I got hit hard in a class the other day. It was an illegal target–my chin–but I also dropped my guard. I was stunned, turned in a circle to shake passed the hit, indicated to my partner that I was okay, and returned to the work.
In sparring class, there’s a lot of partner work, and to complicate the learning, we always switch partners. Depending on how many learners are in the class that day, we get to spar with several partners in an hour.
Working with partners of varied abilities, skill levels, and histories with giving and receiving contact allows us all to moderate our approach, speed, pace, and more importantly, energy. If someone’s energy is low, you learn to lower yours. If someone’s energy is high, well, you might catch up!
In the dojo, we don’t fight, a subtle word that can be used by the uninitiated. Dojos are “places to learn.” There we practice. Martial arts is a practice. I’m trying to live this in front of my oldest son who is at another dojo, little fighter that he is. It’s not like I go to Thousand Waves to fight. I don’t go to learn to fight. Frankly, I go to learn how not to.
I’m used to fighting. After all, I’m a black man. I grew up on the South side of Chicago. And I was born fighting. I mean that literally. I spent the first six weeks of my life fighting without stopping. I came home from a neonatal intensive care unit tired of fighting.
In the dojo though, I learn how to be as non-violent as possible. I go to self-defense classes and I’m moving through our curriculum. I learn how to fight, but my personal spiritual integration is in the other direction. And sparring is a window into that. You take contact. You get hit. You give contact. You adjust so that you are learning how to meet the challenge. “How do I give as little power as possible, especially since I’m not threatened in our dojo? I’m safe and my partner is helping me. We’re here to learn.”
Our senior-most teacher said to us once that sparring is an exercise in perfect control. I love that. It’s true. You use as much power as needed for the situation. So for me, I’m learning how to yell when my inclination may be to punch. I’m learning to walk away when I want to yell. I’m learning to hit when I’d rather hit, kick, stomp, and rip (…a combination technique, if you will).
When one act accomplishes the need, don’t do two things. Practice perfect control. This is becoming my way of being, especially since I started training three and half years ago. If I can do one thing and end a situation, I will. If I have to act in three ways, I will not act in six ways. I’ll both reserve my energy and I’ll practice perfect control. That’s the learning.
While in sparring class, after turning in my “damn-that-hurt-circle,” I knew my jaw would have more to say later. I had to eat after class and it took a long time to chew on one side of my mouth. I muttered how old I was, too old in my view to start getting used to being hit in the face. Two days later, my teeth recognized themselves again and I was cool. Then, I wrote this post as a memorial.
I’m in class tomorrow. Keep my guard up. When hit, monitor energy. Keep practicing perfect control. If you see me walking around with a rear guard up, it’s because I’m practicing. Encourage me. Don’t tease me.
I may not be a good student, in that moment, if you do.