Tag Archives: motor learning

More on Affordances

A major focus of mine in both Movement Science and fighting/self-protection skills training is the concept of affordances. Below is an excerpt from the book that first introduced me to the concept, which contains a great introduction to the concept as it applies to fighting skills:

“The theory was put forth in the 1960s by an unorthodox psychologist names James Jerome Gibson at Cornell University. Gibson, who died in 1979, said animals and people view their environments not in terms of objectively defined shapes and volumes but in terms of their own behavioral potential. In other words, you immediately apprehend what you see in terms of how you think you can interact with that you see. You see affordances. Affordances make possible and facilitate certain actions. So, handles afford grasping. Stairs afford stepping. Knobs afford turning. Doors afford passage. Hammers afford smashing…

Martial artists see a different set of affordances than people untrained in hand-to-hand combat. Lapels and shoulder fabric are gripping points that afford all sorts of leverage. Elbows and wrists afford a variety of locks and twists. Highly trained martial artists see these affordances directly, as inherent parts of the concept of the body, just as an accomplished pianist sees not just individual keys but whole interrelated harmonic complexes brimming with possible melodies that can be extracted from it’s wholes, not as individual finger and hand movements (Blakeslee & Blakeslee, 2007).”

Blakeslee, S., & Blakeslee, M. (2007). The Body Has a Mind of it’s Own. New York: Random House, p. 106-108.

Advertisements

Development of Expertise in the Fighting Arts- Some Basic Notes

 What constitutes an “expert” in a fighting art or practice? Approaching the question from a motor learning perspective is highly useful, and has many obvious inroads into discussing pedagogy, practicality and transferability of a training method to a performance setting.Experts in any physical activity exhibit several common characteristics, regardless of the nature of the activity:
1. Superior ability to anticipate the likely outcome of a situation as it emerges. This is distinct from a conscious effort to guess what will happen, which we see in relative novices. Instead, this is more efficient perception-action linking. It manifests as shorter reaction time, with reaction time being the interval between stimulus and initiation of movement. RT is a reflection of the cognitive processing going on between perceptual and motor regions before a physical response is initiated. Combined with more efficient motor programs for the movement time, the result is a faster overall response time (RT and MT combined).
2. Less visual search for the important aspects of a developing situation. A relative novice looks everywhere, whereas the expert looks immediately at the salient areas (a shoulder movement before a punch, a slight drop of the forearm towards the belt line, etc.)
Continue reading

Linked Article: Practice Instruction and Skill Acquisition in Soccer: Challenging Traditions

The link below is a must-read for instructors of any fighting art or sport. Simply replace “soccer” with karate/Judo/MMA etc. and be leave your assumptions at the keyboard.  Of particular interest are “Myths 1-5,” which seem to be standard in the so-called traditional martial arts, yet are not shown to actually improve a learner’s ability to learn a skill and to parameterize (adapt to new/changing conditions) it as needed in relation to performance environments and action outcomes. In fact, common practices such as endless, detailed feedback, blocked repetition and authoritarian instructional styles actually degrade skill learning.

The floor is open for discussion…

Practice Instruction and Skill Acquisition in Soccer: Challenging Traditions

Linked Study: How Boxers Decide to Punch a Target: Emergent Behavior in Nonlinear Dynamical Movement Systems

How Boxers Decide to Punch a Target: Emergent Behavior in Nonlinear Dynamical Movement Systems

Hitting a moving target is one of the most inherently athletic skills that I can think of, and it’s an absolutely vital element in a martial artists’ tool box.  I’m a strong advocate of the “hands off” approach of giving a student the conditions in which to explore range and which weapons to apply at different- and changing- ranges. Light moving targets, stationary targets, heavy moving targets and sparring all play an important role.

I’m amazed at how many conversations I’ve had with earnest karate/TMA people wherein they insist that distancing, timing, impact force management and the selection of the appropriate weapon (strike/technique) are best learned with minimal- or no- bag and target work. While some “traditional” martial artists insist that learning how to effectively hit something takes years to develop and master, it’s painfully obvious that a novice student can develop considerable skill in far less time if he or she is allowed to experience feedback instead of endless, abstract technical instruction. Several findings of the study provide insight into why this is so:

By allowing novice boxers
during the basic training sessions, when the
heavy bag practice is mostly used, to explore the
whole spectrum of constraints enabled by each
combination of parameters, they would learn
how to adjust emergent motor solutions to the
hitting task which are specific to their individual
organismic constraints. Once these efficient
coordination patterns have been established with
the heavy bag, learners could move to the task of
hitting moving opponents during light sparring…

…Novice boxers are able to discover and exploit
the scaled performer – target distance region that
affords maximization of the unpredictability (H),
diversity (S) and the efficiency ratio (E) of their
punching actions…

…Spontaneous emergence of boxer – boxer
coordinative states and strategic positioning as a
consequence of boxers’ perception of essential
interacting constraints points to the possibility
that practice should be less loaded with verbal
instructions from the coach to impose decisions.
Rather, practice could be directed towards
creating a variety of learning situations (by
manipulating the dynamics’ constraints) in
which trainees would themselves explore,
discover and thus adapt to the information …

Musings on Angelo Dundee: Helping the Student Teach the Student

I recently read Tim Hauser’s biography/oral history of Muhammad Ali, and found myself equally fascinated with the recollections of his trainer, Angelo Dundee as with those of  The Champ himself. Dundee was Ali’s trainer and corner man for the vast majority of his professional career, and several of his observations about training Ali overlap with the unwieldy task that faces the serious martial arts instructor. Caveat- One thing is apparent above all others: Ali is one of those people who is massively gifted in kinesthetic intelligence and physical ability. The vast majority of us will never be able to approach his prime level of ability, even with the best possible training. My point here isn’t going to be that we can/should all perform or train like Ali, but that some things that his trainer did to work with his natural abilities are worth considering.

Continue reading

Understanding Karate by Deemphasizing kata

Kata and waza are both limited by themselves. They are useless until one learns how to apply them in context.”

Motobu Choki

I’ve been fascinated lately with the struggle to define what karate is, why it is or is not special among fighting arts, and specifically, what role kata play in all of this. A quick look around karate blogs and discussion forums makes it evident that more and more practitioners are looking for answers.

Some seem to content to lean on the dojo kun or Confucian-esque observation of customs and “correct behavior”, which implies that karate is not unlike the Boy Scouts. Often this comes with a distinct air of “if you don’t do it like this, you’re simply a heathen running around on the mats.” When other martial arts groups that use codes of conduct are pointed out, many traditional karate people act like wine critics and put on an air of superiority- even when the codes are worded the same as the dojo kun. So much for open-mindedness.

Continue reading