Friday, August 6, 2010

The Strangeness of Help

I thought about my experience when I was driving the truck and how I was reflecting on my first Aiki-Jujitsu session on Monday and how I was half in reverie down a quiet road that runs parallel to the freeway and how there were no other cars in sight. I was visualizing the falls and tumbles that I learned on Monday and trying to do the right sequences and body positions in my mind as I drove down this vacant stretch of road. Then, I saw a car coming out of a drive right toward my small truck. I knew by how he was coming at me, he didn’t even see me. My instinct was to speed up and out of it and I pushed on the horn, which sounds more like a little hatchling. It’s not a loud thunderous horn, more like a squeak. Thank goodness he didn’t overreact, otherwise we may have collided. I would have run into the chain link fence on my right, but I don’t know how it would have turned out. I was upset. I yelled out loud. I wanted to say something to this driver who was acting like a maniac, pulling out at cars. How could he have not seen me? The part of the road I was on was just about to loop around to an intersection with a set of stoplights. I waited for him to pull behind me, so I could do something, give him a gesture to reinforce his stupidity. The light was red. I turned my head around and his hand was up as if in surrender to say he knew he did wrong. I then just put up one finger, but not the middle one, just the pointing one. I shot it up high, just to say, “you almost caused a really bad accident—watch yourself!” My hands were trembling on the steering wheel and my legs felt a little soft. I am a very defensive driver, but on this particular drive, there is usually no reason to be that defensive. I’m thankful that I was able to miss him hitting me, but the feeling of coming that close left me feeling shaken.

A few days after my Aiki-Jujitsu class, I was actually contemplating not going back. I signed up for a 5-week session. The draw was that the emphasis was on self-defense and building confidence. I’ve always wanted to take a martial arts class for these reasons and this seemed a manageable option through adult education. When I arrived, the class before mine was finishing up. It was a children’s class, and from what I could see as I peeked around a few times, it looked great. I wasn’t sure if anyone else had showed up for my class because I didn’t see anyone in the waiting room. I didn’t realize, however, that they were waiting behind the wall. It was time, one of the sensei’s called me forward. In bare feet I entered through the doorway onto the mat to see five tall men clad in traditional white uniforms with belts. My 5’1 petite frame, dressed in stretch pants, and a pullover was taken aback. It turns out these men were green and brown belts. I thought I was signing up for a beginners class.

After a brief introduction. We had two sensei’s that had been teaching for 20 plus years, the men broke out into their learning groups and the older sensei worked with me one-on-one. He asked me to lie on the mat as if I had fallen. He then demonstrated the proper way that my body should be when it hits the ground. Chin tucked in—very important—to lessen the impact on the neck and head upon hitting the ground. I once forgot to tuck my chin in and I felt it. He said it hurt him just watching me. It was interesting, for what physically felt to me, like pounding my body into the mat. I felt bad that Sensei had to demonstrate a few additional times how to fall because I simply wasn’t picking it up. It takes getting used to training the body to do anything.

We tried to find common physical ground for me to work with, so I told him the activities I had done when I was young. Gymnastics was our spring board.

“Do you remember how to do a summersault,” he asked.

“Yes, I think I can still do one.”

“Let me see.”

“I feel a little lightheaded.”

“You rolled on your head. Did you feel it? If you feel lightheaded, stamp it out with your feet.”

We then went on to work on the proper way to do a roll. He showed me hand placement and how to roll my whole body over, so that my arms are used instead of my head to roll over.

“How did that feel?,” he asked.

“That felt pretty good, and I didn’t feel lightheaded.”

“I’ll be right back. I’m going to go get a drink of water,” he said. “I want you to think about how you fear getting attacked the most.”

I must say the thought was eerie. Here I was openly trying to prepare myself for what could be. As much as I love the world, I know sometimes, one never knows. So I thought and came up with two.

“I fear a gun being pointed at me and being chocked from behind,” I said.

First we dealt with some moves that I would do to get out of a choke, both by someone latching onto my hair and then by someone wrapping their whole arm around my neck.

“I’ll be right back. I need to get something,” he said.

I waited and when he came back, he pointed a fake gun at me. I must say, it felt weird. First time I’ve had a gun pointed at me and I froze. It would be our prop. We worked on this scenario and I didn’t like the feeling of being so helpless.

Now in reflection, toying with the idea of not going back to class because I feel very out of my element with the black and greenbelts, I feel that I have a new fear. And I think it’s enough to go back to explore it with the sensei. The fear is of knowing just enough to get me into a more dangerous situation. If I am attacked, the moment happens so quickly, that I could cause more damage to myself by having only a little knowledge. Again, it comes back to knowing something so well that you breathe it in and out as thought it’s a part of you. Is it plausible for me to learn enough, for my body to kick in and remember in such a short period of time, or am I doing myself more harm? The gun situation feels out of control. The moves feel too complicated—the whole scenario is too much for me to handle. I do, however, feel that I would be able to get out of a rear choke. So with that being said, yes, I think that even learning the few things that I have so far has benefited me. Now, I’d like to work on the confidence part and not buckle under in the heat of a moment when my words fail me. I want to be able to think quicker on my feet. Often, I find that if confronted by someone I’m not familiar with—and here I’m speaking of normal situations—but I want to not be the mouse that sometimes comes out. I want to be that strong tree. I don’t want to back down. I’m not saying that I want to go butting heads with everyone, which I do quite well with those I know very well, and those that appreciate this about me—we get a long very well. But, I mean just normal situations. I want to exude confidence, not fear. And for the most part I think I do OK, but I want a little more internal development. I think that is half the battle.

So, back at the scene of what could have been a bad accident, when it was all over and I proceeded to drive on to work, I thought to myself, how ironic it was that I was visualizing and going through the moves of a prelude to self-defense, of getting out of precarious situations; at the same time imagining my new concerns and of wondering if I would go back and it felt that in that moment with the car coming at me, the time spent with the sensei seemed—help seemed to be present, if even in the strangest way.


The blog topic at Red Room this week was on help. It inspired the parallels of this set of events in the form of this blog.


keiko amano said...


I’m so glad that you are okay. It must have been very scary. Even if it ended in a small accident, it would be still a hassle. It was probably like a miracle.

I think you described your experience very well. I completely forgot about Akido or chin tucked in and so forth. The instructor seems very good at teaching, taking time just for one student. In return, I think you've been also a good student. Good things happen when both sides want it happen, and strange but good things happen when we least expect it. Yes, it was a strange help.

In the beginning of this blog, when I saw the word “truck,” for some reason, I thought you were driving a large white truck. Many people I know drive a large white truck. Then, later on, I saw “small truck” and that made sense. It did give tension though, especially when she was going to give one finger. I almost couldn’t breathe to read next sentence! I was ready to fly to SF and give you my lecture! Hee hee. Thank goodness, you are okay. That’s all it matters.

ashok said...

A lucky escape indeed Rebb. Good for you.

More than self defence the martial arts class seems to be providing some good physical exercise and a sharpening of the reflexes.

The best thing about such disciplines is that they require total concentration and getting our mind off other things and that is a benificial yoga that strengthens mind, body and soul.

As regards self defence a weapon like a pepper spray can be handy.

Rebb said...

Thank you, Keiko. Yes, it was very scary. The instructor was very good. He even told me he was a slow learner. I’m not sure if he was just trying to make me feel better. I think he was Japanese. The other instructor was American.

You’ve demonstrated a good example of the funniness of language. Seeing truck all by itself, you brought your experiences and saw a big white truck, until you saw that I called it a “small truck.” I love how language is like that. I have many miscommunications with my boss because we visualize different things when we say certain words. But, I just keep describing or using different words until he understands what I’m trying to say. Hehe. You’re funny, Keiko. Thank you for your good thoughts.

p.s. I’ve tried to stop buying new books opposed to used books or checking books out from the library, but I broke down and bought four new books. And this, with trying to clean the clutter. I told myself, ok, you have to find at least ten books in your shelves and get rid of them. One of the new books is called “Language in Thought and Action” by S.I. Hayakawa and Alan R. Hayakawa. It’s older. I’m sure you probably read it years ago. It looks interesting. I’ve only just begun, so we’ll see how it goes.

Rebb said...

Thank you, Ashok. Yes, I feel lucky and in some ways, I wonder if there was another lesson there that I am missing

Yes, just as Sensei told me, my thighs were very sore the next day for a few days because of the squatting low to the ground.

Total concentration, yes. I also found this to be true when I was re-learning how to ice skate. I was so focused on how to do everything, from tucking my tummy, to arm and leg stance, that I was lost in the moment without thought. I love that feeling. I do Yoga sometimes, but I definitely release my mind best with ice skating and writing.

A can of pepper spray is a good idea. I think I’ve been avoiding it.

Vincent said...

This is a most interesting post, Rebb. I had to wait until I had time to absorb fully what you said. I've never undertaken any training in Japanese martial arts, but I know that there are two aspects - the physical and the internal. I believe there is something like internal Kung-fu, whereby you can have the confidence without knowing the moves. It's my belief that this is what one needs most in our society.

Certainly if a gun is being pushed in my back, or someone wants to throttle me, I'd know that the most dangerous thing would be to "try any funny stuff", which would doubtless cause my attacker to panic and perhaps kill me.

I do think I might be cool enough to deal with physical threats without any martial arts moves, just a disarming innocence and self-protective instinct without any overt aggression on my part.

There are other forms of attack other than physical. Your driving experience was a very good case in point because it left you feeling shaken and aggressive. Whereas the essential thing when driving or walking is to be ready at all times for any danger, and when it occurs to look after yourself without judgement or anger at the cause of the danger.

For some reason I don't understand (for as I say I haven't undergone any training) I feel I am always alert and ready when I'm out. I think you may have already received enough training to encourage that!

Rebb said...

Vincent, Since this is my first time with any type of martial arts, I didn’t know what to expect, aside from what I’ve watched on TV or the movies. Also a memory comes to mind. I once took a philosophy course long ago that I dropped and there was a student in the class who was also a student of, I believe it was Aikido, and I just recall that when we were talking about Buddhism, the student always had something to add that he had learned in his martial arts training and it was fascinating. He seemed to have a better grasp than the instructor of the teachings. I think Aidido may put an emphasis more on the mental and physical combined, at least from my quick glance at Wikipedia this is what I gather. But I really don’t know. What I do know is this just shows another aspect of the Japanese culture that I am drawn to. It amazes me, from learning on Keiko’s blogs, just how many arts there are to balance a human being out. Life is art and the Japanese really put this into practice in ways that blow my mind, expand my mind, and just settle well with how I like to approach life.

How you describe internal Kung-fu, it sounds like what I’m looking for—to “have the confidence without knowing the moves.” Yes, I agree, this does seem to be what we need most in our society.

Yes, be ready at all times. I try to dart my eyes around whenever I’m walking to get a sense of who’s around me. I don’t like it when people walk behind me, so I’ll move over and let them pass or do something to get out from behind them.

I admit when I walk sometimes, even if a seemingly safe city, I try to put on a tough face if I sense anything askew. I want to give off the impression that I’m not to be messed with and I try to imagine myself larger than I am—and that’s some imagining. It sounds silly and usually I try to smile when I walk, and I wonder if when I do this, it helps kick my reflexes into place.

I think, too, that the experience is different for a woman. Women are prime targets because of their perceived weakness and other reasons I’m sure. I’m glad that you are alert and ready when you’re out, but you may have a certain sense of fearlessness at whatever you may encounter because, as a man, you have a different set of primal features and physical strength. My uncles for example, is 72 or so, and when I look at him, though he isn’t that tall, he doesn’t look like someone I’d want to mess with and he still has a good amount of muscle mass for his age.

I’d like to think that my kindness will always win, but at same time, I cannot be na├»ve and pretend that “It won’t happen to me.” It feels so dark in a way suddenly being more preoccupied with self-defense, but something has kicked in me to push me along to even thinking about it more.

I have to admit I’m still having mixed feeling about going back to class tonight, but I think I’ll give it one more try. Who knows, maybe I’m in the right direction, but just need to find the right setting or right martial art.

ashok said...


Some of the world around us, if not all of it, is created by our thoughts. Therefore, while being alert and wise to any sort of dangers is wise to dwell much on any danger sometimes invites it.

I keep telling persons close to me not to focus too much on bad and unpleasant news in the media for the same reason but just enough to glean any useful information from it, and then move on to nicer thoughts of nice things.

Our thoughts have a strange way of becoming reality from time to time. I think this is the reason wie souls keep advising, it is impossible to fight off agression by agression, hate by hate but hate is easily conquered by love.

Rebb said...

Ashok, I believe that about thoughts too. And it's not like me to usually dwell on dangers and I don't think I am (hopefully), but yes, being alert and aware is good. And related to this, I took my first ever solo trip to New Orleans in May. There were many reasons for that trip, but amongst them was to go with an open mind and heart and to show that I would be able to do it, even though my family strongly discouraged me to go alone. It was a wonderful experience and I’m so glad I did it. Even though it doesn’t sound like much, for me, it was a huge step to take any type of journey alone like that.

About the news. Funny thing is I've recently tuned into a little bit, but for years I didn't. Maybe I should turn it off when it comes on. And I must say, as much as I love my uncle, every time I visit, he does dwell on the negative and he's not one to change and is slightly close minded, so I listen. It's probably not very healthy. I have many changes to be made.

Yes, love does indeed conquer all. Thanks for reminding me and bringing me back to center.

p.s. I did not return to class. It just didn't feel like the right fit, but I'm glad I went at all and I feel that I benefited, even if learning only a few basics. What’s funny is yesterday, and little things like this happen every now and then, when I went to put my toothbrush back in its cup, it flipped out of my hand, but my reflexes were quick and I caught it instead of it falling to the floor. I love when that happens. Reflexes are great!