‘Emotional Control’ - this often sought after, and rarely attained, side effect from martial arts training. We envision the wise old master sitting quietly in meditation, only to turn into a verifiable badass the moment the movie needs an action star to save the day.
What we don’t see, is that emotional control doesn’t really come for free, or as an automatic trait of just taking martial arts classes a few times per week. It doesn't come with sparring, nor does it come without sparring. It really comes from proper training, and constant diligence in applying that training.
Being punched, slapped, kicked, or choked induces a highly emotional reaction for many of us. Especially if we have experienced some sort of trauma, or abuse in life. For others, the act of hitting someone else is emotional, and may even cause unforeseen responses in us.
These things are normal for some, and completely foreign to others. What they share in common is, learning to control ourselves when we are experiencing these combative acts. Sparring allows us to confront things within ourselves that we may never see otherwise.
If someone studies martial arts but never spars, they will never know what it is like to function under that stress until it is too late. On the opposing side, if someone spars all the time, and isn’t taught to control their emotions (rage, fear, jealousy, inferiority, retaliation, pity, etc.), neither will they develop this 'emotional control' attribute.
Emotional control does not mean that we don’t feel fear, anger, or other emotions while in conflict. It means that we experience these feelings, and we function without letting them control us. Rage and anger can cost us a fight. I have won, and lost fights because of just this.
When I was growing up, a 'friend' of mine and I were playing at the bandstand in town. One of our mutual friends showed up and decided to push me off the bandstand. I fell, and a fight ensued. I was so upset, my vision closed in, my heart raced, adrenaline coursed through my veins, and I attacked with all the ferocity a 10 year old boy could muster.
My opponent, kept calm and used his superior range, and side stepping to throw me around like a rag doll. Each time I charged after him, he would deflect me and throw me to the ground. I could not see at the time, that my excessive attacks were causing my own demise.
So how can we build emotional control without putting ourselves in the fire of all out conflict and no holds barred fighting? Talking. Yes, talking. It's that simple. Before sparring with someone, especially if we are nervous, try talking with them for a moment. Ask how they are doing. Talk about a recent movie, or current event. Finding a way to break the ice and create a connection between the two of us can change the future.
What follows next, is a vastly different approach to the sparring match than what would have happened had we gone into the match amped up, nervous, scared, etc. Silence is deafening. Especially in the training hall. Help one another. Point out what we like about the other's technique or skills.
You can even talk while sparring. It seems silly, and can be quite difficult at first, but later this becomes a crucial training tool. By talking, we learn to stabilize our emotions while getting hit or hitting someone else. Removing the stress from the situation allows the brain freedom to learn, and the ability to maintain a good 'speed' for gaining, and advancing skill.
We want to focus on relaxing and gaining this emotional control. Later, when we have achieved this, and sparring is less of a stress to us, we can focus on trying to fix things while sparring, and talking. At that stage, we'll be in a different place skill-wise.
As our training progresses, so too does our ability to control our emotions. We train, not only to be able to handle ourselves physically in bad situations, but also to inoculate ourselves to physical contact so when things go bad, we react without thought. We perform as our training has prepared us, without our emotions getting in the way.