Sunday, October 31, 2010


The first time we worked on sprawling, I didn't quite understand what it meant. Sensei had us pair off and practice what seemed to me like a jumping-on-each-other drill. That isn't what sprawling is, but I remember thinking to myself, "The last time I jumped on someone, I was shorter and at least ten years younger than I am now". Needless to say, I was hesitant about learning.

Not only was I hesitant about learning, but when I finally learned what sprawling is for (keeping yourself from being thrown by dropping your weight directly on your opponent and shooting your legs out behind you to widen your base), I was hesitant to do it the right way. I didn't really want to drop my weight on my partner.What if I found out that they couldn't support me and we both ended up getting hurt? I didn't want that. The point was to stop my partner, not kill them.

I still have trouble with it sometimes. I'm doing my best to just do it, but I've gotta be the weirdest martial arts person ever. I'll do pretty much anything to keep from hurting someone, even if it's detrimental to my training. Or at least, I used to be that way. I'm growing. Learning. Figuring out that I truly can rely on my classmates and Sensei to not let me hurt them. Accidents happen, but not so frequently that I should be as worried as I often get.

Anyway, this post is about trust. Martial arts has taught me a LOT of things, but trust is one of the biggest, most important lessons that I've had the privilege to learn about and improve on. From the first lesson I took, up until now, I've had to learn how to trust people in many different circumstances. There's physical trust, such as trusting my classmates to keep their guard up so I won't hurt them and to do their best not to hurt me; to practice with me like they mean it and to be able to hold my weight when I sprawl.

There's mental trust, like trusting them to treat me well and to help me learn; to not laugh at me when I mess up or otherwise embarrass myself; to be courteous and constructive; and to expect me to do the same for them.

And there's another kind of trust that I can't quite figure out how to articulate. This is the kind of trust that a team shares; trust that others around me who are learning the same thing will understand on a deeper level than anyone else the importance of training and how it applies to life. It's the kind of trust that people share when they have a common goal.

Anyway, I've learned that it isn't easy to trust; it must be earned. And the circumstances through which it can be earned must be genuine and pure. Sprawling gives me trouble sometimes. It's hard to let go and to trust someone other than yourself. But being alone, in my experience, is much more difficult...even if it seems easier. You miss so much when you practice by yourself. There are things in martial arts that only another human can help you to understand. Without people to help you train, you severely limit yourself. You can't sprawl by yourself.

Without people in your life, you can't lean on anyone. You have to do everything by yourself. Sometimes you're successful at that, but when something comes up that you can't handle alone, you need someone to help you up off the mat. And that requires taking a hand that's being held out. That requires trust. And trust requires courage.

Fall seven times, stand up eight. But you don't have to stand up by yourself. If you can stand up with someone else, you'll be that much more sturdy and strong.

Sprawling will become easier as I learn to trust more. Perhaps all I need to practice.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Breaking Things

This is a miscellaneous entry.

Speaking of breaking things, I don't mean body don't worry! I'm talking about board-breaking. I broke my first board on Saturday at a demo. It was really exciting and it didn't hurt at all. I thought that it might, especially if I were to find out that I couldn't break it and instead ended up breaking my hand. With correctly applied force, however, I found that board breaking is (so far) not very difficult to do and is immensely satisfying and fun!

But since it was my first board-break ever, I had a moment of serious doubt about halfway through my palm-heel. There was a split second where I wondered whether my hand would go all the way through the board. I was already moving, though, so I couldn't really stop my momentum...which is a good thing because despite my short-lived doubt, my palm-heel went right through with no trouble. That moment of fear, though, was something else. I was already committed, so I knew that I wouldn't be able to stop myself before either the board broke or my hand did. And even though it was my own hand, I felt a little bit out of control, just for a second. It was kind of scary.

The reason I bring up this second of doubt is because I've been having a lot of those moments in my life, lately: just little split seconds of wondering, "Oh man...can I really do this?" and "will things really work out?". I think it's pretty normal to feel scared and doubtful in situations where you feel out of control. But being committed to pushing my hand all the way through the wood to the other side is what gave me the ability to break it. Had I stopped myself, even if I could have, I might have been injured anyway and I certainly wouldn't have been able to break the board. It's committing and pushing all the way through; seeing an idea or a situation through to completion with all your heart and strength that ultimately gets you to the goal.

And sometimes that requires a split second conquest of fear, as well.
Sometimes that requires the courage to take a risk...or a step in a new direction. Before I broke my board, Sensei told me to breathe, relax, take my time, and exhale on contact. Despite Sensei's great instructions, getting ready to hit the board was scary all the way up to the second before my hand actually made contact with the wood. Breaking the board, however, was easy. Committing was the hard part.

Courage is difficult sometimes, but when you commit; when you find it within yourself to do something even though it scares you, you'll find that your hand is that much more likely to break the board.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


A few days ago, I walked outside my house and noticed that two of the neighborhood kids were on the ground, fighting. I couldn't tell whether they were fighting for real or just for fun, because they're at that age where they like to wrestle (by the way, some of us never grow out of that age) and have just started to get into things like UFC and pro wrestling. As a matter of fact, I see more and more children wearing Tapout T-shirts every day. I look at some of those kids and think, "My gosh, you're so little. Do you even know what UFC is about?"

I don't know whether kids who watch UFC and other kinds of regularly televised martial arts are educated enough by their parents to understand that the stuff they see on TV is extremely dangerous, even when done correctly by professionals. I don't know whether their parents tell them, "Okay, this is really serious stuff and you need to respect the fact that the people on TV are professionals and have been training their bodies to be able to handle the stress of full-body contact and dangerous techniques for a very long time". They probably don't. They probably just turn the TV on and expect their kids to know better than to try it...but it's just like with anything else you show children: if you enjoy something and you make a huge deal out of it, they will naturally want to do it in order to receive your attention and praise. I'm no parent, but I was once a kid and I remember getting REALLY into airplanes because my dad was a pilot and I wanted to have something in common with him.

Anyway, my point is, parents have a responsibility to their children to ensure their safety. Where UFC is concerned, it is especially important to educate children because of how dangerous it can be. Not only that, but martial artists also have some responsibility to those people who don't recognize and respect the danger of  what we do. Knowing how to seriously hurt or even kill someone is a huge responsibility in and of itself. When people who don't know what they're doing attempt to show off the moves that we've been training for years and years to learn and refine, they are a danger to themselves and to others. So if we ever have an opportunity to properly educate those people, we kind of have an obligation to do that nobody gets hurt.

With that, I stopped the fight and found out that it really WAS for real. I made them apologize, and allowed them to get the rest of their anger out on each other under direct supervision and only AFTER teaching them how to grapple properly, without killing each other. Injury was avoided and they both thought it was awesome afterward and wanted to learn more.

The number of Tapout shirts on children will probably only increase, because UFC is popular and engaging. What we want is an increase of shirts and a decrease of ignorance. Together. At the same time. Then children can understand that professional fighting isn't just about kicking the crap out of each other; it's about practice and hard work and honor and respect for the opponent, the art form, and yourself.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Knuckle Choke

Sometimes I feel like I have nothing to write about and sometimes I can think of so many things to write about that it's just not funny. Right now is definitely one of those times; so many things happened today that I could probably write three or four entries and still not be finished! I love it when that happens. It makes me feel like I'm really studying martial arts; not just the techniques but also the stuff that reaches a deeper level.

We did more BJJ today with the knuckle choke. In the knuckle choke, you straddle your opponent while pushing your fist (which is generally a hammer-fist) into their carotid artery. At the same time, your other arm goes around their neck from the underside while you grab your occupied arm (the one pushing on the carotid) with your free hand. Then you squeeze both your arm and your fist together until they tap out...or pass out, depending on whether you're doing it in practice or in a real life situation.

I don't like choke holds. Not at all. I'm an asthmatic, so I naturally fear not being able to breathe. Also, when I was young, somebody who should never have choked me, did. It's pretty difficult for me to not panic when I'm in a choke hold because of that. I don't generally like to admit it because I love pretty much everything about martial arts and I realize that my attitude is absolutely crucial to my learning, but honestly, choke holds scare the hell out of me. All of them...especially the knuckle choke, because it's a hold that's applied when you're on your back, which just so happens to be the position that my real-life assailant choked me in.

The first time Sensei showed us the knuckle choke was last week. I wasn't expecting it to be so alike my experience; nothing else had been, up to that point. I tapped before I ran out of air because it scared me so much. It's different now, though. Earlier today when we were first working on the hold, it really freaked me out. But by the end of class, Sensei had taught me the counter to it and had given me time to practice it.

It still scared me. I was still kind of freaked out. But now that I understand the choke a little better, I don't feel as scared as I did when it was unknown. Also, I don't feel as scared about what happened in real life. It was terrifying then, since I was just a kid, but now I know that if someone tries to do that to me any time in the near future, I'll be at least moderately prepared for it. I'll probably also have somewhat of an advantage over them, provided they aren't carrying a weapon...which may well be a possibility in a real situation.

So this entry is about fear, I guess. I am really afraid of choke holds, but not for the same reasons that I'm afraid of other things in martial arts. It's a real and tangible fear that isn't caused by my ever-present habit of over-thinking things. This really happened to me and it was terrifying. But even though practicing choke holds scares me and makes me remember what happened, I realize that someday I'll have to face that fear and be able to put it aside so that I can move on with my training...and life, as well. Fear can be crippling. It can hold us back and keep us from trusting and learning. In some cases, if fear is great enough, it can destroy inner-peace and keep us from feeling happiness.

I'm starting to realize that. The defense against the guillotine choke from the side is to find a way to get flat on your back and stare your opponent in the face, so that he can't choke you out anymore. At that point, you can gain the upper-hand by thrusting your hips to off-balance him and flipping over him so that you're the one on top. Perhaps to really conquer my fear of choke holds, I have to find a way to stare them in the face and decide that they're not going to bother me anymore.

It's never fun to get choked, granted, but it doesn't have to work me up as much as it does. Because of my traumatic experience, when we work choke holds I am always reminded of what it's like to be helpless at the hands of someone that's trying to hurt me. But I've been working on various choke defenses for a year. I am no longer helpless...and I suppose I should really think about that next time I'm in a hold.

They never tell you how difficult it is to conquer fear. But they also don't mention that it's having the courage to TRY doing what seems difficult that really makes the spirit indomitable.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Close Contact

Alright, I admit it: Jiu-Jitsu is really fun. I usually identify better with fighting styles where you keep your opponent at a distance, such as Taekwondo because I don't want people near me when they're gonna hurt me. I realize, though, that sometimes close contact is unavoidable. I'd like to be able to say, "I'll knock them out from a distance before they get close enough to hurt me", but things don't always work out as expected. If a fight ends up on the ground, BJJ techniques are definitely going to benefit me more than TKD techniques will. Especially if the other person isn't clear-headed, or doesn't know anything about ground fighting.

 Something to consider, though, is whether the person attacking you is bigger or stronger than you. Generally people who are smaller than you won't try to attack you, so it's good to prepare for bigger and stronger opponents. We can't always do this, though, since practicing in the dojo is completely different from being in a situation where you have to use your techniques on someone whose intent is to hurt you however they can.

Anyway, application aside, Jiu-Jitsu is fun. We learned what 'passing the guard' is, yesterday in class. Basically, it's when your opponent's legs are locked around your body and you dig your elbows into their thighs to push them off, then after a groin strike (maybe), you use your knees to hold their arms down so that you're straddling them and now have the upper hand. After passing the guard, Sensei taught us how to get the kimura from the side. Also, he showed us how to make like you're going for the kimura and then to actually lock up the guillotine choke. It was awesome. And tiring. Also, I had to fix my uniform about six times. I asked Sensei if he'd ever seen a match where one of the fighters' pants came off. He said no. I told him, "You might today!".

Anyway, I'm still pretty hesitant about ground fighting. I usually don't like it, but it's growing on me. I can definitely see the application behind it. I'm starting to realize, though, that seeing the application isn't enough for me to truly learn something. I have to enjoy learning it to truly understand it.

I'm definitely getting there.