September 2014

The Martial Arts Mental Game – Where to Start.

All decisions that we make are dependant on our emotions in order to be made.

Research has indicated that we need the parts of our brain that control emotions to make decisions, without them we just cannot decide on anything.

Therein lies a difficulty when we need to operate at peak performance whether studying, playing chess, working through business decisions or learning and competing in a physical activity, such as martial arts; our emotional state of mind can interfere with our performance, often severely inhibiting it.

The ability to control our emotions so that we can obtain optimal performance is a skill that can be learned and trained just the same as the physical skills and the effect is synergistic on performance.

There are several methods which we will introduce here.

  1. Goal setting, visualization and relaxation: These techniques are the basis of peak performance methodologies whether we are following a conventional psychology path or utilizing more modern albeit controversial techniques of Hypnosis, NLP or Neurosemantics as we discuss below. Conventional sports psychology texts cover these in great deal and provide specific techniques and tools that will provide a strong basis for developing a strong mental state of mind for optimal performance. 

  2. Hypnosis: Hypnosis has been used for many years for many things. Until recently it was treated with suspicion and it’s efficacy was not supported by many in the professional psychology field. However, recent research has indicated that there is definitely a change in the way the brain functions when placed into a hypnotic state. Those who have used hypnosis as a means to improve their state of mind when performing have show very real results. It enables the mind to focus on achieving the basic methods, described above, through a very focused mind-set.

  3. NLP: A set of tools that allows adjustment of the mind through various techniques that may change the conditioned responses to past experiences and also produce more powerful mid-sets. Part of the basis of NLPs methodology is to break down the negative conditioning that has occurred as we grow up and replace it with positive conditioning though anchoring. Although controversial, the results that have been obtained by the supporters of the methodology have been very positive and the hypotheses underlying the method are sound, however at this point in time it has yet to be investigated with sound, robust scientific method.

  4. Neurosemantics: This approach to cognitive behavioral change evolved from the NLP methods. The major development with Neurosemantics is the depth to which the change techniques reach. The objective is to dig deep into the foundations of a subjects experiences that have set up underlying experientially formed primary responses, with the premise, in mind, that these and subsequently formed responses have developed as a result of the experientially formed response network. It is a very powerful approach to mental development, however, as with NLP, it has yet to be investigated and supported by research.

The main objective with all of these methods is to obtain a relaxed mind-set that can allow the mind to make fast accurate decisions that optimize performance. The major approaches are focused on controlling our emotional state of mind during performance, as it has a very powerful influence on our decision making ability.

In summary, the conventional techniques outlined in (1) tend to approach development in the present with little, if any, attention to changing already existing responses. The techniques of (2) Hypnosis and (3) NLP take the approach to change further by working to change existing responses, and the (4)Neurosemantics approach takes the approach to the foundational levels of response development with the hypothesis that these, in turn, affect the way that we respond to challenges and form new responses.

For further information on these techniques consult Dr Geoff Aitken, Ph.D., chief instructor at the Academy of Combat Mixed Martial Arts school, who is a fully qualified trainer and practitioner of NLP, Neurosemantics and hypnosis.   

Sparring Muay Thai and MMA for Children’s Classes.

At my Christchurch Martial Arts academy I have a very big children’s martial arts program that is divided into 3 age groups: 5 to 7 years, 8 to 12 years and 13 to 15 years of age.

Recently several of my young students in the 8 to 12 year classes reached levels of technical ability that I felt would benefit from the inclusion of sparring in their class structure.  

Several of the kids and their parents had asked me about sparring in the past and had tried it earlier. However, I found that it required a large amount of control which if not maintained quickly turned into a slugfest in which winning was the only goal; the same problem that we have with the adult sparring sessions.

There is little value supporting this type of sparring culture, as very little can be learned if just a few stronger children dominate everyone else. This serves to destroy the confidence of many children and ultimately ends in their giving up training.

Sparring should be an extension of learning, not a test. I approached the introduction of sparring with this learning mind-set uppermost in my mind. One of the first things I did was have the young students strike me with their round kicks to the legs and punches to the head. This allowed me to determine the power that they were delivering and give them feedback on how much was acceptable for sparring.

I have to say that even at 8 years of age these kids could hit with a good degree of power and the feedback I was able to give them prepared them well for the sparring with each other.

Then, when they were sparring I watched and controlled their sparring meticulously; stopping them when they were beginning to become frustrated and striking to hard. In addition, I gave them instruction on strategy as they were fighting so that they would have an idea what to do.

I reasoned that if they did not have a plan of how to put the strikes and counters that they had learned up to that point, in class drilling, then they would not know what to do in the random exchange of a sparring match. It is down to trial and error which is a very poor method of learning, especially in the learning of a combat skill where the chances of getting hurt are high.

I kept this instruction when the match went to the ground, helping both the students with instruction. The outcome, to date, has been very productive and promising with the students developing a good technical grasp of sparring. Although this approach requires a great deal of input and control it does pay huge dividends in students develop and retention.

The key point here is the value of feedback in martial arts sparring which, if given properly with the students working together in a controlled and cooperative manner, will achieve very productive results.