Friday, June 22, 2018

How Bruce Lee may have improved skill using biofeedback by Badger Johnson

The method of improving a skill…

In martial arts, a skill would be a way to be more effective.

1) Identify the skill needed correctly. That means applying a criteria set to assure one is not working towards a relatively unhelpful skill.

2) Find a way to measure the skill, establish a baseline, then find a way to measure the skill improvements. Ideally, this method of measuring should be similar to the human paradigm and be able to break down improvements into fine increments. For example you may want to measure the ability to increase speed. First you break down speed into components. You have MPH speed, initial speed, reaction speed, movement speed. If you can separate these, then build even a small increase into each then when you add them back into technique speed, they may be able to synergize and give a bigger improvement. All improvement would probably need to incorporate bio-feedback. It’s known that some functions and abilities do respond to biofeedback if you can find the method. You can even improve certain functions of the body thought to be involuntary (BP, pulse rate, maybe even synapse firing). You would need a way to show the effect - for example an oscilloscope or a meter of some kind, like a reflex timer.

If you were just trying to ‘move faster’ with no idea of your actual speed or you increase or get an improvement you might succeed better doing some kind of training, yet never know it. Being able to monitor even small improvements is essential, since the increase of something as fine-tuned as speed could be in very subtle stages.

If you were trying to improve power, say power in hitting you could have a power meter such as a punching pad which would give impact in specific digital terms. You could the experiment and find the various methods. You could start just measuring your favorite moves to establish a base-line. Then you’d break moves down into thirds (a favorite method of Bruce Lee’s [BL]) and then work to build power in each, trying to do two basic things. First you’d want to remove all barriers to power such as tensing opposing muscles, then you’d want to be bio-mechanically perfect - no wasted movements or out of synch movements.

You’d look at the various attributes such as speed, power, fluidity, chaining moves, assisting moves, foot movements, and methods of getting ground-path involved. Drop step, body inclination, hip rotation, hip pivot, and so forth would be studied. You’d want to reduce the recoil of your power transfer so you weren’t getting a return jolt and assure all the force was going into the opponent.

3) You would look at the combination of availability and delivery system on the body’s vital or crucial systems. One method would be to view the body as a machine. The body functions on levers and hydraulics and bellows (breathing) and circulation. You’re want to have a consideration of a way to interrupt or disrupt one or more of those mechanical systems. This was popularized back in the 80s by Ron Van Clief, surprisingly. By using this method you can isolate and discriminate your approach. You’re not just saying ‘oh, hit the solar plexus’, you’re saying hit it how, (delivery system) and why (disrupts the circulation, nervous system and breathing). Indeed there might be other ways to view the weaknesses and functions of the human body but this is one of them.

Another is to ‘control the head’. This is a good approach because it’s very simple. You can often find a way to control, grab, encircle, trap or otherwise restrict the head. Then you have control over the sensory systems, the balance, the hearing, and even the breathing, You may be able to do a simple head trap and then follow up fairly easy. This is the method I did back in the 80s when I was to fight (spar) two opponents. I calmly stepped forward and put my hand behind the larger opponent’s head in almost a calm motion and bent him forward at the waist. From there it was easy to get a lapel choke position but just to hold him there. I used his body as a support to throw a kick and hit the other opponent. This was so totally unexpected the first opponent, when I let him go, ran over and grabbed his clothes and knapsack and ran out of the studio. He did not see the soft head trap as a danger and so was lulled into moving with me and not resisting at first, but by then it was too late.

5. Another method is to use apparatus to improve various functions. You can unleash on an apparatus much more readily than on an opponent even if they are wearing protective gear. You can spring load the apparatus to not ‘disrupt’ unless sufficient force was applied and have a variable setting. This is just biofeedback in a different form. It’s why BL had James Lee build the various pieces of equipment, each with a specific skill set to improve in its design.

6. Certainly there are skill sets which are more of base building than specific. You can build broad systems, mitochondrial density, nerve pathways, hypertrophy, vascular supply and cortisol clearance. There may be other skill sets you can work with that are not well known. It’s known that things like learning to juggle which has been shown to build the cortical or cerebellar regions of the brain (1). I would think doing things like variable sinawali would also build those systems, as well as hand juggling (Balisong manipulation and knife flipping) could improve the ability to ‘break down time increments’.

7. A good example of being able to break down time is to study music. We have ‘grace notes’, syncopation, rhythm and beat and those can be translated it things like ‘insertions’ when doing energy drills. Sinawali takes a three part rhythm and makes it more accessible. People normally work in a 1-2 manner not in ‘triplets’, as in 1-2-3, which are inherently faster. Here you develop ‘fast eyes’, as Guro Dan Inosanto calls it.

8. Working on the previously discussed non-intention speed and non-telegraphic speed is important. You can film yourself and watch the videos to find imperfections and to enable you to smooth out movements. They have things like force plates which and be used with biometric filming to help a golfer develop a better swing. Those could be adapted to be used in martial arts.

To bring this into perspective - when BL was working on his ability to hit 4-5 taped together pine boards which were free hanging, using a stepping side kick he didn’t just keep trying to do it as a whole skill. I believe he would have broken it down into steps and sequences, maybe figured out the force of his kick and the force needed to break them and worked on methods and positions to bring those up to the required speed and power. He’d have used machines and graduated methods.


Please check out Badger Johnson's other essays:



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