Saturday, August 7, 2010

If All Else Fails...

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.


  1. Great blog, Felicia! I love that adage at the end, too. While we've never traded slaps before, our sparring can be pretty brutal, even with foot and hand pads, mouthpieces, and headgear.

    What I've learned from getting kicked and punched in the face, head, and stomach, is that the mental discipline is every bit as important, yea, perhaps even MORE important, than the physical discipline.

    In the middle of the fracas, if we can keep cool and relaxed, then all of our options are open to us.

    When we are angry or let our fear get the best of us and go into a blind panic, all of our training goes straight out the window.

    When we are able to stay cool and relaxed, we can begin to exercise our choices, whether we choose to run away, or choose to see the opening where we can throw a block, arm bar, or counter with a kick, punch, or a throw.

  2. If you could have only been a fly on the wall when Sensei said we were going to slap each other! Everyone's mouth flew open like we were about to catch flies - no joke. I honestly thought he was kidding for a split second. Everyone had a hard time getting started, I learned (when I talked to them after class). It was not an easy thing to do at all...

    I've been punched in the face before (in the ring) and it was a bit easier than being slapped to me. It was more difficult to stay cool, calm and collected when slapped for sure.

    You're right - choices are important to recognize. Hard to do that when we are blinded by rage or anger. Mind, body, spirit...

    Thanks for stopping by :-)

  3. The phrase 'tough love' came into my mind when I read this. It must have been a really unpleasant experience for everyone but paradoxically it sounds like your sensei really cares about you all! It's only when we are 'pressure tested' in these ways that we discover what we are really made of and whether we are really adequately prepared to defend ourselves. Well done, sounds like you passed the test!

  4. Interesting.

    I agree with you Felicia...getting punched in the face sparring is a lot different than getting slapped in the face. A slap in the face has shock value. When we teach womens self-defense we discuss the possibility of being slapped in the face. The attacker is trying to unbalance the person on a physical, psychological and emotional level.

  5. Hi, Sue...Sensei puts us in the pressure cooker every now and again. Sometimes, when we spar, we hafta go a round with him before we leave. He's not trying to kill us, but he doesn't "give" us anything either. I understand what he's trying to have us learn, but it's hard NOT to look at him like he's lost his mind sometimes. Not sure if I passed - I was just trying to do what he asked for so we could stop the slapfest!

    Michele, I've heard that about attacks - particularly those against women. The shock is the thing and I can totally see how it unbalances you; I guess I should be appreciative that my first ever slap to the face came from a dojo mate, huh?!? Just so long as we don't have to do it again any time soon!

  6. Discipline is remembering what you want. Adversity is the filter that helps separate what you think you want from what you really want.

    Nice blog.

  7. Thanks for stopping by, Rick :-)