Exercise Your Mind and Your Zygomatic Majors – Garry Smith

I love reading, I always have. My mum taught me to read before I went to school, it has been a source of pleasure throughout my life. From fiction to non-fiction I devour books, I eat the words with my eyes and digest the content with my brain. 

Yesterday I was reading ‘The Ape in the Corner Office’ by Richard Conniff and I was barely a chapter in when I had to text a female friend with a new ‘fact’ I had found. The new ‘fact’ was that a human females zygomatic majors are thicker than those in a male, in contrast to males being on average 15% larger and more muscular than females.

The zygomatic majors are the muscles running from the outside of the eyes to the corners of the mouth, we use these to smile. Most of this smile muscle is made up of fast twitch fibres, 90%, so smiling is a rapid response. The muscles used to frown are only 50% fast twitch fibres meaning a smile has evolved to be quicker than a frown.

Smiling is our oldest and most natural expression, and like other facial expressions, it evolved for a function, as a means of responding to the people around us and influencing their behaviour. Primatologists connect our smile to the ‘fear grin’ in monkeys and date its evolution back at least thirty million years. In a group of macaques, for example, the approach of the alpha may cause a subordinate to cringe and nervously pull back the corners of the mouth, exposing the clenched teeth. It’s a signal meaning, ‘I’m no threat’.” Richard Conniff.

Conniff considers if women are genetically better prepared to smile or if the extra muscle is a “by-product of smiling surly males into a less bellicose frame of mind”. Before we descend into the rabbit hole of evolution versus social programming let me explain why this really interests me.

It is because I teach self defence. The starting point of self defence for me is avoidance. After avoidance comes escape, then defusion and only, seriously only if there is no opportunity to avoid, escape or defuse, the use of force may have to be employed. Reflecting on a few confrontations in the last ten years, rather the multiple confrontations, fights and battles of my younger years, I realised I now employ a different tactic, I go deadpan. I do not think I show any emotion, of course this is entirely subjective so I cannot say for certain, I also stay calm and not allowing the monkey to take control..

Well I think I do, trust me I have experienced many amygdala hijacks in the past and let the monkey brain have free reign, so in my personal evolution I have now managed to, mostly, prevent this happening. To do that requires knowing what is happening in the first place. That is why I read and read a lot.

I am fascinated in how we function as social animals. Most people are locked into the daily struggle to get by, the luxury to think, to reflect on what we are and how we came to be this way is replaced by the game show, reality TV and trivia, escapism is the order of the day. But the pursuit of knowledge is escapism too, continual personal and professional development should be our goal. The other day I bought 3 ebooks for my Kindle:

  • ‘Violence of Mind: Training and Preparation for Extreme Violence’ by my friend and CRGI colleague Varg Freeborn,

  • What Doesn’t Kill Us: how freezing water, extreme altitude, and environmental conditioning will renew our lost evolutionary strength’ by Scott Carney and Wim Hof  as recommended by Mark Hatmaker.

  • ‘Life at the Bottom’ by Theodore Dalrymple as recommended by Marc MacYoung.

That is my next holiday sorted.

Sat on my bookshelf there are actual paper books waiting to be read:

  • ‘The Passionate State of Mind’ by Eric Hoffer.

  • ‘The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health and Disease’ by Daniel Lieberman.

  • ‘Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst’ by Robert Sopolsky.

  • ‘Rules of Engagement: A Life in Conflict’ by Tim Collins.

  • ‘Voices of the Foreign Legion: The History of the world’s most famous Fighting Corps’ by Adrian Gilbert again recommended by Mark Hatmaker.

Each one is a source of information and inspiration, each one a source of enrichment and education. For those of us who assume the responsibility to educate others it is our duty to continue to educate ourselves. I have always been a passionate autodidact and, I hope, a critical thinker. I owe it to my students to be the best I possibly can be in order to provide the best training I can for them.

I see lots of moaning on social media about the problems in the unregulated nature of the self defence and martial arts industries. I agree with most of them, but apart from bitching about the guy down the road or setting up another quango governing body type organisation, I see little in the way of solutions.

Well how about trying this.

  • Do everything you can to get better and better, accept you are not and never will be the finished article.
  • Join together with others who share your passion to improve and feed off one another.
  • Discuss, debate, argue and be prepared to be wrong.
  • When you find something new that improves what you already have embrace it, adapt, evolve, its what we are designed to do.

I have a favourite quote from Edward De Bono:

What is the point of having a mind if you are not prepared to change it.”

Adaptation is the key to evolution, this is true of the individual and the species sapiens. Our social world is complex and continually changing so why would you want to stand still? So read, expand your mind, challenge and grow your intellect and as you do so you may find yourself using those Zygomatic majors a little more often.




Video of the Week – Do you want to Change the World?

United States Navy Admiral William H. McRaven delivers a powerful speech about the importance of doing the little things and embracing fear in life.