Science & The Martial Arts
News and research that provide insight
and understanding of the martial arts and related activities.
Grasping The Big Picture
it turns out, does have a least one physical advantage over youth – the
ability to grasp the big picture visually.
Research has shown that older people have improved skill in tracking
peripheral movement. This translates to being able to comprehend the
total image of events unfolding around them better – tracking movement,
things and people around them. This allows them to potentially perform
better in some situations.
This skill gives you an advantage in a multi-person confrontation. It
can also make you more aware of potential dangers on the street since
you are more aware of things around you. It also translates into an advantage
in team sports such as basketball, football or hockey.
This finding came out of a research that studied the effects of aging
on the human brain. Youthful college students were tested against older
adults in their 60s and 70s. The study was conducted in Canada (Ontario),
at McMaster’s University, by psychology Ph.D. students Lisa Betts
and Christopher Taylor along with Profs. Allison Sekuler and Patrick
Bennett. The study was published in a recent issue of Neuron (Feb. 05).
In one test they measured how quickly subjects processed information
on the sideways movement of vertical bars seen on the screen of a computer.
Younger subjects took less time in detecting sideways motion when the
bars were small, or were low in contrast, but when the bars were large
and in high contrast, older subjects performed better.
Patrick Bennet, the second senior author, noted that this indicated
a difference in how signals are processed in the younger versus older
brain. The difference was attributed to changes in brain chemistry (that
can also make older adults perform more poorly in some tasks) – possibly
lower levels of y-aminobutyrate (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter
used in the brain for communication (that work by inhibiting neuro-signals).
The difference in brain chemistry allows younger brains to filter out
clutter, or non-useful information within a field of vision. In short:
as we age, brain cells have reduced capacity to inhibit each other.
As people age, noted Bennett, it is more difficult for them to concentrate
on any single thing and ignore everything else. The benefit for older
people, it turns out, is that they become more visually aware to everything
In contrast, children and young adults have a much higher level of this
neurotransmitter. This allows them to isolate something specific within
a complicated field of visual objects, but at the same time it makes
it harder for them to tune in to the clutter itself.
This author has observed that his two young sons are faster than he
is at selecting the appropriate puzzle piece from many on the floor.
They can also look at their room cluttered with toys and quickly find
just what they were looking for. This is probably the same chemistry
About The Author:
Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of FightingArts.com.
He has been a student of the martial arts for over 43 years. He first
started in judo. Then he added karate as a student of Phil Koeppel in
1959. Caile introduced karate to Finland in 1960 and then hitch-hiked
eastward. In Japan (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama and later in the
US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed Kaicho Tadashi
Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 6th degree black belt
in that organization's honbu dojo. Other experience includes aikido,
diato-ryu aikijujutsu, kenjutsu, kobudo, Shinto Muso-ryu jodo, kobudo,
boxing and several Chinese fighting arts including Praying mantis, Pak
Mei (White Eyebrow) and shuai chiao. He is also a student of Zen. A long-term
student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong, he is
a personal disciple of the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture
Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.) and is Vice-President of the DS International
Chi Medicine Association. He holds an M.A. in International Relations
from American University in Washington D.C. and has traveled extensively
through South and Southeast Asia. He frequently returns to Japan and
Okinawa to continue his studies in the martial arts, their history and
tradition. In his professional life he has been a businessman, newspaper
journalist, inventor and entrepreneur.