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tedehara 11-02-2003 12:35 PM

The Reptilian Brain
 
In Aikido people talk in a Japanese hocus pocus using words like Ki, Hara, Mushin and Zashin. However, that's not what this is all about is it?

Doesn't Aikido, like many of the traditional eastern arts, actually train the Reptilian Brain?

Functions like breathing, fight/flight and physical survival are known functions of this part of the human brain. These are the same areas of Aikido activity. Even the traditional admonition of not talking about Aikido, just train, could be an innate understanding that this primitive part of the brain doesn't understand language.

Perhaps it's harder for an Aikido beginner because they're trying to program an area that is usually left untouched.

It is only just recently that medical science has begun to understand the workings of the human mind. Shouldn't we apply those findings to Aikido, instead of relying on vague, traditional concepts?

This perspective stands dynamically opposite to the traditional approach of Aikido. It utilizes a modern knowledge of humans without any reliance on spiritual interpetations. If nothing else, it is a persuasive argument.

Anders Bjonback 11-02-2003 01:54 PM

I don't think so at all. It's training us to be able to use the frontal lobes in stressful situations, instead of reverting to more base thinking and reacting.

The way this one famous boxer won his fights was by making fun of his opponents, getting them angry, so they would revert to a more reptilian mindset and not be able to use higher cognitive thinking. I doubt one would want, when attacked, to not be able to think well, and just revert to fight/ flight.

The breath can also be used as a way to be able to use the upper vagal way and gain access to the fronal lobes. Some think this is why meditators often use the breath as a focus.

Kevin Leavitt 11-02-2003 03:05 PM

Being in the military (Infantry in particular). I have spent a great deal of time dealing with this concept.

I think what you are trying to train is the ability to have the "two brains" work in harmony.

We train in the Army to make things such as putting your weapon on your shoulder, breathing, arming and firing an automatic response. One that needs no thought...it just happens. That is reptilian so to speak.

By training these things to be automatic, it frees the brain up to think about things that are important such as who I am pointing my weapon at, where my troops are, and what is the next course of action I need to pursue.

I am also taking a course in leadership and decision making on the master degree level right now. It is very interesting to see that what science attempts to label with fancy words, that what Aikido and eastern arts have figured out long, long ago!!!

Our preceptions, paradigms, and our experiences serve to either help or hinder us depending on the situation.

To make good decisions we must constantly try to step out away from ourselves and train hard to make sure we have a good understanding of ourselves and our environment.

I think aikido does both....it trains the reptilian brain, and it trains the conscious brain to work together.

markwalsh 11-03-2003 02:27 AM

Interesting, cheers Ted.

Not sure about the neuroscience here, I suspect that the term is not used widely in scientific circles anymore, and may be a little misleading. Do we have any brain surgeons out there that can clear this up?

Whatever the science it seems a useful concept. In outdoor education (work) and Aikido, I feel we use this part of the brain to engage our more spiritual nature. Kind of like joining the top and bottom of Maslow's pyramid of needs. (see diagram here:

http://www.deepermind.com/20maslow.htm

I would agree with Anders and Kevin though, that in many ways aikido is the opposite of fight or flight. Blend or enter are (in this respect) quite unnatural and need lots of training!

There has always been a movement to understand scientifically the basis of spirituality (for example psychological studies of Zen). Maybe this misses the point, maybe its an important growing trend. I'm not sure, what do you'll think?

Mark

x

happysod 11-03-2003 03:25 AM

Ted, I believe this distinction is made more by the biologists than the psychologists these days, but I do think you need to train your body to remember, rather than just your mind. Anyway, it's nice to hear a non-spiritual viewpoint for a change, thanks.

However, I think if you want to follow the philosophy as well as the techniques of aikido, you'll need that "reptile brain" bit firmly under the control of your reasoning brain - as I understand it, your fight or flight reactions are not normally known for their harmonious results.

ian 11-03-2003 06:12 AM

Quote:

Anders Bjonback wrote:
I don't think so at all. It's training us to be able to use the frontal lobes in stressful situations, instead of reverting to more base thinking and reacting.

I couldn't disagree more. Absolutely ALL the fights I have been in I have not had an ability to think logically about. In fact some of the situations, I could not even remember what happened. To believe you can react fast enough using your cerebral cortex, or even react at all in this way, is just wrong. Admittedly the brain can be used to avoid problems, but the main prupose of the brain in martial arts is to direct training. Competitive matches are completly different since there is a degree of reservation. In a real situation the mental condition is very different because the situation is so uncontrolled.

Ian

ian 11-03-2003 06:14 AM

P.S. the reason we DO aikido is to overcome these natural fight or flight reactions (or freezing, which is also very common) and respond in an instinctive way. My method is to train as if you don't want to hurt your opponent, but be aware of how to kill them. Thus your imprinted reaction, and the one you are likley to use, is less dangerous.

Ian

Ted Marr 11-03-2003 07:47 AM

OK, let me preface this by saying that I'm no brain surgeon, I only had a major in psychology... but I think I remember some things from my biopsych class...

Basically, the "reptile brain" things you're talking about mostly happens in the cerebellum. Or, at least, that's the part of your brain that you train when you're training most physical actions that you remember in an "instinctive" way. The classic example is riding a bicycle. Apparently, you could get almost a full frontal lobotomy, so you wouldn't know what a bicycle was, the word for it, or know how to do anything but drool on it if someone put it in front of you, but if you got on it, you could still ride the thing.

Anyways, so my guess is that in Aikido, we're training the cerebellum. It is a process of taking concious control over how our unconcious processes work. And that's pretty darn cool in my book.

Now, as for the rest of it being "Japanese hocus pocus," I both heartily agree and totally disagree. Yes, there is probably no need to have exactly the surroundings we have to learn Aikido. However, at the same time, there are a lot of concepts there that you couldn't train your body to accept without acknowledging them conciously first. From what I have seen, most people don't really have a good concept of how to move while remaining mostly centered. Aikidoka (at least the good ones) do.

Either way, we know that the "Japanese method" of training the brain has worked in the past, and does work for some people. If you can suggest some improvement to that method based on neurobiological research, then by all means, let us know, and I'm sure a lot of people could benefit from it. However, until then, what we've got seems to work at least tolerably well.

Bottom line: "that's great, now get back in the dojo and train!"

The other Ted

Victor Ditoro 11-03-2003 01:41 PM

Greetings young pilots, I'm glad you have joined me for our lecture on basic flight concepts today:

First, you must understand that, despite what others will tell you, there are no such things as "airfoils" or "wings", and no such force as "lift", an airfoil is simply a collection of atoms arranged in a particular way, and lift is the complex interplay of fluid dynamics and fundamental particle physics. So, you'll be glad to know that I'm going to teach the basics of flight entirely using quantum and particle physics, without the need for such vacuous concepts as lift and drag, and without the needless abstractions of wings and rudders.

------

...In philosophy, the complete translation of a framework to a more basic framework is known as "intertheoretic reduction", and just because it is "possible" doesn't mean you should do it, or want to, or necessarily care. Even the most staunch materialist, who believes that all emotion and mental 'qualia' are equal in the hard sense to neural activity, still uses the words "like" and "hate" instead of describing neural patterns because the words communicate more. The words are required, despite the fact that they might be reduced to other words. Through language, its possible to explore the deeper meaning of words without worrying about whether the words are reducible to other words. They might be, but to focus entirely on doing so is missing the point.

To the point, cultivating a feeling of "centerdness", or feeling energy flowing through your body out your fingertips, or thinking of the body as a fire hose, and keeping it full of water and without kinks...this kind of language is more useful (to me) in instruction and understanding then knowing how the concepts might be reduced to particular neural events.

Kensho Furuya 11-03-2003 02:20 PM

I think this is an excellent reply. I would also like to add that the comment regarding the terms referred to as "hocus pocus" is not really deserving. I think for most of us here, we just have not gone into such terms deeply enough. What I see here generally is personal interpretations and explanations indicative of a lack of thorough study. On "mushin" alone, one can fill a small room with what is written on it, yet, here we limit ourselves to a few phrases, repeated over and over. Actually, in Zen, we do not really talk about "mushin' and "shin" or "kokoro" as much as is done here, we understand that this understanding comes through experience, through our training and mindfulness within daily activity. Usually, we talk in terms of "hishiryo" - literally "thought without thought" but I hate to get into a discussion of this here. I am not really qualified to discuss such terms. When we think that in martial arts, such terms regarding the mind have existed for centuries, we can begin to appreciate at what levels martial arts techniques have attained in the past.

I think that today, we can intellectualize more and we have many more branches of knowledge with which to make comparisions and conjecture, we certainly have many more fancy terms today to use in our deliberations. But one fact is that, despite, their "crude" way of explaining martial arts technique - as we seem to think today - very few today can even touch the achievements or levels of skill of those ancient masters. When I discuss this with high ranking teachers of other martial arts - they are all in agreement on this point.

tedehara 11-03-2003 03:27 PM

A lot of thoughtful responses. Like Ted Marr, this is something that I both agree and disagree with.

Western medicine has just developed the tools to investigate the human brain. What theories are developed in the future, could be very diffent than what concepts are utilized now.

Because of its very nature, the human brain is hard to subdivide into distinct categories. How the various parts relate to each other and how they interact, is still unknown, like Anders and Mark noted. Personally, I think it's too early to develop some type of concept that could be applied to a martial art.

I do have to agree with Ian Dodkin rather than Ian Hurst. Even in something like randori, I have a hard time trying to recall what happened. My memories of the event are hazy rather than camera-sharp.

The one thing I've come to realize Kevin, as far as the martial part of Aikido goes, is that it is really not that useful in modern conflicts. The samurai fought as individuals, they didn't fight as a team or unit. The concern for the modern field commander is accomplishing the mission with available units, rather than having everyone run pell mell into battle.

Of course the individual counts, but in the context of the unit. Certainly Aikido and the martial arts have developed good training, but the modern conflict concerns the unit more than the individual. Just like Aikido talks about individual coordination, it seems modern tactics deals with coordination of units to resolve conflict.

BTW Victor, the Ki Society has generally by-passed the feeling of flowing energy and doesn't emphasize unbendable arm using the "waterhose" imagry. Problems were discovered in teaching and newer methods are used.

Calling those concepts "hocus pocus" was provocative. Saying that marital arts training is just training the reptilian brain, is a radical concept. It is something that I don't presently agree with, but it is a concept that should be recognized.

Victor Ditoro 11-03-2003 04:04 PM

Ted,

I didn't know that about Ki Society, thanks for the information. :) I actually came across the 'waterhose' or 'tube' analogy during a seminar from Kevin Blok, Yoshinkan, 6th Dan. But I didn't intend my point to be specific to those phrases, just generally that using 'higher level' language is useful and appropriate, regardless of the fact that it might be possible to describe something at a lower level.

Janet Rosen 11-03-2003 04:59 PM

Quote:

Kevin Leavitt wrote:
I think what you are trying to train is the ability to have the "two brains" work in harmony.

We train in the Army to make things such as putting your weapon on your shoulder, breathing, arming and firing an automatic response. One that needs no thought...it just happens.

I think aikido does both....it trains the reptilian brain, and it trains the conscious brain to work together.

I agree. "Reptile brain" is not quite how I conceptualize it. "Muscle memory" makes more sense to me, since I'm not sure how playing piano, driving a car, shooting a gun and doing ikkyo relate to primitive neurological events.

And, yes, the idea is that by having a range of possible responses at our disposal, we are free to analyze the specific situation and make better decisions.

Jeanne Shepard 11-03-2003 06:23 PM

Hi, Janet!

As a therapist, I think of the training in the basic movements we do as gradually hardwiring our brains so we don't have to use our cortex (the problem soloving/judgement making parts)to consciously flow. When we can do randori and not "think"through each movement, then the basics have become "subcortical" and that means its starting to be part of us.

It takes thousands of repetitions for this to happen, thats why consistent training is so important. Like for any other skilled movement.

Jeanne

ikkainogakusei 11-03-2003 08:55 PM

Hey all

Okay so I'll have to agree and disagree with everyone in little bits and pieces.

1] yes, in many cases it's too analytical to discuss the function of the brain as it relates to aiki-movement. -=Unless=- you're just ruminating on different abstractions which keep your mind running or you're a nerd (like myself). If this is you, then read on.

2] The Reptilian Brain is used in Neuromotor Control circles only if speaking in the least of technical terms like saying 'primative brain'. Although I have seen the 'reptilian brain' used more interchangably with the archipallium in psych. circles. If someone wants to discuss the primative brain in terms of movement they often will discuss the metencephalon, which is the cerebellum and pons. The cerebellum is mainly involved in movement. However in the telencephalon the somatosensory and motor cortices are also involved.

Here's a more detailed 'map' of much of the motor pathway...

http://thalamus.wustl.edu/course/basmot.html

more info...

http://thalamus.wustl.edu/course/bassens.html

3] Your muscles do not contain gray matter, there isn't a place to store memory in the muscles. Memory of a movement is still in the brain. Quick, skillful movements come from developing coordinative structures within trained neuromotor programs, much like complex batchfiles. When you want to walk you do not think of all the requirements, you just think 'walk'. It's like clicking on the 'walk' or 'iriminage' or 'henka' icon on the cognitive desktop.

4]When discussing the fear response or memory of such moments, then it would be the Limbic system to examine, specifically the amygdala and hippocampus. I'll not pretend to be informed enough to speak here as I am a neuromotor control nerd, not a psych. nerd. Personally, when in an emergent moment, I remember everything and it's all slo-mo; be that an assault (of me not by me ;)), or CPR, or vehicle accident. It is interesting though that many studies of people who have had their hemispheres separated show that what we remember as absolute 'gospel' truth may not be so.

5] Remember talking aikido is not doing aikido. Just as talking about brain function (related to movement) is not -=doing=- movement brain function (okay on a minute level it -is- but shh). If you want to think about this stuff, okay but it is a micronutrient in your aiki-diet.

My favorite Terry Dobson story ended with O'Sensei saying 'Teru-san you think too much.' and one of my best friends often says to his students "Just shut up and train." because sometimes we -=do=- concentrate too much on the micro rather than the macro.

FWIW

:ai:

drDalek 11-04-2003 12:58 AM

An interesting side issue on this that I have been thinking about is:

If the principles of Aikido, correct posture, breathing, awareness, not freezing up in a fight, relaxation etc... are so effective and powerful.

Why do we have to work so hard to develop them? Shouldnt we already have all these if we managed to survive and evolve to the point we are at right now?

Wouldnt natural selection have weeded out the members of our species with weaker strategies like tensing up, freezing, holding their breath, having bad posture etc.

kironin 11-04-2003 01:50 AM

Re: The Reptilian Brain
 
Quote:

Ted Ehara (tedehara) wrote:
It is only just recently that medical science has begun to understand the workings of the human mind. Shouldn't we apply those findings to Aikido, instead of relying on vague, traditional concepts?

This perspective stands dynamically opposite to the traditional approach of Aikido. It utilizes a modern knowledge of humans without any reliance on spiritual interpetations. If nothing else, it is a persuasive argument.

Well, as a neuroscientist and a aikido teacher,

I personally feel there is nothing persuasive about the argument.

There remain plenty of vague concepts in neuroscience that trained scientists can argue with each about for hours. Some of the issues take a great deal discussion and review of data to appreciate what we truly don't know. Most people for example might have a hard time beleiving that we don't understand how you see these words I have written. (I bet some people think they do.) Perhaps when we have made some real advances in understanding the neural code and other hard questions such that we can formulate something of reasonable precision at a higher conceptual level then perhaps you should come back to see if it can add something to what people have already put forth from experience and reasoning. I hesitate to predict when that will be. Ambiguity abounds.

at a high conceptual level, I am not all confident that you will change the precision of meaning of what at least I understand what is meant by mushin or zanshin, etc.

Craig

kironin 11-04-2003 02:24 AM

Quote:

Wynand van Dyk (drDalek) wrote:
Why do we have to work so hard to develop them? Shouldnt we already have all these if we managed to survive and evolve to the point we are at right now?

Wouldnt natural selection have weeded out the members of our species with weaker strategies like tensing up, freezing, holding their breath, having bad posture etc.

Because from an evolutionary standpoint of at least the last 70,000 years, we are highly social animals. Intelligent adaptive cooperation in groups is our killer edge and not the Clint Eastwood ice in the veins loner type. Primitive base culture is a social web of knowledge/skills for survival passed from one generation to the next. The well-being of our neuroendocrine system really depends on our status in our groups.

Fear makes us focus but also functions in most of us to seek avoidance of confrontations as individuals. An individual in a group that does not have the typical physiological reactions that make us to prefer avoiding conflict can be a real problem for a group's function. Probably either destroying the group (a sociopath) or the group kills such an individual.

On the other hand, a typical human is very much empowered to action while operating in his group.

As to bad physical habits, I would suggest this is more the values of groups in modern societies. I personally know nobody in my social groups cares if I have a well-balanced stance appropriate to throwing a spear with accuracy and power.

Craig

happysod 11-04-2003 03:20 AM

Ted, "I do have to agree with Ian Dodkin rather than Ian Hurst." - I'm puzzled here, what are you disagreeing with me about? I never said you could think in a fight, I just mused you would have to be able to if you wished to apply "aikido philosophy" to the extent I've read other people wish to.

Ian, also puzzled - if you're mainly training to react in a "less dangerous" way, why do you bother to look at the more martial aspects - other than it's fun?

Jane, "3] Your muscles do not contain gray matter," - we know, but for me it's easier to say "let you body learn, so stop thinking" than "we're training your [insert limbic system or whatever here] to counteract some of your non-beneficial learned behaviours such as.... and hopefully reduce the time delay between threat and effective counter". I admit, I'm lazy!

Thalib 11-04-2003 05:50 AM

One mind - one body
 
The known conscious and sub-conscious, science have parted the mind. Partitioned every section.

Aikido removes the unnecessary boundary between the conscious and the sub-conscious, giving us deeper state of consciousness. Aikido teaches us to act not to react. We have to be conscious of every single movement we do, even to the beating heart. One mind, one body.

In Aikido, actually any Budo for that matter, Wether one is eating, sitting, standing, talking, fighting, and even sleeping, the state of mind should be the same. One must not differentiate one state to another.

What I have at least learned in Aikido is not training reactions (reflexes) nor training sub-conscious movements such as muscle memory and such. Actually it's the reverse, Aikido actually defies primitive instincts.

When a Samurai raises his sword above his head going into battle, he's not going to take a step back even when he knows he's going to die. The Samurai rather die in the battlefield than live in shame. This defies every rules of survival, in the animal instinct sense.

When one compares humans to animals, one will become the animal. Stop comparing, live as a human being. Take that responsibility.

We take our humanity for granted. We have yet to learn to be human.

drDalek 11-04-2003 06:14 AM

Quote:

Craig Hocker (kironin) wrote:
Because from an evolutionary standpoint of at least the last 70,000 years, we are highly social animals. Intelligent adaptive cooperation in groups is our killer edge and not the Clint Eastwood ice in the veins loner type. Primitive base culture is a social web of knowledge/skills for survival passed from one generation to the next. The well-being of our neuroendocrine system really depends on our status in our groups.

This is a pretty cool explaination, I never thought to consider the fact that we are social creatures and that these "good / Aikido" behaviours might not be that necessarry inside a social group context.
Quote:

Craig Hocker (kironin) wrote:
Fear makes us focus but also functions in most of us to seek avoidance of confrontations as individuals. An individual in a group that does not have the typical physiological reactions that make us to prefer avoiding conflict can be a real problem for a group's function. Probably either destroying the group (a sociopath) or the group kills such an individual.

On the other hand, a typical human is very much empowered to action while operating in his group.

Ah, and what if you manage to lose that "fear" and act in a counterintuitive way to conflict but still acceptable within the group, what does that make you? A hero, a messiah? O-Sensei?
Quote:

Craig Hocker (kironin) wrote:
As to bad physical habits, I would suggest this is more the values of groups in modern societies. I personally know nobody in my social groups cares if I have a well-balanced stance appropriate to throwing a spear with accuracy and power.

Craig

I have been getting some rather coy smiles from the supposedly less sexualy aggressive (lies I tell you!) gender after I started doing Aikido, something I attribute to a relaxed, upright posture and general feeling of confidence.

happysod 11-04-2003 07:23 AM

Thalib, I want whatever you're on... So, one of your definitions of not being an animal is the ability to get yourself killed? Sorry, but we've been training dogs, horses (even dolphins) to ignore natural self-preservation in order to aid us in war. By your definition I'd have to start assuming my cat was superior as I've never heard of anyone being able to train those little beggers to do anything. :D

kironin 11-04-2003 09:37 AM

Quote:

Wynand van Dyk (drDalek) wrote:
Ah, and what if you manage to lose that "fear" and act in a counterintuitive way to conflict but still acceptable within the group, what does that make you? A hero, a messiah? O-Sensei?

Yes, quite possibly. It as been argued that our intelligence increased out of the pressure to deal succesfully (having offspring) with the increasing complexity of social politics within our groups. There is also the sobering result from group studies that those that arise as the emergent natural leaders tend to be those who are also better at decieving other members of the group when tested.
Quote:

I have been getting some rather coy smiles from the supposedly less sexualy aggressive (lies I tell you!) gender after I started doing Aikido, something I attribute to a relaxed, upright posture and general feeling of confidence.
:D You have a good point there. Some would say we still have a stone age mind.

Craig

kironin 11-04-2003 09:54 AM

Quote:

Craig Hocker (kironin) wrote:
Yes, quite possibly. It as been argued that our intelligence increased out of the pressure to deal succesfully (having offspring) with the increasing complexity of social politics within our groups. Craig

I forgot to say also that part of our increased intelligence is the ability of empathy.

It helps us model the minds of others in our group and help us predict what they might do in any particular situation. Thus in aikido,

sensing or knowing your opponent's mind is something we can be trained to excell at because our evolutionary history has given us these tools.

At our best we cooperate as a team, we cooperate as a society to get things done. I think there is a lot in Aikido that capitilizes on the innate strengths of human intelligence for cooperation. Blending/moving together as one to unbalance really plays on our natural abilities of social intelligence that have been there all along.

Craig

ikkainogakusei 11-04-2003 11:00 AM

Quote:

Ian Hurst (happysod) wrote:
Jane, "3] Your muscles do not contain gray matter," - we know, but for me it's easier to say "let you body learn, so stop thinking" than "we're training your [insert limbic system or whatever here] to counteract some of your non-beneficial learned behaviours such as.... and hopefully reduce the time delay between threat and effective counter". I admit, I'm lazy!

Hi Ian,



I certainly agree (not the lazy part, I'm sure you're not lazy), that goes with the 'you think too much' portion of what I was trying to say. The reason I mentioned that muscle memory is a misnomer is because people run with things like that and I hear quite a few silly leaps. So you know this, but I have heard many people who do not have this understanding, who literally believe that a muscle has a memory.

What I like to say to a student who stops him/herself during the execution of a movement is 'Just commit to the movement. Your consciousness is only a small part of your brain. Think less and do more, your brain keeps track of what feels right and feels wrong.' and if they ask me to elaborate later, I tell them more.

So yeah, thinking too much or giving too much information is not beneficial when on the mat, it's fine off the mat.

:ai:


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