How is a World Cup football player like a martial artist?

How is a World Cup football player like a martial artist?

 When you’ve practiced a movement mindfully over a long time, you don’t have to think so hard to accomplish the motion and your brain is free to think about other things. For example, if you don’t have to concentrate hard on where you are going to step, then you can start to pay attention to your breath or the weight in your partner’s back foot. You can improve your efficiency, performance, expression of power – all with less effort.

or, as Tom Stafford writes about World Cup footballers:

“Bergkamp doesn’t have to think about his foot when he wants to control a ball, so he’s free to think about the wind, or the defender, or when  exactly he wants to control the ball.”


Enjoy this article excerpt on the brain processes involved in performing dazzling feats on the soccer field and how you can apply them to everyday activities like driving a car…. or maybe even practicing your martial art!
-Suzane Van Amburgh

article excerpt by Tom Stafford from BBC Future: 

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil has already given us a clutch of classic moments, like Robin Van Persie’s perfect header to open the Dutch onslaught against the Spanish.

We can’t help but be dazzled by the skills on display, and at times it seems as if the footballers have access to talents that are not just beyond description, but beyond conscious comprehension. Yet magical moments from World Cup players have a lot more in common with everyday intelligence than you might think.


Are you exhibiting the same kind of skills Robin Van Persie shows on the pitch when you’re driving your car? (AFP/Getty Images)

We often talk about astonishing athletic feats as if they are something completely different from everyday thought. When we say a footballer like Lionel Messi acts on instinct, out of habit or due to his training, we distance what they do from that we hear echoing within our own heads.

The idea of “muscle memory” encourages this – allowing us to cordon off feats of motor skill as a special kind of psychological phenomenon, something stored, like magic potion, in our muscles. But the truth, of course, is that so called muscle memories are stored in our brains, just like every other kind of memory. What is more, these examples of great skill are not so different from ordinary thought.

If you speak to world-class athletes, such as World Cup footballers, about what they do, they reveal that a lot of conscious reasoning goes into those moments of sublime skill. Here’s England’s Wayne Rooney, in 2012, describing what it feels like as a cross comes into the penalty box: “You’re asking yourself six questions in a split second. Maybe you’ve got time to bring it down on the chest and shoot, or you have to head it first-time. If the defender is there, you’ve obviously got to try and hit it first-time. If he’s farther back, you’ve got space to take a touch. You get the decision made. Then it’s obviously about the execution.”
All this in half a second! Rooney is obviously thinking more, not less, during these most crucial moments.


(Getty Images)

This is not an isolated example. Dennis Bergkamp delighted Dutch fans by scoring a beautiful winning goal from a long pass in the 1998 World Cup quarter final against Argentina  In asubsequent interviewBergkamp describes in minute detail all the factors leading up to the goal, from the moment he made eye contact with the defender who was about to pass the ball, to his calculations about how to control the ball. He even lets slip that part of his brain is keeping track of the wind conditions. Just as with Rooney, this isn’t just a moment of unconscious instinct, but of instinct combined with a whirlwind of conscious reasoning. And it all comes together.

Studies of the way the brain embeds new skills, until the movements become automatic, may help make sense of this picture. We know that athletes like those performing in the World Cup train with many years of deliberate, mindful, practice.

As they go through their drills, dedicated brain networks develop, allowing the movements to be deployed with less effort and more control. As well as the brain networks involved becoming more refined, the areas of the brain most active in controlling a movement change with increased skill  – as we practice, areas deeper within the brain reorganise to take on more of the work, leaving the cortex, including areas associated with planning and reasoning, free to take on new tasks.

But this doesn’t mean we think less when we’re highly skilled. On the contrary, this process called automatisation means that we think differently. Bergkamp doesn’t have to think about his foot when he wants to control a ball, so he’s free to think about the wind, or the defender, or when  exactly he wants to control the ball.

For highly practiced movements we have to think less about controlling every action but what we do is still ultimately in the service of our overall targets (like scoring a goal in the case of football). In line with this, and contrary to the idea of skills as robotic-reflexes, experiments show that more flexibility develops alongsideincreased automaticity.

Intelligence involves using conscious deliberation at the right level to optimally control your actions. Driving a car is easier because you don’t have to think about the physics of the combustion engine, and it’s also easier because you no longer have to think about the movements required to change gear or turn on the indicators. But just because driving a car relies on automatic skills like these, doesn’t mean that you’re mindless when driving a car. The better drivers, just like the better footballers, are making more choices each time they show off their talents, not fewer.

So footballer’s immense skills aren’t that different from many everyday things we do like walking, talking or driving a car. We’ve practiced these things so much we don’t have to think about how we’re doing them. We may even not pay much attention to what we’re doing, or have much of a memory for them (ever reached the end of a journey and realised you don’t recall a single thing about the trip?), but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t or couldn’t. In fact, because we have practiced these skills we can deploy them at the same time as other things (walking and chewing gum, talking while tying our shoe laces, etc). This doesn’t diminish their mystery, but it does align it with the central mystery of psychology – how we learn to do anything.

Read the whole story on BBC Future:

ELife research study on skills acquisition and neural activity:

Study revealing positive transfer effects:
The authors also measured potential positive transfer effects of learning from one motor task to another. Four experienced cascade jugglers and 5 novices learned to bounce juggle, practicing regularly for 5 weeks. The experienced jugglers showed positive transfer of learning, maintaining a lead of approximately 6-10 days over the novices, even as both groups automatized the new skill.


Practice Makes the Brain More Efficient

Practice Makes the Brain’s Motor Cortex More Efficient

Aug. 4, 2013 — Not only does practice make perfect, it also makes for more efficient generation of neuronal activity in the primary motor cortex, the area of the brain that plans and executes movement, according to researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The hand area of the primary motor cortex is known to be larger among professional pianists than in amateur ones. This observation has suggested that extensive practice and the development of expert performance induces changes in the primary motor cortex…

“This tells us that practicing a skilled movement and the development of expertise leads to more efficient generation of neuron activity in the primary motor cortex to produce the movement.

…our results indicate that practice changes the primary motor cortex so that it can become an important substrate for the storage of motor skills. Thus, the motor cortex is adaptable, or plastic.

 Read the entire article with links to the research on Science Daily at:

I recommend people find some kind of movement activity they enjoy; a movement art, martial art, dance form, ATM®, juggling – anything that is both physically engaging and requires you to pay attention to how you do what you do. This cultivation of attention skills matched with whole body movement is  essential to health and wellbeing throughout our lives. As we grow older it’s crucial that we keep this joy of learning alive.  –  Suzane

  Train your brain; move your body.

Learn something new, Practice regularly and Thrive!  

Frequently recommended Feldenkrais® ATM® Lessons

Links to Feldenkrais Method®  Awareness Through Movement® lessons that I frequently recommend:

Lori Malkoff videos offer gentle “starter” lessons to ease pain in the hips and low back:

Quickie five minute version of the pelvic clock lesson from lying on your back:

Lynette Reid offers these variations of the pelvic clock lesson on her deep site Kinesophics:

Frank Wildman’s book offers quick lessons that make a big difference, “The Busy Person’s Guide to Easier Movement” available on Scribd:

“Change Your Age” is the program that evolved from The Busy Person’s Guide. A fully fleshed out program:

I often recommend this lesson:

improving balance, lesson #26:

More about Frank Wildman on his site, The Feldenkrais Institute:

Jeff Haller

My teacher, Jeff Haller offers audio downloads of some lessons plus comprehensive DVD sets. “Plane Divides the Body” is very rich – lots to mine from this lesson. Jeff teaches it four different ways.

“Plane Divides the Body” lesson

Discovering the roots of Internal Strength  video set:

Alan Questel

Alan offers several audio sets on Balance, Falling, Reversibility, Getting Hips (hip joints).

Click the icon in the left hand column of this site to go to his “Uncommon Sensing” product page.

Tuesdays in April 5:30 – 6:00 pm

Aikido Basics is the theme

for Center Yourself Tuesdays in April.

  • Practice footwork patterns to reinforce center line and improve balance.
  • Bring yourself to the ground gently and rise again with fluidity.

Open to the public: $10 drop-in.

Free for members and “Aikido Starter Kit” participants.

Train your brain, move your body, center yourself

Find your Space To Move® at Multnomah Aikikai

Multnomah Aikikai is located at 6415 SW Macadam Ave, Portland OR 97239


Center Yourself Tuesdays ~ class in Portland Oregon

NOTE: Class resumes on January 15th. Happy New Year!

[Image followed by text:]

Center Yourself Tuesdays class in Portland

Center Yourself Tuesdays class in Portland:
Get out of the traffic
take off your shoes
feel the ground
clear your head
center yourselfEvery Tuesday, 5:30 – 6:00 pm,  $10, drop ins welcome.
Cash or cards accepted. [Class is free for regular Multnomah Aikikai members].Center your self, center your life

Find your Space To Move at Multnomah Aikikai

Multnomah Aikikai is located at 6415 SW Macadam Ave, Portland OR 97239

Bolt: balance is vital skill for optimal performance

“Mr. Bolt knows how to stabilize his body on one leg and use every single muscle in his hip and leg to stay steady. How? He has trained it, over and over and over again”

Ready, set, Bolt!

Exercise physiologist Michael Olzinski proposes that the master runner’s secret weapon is not what you think.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012 | by Michael Olzinski, MS, CSCS

Mr. Usain Bolt is unarguably the world’s fastest man. He has been recorded running 100 meters in 41 strides and 9.58 seconds.  

The secret? His body is balanced.

If one of those 41 strides at maximum effort was even the slightest bit wobbly, then another runner may have been on the top podium, and the reason is simple: If his stride had wavered even the slightest bit, Bolt’s energy would have dissipated and he would have lost his forward power and acceleration, slowing his time. In a race like Sunday’s, there is no room for even one tenth of a second of misuse, so you better believe Mr. Bolt knows how to stabilize his body on one leg and use every single muscle in his hip and leg to stay steady. How? He has trained it, over and over and over again.

And it’s not just Bolt. Balance may be the most underrated quality in most of the greatest athletes of our time. It’s certainly not flashy, but it’s one of our body’s most fundamental abilities, and most professionals will rank balance (along with mobility) as the first and most vital skill necessary for optimal performance. In fact, the highly publicized strength, endurance, power and speed are actually nothing without a foundation of balance.

So how can you get Bolt-like balance? Short of relocating to Jamaica to train with Usain’s coach, try this:

Stand on right leg, left leg extended in front of you, holding a medicine ball. Bend right knee slightly, then rotate torso towards left. Hold for 3 seconds, then rotate back to center. Repeat on opposite side for one rep. Do 5 reps.

Usain Bolt

Bolt in the 2008 Beijing Games.

This article was found on enititled “Why Usain Bolt is So Fast – Q by Equinox” link to original post:  Why Usain Bolt is So Fast – Q by Equinox.
Regardless of your athletic ability, you can train to improve your balance, refine coordination and increase  dynamic stability. 
Centered, connected, comfortable in your own skin – you’ve found Space To Move.

Scott Mc Credie ~ Balance The Lost Sense

For a long time people believed the structure of semi-circular canals had something to do with hearing. We now know they are integral to our sense of balance.

When some people refer to the “vestibular system,” they are referring specifically to this delicate structure of canals in the inner ear. Others would say these structures are part of the vestibular system but one must include the brain’s role in processing the information gathered by the inner ear structures. The whole circuit of gathering, routing and processing of information regarding one’s orientation to gravity comprises the vestibular system. What about the role of the eyes and the nerve connecting the eyes to ears? Certainly vision is part of the system that we use to sense balance, but the eyes are generally considered to work with the vestibular system rather than identified as components of it. What about proprioceptors? These receptors found in the tendons, associated with various joints (eg. ankles, ribs) are critical to the whole balance equation. The brain processes information from the proprioceptive or “somatosensory” system along with information from the eyes and inner ear structures to constantly update our orientation to gravity and re-calibrate our balance, moment by moment, step by step.

In Scott Mc Credie’s book Balance; In Search of the Lost Sense, Mc Credie mentions it was Aristotle that articulated the 5 senses we generally learned in childhood. Our sense of balance is sometimes referred to as our 6th sense ( see previous post on proprioception and Radio Lab segment “the Butcher’s Assistant). Mc Credie’s delightful book takes us through a bit of the history tracing vestibular science and our understanding of how human balance works. Why do artists of the high wire have such a refined sense of balance and how do they fare as they age? Read the chapter about Karl Wallenda. How did airline pilots shift from flying by their own eyes to reliance on navigation instrumentation? It’s a fascinating and enjoyable read.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Frank Belgau and the cognitive connection. That cerebellum you have not only moves you around but moves thoughts around. The work of Belgau  connects beautifully to some of the new brain science emerging – the building of myelin and our understanding of neuroplasticity.

I recommend the following links:

Scott Mc Credie:

Belgau balance board:

Belgau’s company:

Belgau videos on You Tube:


Embodying Neuroscience

Research Symposium Embodying Neuroscience

Scott Mc Credie radio interview (Live radio interview with David Inge, on WILL-AM, the University of Illinois’ NPR affiliate station, June 13, 2007:):

Balance; In Search of the Lost Sense, Copyright June 2007: Scott McCredie  Purchase Mc Credie’s book

HELPFUL RESOURCES & LINKS (from Mc Credie’s site)

** {NOTE The Frank Forensich link has changed to  and  }

See the Research page on this site for more information about balance.
Learn to improve your balance by taking lessons in human movement.
-Suzane Van Amburgh, Space To Move