So as I mentioned in the last post, I found a place that teaches ninjitsu (and also Brazilian jiu-jitsu) and loved it to death. Oddly enough, I've since found out that this was the same place frequented by Colin's bestie Sean, who inadvertently inspired me to start this whole project way back when and is now gallivanting around
But. This same place is also the home to a group of friendly but insane shaven-headed men in BDUs and boots who are said to wield shovels with utter abandon. In less cryptic terms, there is a Systema class that meets in the space, and I tried it out. That's the first official scary thing in this post: Try A New (And Entirely Unfamiliar) Martial Art.
On first sight, it looks pretty brutal. In the Japanese martial arts that I've studied before (bits and pieces of several different styles), there's an inherent grace to the movements, and upper belts sparring looks almost like a dance. This seems much more focused on absolute efficiency of movement, which results in something that's definitely useful for scenarios like a street fight, but not nearly as lovely as other styles can be.
There's also a lot of hard hitting, which is where the second official scary thing in this post (Get Punched In The Face) comes from. I know that the guys I was working with were actually pulling their punches, because they're freaking monsters and an honest-to-dog punch from one of them would completely lay me out. Still, they hit harder than I've ever been hit in practice, and it hurts. A lot. And it's something I'm extremely uncomfortable with, because in all my previous study, we'd practice blocks and shifts of movement of all kinds to defend from strikes, but we never actually practiced taking a hit. Maybe I just didn't get up high enough in rank and they start hitting you once they think you're up for it, but I never got there. And now, after I've been to a few more classes and practiced actually being hit, I see how utterly vital it is - if you never practice it and just work on blocking, you will be really really super awesome good at blocking, but if anyone ever actually lands a hit, you'll instantly be thrown off balance, literally and figuratively, which is exactly what happened to me.
Lately, I've been cultivating this disposition of cheerful detachment - I'm basically a happy Vulcan. It's just the easiest way to deal with stress lately, and I plan on writing more about it at some point, but for now it suffices to say that I just kind of float along the surface of my days, getting the things I need to do done and not really sinking (or flying) past that point. Anything that seems like excess emotion (that is, whatever would get in the way of everything else I have to do) is intentionally deadened.
I was teamed up with a quiet, shaven-headed mountain of a man for some drill on deflections. I was supposed to be throwing the punches at his face and he'd do whatever it was to turn them aside - I don't remember the details of what it was and it doesn't matter as much as what did happen, which was me not knowing how to throw an actual punch at someone's face and really make contact. He stopped me and asked if I'd ever done hard hitting before, and I said no. So, to put it simply, he showed me how. As I said above, I know logically that it wasn't nearly as hard as he could have hit. But it was hard enough to break the (figurative) surface of my toughened skin, and it really, really shook me.
I'm still going to the Systema classes. Once you get into it, it's this deeply interesting blend of hard hitting and unflinchingly brutal counterattacks, and also core tenets of relaxation and breathing, staying utterly calm and at ease at all times. There's also this brilliant concept of the geometry of attack and defense, which my nerd brain absolutely adores - basically seeing the plane of your opponent's attack and merging with it to turn it aside and redirect it. And drawing triangles, and then pushing people down. It's incongruous and layered (like an onion) and I love it.
I still don't know if I'll continue with it when this bout of classes ends or go back to the ninjitsu and jiu-jitsu. I feel like I might just jump around, spending a month here and a month there until I decide for certain which one I want to focus on (or can afford to just live in the dojo). But I really like Systema. And big bald booted men aren't so scary once you get to know them. They tend to give really good hugs. That's another part - at the end of every class, you get a massage and then hug everyone. It's freaking awesome.