Sunday, July 1, 2012

Confrontation and a Belt Test

So, I have mentioned before that martial arts are a pretty big part of my life.  Training has affected my life in more ways than I could ever say.  I've actually been wanting to write this for awhile now, but it just hasn't come together the way I want it too.  And then I got distracted with other posts.  But then my boyfriend wrote this really awesome post about his experiences with martial arts, which inspired me to revisit this post and write it the way I wanted it.  By the way if anyone who is reading this, hasn't read his you should!

I started martial arts in the winter of my sophomore year.  Now, if you didn't know me then, at 15 I was shy to the extreme.  I had a group of friends that I was close to, but those were pretty much the only people I would ever say a word to.  Anytime anyone who I didn't know came over to join our group, my voice pretty much disappeared.  As for groups of complete strangers, I was kind of lucky to say a full sentence, even luckier if it was actually audible.  Something just made my brain short out when it came to talking to people.  And as you can probably guess, that meant that I wasn't exactly good with confrontation.  And by not exactly good, I mean I avoided it like the plague.  If someone pushed, I withdrew.  It just was not something that I could handle without absolute panic.  Simple arguments caused me to feel sick and start to shake.  

Clearly this was something I wanted to get over.  I had mentioned before that I had always wanted to learn martial arts, become a combination of Mulan and Buffy ect.  It occurred to me that this could be a great way to overcome my fear of confrontation and accomplish a childhood dream.  So, I enrolled in an Isshynryu Karate class at the YMCA near my house.  Now, even just going to this class was kind of scary. The class held anywhere from 30 to 40 people all at one time, which was a lot of strangers I was going to have to learn to talk to if I wanted to actually learn things.  

I ended up really enjoying class.  I loved learning the techniques and even found a few people that I could have semi-decent conversations with.  However, when it came to actually sparring I had a few more difficulties.  It was really hard to convince myself that it was ok to hit people and to fight back.  In most of my matches, I ended up doing really well at blocking, but when I was told to attack, I just couldn't do it.  It just felt wrong!  However, the more I sparred the more I slowly got over it.  I still wasn't very aggressive when I sparred, but I could hold my own.  In fact by the time I was ready to go to college and leave karate class for a while, I was pretty confident that I had gotten over my fear to a pretty good extent.  I realized how wrong I was on the last day I was in class (talk about ironic).  

So, in this last class, we tried something that I had never tried before.  Each person was given the opportunity to stand in the middle of a circle of black belts holding large pads that we normally used as targets for practicing kicks.   The idea was you would spar a black belt wearing thick padding while people on the outside pushed you back into the center with the pads every time you  stepped back.  It created a really high stress environment and the idea was to see how you would handle being attacked.  Now, I did not want to do this at all, and I didn't have to.  This was a voluntary exercise.  But, I really hate backing out of things because I'm afraid, so I decided to try, despite the dread I could feel growing in my stomach.  And I can't lie, it was pretty much as awful as I thought it was going to be.  What I was not expecting was that I would get off to the side after I completed it and basically have a panic attack.  I was pretty disappointed in myself I'm not going to lie.  Not to mention, it was a pretty bad way to end my time in karate.  

Fast forward to college, I still didn't want to give up on martial arts.  I heard a friend of mine talking about her experiences in a Jiu Jitsu class.  It sounded really cool so I decided to give it a try.  I can't lie though, when she talked about how intense it was, all I could think of was my last karate experience.  I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to handle it, and I would end up freaking out again.  

However, I would consider going to that class one of the best decisions I have ever made.  Again, I can't lie, a lot of what we do kind of terrifies me.  This was my first experience learning how to throw people to mats and being thrown there myself.  And I still have to remind myself sometimes to let go of the panic that builds every time something happens that is a little bit too aggressive for me.  I even got over my fear of panicking, coincidentally by more panicking.  

Fast forward to right before my first belt test.  I am pretty well prepared for my techniques, and I am comfortable sparring because of karate, however, there is one more part to the test that is kind of scaring me.  It is Randori, which is the self-defense portion of the test.  This meant standing in the center of a circle of other students, who would take turns running up and attacking.  I would have to defend myself from each of them without freaking out like I did the last time I was in a  high pressure situation. I was really afraid that I was going to really freak out during my test.  I ended up doing a practice Randori before my actual test.  At least, in theory I did- it didn't last very long.  The first attacker grabbed me in a front bearhug, which I did not remember the defense for.  (Although, to be fair, that was the day I was supposed to be reviewing bearhugs).  Anyway, if you don't know a specific defense you are supposed to make something up, or do something to get away.  However, the pressure of not remembering, everyone staring at me, and the fact that I was completely terrified meant that the only I did was freeze.  Luckily, they took pity on me and stopped the practice.  

I was understandably really scared for my test after that.  I didn't know how I was going to be able to handle that level of confrontation.  Again, however, stubbornness kicked in and I just decided that I wasn't going to let myself panic, it just couldn't happen.  And somehow, I got through it.  After Randori, I was shaking, but I was ok.  I was able to handle the confrontation.  This was the first indication to myself that I was beginning to really move past my fear. 

It's definitely not perfect yet.  I still freak out whenever I have to confront someone, and a lot of what we do in Jiu Jitsu still makes me nervous when I try it for the first time.  But I can definitely say that I am better for joining class and not giving up on martial arts. 


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