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#1
Old 03-18-2012, 04:50 PM
as646
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Cool Good Reflexes – Unnecessary For a Good Boxer?

Exactly what is it that sets elite athletes apart from their competition? Is it talent, an innate ability combined with superhuman reflexes? Take Muhammed Ali: his success is often attributed to almost god-like reflexes and speed. But were these seeming lightning quick reflexes truly as they seemed? Research into the anticipatory skills of elite athletes suggests that it may not be quite this simple.

Studies conducted by Brunel University and the University of Hong Kong showed that when watching tapes of opponents, brain activity in areas associated with observation and prediction was observed. Not only this, but it was observed faster in top athletes than that of average ones. This ability has been recorded in a number of athletes of a number of different disciplines; top tennis players are able to anticipate serve types without even seeing the actual serve taking place, and can estimate the serve position based on only seeing a few feet of the actual flight of the ball. The same is true with baseball players and pitch types and position.

Based on eye-tracking technology, we know that athletes predict what***8217;s coming next by focusing on cues in the movement pattern of their opponents, and this skill becomes better with practice. Whilst the eye movements of novices are inefficient, wild and unfocused, those of experts are extremely precise. Across a number of different sports, highly trained athletes demonstrate similar ***8220;visual search strategies***8221;. Their eyes focus on fewer targets, jump around less, and they stay focused for longer periods of time than do the eyes of novices.

So these athletes are able to quickly take in this information, but how do they process it? Surely conscious thought is too slow? It must be ***8220;reflexes***8221; -- instinctive moves made without conscious thought behind them. However, it seems this is not the case.

To take an analogy from a book I am currently reading ('Bounce', by Matthew Syed ***8211; a very interesting book, I might add; it deals with the nature of supposed talent in athletes): ***8220;In 1984 Desmond Douglas, the greatest-ever UK table tennis player, was placed in front of a screen containing a series of touch-sensitive pads at the University of Brighton. He was told that the pad would light up in a random sequence and that his task was to touch the relevant pad with the index finger of his favoured hand as soon as he could, before waiting for the next pad to light up ***8230; After 5 minutes, the researcher returned. He announced that Douglas's reactions were the slowest in the entire team ***8230; slower even than the team manager.***8221;

Douglas Desmond was universally considered to have the fastest reactions in table tennis. What then was it that accounted for his seemingly world class reaction speed if it wasn't, in fact, world class reflexes? This goes back to what I was discussing previously. Without the physical cues to use to anticipate future movements, he was left to rely only on his less-than-ordinary reflexes. Clearly then, reflexes don't even come into the equation. How exactly then do we process the visual cues to make split second decisions? The implication is that something has been encoded into memory. So now the question changes from ***8220;do athletes have superior reflexes***8221; to ***8220;do athletes have superior memory***8221;.

We can look to chess for our answers to this question. Grandmasters have been known to be able to play simultaneous games of chess whilst blindfolded. Surely then, this is a feat of memory far beyond what an average person is capable of. But is it truly? When faced with a chess board mid-game, experts are able to place every piece on the board, whilst the average person can place maybe 4 or 5. However, it the pieces are arranged randomly, with no bearing to an actual game, the expert fares no better than the average person.

This is an example of what is known as ***8220;chunking***8221;. In order to deal with information more efficiently, we divide it into smaller chunks of information that are more manageable to process. This then brings us on to what is known as ***8220;sport-specific chunking***8221;, and this is the method that is hypothesised to be used by elite athletes to process the visual cues they take in. Rather than looking at individual visual cues and looking at the relationship between them, a top athlete recognises familiar patterns that (s)he has seen before, and reacts accordingly.

The point I am trying to make is that even someone who thinks they have slow reflexes can develop quick reactions, as reaction time has nothing to do with reflexes; it's all about information processing, pattern recognition and anticipatory skills. Rather than reacting to your opponents movements, it's about predicting the moves he makes before he actually makes them. Maybe Ali was not simply a superman with insane reflexes, but a master of foresight and prediction.

Sources:
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/178675.php
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science...6902920000008X
http://web.me.com/pw70/ACE_lab/Publi...0al%20JSEP.pdf
http://dspace.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/1343
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chunking_%28psychology%29

Just a bit of food for thought for you guys. I'm not saying fast reflexes are moot, but that they aren't the whole story. Though it may be that aren't part of the story at all! I'm still fairly new to the sport, but I thought you might want to hear an alternative viewpoint.

Last edited by as646; 03-18-2012 at 05:33 PM.
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#2
Old 03-18-2012, 06:17 PM
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I agree, that's why you need sparring. It gets you used to the small physical movements that your brain connects to incoming punches and triggers your defence or counters.
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#3
Old 03-18-2012, 06:27 PM
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Originally Posted by as646 View Post
Exactly what is it that sets elite athletes apart from their competition? Is it talent, an innate ability combined with superhuman reflexes? Take Muhammed Ali: his success is often attributed to almost god-like reflexes and speed. But were these seeming lightning quick reflexes truly as they seemed? Research into the anticipatory skills of elite athletes suggests that it may not be quite this simple.

Studies conducted by Brunel University and the University of Hong Kong showed that when watching tapes of opponents, brain activity in areas associated with observation and prediction was observed. Not only this, but it was observed faster in top athletes than that of average ones. This ability has been recorded in a number of athletes of a number of different disciplines; top tennis players are able to anticipate serve types without even seeing the actual serve taking place, and can estimate the serve position based on only seeing a few feet of the actual flight of the ball. The same is true with baseball players and pitch types and position.

Based on eye-tracking technology, we know that athletes predict what’s coming next by focusing on cues in the movement pattern of their opponents, and this skill becomes better with practice. Whilst the eye movements of novices are inefficient, wild and unfocused, those of experts are extremely precise. Across a number of different sports, highly trained athletes demonstrate similar “visual search strategies”. Their eyes focus on fewer targets, jump around less, and they stay focused for longer periods of time than do the eyes of novices.

So these athletes are able to quickly take in this information, but how do they process it? Surely conscious thought is too slow? It must be “reflexes” -- instinctive moves made without conscious thought behind them. However, it seems this is not the case.

To take an analogy from a book I am currently reading ('Bounce', by Matthew Syed – a very interesting book, I might add; it deals with the nature of supposed talent in athletes): “In 1984 Desmond Douglas, the greatest-ever UK table tennis player, was placed in front of a screen containing a series of touch-sensitive pads at the University of Brighton. He was told that the pad would light up in a random sequence and that his task was to touch the relevant pad with the index finger of his favoured hand as soon as he could, before waiting for the next pad to light up … After 5 minutes, the researcher returned. He announced that Douglas's reactions were the slowest in the entire team … slower even than the team manager.”

Douglas Desmond was universally considered to have the fastest reactions in table tennis. What then was it that accounted for his seemingly world class reaction speed if it wasn't, in fact, world class reflexes? This goes back to what I was discussing previously. Without the physical cues to use to anticipate future movements, he was left to rely only on his less-than-ordinary reflexes. Clearly then, reflexes don't even come into the equation. How exactly then do we process the visual cues to make split second decisions? The implication is that something has been encoded into memory. So now the question changes from “do athletes have superior reflexes” to “do athletes have superior memory”.

We can look to chess for our answers to this question. Grandmasters have been known to be able to play simultaneous games of chess whilst blindfolded. Surely then, this is a feat of memory far beyond what an average person is capable of. But is it truly? When faced with a chess board mid-game, experts are able to place every piece on the board, whilst the average person can place maybe 4 or 5. However, it the pieces are arranged randomly, with no bearing to an actual game, the expert fares no better than the average person.

This is an example of what is known as “chunking”. In order to deal with information more efficiently, we divide it into smaller chunks of information that are more manageable to process. This then brings us on to what is known as “sport-specific chunking”, and this is the method that is hypothesised to be used by elite athletes to process the visual cues they take in. Rather than looking at individual visual cues and looking at the relationship between them, a top athlete recognises familiar patterns that (s)he has seen before, and reacts accordingly.

The point I am trying to make is that even someone who thinks they have slow reflexes can develop quick reactions, as reaction time has nothing to do with reflexes; it's all about information processing, pattern recognition and anticipatory skills. Rather than reacting to your opponents movements, it's about predicting the moves he makes before he actually makes them. Maybe Ali was not simply a superman with insane reflexes, but a master of foresight and prediction.

Sources:
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/178675.php
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science...6902920000008X
http://web.me.com/pw70/ACE_lab/Publi...0al%20JSEP.pdf
http://dspace.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/1343
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chunking_%28psychology%29

Just a bit of food for thought for you guys. I'm not saying fast reflexes are moot, but that they aren't the whole story. Though it may be that aren't part of the story at all! I'm still fairly new to the sport, but I thought you might want to hear an alternative viewpoint.
Interesting stuff.

I studied in depth implicit cognition / learning (google it) as part of my under grad dissertation (psychology). I'm convinced this could explain performance in many sports - particularly boxing. I will try and elaborate further when I have a bit of free time.
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#4
Old 03-18-2012, 06:27 PM
as646
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I agree, that's why you need sparring. It gets you used to the small physical movements that your brain connects to incoming punches and triggers your defence or counters.
My point exactly. Nobody is born a good boxer, they become one through dedication and practice, and the accumulation of a huge amount of experience that they can draw upon.
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Old 03-18-2012, 07:26 PM
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muscle memory, that's why it sometimes gets hard to change your ways midfight
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Old 03-18-2012, 07:42 PM
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this is why being an amateur before a pro is important. experience can be more valuable than physical skill, mayweather is not the fastest or strongest fighter but he is a boxing genius, his timing is exceptional and this can only come down to experience.

the more you do something, the easier it becomes....

practice makes perfect...

it becomes second nature....
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#7
Old 03-18-2012, 07:51 PM
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muscle memory, that's why it sometimes gets hard to change your ways midfight
I hear the phrase "muscle memory" thrown about a lot, but the explanation is always very vague.

Recognising patterns in your opponents movements and deciding the optimal response, and actually executing that response seem to be two very different things; the former is a mental exercise, whilst the latter one of coordination, strength and control. But is the difference quite as large as it seemss?

Is there something different in the physiological makeup of Muhammad Ali's arms and legs to those of other boxers that sets him apart from them?

What sets a good punch apart from a great punch (in the vast majority of cases, at least) is nothing so simple as pure strength. If this were a case, then weightlifters would make great boxers. No, it's something else entirely -- perfect timing.

I'm sure you'll agree with me that when Ali was starting out, his movements were probably characterised by poorly controlled motions, completely lacking in any kind of smoothness. Only after countless hours of practise does the technique become so deeply ingrained into him, such that the movement has been encoded into his implicit memory, rather than his explicit one.

I just want to point out that these two things I've been talking about go hand in hand. It's no point having perfect technique if you can't actually see the opportunities to strike, nor having the ability to see opportunities, but not having the ability to strike.

Boxing skill then, is not about developing "muscle memory", as these memories are encoded in your brain and CNS. Your point is valid, I'm just a bit of a pedant
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Old 03-18-2012, 08:51 PM
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Originally Posted by as646 View Post
I hear the phrase "muscle memory" thrown about a lot, but the explanation is always very vague.

Recognising patterns in your opponents movements and deciding the optimal response, and actually executing that response seem to be two very different things; the former is a mental exercise, whilst the latter one of coordination, strength and control. But is the difference quite as large as it seemss?

Is there something different in the physiological makeup of Muhammad Ali's arms and legs to those of other boxers that sets him apart from them?

What sets a good punch apart from a great punch (in the vast majority of cases, at least) is nothing so simple as pure strength. If this were a case, then weightlifters would make great boxers. No, it's something else entirely -- perfect timing.

I'm sure you'll agree with me that when Ali was starting out, his movements were probably characterised by poorly controlled motions, completely lacking in any kind of smoothness. Only after countless hours of practise does the technique become so deeply ingrained into him, such that the movement has been encoded into his implicit memory, rather than his explicit one.

I just want to point out that these two things I've been talking about go hand in hand. It's no point having perfect technique if you can't actually see the opportunities to strike, nor having the ability to see opportunities, but not having the ability to strike.

Boxing skill then, is not about developing "muscle memory", as these memories are encoded in your brain and CNS. Your point is valid, I'm just a bit of a pedant
my theory on it is after familiarizing yourself with the punches angles you can react to them that much faster, and you can make a mental imprint that if your opponent throws that punch again you will do this or that, you can't make a tactic right there as the punch is heading your way, you do it after, when the punch is coming without a plan, you just think "avoid" rather than counter

actually, i think alot of it also has to do with being calm, when you're calm you see punches easy, having the speed to avoid them is another story

Last edited by TheHolyCross; 03-18-2012 at 08:59 PM.
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Old 03-18-2012, 10:04 PM
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I've said this before but much of what a boxer instinctively does can be compared to the lab rat and the light. Have the rat sit in darkness and then every time that you turn the light on the rat is hit with a current of electricity. The rat jumps into the air as the electric current hit him when the light is turned on. Do this to the rat 100 times, each time the light goes on the rat is electrically shocked and he jumps up. So they unhook the electrical current so that the mouse is not shocked by electricity and they turn on the light again. Even though the rat is not shocked with electricity the rat still jumps now every time you turn the light on.

Same thing with a fighter. After awhile of sparring and training every time that I am hit by a hook my hand will imediately be on the side of my head and my shoulder rolls as I catch the right hand that's coming. You don't know that the shot is coming, don't even have time to think about it yet the hand is instinctively put beside my head for protection.

Aswell, a fighter will pick up subtle movements by his opponents. Like you duck a hook and while your rolling under your eyes pick up the thrust forward from his right hip and his back foot pivots, without even thinking my head slips to the left avoiding the right hand so I hook off of it or pivot out at that point. With proper training the fight just happens..........Rockin'

Last edited by Rockin'; 03-18-2012 at 10:13 PM.
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Old 03-19-2012, 08:45 AM
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So these athletes are able to quickly take in this information, but how do they process it? Surely conscious thought is too slow? It must be “reflexes” -- instinctive moves made without conscious thought behind them. However, it seems this is not the case.
...
Just a bit of food for thought for you guys. I'm not saying fast reflexes are moot, but that they aren't the whole story. Though it may be that aren't part of the story at all! I'm still fairly new to the sport, but I thought you might want to hear an alternative viewpoint.
what you are talking about is not what are termed "reflexes". cetainly not from a cognitive psychology perspective anyway.
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