It aint pretty.

August 11, 2011

As we are gearing up for test day at the end of this month, a part of every class turns into a testing environment. You don’t know when you’ll be called to demonstrate a technique, you don’t know who will be attacking you or with what, and you don’t have time to prepare for it when it happens. Sifu will pick someone, throw out a knife or a club or call out an attack, and tell you who to deliver it to. And then you go. No bow, no setup, no nothing. You defend yourself or you get hit. This puts us all on the spot, induces a certain amount of anxiety, it’s a heck of a lot of fun, and I’m here to tell you, it aint pretty.

[Minor edit: In all fairness, the upper belts often make their defense against even surprise attacks look pretty – I am only referring to myself when I say….it aint pretty!]

When we have time to set ourselves up and we know what attack to expect, we can make things look pretty. We can gauge critical distance and get in the right stance, we wait for our partner to bow, signalling that they are ready for the attack. We can perform the trick, end it with practiced ad-libs, and we can make it pretty. When someone is coming at you swinging a club at your head with no warning, it changes everything. We don’t have time to think, okay, it’s an overhead swing so I’m going to X-block and step left and bring his swing down to an armbar, then take him off of his center line and lay him out. Instead it’s more like, “Oh fuck! Club swinging at my head!” And then we do whatever it takes to not get hit. In my case, I was not set up to step left as in #1 left club, so I stepped right and blocked the arm swinging the club with my left, while I took the attacker by the back of the neck with my right hand and forced a clumsy but effective helicopter. Was it the right trick? Absolutely not, for the attack (club swinging straight down). Did I get my head knocked off? Nope.

We’re also doing multiple rounds of sparring each class. Some fellow students are testing for their student black sashes, which is an awesome thing, and it’s going to be a good test for them. Accordingly, they are being pushed the hardest of all – they get no breaks or down time during class, while us underbelts get to swap out sparring with them in 1 minute, punishing rounds. Not that we don’t get punished ourselves – the higher our rank, the more we are called on to do, which is as it should be, but everyone is being pushed. I’ve found that Tai Chi breathing exercise (#1 breathing) helps tremendously when I am completely winded and gasping for air. Instead of taking huge, fast, hyperventilating breaths, I at first tried to just slow my breathing with long, slow, deep breaths, but I soon realized that this was doing little to slow my heart rate, and it exacerbated my feeling of anxiety. Lately, I’ve found that those slow, deep breathes combined with the movements from #1 breathing have a completely different result, in that I am able to concentrate on the movement and bring my heart rate down much more quickly and easily. Maybe it’s just a fluke, but it sure worked for me last night. Going from 60 to 0 instantly seems more taxing and difficult for me than going from 60 to 25 and just cruising, if that makes any sense at all.

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One Response to “It aint pretty.”

  1. Nick said

    Sounds like a fun reaction drill to see what you would due. In the past when we have done this we could do any self defense for a club attack that we want. Most of the time it ended up with every one doing a basic defense. Well this makes perfect sense because we have practiced the basics the most and usually they are more effective and efficient.

    As far as breathing goes I usually close my mouth and only breath through my nose when trying to slow my breathing and heart rate. You can breath in fast with your month but with your nose you can only breath at a slower pace. It will force your breathing back to normal. Also keeping a fast but normal pace is a very good way to control your breathing rather then a fast, slow, fast, slow pace. This will keep your hearth rate steady and not up and down.

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