Saturday, September 8, 2007

Why Do Martial Arts?

One of my college friends, Rob the Comic Lawyer, wrote me an email with this to say about my martial arts endeavors:

Nice to hear from you, but clearly you are too old for this shit. Go back to chess. Take up sailing, like me, where there is some exercise hopping around the boat and pulling on ropes, but most of the time I get to sit on my fat ass and look at girls in swimsuits.

Another college buddy, Joe-Bobbie, Rust Vendor, had similar concerns about my sanity in a phone conversation.

So: Why do this?

First, apart from the occasional (only once, I hope!) ACL surgery, muscle pull or bruised toe, it's good for my health. Even after gaining weight during recovery, I weigh a good 20 pounds less now than when I first joined karate. I no longer need cholesterol pills, and a hernia I was starting to develop in my belly button is gone.

Why not just go to the gym? As yesterday's entry shows, it's often harder to make it to the gym than to karate class. Class is more fun; you feel an obligation to attend because your friends and sensei expect you there, which gets you in the door; somebody is up in front of you pushing you to do your best.

It's thrilling. There's such great stress relief hitting or kicking a pad.

So far, we're talking just about core classes, where you don't hit or get hit by other people. But what about contact--kickboxing, grappling--the kind of thing that did get me hurt?

I'm sure I will return to those classes in February with some fear. But I also eagerly look forward to my return because it's empowering and thrilling to be in controlled but strenuous physical combat with another person. It's like a very primal chess game, where you can learn, and improve, and see how well you can defend yourself.

My friend Larry, of The Family That Fights Together, talks about how we sit at our desks, we have to be nice to all sorts of rude people. How often are we given the chance to literally face up to our fear and do something physical about it?

As my friend Wendy once wrote about taking up boxing:

As I progressed, Tony finally hinted that he wanted me to spar. At first I demurred. What was the point? I asked. Deep down I worried I wasn't good enough. But one cold Saturday morning Tony stuck a mouthpiece in my jaw and strapped headgear on me. "Let's just move, kid," he said. To my surprise, when he hit, I hit back.

I'd never been struck so hard by another person. And there was something about it that made me feel terribly alive.

The confidence the I can defend myself--and the related knowledge that, for instance, in a room where a bunch of paunchy bosses are criticizing my work, I know I could knock any one of them to the floor, even though I'd never do that--is very calming.

I'm sure this has much to do with having been a geeky kid who felt like he could never defend himself. I wish I had taken this up years and years ago, before middle age. But I'm so glad that I finally found it.

I don't get those feelings of empowerment from a gym. I get them from martial arts.

No comments: