So I got knocked flat by a pretty evil bout of tonsilitis at the end of last month (when two doctors in a row look down your throat and actually recoil I’m going to suppose it’s something a bit unusual) and that meant none of the lunchtime exercise bouts and no dojo until I was sure I was better, and not going to wreck myself for even longer.
I haven’t put any weight back on (yet, although I think there’s a debt going to fall due for all the comfort food while I was sick), but I think my stamina has fallen off, and that was never sterling to begin with. The instructors have noticed that over the last couple of sessions, because they’ve cherrypicked the takedownish sorts of techniques out of my current syllabus rather than the full throws. Which doesn’t mean I got off lightly, because I’m at a level now where the TDs get really rather scary. (And yes, I know there’s plenty scarier to come.)
The strangles, which is what everyone talks about as scary, really aren’t. They’re hideous to receive, particularly when applied by a grinning black belt who assures me they just want me to really get what the technique is about, but they’re kind of cool to learn. There’s a wrist strangle that gives you this wonderfully disdainful backwards drop on your opponent once you’ve choked the crap out of them, and there’s a necklock and sanguinous strangle that are just evil, or will be when I get the hang of putting them on elegantly. And I’ve discovered I seem to have some sort of reflex that makes me do comical, vaguely Donald Duckish noises whenever a strangle goes on me, so I keep my training partners amused too.
Speaking of elegance, though, there are some things I’m coming across at this level that are almost balletic. Last week we covered one of the big changes that happens at this belt, where the techniques become more dynamic, starting to use footwork and changes of direction rather than being static. Now, I’m very aware that we’re in a dojo, and that if I ever end up grappling some drunk idiot who thinks my face would look good with a bottle through it then things won’t unfold with the smooth precision that I see on the mat. But nevertheless, when we go through some of the moving takedowns it’s hard not to be a little bit thrilled with the, yes, elegance of the steps and turns, the way that weight and momentum shift and redirect. I suspect that by physical type and temperament I’m probably more suited to the more thuggish end of the syllabus, the brawling thumping stuff that lets me use my mass, but I can sense the potential in these other moves and would love to be able to master them too. Or, you know, to be able to actually do them recognisably.
The scariest technique on this level so far is one in which both your arms are locked high and tight behind your back, and you’re taken forward and down. To receive it you have to dive forward toward the ground with no arms to break your fall, trusting that your partner has control of you and won’t let you plant your face. There’s a powerful urge to fight it and go back the other way – which I think is what the technique relies on to work in an actual conflict, since that’s what will wreck your shoulders if you try it for real. I was rather pleased that I was able to receive that one relatively smoothly.
And in a further little serendipitous step for helping me feel like a real martial artist, I found a beautiful, lavish hardcover copy of Musashi’s Book of Five Rings for sale in the Academic Remainders shop, twenty-five bucks down from about double that. I’ve probably got a fair amount of training to go before I can get the most out of it, but I’m pleased I have it.