Good martial arts training should put information and skills straight into your physical body without having to pass through the cognitive functions of the brain.
I'm not saying you can't, or shouldn't think when you train - to improve your proprioception, or enhance skills by consciously modifying them - but what you really HAVE, what you really OWN, is what comes out when you do not think.
It follows therefore that this is where the skills should live - in the highly adaptable, reactive, part of your being, not the part that has to think about it.
This does not negate the need to strategize or rationalize, but this can happen AT THE SAME TIME as you are using your physical skills, and does not need to conflict.
This ability to truly 'surf' the moment separates the great from the
mediocre, and is observable from the outside. Most would probably
agree that it is quite easy to see a qualitative difference in a person
that has authentic skills compared to someone trying to be skilled, because
the actor is recreating a picture of the real thing, whereas the person
that really knows .... is just DOING THE THING, not looking like the
picture of it.
It's actually quite hard to 'just do', but it is a worthwhile practice, and seems to be trained most efficiently in a random play context (this is, I believe, why Sonny's method was so effective), often at a speed too fast for the cognitive functions to intervene and screw things up (though not so fast that the nervous system freezes).
Once you can trust your body to get on with it, it becomes easier and easier to leave it alone ... but you'll never trust it if you don't get to experience the feeling, and most of us have a really hard time letting go.
There are reasons of course why this is hard to do and cannot be 'willed', because all the parts of you that hold a self image, and words like 'should', 'perhaps', 'must', and 'technique', will try to prevent you from just letting go, even prevent you from acting all together.
Call it performance anxiety, or a desire for success, or a fear of failure if you like, but the part of your brain that lives there will screw up the physical part of you that is perfectly capable of acting without it, if you let it intervene. And trust me, it WILL intervene if it can, even if you think you are flowing in the moment and all is spontaneous .... and it will almost certainly happen when you are losing ... or any other time your ego/monkey gets to put an oar in.
So next time your brain editor tries to manage your actions, try to let it go, and if you need to trick yourself by rationalizing that this is a good idea, tell yourself to trust your body, because what is truly known WILL come out, and if worse comes to the worst, and nothing comes out, you are many steps closer to attaining true competence than if you continually avoid ever finding out what's actually living in there.
Thanks again to Rory Miller for a great weekend of conversation, of both the physical and non physical varieties.