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Seeking Perfection in TMA!!!

by George Mattson
Interesting discussion going on in Bill’s Forum. Gets to the heart of TMA training and the discipline associated with trying to perform technique in an accurate manner. I see some very interesting subjects that are near and dear to all of us who spend a lifetime practicing a martial art. Is there something about the repetition and striving for perfection that is relevant to self defense or should we simply accept the fact that all the work and time put into this discipline mostly falls into the “healthy exercise” category and if we really want to learn self defense, go pick fights in your local Biker bar! 🙂
Here is the basic questions that started the discussion, followed by Bill Glasheen’s very technical explanation that supports the TMA training philosophy. Drop in to see what others have to say. . . GEMattson.

 “The nervous system was not designed to do the same thing over and over again.“The nervous system was designed to be flexible. You typically find yourself doing things you’ve never done before.”

“So if this study is right, do certain kinds of traditional karate training and ideals make us slower and less effective by trying to get us to be consistent? What do all those “sloppy” but effective karate masters know that the picture perfect ones don’t?”
Bill’s Response: I’m not sure you get this one, Mike.

I think people can over interpret the results. This is just a consequence of the nonlinearity of our makeup. When you have a system capable of displaying mathematical chaos behavior, then you never, ever, ever retrace your steps exactly the same way.

This reminds me of my dissertation. In it, I was trying to take a publication from Science (Cohen et al from Harvard) and bring it to the next step. They hypothesized that heart-rate rhythms as measured by Power Spectral analysis could be an indication of autonomic nervous system health. Hearts beat faster and slower due to our breathing activity and various control systems in our body (blood pressure and blood flow). It gets “cross talked” to the heart-rate via the autonomic nervous system. This is how this rhythmic activity looks in the frequency domain.


The low peak is blood pressure and blood flow control system noise getting cross-talked to the heart-rate via the autonomic nervous system. The higher peak is respiration (inhale/exhale) doing the same. If you take one over that higher peak frequency, you can see what the average breathing cycle time is. In other words, 1/(.25 Hz) = 1/(.25 cycles per second) = 4 seconds per breath cycle.

Cohen and others thought perhaps we could measure the health of the autonomic nervous system in disease processes such as diabetes by measuring the magnitude of these peaks. It was a nice idea… Here’s the kicker though. In his Science publication, Cohen said that these peaks were “stable” over time.

I wanted to make that diagnostic test for my dissertation. The goal was for me to build a device that measured how badly diabetes was being controlled by measuring the inability of the autonomic nervous system to carry this cross-talk traffic. You could do the measurements simply by measuring someone’s electrocardiogram and performing some mathematical magic.

There was one problem. After 2 years of trying to reproduce Cohen’s “stable” peaks, I found out that he… lied. They weren’t stable. Quite the contrary, only SICK people or people under stress exhibited stable rhythms. Healthy people capable of responding to every little perturbation in their environment had PSD peaks that came and went and came and went… And when you think about it, that’s a good thing.

Part of what makes us “human” is that we can never fully be predicted. We have “free will.” We never do things quite the same way every time we do it. We are a reflection of every little hiccup around us, and it manifests itself via a response that we can never predict with 100% precision. And that, my friend, is because nonlinear mathematical systems operate that way. “Chaos” means a little perturbation can have a big effect, and vice versa. It means we never, ever retrace our steps exactly the same way. It means the flight of a butterfly in South America can affect the weather in North America next year (hence “the butterfly effect”).

And that’s the most interesting part of the world and people around us.

From a martial arts point of view… Being hypersensitive to your environment is a good thing, right? You know what I found in my dissertation? Your ability to be hypersensitive to surroundings (have unstable PSD peaks) went down as your level of stress went up (loss of blood, exercise). The more severe the stress, the more stable the peaks, and hence the less sensitive the person was to perturbations in the environment. We want to keep our stress under control when threatened. Otherwise we start to develop “martial tunnel vision.” Our ability to be aware of more than one BG at a time goes down the toilet.

From a martial arts point of view… Being not 100% predictable is a good thing, right? We never want a BG to know exactly how we will respond. We may respond similarly the second or third time he does something, but never exactly the same way. It’s our salvation, when you think about it.

From the strictly “art” point of view… The fact that we never do something the same way every time is what makes art beautiful. If 5 hand-made vases looked like they all came out of the same factory mold, we wouldn’t find them interesting. The “imperfections” are what makes them interesting and desirable. The fact that you never know exactly what my kata will look like each time I do it is what makes me watchable – to the extent that I MIGHT be…

Jazz celebrates that. Jazz takes a structure and follows it. But it never does it the same way every time. The variation becomes a desirable component.

– Bill

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