Wednesday, February 06, 2008

On The Power Of Suggestion

I've been a bit overwhelmed lately dealing with family affairs. I've still been writing but haven't been able to finish pieces due to pressures of phone calls, letters and logs. When one of my students offered to write about a class experience, this is what he produced.

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A funny thing happened while sparring with Guro Jeff recently. After some warm up, we were in the midst of flow and were chatting. I am used to Guro Jeff speeding up and slowing down, playing with the timing to look for an opening. This is nothing new, but this time, he slowed down his speech at the same time that he slowed down his attack. The effect was to hypnotically make me slow down as well. It was then that my opponent went in for his attack and disabled me. The funny thing was that it was almost as if I saw what he was doing but I was trapped under his “spell”. I think fondly back to Star Wars and the concept of the “Jedi Mind Trick” in which Obi Wan used the power of suggestion to convince a pair of Storm Troopers guarding an entrance, to let him and Luke pass It seemed that Jeff had mind-tricked me in the same simple way (his exact words as he was slowing down his speech ended with “slow … down” which is exactly what I did).

Oh well, lesson learned-or was it? When we resumed, Jeff began talking again. This time I was determined not to fall for the same trick. As if sensing this, he changed his tactic, this time asking me a question, offering me the choice between two responses. In the split second that I weighed the answers, he went in for the “kill” again and achieved a successful attack.

I remember working over a year ago with Jeff. At that time we were practicing gun disarms. I stood behind Jeff, the trainer gun pointed at his head. He started talking, asking me some question and then too, used my distraction to take his opportunity to disarm me.

As Guro Jeff explained, this is why the police use simple commands, like “freeze” and “drop your weapon” rather than talk more lengthily to the perpetrator. In my opinion, people are trained to respond to authority, and simple commands spoken with authority, create more of a sense of authority. Perhaps also, the idea is to keep things simple enough not distract yourself.

All this makes sense, of course, but if the power of suggestion can be made to others, at what time can we make suggestions to ourselves to improve our fighting skills? The following time I met to practice with Guro Jeff, we got into a lengthy conversation about the power of thought. Being essentially lazy in my practice, I often use visualization in my techniques at times when I’m not physically practicing them. Thus, I imagine my instructor, or Grandmaster Cabales doing a technique and then I imagine myself copying that technique. Apparently there is some evidence that visualization alone can improve a player’s game.

Taking this a step further, Jeff recommended that I open myself to my own suggestion at bedtime, in order to see what appears out of my subconscious, in my dreams. I took this idea home with me, and that night before going to sleep, I let myself think about my escrima practice, allowing myself to wonder what I might dream about it. That night I had a dream where I was fending off a basic attack, but before I could complete my defensive technique, my opponent switched to a different attack. In the dream, I made a completely unconventional move, rushing my opponent, and taking his center. This was not a technique I had ever tried or even thought of before. The next time I worked out with a partner, I tried this technique, and while it didn’t work as ideally as I had hoped, it was novel, and opened the door to further exploration.

We often think about physical practice, setting goals to reach a new level in training. Of course practice is essential; we train to make the body automatically respond so that we don’t waste time thinking during a conflict, We want to be able to just react instead. I am beginning to see, however, the power of suggestion on my opponent, whether it is with words, my stance, or just my attitude. What I “project” may have an influence on my opponent’s confidence, just as walking through a dark alley hunched over is more of an invitation to be attacked than standing tall, and alert. I am just beginning to realize that I can also rely on all the information that is stored somewhere in my brain, if I allow myself the opportunity to synthesize it. I plan to try techniques like the “dream suggestions” more regularly.

The ultimate in laziness? Practicing in your sleep! If nothing else, I’ll have some entertaining dreams.

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