Muscle Memory & Its Role in Self-Defense

In last week’s post, I discussed 4 Factors that Muscle Memory Development. This week, I’ll discuss the relevance of muscle memory in its application to the practical application of self-defense skills. In Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu, the style we practice at my Vancouver/Richmond BC martial arts school, we emphasize the use of gross motor skills and commonality of techniques to make our self-defense techniques easier to use should the need arise. Both of these concepts relate directly to muscle memory development.

Gross Motor Skills & Muscle Memory

Gross motor skills are skills that use the larger muscle groups. All gross motor skills come from things we learned from infancy to early childhood, including walking, crawling, maintaining balance, reaching, hopping, etc. By using techniuqes that employ larger muscle groups, we are drawing physical skills the body is used to using, ones that have been reinforced since our early physical development. This makes them easier to learn and use when under the high stress conditions of an attack. The body already has a tendency to resort to movements it has already learned, so we are taking advantage of that by using gross motor skills for our defensive techniques. Fine motor skills, one the other hand, require a lot more training to get the movements ingrained in our subconscious minds. That’s not to say they can’t be effective (we do include fine motor skill techniques at higher levels of training), it just takes longer to develop the muscle memory to make them second nature.

Commonality of Technique & Muscle Memory

Commonality of technique means that we use similar types of defensive techniques for similar types of attacks. For example, we would treat an attack with a wide haymaker style punch to the head the same way we would treat a wide inward swing to the head with a club. While there are slightly different nuances with the distance and timing, the basic movements of the defense are essentially the same. So what does this mean for muscle memory development? It means that all the time we spend developing the skill to defend against a punch directly helps us to develop the skills to defend against a club. And as I said in my last article, repetitive practice reinforces muscle memory development. It also helps keep us from having to use our conscious minds in a real defensive situation, resulting in brain stalls, which could cost valuable seconds in reaction time. In other words, if we trained completely different defensive techniques to be used in similar styles of attack, practitioners may get tripped up when faced with such a situation as they have to make a consious decision as to which defense to use. That is not to say that it can’t be done. Again, the more you train, the more you can overcome these types of difficulities. It’s just that commonality of technique helps make the learning process faster and easier to use when under pressure with less training under your belt. This can be vital, particularly when trying to impart self-defense skills to people who will not be training over the long term, like a women’s self-defense class.

In my next article, I’ll be discussing how to play off the concepts of muscle memory and muscle confusion to build strength and technique.

Comments (1)

One thought on “Muscle Memory & Its Role in Self-Defense

  1. I like to say in sparring, train again the movement, not the tool.

    Fantastic post!

    You made a perfect example of a club and a haymaker, both of the movements are the same…

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