I went to my first “real” martial arts class this evening. It was the “Adult Self-Defense” course, and combines aspects of karate, kickboxing, and grappling, at least, according to my instructor; what I saw today looked mostly like karate. Surprisingly, I not only enjoyed it, but quite a lot of my Tai Chi practice carried over, and the instructor noticed.
My Tai Chi instructor is the lead instructor for all forms at my martial arts academy. So he teaches Tai Chi and the other self-defense classes. But after the warm-up, which was led by one of the student black-belts, most of the students went straight to sparring, led and supervised by the lead instructor. But, since I was the only beginner, I got to have almost the entire time one-on-one with the other instructor who I had never met.
Sorry for how cryptic that last paragraph is, but I am trying to get across the idea without using their names because I honestly don’t know them. We don’t talk much during Tai Chi class, and during the class tonight, everyone was calling the instructors “sir”. So I followed suit, but it means I can’t use their names.
So, back to my one-on-one. My instructor was probably in his mid-forties, a little taller than me, and he outweighed me by about 25lbs. Not that any of that mattered. If we had been actually sparring, he would have knocked me on my butt. However, he was extremely patient, helpful and encouraging. I really liked him, and, as I said before, I enjoyed what we were working on.
What did we work on? Simply, the fundamentals. First, the three stances: offensive stance, defensive stance, and stable stance. Attack stance opens up all your limbs as potential weapons, facing your opponent head on. Defensive stance turns side-on to the opponent and presents a smaller target, making blocking significantly easier while also limiting striking power. Then the Stable stance: facing your opponent, hands up guarding your face, with all your force pointing forward and your center of gravity very low. This stance makes it almost impossible for your opponent to land a strike on your upper body, makes it totally impossible for your opponent to push you backwards, and makes it easy for you to push your opponent away from you, getting him/her out of your face and allowing you to power your way out of a corner or tight spot.
Within each stance we worked on the types of strikes and blocks that are possible within that stance. They were very basic, with the complexity coming all from variations on each simple basic strike, and from the timing. On the offensive there were three main hand strikes. A lead-hand strike, a rear-hand strike, and round punch (can’t remember the exact name). There are also three offensive kicks. A front kick, a side kick and a round kick. In the defensive stance there are two kicks and really only two hand strikes, but there are many variations. More important to the defensive stance are couple different guarding positions. The stable stance was the easiest for me to learn, I think. Out of the stable stance there are a couple hand strikes, and two kicks, one to which I seemed to be very well suited (so said the instructor).
My Tai Chi made the stances much easier for me to learn because they were simply a variation on positions I use every day. My Tai Chi also made me better at staying balanced, and gave me a good foundation for my kicks. I seemed to be particularly competent at front kicks, probably because they are very much like the heel kicks movement in my 24-form Tai Chi style.
You remember the post I wrote where I talked a bit about how our expectations for an experience can color the experience itself (like a self-fulfilling prophecy)? Well I think tonight could have been one of those occurrences. But fortunately, I was able to really clear my mind prior to the class, and I went into it with absolutely zero expectations. I didn’t think I was going to be a prodigy. But I also didn’t think I would be an utter failure. And because I was going just as a “try-out” and everyone was aware that I was a new student, I didn’t feel like they had any expectations of me either. Many of the other students were quite friendly, introducing themselves and making an effort to speak to me during the break and after the class. I also had the benefit of a patient, encouraging, and talented instructor. It was all three of these things, I think, that made tonight’s experience so enjoyable.
I was absolutely drenched with sweat 20 minutes in, and I got a little sort of breath during the warm up as we were doing jumping-jacks, running in place, and doing these side-to-side hops which were brutal; but I actually didn’t feel all that out of shape or stiff. I guess all my exercising has paid off.
Aside from a brief period of time during my senior year of high school, I am more in shape now than I have been the entire rest of my life. Which is pretty amazing since the normal tendency for CF patients is to experience a marked decline by the time they reach my age. In fact, it is often the mid-twenties when lung transplants are required. I feel incredibly grateful that instead of thinking about a transplant I am thinking about martial arts! To me, that is just a sign that as I continue to focus my attention on the goal of optimum wellness, I will grow in all sorts of unexpected ways.
Besides the basic footwork and striking options, my instructor spent quite a bit of time teaching me how to move, explaining how to follow your opponent’s motion, and teaching me about the mental aspect of this type of martial arts. This was the part I found most interesting and the part I think will most benefit me as I move forward. Here’s what my instructor said, as close to his exact words as possible:
“In the end this isn’t about punching, kicking, blocking, or whatever. It is about the movement. It is about staying right at the edge of the critical-distance* and either forcing your opponent to make a mistake by moving into your rage or to notice when he is out of balance or inside your rage so that you know when and how to time your strikes. It is much less about what happens outside your body, and much more about what happens inside your mind.”
I am sure you’ve heard people say this about martial arts before: that it is 10% physical and 90% mental. I think it is probably more like 30%/70%. But once you have the foundation of the physical movements down, the rest is up to your mind. My instructor who is a black-belt (no idea yet what the belts really mean although black seems to be the highest like in many martial art forms) said that the biggest difference between he and some of the men and women with colored belts (like green, blue, purple, orange, and brown) is experience, and his mental ability to focus and anticipate and “tricking his opponent into exposing themselves” as he put it.
So, friends, family, and new friends I may not have met yet: it looks like I will be adding something new to my routine.
I think that martial arts can teach me a lot about my body, about my mind, and about life in general.
At the end, the head instructor had us stand in a circle and go around, each person saying something new they had learned in class today and how the class went for them.
Here’s what I said: “I learned that I actually enjoy this – I wasn’t really sure that I would. I also learned that I have a lot to learn.”
And what I learned but didn’t say is that I think regularly practicing martial arts will give me added discipline and focus skills that I might not be able to learn any other way. I think that using Tai Chi as a more meditative, gentle, flowing form is essential. But I think adding this karate based self-defense form where the emphasis is on movement, speed, mental ability, focus will really boost both my physical and mental strength and my ability to focus.
In the past, one thing I have NOT had much of has been discipline. Tonight I realized I may just be able to learn some discipline after all.
Thanks for reading, goodnight, and peace to you,
- Balance (thewellnessquest.wordpress.com)
- Rehabilitating Tai Chi (Does Tai Chi have a credibility problem?) (clearstaichi.com)
- Alternative Workouts That Will Get You Fit (dangerouslee.biz)