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  • Chris Kent

Ideo-Motor Set-up for Training

The image which you hold in your mind about a movement greatly influences the structure of the movement. The sensations that you focus on during the performance of a movement is of crucial importance in determining the actual form of the movement. If you change the area of focus through what is known as the “ideo-motor set-up”, you will change the structure of the movement and modify the technique.

Ideo-motor set-up, as defined by Aladar Kogler, PhD., “is a psychological factor that relates to movement and perfecting it. It is one of the main elements in determining the form and structure of a movement.” In his book, Yoga For Every Athlete, Kogler, who is a five-time Olympic fencing coach and Director of Columbia University Sports Psychology Research Laboratory, relates an Eastern European study that was conducted with fencers, which I think any martial artist seeking to improve themselves might find interesting. The following excerpt from his book relates the test:

In a study, Tishler looked at the amount of time that fencers require to complete a “direct attack.” Fencers were timed from the beginning of their movement, until the completed execution of a head cut with fleche and lunge.

Fencers were given the test of trying a number of different mental set-ups as they executed their fencing moves. At first, the fencers were all required to complete a direct attack without using any mental set-up. Next, each fencer was asked to execute the attack using one of four different mental set-ups. With each mental set-up the action was repeated three times. The four mental set-ups included:

  • Focusing on the start of the movement of the fencer’s front - leg making an explosive movement with the front leg.

  • Focusing on the start of an explosive take off with the back leg.

  • Focusing on the “synchrony” of movements of both legs.

  • Focusing on the speed of the movement of the arm (with weapon) - to hit the target as quickly as possible without attempting to control the movements of the legs.

The lower level and middle level fencers performed the fastest attacks with mental set-ups which focused on leg movement. That is, they did best with the first three mental set-ups. The technical level of these fencers required them to focus on the take-off and the factors related to the take-off. When these fencers focused on the speed of their arm movement, the take-offs were late and errors occurred in hand-foot coordination.

The opposite was true for top-level fencers. Focusing on the take-off from the front or back leg actually decreased the effectiveness of their attacks. When these fencers focused on coordinating their leg movements, they had the same results as when they had no mental set-up at all. However, when the top-level fencers focused on the speed of their arm movements they increased the overall effectiveness and speed of their attacks. For these fencers, focusing on arm speed improved all aspects of the take-off, and increased the overall speed of the attack.

Thus, demonstrating that the advanced fencers increased their speed and effectiveness of their attacks using a different mental set-up than lower level fencers. Presumably, this difference was due to the fact that top-level fencers had so mastered their leg movement that there was no need to think about or concentrate on the legs, just on the speed of the arm holding the weapon.

How does this relate to you as a martial artist? It boils down to the fact that the quality of your performance depends on the quality of your attention and intention. What you focus on during performance of an action, movement, technique, etc., can have a great impact on the results. So depending on your level of skill and experience, you may achieve better results in training by focusing your attention on a different area of an action such as (a) footwork or (b) arm movement (strike) or leg movement (kick). Why not try experimenting with this training principle in your own training and note the results?

Source: Yoga For Every Athlete by Aladar Kogler, PhD.

Llewellyn Publications (1995)

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