“How can you be consciously unconscious?…It sounds like a contradiction in terms; yet this state can be achieved. Perhaps a better way to describe the player who is ‘unconscious’ is by saying that his mind is so concentrated, so focused, that it is still. It becomes one with what the body is doing, and the unconscious or automatic functions are working without interference from thoughts…The ability to approach this state is the goal of the Inner Game”
W. Timothy Gallwey
“It is the mistrust of [the unconscious body intelligence] which causes both the interference called ‘trying too hard’ and that of too much self-instruction. The first results in using too many muscles, the second in mental distraction and lack of concentration”
W. Timothy Gallwey
One of the things we can do to bring Wing Chun training into the 21st Century is to consider modern sports psychology.
Gallwey’s book (I recently discovered) is a classic in that it was one of the first books (in the West) to discuss the idea that sports performance could be affected by conflicts in the mind of the athlete.
Of course, in the East, it has long been understood that athletes, and in particular, warriors, can only reach the pinnacle of performance when they can reduce the interference of the ego. Books like The Unfettered Mind: Writings from a Zen Master to a Master Swordsman examine how the warrior can learn to act without thinking, reducing reaction time and allowing the body to move with its own innate wisdom (using grooves of behavior laid down in the many hours of practice).
This is the key point to remember. They aren’t saying that if you just let go and feel (like in Star Wars) you will have some supernatural ability. First you train, learning the stance and the movements and doing everything many times. Then you learn how to get out of your own way and let your body do what it has been taught in the moment. Because fear and performance anxiety and self-criticism will hamstring your capabilities.
At a crucial point in your development as a fighter, these issues will become the most important, even more important than the physical training.
The book is not long (80 something pages) and here is a nice ten minute summary someone did on Youtube.
Once you learn how to learn, you only have only to discover what is worth learning.
W. Timothy Gallwey
“It is the duty of your opponent to create the greatest possible difficulties for you.”
W. Timothy Gallwey
This is Part 2 of a two part examination of the excellent book, The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance by W. Timothy Gallwey. The book, written in the 1970s, was an early (Western) examination of the link between meditation and sports performance and a seminal work in the personal development and sports psychology fields.
Of course, I filter everything through Wing Chun!
I often find that I need to learn the same lesson 50 times or 50 different ways before I can get it into my fighting, so I like to study materials outside of Wing Chun, such as the psychology of learning, habit formation, sports physiology, etc.
Many of Gallwey’s points have relevance to us as Wing Chun practitioners (and really, as humans).
Like so much in athletics and fighting specifically, there are lessons that can make you a better athlete, but which bleed over into your regular life. This is, in fact, the point with much of martial arts training. You may not be super likely to find yourself in a fight to the death (but it DOES happen!) but you do have to learn to concentrate and deal with stress.
I took a bunch of notes and here a few ideas I marked as relevant along with my application of these ideas to fighting:
Acute awareness of where the racket head is located
One of the things you want to develop as a fighter is a sort of three dimensional picture of the fight.
You need to know where you are and where they are, down to a pretty fine point, and you should always be able to answer the question “can they hit me?” This is a question of range. Of course, some people (notably Bruce Lee) are very good as bridging a long distance with footwork.
This why the cops have their 21 Foot Rule.
How do you develop this sense?
Feel your body in motion and pay attention to your own range. Where does it start and end?
Train in slow motion. I know, its hard because each training partner will suddenly move faster and you get “hit.” Who cares! You have to “learn to lose.” The goal is the overall goal of getting better, not “scoring points” in this particualr training session.
Compete with yourself, not your training partners. They will probably not be there when you suddenly need martial skill.
I came very close to moving away from Oakland a while back and I started training differently, as I kept thinking to myself: “What matters is what I can carry away in my mind and body — whether I hit or get hit in any particular moment is of little consequence.”
This is very important for fighting – the making of rhythms for traing and learning how to create broken rhythms and making sure to introduce randomness and to go slow and fast in response to your opponents patterns.
Don’t go “dat da dat da.”
Go “dat dat da da dat dat dat da.”
The Everlasting Now
The fight is always NOW.
Learning to keep the mind in the present takes practice. Most of us begin by dwelling on our mistakes or taking actions to prevent what we fear (being hit). We get ahead of ourselves and do the wrong action based on our incorrect prediction of what will happen.
We have to wait and respond to reality.
This keeping the mind in the Now can be trained with more chi sao (guided to work on this issue of developing patience and waiting) or with other types of focused concentration, such as mediation.
It is sometimes difficult to let go of the ego drive when involved in ego defensiveness or one-upsmanship or trying to be the best or whatever.
“The desire to prove oneself competent and worthy of the respect of self and others.”
Other various motivations, such as making friends or building social status.
These sorts of mental approaches to training can result in your “becoming embroiled in an unrealistic chasing of perfection.”
Always compare yourself to yourself, and chase incremental improvements.
Avoid the sort of mindset where “Playing well = winning = being worthy.”
He talks about losing concentration by ruminating about the past or speculating in the future.
He describes a circle of awareness with three rings, tightening from outer to inner: Awareness, Attention, Concentration.
Concentration is a point. Awareness is diffused.
He discusses methods for taking your ego off line to allow your other mind (unconscious) to respond as trained, effortlessly.
His example is focusing on trying to see the seams of the ball. This concentration distracts the mind from mico-managing the “body.”
What I find works for me (sometimes!) is to focus on waiting. I resist my urge to rush (to defend or attack) and wait for him to act. Wing Chun is a second action system. “He hits first, I hurt him first” as Gary Lam would say.
“Concentration is the supreme art…By learning to concentrate while playing tennis, one develops a skill that can heighten his performance in every other aspect of his life.”
Detachment and concentration.
The second (unconscious) self (what Galwey calls Self2) is shown through “visualization and felt action, not commands, especially not with emotional force.”
You can’t beat yourself into doing it right.
I have learned it is best to be patient and take the long view, taking on one change at a time.
Have faith in the process and expect results, but be patient. Relax.
Interestingly, he discusses something I have experienced a little, the idea that this sort of training, of letting go and letting the body do what it knows how to do, is less satisfying to the ego, or consciously controlling mind, which always prefers to make it happen itself.
This results in a progress that is somewhat less satisfying since it isnt the ego satisfaction of forcing the body by will – its more like letting go and letting something outside YOUR control to do it.
It just happens.