Friday, April 15, 2011

Facing Up

When a fight goes to the ground and your opponent is on top of you, you should never, never, never end up on your stomach. Being stuck in that position causes all kinds of problems. It exposes the back of your head and your neck, it keeps you from being able to see or predict your opponent's actions and, worst of all, it makes it impossible for you to defend yourself or react in any way to what's going on.

Instead of rolling onto your stomach, you should turn your body so that you're either on your back or on your side. You should face your opponent dead on. Not only can you see him now, but you can also protect yourself and find ways to turn the situation around. In general, on your back you have more control and more options.

Of course, rolling onto your stomach might be easier and might even seem like an instinctual thing to do...but it doesn't help you. It only leaves you exposed and vulnerable to attack.

I think it's important to face up to the things that take us to the ground in life, as well. It's a scary thing having to face an opponent that has the obvious advantage of being on top. Acknowledging that there's someone on top of you means that you have to fight; that you have to trap a foot and an arm and exert the energy it takes to turn the situation around. Sometimes that's hard to do because we don't feel like we have the energy...or maybe we're just afraid of the guy on top and we don't want to have to look and acknowledge that he's there.

But the alternative is to leave ourselves exposed and in a position where we can get hurt. And that's not really an option. It takes courage, I've found, to choose to look at your attacker just like it takes courage to face up to a problem that is holding you down. But we all have that kind of courage inside of us. It's hard to harness sometimes, but if there's one thing that I've learned from training it's that we often have to do hard things--things that are uncomfortable, painful, and even downright scary.

That's martial arts...and the only way to improve is to practice those hard, uncomfortable, painful, scary things. In the long run, we're training to be better people through and through, and that journey makes doing hard things worth it.

In life, we're training to be better people, too, hopefully. It's hard to have the courage and wisdom to stare your problems in the face and tackle them head-on, but it's better to have some control while lying on your back and facing your attacker than to have no control while blind and exposed. We want to always have options. Facing up to your problems gives you more options than denying them or running from them ever will.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bacon and Shrimp

On Wednesday, Sensei said something that incapacitated me with laughter for a few minutes. We were working on 'shrimping' which is the technical term in Jiu-Jitsu for making space between you and your opponent when he has you in side control or in a full mount.

Here's how shrimping works: you stretch your body out as far as it can go with your hands pointed above your head and then, very quickly, you scrunch up like a shrimp with your knees to your chest and your arms tucked in and use the push-off afterward to propel yourself forward and out of your opponent's reach. You can even use their body to push off, along with your feet. It's hard to describe what it looks like in words, but there's a reason that it's call 'shrimping'. Shrimp are all curled into themselves. You have to curl into yourself as well and then quickly push yourself back into a straight position in order to get the momentum needed to free yourself from the mount. Sometimes you even have to do it a few times to get out!

Anyway, we were practicing shrimping across the room and suddenly, out of nowhere, Sensei yelled, "BACON! SHRIMP!" And I couldn't help it; I laughed so hard. I guess that when you're straightening yourself out, you look like a slab of bacon...versus when you tuck in and look like a shrimp. It was so funny, mostly because I wasn't expecting it.

The point of this entry is that martial arts can be a very serious thing, especially with the responsibility of knowing how to seriously injure people. But when people ask me why I do it, I tell them it's because I think it's fun. And that's 100% true. The self-defense and discipline and physical conditioning is great, but it's all just a bonus. The real reason I practice and study so hard is because it's so much fun. I probably laugh more during karate than I do during other activities that I'm involved in...not because I don't respect the discipline or the seriousness of what we're learning, but because I'm having a good time doing what I love to do.

It's important to do what we like. Other things are important too, but if we aren't laughing at least a few times a day, something isn't right. There are a lot of opportunities in martial arts training to be serious, and appropriately so...but there are at least as many opportunities to laugh. It's good for us to experience those as well.