Wherever the head goes, the body follows
by Lynn Seiser
I have learned there are four stages of learning. The first is unconscious incompetence where something doesn’t work but you don’t know it. The second is conscious incompetence where something doesn’t work and you know it doesn’t work. The third is conscious competence where something works but you have to stay consciously aware of what you are doing. The fourth stage is unconscious competence where something just seems to work all by itself.
It is said that first, a punch is just a punch. You just throw it out there and hopes it hits someone. In training, a punch becomes a science where every alignment and movement of the foot, leg, hip, shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand is consciously trained through repetitive and realistic rehearsal. Finally, a punch is just a punch, but this time it is very different from the first punch.
One of the controversies I have heard throughout the Internet forums on martial arts is whether or not to mentally train. Many seem to feel that mental training isn’t necessary because eventually we need to shut off all that internal auditory chatter and self-talk anyway. So why begin? It is interesting that some form of mental training, discipline, or meditation has always been a part of tradition martial arts training. Professional athletes all know, enjoy, and benefit from sport and performance enhancement psychology. Modern psychotherapy, especially the cognitive-behavioral schools, has been very effective in changing and removing the fear-based beliefs that perpetuate the epidemic of depression and anxiety that is part of everyday chaotic life.
When I began Aikido training, I accepted that some of that training would be educational. I have a library of Aikido books, videos, and DVDs. I will read and watch just about anything. Some of it isn’t very good, but it provides a different perspective, example, or explanation. It is interesting that the mind will sort through different conflicting information and will either become confused with the discrepancies or will find deeper insight, understanding, and generalization that the common denominators provide. One weekend, while researching a book, I read all the back issues of Aiki News. The experience was exhausting but gave me insights I would never have gained on my own. One of my first real jobs, after cutting lawns and delivering newspapers, was being a library page. That’s the geek kid who puts the books back on the shelves. Not a very cool job, but it was a job and they paid me, so I didn’t care. What I learned, and will always be grateful for, is that if you want to learn something, anything, somebody somewhere has written a book about it. In fact, it’s amazing how many books are written about things most of us don’t even know are things. Aikido is one of those things.
I know I am preaching to the choir here, because being an active member of the Internet forums implies some agreement about the enjoyment and benefits of discussing Aikido. While mental training will never replace the necessary sweat of physical training, it can complement, supplement, and even expedite the progress made. Often the need is not to train more, but to train more wisely. Remember, wherever the head goes, the body follows.
Thanks for listening, for the opportunity to be of service, and for sharing the journey. Now get back to training.