Tailspin

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My brain, for some reason, doesn’t seem to be working well today. Perhaps it’s overloaded. I missed one of my busiest school days last week because I was dealing with the aftermath of an accident the afternoon before. I’m still dealing with some of that, but since I missed not only two lectures, but two labs, I’m naturally obsessing about that. For the first time in a long time, I’m wishing I didn’t have school today.

On the other hand, it’s a chance for me to find ways to push past a major concern. Find ways to set it aside so that I can concentrate on things I can do something about. Right now, my thoughts are VERY sluggish, hence the lower quality of blog today. Nevertheless, here are some of the coping mechanisms I’m using:

  1.        Prioritizing: Make a list of things to do based on deadlines
  2.        Reframing: Find alternate ways to look at any given situation
  3.        One Step at a Time: Focus on the next task, not the mountain of worries ahead of me
  4.        Determine what I can change and what I can’t, and leave the stuff I can’t change alone

 

There are, no doubt, others that I will come up with and use; however, it’s one thing to know what to do, and something else to do it.

Progressive Flailing

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After teaching martial arts for a number of years, I’ve realized a pattern in the progression of students. I’m not talking about ranking, or even proficiency in movement. I’m talking about reaction to stimulus. It has to do with inherent fight/flight reactions. There is a third part of the fight/flight response, and that is “freeze”. The freeze response is what most people refer to as “deer in the headlights” response: somatic muscle stimulation stops, and the person just sits there and watches. I’m not a neuroscientist, but I suspect it has to do with hypersensitivity to perceived threats. So how does this apply to students in the martial arts?

Here’s my new progression:

Freezing, Wildly Flailing, Directional Flailing, Flailing Overcompensation, Directed Response, Appropriate Response, Reflexive Response.

Freezing: When training students, as an instructor, I have to assume the student is going to start here. Thus my “attacks” are slow, linear, and separated from each other. This prevents the overload by greatly reducing the perceived threat. In this stage, it is also a good bet that we have to teach the student it is okay to hit back. Once the student gets the idea that 1) he can hit back and 2) an incoming attack is dangerous only when it lands, then they move on to the second step in the progression.

Wildly Flailing: This is most easily seen in “slap fights”: hands and arms reach out blindly, trying to find a target. It’s also seen in defense as a shotgun barrage of untargeted blocking. It’s roughly the equivalent of the last twitches of a drowning person that might get his head above water—usually unproductive, but better than nothing. Students in this phase are, for the first time, in a situation where the attacks are coming in more quickly and in random sequence.

Directional Flailing: Students in this phase are still flailing, but the area covered is much narrower. Whereas in the Wildly Flailing phase, the flailing happens roughly evenly across the entire half-sphere in front of the student, Directional Flailing happens in more of a cone type area that encompasses the incoming attack. In this phase, the student’s subconscious mind has started to kick in, allowing an inherent understanding of “if the attacker’s right arm is coming in from this direction, it can’t be coming in from any other direction”.

Flailing Overcompensation: In this phase, there is apparently a slowing down of response. What is actually going on, however, is the student is having to consciously overcome the inherent flail response. In other words, the student’s drop in response speed has more to do with fighting himself than being unable to execute the appropriate response. Some flailing will still happen, but if the attack speed is reduced, the correct responses will become more apparent.

Directed Response: The student has now internalized a series of possible responses, but is still in the process of narrowing down the appropriate stimulus response sequence. The movements of a forearm block have been practiced so often that it’s second nature, but the forearm block is lost amidst an index of other possible responses. The response speed is faster than in the Flailing Overcompensation stage, but is still slow enough that the student wouldn’t last long in an actual fight…or even in a sparring match.

Appropriate Response: The student has learned his own hierarchy of stimulus response in both attack and defense. In this phase, the reaction speed picks up again, but the student can only deal with a few sequential attacks at a time since he is thinking about each attack individually. The goal of this phase is to smooth out the stimulus reaction loop to the point where conscious thought no longer has a place in the system.

Reflexive Response: In this phase, the responses are at the operant reflex level (as opposed to physiological reflex). Instead of thinking about dealing with the incoming attack, the reflex takes care of it and the brain can think about other things such as tactics, environment, and self-control.

This progression of responses is mostly tongue-in-cheek, but I suspect you’ll find a certain level of truth in it. Part of the purpose of martial arts classes is to take someone from Freezing to Reflexive Response as quickly (and hopefully painlessly) as possible. As an instructor, I teach responses to stimuli (even attack is a response to stimuli). In order for the teaching to be effective, however, I have to initially teach the responses in a very sterile and uncomplicated way.  In a more dynamic, non-drill situation, the appropriate responses are less obvious, which is why a student who performs very well in the drills can become flustered in the dynamic situation.

The other thing to keep in mind with this progression, is that it focuses on stimulus-response. It does not map to differences in ranks, only to experience with techniques. Every technique (especially in the beginning ranks) goes through this series. Even now, when I learn something new, I usually start in the Flailing Overcompensation phase as I try to fit the new technique in with the rest of my skills. I may even regress slightly into the Directed Flailing phase as I begin a Reflexive Response, remember I’m doing something new, and switch mid-movement.

Complacent Subluxation

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wrist-forearm small

I’m guessing I’ve been too positive in my approach to life recently. Either that, or too complacent. Life has seen fit to give me a partially dislocated wrist. Partially dislocated? Something’s either dislocated or it’s not, isn’t it? Well, not really. The technical name is “subluxation”. If you’ve ever had a joint pop out, then immediately pop back into place without the need for external pressure to put it back (like a doctor…or a wall), you’ve had a subluxation. Specifically, my subluxation is at the ulnar-carpal joint and it subluxes medially.

Subluxations typically happen when the dislocating force (pressure, torque, etc.) on the joint just slightly exceeds the stabilizing pressures of ligaments, tendons, and muscles. When the dislocating force abates, even slightly, the stabilizing pressures snap the joint back into place. Unfortunately, my particular subluxation is not a one-time thing, it’s repeatable. It happens every time I flex (i.e. palmar flex) my wrist under load. This indicates that there is an unfortunate amount of permanent ligament stretch.

Usually the way to rehabilitate this kind of thing is to strengthen the muscles overlaying the ligaments. There is a problem, however. I’ve looked in two anatomical atlases and an athletic training reference text. There are no muscles that directly overlay the distal head of the ulna. The flexor carpi ulnaris and extensor carpi ulnaris travel down the outside (medial) of the ulna, but wrap to palmar or dorsal side respectively about an inch or so before reaching the distal head of the ulna. No doubt this is why the subluxation is happening medially…there is no support structure other than the ligaments. I can still strengthen the flexor- and extensor carpi ulnaris and hope that I can strengthen them to the point where they can hold the distal ulnar head in place via a third class lever type action.

In the meantime, I’m finding that I have some pain in the radial side of the wrist as the radius tries to compensate for an unstable ulna. Gotta love chain reactions.

From what I remember when I had a slight separation of the AC joint in my right shoulder, it took about 6 weeks for things to heal and settle into place. Granted there are different causal mechanisms at work, I’ll still use that as my baseline. At the moment, my plan is to keep my left wrist as immobile as possible (without a cast) for a few weeks. Ligaments don’t have a whole lot of healing capabilities, but they do have some. I’ll let them heal as much as they can, then start strengthening the ulnaris muscles.

Irrationality: a double bladed trick of the mind

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Next week is Spring Break and all campuses are closed.  I’m posting next week’s blog early since I won’t have access to a computer until the following week.

I made the first step in restoring communications with some people I wish I’d never lost touch with. It’s a rare day these past few years that I didn’t think about them and the impact they had on my life. At first it was a case of not noticing how communication was slipping. Then I realized that at some point, I had not written or called for nearly a year. At that point, my irrational side made itself known. The internal conversation went something like this:

“I haven’t written in a while. I should probably do that.”

“It has been a long time. They’re probably angry. You don’t want to make them angrier, do you?”

“Are you saying that getting in touch with them will make them angrier than they were when I stopped communicating?”

“Yes.”

“………”

At this point paralysis and inertia kick in and communication continued to lapse. Ladies and gentlemen, my irrational side. (no applause necessary)

As time went on, I felt worse about it. Then I started building walls around that part and tried to ignore it. As it happened, my irrational side got me into this, an irrational event broke the barrier. I got a piece of spam from one of the people I’d lost contact with. Spam is everywhere, so why was this an irrational event? First, he never initiates contact. Getting email from him before I sent one first is an unimaginable event. Second, it was spam. More specifically, someone had hacked into his system and started using his email list to send links to spoofed websites. Despite the email being spam, my irrational side’s little brother started jumping up and down with joy. “He emailed me first!”

I didn’t know if anyone else had let him know, so I emailed him back to tell him his account had been hacked. Then, I added a brief here’s-what-I’m-currently-up-to message and sent it off. The next day, I get a response with no text in the body, but the subject read: thanks for keeping in touch. Irony or sincerity? With him it could be either. Time will tell.

Addictive Reframing

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I was sitting in a computer lab, struggling to come up with a topic, when this energetic guy comes in, plops down in the chair next to me and logs in. Moments later, I reeled back from the stench of him. I’m not talking about being unwashed, but every time he moves (even to turn a page) the noisome odor of cigarettes rolls over me.

In my mind, I picture people like him surrounded by a symbiotic malevolent aura. He may be a very nice person, but cloaking him is this invisible monster. It spends some of its time controlling him, but the rest of the time, it reaches out to those around him and slowly throttles them. Every time it feels itself start to weaken, it forces him to light up and recharge. Then the man-monster symbiote returns to strangle more people.

No, this isn’t another rant about smokers. It’s an example of reframing. Reframing is a conscious shift of mental perspective. It can go either way. For instance, instead of a malevolent symbiotic entity, I could have thought of the guy as intentionally trying to ruin the day of the people around him. In the first example, he’s only partially responsible being both instigator and victim. In the second, he’s entirely responsible. The first opens the possibility of pity, empathy, or sympathy. The second is almost entirely adversarial.

Anyone who’s dealt with an addiction can see themselves in the first example of reframing. It’s even in colloquial dialog. “It’s the booze talking,” or “[drug] is the only way to appease this gnawing emptiness.” I’m not excusing anything. Addiction is a path that started with a choice. This is the reason so many people take the “blame the addict” stance.

The problem is after that first, perhaps almost trivial, choice, the ability to choose the other way disappears. The addiction grows and slowly takes over the person’s life. It becomes and obsession and a compulsion. It takes control and drives the person to the very edge of sanity, then seduces them back into its arms. It is territorial in that it finds ways to make the person shut out others that don’t share in the addiction. Addiction is a living thing, but only because it is part of the person.

I don’t like being around smokers. I don’t like being around alcoholics. And yet, looking at those sentences, it’s obvious that I define people (at least in this case) by their addiction. I suspect that most people view addicts this way. Fortunately, I have a tool garnered from Alateen: separate the person from the addictive behavior.

Remember that an addict is not a single person, an addict is a symbiote: part person, part addiction. When the addict is temporarily free of the addiction influences, that person may very well be a charming, decent person. It’s only when the addiction decides to sharpen its claws on the scratching post of the person’s soul does the harmful behavior come back.

Thus, when I catch myself thinking of someone in terms of their addiction (smoker, drinker), I consciously try to separate the person from the addictive behavior—I try reframing. The person who sat next to me in the computer lab is not “a smoker”, he is someone who smokes. His behavior, especially the result of his behavior, may annoy the hell out of me, but by blaming the behavior rather than the person opens the door to being his friend. And if there’s anything an addict needs, it’s friends.