I’ve always wondered what I would do if I had to defend myself. I mean REALLY defend myself. Not just posturing bros at a bar, I mean a fight for your life kind of conflict. The kind of stuff you see in movies, but only occasionally see in reality. The odds are that it won’t happen to you per se, but it has to happen to someone, right? That’s always been my motivation in my hypothetical scenarios I’d run through in my mind, “What if (X) thing happened to me?”. I don’t think I’m alone in this. I’ve talked to many of my male friends about this and we all seem to share similar tendencies; we want to know what we’d be capable of if we found ourselves in these situations, at least those of us who haven’t had the training, or experience with this kind of conflict before.
I only bring this up to illustrate the fact that it was with great excitement and hesitation that I started fight training for the Carver short film that my company is producing. I am playing the main character, a well traveled, Gentleman of Fortune type. Think a more boozy and lethal Indiana Jones with a splash of Hemingway. Essentially, we’re talking about having the chance to play the kind of character that inspired these questions in myself as a boy. Like I said, it’s kind of exciting. My excuse for learning how to fight is to play someone WAY more badass than I am in real life.
Now I’m not going to say that I thought this was going to be easy, but I will say that I was in no way, shape or form ready for what was about to come. For those of you who haven’t ever sparred or trained, I’ll bet you’re like I was going into this. I literally had no concept of what it would take to get my body up to speed, nor did I know what I’d have to call on it to do.
Because we’re on a timetable with the production, we decided that I would go through a 6 week boot camp to teach me the actual fundamentals of fighting, which would then prepare me for the month of choreography we’d be doing for the actual fight scene. I figured it was going to be hard, but it was going to be worth it in the end to get something good on film, not to mention a bit of first hand knowledge about what it might feel like to fight.
You’re Not Going To Believe This Shit
The first day of training started with a 30 minute, vomit inducing cardio/conditioning warm up designed to both, assess my level of fitness, as well as mentally and physically exhaust me. It worked. Innumerable types of push ups, sit ups, planks, as well as jumping jacks, crab and spider crawls utterly destroyed me. By the time the half hour was over, I couldn’t hold my arms up in front of my face...which is what I was told I’d have to do for the next hour, while being shown the jab and the cross.
I literally had no idea how I was going to do this. I’m not lying when I say, my arms were on fire and it was taking everything I had to just to stand upright. How I was going to throw any kinds of punches was beyond me.
Here’s the strange thing about martial arts I’ve learned though, and kind of the addicting nature of it for me. On a very fundamental level, you’re willing your body to do things beyond its intrinsic capabilities. Sure, we all know how to hit on an instinctive level, but that’s not to say we know how to hit well. What that first day showed me, is that there were several tiers of “I can’t do this.” that I had to push through. Tiers I never knew that I had, because I only discovered their presence after willing myself past a previous one. 40 minutes after I was wondering how I was going to keep my hands up in a guard, I was punching a 100 lbs heavy bag at full power and knocking it around, because I pushed on.
Don’t Get Hit
Within a few days after this initial session, I was sparring with my trainer. Again, you’d think it’d be easy to dodge a fist coming at your face. Not the case when the fist is coming from someone who’s been doing martial arts for over 20 years. Partly because its not enough to just “dodge” the punch. What I was learning was that in a fight, you don’t back up, you don’t do anything to throw yourself off balance or lose ground. Instead, you’re making specific calculated moves, that despite being labeled as defensive, are in actuality, setting you up for an offensive move. So that simple dodge becomes a sideways movement, 45 degrees, laterally away from the trajectory of the punch, while moving forward toward the opponent, all the while maintaining balance and with the intent to harm. This basic principle is applied to all punches and kicks, which means that at any given moment in the fight, you have to be able to do what I just described but with the awareness that the thing you’re dodging could come from 360 degrees. Needless to say, I get hit a lot.
Black Eyes Look Tough
My trainer and I aren’t sparring at full power, however we rarely use gloves and we never use headgear. What this means, is that I learned very quickly that even “soft” punches hurt when they’re well placed.
Its a very strange thing to learn to not fear a punch. Its simply a matter of fact that if you’re sparring/fighting, you’re going to get hit. There’s no trained professional out there that can block every kick or punch that is going to be thrown at them. So very quickly you have to get right with this.
To dodge a punch means you have to look at it. You can’t close your eyes and hope for the best. You have to watch something that is coming at you with intent to harm and figure out what to do about it. There’s no option to panic and its a hard thing to master. There’s a reason its called fight or flight.
It was only after being hit hard that my fear began to wane. To realize its not so bad, meant that could control the fear to some extent. I instead became more focused on not allowing that thing to happen again.
The hardest hit landed on me, actually happened during auditions for the fight scene. Weeks before, I had sparred with a man who grew up street fighting in Mexico City. He’s a great guy, but when it comes to fighting, its just hard wired into him to win at all costs. He has a hard time making the distinction in his mind that there is sparring, and there is fighting, so in turn he doesn’t pull his punches or kicks. This resulted in a knee to my quad during sparring which put me straight on the ground, and that was just one of many hits he got that day.
So it was with a bit of trepidation that I went into the audition knowing that he’d be there. Sure enough, when he and I paired up to run a simple sequence of choreography, I ended up taking a hard knee straight to my face.
I wasn’t mad. As I said, its just implied that you’re going to get hit. Even with choreography. How or why he hit me in this scenario is a different matter, but knowing does little to change the fact that I did get hit. As I was leaning against the wall, the thing that struck me almost immediately was that it wasn’t that bad. Sure he could have hit me harder, or broken my nose, and I may have thought differently, but he didn’t. The hypothetical really didn’t concern me, frankly. It was the ridiculousness of the situation.
There I was, the 27 year old artist, holding my swollen cheek and brow after taking a knee to the fucking face. My trainer came over, made sure I was okay and then told me to get back up and keep running the choreography. As I stood up, I’m not going to lie, I felt good. I felt tough, and I say that knowing full well how ridiculous it sounds. It felt damn good to know that I could take that kind of hurt and spit at in the eye, and keep on going.
Keep On Keepin On
At the end of the day, I have enjoyed this little jaunt into fighting and mixed martial arts. So much so that I think I’ll stick with it even after we’re done with the film. Mentally and physically it has changed me, even in this short of amount of time, so I can’t imagine what sorts of benefits might be gained after years.
The most profound realization I’ve had though, is that based on what little I’ve learned, I am far less inclined to ever get into a fight now. Combat is destructive and painful on all levels, and simply put, I’ve been taught how to hurt people. Obviously there are different philosophical and spiritual paths attached to a great many styles and schools, but I’m not getting that kind of training. Its just straight up, how do you put the hurt on someone. Which means if that one in a million situation ever were to occur, perhaps I’d have a better chance of surviving it, and maybe not. The difference is, I don’t fear it as much now.