Aging Martial Artists

When older martial arts are practice many tend to think, Tai Chi Chuan. Where older practitoners are seen in parks, etc. making slow movements that are graceful, rhythmic and peaceful. Aging martial artists have to deal with those aging issues just like people who are not martial artist but one of the great things about martial arts is that one can practice the arts regardless of their age.

Tai Chi Chuan is a wonderful and beneficial system for any age but is especially beneficial, in my view, to those who have reached the, “Winter Years” of life. It is a wonderful time of life, the age beyond the first sixty years. The changes nature inflicts on us can be mitigated by certain mental and physical efforts and this blog is about how the effort of martial arts practice can and does mitigate and alleviate the aging processes.

So, this blog will be about that aging process and how the practice of martial arts can help. The first article that will follow will simply list those aging issues that directly relate to the practice of martial arts such as balance as it relates to falling. As with any effort such as this it warrants the readers effort in understanding that this effort is from a non-professional view and with that stated I encourage each reader review the caveat provided here and at the start of each article. I also encourage each and every person who is taking up this practice to make sure it meets approval by your personal medical professional. Get that before you try to participate in martial arts or any program that would benefit you as you age.

Blog Article/Post Caveat (Read First Please: Click the Link)

Bibliography (Click the link)

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Sensory Degradation Elder Karate-ka (and Martial Artists)

Blog Article/Post Caveat (Read First Please: Click the Link)

Some preparatory Information: We depend a lot on our senses to input signals that help our minds to create our realities. It is a matter of sensory input signals of what is happening in the external real world, as real as it can be considering, where the signals hit our brains so that various routines can run to extract memories of that external world to create a internal world. The internal world is then compared enough to validate the inner worlds reality while making some changes and filling in, from the data stored in our brains, blanks by assumptions made by our inner world brains. Phew, a mouthful that is and it is only a simplified explanation to get the topic started.

Some more preparatory Information: Now, there is vastly more out there in the real world, the real Universe. Our sensory systems only detect signals that are necessary for our survival and our very existence. Nature has come to set those sensory signal detectors for what we need and not what we don’t need therefore what is out their beyond our detection capabilities of sensory systems is simply hidden away, undetectable except through our innovative capabilities to build other signal capture devices that translate those hidden signals into a form our human sensory systems can relay to our brains.

The nest preparatory Information: Our basic sensory system that gathers and sends signals to our brain are the sense of sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, vibrations, and temperature. It is through these sensory detectors and signal generators that we live and travel through our world, our Universe, to live, survive and grow or evolve as humans. 

You might be a bit surprised by the list of senses that I listed especially as it regards to vibrations and temperature. Some will assume that touch covers both vibrations and temperature but the sense of touch, tactile, doesn’t cover them all. We feel vibrations through our entire body, both externally and internally. 

Take walking, we actually feel vibrational signals as we walk when our feet lift and set in the walk with the connections made with the ground, the Earth. Then we feel and detect vibrations of others walking around us, the vehicles passing on the streets and other vibrations also often heard with other senses such as sound, that are also vibrations that hit both the external body and the hearing sensory organs. It is about an integration of a variety of sensory detectors that feed our internal world so we can build the reality of the external world in which our bodies, mind and spirits travel while we live.

What makes all this particular difficult is we modern humans don’t have the full and more comprehensive data of all these sensory signals out there to translate them into something useful and usable to make decisions, both conscious and subconsciously, to act accordingly therefore making the freeze more common and frequent. 

The Topic: Now, as we age all these sensory detectors and transmitters tend to degrade in efficiency. Take hearing for instance, we tend to lose various levels of signal broadcasts like the level that allows us to hear conversations, etc. The current way to overcome that degradation is to wear hearing aids, a great creation to which I have a close affinity. 

In our training and practice as karate-ka and martial arts we train to have a certain awareness that requires input from our sensory systems as listed above. We often assume that sight and hearing do all the work but do they really? I believe that the other sensory systems are putting out a lot of information and transmitting that to our brains. We assume and hope that our brains will be able to make sense of those signals to they are added to the inner worlds analysis process and extracting the zombie procedural memories to act accordingly. In daily life that ignorance to such things is not a bad thing, it makes our lives easier and instinctual in nature but as to self-defense through the application of principled based methodologies, etc., it comes down to encoding, changing, and creating sub-routines of procedural processes and actions to get the job done. 

As I have written before this process is dependent on a huge amount of knowledge, understanding and experience so that the signals will have appropriate comparisons to build the inner world in a way that allows us to apply actions, tactics and strategies to the external world in real-time, as real-time as the brain allows, to get-r-done. 

When we feel vibrations do we know the meaning behind them and how they should either trigger our spidey senses or tell us all is ok to continue everyday life processes? 

As we age and our sensory systems degrade how we adjust and compensate has a lot to do with creating a mind-state that knows and understands them so they become useful. Our brains have a great ability to make changes to adjust but it takes intention focused on utilizing other sensory systems to compensate such as better visual ability and the use of the bodies ability to detect things like vibrations and how the body feels them and interprets the signals so that the degraded hearing can be augmented or bypassed altogether. 

As an elder karate-ka and martial artist with a deep interest in and a good understanding of self-defense in karate who has a huge hearing loss as well as a rerouted and new program toward balance from meniere’s (vertigo, etc.) I can say with some confidence that a focus on other sensory detection methods and processes has greatly improved other systems over the hearing system, auditory systems, so that I can still achieve my goals in karate, martial arts and self-defense. 

If you train and practice mindfulness of our body, internal and external, with a focus on the different sensory systems then you are creating strong neuron signal systems that will encode in the brain, the mind, so that they are available to build your defenses both immediate for self-defense defenses and to the every day life obstacles and situations that need such sensory input to achieve accuracy, efficiency and proficiency. 

A good example, or so I think, is to practice and train with your eyes closed. You feel your body, you try to consciously detect how your body feels and interprets vibrations and temperatures to tell your mind about your environment and what that means in taking actions, etc., in the moment. How about using ear plugs to diminish your detection of sound waves, can your body and eyes provide you the information necessary to say detect things out of your visual detection? 

You are training your mind to be more conscious of other sensory signals like on a walk in a park you direct your mindfulness to feeling the breeze on your skin, your face, and your body, through your clothes and by the exposed skin, etc., to detect what is in your environment then contemplate what those sensory signals mean, a sunny warm windy day or a feel of moisture in the air with a certain darkness meaning their might be rain ahead, etc. 

Believe me, a cognitive training program like this along with learning how things are when danger exists you get a feel, especially if you experience things first hand, for what makes the old spidey sense tingle, i.e., when butterflies flutter in your stomach, your intestines begin to gurgle, the hairs on our arms and neck, etc., prickle and so on - interpret and integrate to compare and retrieve the knowledge or data necessary for your inner world mind-state can make appropriate adjustments and take actions appropriate for the moment. 

You can look at this type of process as an extension of mokuso at the start and end of dojo practice while exercising those sensory systems mindfully in practice and training as a extension of that very same mokuso. Bring the assumed and unconscious to the surface to enhance and build so when you are exposed to things, you can make and achieve appropriate goals and results. 

Add in that this type of mind training and practice provides a slew of benefits over and beyond what is mentioned in this article up to the levels that allow you to become more serenity like in mind, body and spirit. This is how we make those adjustments and create a brain, a mind-state, that easily adjusts to such obstacles and sensory degradations that effect our ability to live normal lives and to achieve self-defense when needed. 

In karate and martial arts we talk about flexibility but seldom address the need to be flexible in our minds, our brains, that allow for the ability to create those neurons connections and pathways the allow us to make changes and adjustment. We lean heavily toward the narrow ability to have physical flexibility but often assume and hope that flexibility extends into the brain. That is limited and such mindful practices toward sensory awarenesses, etc., stretches the flexibility beyond the immediate needs of the body and into the mind for a flexible mind-set and mind-state. 

Supplementary Information: I’ll write an article on sensei modes, these are modes of sensory input and often, humans, have a preferred or dominant sense mode. We lean heavily toward that dominant sense mode while having a tendency to ignore the other modes that still provide signal input. 

Supplementary Information, more: Try walking up and down stairs by not holding onto or using the rails. Then add in focusing your vision straight ahead, not on the stairs, where we are stepping, how many steps remain but become mindful of all of that and not focusing our visual sense on the process. What happens is interesting. When both the hands and the vision are taken out of the mix the other modes or sensory detectors will adjust with a bit of difficulty at first but with practice it will balance out. 

Bibliography (Click the link)
Siegel, Daniel J. M.D. “Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.” Bantam Books. New York. 2010. 

Supplementary Information, more … more: Learn to be internally aware, mindful, then begin to extend that to an external awareness through the sense modes, all of them. The final step is to integrate the internal to the external so that the entire system can create the internal/external worlds where the fill in of voids, blanks, is reduced considerably leaving sub-routines of an appropriate configuration and code for situations in each moment. 

Sources that Validate: “The power of our mindfulness internally when we direct our attention within has within it the power to shape our brain’s firing patterns, as well as the power to shape the architecture of the brain itself.” … “Mental activity stimulates brain firing as much as brain firing creates mental activity.” … “Under the right conditions, neural firing can lead to the strengthening of synaptic connections. These conditions include repetition, emotional arousal, novelty, and the careful focus of attention. Strengthening synaptic links between neurons is how we learn from experience.” … “The intentional focus of attention is actually a form of self-directed experience: It stimulates new patterns of neural firing to create new synaptic linkages.” … “Neural tissue becomes intricately woven with our musculature, our skin, our heart, our lungs and our intestines.” … “The body’s hormones, together with chemicals from the foods and drugs we ingest, flow inot our bloodstream and directly affect the signals sent along neural routes.” … “Dopamine is involved in the reward systems of the brain; behaviors and substances can be come addictive because they stimulate dopamine release. Serotonin helps smooth out anxiety, depression, and mood fluctuations.” … “The mind observes information and energy flow and then shapes the characteristics, patterns, and direction of the flow.” … “We (sic humans) exchange all sorts of signals with each other, symbols we’d share in word form or in the nonverbal realm of eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, posture, and gesture.” 

Experience Information: Experience activates neural firing, which in turn leads to the production of proteins that enable new connections to be made among neurons, in the process called neuroplasticity. Besides focused attention, other factors that enhance neuroplasticity include aerobic exercise, novelty, and emotional arousal. We learn more effectively when physically active. Exposing ourselves to new ideas and experiences, promotes the growth of new connections among existing neurons and seems to stimulate the growth of myelin, the fatty sheath that speeds nerve transmissions. Neuroplasticity is activated by attention itself, not only by sensory input. We activate neuroplasticity when we participate in an activity that is important or meaningful to us. 

Mindful Practice: Found in body-energy centered practices such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, karate and other martial arts, chanting; and various forms of sitting and walking/moving meditations. 

Brainstem Signals: Fight, Flight and Freeze Paradigm: The goal here is to listen to those signals that train us to be mindful and aware of shifts in our breathing nd heart rate - and paying attention to arousal itself. The brainstem also works the limbic area and cortex to assess safety or danger. When our threat-assessment system tells us we are safe, we let go of tension in our bodies and our facial muscles relax: we become receptive, and the mind feels clear and calm. But with an assessment of danger, the brainstem (along with the limbic and middle prefrontal areas) activate a decision tree: If we think we can handle the situation, we enter the fight-or-flight state of alert. Our heart begins to pound as the body readies for action. Adrenaline pours into our bloodstream and the stress hormone cortisol is released; our metabolism is prepared for the energy demands ahead. If we believe we are helpless we freeze or collapse, i.e., called the “dorsal dive.” 

Brainstem Signals: Fight, Flight and Freeze Paradigm (more): If you are vertically integrated, you can read what your body is telling you about your safety or danger, including signs fare more subtle that running away or fainting. You feel a certain tension; you get a feeling that you just can’t trust the person; you create an awareness of these subcortical impulses that enable you to know how you feel, alerts you to your needs, helps you prioritize your choices, and then moves you to make a decision. This is how gut feelings help us survive. The brainstems threat states, the brainstem mediated neural shifts.  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

COMFORT: Rhythms, Cadences and Patterns - Oh my!

Blog Article/Post Caveat (Read First Please: Click the Link)

One of the greatest dangers of aging humans as karate-ka, martial artists and self-defense aficionados is our falling into a comfort zone. This becomes more critical when we are talking about our brains. Our brains program sub-routines but when we find comfort in the patters, rhythms and cadences those provide we have this tendency to stick to the comfort, the comfort zone. In our brains, especially as we age, this becomes problematic.

Karate and Martial Arts are such disciplines that when trained, practiced and applied properly tend to flex the brain resulting in its plasticity to stay - plastic and therefore changeable. Take my past experience as an example, I got what is called, “Meniere’s” that is vertigo of a sort. My neurologist told me, after the initial recovery, that my brain needed to reprogram the sub-routine for balance, walking and so on. That would take time and I am still programming after about two years or more after the initial vertigo attack. 

What I discovered, since no one else in the karate and martial art worlds had any information on dealing with vertigo in training, practice and applications, is there is no information on that recovery and reprogramming and the neurologist didn’t have any advice on that reprogramming effort except time and effort. I found that when I had enough stability to practice again that doing karate and tai-chi chi-gong, etc. was still in the sub-routine created through training and practice and actually helped to regain stability and balance. Think about that, my drunk-like movement actually lessened when doing karate and the other martial arts practices. 

I actually believe that my reprogramming and creation of a new sub-routine for the stability and balance went faster. Some who suffer from vertigo or meniere’s don’t truly get the balance and stability back often resorting to actions and devices necessary to maintain stability and balance like holding on the things, looking down at the ground and feet and the use of a cane, etc. I actually started out that way but quickly left that course of action behind due to my past and recent practice and training. 

It made me think, that when we practice with the shu-ha-ri like model where we constantly change, visualize and practice that this exercises the brain and keeps the plasticity, plastic like flexible. In my studies of this I found that certain activities and brain work can actually train the brain so when certain medical maladies of the aging brain occur the brain can actually reroute neurons and reprogram and/or create new sub-routine programs that actually bypass the effects of such maladies. One report showed a recent passing when the brain, due to the persons contribution to science of his or her body, showed all the signs of a very debilitating brain disease yet the person showed none of the effects or side effects of having the disease, not a smidgeon. Reviewing the lifestyle and especially the lifestyle in the aging process it was found that certain activities and brain challenges the person did normally in life actually provided the ability of the brain to recruit around the disease, ain’t life grand?

Due to my studies, my research and my experiences I find, for me, that the disciplines of karate and martial arts as it applies to the correct way to be beneficial to the mind, body and spirit in more ways than merely the so called martial spirit and way. It actually can train the brain to overcome adversities of the aging processes and may be why, in past older Okinawans, they tended to live longer,healthier and happier winter years (knowing other factors such as diet, etc. also contributed). 

It is easy for humans to find such comfort zones and a certain adherence to such things has benefits yet if overbalanced toward only that comfort has its prices but a balance of comfort along with a bit of chaos tends to keep the body, mind (brain) and spirit flexible and able to handle all kinds of obstacles from conflict to violence to overcoming the adversities of aging. Pretty cool, huh? 

Bibliography (Click the link)

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