“Until you know what you do, you cannot choose to do otherwise.” Moshe Feldenkrais.

Self-awareness is a necessary basis for improvement in any skill. Some of us are in constantly monitoring ourselves, while other of us can go along content to be less acutely aware of how or why we might behave in certain ways. Teachers play a critical role in developing self-awarenes. They are the outside observers that can perceive and discuss behaviors the student has that he or she is not yet aware of.

Self awareness has been localized into a specific area of the brain with magnetic resonance imaging. It can be observed when this area is active or inactive. When the brain needs to divert all its resources to carry out a consuming task, this area is inhibited, becoming “human” or self aware again when it has the time to process the input and make more rational decisions. Neurobiologist Ilan Goldberg suggests that this ability may have evolved as a protective mechanism. “If there is a sudden danger, it is not helpful to stand around wondering how one feels about the situation.” he points out. In survival situations it is necessary to switch this type of process off so “fight or flight” instincts can kick in.

However, the process of acquiring new skills is necessarily a process of breaking things down into components, and becoming aware of how we are doing things that may be inefficient or counterproductive to the skill we wish to learn. Training, being instructed by our teachers, and repetition become a basis for developing new skills that eventually become automatic responses.

As training progresses, there is an interplay between being self-aware, even self-critical perhaps, and then at times being able to lose ourselves in our activities. Some of us have had the experience in class or a sparring session, where we aren’t thinking of anything at all, just reacting to the movements of our opponent and perhaps even feeling like there is a sense of control over the situation without knowing what is going to happen next. If you haven’t felt this way before, keep training and you will. As we acquire more skill and confidence, we begin to experience more of a sense of just being, rather than planning, plotting, or worrying.

This is the essence of self-defense. Eventually the need to feel defensive or constantly in a state of being on the edge falls away and can be replaced by a balance of self-awareness, awareness of our environment and others, and just being ourselves in any given situation.