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The Science of Focus: Why Even the Best Athletes can Lose Concentration

The scene is the 1993 Wimbledon women’s single final. Novotna is leading Steffi Graff 4-1. But just before the threshold of her first Wimbledon title, Novotna hesitates, her form loses conviction and her serve becomes insufficient. Stifled and disconnected, Novotna suddenly resigns to letting the grand slam slip from her grasp!… So what happened? You might have found yourself in a similar, but more forgiving, situation… Practicing your pairs or attack combinations only to find the knowledge escaping you. Interestingly according to Russell Poldrack (neuroscientist at the University of California) and Matthew Syed (Olympic contender and Author of “Bounce”) it has nothing to do with nerves or fear, but is all about the relationship between two parts of the brain.

aaron focus

Neural imaging shows that beginners will use the explicit pre-frontal cortex (responsible for conscious concentration) while a seniors will use the implicit basal ganglia (Responsible for touch, feel and muscle memory).

Seniors are highly capable because they are able to integrate complex combinations into one fluent whole, or unit. This intrinsic mental understanding is practically impossible for a beginner to apply because the technique, footwork or form is too incomprehensible. Beginners need to apply their focus on a step-by-step process, proving that practice makes perfect!

aaron alex

If we go back to Wimbledon in 1993, in this particular case Novotna switched from using the experienced implicit part of the brain to the explicit; reverting back to a beginner in an instant. As psychologist Sian Beilock, (University of Chicago) explains, ‘Once a motor skill is de-chunked, each unit must be activated and run separately significantly slowing athletic performance’.

It’s important to release the shackles and develop that mental freedom that becomes the building blocks of any sport. Experienced athletes instinctively know the combination, automate it, and naturally store it as one function after hours and hours of perfecting their craft!

Anyone can relate to a loss of focus in the sporting world! Remember, don’t get frustrated. Next time you’re in the Dojo be sure to relax, start slow and feel your form gradually flow! Martial arts really is a state of mind!

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New Mirrors Installed at our Stoke Newington Dojo!

mirror04An array of facilities and equipment is necessary to help develop those impressive martial arts skills. Below, we’re happy to show our new addition to the Dojo to help improve technique, form and many other necessary abilities in martial arts and self-defence! Already being put to excellent use, it’s been two weeks since the new mirrors have been installed at our stoke Newington Dojo! Check this space for future additions or changes!





Be sure to sharpen your technique and hone your abilities with our facilities the next time you’re in!















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The Importance of Core Strength.

Just how important is your core?

Tommycore0.3To answer the question: when it comes to martial arts, and athletics for that matter… very! Make sure you don’t neglect this powerful aspect of your training. Core strength forms the foundations of your balance and movement, and therefore impacts the delivery of your technique and striking ability. Your core will regulate your posture and even stamina as your ‘athletic performance’ is stabilized, helping to be more efficient when utilizing energy under high intensity.

Three things you should know:

  1. Do not neglect your lower back (erector spinae)! Your lower back is equally important as your front and can be easily targeted with dorsal raises, a military favourite.
  2. Your obliques, transversus abdominis, erector spinae, and rectus abdominis all form your core, and are muscular fibers running in different directions. That means make sure you work your core with a variety of exercises (bicycle crunches, plank, side plank, leg raises…) This will help you be a little more innovative when conditioning as well as fight boredom!
  3. According to Arnold Schwarzenegger, due to constant activity, the core fibers are so resilient you can train every day of the week without rest! Although admittedly the credibility of that last point is up for debate.


Be sure to try some of our core conditioning exercises in the Dojo. Put you’re core strength to the test this Fitness and Strength Week!

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Kickboxing Helps to Beat Those Pesky Cravings!

CharlotteD6Looking to kill off unhealthy cravings, well Kickboxing may very well be the answer. According to nutritionists martial arts consistently makes a tremendous impact when it comes to planning diet and nutrition, therefore significantly improving lifestyle through the simple means of generating good habits! Often sugary snacks can be very distracting and make it all the more difficult to achieve goals! However with the impact of martial arts most athletes, whether amateur or professional, find that such a physical and mental focus enforces a natural drive to be more aware of when and what to eat in order to be successful at the discipline.

Next time you make the trip to the Dojo you can be content knowing you’re developing good nutritional proclivities in a good environment!

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Keeping Energy Levels High Throughout the Day!

Whether you’re a martial artist or advocate of sport, recovery and refueling will have a big impact in your day to day lifestyle.

aaron pose03So what’s the best way to make efficient ‘energizing’ altercations to your lifestyle? Once again, the power of habit makes the biggest impact! Most athletes develop healthy habits through competitive training and routine. Initially it is important to keep a log of activities that highlight physical demands during the day such as diet, exercises in the Dojo and the gym, or even how well you sleep. Professional athletes pay attention to their fluid intake, how many times a day food is consumed and focus on recovery periods. The key is often consistency, striving to achieve good habits by utilizing healthy goals. Here are a few pointers to keep that chronological clock ticking throughout the day and all the way through training!

The Morning Haze

Typically, you’d think this is the one time you’d be alert and ready for action, especially after a good night’s sleep… Nope! Guess again. Why? Because of something psychologists call ‘sleep inertia’, which can last from 10 minutes to 2 hours and is so mentally and physically infringing it is likened to being intoxicated! (This is because the pre-frontal cortex in your brain, which is responsible for complex problem solving, is deprived of glucose.) Try drinking a glass of ice cold water which will increase blood flow to the brain, revive dehydrated cells and, for those looking to control weight, increase the metabolism.

For breakfast, try to consume rolled oats (high in B vitamins linked to energy production and zinc which aids the immune system) and make sure to consume carbohydrates with protein, especially if you’re training hard and need to recover. Porridge is an excellent choice, maybe mixed with bananas to help steadily release glucose into the bloodstream throughout the whole day. According to Susan Kleiner of High Performance Nutrition: ‘Work fibre into the diet. This will slow down the release of insulin and help digestion.’

Lunchtime Drop

First of all, it is important to understand why your energy levels fluctuate during this time of the day. Often the induced ‘crash and burn’ is associated with a high sugar intake, increased melatonin levels or processed foods, etc. Essentially resulting from an unbalanced diet or inconsistent lifestyle. In the case of combating melatonin (a sleep hormone), experts say a walk in the sunshine will make all the difference as recent research reveals sunlight directly influences serotonin levels, or mood and stress.

In terms of nutrition it’s important to consume carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index before training: for example try lentils, or a red lentil soup, which also contain a healthy amount of fibre and protein.

Pre-Training Snack

workoutTraining in martial arts can be taxing both mentally and physically, especially after spending a full day working. It means working far harder than the average person and an energy drink or bar simply will not be enough to compensate for the physical requirements of the body and mind. Make sure not to consume a large helping before training; a small flapjack, bananas or dried mango work well to release energy gradually throughout intensive training. However, the most important energizers are often overlooked; for instance, water and green tea, or consuming low-glycaemic carbohydrates two hours before training. All of which help hydrate, improve awareness and speed up the metabolism.


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5 Exercises to Bring Out the Explosive Superman in You!

exploding aaron3Explosive ability is all about initially reducing the tension that can limit rapid muscle contraction. There are just two phases to aware of: the eccentric phase (such as the foot touching the ground) and the concentric phase (the muscle contracting, foot pushing off the ground).

With certain exercises improving the muscle transition between both phases can have powerful results! The key is to develop your fast twitch muscle fibers in a process that is applicable to martial arts.

Here are 5 ways to help develop that explosive acceleration that will make your opponent think twice!

1. Medicine Ball Throws
Without a period of de-acceleration, medicine ball throws help develop a powerful reverse and front punch by encouraging explosive use of the triceps.

2. Clap Push-Ups to Superman Push-Ups
If necessary you can start by using your knees. These push-ups train a very useful burst of energy that can eventually be utilized for a variety of different training techniques! Try to reduce the interval of time between each push-up!

3. Box Jumps
Box jumps help to develop the lower-body, but if you want an extra challenge try seated box jumps! Jumping from a seated position will eliminate any momentum from the arms and allow you to target just your legs!

4. Squats with a Jump
To avoid injury to the knee, make sure your knees DON’T go past your toes. Bend your knees while going low and explode into a high jump. Many people can accelerate high, try jumping continuously on the rebound!

5. Sprints
Excellent for not only building explosive acceleration in the lower body, but the upper body too! Just make sure your form is correct for the best results! Back straight, stay on your toes and kick your bum as you move forward. Fast jogging is NOT a sprint!

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4 Important Points you should Know about Stretching


As is the same with every goal, if you want to achieve a high level of ability it’s important to build a reliable foundation; and as you probably guessed, flexibility plays a fundamental part of that foundation in martial arts.

Even though stretching has incredible benefits, if you’re like most people, you’ve more than likely neglected this important aspect of athletics.

Here are 4 valuable benefits of stretching that everyone should be aware of:

1) Improves Breathing
Probably the most important point; how you inhale and exhale while under strain improves core strength while significantly improving the transfer of oxygen to your muscles.

2) Calms the Mind
Heavily linked to many forms of meditation, even after a short period of time, stretching introduces Zen-like applications that provide a mental break and recharges the body.

3) Increases Nutrient Supply
In conjunction with improving oxygen circulation across the body, the same goes for nutrient supply to muscles! This reduces soreness (lactic acid build up) and risk of injury.

4) Improves Posture
Of course this is a no-brainer! Many of us spend a lot of time at computers which pull the chest and shoulders forward, hunching the body. Stretching helps to lengthen tight muscles and correct posture.

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Devastating Knowledge: Fight Strategy in Martial Arts and Self-Defense

‘Half the battle is won when one knows what the adversary is doing.’ Bruce Lee.

billyrobinsonFloating around on the web you can find old videos of wrestler Billy Robinson. One contains an old interview of Billy expressing how he easily overcame a famous strong man during the 1970s. After numerous attempts of trying to get the better of Billy, the power lifter asked in consternation: what makes you so good? Billy Robinson’s response was simple, ‘It’s not me that’s good. It’s you that knows nothin’!’

The situation highlights the importance of knowledge and technique, and how ingenuity and creativity easily triumphed over strength, especially when incorporated in the world of martial arts.

Technique becomes extremely important, and the manner of how such technique is applied can be the difference between whether the martial artist is successful or not. When overcoming anxiety in a street brawl fitness and skill level play an insurmountable part. However according to Keith Vargo, free-lance MMA writer and instructor in Japan, knowledge precedes many aspects of the fight. The circumstance is instantaneous and a sagacious frame of mind to act, feeds the initiative to react accordingly. Knowledge is the key to utilizing the little crucial amount of time available.

aaronballStrength training and conditioning exercise can be very valuable to any physical development and simultaneously help the martial artist develop an adaptive mentality which is crucial in any aspect of life. From aikido wrist throws to a heel hook submission, knowledge significantly improves preparation and provides that vital confidence to execute your fighting style during sparring.

That said, very gifted fighters can often fail. So what’s wrong? Skill set or knowledge? Keith Vargo believes it is largely about what you do not know about fitness, psychology or other aspects that lose the fight. If a fighter struggles or fails due to overwhelming fear it’s largely linked to a lack of knowledge. Functioning under a significant amount of stress pushes skill levels to the limit and unless certain abilities are already intrinsically prepared, mistakes will happen.

gsp Confidence, technique, fitness, conditioning, fight psychology and other factors play an important part in martial arts and self-defense. However, as Georges St-Pierre explains in The Way of the Fight: knowledge becomes the big initial step before the fusion of ingenuity and creativity. ‘I keep a white belt mentality. On the first day when you receive your white belt, everything is knowledge’.

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The Power of Antioxidants!

antioxidantsSuffering from a hangover; antioxidants will help and will do much more in the long run!
What are antioxidants? On a microscopic level, the oxidation of cells occur due to large quantities of free radicals, or unstable molecules. These free radicals, again only in large quantities, induce a destructive chain reaction that impedes cell functioning. Long story short… antioxidants act as the superheroes of food, and put a stop to the oxidative stress caused by free radicals by pulling electrons away and neutralizing the unstable molecule.

Sources of Antioxidants
Carotenoids: Apricots, Mangoes, Red Pepper, Sweet Potato and of course? carrots.
Phenolic Compounds: Chocolate, Tea and Red Wine.
Vitamin E: Nuts and Vegetable oils.
Vitamin C: Citrus Fruits and Berries
Selenium A: Fish, Red Meat or Eggs.

Exciting times!
Research of antioxidants is rich. linking antioxidants to fighting against Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, HIV, supporting fitness and even ageing! Although the last one might be a bit of a stretch…

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How to make an Isotonic Drink!

isotonic drinksCheap, easy and quick!
Whether it be Isotonic, hypotonic or hypertonic, it’s important to give your body the right type of fuel during training. Isotonic drinks are required to give that needed boost of carbohydrates in the form of glucose, and replace lost electrolytes (in other words: sodium and potassium) during intensive workouts; and are stereotypically necessary for any tough cardiovascular exercise.
What you need:
500ml Water
125ml Squash (With no added sugar!)
A pinch of salt

Give it a shake and leave it in the fridge. Remember: simple to make, a big save on cash and important for muscle function and recovery!

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The Martial Arts Place
88 Avenue Road
Swiss Cottage
London NW3 3HA
020 7586 1222

The Martial Arts Place
35-39 Stoke Newington High Street
London N16 8DR
020 7254 0332


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