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Posts Tagged ‘Medically Speaking…’

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.

Blinded Me With Science…

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

One day as I was playing chi sau and trying to use techniques I knew from my forms, I began to wonder why we are so precisely instructed on the hand and foot movements. I mean the self defense aspects of Kung Fu are simply to deal with the attacker quickly. Why so much attention on exactly how far the punch must go or the angle of the fist from the elbow? If I was attacked it seems the scuffle would be awkward and sloppy, certainly not precise and crisp like our forms….right? I can’t make the attacker move into the right area for my attacks…can I?

I’m sure most normal people don’t get so tortured by their own brain, but I was stuck thinking about this for quite a while, trying to decide my stance on the issues. It wasn’t until teaching my anatomy and physiology students about optimal muscle length that I put the answer together in my head. Like so many things in Kung Fu there are many reasons for the precision and meticulousness of our forms. If I have learned anything from Sifu Jones it’s that Kung Fu is mutable, that is, it can adapt to any situation. The list of reasons for our forms training is long but here is at least one explanation that I found interesting.

Our muscles are organized into contractible units called sarcomeres. The units contain two proteins, actin and myosin, that are sort of like the cables that pull our muscles when contracting or moving. Think of a winch that pulls a cable, with each pump of the handle the cable is draw towards you and whatever is at the end of the cable is pulled closer to you. That’s basically what we are talking about with muscles, the “whatever” at the end of the cable would be your hand, or foot while the cable would be those proteins in your muscles. If the cable is not inserted into the winch enough, there is not enough to get a good grip and really pull the cable, consequently if most of the cable is shoved into the winch it also wouldn’t pull as there would be no room. Same thing with your muscles, the most effective and useful way to use our muscles is at the optimal length so that the proteins overlap just the right amount for maximum work.

The placement of our hands during forms takes advantage of this. For example, the gwa choy must be made to stop before the fist is extended too far from the body, which would weaken the punch and keep you from putting your full weight or “center” behind it. The elbow strike must be on the same horizontal plane as the shoulder so you can twist your waist and not loose your balance. If there is an optimal length for muscles that means there is an optimal length for punches and kicks. Remember this when practicing your forms, under or overextension is incorrect, you must maintain your balance and power through proper body mechanics…..correct form!