Monday, August 23, 2010

'Ouch' is not a Judo term

If you've studied martial arts at some point in your life, you're probably somewhat familiar with the anecdote that I've titled this entry after. I think that 'Ouch' (as I will now say in reference to the above phrase) is mostly used to try to explain part of having indomitable spirit to students; when you're knocked down, get back up as soon as you can. Martial arts hurts sometimes, and to have indomitable spirit is to push through the pain because even though it hurts, it will eventually make you stronger. I think that this is a good thing to teach, because with it come the lessons of determination, commitment, and patience, along with the perseverance of getting back up time and time again.

But if there's a student in the class like me, who tends to take things a little bit too seriously at times, bad things can happen with this phrase. Although they are usually said with humor, I must admit that I tend to take phrases like 'Ouch' a little too much to heart.

On more than one occasion, I've used 'Ouch' as an excuse to keep going when I've been injured. I suppose some people like to keep going when they're clearly hurt because it gives them an ego boost, but that's not really why I tend to want to continue as normal when it happens to me. The reason I keep going is because I don't want to quit having fun. I love martial arts. I love training. I love almost every part of it (even push-ups and straddle-splits, on occasion). Sitting out  for me is almost like being the one sibling who has to sit in timeout in the car while the rest of the family enjoys the carnival.

But today my sensei said something very wise.
I had accidentally kicked a fellow student too hard in the thigh, triggering a charlie horse, and he (wisely) took a few minutes to rest. Something similar happened to me, later on, as my foot (which I'd injured over the weekend) started to really hurt when I put weight on it. I however, unlike my wise 9-year-old friend, did not take a break.

At the end of class, I received a bit of a reprimand for not taking care of myself when my foot started hurting. Sensei said that it's usually good to keep going, but sometimes when we get injured, it's not easy to just get up like nothing happened. He said, "Sometimes it's a good idea to get the hurt out, and then get back up. I don't want you to push through it and not rest, thinking you'll be fine if you just ignore it. Get the hurt out first and really make sure that you're okay before you continue training. We don't want a little problem to turn into a big one."

Very wise words. I needed to hear them.

It's so easy to get caught up in the 'I'm-a-martial artist-and-I-have-indomitable-spirit-and-therefore-I-am-invincible' mentality. Nobody is invincible; it's really easy to get seriously injured while training. Being careful is important; more important than being the most 'advanced' student; more important than being 'tough'; more important than having fun, even. After all, if you seriously injure yourself while training, you have to stop training! That would be like an endless time-out session for me. Not desirable at all.

But my favorite thing that Sensei said was, 'Get the hurt out, first'. It sometimes seems like (in martial arts and in life) we're pressured to hide our pain; to keep fighting; to continue to 'push through' serious pain by ignoring it or pushing it away altogether. We say, "Well, maybe if I pretend it's not there, it won't be. And then I can get on with more important things like training and being happy and having fun."

That's just like ignoring a broken arm. Or a foot injury. If I 'push through it' and keep fighting without stopping to assess the damage, my small problem can quickly turn into something serious that could put me out for months, maybe. I now have to deal with a big problem that could've been avoided if I'd simply listened to and respected my body (or mind) in the first place.
Tonight was another night for learning. There seem to be a few lessons that keep popping up during my training. They are:
  • Tap when it hurts (or, know when to stop before you're seriously injured)
  • Don't take things too seriously
  • Take care of yourself (specifically, don't ignore a problem and expect it to just go away. Acknowledge it and react appropriately)

All three are important lessons that can be applied to pretty much anything in most lessons learned on the mat.
I'm gonna close out this entry a little bit differently than usual. I found a video called, "The Top 10 Worst Freak Injuries in MMA". In some of the footage shown here, the fighters continued fighting through their injuries, but all of the matches were called off as soon as a medical problem was identified.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Waterfall meditation...or not.

Today I'm writing from Bear Flats, Arizona; a quiet place which is just a few miles away from Tonto Village. If you're not familiar with the surroundings of Arizona, you're in good company, but it's about ten miles away from Payson and about two hours away from Phoenix, up in the mountains. I think my grandpa said that we're up about four-thousand feet, and believe me, I can tell. It's a hundred-thirteen degrees in Phoenix. Guess how hot it is up here? Eighty-three, maybe. Low fifties at night.

Anyway, Bear Flats is a beautiful place. It's very quiet and time seems to move slowly, here. There's a creek that runs throughout the community called Tonto Creek, which has a wonderful fishing selection of trout and other kinds of fish that I don't know the names of (I'm not a huge angler, but we're going to go fishing tonight and I'm very excited).

I've been trying to get some practice time in while I'm here, because missing class doesn't suit me well. So, after about an hour of staff work and striking practice, I decided that it might be fun to go down to Tonto Creek (which is pretty much in the backyard) and sit on the rocks for a while and meditate.
Well...that didn't go as planned.
I fell in.

It was wonderful.

What does that have to do with karate? Well, I found out that I'm not very good at meditating...nor balancing on slippery surfaces, apparently. My staff also fell in, so I had to go chasing after that. It was definitely not what I had planned on happening!

I went to the creek with the intention of clearing my mind and instead, I got excited and wet.
Sometimes things don't work out like we expect them to. But just because my original plan didn't work doesn't mean that the new plan wasn't really, really fun...and to some extent, really helpful to my mental health.

I tend to get so serious when I'm training. Before today, I might have called such a scenario a training failure. I might have said that I was unfocused and unprepared and non-productive and off-center...and I wouldn't necessarily be wrong!

But maybe just plain old having fun can be part of training, too.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hitting the target

This is my second entry today, because I'm going to be on vacation next week and there's something that I discovered a few weeks back that I told myself I would write about in this blog. I'm worried that if I put it off any longer, I won't be able to write as effectively about it because I'll have forgotten the details. So...thus begins entry number two.

Anyone who's been studying martial arts knows that precision and control are key components to executing a technique effectively. Granted, you can't expect to land a good blow if you're focusing only on control and not putting any power behind it, but most people can agree that the hours spent striking targets and body shields in class pay off tremendously in the long run, right?

I like targets. I always (I kind of hate to admit this) want to try harder when there's something to hit. It's fun to do techniques in the air, but at some point it's good to know that you can also hit something that's in front of you. I also really like targets because they give me an idea of how I can improve my striking; what details am I missing? What can I do to make that technique more effective? But most of all, I like them because they don't change or do anything unpredictable. The body shield is always going to be right in front of you and it's not going to move or go anywhere unless you make it happen.

Besides...there's a feeling of satisfaction that I get when I know that I landed a solid strike, right in the middle of the target; right where I wanted that strike to be.

On the other hand, targets can also make things challenging; particularly when you don't land a good hit. Right before my green belt test, I was a little bit nervous about my spinning hook kick, so Zach helped me practice by holding the target for me. I already mentioned in the last entry that my left foot needs work, and since the belt test was about a month and a half ago, the spinning hook was no exception. I landed some good kicks with my right foot, but when that left foot was in the air, I missed...and missed again...and I just couldn't hit that target! We actually stopped for a minute because I was so frustrated with myself for not being able to hit it. I thought that it was nerves that were keeping me from being able to land the kick, but after a few minutes, I realized that I was focusing too hard on hitting the target.

It's hard to do anything when you're thinking too hard about it. So I started again, thinking that if I focused on not focusing on the target, I would eventually hit. Well...that didn't work either, so I got frustrated again and chambered for one more try, no longer caring whether I hit the target or not and...I hit it.

Man, that really surprised me. How was it that the one time I didn't care whether I hit or not, I actually landed a good kick? So I tried again, using the same approach, and landed another good kick. What was up with that? How was it that when I cared and I focused and I tried hard, it messed me up? Wasn't caring supposed to help me?

I think that it's possible to care too much about something and when that happens, you can actually prevent yourself from doing what you need to do to reach success. All that I was thinking about was hitting that target. That's all that I wanted. But while I was focused on precision, I wasn't focusing on technique or speed or power. I just wanted to hit the dang thing. When I let that go and just stopped worrying about it, my mind was clear and my body did what it was supposed to do.

That situation showed me how much influence your mind really has over your body. Hitting the target was really important to me; I wanted to make sure that I was kicking high and far enough to be effective...but I cared so much that I was actually holding myself back.

Having a clear mind is crucial to executing a technique well. Over-thinking doesn't help at all. Perhaps we can train ourselves to not think too much and to just do what needs to be done. Not for every situation, mind you, because many times circumstances in life call for a great deal of introspection. When it comes to martial arts, however, hitting the target is important...but it's not THAT important.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Right foot forward

Today, I realized that my left foot needs a lot of work. We were doing spinning-back-kicks and I was pretty solid on my right foot, which is the one that we began with, but as soon as we switched stance, it was almost like I didn't know what to do with my body.

Generally, in a spinning-back-kick, you place you front foot directly in front of your back foot, pivot on the balls of your feet until you're in a backwards-facing forward stance, chamber (which is what it's called when you bring your knee up in front of you, in order to generate power and give your kick 'push'), look over your shoulder, and shoot your foot out behind you, into your target, striking with your heel. It's a very powerful kick, and, as Sensei said today, it's not really a spinning-kick, so you don't need a whole lot of rotation to get a good, solid hit.

Anyway, I was doing fine when we were working the right foot, but as soon as we switched, it felt foreign and strange and I started to over-think what I was doing. Sometimes, our minds can be our worst enemy. I've found that if you don't have your mind on your side, it's very unlikely that your body will do the things that you want it to do. I had to stop and center myself before I could continue, and once I recognized that my thoughts were causing me to be unable to execute the move, I was able to fix it and get back in the swing of things.

There are a few reasons why it was so difficult for me to do the spinning-back-kick, left-footed. One of those reasons is the age-old excuse that I'm right-footed, so naturally, my left foot is my weaker side and requires more thought and work to train. I heard a saying once that says, "Train your non-dominant side twice as hard, so that you can make up for the lack of coordination." It's hard to do that, sometimes, because it's discouraging to see what your kick CAN look like, having been executed from your dominant side, and then switching to your non-dominant side and seeing how much work you really need.

It's also hard to do that because at any time that we're put into a situation where we have to react in a way that we're not used to, it's extremely uncomfortable. Not only that, but we take for granted the more familiar way of doing things and therefore often don't prepare for a situation where we might not have the luxury of doing the familiar thing. We get into a way of thinking that says, "I shouldn't ever have to use such a technique" or "I shouldn't have to worry about what it's like to not be able to use my right foot, so there's no reason to focus much on the other side".

There are any number of situations that could disable a right foot. My left foot shouldn't be something to fall back on (no pun intended). I need to train both of my feet so that either one could deliver the blow that I might need to save my life or the life of someone I love.

As for the other side of the equation...sometimes no amount of preparation can keep your mind on your side. At the point where we've become discouraged with ourselves, there begins a cycle of doubt, frustration, and general negativity. The best thing to do, I think, is to step away from the situation for a moment, recognize that you're frustrated, realize that your mind is holding you back, and try to get it to work with you. It's easy to be discouraged. It's hard to give yourself encouragement in spite of that fact.

So, at this point, I'm gonna start practicing from right-bow-stance. Put my left foot forward, instead of my right. Eventually, whichever foot is forward will be my best foot forward.

Martial arts is swiftly going to make me better by forcing me to do the hard things. I can live with that.
(And  someday, I might live because of that!)