Monday, 27 December 2010

Latency in Martial Arts

Ever had an argument with someone and not come out of it well because it happened so fast that you could not express yourself correctly? It's terrible. You spend the next few days thinking about all the things you could have said. It can play on your mind for a long time. 

One of the biggest deciding factors in any conflict (physical or verbal) is your personal latency. 

The word Latency is used in many fields of industry. For the sake of this article, the engineering definition for latency is as follows:

Latency is a measure of time delay experienced in a system, the precise definition of which depends on the system and the time being measured.

My definition of latency for a martial artist is:

Latency is a measure of time delay experienced between the sensory observation of danger and the correct physical reaction.

My father told me a story of a soldier who came back from war. His family celebrated his safe return by throwing a party. During the party, his daughter surprised him by jumping on his back, and he swung around and smashed a glass in her face. Although this is a very sad and  extreme example, the soldier interpreted his sensory input as danger, and as a result, did not  deploy the correct physical reaction.

Whether it is a heated debate, or someone trying to mug you for your money, life forces you to make decisions quickly. If you do the wrong thing, it is probably because the parameters of your latency have been compromised. The price you pay can be high. So what can you do to improve your latency and enable you to make the correct decisions quicker? Let's take a look at some of the things that slow you down and how to make improvements:

Body weight: If you cannot handle your own body weight correctly, you cannot hope to physically react quickly - whether it is running away or just moving out of trouble, making yourself physically mobile is your highest priority. 

Economy of effort: Learning to move correctly will not only reduce your day-to-day physical stress, but will improve your ability to move quickly. Any martial arts class will give you a way to do this. 

Experience in physical contact: Self-defence classes and martial arts classes are very good at putting you into non-threatening physical contact with other people. They enable you to discover more about how the human body works.

No formal training: Violence is - by it's very nature - chaotic. Having a technique - a set way of defending yourself is very important. Having faith in that technique is even more important than you think.

Sensitivity: By this, I mean two things. The first is the ability to read situations and people's body language. If you are aware that you are angering someone, you can change your approach or walk away before the conflict becomes physical. The second is in a physical conflict, where you should be able to use all your senses to observe your opponent's state. This will give you the important information to end the conflict.

Fear, anger and other negative emotions: This is by far the largest barrier to your latency (remember this is about making the correct physical reaction). Fear roots your feet to the ground, turns your brain to mush or makes you over-react to situations. Anger makes you resort to violence where none was required.  One of the biggest differences between modern martial arts that have evolved in the ring, and the more ritualistic, traditional arts is that the modern arts do not have any strategy for calming the mind.

The more ritualistic traditional arts have elevated their practice to a higher level than mere ring craft. They transcend physical conflict and in doing so, resolve many of the reasons for it. There is a taoist phrase that sums it up:

"There are two types of people. The warrior and the sage. The warrior is a powerful person who covers his own weaknesses and exposes the weaknesses of his enemies. The sage merely has no weaknesses. He gives himself up, and in doing so, gains everything."