Archive for category Neural Muscular Programming (NMP)



“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956.

Having spoken about the path and life of a warrior, it’s relevant that I include a chapter on violence and aggression, I do not want this to dissolve into a story of evil and the good fight to protect the innocent, however it is important that we at least have a fleeting glance into the dark side of human nature. Ultimately my book Volitional Attention Training is about the ability for humans to fight and behave in a manner that confronts violence and the science involved in training and teaching others to have that same ability. It’s also important that we understand what we are training for, as violence covers a huge and diverse spectrum of human behaviour, just like our own perspectives are different given the experiences that shape them, violence is different depending on the culture and the mechanisms that drive it.

To some, any violence is wrong, any aggression is wrong, evil has to be banished from our lives forever, they sit firmly on the fence that believes God sees all and that one should not do harm. This is certainly not going to be a chapter on religion and violence; instead I will focus a little more on the evolutionary explanations for violence within the species homeo-sapian.

During previous writing within my book, I introduced Hobbs to the reader and his short statement on the nature of man, this helped to set the scene on why man undertakes violence and the reasons for such actions. Violence in itself is a vast subject and one that has had many books dedicated to the subject, what sticks in my mind is a story that was first introduced by Jainism, a religion traditionally known as Jaina dharma, originally from India. Jainism teaches that the path one should follow is one of non-violence and peace towards all living things, the story is about a king who was once trying to understand how people saw things in the world. He invited five blind men to his palace, he then asked each one to touch an elephant and then to describe what they felt based on their experience. The first touched the trunk and said “elephants are like snakes” the second one who grabbed the tail said “no, to me it feels more like a rope” the third felt the side of the elephant and said “it feels like a wall” the forth put his arms around the leg and said “elephants are more like pillars” the last felt the ear and said “elephants are more like winnowing fans” Hardy (2011). This analogy was also used by Rory Miller in his book Meditations on Violence, to put over the simple fact that violence means different things to different people and that it is a vast subject.

The first thing that should be done is to categorize violence, this will enable us to approach the subject from a specific viewpoint. There is no doubt that many may disagree with this, however we have to start somewhere. Violence has two very basic categories that can then be broken down into further subcategories, a project in the making is the categorisation and explanation of these, so I will not dwell too long here. One area that we will need to cover is why? Why do humans kill? Not only do we kill other humans we also kill in some way most other members of the species ‘Animalia’ all creatures great and small, as well as the plant and ecosystems that supports all life.

Category 1 Social Violence.

Social Violence (SV) encompasses all the violence that as a social people we have come to accept as part of the behaviour of humans. In this category we find all types of sport that involves human aggression, boxing and MMA are the most popular due to their media exposure. We have violence within the community in which we live, especially when it involves a fight or aggression towards another individual, and although not a comfortable subject, aggression and violence by the young from very early ages until they reach adulthood. There are some cultural differences that will become apparent but in the main that covers a lot of violence.

Category 2 A Social Violence.

A Social Violence (ASV) is everything that is not in the social category. The type of violence that usually provokes a violent reaction is found in this level, here we find War, murder, rape, sexual abuse, killings that involve mutilation, gross, graphical use of blades, genocide, infanticide, what is interesting is that many of the words that we use to describe killing end with ‘cide’. This word is again taken from Latin, it is used as a suffix that means “a killer of” or “a person or thing that kills”.

Cultural Excuses

As a species, we are undoubtedly violent, however this propensity to violence is within some cultures considered normal, it is only what could be called “civilized society” that considers violence to be unhealthy and immoral. Countries that consider themselves to be civilized are also the very same countries that have, in some cases, the highest amount of recorded crime. The U.S for example has arguably the highest crime rate in the world and although this may have seen a slight drop in some years it still remains high and has started to escalate. People commit all types of violent acts against animals, plant life, property and even themselves, this writing will only be concerned with violence against other members of the human species and let’s not forget that often violence is carried out by more than one individual, it can take the form of organized violence by a group or gang, all the way to violence committed by the state, ‘War’

Depending upon how severe we class violence and also include aggression, we may find that harmful behaviour also falls within this category. If we are destroying the environment we are also, by default, killing other humans as a result, drought, pharmaceutical discharge, unsafe food, are we not all contributing in some way to this type of violence?

Violence regularly features as a bi-product of a game, within football in the UK violent fights often continue well beyond the finishing of the game and into the streets and pubs of the local area. Not a night goes by where the local or national news is not reporting on violence. It pervades our homes through the box in the corner of the room invading like a swarm of locus; it seeks out young and old with no care for the consequences, by portraying violence within children’s cartoons and entertainment in general, which includes video and computer games. Is it no wonder that our society is still a violent one, having said that according to Gardener (2008) in his book the Science of Fear, we are living in the safest times throughout the whole history of mankind?


Darwin introduced the concept of evolution by natural selection in 1858 and from this time man has developed theory upon theory as to what processes have enabled humans to become the dominant species on the planet. One of the supporting arguments is that living beings tend to produce more offspring than the environment can effectively support with its natural resources. The result of competition means that violence has its place in providing a means to resolve conflicts between those that have resources necessary for survival and reproduction and those that don’t. This trait for violence would, according to Darwin’s theory, select those that have the capacity for violence over and above those that do not, therefore over thousands of years of evolution stone age man became more and more adapt at bringing violence to bear on his competitors in order to survive and have the resources required for reproduction.

In his book Selfish Gene, Dawkins (1976) describes the individual, as a selfish machine programmed to do whatever is best for its genes as a whole. He puts it in very clear language, to a survival machine, another survival machine which is not its own child or another close relative, is part of its environment, like a rock or a river or a lump of food, it is something that gets in the way, or it is something that can be exploited, it differs from a rock or a river in one important respect, it is inclined to hit back, because it too is a survival machine that holds its immortal genes in trust for the future and it to will stop at nothing to preserve them. Natural selection favours genes that control their survival machines in such a way that they make the best use of their environment, this includes making the best use of other survival machines, both of the same and of different species. With this in mind it is no wonder that mankind became so adapt at the tool of violence, as in its simplest form this is exactly what it is, you can also now begin to see how this behaviour begins to show itself in our very young children, this I cover in more depth both later in my book and within this blog.

Before I move on, it’s important that violence in children is put into perspective as it would seem that this wiring for violence is inherent in every child and begins to show itself very early during the terrible twos. According to Pincker (2012) the psychologist Richard Tremblay has measured rates of violence throughout the normal lifespan of humans, rather concerning is his conclusion that the most violent period in an individual’s life is that time when they are two, we may have expected this period to be in adolescence or young adult hood, but no, it was when we were hardly old enough to even talk. The usual behaviour shows itself as hitting, biting, kicking and general moody behaviour, this trend of violent behaviour then begins to slowly decrease throughout the infant’s early years. It is therefore of little comfort that these typical children are not capable of wielding any physical tool of violence or else we could see a high number of two year old, on two year old, killings.

The process of natural selection has to also have the ability to pass traits on to future generations, if this were not the case, we would never have adapted to our environment. What this means is that there has to be a mechanism to pass genes on with, this is achieved through heritability and first shows itself during that all too well known stage of the terrible twos.

The blank slate theory was once popular, it was originally believed that parents or any significant caregiver could harm their children by mistreating them, which of course is absolutely true. It was the philosopher John Locke who first proposed the idea that any child could be molded into whatever person he desired, politician, soldier, scholar, this theory became known as the “Educationalists” view and considered that every child born was a “blank slate” and as such they were intellectually and morally clean with no preconceived ideas or knowledge.

This understanding that a child was neither good or bad was at opposite ends to the popular religious views at the time who considered that a child was born inherently bad and that their sins had to be beaten out of them, subduing them to the rod and will power of their masters. A child’s nature therefore is easily manipulated during its early years and those that are close to them have the ability to affect intelligence, social skills, mental abilities and personality. This has been discovered to be not true, however due to later studies that researched separated and adopted children, it was found that they mirrored their peers in values and social identities, indicating that social interaction helped develop these children according to the doctrines and culture of their caregivers, not of their parents. Pincker (2012) states that studies of adopted children showed that they ended up with personalities and iQ scores that are correlated with those of their biological siblings but un-correlated with those of their adopted siblings, this confirms that adult personality and intelligence are more a result of genes than of social environment. What has this got to do with violence? Well there is a theory that violence has a genetic marker and that it is inherited rather than learned.

The above is a short extract from my book Volitional Attention Training.


Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene. Publishers, Oxford University Press.

Gardener, D. (2008). The science of fear. Published July 17th 2008 by Dutton Adult.

Hardy, G. Great minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition. The Great Courses. University of North Carolina at Ashville, Yale University. Downloaded 2014. Publisher The Teaching company (2011).

Pinker, S. (2012) The Better Angles of our Nature. Why Violence has Declined. Published by Penguin Books 2012.

Solzhenitsyn, A, I. (1973). The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956. An Experiment in Literary Investigation. Published by Harper and Row Publishers Inc. (1974).

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Symmetry in Motion


“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


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Pay Attention Gut is Talking

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.

2 PAY ATTENTION YOUR GUT IS TALKINGVolitional Attention Training_Book Cover_190515

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,

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Choice Reaction Time – are we really that simple ? Part 2

Part 2

Following on from February’s blog here is part two, what I have attempted to do here is convey the understanding that some ideas should be thoroughly examined before we take them as fact.


If the above was not enough evidence there are some that take the basic idea of CRT and expand it to use a doubling rule.   In citing this rule they believe that every decision over and above your first choice will double the time taken to react.   A simple piece of mathematics will help us here.  Choosing between two choices takes approximately 300 milliseconds (ms), add another choice and we get 600ms, another 900ms, another 1 second, 200ms etc – you get the concept I’m sure.    What we have is 1.5 seconds to choose between 6 choices, if this were the case, then not only would we see a fantastic staggering effect when it comes to most highly skilled sports like motor racing, MMA, tennis, football, the list can go on and on, we would also in all probability not be the dominant animal on the planet today, as those 1.5 seconds to make a choice between 6 strategies and actions would have made us food rather than the hunter.

After Hick’s Law came the Power Law of Practice (“PLP”).   In 1980, Newell, Allen and Rosenbloom published a paper that explored the subject of practice and the performance improvements that it creates along with the supporting mechanisms that allow the improvement to become embedded in the behaviour of the individual.  This research considered the chucking theory of learning as a means to explain some of the outcomes of performance that relies on practice. They wanted to confirm the empirical reality that this law was applicable to learning in general rather than just being restricted to skill. The PLP is usually associated with perceptual-motor skills. Before I move on with their research it’s important to understand a little more about the processes involved in learning skills.

The development of perceptual-motor skills begins early in childhood and continues throughout life, providing that the adult individual continues to expand their skill set. There are three stages to this process of development.

  1. Cognitive
  2. Associative
  3. Autonomous

The first stage looks at what is needed to perform a move or task.   This stage requires a certain understanding of the action that is to be learned.

At the second stage, practice is required; another term for this could be “training”, where an individual trains a move or sequence of moves over and over again.

The final stage is embedding the moves into the subconscious so that they can be performed without having to pay attention to any procedures that need to occur. The aim here is to produce speed and accuracy, anything other than this would revert itself back to stage two.


Any hand eye coordinated movements fall into the category perceptual-motor skills, other examples would be body movement and control, which includes bilateral movement, postural formation and control, auditory language skills, visual-auditory skills and any martial based activity would fit into this category. Before any of the higher skill levels can be achieved or worked on an infant must first acquire the basics, which include rolling, crawling, standing, walking, running and so on until they have a good overall control of their body. Once this has been achieved, more advanced skills can emerge, such as running and jumping, catching and writing, these all involve motor skill practice. The next explanation needs to focus on the perceptual side of this equation. Perception is harder to define, as it’s the knowing of how to do something rather than the performance of the skill. Perception skill also has to be separated from intellectual skills, these are generally skills that can be written and defined to allow others to follow the instructions and gain an understanding of how a particular skill is performed.  For example, a person could after some explanation write a manual on how to play chess.   Now imagine trying to write a manual on how to ride a bike, the general principles could be written down, but the ‘how’ could not.   It’s the performance of the ‘how’ part that relates to perceptional-motor skills which cannot be gained by simply reading a description of the act. Once these types of skills are internalized they become part of natural behaviour, in other words the skill becomes an ability, which is performed spontaneously without input from the conscious mind and it’s these highly developed perceptional-motor skills that can be learnt and developed with enough volitional practice.   Here we can see the link between the PLP and the perceptional-motor skill ability as over extended periods of time the ability is learned and transferred from a simple motor skill into a perceptional-motor skill. The transference occurs and performance speed increase when practice becomes a habit and not just something that is trained a few times a week and that’s the biggest difference, if an individual is practicing as a result of habitual processes then the behaviour will soon become ingrained, becoming a perception-motor skill.

The research conducted by Newell, Allen and Rosenbloom (1980) into the ubiquity of the Power Law of Practice theory did not fit the simple power law. They concluded that there were systematic shape deviations in the log-log space, in their words “ There exists a ubiquitous quantitative law of practice, it appears to follow a power law. That is plotting the logarithm of the time to perform a task against the logarithm of die trial number always yields a straight line, more or less. We will refer to this law variously as the log-log linear learning law or the power law of practice”.  To summarize their research they found that the law holds for performance measured as the time to achieve a fixed task.   They looked at three learning curves; exponential, hyperbolic and power law. They found that there was a mechanism that was slowing down the rate of learning and those errors in practice decreased with practice and accuracy increased with practice. This was true for different types of learning, which included perceptual-motor skills, perception, motor behaviour, memory and complex routines. This provides evidence that simple basic responses like those that were tested in Hick’s Law, will, along with complex movements, all fall into the category of PLP.  It is therefore a mistake to focus on simple movements to the exclusion of complex ones as both have the same learning capacity according to the law of power learning.

What is evident from the above is that humans have a capacity to learn complex movements and have protracted capability to remember data. This will help to explain the complicated skills that are involved in sports that have complicated routines like playing tennis, boxing, self-defence systems, or actions like typing, playing chess all involve the ability to learn, memories, practice and over time internalise so that the activity becomes a part of the perceptual-motor skill, no longer requiring complex thought processes to maintain the behaviour.

Lets take a look at some more up to date evidence that relates to this work, research by Silva, Cid, Ferreira and Marques (2011) into the attention and reaction time in Shotokan Athletes produced some interesting results. The aim of their study was to analyze the attention capacity and reaction time in Portuguese karate Shotokan athletes.  The participants were physically characterised into weight, height, body mass index and body fat mass percentage and evaluated on Simple Reaction Time (SRT), Choice Reaction Time (CRT), Decision Time (DT) and Distributed Attention (DA).   What they found was that both female and male participants, when tested for SRT, reacted near to the 300 ms mark and that there was no significant difference between the two gender groups. However both the CRT and the DT indicated a significant difference, which was higher in the Dan and 35+-year group than in any other group.  The Dan 35+ group also showed a lower percentage of mistakes. The athletes who had more years of practice and were higher in grade needed more time to react to the stimulus than the younger less qualified individuals, however they made far fewer mistakes in their choices than the other group.

Reaction times have been the subject of study for many years, they were first studied by Donders (1868), the results that were obtained showed that a simple reaction time is shorter than a recognition reaction time, and that the choice reaction time is longest of all and it’s this CRT that Hick studied.

This brings me all the way back to those that blindly quote a small part of Hick’s Law to justify their simplistic approach to human movement and reaction times, knowing how the human body works and how psychology has helped to explain very complex abilities within the brain enables a logical system to be built. One that allows for the complex ability of the human brain and the highly coordinated ability of the body to move in space and time.   Let’s not just sit back and pull the wool over people’s eyes. I have not touched too much on attention, fear or startle reactions that can, in the right circumstances and with the proper training, increase the body’s reaction speed, let alone symmetry or arousal based reactions.  So it’s fair to say that we have come a long way since the early tests of Hick and certainly Ockham in the 14th century. Ultimately, simplicity will always be a part of any system, but it does not have to stop there, correct training on stimulus based reactions will get results, scenario based systems will get results, simple techniques, will get results, what matters is how they are trained and what mental processes are engaged in the practice. So let’s not try to rubbish other arts for the sake of another student and another pound, let’s push the boundaries instead and convey knowledge and skill the best we can.


Jefferys, W H. and Berger, j O. (1992) Ockham’s razor and Bayisean analysis. American Scientist. Vol. 80. No 1 (January-February 1992), pp. 64-72. Published by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.

Cohen, N. Poldrack, R. Eichenbaum (1997) Memory for items and Memory for relations in the Procedural/Declarative memory framework. Psychology press, an imprint of Erlbaum (UK) Taylor & Francis Ltd.

Darryl W. Schneider, John R. Anderson Cogn Psychol. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2012 May 1. Published in final edited form as: Cogn Psychol. 2011 May 1; 62(3): 193–222. doi: 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2010.11.001

Newell, Allen and Rosenbloom, Paul S., “Mechanisms of skill acquisition and the law of practice” (1980). Computer Science

Department. Paper 2387.

Kosinski, R, J. (2010) A Literature review on Reaction Time. Updated September 2013,. Accessed on 17-02-2014 @

Silva, C. Cid, L. Ferreira, D. and Marques, A. (2011) Attention and Reaction time in Shotokan Athletes. Published Revista de Artes Marciales Asiaticas (2011), vol, 6 issue 1, p141 16p. accessed on 17-02-2014 @

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Choice Reaction Time – are we really that simple?


Recently I received a link to a post regarding Reality Based Self Defence (“RBSD”).  The post covered areas that are usually used by this specific area of martial arts to support the techniques that they use, it also covered areas of science and how it relates to human movement and behaviour stating Ockham’s Razor, Hicks Law and Power Law of Practice (“PLP”) to support underlying technique.   Having recently introduced a RBSD method myself I feel it appropriate to write something.  This has been an intention of mine for some time. The book that I am currently writing delves into this topic in a great deal of depth. I would first like to clarify my approach to my own combative training vehicle, Volitional Attention Training (“V.A.Training”), as it is important that the reader can place the information into context.

V.A.Training is not a self-defence method, period.   It was not conceived to be and does not in any way teach a defence form of tactics, quite the opposite, if asked to define it I would say, “it teaches a method of Self Preservation”. Although it has limited scenario based techniques it’s main aim is to develop stimulus-based responses. This method has been pitched at a very specific category of violence, that of A Social level and not the every day social violence that we encounter 98% of the time. I use this high percentage to get across my point that this is not for your every day classes that teach self defence, and therein lies one huge psychological problem, because the majority of RBSD methods believe that what they teach will allow an individual to manage and cope with A Social violence, using different situations in different environments to convince individuals that what they teach is the real thing!   The “real thing”? according to whom?


Ockham was a 14th century English philosopher who first proposed the principle that “plurality should not be posited without necessity” and its from this very unobtrusive start that we later arrive at Hick’s Law and then subsequently we find RBSD instructors advocating that human movement, within a combat situation, should be trained only to a very limited amount of moves.   According to Jeffery’s and Berger (1999) it’s unclear as to what was meant by this statement, as it can be interpreted in many ways.  However, later versions were clear and here is an example given by Jeffery’s and Berger:  “entities should not be multiplied without necessity” or “it is vain to do with more what can be done with less” and finally, a more up to date rendering, “an explanation of the facts should be no more complicated than necessary”.  Over the years, many noted individuals have used this theory to reduce complicated ideas to a simple more logical theory and this is all well and good when it relates to simple ideas and is used as a rule of thumb. However, humans have made great leaps forward since the 14th century, in our understanding of DNA for example, not a subject where corners could be cut to aid understanding and it’s therefore easy to see how those with a limited arsenal would want to use such terms to build a self defence system upon.   This theory was then backed up years later by Hick and then followed by PLP.

In fighting and in sports, we all know action beats reaction.   If you are reacting to an attack, as the good guys generally are, you are already behind the action curve. Just how behind scientists have labored intensely to discover over the last 60 years, and like splitting the atom, they have split the single second into one thousand parts to do it.   So what did Hick prove and what was the benefit to human movement?   Basically Hick experimented with reaction time and the decisions that occur during this process.    To be very accurate his research centered on Choice Reaction Time (“CRT”) and it’s the “choice” which has been conveniently dropped from most of the writing surrounding this law, which according to Hick slows down as the decision variables increase.   In other words, there is an increase in choice reaction time with the logarithm of set size, or put another way, the more choices you have the longer it takes to choose. There are some statistics around that state that it takes 58% more time to choose between two choices.  That’s a staggering amount of time when real time life and death decisions are needed, right?  Hick’s Law explores the interference that occurs during retrieval from declarative memory, it also goes on to state that there are occasional savings in response time due to stimulus response repetitions, this is covered in detail within my new book.    Just looking at the words being used here will give a clue as to what is going on, ‘choose’ and ‘stimulus response’ are two examples that are key to understanding the implications of this Law when applied to behavioural based method s of self defence. The message that is relatively clear here is that there is a significant change in data, with practice and stimulus response repetition.

Here is an extract from my next book concerning memory, which will help spread some light on the confusion that has occurred;

A stimulus that brings forth an episodic memory will also bring with it the ability for the mind to pay more detailed attention to that particular thought. Episodic memories are those that are encoded into the mind through an emotional experience.   These experiences are capable of coding in the time, place, feelings and details of the event, they are far more real to the mind than attempting to memorise an event to which you are just a passive observer. Semantic memory is generally concerned with knowledge of the world that we live in, there is a difference between knowledge that is factual and personal experiences that have encoded knowledge and understanding with a greater grounding and meaning.   Both semantic and episodic memory deals with long term, rather than short-term memory.  A key difference is that episodic memories encode the actual acquisition experience and the context in which the memory occurred.   For any combative or martial art technique to become efficient and effective, the coding process will need to support the intended action.  Techniques will have to become linked to procedural memory. Declarative memory deals with facts and data gained from learning. “declarative memory serves to “chunk” or “bind” together the converging processing outcomes reflecting the learning event, providing a solution to the “binding problem” for memory, Cohen, N. Poldrack, R. Eichenbaum (1975).   The sea is wet and the sun is hot are example of long-term declarative memories. Procedural memory is concerned with long-term memory including complex motor skills. These skills are first coded into the brain and over time become second nature; you do not have to use a cognitive thought process to access the skills. Playing a musical instrument, driving a car, or combative/martial art techniques, are all examples of procedural memory.

Its important to understand the context in which the original research was conducted and to also get a grips on what is happening when the human brain is being programmed by the type of reactions that it will default to in times of stress. I know that some of the research and the terms used are a little complicated, but bare with me, in order to support the information here, it is vital that I validate the theories, so apologies in advance for some of the writing….

There has been plenty of research into the area of reaction time; one particular piece was done by Schneider and Anderson (2012).  Their research explored past research on Hick’s Law and its interpretation in terms of information theory, which they based on the Adaptive Control of Thought-Rational. Their model produced a set-size (number of stimulus response alternatives) that closely resembles Hick’s Law.  They also account for changes in the set-size effect with practice and they explain the stimulus response repetition effects, which together challenges the information theoretic view of Hick’s law. The original research conducted by Hick was carried out in 1952, he used a computer test, to measure the time it took to decide between options and came up with the equation RT=a+blog2 (n). In basic terms his research confirmed that when faced with choices it takes longer to choose and the more choices that you have the longer it takes and it is from this very simple thought process the up to date reality based methods of teaching were born.     Are we humans so very simple?   Is the way the human brain works so simple?   Does it take a long, slow, encumbering amount of time to make decisions that could, put life at risk, for example?  For some, the answer is a resounding YES and as a consequence they misinterpret this information or worse, still do not have the knowledge that allows for an intelligent exploration of human behaviour.

Research by Schneider and Anderson (2012) found that when practice was allowed the slope of Hick’s Law tends to decease as the number of trials increase.   There have also been mathematical calculations done that estimate that after about one million trials the CRT will be independent of any set size.  So there it is, one million repetitions and your reaction time will be down to zero!    Lets remind ourselves what Hick found.   Using CRT   experiments, response was proportional to log (N), where N is the number of different possible stimuli.   In other words, reaction time rises with N, but once N gets large, reaction time no longer increases so much as when N was small, as the number of stimuli rise so the RT decreases.

Kosinski (2010) created a literature review on reaction time.   Within the review he discussed practice and errors and what he found would at first seem to support Hick’s Law in that, when participants were new to a choice reaction test, they were predictably slower.   Once they had time to practice, the reaction times increased.  Again very predictable, and too most a logical progression.   The results also found that when errors were made, RT slowed, they also noticed that practice time stabilized the reaction time for up to three weeks.   If a system was teaching a limited amount of moves, it would certainly see results based on these facts as the practice that was repeated would have embedded itself for a reasonable amount of time and if further practice was undertaken then the results would bounce themselves on for another period of time.   There is no distinction here with complicated routines, if volitional practice occurred, reactions and movements would soon start to get faster with less mistakes.

Now here is the real important part Stimulus Response and Hick’s Law!   What Schneider and Anderson (2012) also found is that the slope of Hick’s Law can be close to zero for highly compatible stimulus-response combinations.   The type of responses that were researched covered vocal and manual responses to manipulated stimulus types.  Without going into the detail, the explanation given for the close to zero stimulus-responses combinations were highly compatible and that much more pre-experimental practice had occurred prior to test as a control less compatible combinations were also tested (Brainard et al., (1962); Davis et al., (1961); Fits and Posner, (1967); Longstreth et al., (1985); Teichner and Krebs, (1974); see Morin, Konick, Troxell, and McPherson, (1965) cited by Schneider and Anderson (2012).    This evidence supports the age old adage of practice makes perfect or a more up to date term might be, perfect practice done slow and accurately programs the brain to respond fast! In the above tests the stimulus responses were chosen for their compatibility with natural behavior.   However, the real point is that it’s not a good idea to take what seems to be a logical statement, warp it out of all context and then sell it as the answer to all the problems.   It takes long enough to get to grips with any movement, let alone maladaptive ones.




Jefferys, W H. and Berger, j O. (1992) Ockham’s razor and Bayisean analysis. American Scientist. Vol. 80. No 1 (January-February 1992), pp. 64-72. Published by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.


Cohen, N. Poldrack, R. Eichenbaum (1997) Memory for items and Memory for relations in the Procedural/Declarative memory framework. Psychology press, an imprint of Erlbaum (UK) Taylor & Francis Ltd.


Darryl W. Schneider, John R. Anderson Cogn Psychol. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2012 May 1. Published in final edited form as: Cogn Psychol. 2011 May 1; 62(3): 193–222. doi: 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2010.11.001


Newell, Allen and Rosenbloom, Paul S., “Mechanisms of skill acquisition and the law of practice” (1980). Computer Science

Department. Paper 2387.


Kosinski, R, J. (2010) A Literature review on Reaction Time. Updated September 2013,. Accessed on 17-02-2014 @

Silva, C. Cid, L. Ferreira, D. and Marques, A. (2011) Attention and Reaction time in Shotokan Athletes. Published Revista de Artes Marciales Asiaticas (2011), vol, 6 issue 1, p141 16p. accessed on 17-02-2014 @

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Mental Force Training

Short extract from the material used as a structure for Volitional Attention Training, this provides information on memory, attention and the pitfalls that should be avoided at all cost.


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 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, not only does the mind have to be mentally fit, also the physical body has to be 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, if an individual suffers from a physical impairment, is obese, sleep deprived, lacks nutritional balance, inputs substances into the body (drugs), then the consequences of this, result in 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.


Bringing these ideas into attention earlier in this discourse creates an understanding that attention has to be thought about. A stimulus input into the brain creates a mechanism of mental processes, that in turn leads to an amount of mental attention being applied to that stimulus, how long attention is maintained will depend upon the amount of mental force that the individual is capable of bringing to bear upon the stimulus. A stimulus that brings forth an episodic memory will also bring with it the ability for the mind to pay more detailed attention to that particular thought. Episodic memories are those that are encoded into the mind, through an emotional experience, these experiences are capable of coding in the time, place, feelings and details of the event.  They are far more real to the mind than attempting to memorize an event to which you are just a passive observer. Semantic memory is generally concerned with knowledge of the world that we live in, there is a difference between knowledge that is factual and personal experiences that have encoded knowledge and understanding with a greater grounding and meaning.   Both semantic and episodic memory deals with long-term, rather than short-term memory, a key difference is that episodic memories encode the actual acquisition experience and the context in which the memory occurred.   For any combative or martial art technique to become efficient and effective, the coding process will need to support the intended action, techniques will have to become linked to procedural memory.  Declarative memory deals with facts and data gained from learning “declarative memory serves to “chunk” or “bind” together the converging processing outcomes reflecting the learning event, providing a solution to the “binding problem” for memory, Cohen, N. Poldrack, R. Eichenbaum (1975). The sea is wet and the sun is hot are example of long-term declarative memories. Procedural memory is concerned with long-term memory including complex motor skills. These skills are first coded into the brain and over time become second nature; you do not have to use a cognitive thought process to access the skills.   Playing a musical instrument, driving a car, or combative, martial art techniques, are all examples of procedural memory, “procedural memory enables organisms to retain learned connections between stimuli and responses, including those involving complex stimulus patters and response chains, and to respond adaptively to the environment” Tulving (1985). There is no defined limit to long-term memory, providing that the correct coding procedure occurs then complex motor skills that involve, combative and martial art techniques can be built up. Continued repetition of these movements will lead to a stable procedural memory, which ultimately leads to spontaneous movement, this is arguably the aim of any person engaged in this type of activity.   It is important to remember here that any human movement can be learnt in a manner that is not congruent with natural movement, it is maladaptive.   Continual repetition of techniques that do not follow this premise will eventually cause damage to the organism.   Occupations that involve high stress and the potential for deadly force encounters are particularly exposed to incorrect episodic memory imput, and again, if continued exposure to this type of maladaptive behaviour, could have disastrous consequences, “in the blink of an eye, the officer snatched the gun away, shocking the gunman with his speed and finesse. No doubt this criminal was surprised and confused even more when the officer handed the gun back to him, just as he had practiced hundreds of times before” Grossman, D. (2004). This is a good example of incorrect coding of a maladaptive procedural memory, the officer involved continually practiced this disarm, until he had coded it into his mind, in doing so creating a spontaneous response, it had become second nature to him, I term this “negative loop coding” (NLC) which should be avoided for obvious reasons. The disarm in itself was never the problem, in fact over time several episodic events could have occurred in this officer’s life, for example he may have already been associated with lethal force encounters, he may have had colleagues die in the line of duty, any of these high emotional states would have led to an episodic memory. Once the officer had started to pay attention to this training loop and began to practice the disarm in all sorts of situations, both at work and at home, he had started to encode procedural memory, the only problem with the training was the handing back of the weapon! to do it again and again, and again!   A key point in this behavioural pattern is volition used to pay attention. Once attention on the training pattern had begun his brain would have been firing neurons at a fast pace, to start the encoding, drawing with it greater amounts of mental force, enabling focused thoughts on the reasons for the practice to be thought about, in other words the officer was undertaking, mindful attention.



Cohen, N. Poldrack, R. Eichenbaum (1997) Memory for items and Memory for relations in the Procedural/Declarative memory framework. Psychology press, an imprint of Erlbaum (UK) Taylor & Francis Ltd

Tulving, E. (1985), How many memory systems are there? American psychologist, vol. 40, April 1985. Printed in USA.

Grossman, D. Lt. (2004). On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of deadly conflict in war and in peace. Millstadt, Il: PPCT research publications.

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Psychology of Power


It’s been a long time coming but finally I am nearing the end of the process necessary to publish my book!  “The Secret Science of Modern Martial Arts” thought that I would put a sample out before the finished book is ready. Thank you for checking this out!



Not only are the correct biomechanical movements needed, the coming together of all the above principles are also necessary to achieve power, but also a correct mindset is crucial. If not, all the above is nothing but talk. Part of this is the thought process behind the pulling of the punch. When a punch is practiced in this way, it is usually for a reason; in this case, the protection of your partner. In pulling the punch and using the thought process in this way, you develop muscle pathways that are not congruent with actual punches. Pulling needs to be deleted from your mindset and substituted for accuracy and control. Often the question arises, “What should a student focus on speed, power, or accuracy first?” The answer is accuracy, as even the slowest and weakest student can stand a chance of surviving an attack if their defense is on target.

In producing power through the body in the manner described above, you must have a switch of thoughts. There are arts, which teach many moves, compounded upon each other, and part of the reason for this is that if the first strike does not work, then you can move on quickly to the next and then the next, until the outcome is successful. There is nothing wrong with this, but it can lead to a negative thought process where your moves are not successful. It is more positive to change your thought to the fact that every strike works perfectly. That will never happen and we should always prepare for the next move, but at least it allows us to look at a power strike in a way that is congruent with what will happen when the strike is successful (visualisation!). Take the above reverse punch: executing the punch exactly as described above, your timing is perfect and the angle, torque, backup mass and bracing angle all come together at the right moment. So what should happen from the attacker’s point of view? It would be like them running straight into a moving battering ram. They will react by moving away from the pain. This is the way it should be thought about: if you use complete control in the delivery of your punch, maintaining all the points above, this will protect you and your joints. The attacker’s body moves away from the strike, but you do not move your weapon away from the attacker, unless a different method of delivery is used. This means that once your power has been transferred to your attacker and they have reacted in the correct manner, your fist will be in a new position, away from your body and extended. This becomes your new point of origin where you can move from rather than re-chambering to a different position, unless of course you choose to re-chamber after the punch is completed.


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