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Secrets of Animal & Spiritual Boxing Styles
Copyright Pete Kautz 2008

There are many styles of martial arts around the world that incorporate techniques for what could technically be referred to cognitive dissociation under the stress of a fight by means of strong association with an animal or spirit.

What this means in simple terms is that when the practitioner fights, they undergo a mental change from being themselves to being someone (or something) else.

Various styles from around the world including African arts, Kung Fu, Kuntao and Silat teach these forms of cognitive transformation.  Often they are believed to be magical in nature due to their effectiveness in combat, and their transmission is thus cloaked in the mythology, religion, and superstitions of their culture.

Besides, what else could you call something like this back in the day other than magic?

These are literally ways by which a man becomes an animal!  But instead of the European werewolf they are becoming a Chinese tiger, a Javanese monkey spirit, or an African incarnation of the crocodile god.

Now, before we go further, no these people are not physically growing claws and fangs and scales and tails!  They might think they are, but that's a different story...

What's happening is that these people are losing sense of self and associating into these other mental states as a way to deal with the stress of combat.

Where a man may be afraid, a tiger is not...

Now, some level of dissociation during combat is common to all cultures.  People commonly report how "they saw themselves fighting" or say "it was like watching a movie" or that "it was like being someone else".  These are all signs of dissociation and taken as a normal part of the fighting experience.

In many ways, a dissociated state can be beneficial for combat because it can help to manage fear and allow survival behaviors beyond those normally acceptable in society.

But these styles where they are "becoming" the tiger it is beyond mere dissociation and into an actual association with these powerful archetypes.  By associating so strongly with these powerful figures and "being them" rather than ones self it creates a mental place where the practitioner moves beyond their normally conceived limits and acts truly "as if" they were this other person.

If this all sounds a little far fetched, take the recent case of the 5-year-old Spiderman in Brazil that I saw in the paper.  Here's this little kid and he's real into Spiderman.  He's out playing Spiderman with his friends and they see smoke coming from a neighbors house, so he runs and tells her.  And the woman is so afraid to go in because of the fire that she is hesitant to go in and get her baby who is asleep in his crib.

So, this 5-yer-old kid just runs into the burning house on his own and saves the infant.

Wow!  Why would a little kid do that?  Well, partly because he was too young to have a sense of the danger, but more over because it's exactly what Spiderman would have done.

You see, in his associated state of being Spiderman it was congruous behavior for him.  Spiderman would not have stood there, right?  He would take action!  This kid was so "not himself" (dissociated) and so fully associated into this other character that having the bravery to run into a burning building and save a baby was "just natural" to him.

This exact same "Spiderman Effect" is what's happening in the minds of martial artists.  They become so associated into the animal or spirit in question that it enables them to act accordingly.

The rituals by which these mental states are changed can in essence be reduced to a series of resource state anchors used to bring on this dissociated / trans-associative state.  The new associative personality is in this case the resource state, and the ritual the trigger by which it is activated.  Perhaps in a future Training Tip we will deal with the issue of creating and anchoring resource states in detail.

The point in this article is not to break down the exact process of any specific tradition or technique that is taught.  That would be unfair to any of these martial styles in question.  These kinds of techniques are almost universally guarded teachings and closely linked to larger parts of a style's belief structure.  So, to walk in with the modern cognitive sciences in an attempt to explain it might be considered offensive even if that is not the intent.

If anything, I hope this article will get more people interested in aspects of martial arts training beyond the physical.  Personally, I don't feel this kind of scientific analysis detracts from the arts in question in any way.  The intent is not to ridicule them for being outdated but instead to examine the underpinnings of these historical techniques through the filter of modern cognitive studies.

In the end, I feel the modern science explaining such techniques only gives credit to the old masters for being ahead of their time in developing working strategies to deal with the issues they faced.


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