On the 20th of January this year, Dave Hedges of Wild Geese Fitness Training wrote “Consider this my official notice of retirement from Kettlebell Sport. I am at ease with my decision, even though it didn't come easily, but from here on I will train only in the manner that will keep me awesome. Not broken.” I LOVED that sentence. I loved it so much that it has remained etched it my mind ever since. How did it change my training, though? It didn’t. Not a bit. It got buried in a heap of statements that, whilst sounding very epic, didn’t make half as much sense and didn’t help me at all. Again, I am fairly typical in this. If you look at a lot of martial artsy facebook pages they are cluttered with many a mighty meme about how one must push on and endure. One of my favourites is “Sweat dries, blood clots, bones heal; suck it up, Princess!” My immediate response to it was “but cartilage and ligaments are gone forever…” which is technically true, but just isn’t very martial-arty.
Monday, 2 September 2013
My self-defence sucks. 30.08.13.
A few weeks ago I broke myself. This is not a rare event in my life; however, this time I broke myself so badly that I actually resorted to looking for medical help. The NHS being its usual procrastinating self, I had to go private. Someone recommended a guy; the moment he told me that I was “letting down thousands of years of evolutionary efforts by standing like an ape” I knew we were going to get along.
Between insulting me and causing me horrendous pain, he said something that struck a chord, along the line of: “it’s ok to do stuff that’s bad for you, as long as most of the time you do what’s good for you”. The problem is that he wasn’t talking about my diet, spending too long in front of a computer, wearing stupid shoes or any of the things I know are bad yet still do. He was talking about my training.
I have to admit that my first instinct was to reject his statement. Exercise is GOOD! Being active is GOOD! Then I recalled that I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t sore, stiff or tired. I have been bouncing from injury to injury for months now, and I’m not alone in this. Training sessions these days remind me of the post office queue on pension payment day: “is that a new knee support? It looks great!” “I found a new osteo. I can nearly move my shoulder now.” “What was that clicking? Your hip?” We are largely a bunch of walking wounded. This isn’t restricted to my gym, either. One of our guys recently went to a seminar where the participants were asked if anyone had any relevant injuries. Two thirds of the group raised their hand.
This would be bad enough if we were carrying out something considered a high-risk sport, such as mountain boarding, street luge or Crossfit. What makes it particularly ironic is that we’re studying self-defence.
If you ask around, martial artists in general have a reputation either for determination or stupidity; that is, they think they’re determined, and the rest of the world thinks they’re stupid. Sometimes I struggle to blame the rest of the world. I mean, if you think about it, it really doesn’t make much sense. I am studying self-defence and in the process of doing so I have accumulated more injuries than I have ever done actually defending myself. I appreciate that a single successful gun disarm may make any amount of pulled ligaments worth it, but the truth is that, luckily, for most of us our studies will never be put into practice outside the dojo. In the meanwhile, we’re accumulating damage.
I am not suggesting for a moment that my dojo or my style are culpable. They're not. In fact, they're the only dojo I've ever been to where the self-defence curriculum for children includes healthy eating, along with many essential life skills. They give me good information which I routinely ignore or misuse. I am, however, not unique in this. It seems to be a cultural thing. Not all martial arts are alike, obviously, but there does seem to be a mental current through this world which makes perfect sense until you actually think about it. It’s all about pushing yourself well beyond your comfort zone; about achieving what you thought was impossible; about increasing your strength and determination by doing what you thought you couldn’t or wouldn’t. Rory Miller, as per usual, says it best: “…all valuable training happens outside the comfort zone. Physically, mentally, emotionally you have to push the envelope. It's gotta hurt.” However, he also says “Train hard, don't train stupid. Injuries make you less survivable.” The fact that he felt he needed to say that is a reflection on the people he’s talking to. It is, sadly, a necessary statement.
That’s ok, though, because I’m not a martial artist; not really. I’m purely into self-protection. I’m so into self-protection that for most of last year I spent more money on my training than on food, and my training isn’t that expensive. So yeah, I’ve been trying to make my body stronger and faster by pushing it with training whilst feeding it on cheap crap. I’m asking it to perform whilst denying it the nutrition it needs. How is this self-protection? Like many of my fellow students, I am learning to defend myself against violence, but not against poor personal care: excess drinking, bad eating, smoking, sleep deprivation and/or exercising past breaking point are all too common.
This really got me thinking about how narrowly most of us look at self-protection. I know a lot of people who live and breathe it at the dojo, yet operate in a completely different frame of mind in their daily lives. They could comfortably fight off an attacker, but are harassed by their partners, disrespected by their children, exploited by their bosses, bullied by their co-workers, guilt-tripped by their parents, and the list goes on. They can dispatch a mugger without a second thought, but cannot find the courage to speak up if they are shortchanged at the local shop.
I remember the time I stayed in a motel for a self-defence seminar. They failed to service the room during the day, which meant not only no clean towels but a complete lack of caffeine; yes, it was an emergency situation. On the way out, when they asked me if I had had a nice stay, I mentioned the problem. I didn’t make a fuss but I did tell them that I was disappointed. On the way out, the INSTRUCTOR told me how impressed he was with me, because he would not have been able to do that. The man can kill people with his bare hands. He is not worried about facing deranged or armed attackers, but he can’t find it in himself to report a minor issue to a receptionist. Erm, excuse me while I reassess my opinion of you... The mind boggles.
I recently had another light bulb moment reading “Horrible Stories I Told My Children” by R A Ellis, who is no other than Rory Miller, again. Now, I admit to being grossly biased as my little world is illuminate by sunlight emanating directly from his nether regions; however, this is quite simply one of the cleverest books for parents I have ever read, as well as one of the funniest. Check this out:
“Free parenting advice: to make this work, you must never give in after the fact. If you want a child to be a good adult, they must learn that actions and decisions have consequences, both good and bad. If those consequences are negotiable, then all behaviour is negotiable and right and wrong become matters of feelings and selfish whims. Remember it is your duty to win any battle of wills with your child, unless you are losing on purpose for a greater lesson.”
Ok, so this should be Introduction to Parenting 101. However, if I wanted to organise a convention of parents I personally know who stick to this all the time, I know that I could do so in a telephone box. What this book showed me is that Miller’s behaviour as a parent appears to be consistent to his beliefs as a self-defence expert. He walks the talk, and he walks it throughout his life. I know that I can’t claim the same, which is great. It gives me a really significant goal to aim for.
I am still not entirely sure what brought me into martial arts. What do know, though, is that I want my self-protection to be something that runs throughout my life, something that applies to every aspect of it. I decided that I was worth protecting; now I just have to apply this principle consistently, in all settings. I can’t see the point in learning flying back kicks but being unable to defend myself from everyday events, petty interpersonal conflict or my own stupidity or negligence. I can’t see the point of being able to control a fight, but live a life largely outside of my control.
 Minus the faint smell of wee-wee, thankfully.
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8up6A4QesU, https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zJ3HOY27_10, and countless other horrors. Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.