Join Date: Jun 2005
Re: Dealing with sudden fear
Yes, although I think many people would misread this and think it's a game of "let's pretend", of trying to suspend disbelief. That's not it -- those games are matters of conscious thought. I am not sure how you cultivate this subconscious perception you're talking about, but in my limited experience it depends on the conviction that your training partners bring to practice.
I used to study shindo muso ryu jodo - jo vs. sword, the jo always wins. Or it's supposed to. In our practice, reishiki and correct form when ending the kata and withdrawing were at least as important as the kata itself, and my sensei was quite strict about this. One night we were practicing, me with jo and him with sword, and I made a mistake in withdrawing. He told me not to do it, but (I was very fuzzy-headed that night) on the next repetition of the kata, I made the same exact mistake -- basically withdrew my jo before he was out of range. The instant I started to make that motion, two things happened. I had the thought, with total conviction, "I'm dead" -- in a very literal sense, not meaning "I screwed up," but a complete and total certainty that I had just made a fatal mistake and was now going to die. And, as I thought that, my sensei stuck, full speed and full force. His strike stopped a millimeter, if that, from my ribs.
It is so hard to explain or analyze what happened. Did my conscious mind believe that he would harm me? Of course not. But my subconscious mind was completely convinced that I had just made a fatal mistake, and that whether I lived or died in this moment was entirely up to my opponent.
Guess which mind was right?
It's a memory that I cherish. I also think, in some ways, that that experience is antithetical to the type of "training" that I sometimes hear described for "dealing with fear". I know that I noodge constantly about clarification of terms, but this one is as important as any. When people talk about "dealing with fear" as a goal, most of them really are trying to restore their mental comfort -- and the only way to do that is to convince yourself, rightly or wrongly, that there is no threat. You cannot be in a true state of fear and be comfortable in it -- repeated subjection to those conditions is one of the ways that PTSD happens (and PTSD is a normal reaction of a normal, mentally healthy individual to an abnormal situation). The solution to fear is to eliminate it, and there are healthy and unhealthy ways to do that.
I am glad you get that much out of your training. I feel like weapons training is extremely important in aikido because it can put you in that level of awareness and focus. So many people I see learn 'just enough' of their weapons kata to barely scrape by and get through the motions (on a test, for example). It is so obvious, you can see them pause at inappropriate places, look down at their feet trying to remember what's next, and then plod along with no thought to what they are doing and why. No spirit. Its dismaying. Your story just reminded me of another one. A friend of mine was preparing for his yondan aikido test many years ago. He was training in between classes with a very intense 5th dan. This 4th dan candidate was a very solid, intense, and talented aikidoka at the time. He started to review one of our jo kata, but was just going through the motions to make sure he could recall the movement order....not much intensity. His 5th dan partner, without saying a word, walked off the mat, went down to the changing room, put on his street clothes, went back upstairs, and walked out of the dojo. Shortly afterward he called my friend and told him if he wasn't going to take his training seriously they couldn't be on the mat together. This really stuck in my friends mind and, since then, he never 'went through the motions' while in the dojo again. This is an insane level to train at to most people, and very difficult to maintain (it requires help from your peers), but man...that guy is now one of the best martial artists I know, and is a very young and very talented 5th dan, and one of the people I respect most in life...both on and off the mat.