Adam’s apple sore or not, martial arts taught me much more than self-defense
Columnist Donavan Barrier grew up at La Porte and graduated from Purdue Northwest in December 2019. He wrote for the Purdue Pioneer for a year and a half while writing previews for the Canterbury Theater, Footlight Players and The Little Theater Gate. Currently he works at WNIT-PBS in South Bend.
The other day I found myself in a very difficult situation: on the floor with another man’s arms wrapped around my neck. I felt his tight muscles tighten my throat and bright gray stars obscured my vision.
But it was not a street fight; in all fairness, I haven’t been in a fight for almost 10 years (if you call uncoordinated teen slapping duels a fight, that is). No, it was actually a controlled training fight between me and my instructor – a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. He was teaching me through what he called “situational drilling” not to panic in a situation like this and to think on my feet rather than struggling violently and hurrying to hurt myself.
He held me in a grip on his gym floor, his feet wrapped around my legs to keep me from getting up. With two weak strokes of my left hand on his right triceps, I signaled to him that I had had enough and was about to pass out; this is what we in the martial arts call “tapping”. Immediately he released his grip and I felt the air fill my lungs again. I coughed hard and felt an intense scratch behind my Adam’s apple.
But I was not angry. Instead, I found myself filing that start for our next workout. It was the one I wanted to learn, and fast! I resolved to learn this so that I would know for the next time how to escape it.
So far I have been practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, an art of grappling created by Carlos Gracie, for just under four months, but I have been interested in martial arts all my life. I grew up practicing Tae Kwon Do at the local YMCA before moving on to Capoeira (another Brazilian martial art) and boxing. I also never stayed long in the arts mentioned above, out of disinterest in the first and inability to train properly in the second (the Capoeira gym I attended was in Chicago, and my mom was unwilling to go there more than once a week).
When I first started boxing I thought I had found my niche where I could develop my warrior spirit and skills. That was until a meeting with a very aggressive partner undermined my confidence. But I was not entirely discouraged. In November, I discovered two Jiu-Jitsu classes near my home, one in Rolling Prairie and another in Westville. Encouraged by a college friend, I went to talk to the two gym owners before moving into Rolling Prairie Gymnasium. It was a more practical decision, as my daily job required me to travel to South Bend and Rolling Prairie was on the way. So I started my martial arts journey all over again.
A lot of people I tell that I practice martial arts give me one of two reactions; the main reaction is wonderful interest. A lot of guys and girls I tell about martial arts that I have practiced immediately think of things they have seen on TV or in video games and compare me as such. The second and very rare reaction is that they think I am a violent person. An example of this was when I was in college; I created a project for a speech class on the benefits of martial arts for children. I mentioned it was a good exercise, a confidence boost and a training in cultures around the world. While I encountered the interest mentioned earlier, I had a categorical objector that it makes people violent. Although I had stated in the presentation that in a study by a British behavior analysis group, it was shown that those who practice martial arts tend to be less aggressive than those who do not. This was because martial arts were a healthy outlet for them and discouraged violence in the gym or dojo.
In my personal experience, the people I have met who have studied one or two martial arts have been extremely confident and friendly; only a few were anti-social. In every class and private session they were always ready to teach me new things and some even became good friends.
I admit it’s pretty funny seeing the two polarizing opinions every time I mention my hobby, but in the end, what they think doesn’t really matter to me. I find martial arts to be one of the best things in my life and one of the ways I can relieve stress and use my natural physicality to the best of my ability.
Even though it sucks being punched, kicked, or in this case choked, every workout I’ve been through teaches me something: Punching another person means that I can face anything. Surviving three minutes of being hit by someone with much more experience shows me that I am much more capable and tough than I thought. It shows me how to be humble and let my ego out of the ring or the door, and still respect the other person in front of me.
I plan to continue my martial arts journey and hope to learn a lot more, even if it means my throat is a little sore for a while.