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Did Daigo have an out-of-body experience?

February 27, 2020


It’s called the legendary Moment #37. It was the moment Daigo Umehara beat Justin
Wong in spectacular fashion during the EVO 2004 semifinals. In his autobiography this is how he described
his experience: “My hands moved as if possessed, and when
I came back to myself Chun-Li was down.” This moment, with KenRyu played by Umehara
and Chun-li played by Wong, was called by Kotaku the single most important moment in
the history of Esports, and was also awarded a Guinness World Record for the “most views
for a competitive fighting game match” with 5,632,211 views on YouTube as of September
13th, 2016. So what is going on with Daigo’s hands and
why have they taken a life of their own? Did he actually have an out-of-body experience? Umehara was put up against the wall, with
only a pixel of health left — and in spite of the pressure, he made an incredible sequence
of parries, a type of block that negates chip damage, and then catches Wong off-guard, taking
the round. But… he wasn’t even aware of what he was
doing? That’s not the only time in his career that
he describes a moment like this. “My hands move on their own, guiding KenRyu
with optimal precision,” Daigo said about another fight, a 2009 exhibition match against
Justin Wong, who’d just won the US National Championship earlier that day. “My concentration remains intact despite
the raucous crowd, which is shouting in true American fashion with each landed combo.” Umehara won that match too. Depending on how familiar you are with organized
competition in sports and esports, Umehara’s description of his hands being “possessed”
might not sound entirely unusual. And actually, this phenomenon might be more
common than we think, although many don’t talk about it. In motorsports, Ayrton Senna was one of the
first. We can imagine why most drivers would refrain
from talking about an out of body experience, since that kind of talk doesn’t reflect well
on people in charge of fine-maneuvering a car at 200mph. Senna did it anyway. When interviewed about his famous qualifying
lap at the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix, the iconic F1 driver said that “I was going faster
and faster, and I suddenly realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously
[…] It frightened me because I realised I was well beyond my conscious understanding.” In tennis, Novak Djokovic had a similar experience
during his comeback against Andy Murray in 2016. “In the last point I don’t even remember
what happened,” Djokovic said. “It was like my spirit has left my body
and I was just observing my body fight the last three or four exchanges.” When he won that match, Djokovic became the
first man since 1969 to hold all four Grand Slams at the same time. There are many reports of out-of-body experiences
while practicing sport, but also during sleep paralysis and intense meditation. Some people don’t report it, or even having
had one, don’t think of them as such. It’s hard to describe this experience, so
most people don’t. A seminal psychology paper on the subject,
one that investigated extreme sports, makes that difficulty obvious in its title: ‘Evoking
the Ineffable’. Even though it’s difficult to describe,
what is clear is that there are some common aspects to people that have these experiences
frequently: being put into a high risk and high consequences situation, being able to
achieve intense focus, and a lot of practice. The first psychological model created to describe
these experiences was developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who defined them as being
in a state of “flow.” First in his book ‘Beyond Boredom and Anxiety:
Experiencing Flow in Work and Play’, published in 1975, and then again in 1990, with his
book ’Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience’. According to the psychologist, the experience
of flow has different degrees, and can be found in almost any activity in life. All it takes is a situation that presents
a high challenge, and an individual skilled enough to meet it. It’s easy to see how Street Fighter and
other esports might create an environment conducive to the experience of flow. And what these experiences show us is that
there is an “optimal experience,” a particular quality to some situations in which we forget
thumbs touching buttons, wins and losses, and we become totally immersed in the game
— when we play to the best of our abilities, to an incredible degree. The experience of flow creates a zen-like
moment like no other found in esports, and a moment that might alone explain how we develop
such a passion for competitive videogames. By simply playing games, we can enter a mental
state that briefly integrates mind and body. It’s intellectually and emotionally liberating. So call it what you will. Flow state, the zone, an out of body experience,
or a quasi-religious one. Be it as it may, Moment #37 is a testament
to the potential of esports and competition. Proof that practice and discipline create
these little magical moments where we hyper-focus and our bodies become embedded to the game,
able to respond by reflex and instinct. We can exceed our own talent and play better
than we ever could if we were consciously aware of what we were doing. These are moments where anyone can reach the
best version of ourselves. And at times, to even surpass them.

3 Comments

  • Reply sirc7777 February 23, 2020 at 4:48 pm

    Nice video

  • Reply Roybinho 65 February 23, 2020 at 11:54 pm

    Thanks for use Ken's Smash Bros picture, not SFV

  • Reply Uri Cadag February 24, 2020 at 1:09 am

    It's Ultra instinct

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