The main thing I have learned in 2018

Many “attributes” and abilities are in fact skills, can be learned and do improve with practice - strength, relaxation, happiness, gratitude, forgiveness, … .

Highlights of the year

In now particular order:

Science of Happiness - a free online course by UC Berkeley on happiness - what is it, what makes (or doesn’t) us happy, what is happening on the biological and physiological level, comparison to other species, primates and others. There are also weekly “happiness practices” you can try to find out whether they contribute to your wellbeing. It was extremely interesting and inspiring. One of the key facts is that about 50% of our happiness is given genetically, only 10% depends on our circumstances (wealth, fame, stuff, …), and full 40% is determined by our mind, how we think and feel about what is happening - which is something we can develop. It contributed greatly to my decision to focus on mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation (which are practices that I find attractive). I will write more about the course later.

Online course on relaxation for martial arts and other activities (the page is work in progress, just read it). The goal is to be able to relax within seconds, and to be as relaxed as possible in movement. I know practice various long and short relaxation routines regularly (remember, relaxation is a skill so repetition is key) and “mini-relaxations” repeatedly throughout the day. It inspired me to experiment with punching with my whole body, feeling the contact from fist to toes, not just in the arm, which turned out to be quite an interesting quest.

Zen Body-Being workshop with Peter Ralston. I have read the book before so there wasn’t much new but it is a very different experience to practice, and to do so in a group.

Mental rehearsal I have been inspired by Loren Christensen’s Mental Rehearsal For Warriors and have practiced daily for a few months, though I have focused on the relaxation and partly autosuggestion parts. This contributed greatly to me feeling good so I really enjoyed it. I hope to do more of the mental rehearsal itself this year. This too is a skill and improves with practice. It is essentially about entering a meditative state when you are more open and then to practice something - a technique, a situation, … - in your mind, with as vivid imagination and inclusion of all senses as possible. According to some research, mixing mental and physical training is more effective than just physical training.

Strength is a skill - I have read The Naked Warrior by Pavel Tsatsouline, which is a (max) strength training program based on two simple exercises (1-hand push up, 1-leg squat), generating maximal tension, and doing max 5 repetitions but multiple times during the day. Here again the thesis is that strength is a skill. I have applied it far less rigorously than I should but even so I have made nice progress.

Periodization - themed periods in training. I have started with 2-3 week focuses in my workouts, inspired by the concept of periodization (though I am yet to read book). The human brain presumably craves variation and providing it makes the training more effective. So far I have focused on whole-body punching (i.e. correct body mechanics), footwork using agility ladder drills, using a rubber band to find deficiencies in the body mechanics of my punches.

Basic Self-Defense I have started training Wim Demeere’s Basic Self-Defence. I like that it prepares for possible starting points of a fight including an ambush, incorporation of a trained flinch response, few but versatile techniques, and how you train the key movements from start, again and again to ingrain them.

Martial arts This year I have done little Muay Thai / MMA training due to the lack of time. I have (again) learned that I have a lot to improve :)