Saturday, April 25, 2009

Stances, Blocks, Kicks, and Life.


Fear is one of the things I struggle with... more than just about anything else, in fact. I think part of that is due to the fact that once you start to fear, you find yourself afraid to not fear. It's been more than once in the past few days that I've thought, "But if I don't expect this to happen, or at least acknowledge that it could, and it happens anyway... then what?"

Since I've struggled with this for most of my life, I've chosen to take a new approach. Okay... perhaps not entirely new, but... revised.

As a teenager, I started "doing Martial Arts." For a little while, it was a form of recreation as my back healed (I broke it playing in a tractor inner tube). The controlled movement coupled with the fact that the instructor also happened to be a physician lent an air of safety. After my first test, I realized that this was something at which I could excel. So I pushed. And pushed. And over time, I became a Martial Artist. As that was happening, fear crept in.

I'm not talking about the sort of fear that gives you butterflies and makes you cringe. I'm talking about the sort of fear that immobilizes. The sort that leaves you heaving in the bathroom. That kind of fear. But part of what happens as a person transforms into a "Martial Artist" is that you learn to conquer your fear. Not to not have fear... but how to keep it from paralyzing you.

A huge part of how I've dealt with fear for years now is to do what used to seem so unnatural. I'll give you an illustration, from Martial Arts. And then I promise to tie this all back together.

The first thing you learn in Martial Arts is how to stand. We call it a stance... and there are several. A front stance, which is a stable, easy to move in stance. There's a horse stance, which is deep, extremely stable, and is where the most effective kicks are thrown from. There's a side or back stance, where in most of your weight is on one leg. The other is still planted on the ground, so you can quickly shift, but because it isn't occupied holding you up, you can use it for kicking. This is also the stance from which jumping is easiest. Without these stances, no technique will be fully effective. The stance is the foundation from which everything else is built. It's purpose is to work with your body to provide stability, strength, and ease of movement.

The next thing you learn is how to block. I've seen a lot of rolling eyes and bored expressions as new students spend entire class periods doing just two or three techniques, over and over again. But without these block, you cannot win. You must have a way to deflect attacks.

Next, you learn to strike and kick. The purpose of this is obvious... you can block an attack as many times as you want, but eventually, you need to choose between fighting back or being defeated. These strikes and kicks, especially those used by lower ranks, are simple. They take effort to learn, but once learned, they are amazingly effective.

So now, you've got your foundation (stance). You've got your evasive (defensive) blocks. And you've got your counter attacks (strikes and kicks). With all of these on board, we start teaching you practical application.

We do this in a very controlled setting. One person presents a challenge, and then punches. Your job is to first deflect and evade, then counter. There are set techniques which must be used exclusively until you've proven yourself and obtained your yellow belt. The techniques (or series of techniques) are carefully chosen because they are simple and effective. Simplicity is important. A simple technique, repeated over and over, will be there even when you're under so much stress that you can't even think.

So, to tie this into life. The stance? We all have a foundation. Something on which we build everything else. It is up to us, really, to choose our foundation. We can choose so many... desire to achieve certain goals, being loved, having a family, having money, having a home. Really, we can base our life on anything at all. But there's only one foundation that will never fail. And that is a relationship with Christ. We must carefully choose to do it right. To walk with Him. With time and "practice," it starts coming easier. Eventually, when something threatens us, we'll fall back into it without even thinking.

Next comes blocking. As we do this thing called living, we find ways to deflect attack. We learn to put up our guard, protecting ourselves from things that would hurt or destroy us. There are techniques, often times deceptively simple, that will prevent the attacks coming our way from destroying us. Hopefully, the techniques we habitually use do not cause their own damage.

Once we've gotten our foundation, and learned a little about deflecting attack, we move forward and learn ways to counter. We learn techniques that are easy to apply and blend with what we already know. We learn how and when to use them, in order to neutralize our adversary (in Martial Arts, this is another human. In life, this is the devil himself).

But then what?

In Martial Arts, as you get better at those basic techniques and principals, you get promoted. Each new rank brings with it a lot of "fun" new things - fancier kicks, more complicated blocks, impressive forms (a set sequence of moves designed to simulate a fight situation and teach fluidity of movement). But along with those bonuses comes more responsibility. More effort required. Bigger consequences if you mess up, and a smaller margin for error. And while learning these fun, new techniques, the basics absolutely can not be neglected. If you can no longer pop out an excellent side thrusting kick, there is no way that you can do a spinning kick followed by a jumping crescent.

About the same time you start learning some of the more "exciting" things, you also start learning new ways of dealing with attack. You no longer simply deflect every time. You start moving toward the threat while you deflect, instead of away. You learn to grab the threat, pull it in close so that you can neutralize it. You learn not to flinch in the face of... well, getting your face punched.

I've applied this in my life so many times, in so many ways. This "season" of my life is a prime example. I have stepped so far out of my "comfort zone" that I can't even see it anymore. There is something private, personal, that I have feared intensely for years. And I have finally stepped back and taken a good look at this fear. And instead of merely pushing it aside to deal with later, I have grabbed it and pulled it in. And I am fighting with everything in me to neutralize it.

And to be honest, it's not easy. Because I'm afraid that I won't win. Afraid it will be too much. And yet, I know that the only option is to push forward anyway. It doesn't matter what I think could go wrong... what matters is that I know I am equipped to make it. Equipped to win. Because I do have the foundation. I've got the deflecting. I've got the counter attacks. And God has given me the courage to not back down in the face of it.

Finally, as you reach higher ranks, You learn how to take a hit. It's not that we Martial Artists actually enjoy pain. But if you've never taken a kick to the stomach, never tried to fight with the wind knocked out of you (as does happen when sparring), never actually found yourself trying to defeat an opponent you can't see for the sweat in your eyes... you'll be lost in a "real world situation."

Like with Martial Arts, in life, you take hits. The first ones are the worst - even if they are relatively "mild." You're terrified, because you don't know how you'll handle it - or if you even can handle it. But after you take a few little ones, you find that they don't even make you blink. Without even noticing that it's happening, one day you find yourself in the middle of a sparring match, having just taken a hit to the solar plexus, or the core of who you are. And while you may not be able to breathe and you feel like you probably won't make it... you do. You stay on your feet anyway. You don't back down. From somewhere deep inside you find the strength to push forward. And you win.

Right now, to be totally honest, I'm reeling from that hit to the solar plexus. I haven't fallen down - I know I can take it. But it still hurts. And it still takes most of my strength to stay up. But I know I can.

Now... when I started this post, I was talking about fear.

I've learned how to deal with fear in a lot of areas of my life. How to confront it, deflect it, defeat it. And when all else fails, how to keep going in spite of it. But there are some things that I haven't won over.

So lately, I've been asking one question when fear tries to take over.

"What if it does happen? What is the worst possible outcome? Can it touch my salvation?"

Let me give you an example. While my job is a blessing and I am thankful, I am not entirely sure that it's where I should be, or that I can even do the job. And a fear that keeps popping up is "What if you screw up and get fired?" I asked myself that yesterday. And here's what I realized.

If I did indeed get fired, we would still eat. We would still have a home. I would still have my husband. My cats would be fine. I would spend some time looking, and then get another job. If all else failed, I would work for a daycare. It wouldn't be the sort of money I want or may even need to make, but we would find a way. Because God provides for us. But even if losing that job meant I lost my home, my cats, my husband, my car, and even lost the option to eat... it can't touch my salvation. And in the light of my salvation, everything else pales in importance.

Because truly, nothing can touch my salvation. I can choose to put it down and walk away, but it absolutely, positively can not be taken away from me. Nothing has that kind of power.

For I am persuaded beyond doubt that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things impending and threatening nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

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