Exercising Perfect Control

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.

When Making Claims

I’ve been aware of something over the last year or so and particularly sensitive as the sitting president has amped up his psychologically curious rhetoric in relation to North Korea. It’s around truth and lies. Somewhere along the way I became sensitive to truth. There is a part of me that is an investigator. I’m nosey. I’m curious. I’m interested. I’m also discerning.

The math adds up to me, often, knowing when people are telling truth and knowing when they aren’t. This isn’t a sense I get as much as a knowing that I’m cultivating. I don’t actively nourish it but I don’t avoid being as open to truth as possible. I’ve been especially aware of this over the last couple years, naming it as a part of myself, embracing it as one of those qualities that are mine.

One of the noticings I’ve had is about exaggeration. I see it on a small line or small path toward lying. At times, I’m pretty fun with this noticing. I don’t take myself as seriously as I used to. Because I’m a jokester with friends and because I can be essentially sarcastic (Pray for me about that), I’m can use exaggeration! Still, I do have a thing about truth, so I’m suspicious when a person can’t simply state a truth. Why equivocate? Why hedge? Why stretch? And I don’t intend these questions when we’re talking about jokes.

The way I see it, exaggerating is a precursor to lying. So is the regular withholding of truth. In other words, there are two times when you are well on the path is becoming a liar. First, you stretch beyond what is real. Second, you keep to yourself what is real rather than share it. I’m open to being wrong about this basic path.

Of course, there is an alternate path that we walk. Truth is the destination. Reality is the neighborhood. Knowledge of self in relation to others is the result. That path is about being truthful (being a person who says and does true things) and not being a liar (being a person who exaggerates…deceives…lies).

When making claims about the world, it’s easier to spot a lie. In yourself, in someone else. What’s hard and what requires maturing discipline is the grace-filled ability to withhold calling someone a name. “You’re a liar” is very different from “You told me the opposite of what was happening.” One is a characterization and is judgmental. The other is an observation that implies a kind of interest.

I don’t think all judgment is bad and that is another post. But I think observations carry much more room for two parties listening to each other.