The battle is fought in the mind.

imageThe Secret Service call it muscle memory when they react a certain way while protecting the President. They rely on years of training their minds to react in a certain way during a crisis. When the crisis occurs, they respond without conscious effort.

Perhaps the first runner to experiment with this phenomenon was Sir Roger Bannister. He was the first man to run the mile in less than 4 minutes. Most have said Sir Roger’s success came because he, better than anyone, perceived the battle for the 4-minute mile was fought in the mind, not in the body.

Bannister reduced the race to its simplest common denominator – 400m in 1:00 or multiples thereof. He trained until running 400m in 1:00, 24 km per hour, became automatic.

In spite of my obvious disdain for the animal forms of Kung Fu, I voluntarily attended a 12 Animal Knife Seminar this past Saturday that my Sifu offered to the class. The opportunity to train with the knife offset the fact that we would spend the day performing these dreaded animal forms.

Surprisingly, as soon as I, my opponent or both of us had a knife in our hand, the animal forms were no longer the monkey, snake, hawk or eagle. They became the reaction we happened to use to disarm our opponent. It was simply a rehearsed, automatic response to a specific situation.

During any given class you will hear Sifu say, “Train your body so that it reacts automatically.” Even in Tai Chi when we are moving ever-so-slowly, he assures us in a crisis our body will react in the way we have trained it to respond…but fast.
It happens because it is the brain you have trained, not just the muscles.

It has been suggested that successful athletes use quite similar psychological strategies to prepare themselves for competition:

During training:

  • Goal setting,
  • not being upset by problems before competition,
  • visualization.

During competition:

  • Goal setting,
  • put more effort into competition than into training,
  • plan your racing strategy, control nervousness,
  • concentrate, focus,
  • give maximum effort,
  • perform up to expectation.

After competition:

  • Learn from each race.

“My mind remained quite cool and detached. It merely switched over the lever, and well-worn channels carried to my body the extra energy that my mind unleashed.” (Bannister 1955)

In class on Saturday, Sifu told us about a Kung Fu student that was unfortunately attacked one night by a man with a knife. The student’s training kicked in and he disarmed his opponent and took the knife.

When we disarm our classmates, we immediately hand the knife back to them so we can go through the drill again. After the student disarmed his real opponent, he too handed the knife back to his attacker!

“From now on,” Sifu said, “we will take a moment before we surrender our knives in class.

“Training the mind is powerful.” he said.