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Thanks For The Memories...



A martial artist learns to move their body, to glide smoothly and fluidly using footwork, to develop economical and efficient body mechanics of their various actions such as punches, kicks, throws, etc. Then, for whatever reason, they walk away and leave it behind. Years later, they return to it and think back. They start to move, and within a short time their body takes over and before they know it, they’re doing it again. Their body is responding as before because their actions and reactions have been tutored by their accumulated past training. This is what is commonly referred to as “muscle memory.” Muscle memory is one of the most valuable forms of memory for anyone involved in some form of physical activity or sport, and it’s especially valuable to the martial artist.


The first thing to understand is that our muscles don’t literally have a brain. They cannot think for themselves and do their own thing whenever they want (imagine what they would be like for us if each muscle did).


Muscle memory is the concept that after diligent practice and numerous repetitions of particular physical movements, your body will remember those movements. Skill gets imprinted through repetition of the action. Our body makes neuromuscular connections and we lay down a “neural groove,” so to speak (coordination of the muscles, joints, etc.). And the more we do something the deeper the groove becomes. Your body creates nervous records of what you do. Through hours of practice, training, and deliberation, you internalize your actions. They’re literally written into your head and body and don’t need to be accessed through conscious effort.


Muscle memory is an essential part of our human development and comes into play every day, because if we didn’t have it, if our muscles didn’t remember, we’d have to start from scratch again each day and relearn everything we do.


Another great thing regarding muscle memory is that our bodies retain the information we put into it for a long time, for year or even decades after you cease doing the actions. The neuromuscular connections regarding certain movement smight be lying dormant due to the fact that they haven’t been used in quite a while, but they’re still there. By way of example, while Bruce Lee may have discontinued the practice of certain things in his training such as chi sao (sticking hands), training on the wooden dummy, or the use hand immobilization attack, the neural grooves that he had laid down for each of these things were so ingrained that he could access them anytime he desired. In the same way that if you learned to ride a bicycle, even if it was a long time ago and you hadn’t ridden one in years, chances are high that you could climb on a bike today and ride it quite easily and assuredly. After a long period, the first time doing it again it might be a little rough around the edges and you might be a bit wobbly, but if you relax and allow the body to work, it will smooth it out and you’ll be riding as before in no time.


Our physical body has accumulated many muscle memories and we can access them and use them. How well our body remembers is a very individual thing. Some people have a high level of kinesthetic perception and body awareness while others may not.

In addition, some things that you did years ago you may not be in the position to physically do today or do as well. I don’t spend a lot of time doing spinning cyclone kicks these days, but I can still pull one off if I need or want to.


Use embodied awareness (sensing with your entire body) when you are training and developing muscle memory. Then later down the road, you can access the intelligence of your body, connect with your body’s wisdom, and tell it “Thanks for the memories.”

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