Everybody gets hit. Not many people get hit as often as I do, but there are some people who get a lot more. I’ve been hit with elbows, fists, feet, and once an electrostatic precipitator. I’ve been butted, rammed, slammed to the floor, kicked in the stomach, and even bit. Once I had my lip cut by a toe ring. For the most part, it was never anything personal, just part of the fun. I’ve been hit often enough to have developed a philosophy specific to getting hit.
Of all the times I’ve been hit, only a few have been fueled by anger. None in the past few years. Though it has been a long time, I remember how it felt. Different. I don’t particularly like getting hit. But it’s a natural consequence of doing things I do enjoy, such as sparring or basketball. Getting hit sucks, but rarely because of the physical act. Usually, it sucks because it means we’ve been belittled, controlled, bested, or that someone is trying to dominate, scare, exploit, or hurt us. Often we aren’t hurt, not yet. But the fact that someone really wants to is so stunning, we stop and crumble.
It’s the emotional weight of being struck that makes the most impact. I was once struck by a woman, in a relationship, who was quite angry. Though I’m much bigger and she had no realistic chance of inflicting damage, the fact that she was striking me in anger was far worse than all the times I’ve been hit sparring or playing basketball, or whatever.
Speaking of basketball, the game is pretty violent. I used to play a lot of pick-up basketball. Being tall, I was always the “Big man” and I made my living underneath the basket. That’s also home to the highest concentration of flying elbows known to civilization. I think for every pop I’ve taken in sparring, I’ve taken ten, much harder, playing ball. But since it isn’t a direct punch, we don’t process it the same. When I first started sparring there was a mechanism that told me to stop when someone hit me too hard. This instinctive response never happened while playing basketball. I would only stop if I couldn’t breathe, or if someone noticed blood running down the side of my face and suggested I sit down. Sometimes they would suggest I go get stitches, but that’s because I used to play with med students.
Getting hit is an emotional experience. It is the emotional impact that makes you stop and go rigid. Fear of getting hit may come partly from the physical, but it usually relates to the emotional underpinning. That’s why it’s so hard for some people to loosen up in sparring. They know they will get hit, and even know they are less likely to get hurt if they are loose. But some old fear, often more of domination or dislike, rises to keep them rigid and tight. Oddly, this means that every hit they do take will be more damaging.
As I’ve progressed as a martial artist, I’ve had to work through this process of pain and emotional weight. I took a lot of shots between green belt and blue belt, probably because I was stiff and didn’t move around much. Though I wasn’t getting hit as hard as on the basketball court, it was in my head more. Often, I would just stop. In my mind, the game had ended. But sparring is used in martial arts to refine self-defense skills, among other things. Stopping when you get hit isn’t a good self-defense technique. Neither is getting angry or competitive.
These occasional, accidental blows, are an opportunity to grow. They teach you that getting hit is no different than the thousand some times I’ve smacked my own head into low-hanging objects. It may hurt, it may be a good time to see if you’re really damaged. You can even say ouch if you absolutely have to. You can certainly adjust your tactics a little, to avoid getting hit the same way again. But you don’t need to react as if the world has just ended.
The underlying reality of martial arts is that they are intended to be there for you in a bad situation, be it self-defense or combat or just controlling your drunk relative at a bachelor party. If you lose all your skills when you get hit, as happens in these situations, then you haven’t really mastered that art.
-Written by Yong Studios Black Belt, Daniel H. Jeffers