The European Historical Combat Guild

Investigating Europe's Historical combative methods and behaviours

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Learning while you sleep....

I have known for some time that the process of acquiring a new skill is a process of mapping it in to your nervous system, forming and strengthening the connections between the nerves, in the brain and to the muscles that make the action happen. I also knew that part of the efficiency of the nerves function is based upon the proteins that form the "insulation" to the nerves that insure that the signals the signals through the nerves are stronger and faster.
What I had not realised or thoroughly considered was the importance of sleep to this process. Research has shown that it is during sleep that this mapping takes place and when the proteins are produced.

From Stages of Motor learning (2005) Andreas R. Luft and  Manueel M. Buitrago
Successful learning of motor skill requires repetitive training... This article covers the growing evidence that motor skill learning advances through stages, in which different storage mechanisms predominate. the acquisitions phase is characterised by fast (within session) and slow learning (between sessions). For a short period following the initial training sessions, the skill is liable to interference by other skills and by protein synthesis inhibition, indicating that consolidation processes occur during rest periods between training sessions.

When you are practising a skill to acquire it your brain will be trying out different things to ascertain the best way to do them. As it finds things that work it then refines them. However to make lasting changes takes time and happens through a process know as Consolidation. Consolidation is taking place at all time, but appears to be most effective during sleep.

It's Practice, with Sleep, That Makes Perfect: Implications of Sleep-Depnedant Learning and Plasticity for Skill Performance. (2005) Matthew P. Walker and Robert Strickgold
Practice is often believed to be the only determinate of improvement. Although repeatedly performing a new task often results in learning benefits, leading to the adage "practice makes perfect", a collection of studies over the past decade has begun to change this concept, Instead, these reports suggest that after initial training, the brain continues to learn in the absence of further practice, and that this delayed improvement develops during sleep.

The study concludes;

Although the functions of the sleeping brain remain uncertain, rapidly increasing literature now supports the role of sleep in modifying and improving memory  These reports provide an abundance of converging evidence indicating that sleep dependant mechanisms of neural plasticity lead to skill memory consolidation and consequently to delayed performance improvements. Different forms of simple and complex skill memory appear to require subtly different types of sleep for overnight memory enhancement, and several studies indicate that within the first 24 hours following initial practice is essential for consolidation to develop.

More recent research suggests that for greatest effect one should sleep, even just a power nap, within four hours of practice, otherwise the body/brains ability to consolidate is impaired. It would seem in light of this that evening training sessions, if you then get to bed within four hours of finishing, is actually a good idea! ;)

Interference occurs when one doesn't sleep properly or within the suggested time, and the consolidation is inhibited has the brain is having to deal with more present issues, also as noted the production of the proteins involved takes place during sleep. Also if you practice or use another similar but conflicting skill soon after training it causes Interference of the consolidation process. It seems that four hours is the boundary line after which such practice won't cause Interference. If you can wait four hours until using the conflicting skill, then interference doesn't occur and if you can get a nap as well..... so much the better! ;)
It should also be noted that once a skill has been acquired then both skills can used and practised with less or no effect

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Staying engaged or switch on and off.

I was just watching some video of HEMA practitioner, one whose skills and understanding I respect, engaged in some free play with two practitioners of  a Japanese Weapon Art (JWA) in this case Kendo. It was as always interesting to see the differences techniques being applied against each other.
However the main thing I was remaindered of was something I have been aware of now for years when I observe JWA and HEMA. That is the marked difference between how JWA and HEMA consider the Approach and Exit to the engagement and the Approach to the next engagement.
The text below is a direct copy of the post I made on Facebook below the video. I plan to expand on this at a later date, however having written quite a lot I thought it was a reasonable starting point.

An observation of a generally major difference in the practice HEMA and JWA which I have noticed over a long period.  HEMA Practitioners whether in set plays or free play, at the end, win or loose, "switch out" and turn their backs most of the time and often spend a long time looking away from the "threat" Where as JMA practitioners tend to stay oriented on the opponent, or when the final action leaves them off target they turn to face and stay facing the opponent whether they win or loose and then stay orientated on the opponent until the next bout/exchange.

Again, these are not 100% occurrences, however there is a clear divide in methodologies/application. I do also think that it is significant. I know that many of the older Ryu in Japan emphasise dealing with the aftermath of an encounter as much as the build up and the actual exchange. That being aware that the threat may not be finished so to stay oriented or at least aware of them is vital.

Also to be aware of other possible threats beyond the technique. One can also note that in modern "combative" firearms training that it is now generally drilled that after shooting a target etc that the shooter scans  around and only then chooses to holster/lower the weapon once there are no threats. Rather than older practice methods where this was not done and which generally lead to people to be conditioned on the range to just holster the weapon automatically with out awareness of the environment and other threats. This was found to be leading to negative situations in actual use, where conditioned rather then appropriate responses took over and people would automatically lower/holster the weapon once an immediate threat was neutralised and not check for more threats and then being shot by someone else.

Also training/learning research indicates that staying focused beyond the completion of an immediate task or exercise leads to better/faster retention of skills and actually helped in the correction of mistakes.

This is something we ingrain into students and  have seen an over all improvement with its application.

I find that this is a very "Western" approach, we as a culture tend to be more goal rather than process orientated. And even when we think we are focused on the process, we still tend to focus on the immediate frame of the specific thing we are in the process of doing, rather than on the whole process including how we come to the place where the "thing" happens and how we leave it.