Krav Maga is serious business, right? After all, it’s about life and death!
Logically, then, practicing your Krav Maga skills should be just as serious, because you can’t be goofing around while you’re learning something so critical to your survival. There’s no time to relax when you’re doing something important!
Here’s something you possibly didn’t know: in a crisis, where you need to make complex decisions, act intuitively, and perform at your peak – even in a life and death situation - the very best thing you can do is to relax.
But don’t take my word for it. Rather, let’s take a look at the world of neuroscience, and some of the discoveries that have been made around states of peak performance. Over the course of the past three decades, an enormous amount of knowledge has been accrued, notably in the contexts of military combat training and in professional sports.
In his groundbreaking book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle digs into the deep questions of what produces states of peak performance, from both a neurological as well as environmental perspective – and a few amazing patterns begin to emerge:
Learning happens at its deepest and fastest when individuals are in a state of play – in other words, when they’re having fun. This even applies to studies done with groups like the U.S. Navy SEALs, where Special Operations teams train life and death scenarios in a ‘game state’ rather than a hypertensive state.
Practices like regular mindfulness meditation and visualization build clear and powerful neuron pathways faster and more consistently than actual physical rehearsal. (And strong neuron pathways are what enable people to perfect their actual physical skills.)
High-level skill development – and the ability to practically apply those same skills in reality under stress - only happens when the brain is in a state of flow. Without that one single critical factor, no matter how ‘hard’ you train, any skills or techniques you think you know tend to fall apart under pressure.
FLOW IS THE GOAL
So what is this elusive state of flow that we’re talking about?
“Flow” (also called "Transient Hypofrontality") is defined as a transcendent mental state where a skill is practiced or accomplished with full engagement in the task at hand. It’s a state of mind where inner noise is removed and self-imposed performance pressure disappears. To put it very simply, it’s precisely the state of mind that we go into when we’re feeling relaxed and playful.
Now, in the Krav Maga or combatives context, “relaxed and playful” doesn’t mean we play the fool or goof off while training. It does mean that we strive toward a mindset where the ego is left behind, where fear or uncertainty is recognized but not allowed to dominate, and where the task is consistently more important than the outcome.
It also doesn’t mean that our training itself is necessarily always ‘playful’ (or gentle) – in fact, the opposite is most often true. Neuroscientists have proven that the greatest leaps in skill development come when we’re consistently pushed a little past our comfort zone (which is not a surprise), but it’s what happens internally that makes all the difference.
You have the ability to consciously regulate your state of mind, even under extreme pressure, and regulating your state of mind is something you should be doing every single time you train.
HERE’S HOW TO DO IT
Achieving the mystical state of flow is easier than you think. Here are a couple of key points that you can try, and they’re really important, because they’re classified as meta-skills. “Meta-skills” are skills that have the power to radically improve all your other skills, a kind of “skill steroid” if you will.
Try these 3 practical methods of achieving peak performance:
- Before you commence a phase of training, whether it’s focusing on a specific technique or kicking off a round of sparring, take a moment to visualize yourself performing the task with confidence and mastery. Don’t just see it: feel it. Make sure to include the emotions that you typically feel when you succeed in doing something amazing.
- Experiment with the concept of creating an alter ego for yourself. This is an amazing way to dissolve fear or uncertainty, and to actually increase your strength, speed, and resilience. The key here is imagination: simply imagine a “super-version” of yourself, or channel someone else entirely if that’s easier for you to do. Allow that version of yourself – or your choice of superhuman – to dominate your attitudes and actions. This also removes performance pressure, because you can trust your “better self” to get the job done better than you yourself could do it. This, by the way, is seriously also one of the most powerful ways to break bad habits and accomplish bigger, broader life goals too.
- During practice, perceive your thoughts as just things that come into your mind and then leave your mind, rather than commandments, judgements, or things that control you. Be aware of what “non-thought” feels like, and try to achieve it even in the midst of activity. It might start out as a tiny glimpse of flow state in the beginning, but with time and practice it will actually become the powerful center of your mind that takes over when the conscious mind becomes overwhelmed with complexity, fear, or concern about survival. This state of no-mind is what psychologists call the “superconscious” and it is one of the most powerful mental states that we’re capable of accessing.
THE JOURNEY IS INTERNAL
You’ll notice that none of the techniques listed above has anything to do with ‘training harder’, ‘being tough’, or ‘making it work on the street’… or anything like that at all.
Instead, they all have a common focus: that of going inward. These meta-skills are internal, and your external skills will never reach their true potential until you pay attention to the inner skills.
They also require – demand – that you relax in order to achieve them. They can’t be forced, or hurried, or bullied into place. Instead, they must be nurtured, courted, understood. They must be gently and thoughtfully layered into the inner geometry of your mind. They start out like wispy strands of spiderweb, barely noticeable at first, and without much power, but with practice, they become steel cables that nothing can overcome.
So, starting today, take some time out to just breathe, relax, and play.
It could just be the best investment in yourself that you ever make.
ONE LAST THING...
The concept of flow, or transient hypofrontality, is not actually a new discovery. Traditional martial artists, centuries ago, were intimately familiar with the concept.
It had many names: The Void, Wu Wei, and in Japanese, Mushin, or No Mind. And it was recognized as the highest and purest state of being.
Stealing Fire by Steven Kotler & Jamie Wheal
The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
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