Myelination: The Most Holy Grrrrail of Martial Arts

Discussion on the three big Chinese internals, Yiquan, Bajiquan, Piguazhang and other similar styles.

Myelination: The Most Holy Grrrrail of Martial Arts

Postby Chris McKinley on Fri May 04, 2012 9:33 am

Okay, class, please take your seats, pull out your favorite flavor of gum, plenty of #2 pencils to throw at the ceiling, and select your favorite flavor of paper for making spitwads. I recommend linen business paper. It's a little more expensive, but it's worth it for the flavor, texture and the extra noise it makes when splatting on a chalkboard.

Since I seem to be in the mood to give away the farm recently, I'd like to introduce a topic that runs like a thread through every single thing that all of us are discussing in regard to developing both internal capabilities as well as combat skills. It's a process called "myelination". Learn to love it, folks. It's the single most important process that exists in the creation of any human skill or ability in any area of activity whatsoever. As a martial artist, myelination is your very best friend.

The term myelination is from neurophysiology. Neurophysiology is the study of the processes of the brain, the central nervous system and the body's various nerves, and how they relate to the structures, functions and processes of the rest of the body. Myelination refers to the process of the formation and acquisition of layers of myelin in a sheath around the nerves. Myelin itself is an insulating layer, or sheath, that forms around nerves and nervous tissue, including the brain and spinal cord, that facilitates, strengthens the signal of, and speeds the conduction of nerve impulses along the nerve, much like the shielding of a copper electric wire. Computer geeks: think of myelination as the gradual creation of a bigger, better, faster bus for internal processing. It gives you faster bus speeds and more bandwidth the more myelinating that happens.

Literally everything you have done, are doing, or will ever do requires myelin in order for your body to function properly and allow you to accomplish the movement or task. Myelin-degenerating diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis have the opposite effect of the process we will be discussing. For us, the creation of strong, precise, clear and easily activated engrams in the motor cortex are what all of our training is about. This process is called "encoding". Now, "engram" is the term for a pattern of the firing of neurons in the brain that correspond to a particular activity or movement pattern in the body. The dictionary defines it as follows:

engram
[en′gram]
1 a hypothetical neurophysiologic storage unit in the cerebrum that is the source of a particular memory.
2 an interneuronal circuit involving specific neurons and muscle fibers that can be coordinated to perform specific motor activity patterns. Thousands of repetitions may be needed to establish an engram.
3 the permanent trace left by a stimulus in nerve tissue.

Please keep in mind that "engram" is a functional term, not a physiochemistry one. It is used in the neurosciences as a convenient term for the fact that any motor activity produces very specific and unique patterns of electrical activity in the neurons in the brain. For brevity's sake, these patterns are called engrams. Through very specific biofeedback exercises, one can learn to fire off the engram for a specific pattern of movement in the brain, but without manifesting that movement outwardly in the body. This, my dear friends, is the absolute lynchpin in the discussion of "intent", such as is happening in the intent for creating structure and power thread in the Distillery forum.

(I'm confused...I thought you said this was about myelination) Now, what does this "encoding" have to do with myelination? Well, to start with, it's important to know that the process of myelination and the process of creating the corresponding engrams in the motor cortex, or encoding, are interactive. It's not a one-way street. When we use our intent to move a certain way for the first time, it creates, or "encodes", a faint engram in the motor cortex of the brain, which then produces the movement (however crude at first) in the body, which then in turn stimulates the process of myelination for the motor nerves involved in that movement. Likewise, when we move a certain way repeatedly, we stimulate myelination in the motor nerves involved, and we also stimulate the encoding and strengthening of a particular engram within the motor cortex of the brain. The processes work in tandem.

Let that sink in. In fact, it's time for a five-minute break. Go grab a drink and a snack and think about what it means for the two processes to work in tandem and when you get back, I'll tell you what it all means. Also, while you're up, some of you may want to check the weather. I hear it's supposed to be a little stormy in some regions today.

Okay, back? Good, let's get started. So, when we practice a movement for the first time, we both stimulate myelination of the motor nerves as well as encode an engram for that movement in the motor cortex of the brain. So far, so good.

It's crucially important here to note that the encoding process is heavily dependent on, among other things, the strength of the signal it receives for that particular pattern of movement. The stronger the signal, the stronger the encoding of that signal as an engram. Jump back out of the brain and into the motor nerves for a sec. Myelin, for its part, plays the role of both strengthening and speeding up the signal of that nerve to and from the brain. So more myelin means a stronger, faster signal to the motor cortex. In the braIn, a stronger, faster signal means stronger, faster encoding of an engram for that pattern of movement.

Okay, so we've got myelination to create an increasing layer of myelin around the nerves, giving us a stronger, faster signal to the brain or from the brain to the muscles. We've got encoding to create an engram, or neuromotor pattern, for that movement in the motor cortex of the brain. They're both interactive such that the more we create myelination, the more we strengthen that engram in the brain, and the more we fire that engram in the brain, which produces that pattern of movement in the body, the more myelination we stimulate. The whole thing keeps ping-ponging back and forth in what's called a positive feedback loop. The more you get of one, the more you get of the other, and vice versa.

Okay, that's enough for now, I'll see you next class.
Last edited by Chris McKinley on Fri May 04, 2012 9:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Myelination: The Most Holy Grrrrail of Martial Arts

Postby CheapBastid on Fri May 04, 2012 9:47 am

I have a basic understanding of the encoding and strengthening of neural pathways and how it contributes to movement and learning, but my interest is in the re-coding process that a focus on Yi and Ting can allow for.

Habituating and strengthening movement is different IMHO than the 'tiny adjustments in stillness' training that can to allow for a 'wholistic' response to a partner. It does (of course) involve myelination (as does all movement) but it seems to approach from a de-habituation process perspective.
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Re: Myelination: The Most Holy Grrrrail of Martial Arts

Postby Chris McKinley on Fri May 04, 2012 10:10 am

Good morning....or at least it will be when the coffee hits my bloodstream. Let's recap from last time:

* Myelination is a process where we create and incrementally add, microlayer by microlayer, the substance myelin to the sheath around our nerves that insulates, strengthens and speeds up the signal through that nerve, both to and from the brain and muscles.

* Encoding is a process where we create and incrementally strengthen a pattern of the firing of motor neurons in the motor cortex of the brain, which we conveniently call an engram.

* Both of these processes are stimulated to happen when we perform the particular movement pattern that corresponds with that engram. The processes are also interactive, meaning the more myelination we stimlulate, the easier it is to provide the brain with a stronger, faster signal, which makes it easier for the brain to strengthen the clarity of that engram in the motor cortex. And also, the more we fire off that particular engram in the brain, and thus create the corresponding physical movement, the more myelination is stimulated to happen.

Okay, so now we're all on the same page and we're all fired up for takeoff. First, let's talk about engrams for just a moment. The way it generally works is, the stronger and clearer the engram, the more precise the movement pattern can be that corresponds with it, and the more consistent that movement will be from one physical performance of it to the next. The strength of the engram relates to the ease and speed of initiating that motor movement pattern physically, and the clarity of the engram relates to exactly what form that movement will take. Taking a page from the field of computer graphics, I call this factor the "resolution" of the engram. The higher the resolution, the more precise the physical movement, and the more consistent that movement will be each time it is performed. So it's obvious that we optimally want a strong engram, but we want it to be of as high a resolution in the motor cortex as we can so that our movement is exactly what we want and not just an approximation each time, and so that the movement is the same every time we do it.

So how then do we optimize our practice such that we get both a strong and a clear pattern in the brain? I'll answer that very soon, but first an Easter egg for reading this far:

We already know now that performing the pattern of physical movement helps to create and strengthen its corresponding engram in the motor cortex of the brain. Likewise, activation of that engram in the brain itself is a self-reinforcing thing, meaning that every time you activate that particular engram, it strengthens itself as a pattern. This holds true whether or not the corresponding physical movement pattern is actually produced. This here little factoid is the key to why processes such as the technique of mental rehearsal work to produce real increases in physical skill without actually performing the skill in question. In a sense, the motor cortex itself does not know whether the activation of that particular engram has actually produced the corresponding physical action or not. It just goes ahead and strengthens that engram anyway.

Okay, class.....time for lunch. We'll reconvene and I'll start talking about what goes into optimizing our practice for the creation of both a strong and a clear engram for that movement when we get back. Also, please hold your questions and comments until the end of class. Thank you.
Last edited by Chris McKinley on Fri May 04, 2012 10:13 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Myelination: The Most Holy Grrrrail of Martial Arts

Postby Cryptohominid on Fri May 04, 2012 10:27 am

Ooops. I was in the middle of typing when I saw the second part go up. You have already answered one of the questions I had. I will with-hold the rest until "after class", as it were, now that I know this is a multipart presentation.
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Re: Myelination: The Most Holy Grrrrail of Martial Arts

Postby Tom on Fri May 04, 2012 10:42 am

Chris McKinley wrote:Good morning....or at least it will be when the coffee hits my bloodstream.


Caffeine assists with myelination, working as an adenosine antagonist. Caffeine also assists, to varying degrees, with the ability to stare unblinkingly at very long paragraphs that not only describe the what, but also lead readers to hope for, the how-to. Your efforts and diligence in writing about your training paradigm are appreciated.
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Re: Myelination: The Most Holy Grrrrail of Martial Arts

Postby KEND on Fri May 04, 2012 10:49 am

Are we talking about only the kinesthetic processes, how do other factors such as visualization, emotional content etc react to strengthen memory trace
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Re: Myelination: The Most Holy Grrrrail of Martial Arts

Postby XinKuzi on Fri May 04, 2012 10:53 am

Tom wrote:
Chris McKinley wrote:Good morning....or at least it will be when the coffee hits my bloodstream.


Caffeine also assists, to varying degrees, with the ability to stare unblinkingly at very long paragraphs that not only describe the what, but also lead readers to hope for, the how-to.


Here here! ... I think I need to make more ;D

Your efforts and diligence in writing about your training paradigm are appreciated.


Seconded! It confirms the value of a lot of what I do in a whole 'nutha way! :)
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Re: Myelination: The Most Holy Grrrrail of Martial Arts

Postby Bao on Fri May 04, 2012 11:11 am

Fascinating. Thanks for sharing,
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Re: Myelination: The Most Holy Grrrrail of Martial Arts

Postby Chris McKinley on Fri May 04, 2012 11:12 am

Okay, welcome back to the Weedo NeedNoBoo Klarnin School of Hard Knocks Academy. I hope you all had a nice filling lunch of simple sugars, empty calories and trans-fatty acids so we can get right to work. So, let's get started talking about how to create more myelination in the motor nerves.

(But you said when we got back you'd talk about what goes into optimizing our practice for the creation of both a strong and a clear engram) Ah, yes....I did, didn't I? Okay, let's discuss that.

* We know that we want a strong engram so that it is easier for the motor neurons to fire off that particular pattern compared to all the other random myriad ones it could be choosing, and therefore for the signal to be sent via the motor nerves to the appropriate muscles so that the body can initiate that particular physical movement more quickly and easily.

* We know that we want a clear engram, i.e., one with higher resolution, so that the pattern itself is the same every time, and so that it will produce both finer amounts of detail in the physical movement as well as a greater consistency of movement each and every time the movement is performed.

So how do we go about optimizing both of those qualities in the engram we are creating for a given physical movement pattern? Well, for now at least, the strength of the engram is a matter of how much signal the motor cortex receives for that particular movement pattern. The greater the total volume of signal, the stronger the engram. As would be fairly intuitive, one way of providing a greater total volume of signal is through many, many repetitions of that signal. Kind of like filling a bucket one drop at a time. Eventually, it adds up. This is exactly why it is said that "repetition is the mother of all learning".

Another way of providing a greater total volume of signal for that engram is by increasing the strength of signal each time it is sent to the brain. Sort of like filling the bucket one drop at a time, only you're increasing the size of each drop. The bucket will fill up faster. So how do we increase the strength of the signal? Simple...just add more myelin to the myelin sheath around the associated motor nerves. Well that was easy, wasn't it? Next topic......

(But wait, but wait....how exactly do we add more myelin to that sheath? Isn't that the process you called myelination earlier?) Why yes, yes it is. And that's a very good question, if I do say so myself. ;) The biophysical and biochemical process of stimulating myelination are kinda....dry, really....and aren't strictly necessary in order to answer our question in a functional pragmatic way. Therefore, I'll leave that to the more ovoid-craniumed among you as an exercise on your own time and I'll suffice it to throw out one of those annoying QED's, or quod erat demonstrandums, at the end that math teachers love and which are never obvious to anyone, not even the writer of the textbook.

We know from our discussion previously that myelination is stimulated by a) the physical performance of the movement pattern, and b) by activation of the corresponding engram for that movement pattern in the motor cortex of the brain. (Well, since they happen together, aren't a and b kind of the same thing?) Sometimes, but not always. As I mentioned earlier, "activation of that engram in the brain itself is a self-reinforcing thing, meaning that every time you activate that particular engram, it strengthens itself as a pattern. This holds true whether or not the corresponding physical movement pattern is actually produced." What we actually have is a situation in which every time the physical movement pattern is actually performed, the myelination is stimulated and the engram is further encoded by firing the corresponding motor neurons in the brain. However, it is possible to activate that engram by firing off the associated motor neurons in the motor cortex of the brain, but without actually performing the physical movement outwardly. And since activation of the engram is self-reinforcing, it further strengthens the encoding of that engram every time you do it.

(Extra-clever student: But what about the process of myelination? Is that stimulated to occur in both cases, both when you actually perform the physical movement and when you do not?) Aha! The answer, my friends, is.......yes! It most definitely does! However, before you all start singing Hallelujah and envisioning a future where you can leisurely sit on your ever-enlarging posteriors in your easy chairs, with your remote controls, adult diapers, and 2-liter bottle of syrupy carbonated beverage at the ready, and by merely thinking about it, becoming unparalleled masters of the internal martial arts, let me mention that activating the engram for a movement without producing that movement physically does not provide the same degree of stimulation for myelination to occur as when you actually perform the movement. Not by a long shot. (Well, crap...there goes my weekend plans) Physically performing the movement pattern provides a much larger stimulus for myelination to occur by a very large margin, so actual w-o-r-k is still required for the development for any real skill, no matter what it is.

(Hey, you've talked about the strength of the engram, but you haven't talked about how we optimize the clarity of it) Yes, that's true. So now you know what we'll start with next time. :)
Last edited by Chris McKinley on Fri May 04, 2012 11:17 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Myelination: The Most Holy Grrrrail of Martial Arts

Postby Tom on Fri May 04, 2012 11:36 am

This fits in nicely with what I understand of the training process for yiquan. The specific "how-to" of your method for improving both the strength and the resolution of the hypothesized engram would be interesting to consider--and to compare/contrast the results of your method's application to actual students with the results of yiquan training (for actual yiquan students). Wang Xiangzhai said that he developed yiquan out of a desire to strip away the mysticism from and rationalize the training of Chinese martial arts.
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Re: Myelination: The Most Holy Grrrrail of Martial Arts

Postby Chris McKinley on Fri May 04, 2012 11:58 am

Alright, folks.....a reminder to please hold your questions, all very valuable, till the end of class where they can be answered one at a time and given the attention they deserve. Thank you. Let's recap from last time.....

* The strength of an engram is related in large part to the strength of the signal received from the motor nerves. It's really more about the total accumulated volume of signal that it receives.

* The more often we repeat a physical movement, the more total accumulated signal is received for the encoding of that engram.

* The stronger the individual signal sent by the motor nerves, the stronger the signal per repetition that is received by the motor cortex, and the faster the total volume of signal accumulates. We likened this to filling a bucket drop by drop, only we're interested in increasing the size of each drop so the bucket fills up faster.

* We know that each time the engram for a physical movement pattern is activated, either from actually performing that movement physically or by activating it in the motor cortex only, that engram is further strengthened, or encoded.

* We also know that, whether or not the movement is performed physically, the activation of that engram also stimulates the process of myelination in the appropriate motor nerves. However, and quite sadly I'm sure, we know that the degree of stimulation of myelination is not the same in both instances. It is much larger in the case where you are actually performing the physical movement.

(Is the only way to increase the size of the "drop" in the bucket to repeat the physical movement enough times that eventually enough myelin builds up on the nerve to make a measurable difference in the speed and strength of that motor nerve signal to and from the brain?) For most purposes and in most cases, yes. (Oh. Well I was kind of hoping we'd learn a trick or something to speed up the myelination) Well, just hold your horses a minute. Yes, it's true that repetition is still required for incremental myelination to occur to any significant degree, and that the more myelination, the stronger and faster that signal becomes. Oh, by the way......

....another Easter Egg: that last statement also has the ramification that the more myelination you have of the motor nerves involved, the faster, stronger and cleaner the signal will be that is sent to the motor cortex to be encoded in that engram. This has the nice little fringe benefit that the stronger the engram and the stronger the myelination, the faster and cleaner your learning will subsequently be for that movement. This is a big part of why learning curves for certain movements can often sputter along until a certain point and then begin to rapidly accelerate. Increasing myelination can have a non-linear logarithmic effect on the rate of learning of neuromotor skills.

Okay, now where was I? Oh yes....repetition is required for the increase in myelination of a given motor nerve, so yeah....repetition will always be a major factor in creating and developing a physical skill set. However, and here's at least a little bit of good news, we can affect the rate of the myelination process in certain ways. For instance, by practicing the movement in such a way that we are as relaxed as possible without sacrificing structure, we ensure that only those muscles that are truly necessary for the movement are actually fired. We leave out all of the redundant tension that can occur, especially when moving in a way that is unfamiliar for the first time, or when using muscles that we are not normally used to using. The body will tend to overcompensate the first few go-rounds and activate more muscular tension than is actually or optimally necessary. By relaxing as much as we can, we leave a good chunk of that unwanted tension out.

That means that in the brain, there are fewer incoming signals from the motor nerves competing for the motor cortex's attention, and it can focus more exclusively on creating, strengthening and encoding only that engram that corresponds with the desired physical movement, thereby increasing the resolution of the engram dramatically. Now, creating a cleaner engram doesn't directly affect the rate of myelination in the motor nerves, but it does in the spinal cord and the motor nerve roots attached to it. It also means that each subsequent firing of that engram that results in an actual performance of the physical movement will increase myelination to only those motor nerves involved, making them more and more likely to be used for the transmitting of the signal from the motor cortex the next time, compared to other nerves which are not as myelinated. This results in a sort of "ingraining" of the neural pathway for that particular movement each time it is performed.

Okay, coffee break. See you back in a few.
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Re: Myelination: The Most Holy Grrrrail of Martial Arts

Postby Chris McKinley on Fri May 04, 2012 12:39 pm

Alright, back to it. We've got....

* Repetition is required for increasing the myelination of the motor nerves involved in a given physical movement.

* While the process of myelination is still gradual and cumulative, we can affect the rate of that process in certain ways.

* We've learned that practicing as relaxed as possible without sacrificing the necessary structure allows us to only activate those muscles necessary for the movement, and only to the degree necessary for that movement, leaving out redundant muscle activation, such as in muscles that aren't actually involved in the production or stabilization of that movement.

* We've learned that such relaxed practice "cleans up" the signal such that only those nerve impulses which are directly involved in the movement are transmitted to the brain, minimizing competing and extraneous signals and allowing the motor cortex to focus more exclusively on only those relevant signals in the creation and strengthening, i.e., encoding, of the movement's associated engram.

* We've learned that a cleaner engram, one that has a higher resolution, provides stimulus for myelination in only those motor nerves actually involved in producing the movement, and that each time that happens, myelination makes it so that that nerve is more likely to be used for transmitting the signal the next time instead of other competing motor nerves. This creates yet another positive feedback loop that results in a further ingraining of only the signal and pattern desired in the associated engram.

(Are there any other ways in which we can influence the rate of myelination?) Yes, there are. Another such way is to practice as slowly as possible without compromising either the structure, the fluidity of motion, or in some cases, the momentum necessary to perform the movement correctly. To start with, moving slowly makes it much, much easier to keep the optimal relaxation we discussed previously in your movement. Additionally, moving at this optimally slow speed allows the motor cortex of the brain to take in the maximum amount of information relevant to the encoding of the associated engram, both in terms of motor nerve signals and also in terms of simultaneous proprioceptive data, and sometimes even cognitive and emotional information, as well as providing maximal opportunity for the creation of neuroassociations with prior data and experiences. Such neuroassociations can often have a dramatically powerful catalyzing effect on the rate of learning, producing those "Aha!" moments we all live for.

Think of it as being much like the sampling rate on a digital recorder for the creating of an audio CD. In the early days of CD technology, the sampling rate was comparatively low, and audiophiles often complained that digital recordings of their favorite music often left out a lot of nuances they remembered from their favorite vinyl recordings. If you paid attention, the difference in sound quality was actually quite noticeable. Over the years, as technology progressed, digital recorders were capable of higher and higher sampling rates, meaning more samples of the music were taken and recorded per unit of time. The result was that eventually, the sampling rate was so high and the resolution of the music was so complete that the human ear could no longer tell the difference between a very high quality analog recording (which used to be the pinnacle in quality) and a modern digital one. In fact, the technology has progressed to the point where not only do digital recorders capture pretty much all of the signal, they are even capable of doing something that their analog competitors cannot. Digital recorders can now actually filter out unwanted noise selectively, such as atmospheric and harmonic distortion, something no analog device could ever dream of doing no matter how high quality it was.

That relates to our practice in that moving optimally slowly as described just previously allows our motor cortex to maximize the clarity, or resolution, of the engram being encoded. This is also much like increasing the resolution of a digital photograph, such as for when you are working in Photoshop. The higher the resolution, the less pixelation in the image, and the clearer that image will appear at any distance, even up close. In other words, you get the cleanest signal you can get, and only that signal. If we apply this slow practice right from the very first time we attempt the physical movement, we get the highest resolution engram for that movement right from the very start, so that we waste no time in ingraining only that movement we actually want to ingrain. Not only does this speed up the learning curve for that movement, sometimes dramatically so, but it has the added benefit of the fact that you don't have to "unlearn" any bad habits because you quite simply never learn how to do it wrong.

See ya next time. :)
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Re: Myelination: The Most Holy Grrrrail of Martial Arts

Postby Quigga on Fri May 04, 2012 12:47 pm

I can say that, for me, I notice many things you have been mentioning. Especially the non-linear development of skill and those sudden peaks in development: "Is this really me who's moving? How the hell can it feel so different and much better in a matter of a few days ?"
You can try this for yourself. Take some time and practice for at least 4 hours on one day, preferably more. Be amazed when you start training the next day. Even though it might not be feasible for the more busy folk, this really makes a difference.

Also, my teacher sometimes told me that, just by imaganing the movements in your mind and reproducing the exact same feeling in your body, you recieve the _same_ results as if you'd run the forms. I suspect for this to be true, one needs to be already on a very high level of skill so that the Myelination and the Engraming had some time to take place and are very strong + clear.
Thank you for sharing this with us, Chris !
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Re: Myelination: The Most Holy Grrrrail of Martial Arts

Postby Teazer on Fri May 04, 2012 1:20 pm

Chris McKinley wrote: So, when we practice a movement for the first time, we both stimulate myelination of the motor nerves as well as encode an engram for that movement in the motor cortex of the brain.


Okay, just to double check since it's been a couple of decades since I learned a bit of neurophysiology. I was under the impression that myelination is something that happens gradually to some axons and not to others, and eventually (given the absence of degenerative disease) everyone would get similar ones myelinated.

So, do particular movements in adults stimulate myelination in specific motor related axons and not in others unrelated to those movements? Is there some conveniently distilled research or article on that?
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Re: Myelination: The Most Holy Grrrrail of Martial Arts

Postby Chris McKinley on Fri May 04, 2012 1:38 pm

Hello again. Recapping from last time....

* We learned that another way to influence the rate of myelination is to practice as slowly as possible without compromising either the structure, the fluidity of motion, or in some cases, the momentum necessary to perform the movement correctly.

* Doing so results in a much greater "sampling rate" for recording, or encoding, that movement in the form of an engram. A higher sampling rate results in a higher resolution of that engram.

* Practicing optimally slowly also allows maximum opportunity for other beneficial information to be added into the mix, such as proprioceptive, cognitive, and emotional information, as well as already-existing neuroassociations. Sometimes creating links with previous neuroassociations results in large leaps in learning and dramatic spikes in the learning curve, i.e., the much-cherished "Aha!" moments.

* We know from previous discussion that a cleaner engram, or one that has the highest resolution possible, results in the most efficient myelination of only those motor nerves actually involved in the physical movement, and thus a faster ingraining of that movement into our nervous systems.

(Are there any other things we can do to influence the rate of myelination?) There are actually many other things we can do to positively affect the learning process as a whole, some of which involve other factors than just incoming motor nerve signal, but yes....there's one more important thing we can do to influence the rate of myelination. We can practice with as much perfection of form as we can muster at the time, each and every time we perform the physical movement. This is why we have the axiom, "Practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect." What doing this accomplishes is to allow the motor cortex to sample only the best possible information in the encoding of our engram, each and every time. There are never any "smudges" to erase, so to speak, and we get the cleanest and most accurate engram possible right from the very start. It also does something else of crucial importance, especially for movements involving simultaneous nuances, refinements and details. Especially when coupled with the already-mentioned slow and relaxed practice, it allows the conscious mind to filter out a lot of extraneous distraction while practicing and focus on the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth of perfect performance, so to speak.

In terms of its role in the learning of new neuromotor, or physical, activities, the conscious mind does a very curious thing. It continuously programs the reticular activating system of the brain to focus on certain kinds of information. The reticular activating system functions sort of like a filter for incoming information into the brain. An example of what is does can be found in the following example: Let's say you just went out and bought a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle this afternoon that you've been wanting for a long time. All of a sudden, you will find yourself consciously noticing every other motorcycle on the road. It will feel as if there were suddenly way more motorcycles out there than there were before you bought your own bike. All those bikes were already there, it's just that now your reticular activating system has been programmed to notice them more compared with all the other "white noise" stimuli out there. In our example just now, the reticular activating system, or RAS (not to be confused with R.U.S.'s, or Rodents of Unusual Size), had a noticeable effect on the conscious mind, causing it to notice things it had not previously. But the two also work in tandem, such that what you spend a lot of time consciously thinking about will also have an ongoing influence on what your RAS selects for in its filtering. This is reflected in the saying, "As a man thinketh, so is he."

When you practice optimally slowly and optimally relaxed, and you then add the extra factor of practicing with as much perfection of form as you can muster at the moment, you automatically focus your conscious mind on exactly those factors, or component elements, that go into executing a perfect performance of that particular physical movement. Because you are moving slowly, you have time to notice things, both consciously and unconsciously, that you would not have noticed had you been moving faster. Put simply, you have time to stop and smell the roses. Because you are also moving in an optimally relaxed way and with as much perfection of form as you can, you are smelling only those roses that will go into your desired bouquet.

Practicing with as much perfection of form as you can muster at the time results in more quickly and efficiently encoding a stronger, higher resolution engram, which itself both speeds up and strengthens the learning as we have already discussed. However, it also does something that slow practice and relaxed practice can't. It programs the mind for success, almost quite literally, in that it trains the RAS to notice those particular component elements that comprise perfect execution of the physical movement. The more you notice them, the easier and faster it is to incorporate them into your performance, and the earlier you do that, the faster you create a strong, clean engram which then feeds on itself and accelerates both the myelination of only those neural pathways that are desired, but also the learning as a larger whole.

Yet one more side benefit of practicing with as much perfection of form as you can is that it also trains the conscious mind to eliminate extraneous mental noise, to be able to see finer and finer degrees of detail and nuance in your performance simultaneously, and to learn to recognize desired component elements in your performance for both current and later use, such that you can more easily and readily create new neuroassociations in the future from the experiences gained in the current practice. In other words, you are learning how to learn, faster and more effectively.

Well.....that's it folks. That's the end of class for now. (Are there any other things we can do to speed up learning or strengthen the learning that does occur beside myelination and the ways of practice that influence it?) Yes, there are many. Some of them involve other factors beside myelination. Some involve cognitive and emotional input. Some involve influencing the rate and kind of neuroassociations with information we already have. Some involve memory and its retention. There's a lot out there in the field of learning theory and accelerated learning. But that's for enrollment next semester. This has been Myelination: 101.

Thank you all for reading and for your time. The information I have posted herein has played a large part in developing my Sculptor method of training over the last twenty or so years. It has been my pleasure to share it with you. I hope you find the information as helpful and even revolutionary as I have in producing results in your training. I will also cross-post this information in the Distillery for future reference purposes.
Chris McKinley

 

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