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Archive for May 24th, 2010

Muscle Memory – by David DeWalch

Monday, May 24th, 2010

In Kung Fu we train with repetition, performing sequences over and over in order to place the sequence into our muscle memory. As with other traditions passed down to us from our Kung Fu fathers there is a physiological and scientific basis to muscle memory.

When an active person repeatedly trains movement, often of the same activity, in an effort to stimulate the mind’s adaptation process, the outcome is to induce physiological changes which attain increased levels of accuracy through repetition. Muscle memory is fashioned over time through repetition of a given suite of motor skills and the ability through brain activity to inculcate and instill it such that they become automatic. To the beginner, activities such as brushing the teeth, combing the hair, or even driving a vehicle are not as easy as they look. As one reinforces those movements through repetition, the neural system learns those fine and gross motor skills to the degree that one no longer needs to think about them, but merely to react and perform appropriately. In this sense the muscle memory process is an example of automating an OODA Loop insofar as one learns to Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act.

In this physiological description it is demonstrated why we train in the way that the Masters have handed down to us. Repetition is key in training our brain to work in conjunction with our muscle groups so that when the need arises we are ready to defend ourselves without conscious thought. Additionally, this is the reason that we train for good technique and form. In other words if we train with poor technique and poor form this is the information that our brain stores as the muscle memory resulting in unskilled and inadequate Kung Fu.

A common mistake is to perform the actions with too much speed that sacrifices attention to the exact mechanism of the technique and good form. Speed comes with training and is not a necessary component to obtain muscle memory. Again repetition of a movement and good form with focus placed on stances, plucks blocks and strikes is essential to building muscle memory. Speed and skill comes with time, training and patience.