And the world will continue to revolve…
There are a lot of things that impact our performance. Some of these things benefit you when they have been done well before the event, things such as recovery from your workouts, getting enough sleep, your diet and some of these things need to happen at the time and during the event. Things such as hydration, and fuel.
I want to add another to the list of things you can do during your event that will help you tremendously, at least I have found this out myself.
It took me a while to find this one out, and I’m kind of glad I found out myself because I experienced it and when I experienced it that light went off in my brain, ‘Holy shit, what just happened?’ is what my brain said.
I’ve been training in martial arts, particularly karate now for almost 12 years. But don’t look at it in the sense of 12 calendar years. I pretty much live in the dojo, probably putting in about 16 – 25 hours a week almost every week over those 12 years. Not all training, but a combination of training and teaching. You learn a lot by teaching be it teaching a group of students or individuals. You see how others move at each level of proficiency and you understand how you move your own body. Things that you do can make more sense and you can see the way you used to move your body when you are teaching someone of less experience. I find it an enlightening experience. It makes your own martial arts that much better.
But it takes time doing the same things over and over for this growth to happen. Like many students, whenever we run through the syllabus of kata it can be a very tiring experience, sometimes taking up to 2 hours to complete. It’s really tiring when you are a lower belt and are giving it 100% the whole time, and I mean the whole time. Muscles constricted pretty much all the time, slowing you down and exhausting you. But you haven’t yet learned how to move efficiently and also move like the ebb and flow of a tide.
But then it happened. The light went off. It was a Saturday black belt class, the dead of winter, I even think it was snowing that day. I didn’t really want to be there that day but there I was. Tired, suffering from dead of winter depression I knew I had to be there and I had to perform as being head instructor I cannot just not perform and be a poor example to my students. I lined up with my fellow karateka and I told myself to just stay relaxed and only put effort into each individual move itself, not 100% from beginning to end. And that’s what I did. Low block fast and intense, but then relax right away. Inside block fast and intense, but then relax, immediately. I did this for every kata, only being explosive and only contracting muscles when I moved to execute the move. Everything else was just staying relaxed.
I remember having to hold a stance for a long time as my Sensei talked about the move we just did and I remember telling myself to just breathe, relax, and all I did was focus on my breathing:
in, slowly, deeply
out, slowly, deeply
Sometimes I would close my eyes as I did this letting calmness become what I felt instead of anxiousness.
I did this kata after kata after kata. And I could feel the difference. I wasn’t nearly sweating as much as I would have. Ask anyone that knows me, I’m kind of known for my sweatyness. My heart rate wasn’t racing like it usually does. It worked. Although tired, depressed, and usually anxious when training I got through the two hours without feeling like death. You may not know how huge this was/is for me. I’ve done many belt tests, kata reviews and usually am exhausted afterwards. My brown belt test went from 5:30 to 9pm on a Friday night and you could have rung out my Gi and filled a bucket I sweated that much. Did I know the benefits of relaxing? I thought I did but I couldn’t put it to practice I guess. Like a lot of times we know what we need to do but we don’t always do it. Sometimes it takes circumstances, or time for these things to happen, for the light bulb to go off.
It makes sense though. It requires fuel to contract muscle in the form of glucose and oxygen. The more fuel we use the more our blood needs to circulate to provide that fuel to our muscles and the faster our breathing gets and we then get tired. Of course your level of fitness ties into this. The more fit you are the less the heart has to work as one heart beat will deliver more blood to the muscles. But your fitness level is your fitness level going into the event. You can’t change that when you get up that morning and decide your are going to increase your fitness level by 20%.
But, the mind. The mind can be changed, or altered that morning and during the event. You are able to tell yourself to breathe deep and long. You are able to close your eyes and listen to your lungs expand, contract, and the air leaving your mouth. If the mind is not calm and relaxed your heart rate will increase. We all know what happens to our body when we nearly get into an automobile accident having to break hard and suddenly to avoid something. We get that copper taste in our mouth, our heart starts racing, palms get sweaty. These stimuli are processed by our brain and we react. How we react is up to us. This is one benefit of sparring. If you have ever sparred you probably remember the first time, having to stand across from someone who wanted to punch you in the face. Anxiousness, nerves, fear, our breathing intensified and even though the round was 2 minutes we were sweaty and tired. But, after many many sparring sessions you are calmer, generally more relaxed. You’ve been here before and you know what to expect. It’s still the same event as the first time you sparred but through experience you no longer get worked up. Any professional who deals with these things all the time; bouncer, cop, firefighter will tell you the same thing. The core events, or experiences have not changed but the person who is experiencing them have. The mind, or brain is not treating these things the same as it used to.
It’s like the saying ‘It’s all in your head’. Well, in this case it is.
Be calm, breathe deep, relax and tell yourself these things constantly, every moment you can. There’s an old Zen expression, ‘Mushin’, mind without mind, no mind. Think of it as ignoring everything; the person next to you, the sound in the room, someone talking, the sweat on your brow. Think of only calmness.
You can’t change the stimulus coming at you, you have no control over that. But, you can change how you react to it. This is all up to you.
Yours in health,