What we do in life echoes in eternity” From Ridley Scott classic film, The Gladiator (2002). Spoken by the film’s hero, Maximus who plays the Gladiator.
Warrior tribes are traditionally egalitarian with no political hierarchy and no social pecking order; individuals as a result of a coup or a personal challenge form them where they have forcibly taken control of several groups that are organised together. In contrast, a state has a political hierarchy with a subordinate political group and power is transferred or taken by coercive strategies, any power obtained by a political group usually has a limited period of time that it can be held for, unlike a dictatorship that has no set time limit. A tribal leader that takes control usually has to fight or use deception to unseat the current ruler. In general, conflict between tribes or states are conducted for one very basic reason “predation” The act of predation involves plundering and marauding known today as ‘war’ in order to hunt, kill or gain resources, that in turn gave the victor an evolutionary advantage in being able to spread their genes into a wider population.
To some individuals today, the idea of war in any form is repugnant. However, evolutionary psychologists would argue that war is a necessary process to single out and eradicate weak genes in favour of the strongest gene. Warrior traits like those within the women warriors of Dahomey discussed above, would have been passed from generation to generation and in doing so ensured the survival of the gene.
In his book The Selfish Gene, Dawkins (1976) clearly creates a difference between the gene and the human organism, his main theme is that the organisms are designed by genes for the sole purpose of enabling the genes to reproduce themselves. By creating this divide, between the human organism and the gene, he allows for an understanding that the gene is the dominant part of this relationship and has a ruthless selfishness that underpins the physical and psychological processes of homeo-sapiens and to this end, war is a clear and definitive way of ensuring natural selection.
Humans are, along with all animals on the planet, survival machines and when one individual comes upon another in competition over resources, one may well hit back. An idea to keep in mind while considering if human behaviour or some mental trait is an evolutionary adaptation that is being driven by genes and evolution, is a simple question, is it in the genetic interest of the human organism? For example, is it in the genetic interest of an individual to band together with another individual, creating a tribe, to make war on another tribe of individuals? It matters not if the tribes are the aggressors intending to expand their territory and resources or protect their resources.
On the question of rape, is it again in the genetic interest of a man to rape a women and spread his genetic blueprint? I am not for a second supporting this behaviour, however there is a clear difference between what we now know as evolutional behaviour and a moral code by which the majority of humans live. There is an argument that has been put forward by evolutional psychologist that this behaviour supports human existence.
Local groups banding together make up tribes. In the past, any small group that came together for the purposes of warfare would have been classified as a tribe and villages, settlements or large families could all have created this type of unit. A region that was being threatened by an aggressive tribe would have had good reason to form a tribe, based on mutual associations for the benefit of everyone. They would have been better aligned to protect their women, children, livestock, buildings, homes and farming produce, all of which supports their survival and reproduction. In some cases, a tribe may have consisted of a very large village that had a lot to protect. Tribes were a more effective way for a large population to be successful in warfare, with warriors within the group being escalated to high levels of status. The status of a warrior within a tribe gave them more access to resources, which would include women, food and shelter.
A warrior, although genetically predisposed for violence, would not engage another warrior just for the sake of it. As humans living within a social environment, all individuals have the capacity for violence. They have evolved in the same manner and warriors are not, as common belief would have it, blood thirsty or have a death wish. They do not go around indiscriminately attacking members of their own species for glory. How would any survival machine know that the survival machine that they are attacking is not as strong and mentally equipped as they are.
They have the same chances as any other individual, they may have the same weapons and be skilled in their use. This potential likelihood of injury or death by randomly attacking another member of your own species is a very strong natural selective process, which predisposes an individual to be careful and weigh heavily on the thought of combat and if the potential benefits are worth the risk and outweigh the expected cost. As a species, humans are among the most intelligent to walk the earth and therefore have the capacity to consider if their genetic inheritance will be enhanced by the use of violence, with the warrior who is at the sharp end of the stick taking all the risk.
In a remarkable book by Hobbs The Leviathan (1660) in the chapter “Of the natural condition of mankind as concerning their felicity and misery” he talks about men being equal in faculties of body and mind, that on occasion some men can be stronger and quicker in mind. However, in general when taken together any man can claim what another has, the weakest of men has strength enough to kill a stronger man, this can be achieved by deception and entrapment or by association with others that may also be at risk of threat from the stronger man or tribe.
Hobbs goes on to also consider the strength of mind, which arguably is the more potent of traits when it comes to domination and war stating “I find yet a greater equality amongst men than that of strength. For prudence is but experience, which equal time equally bestows on all men in those things they equally apply themselves unto. That which may perhaps make such equality incredible is but a vain conceit of one’s own wisdom, which almost all men think they have in a greater degree than the vulgar; that is, than all men but themselves, and a few others, whom by fame, or for concurring with themselves, they approve. For such is the nature of men that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent or more learned, yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves; for they see their own wit at hand, and other men’s at a distance. But this proveth rather that men are in that point equal, than unequal. For there is not ordinarily a greater sign of the equal distribution of anything than that every man is contented with his share” Men therefore seem to have a trait that allows for violence and war, one which is inherited and shows itself when two men or an opposing tribe want the same thing, when this situation arises they become mortal enemies, locking onto a path that eventually leads to either one destroying or subduing another.
Tribes are the vehicles that allow men to obtain dominance and resources over other men and within tribes warriors arise; they step up to the challenge and grow in stature and character. Hobbs goes on to identify three causes of conflict between men and the effects of such a cause “So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory. The first maketh men invade for gain; the second, for safety; and the third, for reputation. The first use violence, to make themselves masters of other men’s persons, wives, children, and cattle; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons or by reflection in their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name” From these words we can gain a sense of the motivations, traits and character that define a warrior and the reasons that drive them into action, for competition, diffidence and glory.
Competition between humans has always been a part of the genetic blueprint and is also found in the majority of other animal species. Men compete for the right to take a women, to own land which is better than the next man, to obtain food, water or fuel from the earth, all of which enables the individual that owns these to out-produce his competitors, produce more healthy children and pass these traits onto future generations. Diffidence is not so well known, why would a warrior pit himself against something that he has a fear of or is unfamiliar with? According to Hobbs it’s safety! Defending one’s own family or others that help support your family against an unknown assailant is as natural as going to war to increase your resources, the survival machine has this defense automatically built into its genetic blueprint.
The idea that humans are genetically encoded for violence and war to some, will seem like some science fiction film depicting the invasion of earth by aliens, the logic is plain when viewed from the genes point of view, having only one aim for millions of years, replicate, replicate, replicate, at all cost replicate.
The behaviour of humans throughout history has supported the action of war and the development of the warrior spirit, it can be found in the architecture of our structures, the development of our technology, the words and language used to communicate with. One of the great wonders of the world today is the Great Wall of China, built to protect a people from invading warriors with no aim other than to conquer and dominate the lands and the people therein. Although this structure is vast, it is no different from the forts and castles of old or the doors we lock when sleeping for the night, left over behaviours from our ancient past.
Today it’s not the tribal band or warring village that invade our fears, although terrorism carried out by a few fanatical individuals has created an indulgence in the act of protection and the lengths that some will go to protect their borders in order to feel safe. No, today it’s states and countries, especially those ran by individual dictators who seem bent on gaining as much power as they can that we fear, what has been done to protect us from these countries? Humans have used their intelligence to develop technologies that can build weapons of mass destruction, satellites that orbit the earth to spy on their neighbours, a far cry away from the days of our past, but still this behaviour is imbedded in the way mankind has evolved and the mechanism that helped drive this evolution.
The ancient past of humans is a far cry away from where we are now, back then, nature had set in motion a behaviour that was to forever mould the future of mankind. In our ancient history men were wired for aggression and violence and to all intent and purposes were living in a perpetual state of anarchy, it is from this historical majeure that warriors were born.
Becoming a Warrior
War has been the ultimate mechanism in which a warrior learnt their path, the journey and the methods used to create warriors differed depending on the culture. The Maasai people of Eastern Africa are a Nilotic group that migrated from the Nile region, they are pastoralists, which is a social and economic system based on the herding and trading of livestock. Great value is placed on cattle that are used as a currency to settle most issues that arise in the community. They are also well known for their warrior men, who are raised with the sole intention of becoming a warrior. They live for the majority of their lives outside the main tribe and are not permitted to marry until they are older and have become an elder of the group.
Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene. Publishers, Oxford University Press.
Hobbes, T. (1660) Chapter – Of the natural condition of mankind as concerning their felicity and misery. The Leviathan. Accessed on 10-12-13 @ http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/hobbes/leviathan-contents.html
THE BODY SEEKS SYMMETRY
“Learning coordination is a matter of training the nervous system and not a question of training the muscles. The transition from totally uncoordinated muscular effort to skill of the highest perfection is a process of developing the connections in the nervous system” Bruce Lee (1975)
Symmetry is possibly one of the most important of actions that occur within the human body, once we really understand the benefits of this natural heritable process of movement it will enable an individual to move efficiently and effectively. I intend to explore how symmetry works and where it can be found. There are body responses that do not require symmetry to ensure their speed and effectiveness, what I am referring to here is the inbuilt startle reflexes that the body uses to protect itself against impending danger, pain and other types of stimulus.
An object that is symmetrical has the property of being symmetrical about a vertical plane, however we also have other various types of symmetry. Radial symmetry is symmetrical around a central axis. When an organism is radially symmetrical, you could cut from one side of the organism through the centre horizontally to the other side, this cut would produce two equal halves. Bilateral symmetry occurs along the vertical plane (sagital) and is created by a reflection of images on either side of a centre line. There are five basic types of symmetry at work in the human body, “symmetry of movement”, “symmetry of postures”, “symmetry of muscle strength activation”, “symmetry of control systems”, and “symmetry of features”. My intention is to explore movement in more detail and provide some evidence as to why this type of movement within the human body is so important, I will also take a look at postures and muscle strength activation as this also has an effect on the efficiency of movement and the biomechanics that drive the human body.
Human movement originates from a communication system between our neuromuscular proprioception senses and the sensory input and output region within the brain, Neural-Muscular Programming (NMP) along with Fixed Action Patterns and startle reflex, all play their part and will be discussed in detail later. The region in the brain that is responsible for controlling the movement of humans is the primary motor cortex, located in the posterior portion of the frontal lobe. The Primary Motor Cortex works in association with other motor areas including pre-motor cortex, the supplementary motor area, posterior parietal cortex, and several sub cortical brain regions, to plan and execute movement. The primary motor cortex sends axons down the spinal cord to synapse onto the interneuron circuitry of the spinal cord and also directly onto the alpha motor neurons in the spinal cord which connect to the muscles. The primary motor cortex contains a rough map of the body, with different body parts controlled by partially overlapping regions of cortex arranged from the toe (at the top of the cerebral hemisphere) to mouth (at the bottom) along a fold in the cortex called the central sulcus. Each cerebral hemisphere contains a map that controls mainly the opposite side of the body. Later I will discuss early research into the mapping of the motor cortex in primates, which led to evidence that the brain is indeed plastic in every account. Within the primary motor cortex there is a representation of the various different body parts of humans. The arrangements of these representations are called a motor homunculus, Latin for little person. All the human body is represented on this map, including the extremities, parts of the torso, all areas of the head down to the tips of the fingers, and these, along with fixed action patterns like raising the arm up to grasp an object, all have their place in the homunculus. The arm and hand motor area is in comparison to the leg, larger in its occupied land-space, and occupies the part of perceptual gyros between the leg and face area. The area that represents the hand and some face parts are larger than any other, with more neurons being assigned to activate and receive incoming stimuli from these areas.
Research has shown that after amputation for example; the area previously assigned to the limb that has been amputated shifts to take up sensory input from another area. The assignment of large areas of the motor cortex to various body actions help us understand why humans have such dexterity in their arms, hands and fingers. Remember the research into taxi drivers in London; their amygdala had grown in size, reassigning more neurons to the activity of remembering the complex road system in London. Using both arms together for a dedicated activity and matching the pattern of movement would over a long period of time produce the same results, larger areas dedicated to such movement, indicating that bilateral symmetry takes up more land space within the primary motor cortex and that the brain is plastic and able to reassign more neurons to a particular activity. In most cases, symmetry comes naturally without having to consciously think about it. It’s when we take it out of our subconscious thought process and apply it to conscious thought that we are able to make extraordinary improvements in the way we move. It has a direct effect on speed, power, alignment principles and many more areas within the combative and martial art arena. An important aspect about adapting new or existing pathways of muscle movement is to know why the human body moves in a particular manner.
Understanding this movement is the first step towards more efficient and effective movement, once you have taken new improvements on board and adaptation has occurred, your neuromuscular pathways will start to embed the specific movements, working towards being able to assign them back to the domain from where they came from, your subconscious. Here you will access them without conscious thought and your speed and power will increase substantially. For this process to work at its best we need to be able to really understand what is happening, why we do certain movements and what works and what does not. Symmetry training of specific movements has a significant effect on the recovery of limb movement after injury Joseph Zeni. Jr (2013) and his associates of the university of Dalaware conducted an analysis on a longitudinal basis and researched the feasibility and effectiveness of an outpatient rehabilitation protocol that included movement symmetry biofeedback on functional and biomechanical outcomes after Total Knee Arthroplasty (TKA).
This involves a surgical procedure in which damaged parts of the knee joint are replaced with artificial parts, muscles and ligaments around the knee are separated to expose the inside of the joint. The ends of the thigh bone (femur) and the shin bone (tibia) are removed as is often the underside of the kneecap (patella). The artificial parts are then cemented into place. The new knee typically has a metal shell on the end of the femur, and the same metal or plastic trough onto the tibia, and sometimes a plastic button in the kneecap. This surgery has resulted in patients experiencing a loss of strength in the recovering knee that has resulted in movement that is abnormal and even after rehabilitation of the operated knee, problems have persisted, resulting in an asymmetrical increase in load onto the knee that has not been operated on. The method used by Zeni and his colleagues to assess the feasibility of symmetry movement training, was to use biomechanical and functional metrics to assess participants 2 to 3 weeks prior to TKA, then again on being discharged from outpatient physical therapy and finally 6 months after surgery. They assessed 9 men and 2 women all of whom underwent 6 to 8 weeks of outpatient physical therapy that included specialized symmetry training. They compared the 6-month outcomes with a control group that were matched by age, body mass index and sex, 9 men and 2 women, these patients received the normal 6 to 8 weeks of physical therapy but not the specialized symmetry training. Their results were significant, out of the 11 patients that received the specialised symmetry training, 9 demonstrated clinically meaningful improvements that exceeded the minimal detectable change for all performance-based functional tests at the 6-month period after surgery. These patients had greater knee extension during mid-stance walking; the knee movements were more symmetrical, biphasic and were more representative of a normal knee movement than the patients that did not have the specialised symmetry training. They concluded that the additional symmetry training post-operation was safe and viable to regaining normal symmetrical movement. What this study provides is evidence that the body seeks symmetry in movement and that specialised training can produce clinically better movement after damage.
If that is the case, then it stands to reason that when designing movement that is combat based. specialised symmetry training should be an important consideration. It is vitally important that the correct body mechanics are adhered to; teaching movement that is un-natural is one of the key mistakes when efficiency and effectiveness are required. In a great many martial/combative classes today the words “we will teach you what comes naturally”, are all too often heard, the question to your instructor should be; what is natural movement and how do we know it’s natural? Observe a newborn child a few days old, when a parent places their finger onto the baby’s palm, you see the baby grasp the finger tightly. Be careful though, because the baby cannot control this reflex. If you place a rattle in your baby’s hand, for example, they may let go unexpectedly and drop it on their head. A baby’s grip is so strong; you may be able to pull them up when they are gripping both your fingers.
Further information can be found in my book Volitional Attention Training.
Zeni, J, Jr. Abujaber, S. Flowers, P. Pozzi, F. Snyder-Macker, L. (2013) Biofeedback to promote movement symmetry after total knee arthroplasty: A feasibility study. Published: Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 2013, Volume: 43 Issue: 10 Pages: 715-726 doi:10.2519/jospt.2013.4657
A short extract from my last book Volitional Attention Training, hope you enjoy.
Sensory acuity Acuity occurs when individuals train certain senses and behaviour to a degree of expertise, defining what makes an expert in a certain activity is difficult as the parameters for measuring expertise are vague. Time and experience, might be one measure, however I have already discussed the possible errors that can occur in teaching and training behaviours that could be seen as maladaptive to your field of expertise. In general, sensory acuity requires training in a particular field and can involve all five basic senses within the human body. A chef hones his ability to define taste and can distinguish the difference between many different ingredients; a perfumer has the nose to sniff nuanced fragrances and a superlative sense of smell, providing the individual with the ability to identify scents with precision. A musician has the ear to create orchestral masterpieces; a blind person the ability to decipher a closely arranged multitude of dots on the surface of paper and interpret them into words, and an artist has the ability to see colours and composition, to create a visual masterpiece. Today, modern scientific understanding of the human body and the 5 basic senses has expanded the number of senses within the body, there is now no longer just the big 5 and depending upon what you read, the new number of senses range from the standard list of 5 senses to 14 and 20 different senses. A short definition needs to be understood in order to provide us with an understanding of why this number has now been significantly increased. To be able to sense something both within our bodies and in our environment requires a sensor of some description and depending upon its function, will mean it has either one specific job to do or it gathers a multitude of incoming stimuli. For example, your eyes detect light through two different types of sensors, ‘rods’ work in low-light and detect light intensity ‘cones’ require intense light and detect colours, there are three types of cones, one for each of the prime colours. So although sight falls under one category, there are two senses that make up the one and one of those is subdivided into three. Our skin is the barrier between ourselves and the world around us and as such is one of the main sensors to incoming stimuli and has five different types of nerve endings that are independently sensitive to heat, pain, itch, cold and pressure, they are responsible for providing us with a sense of temperature, pain, touch and itch. Our sense of smell can bring on a flood of memories that effect our emotions and moods also known as our olfactory system and is part of the brain’s limbic system, an area associated with memory and feeling. Smells can evoke strong and vivid memories that are capable of activating the body’s reflex system to protect itself, it’s just like the wild cat with its nose in the air detecting its prey and any potential danger from smelly humans. Within your muscles and joints, there are sensors that provide you with awareness information as to where your body parts are within space and time. These sensors also allow control of movement and tension that enables complex locomotion and co-ordination skills, this internal sensor system is discussed in greater detail within the chapter on Neuromuscular Programming. Having the ability to be mindful of your internal and external states will provide a degree of self-regulation over your body, training particular sensory acuities will also allow for a heightened awareness in certain situations. As a professional, either in the field of security, police or the military, training a heightened sensory acuity that enables faster responses to potentially life threatening situations should be on the list of required skills to perform your job effectively. This method of training will help enhance your ability when exposed to real time encounters. Volitional Mindful Attention is a skill that should be trained alongside any practical skill set, the difference is that you need to pay attention to sensory acuity to help you survive and respond to violent and aggressive encounters and not, as with most meditation practices, relax you to a state of stillness within the mind and your body, although this is not a bad thing, as long as it’s done within the correct context, going into a relaxed state may not be ideal when having to deal with an armed aggressor.
Training our attention
There are specific regions of the brain that research has shown to be active during meditation. “Buddhist monks who do compassion meditation have been shown to modulate their Amygdala, along with their Temporoparietal junction and Insula, during their practice. In an FMRI study, more intensive Insula activity was found in expert meditators than in novices. Increased activity in the Amygdala following compassion-orientated meditation may contribute to social connectedness” Wikipedia (2013) Amygdale. Here we find evidence that science has been able to bridge the gap between mystic meditation by monks and the actual effects that this type of self-regulation has on the brain, let’s look at some of the practical methods of meditation. Methods of Practice, Pranayama. Certain types of meditation and yoga practices use Pranayama breathing; they advocate the practice of volitional breath control. This type of breathing requires a practitioner to inhale, retain and exhale quickly or slowly. Yoga experts consider this type of breathing to be an “intermediary between the mind and body”. Previously I identified the word ‘prana’ and referred to it as the ‘life force’ or energy that all humans and indeed many would argue, all living organisms have. Breath is responsible for the intake of oxygen, which then via the blood stream disseminates this energy containing substance to all parts of the body, depending on the consumption requirement. The brain requires approximately 20% of the total energy of the human body which compared to its size is a very large amount. There is a direct connection between the ‘prana’ or energy of breathing and its effects on energy in the body. Cellular metabolism (reactions in the cell to produce energy) for example, is regulated by oxygen provided during breathing”. Yoga practices a slow control over the breathing process in order to generate a greater feeling of energy and relaxation throughout the body, to control the body states, to focus and clear the mind and to become aware of the internal working of the mind and body. “Pranayamic breathing, defined as a manipulation of breath movement, has been shown to contribute to a physiologic response characterized by the presence of decreased oxygen consumption, decreased heart rate, and decreased blood pressure, as well as increased theta wave amplitude in EEG recordings, and increased parasympathetic activity accompanied by the experience of alertness and reinvigoration” Jerath (2006). Jerath also states that pranayama breathing has been shown to positively affect immune function, hypertension, asthma, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress-related disorders. Investigations regarding stress and psychological improvements support evidence that pranayama breathing alters the brain’s information processing, making it an intervention that improves a person’s psychological profile. This evidence points to a clear process that can be trained, enabling individuals who are exposed to difficult fear producing situations, to control both psychological and body states that could severely impact on performance.
This method of breathing is not unlike any other, its name however “tactical breathing” is synonymous with combat and high stress situations, Asken (2010) talks about tactical breathing as being useful in managing the arousal or stress of a mission, he cites Siddle (1995) ‘ we would argue that breath control should be a mandatory component of survival stress management”, powerful support for the activity of mindful meditation. There is no real big secret here, it’s just paying attention to breath, meditating, being aware of your own body and mental state. One method of tactical breathing is described by Grossman in his book On Combat (2004), this he describes as the ‘four count’. Begin by breathing in through your nose to a slow count of 4, which expands your belly like a balloon. Hold for a count of 4, and then slowly exhale through your lips to a count of 4, as your belly collapses like a balloon with its air released. Hold empty for a count of 4 and then repeat the process. Remember that part of this whole process is to create a more focused mindful state, to control any stress or fear that may well be beginning to take hold of your thought process. This is not about taking five minutes to calm yourself and relax, it’s about creating an anchor mechanism attached to a thought process that allows you to manage the high emotional situation you find yourself in and do not think for a moment that this can be done ‘just like that’! It’s going to take some time and effort on your part to train this type of mindful breathing. It’s important that we remember that what we are doing here is taking control of our autonomic nervous system and using this control to self regulate our mind and body states, for the majority of the time our bodies are on auto pilot, the reason for bringing meditation into this subject is due to the fact that you cannot be at your best unless you have control over your self, breathing is your bridge between the somatic and autonomic nervous system, Grossman (2004) puts it well “ Tactical breathing is a leash on the puppy. The more you practice the breathing technique, the quicker the effects kick in, as a result of powerful operant and classical conditioning mechanisms” One thing is for sure no longer is meditation relegated to the realms of the Buddhist monks.
Asken, M, J. PhD & Grossman, D Lt. Warrior’s mindset (2010) Warrior science publications.
Wikipedia (2013). Amygdala. Accessed on 09/07/2013 @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdala
Grossman, D. Lt. (2004). On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of deadly conflict in war and in peace. Millstadt, Il: PPCT research publications.
Jerath, R. (2006). Paranyama breathing. Published online at PubMed.gov. Accessed on 01/10/2013 @ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16624497
This year has seen the publishing of my 2nd book Volitional Attention Training – Neural Plasticity and Combative Application – below is another exract from the book, enjoy the read.
Consider this very straightforward question, what is the difference between the mind and the brain? Which one of these is responsible for that feeling that, something is just not right? You know that thing that we call gut, our instincts, those that we believe have protected us at some time in our long forgotten history, allowing us to survive the predators of that time.
To enable an individual to commit to training, they have to be secure in the knowledge that what they are about to undertake will provide them with the desired outcome and in today’s environment, that is coping with the predators that walk our street, the thugs and petty criminals being in the wrong place at the wrong time or the professional that has to deal with these feelings on a day to day, month to month basis. I remember talking with a US ranger, retired special forces guy, you know the type of person that films are made of, one that has at every turn in the road stepped forward to go where most fear to tread, I remember clearly his words “I ignored my instincts nine times and each time, I was either shot or stabbed”. Any training that is maladaptive or does not contain procedures that tap into this long forgotten sixth sense may ultimately fall short. If your training includes an understanding of instincts, what they are, how to recognise them, what they are not, then you are again on the path to a personal understanding, that uses the most powerful tool in our armory, that which has been responsible for dragging us along that evolutionary road to today’s modern man, the human brain and the mind that lies within.
To start this process we first have to go way back, to the first society that proposed the hypothesis of two brains. The first people to propose this were the ancient Greeks. It’s obviously not two brains just two systems and for a change they are named system one and system two, they are also known as ‘Dual Processing systems’. In his book the Science of Fear Gardener (2008) used the term ‘head’ and ‘gut’ to explore the thought processes that are used by the two systems, as they are distinctly different. These terms are very appropriate to this discourse and so I will use them here as well. System two is labeled, “Head” and is responsible for reason, this is our conscious mind the one that we engage when we consider a situation, it works at a much slower pace than gut, taking its time to calculate, consider, working with logic and what it believes is the correct thought or answer.
System one is labeled “Gut”, this is our subconscious mind at work, which is directly linked to our evolutionary past and is responsible for our survival and development to this day. Unlike system two, system one is super quick, it creates thought and transfers this to our conscious mind in a split second, gut has no time for the slow processes that Head has to work with. Gut is the source for the feelings of fear, unease, it makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck it triggers your fight or flight response.
The US ranger story above is an example of system one sending signals from the subconscious mind, warning you that there is something not quite right with the situation, Head then gets involved and considers the situation, allowing time for the Head to over-rule the Gut and in the case of my friend above nearly costing him his life. “The idea that System 1 cognition is ancient and System 2 cognition is modern, in evolutionary terms, is a recurring theme in dual-process theories. This is often linked to the assertion that while System 1 cognition is shared with other animals, System 2 cognition is uniquely human. The last idea arises from its association with uniquely human processes such as language and reflective consciousness and the apparent ability to perform cognitive acts (such as hypothetical simulation of future and counterfactual possibilities) that are assumed to be beyond animals” Evans J (2006). One thing is very clear, system one is linked to thoughts that are produced almost instantly and the evidence suggests that this system is part of the mechanism that our long lost stone age ancestors used to alert them to impending danger, or when they were the main course on the menu. This system would have been selected over and above system two as an evolutionary adaptation, to enhance survival. Now, modern man is the safest he has ever been and does not usually find himself being hunted for dinner, he now has more distractions for Head to think about and the need for system two is no longer a critical mechanism.
Head all to often interrupts Gut and provides a logical reason why there is no danger around the corner. However this does not mean that it will be lost, far from it, this is the system that kicks in when we walk down a dark ally, hear a strange noise in the dead of night, or maybe you are a professional officer and are about to enter a building that you know may contain danger and you feel uneasy. Understanding how these two systems interact with each other is another key in the process to protecting oneself and family. System one uses a quick and simple way of producing thoughts, which we usually refer to as instincts, the process is straightforward and super fast.
Knowledge obtained by Head can transfer to Gut, a novice martial artist learning to strike and kick or a policeman learning to handcuff or draw and shoot, first finds the moves cumbersome and slow, having to continually practice the moves, paying attention to each step in the process, secure one arm with my left hand, reach and find my cuffs with my right, flip them open, snap one side onto the wrist. Continued training and practice, for extended periods of time wires the mental and physical process into the brain, you then come to a point where conscious thought is no longer necessary, you are capable of flowing through the process with speed and accuracy, the process has been internalised, or to put it another way, it has become spontaneous. Interestingly, if at this stage, we were to apply volitional attention to the process, the now fast and spontaneous process would be interrupted and slowed, creating a possible choke point in the learned behaviour.
So system one “Gut” is intuitive, quick and emotional. Gut decides instantly while Head thinks about it for a while, and then finally after life changing seconds have ticked by makes a decision. Gut uses inbuilt settings that are simple rules of thumb, these are hard wired neural pathways that fire when certain stimuli are presented, which natural selection hard wired into our subconscious innate brains a millennium ago, this system does not allow Gut to adjust in any way; it does not give us time to think! These rules of thumb are known as heuristics and biases, they are the brain’s way of processing stimuli at lightning speed, insuring that Head does not get involved, putting at risk the survival of the individual.
Gardener, D. (2008). The science of fear. Published July 17th 2008 by Dutton Adult.
Evans, J, St, B, T, (2006) Dual System Theories of Cognition. Centre for Thinking and Language, School of Psychology, University of Plymouth, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK accessed on 20/07/2013 link, http://csjarchive.cogsci.rpi.edu/proceedings/2006/docs/p202.pdf
Here is the first preview of my new book Volitional Attention Training. Over the coming months I will upload a few more samples.
1 TO THINK WHAT HAS TO BE THOUGHT
What is attention or mental force, how does it create neural activity and what are its benefits? “The task is not so much to see what none have yet seen, but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees” Schrodinger, E.
The hardest attribute to relay to any student of the martial arts is not found in the physical realm, but rather the mindful application of “mental force” Schwartz and Begley (2002), which all humans are capable of harnessing. This mental force comes in all manner of forms and descriptions, indominatable spirit, warrior mind and attitude, are all examples of these. However, a more important question should be, how is this state of mind achieved, and what processes occur within the mind and the brain? To help answer these questions will require an understanding of an area of science and physiology not often explored, namely that of mental thought processes that create will power or volitional effort. “Volitional Effort” is effort of attention, the function of the effort is to keep affirming and adopting a thought, that if left to itself would slip away, effort of attention is thus the essential phenomenon of will” James, W. (1890). There are a few individuals in whom this type of mental force seems to be present in abundance, then there are those, and these are in the majority, that do not possess this mental force in any way. They have been molded over their lifespan through behaviour and an exposure to either a physical experience of violence or a thought process that never required them to engage in what could be termed aggressive thoughts or the ability to use will power to overcome a stressful situation.
In essence, psychological skills are required to help support physical skills. Mental toughness, mental force and attitude of mind need to be explored and defined. This involves two specific areas: – 1, the actual processes that are taking place within the brain; and 2, the mind’s ability to channel attention and mental force. There are individuals that seem to possess these abilities in abundance, if this is the case, important questions would be, how did this attitude of mind develop and is this the product of behaviour and social identity created by circumstance? Children, directly as a result of significant caregiver roles within the family unit, often inherit behaviour habits. Having a parent with aggressive tendencies could lead to transference of aggressive behaviour to any child, male or female. Equally, an over aggressive caregiver could cause a complete lack of self esteem, leading to withdrawal of that individual, who also lacks the ability of mind to be confident, and bring forth the mental will power required to create mental force. If behaviour habits are so important, what constructs and processes are affected within the brain?
Evolution also plays a part in our understanding of mental force and the benefits derived from possessing it, with a direct link to Darwin and the survival of the fittest. Imagine a history where humans did not possess these types of abilities, would we have ever dragged ourselves out of the primeval world that we occupied? There are mental processes that have to be overcome in order for any individual to live a life, to find a mate, reproduce, to survive! To enable this process, the mind as well as the physical body, has to be mentally healthy and fit.
As humans, we are constantly under threat from our mind’s activity, we therefore have to understand what is happening when certain moods take over the dominance of our minds, or when we create thoughts that are not congruent with our mental direction. Maintaining the physical body has to form part of this process, ensuring that the body is kept in a state of physical wellbeing will result in a positive attitude, if an individual suffers from a physical impairment, is obese, sleep deprived, lacks nutritional balance, inputs substances into the body (drugs), then the consequence of this is a human organism that is not in balance, the body and mind do not work as one. If the mind was mentally tough and capable of survival and the body was not, it would not take long for one to adversely affect the other, or vice-versa. Therefore physical conditioning should be equally as important as mental conditioning.
There is an element of mindful control that has to happen, in order for attention to be exactly that “attention” The brain has to fire its neurons, creating action potentials in the particular part of the brain that is receiving the stimulus; these mechanisms are focused on by the brain and in turn create attention. The amount of sensory input that the brain receives every second of every day is staggering. We see, hear, smell, touch and feel, yet we do not pay attention, until something draws our attention towards a stimulus event “ attention defines the mental ability to select stimuli, responses, memories or thoughts that are behaviorally relevant, amongst the many others that are behaviorally irrelevant” Corbetta, (1998). What is relevant will wholly depend upon the current situation and incoming stimuli, if this happens to be a high stress and emotional one, then attention will be directed in such a way that the bodily responses are congruent with prior thought processes. If there is no link to positive mental processes of mental force then a degrading of attention may occur. While all this is occurring the body’s internal control mechanisms are also working at full tilt, providing even further stimulus input that the brain is having to deal with, without any cognitive awareness.
Stimuli from our external senses are not the only way in which attention can be created, close your eyes and imagine something that brings to your mind a vivid picture in your minds eye, a bright red rose, waves from the sea crashing upon a sandy beach, or the face of a loved one. Each time focus is attended to, through conscious will power, attention can be maintained and your neural network jolts into life. Meditation uses just these processes to produce physical changes within the body. For years, before the invention of machines that could measure and record brain activity such as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI), Computerized Tomography (CT) or Positron Emission Tomography (PET), meditation was viewed as some kind of mystical activity, with no real substance or evidence of the processes that were taking part in the brain.
Now we have evidence of the regions of the brain being engaged, when the mind takes control of attention and focuses on internal or external experiences “several studies have investigated the functional anatomy of covert visual orienting to simple unstructured peripheral stimuli. These studies have shown that a specific set of frontal parietal regions are consistently recruited during visual orienting” Corbetta (1998). Covert and overt visual orienting according to Corbetta are two distinct ways in which we explore our visual environment, by saccadic eye movements that happen naturally “overt” or by volitional attention or reflexively when a stimulus appears in our visual field “ covert”, the latter being the process when a sudden unexpected threat arises. A simple example of this could be an incoming punch; attention has to occur focusing mental force to deal with this threat.
Corbetta, M. (1998) Frontoparietal cortical networks for directing attention and the eye to visual locations: independent or overlapping neural systems? Proc. Natl. Acad Sci. USA, Vol. 95, pp. 831 – 838, Febuary 1998 Colloquium paper.
James, W. (1890). The principles of psychology. Autherised Dover edition published (1950), first published by Henry Holt & company (1890).
Schwartz, J. M.D. and Begley, S. (2002), The Mind and The Brain. Neuroplasticity and the power of mental force. Regan Books, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.