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Mental Focus Experiment in class last week...

PostPosted: Tue Oct 17, 2017 7:48 pm
by global village idiot
A couple weeks ago I suggested to the "senior student" in our class the possibility of doing a small experiment. I had no idea what to expect of it, but I thought it might be consistent in what we do. He thought it was worth a try, and we did it last week.

The experiment involved a simple request of the rest of these five classmates as we moved through the whole form. I asked if, instead of paying attention to our own form and our own work, we go through the form paying as much attention as possible to the students around us, and try to maintain this focus throughout the set.

The six “advanced” students were all male, ages between about 28 and 65, average mid-30s. There are usually two female students but they were absent (I would have liked their perspective). Of the six, three (Eric, Jay, David) have far greater experience in Japanese martial arts; the oldest (Mark) is mostly focused on Qi Gong, and the youngest (Dan), while he’s friendly and good company, has a personality I would characterize as “hippy-dippy-half-baked-amateur-pseudo-mystic.”

I didn’t expect some major epiphany, since this was the first time – to my knowledge – anyone had ever made the request. Sure enough, my classmates noticed a slight difference but weren’t able to maintain it for very long.

Summarizing the Responses, and my observations:
Eric (focused on more external martial arts): Said he “had a lot on his mind” and wasn’t able to maintain any focus at all. I noticed him being more hesitant and stiff – he normally has excellent form.
Dan: Said he was “off in a sort of dreamworld.” I noticed his form was much better than he usually does.
Mark: Couldn’t maintain focus for very well, but was more conscious of keeping at the same pace of everyone else. I noticed that he was hesitant in many spots, waiting for someone to do the next move. I found myself thinking the exact same thing as he went through his form - in that I had a sense of what he was doing and why he was doing it.
David(An engineer and a tiny bit overanalytical): Couldn’t maintain focus for long but did try; and once lost, couldn’t seem to get it back again. He did notice that when he was in that “zone” of paying attention to others and not himself, he felt slightly disembodied, as though his hands and arms had gone numb. I was in a position where I could see him through most of the set, and I seemed to be able to tell almost exactly when his focus had shifted from outside himself back to within his own head.
Jay (senior student and assistant instructor): Couldn’t maintain focus for entire set. Found he was observing other students more, and felt “synched” with some, but not others.

For my part, I found I was able to maintain the “external focus” at intervals of about two to three minutes at a time, but no more. I felt a bit in synch with my classmates, but only at times. I was usually popped out of that “synch” when someone was hesitant or going at a completely different pace. I could observe details of other students I had not paid attention to previously and as I said, it seemed in one case that I was inside the other student’s head – I knew what he was doing and why he was doing it. My form felt a bit better and steadier, but that’s really hard to nail down.

We all agreed we should work on it more.

gvi

Re: Mental Focus Experiment in class last week...

PostPosted: Tue Oct 17, 2017 11:46 pm
by fchai
Hi Gvi,
I applaud your enthusiasm in experimentation and inquiry into Taiji. However, I would offer the following advice. Be mindful of the 10 essential principles when undertaking these experiments. Test and evaluate against the 10 essential principles. With the experiment that you just undertook, I would look closely at the implications on "intent", as if you are focused on someone else's form, where is your own intent? You can expand your awareness to the others around you, but you should not lose focus on your own form. I would suggest that your experiment should be about "situational awareness" rather than about changing your "focus".
Take care,
Frank

Re: Mental Focus Experiment in class last week...

PostPosted: Wed Oct 18, 2017 5:11 pm
by global village idiot
That's good advice, and it's why I was deliberately imprecise in how I gave the instruction when we did it.

I didn't feel it necessary to say so in the first post, but since you brought up this important topic, I'll fill in this detail. One of the students (I think it was Mark) did in fact ask what specifically we should be paying attention to - the other person's form, how he's breathing etc. - and I said "just put your focus outside yourself. Don't pay attention to anything specific, just take it all in."

Of course I had no way of objectively determining what they were each paying attention to and as I said, one of the guys (Dan) was, as he said, "off in Dreamland." I don't think you could get him to exercise situational awareness if you put him in a virtual reality version of "sniper alley" during the Siege of Sarajevo.

As regards "situational awareness," one of the best resources I've ever found on the topic is a book by a couple of Jarheads - and written largely for Jarheads - entitled "Left of Bang." It has a companion website and their section called the "behavioral library" (link here: http://www.cp-journal.com/behavioral-library/) is an outstanding resource.

We've all heard the advice of "being on the lookout for suspicious activity or characters." But when have we ever been taught exactly what suspicious activity or suspicious characters ought to look like? In the book and website, the authors set about making a systematic method for observing and articulating "suspicious activity." It teaches the student to quickly establish a "baseline" for what one should expect in a given space, as well as behavioral markers to look for as normal in that space and what would therefore stick out as abnormal. The technique has the added bonus of allowing the observer to be able to scan an area quickly, without the mentally taxing effort of trying to take in every single detail - the ones that stick out, in fact stick out like they have blinking arrows pointing toward them.

It's like a Rosetta Stone for reading the language of public spaces and the people in them.

My daughter and I do a lot of people-watching whenever we're in public; and now that we have both read the book and applied it, we use the language in it to articulate what's going on whenever we're observing. It's become nearly second-nature.

This is obviously not something I can get across in a 30-second introduction to a different way of mentally approaching the task of doing the form in a classroom setting, so I didn't even bother trying. All I was in fact going for was seeing what would happen if, instead of spending that 23 minutes (+/-) in the 88 cubic inches of our skulls - a place we already know well - we spent it exploring the space around and outside us.

It's also the case - if my own observation tells me anything - that fewer than half of the "advanced" students have any desire to improve their work and form beyond what they already know. Many of them only do the form once a week at the class. Some have been going for several years and it's more than a bit obvious that what they're doing is a dance routine, not a martial art. If they'd ever bothered to learn the 10 essentials, they've either forgot them or decided it's too much work. But they show up every week, pay the instructor on time and are pleasant to be around. Not much our instructor can do with folks like them except take their tuition money and give them a peaceful, positive place to go through the motions once a week; and if that's all they want, why shouldn't he give it to them?

gvi

Re: Mental Focus Experiment in class last week...

PostPosted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 1:10 am
by fchai
Hi gvi,
An interesting article. Thanks. Very useful in threat assessments and situational awareness. Familiarity with the environment one is in appears crucial. If one is in an unfamiliar environment, especially where there are cultural aspects to consider, it could be a little problematic in how one reads the situation and identify potential anomalies. Even in a familiar environment, if cultural or even social mores influence the behaviour, it could present some difficulty. However, perceiving a potential threat that does not eventuate is preferable to seeing no threat at all.
Cheers,
Frank

Re: Mental Focus Experiment in class last week...

PostPosted: Mon Oct 23, 2017 5:41 pm
by global village idiot
"Bottom Line Up Front" - the more different the environment from the one you're used to, the more research is necessary before you show up, and the more time it'll take to establish your "baseline."

The book discusses culture in somewhat greater detail - far more so than the essays at the link.

That said, the book also points out (correctly, if my experience is reliable) that behavioral markers are more-or-less universal. That is, a white male in Philadelphia will exhibit the same cues as a black male in Lagos or an Arab in Jedda. Same goes for immigrants and expats all around the world. And crowds will behave with similar regularity.

gvi

Re: Mental Focus Experiment in class last week...

PostPosted: Wed Oct 25, 2017 11:06 am
by fchai
Greetings gvi,
Thanks. I have got the book. Now I've got to read it.
Frank

Re: Mental Focus Experiment in class last week...

PostPosted: Wed Oct 25, 2017 7:30 pm
by global village idiot
Check PM