Brains are in the business of gathering information and steering behavior appropriately. It doesn’t matter whether consciousness is involved in the decision making. And most of the time, it’s not.
David Eagleman, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain
Yes, I’m still reading Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance!
I know, its been months. In my defense, I have a lot on my plate!
Anyway, his book has really stimulated my thinking about learning and martial arts, possibly because I’m going about reading it so “carefully” (or slowly, whichever you prefer).
A concept that I’ve come across (both in Waitzkin’s book and elsewhere) in recent reading is “chunking.”
Waitzkin describes chunking as the way in which we “assimilate large amounts of information into a cluster that is bound together by certain patterns or principles particular to a given discipline.”
Waitzkin used a metaphor to illustrate this process more clearly.
Imagine you are in the jungle and need to get 100 yards from Point A to Point B and between these two points its all thick vegetation and no way around it. You break out your machete and laboriously chop your way through, taking all day.
Once you’ve cut the trail, you can keep it clear to a large extent just by walking on it. But if you quit using it, the jungle grows back in and you lose it.
The first time it took ten hours to cut your way through from one point to the other. After the path is cut, it takes minutes.
It is the same with learning new movements or techniques. At first, the mind laboriously works through the new information – arm positions, stance, sturcture, alignment, how your body should respond to particular stimuli, and so on.
Later, your mind chunks it and turns the data relationships (all of the above) into a “sub-routine” or set of subroutines which “know” how to respond to the stimuli with the series of movements that comprise the technique.
Your mind lays neural pathways like train tracks through the jungle.
This is why Chi Sao was such a great fight training innovation. It compresses the amount of time it takes to lay down the tracks for a spectrum of responses to a spectrum of stimuli.
Chi Sao feeds your mind a bunch of information in a short time about how the body can best respond to forces striking the arms at various angles, based on the fundamental principles of the system. You could look at the rotation of one Chi Sao movement (Tan to Bong, high Fook to low Fook) in response to its counterpart (a high punch/Fook and a Bong to Tan probe) and chop it up into infinite slices, like the markings on a clock.
Each point is an attack and response lesson. A pressure comes in here and this is how the body should respond with structure to deflect or slip forward (LSJC).
Your brain “chunks” the mass of data coming in (all sorts of nuance of pressures on the arms and how these forces trigger particular reactions and adjustments in stance and facing) into stimuli/response loops. Every time you do it, you cut that jungle trail. It goes from jungle, to a trail you must clear, to a trail, to a path, to a set of train tracks.