From: "Dave K" Subject: Fear and the conditioned response
The February 2003 issue of Discover magazine has an article regarding fear and the various physiological responses that can come from a fear causing stimulus.
The article focuses on research that demonstrates two pathways to responding to a stimulus. One pathway, in their terms, takes the high road and goes through the conscious mind. This way can take a second or longer to respond to the stimulus with a response such as "hey, that's a snake" or "hey, he's punching at me".
The other pathway, the low road, takes only a few thousandths of a second and bypasses the conscious mind. In most of their examples, the resulting response was to freeze in place, and then this was followed a second or so later by conscious recognition of the threat and physical responses such as adrenalin and the like.
All of this got me to thinking about kata. The article went on to talk about how the conditioned response can be unlearned or altered.
One of the benefits of kata may be to alter the conditioned response of freezing with something more beneficial. From their description of how the "low road" works, it doesn't appear that anything too complicated can be learned, but I would assume that getting your hands in a useful position and a body shift would be possible.
The kata approach could also be beneficial in that it gives the person a chance to visualize an attacker and "respond" without the chance of getting whacked and having the pain/anxiety from the attack get hardwired into the "low road" system and undo the efforts at learning a more effective response.
Apparently this hardwiring can take place in as little as one episode. The article gave an example of a woman who was unable to form new memories. She was being treated by a doctor and if he left the room for a few minutes, she would forget who he was and he would have to reintroduce himself.
One time he had a pin or a needle in his hand and when she shook his hand on a reintroduction, the pin stuck her. In a subsequent reintroduction, she had forgotten his name, but she was hesitant to shake his hand. While her conscious mind was not able to remember the pin incident, a memory of some sort had been formed.
This may be one of the reasons behind the old masters insisting on years of kata practice before anything else.