We Thought Differently. We Moved Differently
As a biped, we have a unique relationship with gravity. Our ability to remain upright and balanced is an amazing neural feat.be It is so ingrained that we do not notice its functioning whatsoever. Not even when the system is disrupted. Whether that be for a moment or chronically.
That system can be honed. It can be developed poorly. It can alter itself to adjust to an injury. And amazingly we can build new systems, with new rules, that operate in completely different ways than our bipedal balance system. Once we have new systems we can switch between them seamlessly.
How amazing is that? Our system of balance is so automatic that we do not perceive its functioning. Hardly less automatic than the beating of our heart or the balancing of electrolytes within our blood. Yet we can program it to have a new function.
In some theories of human evolution this ability to walk upright is what evolved us into humans. It gave us an advantage in the Savanah environment. We could carry things. We could travel longer distances. These abilities gave us the ability to hunt and forage at a greater distance and then bring our spoils back to the group. Where we were protected. Additionally, it may have given us some protection from the heat. An upright body has a smaller surface area. It absorbs less heat. And this may have given us more ability to travel during the day. When predators could not.
But I would argue that this ability was certainly a factor in our evolution. It was not the core factor. The core factor was the ability to change our brains to do so. It was neuroplasticity and neurogenesis together. And that ability, in my estimation, happened long before walking. It would have given us advantages prior to the advantage of walking. As I will discuss in other pages.
For now, let's stick to the function of bipedal balance.
As infants we first learn to roll over and then scoot. Next comes crawling. There are a variety of types of crawling but the main two are commando crawling and cross crawl. In normal development, commando happens first and then the more efficient cross crawling is learned.
How is it learned? We can probably never know for sure. It would likely require cruel and inhumane experiments to find out. And that should never be done. Understandings in science is never worth that.
Could it be discovered by the baby? It is possible, but not likely. In my opinion, it is learned.
From the cross crawl, there are then many intermediary steps that all lead to walking. Similarly starting with a unilateral motion and then quickly adjusting to the bilateral motion initially learned in cross crawls.
But why and how did the baby do this?
The why is because the other creatures around him do it. We are mimickers.
The how is the same. Because other creatures around him, which he has an affinity, move in that way. We are, at the core, visual-spatial learners. We slowly build the neural network to perceive the space around us. We build the neural network to perceive ourselves separate from that space. We build the neural network to perceive our body's position in that space. We build the neural network to perceive others in that space. And then naturally, because we have developed mirror neurons somehow along the way, we learn to mimic the motions of those others.
Would a baby raised by wolves ever learn to walk? Maybe. It's possible that we have some degree of hardwiring such as other animals do. Horses can walk or run at about 90 minutes after birth. But we don't seem to. We seem to be, barring the innate understanding of suckling, a clean slate.
It is our visual-spatial abilities that lead our learning. Those abilities create who we are.
Turkeys, as an example, have everything they need to survive at birth except for one thing. The lay of the land. For this, they need their mother. It takes a great deal of time for them to learn their domain and we do not know how much of their learning of this is visual-spatial. I do know that changes in things in their environment can really throw them off.
Humans have none of that. A turkey might get lucky and survive if he had no mother. A human baby would have no chance at all.
We mimic others. Because these others have survived, if we mimic what and how they do things, we are more likely to survive.
Obviously, survival in today's world is different than in the ancient world. The poor turkeys have not yet adapted to deal with cars. They are slow adapters.
But humans are fast adapters. The fastest adapters in the animal kingdom. That is our strength. That is how we came to exist. Our brains learn and adapt quickly and our bodies don't do too bad either.
So is it reasonable to assume that early humans moved differently than today's humans?
Actually, it is provably so.
Esther Gokhale (https://gokhalemethod.com/) has studied the postural systems of modern humans as compared to primitive cultures. She has also studied early photographs as well as statues from early cultures. Universally these cultures and pictures show the same thing. A more erect posture with the hips extended more towards the posterior. Additionally, she has determined that this change in posture changed very recently. Her theory links it to the rise of fashion. Fashion models learned to take on more bored or pouty postures. This was to indicate indifference. Indifference is linked to confidence and confidence is a feature of attraction. When we got mass distribution of this posture through magazines and then television, the populace quickly learned to take on these more slumped postures. The wide distribution through these media quickly transformed posture and that of course affected movement. That subtle adjustment in movement then became the dominant way, and like a virus, spread to the majority of the civilized populations. All because we are such efficient mimickers of movement.
Her observations are quite evident once seen.
Additionally, we can easily see different ways of movement within different subcultures. If one has spent time studying movement long enough then this difference in movement becomes evident between social classes and even personalities. Because it is so evident to those who have trained in Shou' Shu' long enough, and therefore highly trained the visual-kinesthetic connection, it most certainly must have stuck out to ancient humans. These ancient humans would have undoubtedly had far greater visual-kinesthetic thinking skills than modern-day humans.
To illustrate this fact. I hate testing people for rank in Shou' Shu'. This is because when I watch someone move very closely I am bringing the feeling of how they move into my body. If they have hitches in their movement I feel them and it is actually very uncomfortable. I find it very difficult to watch Shou' Shu' movement and not bring it into my body. Even if I didn't want to. All experienced Shou' Shu' practitioners are the same in this. We internally feel the movement of other practitioners. If the movement is good we feel good. If the movement is okay but not great we feel bad. If the movement is terrible we don't connect with it at all. Several of us once went to a cardio kickboxing seminar. All of us found that we could not do it at all. The motions were to jerky and forced. We could not connect with them. As students of motion, we could not connect with that motion. When my Grand Master was alive, the observant could tell if he had liked a test by a simple observance. If he went to lunch with us afterward. If the test was poor he felt bad and would want to go home. If it went well he was exuberant and wanted to socialize. This was not an intellectual decision based on an intellectual judgment. It was pure emotion and obviously so.
So if it is obvious that humans move differently now than they did even 70 years ago then it should be obvious that they may have moved very differently 10,000 years ago.
If it is obvious that we are very skilled visual-kinesthetic thinkers then it should be obvious that we would have easily picked up on movement patterns in our environment. It should also be obvious that those who picked up the best movement patterns would have been the most likely to survive.
And if we were students of movement then we would have adapted and perfected those movements to our needs. Those with the best adaptations survived.
Where would we get those movements?
1) Other humans
Other humans would give us the most adapted movement patterns up until that present time. Animals would have given new systems to try. Each generation perfects better ways of moving. Efficient movement was a huge component of survival and also a huge component of mate selection. Both of which contributed to the passing on of genetic code. It fueled our evolution as a species.
From our venture out of the trees to the ground, and from there to the savannahs, and from the savannahs to civilization, and from civilization to the whims of fashion and culture. Always quickly adapting to the movement patterns most likely to allow us to pass on our genetic code.
I have never believed the ancient stories of the origination of different martial arts. Modern-day origin stories sure. They seem to each be some recombination of "the best of" some combination of older systems. But the old stories, not a chance. For two reasons.
The first is that each of the old stories tries to be more fantastical than the last. They range from stories of being beat by a foe and then going to the fields and endlessly watching bugs, to the founder crossing the Himalayas alone to bring knowledge, to the founder coming down from the heavens and teaching his fighting ways. If you read enough of them you realize it's a story competition. Just good old sales and marketing. With the goal of fostering pride in a system.
The second, and more important, is that I do not believe that any human, using an intellectual process, could have figured out and made up the systems I have been taught. Not only are they way too complex, they are also too subtle. The internal feelings and transfer of chi takes years, and sometimes decades, to see and understand. They are so hidden from the untrained human eye that they will only be noticed by those of extreme skill. Only a Shou' Shu' practitioner can recognize another Shou' Shu' practitioner. And this extends up the line. Only a tiger practitioner can recognize another tiger. And so on and so on. Especially when getting into the subtler beasts such as crane and mantis. These subtleties are so difficult to perceive that I find it impossible that they were created by humans using an intellectual thought process.
However, it would be feasible for a human who thought primarily in a visual-kinesthetic way.
It is possible to develop this visual-kinesthetic thinking skill. High level Shou' Shu' Shifus have that skill. Our grandmaster, Da Shifu, used to say that the black belt only meant, "Now you are ready to learn". I am certain that this skill is a huge component of what he meant.
If it is possible to develop, I think that it is probable that our early ancestors used this as a primary thought process. They thought in movement, as Shifus do today, but likely far better than we can imagine.
The fact that all ancient cultures pass down stories through dance also alludes to this. The positions, directions, postures, and movements are apparently an efficient way of remembering and communicating the story. The beat gives it the temporal aspect. Incidentally, Shou' Shu' has a strong beat aspect to it as well. If a movement is incorrect that flaw can be perceived quicker in the way the strikes sound. If they do not have a pleasing rhythm that gives the practitioner a feeling of wrongness. It's a sign to dig deeper into the motion and find the flaw. It is detected in the sound and feel, then found through examination. The beat will always expose that there is a flaw in flowing focussed chi. Just like dance and music. We have a sense of when it is correct. Digging deeper we find that pleasing music is based upon mathematics and pleasing motion is based on efficient physics. Or math in motion. Most Shou' Shu' practitioners recognize this connection between these ancient dances and Shou' Shu' As a matter of fact we actually use a similar method of training. We call them forms or Katas. They are similar in that we remember them through position and angles. We have imagined opponents in each movement of the form. They have imagined occurrences being played out.
The ancient orators used visual-spatial as well. They used a technique called the memory palace to memorize their speeches. A visual-spatial technique.
We seem to be programmed to remember in the visual-spatial very well. As we have evolved over time we have learned to use more and more abstractions. Mainly for communication. Then those communication methods led to thinking methods. Maybe it started with early body signaling something akin to the waggle dance done by honeybees. Then progressed to dances. To cave drawings. To verbal language. To written language. As these technologies evolved our brains evolved to think in these ways. However, our original way of thinking was likely visual-spatial and visual-kinesthetic.