Saturday 27 March 2010

The Background

What follows is a letter I recently wrote to a former instructor of mine who I trust, respect and value the opinion of. I have come to a cross roads in my training after 17 years (now aged 36), a martial mid life crisis if you will.

Hi Martin,

Hope all is well with you. Great to see you have got some vids on YouTube at last. Seeing your videos got me thinking, dangerous I know. I hope there is some cohesion to my ramblings. I guess I am after your advice as I respect your opinion and honesty.

I started martial arts for many reasons way back in 1993. Fitness, fear, Bruce Lee admiration, the mysticism and romance of the Eastern Arts.

Fear used to be my main reason for training, looking for ways to overcome it. Yet the more I tried, the more, in retrospect I failed. As soon as the contact and psychological pressure got heavy in training, I made excuses and went to look for the next system to make me capable in self defence. It is hard to admit but I think I was looking to get my hands dirty without really getting them dirty. 4 years ago I came back to your class for a couple of weeks and I was amazed at the subtle differences in the 10 year hiatus since I last walked through your doors. But my mind took my focus to grappling as you demoed some amazing transitions on the floor in one of your classes. In my head I thought ‘Thhis what I need to learn, I want to be this good on the floor’. This led me to investigate a tough and mainly enjoyable 3 years in BJJ. I learned essentially in BJJ about the pain and contact of grappling and would quite happily now go and wrestle with anyone as my fear in the sphere has been confronted and understood.

As you know I went along to Lee Heron’s wing chun class for a couple of months hoping to find answers from the stand up perspective. He has some interesting ideas and clearly a well thought out ‘progressive’ system but for me lacked the essence of what I experienced in your class. It is quite hard to put that essence into words, I just know that there was a difference. So I went back to BJJ but fell out of love due to feeling like I was not making progress. For a couple of years I was going 3 times a week, Steph had a baby so I had to trim it down to once a week. It soon became apparent felt like each week was just about maintaining my level and not moving forward as fast as the others.. I got quite good at having a tight defence, giving them a tough hard fight, but got frustrated as I felt I was not getting my blue belt when others were. People who I was dominating in sparring, or some lads were also doing the MMA training and I felt they got promoted as they were part of the Team. But who am I to judge?

I have always felt a great sense of excitement when I started investigating a new system then a sense of letting myself down for not sticking around in anything for more than 3 years. At the moment I am training in tai chi and have been since May last year. I do enjoy it, but feel like I am learning solely a martial art and not a functional martial art.

Over the past few months I have started subscribing to Geoff Thompson’s podcasts and find his words to be very inspirational. He talks about growth through hardship. I recognise that in my martial arts training history, when hardship (physical, psychological) creeps in, I pack it in and move on. On question is, do you think it is something I should think about overcoming at my soon to be middle age? I know in terms of stats, the chances of me being mugged or attacked are slim, and if jumped I would probably drag them to the floor as that is where I would feel safest and most competent. I guess in my path through life I am looking to always grow and learn and conquer my own fears and growing from this.

Then I noticed that you have developed a grading system. This also got me thinking about what have I achieved in 17 years in the martial arts. Well I have a few grading certificates from my first art; Lau Gar Kung Fu with Damo in the dark and distant past. However, I have read that if you train in Geoff Thompson’s art, the grading is earned and not given. I assume from reading your class blog, the same case is for your system. Part of me wants to feel a sense of achievement in my training from specific goals that have been set. Part of me wants to feel a sense of achievement in my training, that might be doing a grading as it is something that is measureable and tangible but also earned. Part of me is also an over analytical perfectionist who trembles with the fear of performing in front of others. Recently, my Head teacher asked me to do a short presentation to the rest of the staff. I found it very hard; sweaty, shaky voice, tunnel vision. Put in front of a room full of kids and not a problem at all. I was pleased that I did it afterwards as next time it will be easier, or more emotionally manageable. The first one will be my reference point. So, I know I am a contradiction: I want to stop being a contradiction. I want to grow from stepping out of my comfort zone but am scarred of stepping out of my comfort zone.

An example of this is the idea of coming back to your class. Part of me feels like a failure for not sticking with it all those years ago, I had such fun with you, Damo and the rest of the guys. Part of me feels like turning of the internal dialogue and just focussing on the now (taichi) and forgetting about growth and fear, but I do find it hard to do. Part of me is excited about the idea of stepping through your doors as I know the lessons I will learn will be hard, challenging and I will fail a lot but will grow from this.

Linked to the above points are some things you mentioned on your YouTube clips and about aggression and relaxation. I want to develop the ability to move with the fluidity, relaxation, confidence and aggression that you and your students demonstrated on the clips. I understand these concepts but am poor at applying them. I rarely was aggressive in BJJ, generally defensive. Used to fight a lot from half and full guard, not in a stifling way, always looking to submit but never have understood how to work aggressively with relaxation and confidence. Perhaps it is because I am scarred of aggression, my own interpretation of aggression is about pain (emotional and physical). Maybe I am confusing anger with aggression? Maybe it is angry aggression that I am scarred of?

After the rambling, I guess the questions are this? Would you think it suitable for me to come back to your class? If not, where do you think I could address and confront and understand my internal questions?

In using so many words I have also demonstrated a lack of understanding of the concept of economy of (typing) motion

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