few weeks ago my wife and I had the opportunity to vacation among the Gulf Islands just off the coast of British Columbia. While there I had the opportunity to roll with the guys from Island Top Team in Nanaimo and it was there that I received the best martial arts advice I've ever heard.
It happened when I was at my limit. Not only was my training partner significantly better than myself but he had me beat and we both knew it. Still, I fought valiantly and in spite of my uber-awesome white belt prowess I had only succeeded in making my predicament worse when the calm voice of my partner penetrated my little world of chaos…
"Easy dude. Choose your breaths."
Now, I wasn’t particularly panicking so much as I was trying desperately to get him off of me, having conveniently forgotten the basics of shrimping and positioning Sensei had taught me. Nevertheless, my brain objected to his advice: “How could I possibly choose my breathing when my chest is burning, every muscle is crying out for oxygen and all your weight is riding on my rib cage?”
But he was right.
Even though I wasn’t panicking, I still wasn’t in control. Aside from the obvious fact that my partner was manipulating me like a toy, he saw that I was living this moment entirely in a reactionary mode. Every move I made was defensive, every breath because I was desperate for air and every position I took, while designed to prevent my partner from gaining certain advantage, only lent him purchase somewhere else. Not only was I losing the physical battle, but I had long ago lost the psychological one.
It wasn’t until later that day after having won and lost a few times with other partners (more so the latter than the former I can assure you!) and nursing my bruises back in our cabin that the wisdom of my partner’s words came to light. You see, actually choosing my breaths would mean that I must be foremost conscience of them, making everything else about the battle secondary in priority. I do not represent a credible threat to my opponent if, in the process of executing a move, I have already robbed my muscles of what they need most. Oxygen equals life in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Choosing my breaths means that my breathing becomes regular and controlled as opposed to shallow and erratic, or not breathing at all. Instead of getting caught up in the details of the conflict I give it up to focus on the source of my life, strength and power amidst the chaos. In other words...
To win the fight, I must give up winning.
But you’ve heard this kind of wisdom before:
If you meet on the way a man who knows,
Don't speak a word -- Don't keep silent!
When you are deluded and full of doubt,
even a thousand books of scripture are not enough.
When you have realized understanding,
even one word is too much. - Fen-Yang
Whoever finds his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Choose your breaths.