Paying Attention:

How Martial Arts is related to driving, academic achievement, and safety


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May 2016

It is easier to pay attention, but the human tendency to lose focus is increased by just about everything in modern life: cell phones, television, social media, ear buds, instant essaging, texting and 24 hour connectivity. So many devices that give us access to more information often lead us to a level of shallow comprehension and a feeling of being “out of touch” with the real world that we actually inhabit. This can lead to difficulties paying attention to a teacher in school, and can be disastrous when our efforts to “multi-task” lead to distracted driving.

The near continuous stream of new information pumped out by the Web also plays to our natural tendency to "vastly overvalue what happens to us right now,” as Union College psychologist Christopher Chabris explains. We crave the new even when we know that "the new is more often trivial than essential." And so we ask the Internet to keep interrupting us, in ever more and different ways. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or more often diverting information we receive.

May2016 001 : University Karate Center Newsletter

The internet is, by design, an interruption system, a machine geared for dividing attention. That's not only a result of its ability to display many different kinds of media simultaneously; it is also a result of the ease with which it can be programmed to send and receive messages. Studies of office workers who use computers reveal that they constantly stop what they are doing to read and respond to incoming emails. Psychological research has proved what most of us know from experience: frequent interruptions scatter our thoughts, weaken our memory, and make us tense and anxious. The more complex the train of thought we are involved in, the greater the impairment the distractions cause.

Martial Arts training is about learning how to focus on what we are doing. It’s about being present and aware of where we actually are, and what is happening around us right now. In a recent advanced class some adult students were training to respond to an attack that they could not see, because the Sensei instructed them to close their eyes tight. One thing that they all noticed was the extreme level of concentration that they experienced during the drill. Even a simple drill with a partner can result in a student getting tagged if they are not fully focused on what they are supposed to be doing. In this way, Martial Arts practice and the Martial Arts lifestyle are the antidote to the shallow, weak and fragmented perceptual state that can be the consequence of the distractions offered by modern media devises.

For the information age to allow us to become knowledgeable and wise, rather than just distracted and shallow, we must practice focus and concentration as if our life depended upon it. We can then enjoy a fuller and more fulfilling life as a consequence. So, when we are driving we should drive, when in school we should listen, whatever our stage of life we must know how to pay attention to what we are doing, and not allow our focus to be diverted or our concentration fragmented. Our life may actually depend on it.

© 2016 Shihan Robert H. Mason