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When learning a subject in school, whether it be in first grade or for your PhD in college, one needs to use the higher brain functions to memorize terms or words or to understand concepts. However, a disconnect can sometimes occur when learning a physical skill that requires automatic actions. If we are to safely drive an automobile, we must do a few things without thinking about them. The idea of true multitasking has been debunked by scientists who study such things. The big brain can truly just handle one thing at a time and must continually shift attention back and forth in order to handle several tasks.

Firstly, the body is controlled by two brain hemispheres, the Cerebrum or the ‘big brain” and the Cerebellum or the “little brain.” It is known that the big brain is where conscious thought resides. This is where we calculate math, we write poetry and make decisions. This is where we study ideas and concepts.

The little brain is known to be the controller of repetitive tasks such as heartbeat, breathing, digesting food, blinking of eyes, and so on. We do not have to think about these things.

In learning a physical task such as martial arts, we can study the concepts and consider the design of the system’s structure, reason for certain positions and so on. However, if we really want to make the body absorb and retain movements, we must repeat the movements over and over with our mind on the movements and their intent. We cannot first think about a movement before we do it in real self-defense. It will be much too late to first, see a punch or a knife coming at us, then calculate speed, distance, all with the big brain, then consider which technique would be appropriate. It is important to get certain automatic training installed into one’s little hard drive (little brain) first.

Each shape, structure, position, and technique has been carefully considered as to what it does, and whether we can do it. Many things are going on at once in Wing Tsun. We cover our center line from feet to the head. We use a redundant hand technique. One hand is out in front of the other. The lead hand is normally closer to the attack. However, the rear hand is the backup system.

With so much going on at one time, it is important for the Wing Tsun student to repeat simple actions over and over so that they become automatic. We cannot think about our stance in a fight. Our legs must be where they should be when we need them to be. Some things will need a great deal more work than others. Sometimes we have body habits that are ingrained, and they must be changed such as weight on one leg while standing, overuse of one hand instead of the other, an old injury than we favor and so on. Analysis of the problem only goes a little way. It is not so important why. It is important that we train the body so that you can rely on it. You must be able to rely on your hands and feet to be where you need them, when you need them. Do not dwell on “why.” This will only lead to excuses on why something cannot be learned.

Simplify by focusing on getting rid of habits that prevent proper execution of the techniques.

Sifu Keith Sonnenberg

Reference: The Mysterious Neuroscience of Learning Automatic Skills

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