Sunday, 6 May 2012

Sparring in the Zone


n the zone…that’s when everything seems to go right, everything seems to fit. You could be skiing downhill in a race or rounding a curve into a straightaway or running the first few k’s of a 10 k marathon – and suddenly you pass through a wall. Or better, an invisible membrane behind which there is stillness in speed, peace in aggression, safety in the most critical of maneuvers.

It’s uncanny how safe you feel when sparring in Karate  – or doing randori in Jiu Jitsu– once you’re inside the zone. It’s as if the entire universe, represented on the training floor, is suddenly unified.

Judo randori practise

The first time I experienced this zone-like feeling was by accident. Everything leading up to that evening fueled the moment – it had been a carefree day in summer, the city was alive and vibrant and it felt as though that joy would continue well into the night (on the sidewalks, in a.m. restaurants, in the parks, on people’s verandas). On that evening, to spar was to smile. Every opponent seemed like a friend, even the most pugnacious!

What might also have helped was that I had been training a lot. I was teen, off from school for the summer, without any serious responsibilities. So I had time to train in everything I wanted to: hit the iron hand bag, do tons of Tai Chi out in the sun, throw dozens of partners and have them throw me until the sweat smelled with joy. And I had plenty of time to meditate.

On that night, I don’t think I forced myself into the zone. An opponent attacked, and without thinking I side stepped and had my fist in his face. Everything happened so suddenly. My jaw dropped as much as my opponent’s. I couldn’t fathom what had happened. We continued sparring: I couldn’t be hit. It was like a pas de deux in ballet.

My opponents would be at point A, I would fit in at point B; they attacked at point C, I circled around and hit at point D. Bodies in motion, the lights, the floor, the reasons for sparring, the reasons for bowing and shaking hands afterward...everything fit. Everything was in balance. Everything was in harmony.

The strangest feeling was that there was no antagonism, no belligerence involved. My opponents were my friends. We merely moved in relation to one another. An opponent would hit – and I moved to fill the space around him. I had no feeling of aggression and I certainly didn’t feel like winning. Winning didn’t matter; the pure joy of moving around inside the zone was the only thing that mattered.

Of course, I couldn’t sleep that night. Sleep really didn’t matter. I spent the next week trying to recreate the experience. I found that if I tried really hard, the feeling wouldn’t come back.

In the zone - listening to or playing music

Stevie Ray Vaughan


For me, getting back into the zone meant –

1.  Relaxing, meditating a lot…and then using martial movement as a form of meditation

2.  Not trying to be the best; accepting those in the zone with you as equals and as friends.

3.   Not having my cup full (filled with my own ego). Just letting things be then opening up to the zone and flowing with whatever I found inside of it.

For me martial arts training became such a beautiful – and rewarding - experience once I found a way of pushing the ego aside. The experience doesn’t have to be restricted to martial arts; you can play in the zone anywhere and at any time with an activity that gives you joy…music, dance, just walking down the street, thinking, playing with your kid(s), watching a baseball pitcher’s perfect curve ball…

I can see why my teacher in Jiu Jitsu, Shihan Ron Forrester, always says Jiu Jitsu is funJitsu!

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