Letters: Emergency mindset

12 January 2007

I’ve been watching the clips Steve has done on the Emergency Mindset and have found them extremely interesting, to say the least! It has got me thinking and a few questions popped into my head as I was watching. I was hoping Steve might be able to shed some light on these. :o)

Steve spoke about the muscle spindle and and using visualisation to stimulate this response within yourself… I know that Steve explained it using the story about shattering the milk bottle out of anger. I was just wondering if Steve then went back and worked out a method for training this type of thing? Did he start slowly, building up each action that was to be perceived over time and then once it was fully realised, work it into his training? I hope I’m getting my question across, if I can use myself as an analogy… When I’m learning a new sticking pattern on the drums, such as right/left/right/right/left/right/left/left I work on this very slowly, building up the speed until I can talk to someone and play the sticking without thinking about it at very high speed, it then just manifests itself in my playing at a gig. Is this the type of thing Steve did after his eureka moment, or was it less procedural than this? Steve also talks about a Motor Oriented Response, as opposed to a stimulus driven one, I was wondering if he could give some more details regarding this, if possible?

–Monty Sneddon


  1. It wasn’t a eureka realisation as such, because I was already imaging anyway.  It’s just that the image became a more complete picture.  It contained the effect I wanted to cause, and the kinesthetic representation of the form by which to produce the necessary generative forces.  That realisation made sense of everything else I’d done prior to it.  And notable within that was the fact that the anger which came from the pain helped to produce the generative force in an obvious way, but in a not-so-obvious way, it also produced the mindset.  The anger gave me that level of arousal and focus.  It sharpened the visualization, not just visually, but kinesthetically.  It opened up the whole awareness of that moment.

And in fact, what it then made me reflect upon were other instances in my life where pain was a factor, and by which I’d produced what some might call supernormal strength.  Or ‘playing out of my socks’ as they say in sport!  There was the rage response, which was the milk bottle.  And on other occasions, there was a different response.  In an instance where I had a six-inch nail embedded in my leg, right in there on the bone, I had to find the presence of mind and detachment from the pain that allowed me to focus on taking it out.

So there’s no one mindset!

What it led me to experiment with was how might I initiate pain, both so as to get this level of arousal and get a handle on it so that I could call it up at any moment, and also to control it so as to carry out a procedure in its presence.  My solution was pretty simple.  I’d fill up the sink with very hot water and plunge my hands in.  I felt the positive energy I could get from pain.  The stimulation of an emergency, rather than the negative ‘ow, this hurts’.  And I could transfer that moment into a physical release of power.

But also, again using hot water–not scalding, but hot enough so that normally you’d withdraw your hand instinctively, so it hurts–I’d put coins on the bottom of the sink, close my eyes, and go searching for them with my hands.  I’d put a nut and a bolt in there, separately, close my eyes, and then try to find them and put them together.  You get the idea.

Those are two very different mindsets for two different requirements of an ’emergency situation.’

As somebody who works off stimuli and has been described as ‘moody’ (to say the least) I’m very impulsive and I’ve never had a problem with forming images.  A lot of people do.  Particularly within the martial arts.

The problem with many martial artists is that they have no visual representation of what they need to do in a fight.  You get this either by your own experiences, or by observing and internalizing successful examples.  And many martial artists haven’t done either.  Instead, the way they respond doesn’t happen at a visual or kinesthetic level, but at a verbal one.  ‘Put your foot here.  Put your arm there. Do this.  Do that.’  And that’s what I mean by motor orientation: concentrating on how you should be performing a move.  Focusing on the manner in which you do it rather than working in response to a stimulus.  Stimuli-oriented response produces an order as a whole.  Responding to a stimulus produces the sense of what you need to do, and you just get on with the doing it.  You’re not focusing on how to do it.  That organization takes place on a subconscious level.

In other words, if you haven’t had any fights or you have no reality base within your gym or dojo to create that representation, then  you should watch, for example, Tyson’s greatest knockouts to get a representation of the energy, the physicality, and the overall picture of the actual moment of the knockout.  I’ll watch him and I’ll pick up on the explosive energy of the release.  I’ll watch the violent effect that it produces upon his opponent, say on the head.  And I’ll borrow from him, I’ll use his example to create my own kinesthetic representation of those generative forces and the form he used, as well as the visual imagery of what he did.

It’s not about analyzing or over-thinking about this thing.  I want an image in my mind, and I want to be able to instantly act on it.  And if you haven’t got it yourself, you borrow it.  Just like an actor.  Until it becomes your own.

It’s not that verbalization doesn’t take place, but mine is a different form of verbalization.  When working a move, I try to create for guys the visual effect they want to cause.  And to do that, one thing I do is to get them to (when working on the heavy bag) is to say ‘Nose, break’ so that they form an image of what they intend to do.  Whenever they do that, they become emotionally driven.  And the image of breaking the nose pulls everything together.  Now, obviously, you’re not going to go around saying ‘nose, break’ or ‘rib, break’ for your whole life.  It’s just a way in.

The interesting thing is that we all have this facility of imagery.  And it’s associated with mood.  You get in an argument, haven’t you ever imaged smacking the guy in the head?  You got frustrated in the house and smashed something?  You had an image before you did it, didn’t you?

Or in the most obvious of contexts, take a sexual mood.  Sexual images can come flooding in, and they produce physiological changes.  As if it’s actually happening!  And equally, if you’re shown a sexual image, then the mood follows.

But the mind has a time and a place for everything.  You’re probably not going to be thinking about your girlfriend when the dentist is drilling your teeth!  In my case, you’ll be thinking about ripping the drill out and drilling him with it (but hey that’s just me).

You’ve got to find your mindset for the occasion.  And if your occasion is fighting, then your mindset is not serene.  You’re not composing a symphony!  The mindset is visual/kinesthetic.  It’s not procedural.  It’s working off positive images and feelings.  A drumming pattern is a mechanical effort that you can slow down in order to learn it, but you can’t slow down an image.  Drumming is fantastic for learning sense of time and syncopation, and it is something you could transfer to your fighting–but in an intuitive way, not a procedural one.  You need to get more visual, more kinesthetic about what you do.  Watch more fight movies:  MMA, boxing, Muay Thai.  Get into it.  Empathize with what they’re doing.  Get that flash image imprinted on your brain. And learn to not only observe your external environment, but your internal one as well.  Develop what’s called mindfulness in action.  External/internal at the same time.

So when you’re referring to your drumming, and you’ve acquired the facility to talk and drum at the same time (i.e., you’re letting the subconscious do the work) that’s something that’s going on at a technical level.  I do that a lot when teaching–I hit and talk almost simultaneously–and I think I talk about it on NHB1.  But it’s analogous to driving a car.  You can carry on a conversation, monitor the road, respond, plan your journey, all at the same time.  The difference is, though, Monty, that when you’re driving a car, you’re not the engine.  You know you can put your foot down on the accelerator.  That’s your choice, either instinctive or calculated.

When you’re fighting, and training, you are the car.  You’re the engine.  And you’re the driver.  And you’ve got to be able to do all those things: consciously and subconsciously scan for cues, act instinctively, but also when need be, to put your foot on the pedal and engage that emotional drive.  And that’s where you need that representation of sudden acceleration.  Sudden explosiveness.  You have to have trained that.  Otherwise, you put your foot down and nothing happens.