We’re all fascinated when a ‘David’ beats a ‘Goliath’. It fosters hope that the little guy can defeat the big bully. It is upon this premise that our system of Shaolin Chuan Fa is based. We learn many combinations of techniques imitating various animals, not in hopes of actually performing them on someone in a real fight (that particular series of moves may not fit the action), but for the purpose of having these movements become like second nature to us. In this way, when we are fighting, the appropriate move and counter will just ‘pop out’ without our having to think about it. This is the way our techniques will become effective in ‘real time’.
If you’re not familiar with brain architecture, let me give you some basics. We have three major sections to our brains. There is the medulla oblongata, or brain stem, which takes care of all autonomic functions like breathing and temperature regulation. (Wouldn’t it be difficult if we had to concentrate on making our hearts beat at the correct rate for the exercise load we’re experiencing?) Then there is the cerebrum. This is the folded, convoluted outer section that we all recognize as the brain. Here is where our thinking takes place and where all voluntary actions originate. When we learn something, we must use the cerebrum to analyze and process the information into memory.
In war, or fighting, we face our most important use of the cerebellum. Our lives depend on how well we coordinate when we fight. That is why, in the martial arts, we spend so much time doing techniques on each other. Our judgments about which kick or punch to use and from what range to use them must be automatic. If you have to think at all — you’re in the past. Effective fighting is beyond the speed of thought. If you iterate anything in your mind as you fight, you’re not up to speed. In fact, fighting is as close to the concept of ‘no mind’ that I’ve ever come.
With that in mind, let me describe the three stages of learning how to fight. In the first stage, you don’t know what to do and consequently can’t do it. You look untrained and you’re feeling pretty clumsy! In the second stage, you figure out what to do, but processing takes too much time and your technique doesn’t score – you still look like a novice. Then, as if by magic, suddenly you start to fight well. Now your automatic responses are coming to you within the time frame demanded by the fast pace of fighting.
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