The European Historical Combat Guild

Investigating Europe's Historical combative methods and behaviours

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Natural and Normal

These terms often get used in teaching or learning WMA or martial arts in general.
They are often used in a confusing way, as if they mean the same thing. Though in common usage they do get used interchangeably, there is however an important difference, all be it at times a subtle one.

Much is made of moving naturally and normally, that how one moves should be based upon what you would do naturally or normally. They do sound similar but do they really mean the same thing? Of course we should all be aiming to make certain natural movements and behaviours normal, though this is often hard in a combative environment, which is after all neither natural or normal for most people most of the time.

If one understands the significant differences between Normal and Natural, it can help improve both how ideas and actions are conveyed in training and how the activity is experienced. By addressing each in an appropriate way, we can eventually make what we do both Natural and Normal.

Now I should make clear my definition of the terms. I use Natural to refer to how you and your body have evolved to function and/or how it can be used and operates most efficiently and appropriately. On the physical level, its what we in the Guild define as Body Mechanics.
Normal here refers to individuals habitual behaviour and movement patterns. Those ways that one moves and behaves on a daily basis and of which we generally have little or no awareness or conscious control.

Of course nothing is completely black or white. Not all Natural behaviours are appropriate, and in many cases things we do Normally, we are also doing Naturally, and appropriately.

OK try this. Fold your arms, quite normal and natural? Now fold your arms the other way. Does it Feel strange?! Probably. One might say that it does not feel “Natural” to fold your arms the other way. However in the context of this discussion that’s not true, there is no Natural reason that you can’t fold your arms either way, baring injury. So what you are really experiencing is it doesn’t feel Normal. Why? Because most of us have developed the habit of folding our arms only one way and it has become such a strong habit that to do anything else feels strange. Now does it really matter that you only fold your arms one way and that to do it differently feels strange enough that you'll choose not to do it? Well not really, it does however serve as an illustration of how deep habits can become rooted and how what we do is dictated in large part by habits. Of course not all habits are negative one can have good habits as well as bad. However one has to recognise that they are patterns of behaviour or movement of which we have little or no awareness, that happen automatically and consistently. As such we have also become so accustomed and conditioned to these habits that should we be asked or need to do anything else it does not feel “right”. There is a danger that under pressure we will only do something that feels “right” even if it is not appropriate, we will fall back on to doing what we do normally. Ask yourself do you want to be the Master of your habits or let your habits master you?

In teaching and training problems can arise when someone dismisses, rejects or refuses to do something, using the argument “it doesn’t feel natural”, when what they actually mean is “it feels different to what I normally do”.

Someone new to WMA with no other experience or terms of reference for Body Feel, may initially find it harder to tell the difference between Natural or Appropriate and Normal. Or someone who has trained in particular systems which have different ways of handling body mechanics and the Principles in general, may now have developed Normal movement and behaviour patterns, which will make the new training, Feel very different. Here of course the instructor has a vital role insuring that the scholar feels the difference in definition between the Normal and Natural/Appropriate.

Let me be clear that Feeling or Body Feel is vital to understanding, learning and doing. If you think you have done a movement correctly, make sure that you are Feeling it. If it does not Feel comfortable, then it probably is not right. Think and Feel are another two words that need to be clearly defined and considered in teaching and learning. Thinking is what we imagine something to be. Feeling is the experience of what it is. One could reword “I think therefore I am”, to “I feel, therefore I am”. However, to get back on track for this post, proper Body Feel, interpreting the difference if any, between Normal and Natural, is vital.

By feeling the actions and the movements, you are gaining experience of them and it is only through experience that you can truly gain understanding. Its another problem I encounter when people are learning, they want to understand before they do it or try it, where as real understanding may only be achieved by doing. Another problem can be they have heard an explanation of what they should do and because they Think they have followed those instructions, that they have done it Right, where as when you ask them to actually Feel what they are doing they realise what is different. However that’s another topic and post.

Habits and patterns can be made and they can be changed. Awareness can be improved and developed by using patterns so that habits are appropriate to the situation. Eventually you should be able to operate naturally, normally and perhaps most important, appropriately to the situation you are in.


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