have to develop skills that will help you learn more efficiently going forward.

mojopriest asked: Excellent! Looking forward to more from you my friend!!! :)

Hey, thanks bud.  I am following your blog now too. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Kung Fu Lifestyle

As I get ready to head off to Wing Chun class, it occurs to me that one of the biggest obstacles to learning the art at age 38 is finding the time in today’s busy life. I suppose that may be a challenge across age groups in today’s insanely busy and connected world. It’s no wonder society seems to have lost its direction these days when no one can slow down and really take a look around them.

You really have to embrace Kung Fu as a total lifestyle change, and make adjustments accordingly. It must be integrated into your life rather than being some class you simply go to and come back from a few hours later. If you get into the philosophy and history of your chosen art like I have, it’s pretty hard to avoid having it bubble to the surface throughout your day anyway.  I am better at being ME since I started learning Kung Fu.

The early trailers for this movie made me want to avoid it at all costs, but this longer one seems to show that the movie offers quite a bit more than I initially thought.  Jackie Chan rocks, so I am excited to see what he does here. 

The title gets on my nerves, and was clearly a marketing decision.  ‘The Karate Kid’ is actually learning Kung Fu in China.

The Winner’s Brain

I picked up a copy of The Winner’s Brain by Mark J. Fenske and started taking it in today.

After finishing Vaynerchuk’s ‘Crush It' book that focused on leveraging today's internet and social media for business, I decided to move more back towards the brain science of success. The first section so far talks a lot about the physical attributes of the brain I already knew about from previous reads, but this book promises to talk more about actual techniques one can use to physically 'change your mind', for the better thanks to neuroplasticity.

I’m interested to see how the techniques and subjects in these books can help me achieve better results in Kung Fu, as well as every other aspect of my life.  I believe the power of the mind is far greater than we humans give it credit for. If we take the time to learn more about how it works, and perhaps more importantly, how we can “work it”, then we can achieve great things we thought were only reserved for a few special or gifted people in this world.

By the way, if you run a business or are even slightly interested in starting your own online brand/business, you really should read ‘Crush It’.  I recommend the audio book because Gary Vaynerchuk (the author and founder of Wine Library TV and VaynerMedia) reads it with great enthusiasm and entertainment value. He also often goes off script to give you bits of insight and info that aren’t in the paper version. I’m a new fan of his for sure.