Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Handicap or advantage?
I am sure you are all familiar with Oscar Pistorius , the first amputee, double amputee at that, to compete in track at the Olympics. What an inspiration and a performance. We all heard talk of “enhanced performance”, that the “Cheetah prosthetic holds certain design advantages over the human leg”. Obviously the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) had already ruled deeming there was insignificant evidence to support this.
I remember hearing the announcer saying: “I never thought I’d hear myself say this but I think a double amputee may have an advantage in a race”. A double amputee having an unfair advantage in a race? That seems crazy… or does it? Sometimes what may seem to be a handicap may very well indeed be an amazing tool.
By now I am sure you all know that I train mostly with larger younger men who are very very skilled, and of course much stronger than myself. This can be intimidating. And how many times have I heard from Kasey and Rory “You are not trusting the techniques you are doing”…. no kidding… I started training with Rory’s blind fold drills and it was great. While I was blind folded, I was better…. amazing! But still the stupid bells didn’t fully ring… it takes a while to reach the attic in my brain I guess.
Last weekend I was training with Kasey. We did a lot of boken work (wooden practice sword). And during one of the drill (at least one) I was slow and just could not get the hang of it. It did not matter that I had done this drill before, that I should have been proficient with it. Then all of a sudden, not sure why (must be one of God’s winks) I closed my eyes and my boken was touching Kasey’s chest. Low and behold I could easily feel what he was about to do, read it and flow with it easily. And that’s when it dawned on me, it was not the techniques I did not trust, it was my eyes. I let myself get intimidated with what I saw. Kasey is pretty intimidating for those of you who don’t know him
I got nervous and messed things up. When I get nervous, I’ll forget my own dang name, so never mind try and pull a technique. Under adrenaline dump, you can get tunnel vision. Plus my eyes are slow, much slower than my tactile capabilities. Eyes can lie much easier. There is so much information that is caught with our eyes, our brain has to filter it, and give us what we want to see most of the time. This explains why you will have 2 people describe very differently a violent crime they witnessed. The adrenaline was pumping for everyone; what they saw through a filter of their own experiences. This also explains optical illusions. Your visual sense is much easier to fool than your tactile sensory system.
My theory on the subject stems from the OODA loop.
You first have to observe, then you orient yourself, you decide on the proper course of action and you act on it. With just tactile information you skip the observe part. You don’t have to know that: “it’s noon, the sun is in my eyes, this guy outweighs me by 100lbs, he has an extremely mean look on his face, like he wants to kill me”. All the info you have is “a right handed punch is coming at me”. It’s much easier to decide what to do at this point. You are not letting yourself get swayed by all the other psychological aspects: “he is huge, he could kill me, he looks like he wants to kill me, there is no way I can beat him, he is so much stronger than me”. Too much information can just slow down the entire process.
Another big factor that happened here as well is what I will call “My name is Neo” phenomenon. For those familiar with The Matrix, this comes from the scene when Neo first fights Mr Smith in the subway.
Before this, he was Mr Anderson. He never believed he was their Savior, that he was Neo. Like him, you can be told something 100 times over, you can hear it, know it, understand it but still don’t believe it. Until you believe it, until you own it…. it’ll never work for you. I know you all understand what I am talking about, that “oh that’s what you meant” episode when a light bulb is light in your brain. There is really no rhyme or reason how this happen and the process is different for everyone. It is greatly influenced by our past experiences and our belief system.
The more negative training/reinforcement you have received, the more difficult the turning on the light bulb will be. This is where the first “O” in the OODA loop can create some problems. You performed this action before. You remember that when you try to do this, something bad happened. Your brain wants to live and preserve itself, so it will purposely avoid the situation as much as possible.
I have a lot of negative training to get rid of. My very first instructors would have me do pushups every time I would accidentally strike someone too hard. Instead they should have taught my partners to block better. This kind of negative reinforcement creates scars in the brain. OK they are not really scars, they are neural pathways but I like the analogy better to that of a scar. Neural pathways are often misquoted as muscle memory. Muscles really do not have memory. Patterns are stored in the brain through neural pathways, like beating down a path through a field of tall grass. They are created by repetition and become stronger the more they are used, causing the likelihood of new long-term connections and memories, habits if you will. This becomes very handy when you learn to drive a car or play piano. It helps you become proficient, reach that unconscious competence. But it is used in the same manner to create bad habits. You need to re-train those pathways, and depending on age, the strength of the pathways or the task to be accomplished, it can take time. This is why good solid practice, using good solid principles is so important.
Sometimes it will take nothing short of an explosion to break the “bad neural pathways” that have been created. You’ll recognize those moments; they are the light bulbs going off in your head. The “handicap” of being blind for a short time created this explosion for me. It shut off my other senses and let me focus on one of them. I did not have a neural pathway created from “blind training” yet. So I had nothing to shut down. I just had to create a new pathway. This was a “My name is Neo” moment for me. This unlocked my brain into believing that “yeah buddy this stuff works. It works for a little person against a great big strong dude when you do it right. If I use sound principles, it does not matter what he looks like anymore. Advantage-court-Lise” . Once I stop using the old pathways, the grass will grow tall again. Scars are scars but they can fade. Neural pathways can be replaced with fresh one, deeper and stronger than the old one. And for the time it takes to replace them, if you are aware of them you can do everything in your power to consciously avoid them. Once I have this down, it will be easy to trust the technique with my eyes open and go kick some serious ass. The more the light bulbs are lit, the easier things will become.
So you see, overcoming a handicap can really become an advantage.
Be smart, stay safe and go kick some ass.