There have been a number of studies conducted to determine the psychological differences between successful and unsuccessful athletes. One of the crucial differences is that winning athletes had better levels of concentration and focus and were less likely to be distracted than less successful athletes. Loss of concentration can impair performance and maintaining concentration can be a problem for some individuals.
Concentration is about focusing the mind upon one thing, often to the exclusion of others. The ability to concentrate and focus is vitally important to your success as a martial artist.
What is concentration?
Concentration is the ability to focus your attention on whatever is important without being distracted by irrelevant things. Once you have developed and strengthened your ability to concentrate intensely you find that all irrelevant stimuli will seem to fade into the background. As a result of this your performance will improve. In our complex modern world it may seem as if we are constantly bombarded with sensory information. We experience on an on-going basis what can at times seem like a flood of information – what we see. What we hear, what we feel, what we smell and what we taste.
In our modern world, advertisers, political parlies, charities and businesses all attempt to attract our attention. Although it may at times seem as if you are sensing many things at once in reality your brain is scanning the environment and jumping from one area of attentional focus to another. Developing rock solid concentration requires motivation and self-discipline. You will be required to make a conscious effort to pay attention to important things.
One thing is for certain however – by concentrating on your concentration it will improve! The ability to mentally focus is a key trait in achieving optimum mental preparedness and performance. You need to develop the ability to adapt your focus to suit the demands of differing situations. For example, you may wish to have a wide Held of focus for sparring, where it is useful to keep an awareness of the total picture. Whereas when doing forms you may need to keep fewer elements in your awareness. You may choose to focus almost all of your concentration on internal cues such as your body posture and breathing.
This gives us two categories that we can use to explore the subject of concentration in greater detail: 1. Narrow Focus or Broad Focus 2. Internal Focus or External Focus
When combined these give us four quadrants of attentional focus 1. Narrow External 2. Broad External 3. Narrow Internal 4. Broad Internal
Please take some time to consider the four quadrants of attentional focus and where and when each would be appropriate in your martial arts training and competition. In next month’s column we will explore these four quadrants in greater detail. It may take time and effort to develop a laser like focus but the rewards are great. If a steeplejack was using explosives to demolish a chimney next door to where you were competing. You would shift your attention just long enough to assess the situation, decide it wasn’t important and then refocus, ready to perform as if nothing had distracted you!
Everyone has an innate awareness of body position, movement and the support and transfer of weight. Different individuals have varying levels of this body awareness, making it either easier or harder for them to determine if physical movements are performed correctly. It’s effectively your personal feedback loop. Allowing you to adjust movements by ‘feeling’ if they’re right. This awareness increases with continued training.
Observing your reflection in a mirror while shadow sparring can reveal some surprising flaws in your stance and technique even when it feels right. Using mirrors allows you to self-critique your movements far more effectively.
Video footage allows complete visual review of your performance without hindering your movements in the process – you don’t have to face the mirror! Digital camcorders/cameras also allow frame-by-frame slow motion review of your technique. As well as this qualitative’ assessment, video footage can be used to go a step further and measure ‘quantitative’ speed. If you know the frame rate (fps) of your camcorder/camera you can determine the time taken to execute a technique by counting the number of frames. Digital cameras in ‘video’ mode tend to have 10 frames per second and camcorders 24 frames per second. So for example, if your camera has a frame-rate of 10 frames per second and your kick takes six frames to land. Then your kick took approximately 0.6 seconds to complete. This can be a powerful tool in comparing the speed of two different performances.
Try comparing the speed of your kicks at the start of the round to those thrown at the end; or those thrown in the first round compared to those in the final round!
Heart Rate Monitor
Using a heart rate monitor during a number of padwork rounds is an excellent way to ensure that you’re pushing yourself. Record your heart rate both al the end of each working round and again at the end of the rest period between rounds. This tells you how hard you are pushing yourself, and how well you can recover between rounds. Keeping a training diary of this information serves as a great motivational tool and highlights your progression. Also, try filming these workouts to examine your physical output as well as how hard it was for you.
All of the above feedback methods need to be applied within a repeatable timing structure. Automated timing intervals are extremely useful to a martial artist. You need to know that your fitness permits you to execute your techniques consistently for the required duration. Round timers are available as hardware devices or a simple audio
CDs or MP3 downloads.
Combining the use of a video camera, heart rale monitor and a round timer, while conducting padwork. Bagwork or sparring is an extremely effective learning tool providing first class feedback. Remember, without feedback you can’t improve!