My training partner, Ed, says that we martial artists are strange people. We train to learn all we can about our respective arts only to hope that we never, ever have to actually use the techniques we work so hard to understand. We train through sicknesses and most definitely in health. Classes are a given when "richer" is par for the course - you know, when our jobs are secure and finances are sound - but when things get tight (cough* POORER * cough), we do what we can to figure out how the basic necessities - food, clothing, shelter and training fees - can be covered. The masters we train under and with have been studying their respective arts for most of their lives and seem bound and determine to train until their bodies just can't anymore - meaning they are being placed in their coffins or urns. Sounds a lot like a marriage, doesn't it?
And just like any partnership, life on the mat isn't always rainbows and waterfalls; sometimes you give more than you get, do things you don't enjoy or get pushed to - or even past - "the line." In the training hall, that means you may teach more than you learn, tear apart a form you absolutely loathe for a whole class or spar a senior who forces you to step outside of your comfort zone and thoroughly kicks your booty. Hard to look forward to that, huh?
Thursday night in class, Sensei had us pair up, face our partners and slap them in the face. My partner was a 16-yr-old white belt who started training about two months ago. Because my son is also 16, his face is the one I saw every time I reached out to slap my uke. And it most certainly sucked.
But then it was his turn to hit me. In the face. Over and over again. Yeah, temperance was my lesson for the evening as I found out that it's a difficult thing to keep your temper in check when someone is popping you in the face. I'd never been slapped before - and I quickly found that I hated it.
While my cheeks were getting redder and I was trying to ward off the instinct to block the slap, a quote I heard boxer Mike Tyson say once echoed in my mind: "Everyone thinks they can fight - until they get hit."
That, I think, was exactly the point Sensei was trying to make: You have to learn what is it to be hit in order to know what your response will be. A slap in the face doesn't necessarily warrant breaking someone's arm or choking them until they pass out - although it may feel like it while your face is stinging. Sometimes, getting hit, holding your temper and looking like you weren't phased may be all the fighting you need to do.
And trust me when I tell you that, even in the most optimal situation - say, a sparring round or training session where you are on top of your game - you will get hit. As Sensei M used to say, martial arts is not knitting but a live, contact environment. In the controlled setting of the ring or the training hall, your partner isn't trying to knock your lights out - but a "real" situation is a totally different story.
As fellow blogger Charles C. Goodin put it in a recent post, no karate technique is 100% effective 100% of the time. Only avoidance is.
The adage my training partners and I hear at the end of class about it most often is this:
Avoid before block...
Block before injure...
Injure before maim...
Maim before kill...
Kill before die...
For all life is precious.
But notice what it all starts with.
If all else fails, walk (or run!) away - and live to avoid another day.