Sunday, December 26, 2010

Keep Fighting

This is a miscellaneous entry.

Martial arts is about a lot of things. It's debatable (and has been debated by many, many people over the years) what the main focus of martial arts is, and it obviously has a different meaning to every person who studies it. But when it comes down to the skin and bones of martial arts, we who study it are learning to fight. We are learning to defend and to protect and to be prepared, but we are also learning to attack. We are also learning to strike when it really counts; when our safety and lives are in danger.

Sometimes we are in danger of our lives outside of the physical. Sometimes the situations in our lives can bring us to our knees. Sometimes they can surround us, corner us, outnumber us, outsmart us, surprise us, strike low, fight dirty, break bones, and generally break all of the rules of fair fighting. As a matter of fact, life doesn't play by any rules. Life doesn't fight fair. It strikes hard and fast directly at vital points...a formidable opponent.

But in the dojo, do we stay down on the mat when we get hit? No. We get back up.
On a cold, wet street full of assailants, do we stay on the ground and let them continue to beat us? No. We get back up. And when they don't fight fair, we go for the quickest, most effective strikes we can think of. Strikes to vital points like the neck. The eyes. The groin. The knees. We finish it and we finish it quickly.

When life throws us on the ground, it is exactly like hitting the mat in the dojo. It is the same situation as the one in the street. No matter how hard it is, no matter how much it hurts...we get back up. We train ourselves to defend. We train ourselves to protect. But most of all, we train ourselves to fight.

I'm missing some people right now who fought, but eventually let life beat them. It's hard to be alive, sometimes. It's really, really hard...for everybody. Life doesn't fight fair.

Hit the mat...hit the ground...hit rock bottom...but then get back up. Because the fight is worth it. It's always worth it.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Testing Jitters

About a year ago, when I tested for my orange belt (I was jump-promoted through the white and yellow ranks because of the four-month time-frame between when I began studying again and my test), I was so nervous that I could hardly think straight. I remember that during the test, I mixed up my inside and outside blocks!

I tested for green belt three times because the first two times I was sick and had to stop for health purposes, so by the time my third test came, I was less nervous and more ready for it.

I have about four hours until my blue belt test. I'd like to be able to say that the old nervousness has gone away now and that I am completely confident in my ability to advance, but there's some serious nervous energy coursing through me right now. I'm going to have to really work hard to clear my head so that I don't forget what I'm doing.

The testing environment is kind of interesting because you don't get to practice your techniques a few times before being tested. You have to be able to do them on the spur of the moment, as accurately and effectively as possible. And with nervous energy, nonetheless. Sounds a lot like what a real fight is like, to me. Perhaps that's the point. What good is self-defense if you can't apply it when you need to?

Anyway, testing jitters strike again! We'll see how it goes tonight!

Update: Made it! :)

Friday, December 10, 2010

"That's Martial Arts!"

My last post introduced Bruce, the third degree Shotokan black belt who is now training with us at the Refinery. He's from Iran and he just moved to the states a few weeks ago. Being a Shotokan guy, he trained at a traditional school for a long time before coming here. He told me that he spent five years just working on basic blocks and stances before his sensei actually taught him how to fight.

Talk about patience!

Anyway, our class last night was very heavy on sparring. It was the most intense night I've had in my training so far. Not only was it incredibly fun and fast-paced, but I also feel like I learned a lot. There's such a big mental factor to sparring that people who don't practice martial arts probably don't see. Watching Bruce and Sensei spar each other was very interesting. There were long periods of time where they just stared at each other--neither one of them attacking. When they did attack, their moves were precise and calculated...and were countered almost immediately by the other person! Very interesting.

The injuries were all minor. Everybody took a groin-shot last night. Everybody jammed toes and fingers. I took a knife-hand to the back of the neck, which put me on the ground. I thought I was alright for a minute, but then my vision went blurry and I got dizzy and fell over. Within about five to ten minutes, after checking me out, Bruce said, "Ahhh, you're fine!" And he helped me up, saying, "That's martial arts!".

It's funny that he said that because there are so many things about martial arts that you could apply that phrase to. Injury is one thing. With a room full of people practicing dangerous techniques, you're bound to get hurt sometimes. Luckily, the body is very resilient and most of the time injuries are minor. They just hurt a lot. That's martial arts.

Another thing is being mentally and physically tired. Last night, by the time our third hour began, I felt like I was going to fall over (that's about the time that the adrenaline from sparring wore off). Instead of leaving, though, I stayed and continued to train despite the fatigue. Sometimes we have to do things when we're tired. That's martial arts.

One more thing that I'll mention that we can apply Bruce's phrase to is feeling that our technique isn't where it should be and that it needs to be improved. Most of the time when I feel that way it's because I haven't been able to apply something that Sensei has taught me, or because I've been severely beaten in sparring. I hate to admit to this, but I am competitive and I can be a sore loser. I try not to be too prideful because that's not what martial arts is about, but I always feel like I should do better when someone completely destroys me in sparring. It humbles me and makes me try harder to improve. It helps, however, to remember that there will always be someone who is stronger/faster/more experienced than I am. And because they are stronger/faster/more experienced, there are countless invaluable things I can learn from them. That's martial arts.

There are a lot of situations in training that can be uncomfortable or just downright painful. I can see how pain, fatigue, and occasional feelings of inadequacy might really turn people off to an activity, but I think it says a lot about the martial artist's character and spirit that he continues to train despite these things; that he is able to look past the pain of the temporary toward his goal of constant improvement. Meeting that goal is worth the cost. Lots of things in life are that way. Sometimes we just have to push through the pain and adversity and continue to get back up.

That's not just martial arts. That's life.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Today was very interesting. We have a new student at our school who is a third degree black belt in Shotokan. The first time I saw him, I thought he was Sensei's friend and that he was here to show us something cool about whatever style he specialized in, but it turns out that he's just someone who heard about our school and who wants to train here. It's exciting! I got the pleasure of working with him on a side-kick drill today and not only is he very, very skilled, but he is also very patient and he trains with a quiet intensity that really inspires me.

To be honest, at first I was kind of intimidated by him because he is SO senior to me. It might take me a few classes to really get used to that. I shouldn't be so freaked out, but Bruce is very intense...and so am I. The problem with that is that sometimes I get so intense that I don't think as clearly as I should. It may take me some time to learn how to calm down a little bit while in his presence. Intensity builds off of itself, but it won't help me at all if I'm not able to keep a clear head.

Anyway, it's always exciting to have new classmates. Every person you work with has something to teach you, whether they're six-years-old and just beginning or whether they're a third degree black belt. I am really looking forward to learning from Bruce. He is a great example of how martial arts is a journey. Bruce is very, very advanced, but he's continuing to study. He's not stopping. He hasn't arrived. He will keep learning and improving, until who knows when.

A lot of advanced students do that. They keep learning and growing. It's not a new concept, but now it is truly impressive to me. I am inspired by Bruce. I can't wait to see how we'll learn from each other.

And I am really, really, REALLY looking forward to class next week!