Sunday, August 30, 2009

Living... leading... and sparring from the heart

Last week, I had a pretty challenging training session with Sebastien. It had been a few weeks since our previous session, and we were reconnecting during an assessment week. As you may or may not recall, once a month, Seb does a physical assessment so that we can monitor my progress. We take my body weight and girth measurements from each of my biceps, shoulders, chest, waist, hips, each of my quads and each of my calves. We also do some strength/performance tests that include measuring the number of pushups and crunches I can do in one minute, grip tests on each of my hands, a seated reach test, and my personal favourite, the wall sit (my current personal best on that one is just over three minutes). After we take care of 'business' we have a little fun and have a few rounds of sparring.

From my previous posts and videos, you've gathered that I'm using fitness kickboxing as a way to lose weight, increase endurance and also add variety to my workout regime. You may also recall that getting into the swing of kickboxing has been not only physically challenging, but also emotionally challenging. When I have a sparring session, we go for about 4 or 5 rounds of sparring at about 3 minutes each -- it's a great cardio workout, an intense endurance test, and also a moment when I can see whether or not I'm using the skills I learn in my sessions with Seb, and also my kickboxing classes with Shelley at the gym. For the past few sessions, though, I've been getting frustrated because I haven't necessarily felt like I've made that mind-body connection -- that critical link between what I know I can do and what I actually do physically to full engage and participate in our kickboxing sessions. My frustration then, tends to surface with me calling quits on our sessions when I know full well that my cardiovascular endurance can handle a few more rounds, but cognitively, my brain is tired of thinking about strategy, technique, and also thinking through the emotional shift necessary for a relative pacifist to be physically aggressive. So, even though we will have had a great workout, I haven't left completely satisfied with how I've done... because I know I can do so much more.

While Seb and I were taking a bit of a break over the past few weeks, my anxiety around our session last week started to build -- because it involved sparring. So I decided that I needed to take some time to figure out how to get over this mental block -- this 'thing' in my head that was limiting my capacity to perform at my best while sparring. I thought a bit about the approach to take -- I decided to make one of my cardio workouts each week a kickboxing workout... just me and the bag, and more attention to technique. I also needed to shift my focus from feeling like I need to punch and kick with full force, to punching and kicking consistently, and with enough variety to keep Seb guessing and help me last longer during our sessions. So I did that. But I was still a bit worried about the fact that I was feeling 'stuck'.

I decided to chat with one of the other trainers at the gym -- Yvette Raposo. Highly respected and sought out by may other gym members because of her training approach and her own experience as a pro boxer, Yvette is also an NLP-master -- an expert in neuro-linguistic programming. I figured that since there was a disconnect between what I was thinking and doing -- mostly as a result of interfering self-talk that was grounded in doubt and lack of confidence -- that Yvette would be a good person to talk to.

We had a great conversation where she asked me many questions about what I was thinking or feeling when I'm sparring. What was I looking to accomplish? What did 'satisfaction' look like? What did it feel like? After a few minutes, she quite simply said, "Get out of your head... and into your body." In other words, try to stop over-thinking everything and take the time to connect with what you can do -- in your heart and in your physical being, and let them take over. Taking control of the self-talk -- that internal conversation that undermines my confidence would be critical. Trusting that my body would know what to do in response to Seb's kicks and punches would also be important. But how would I do it? How can I make that shift?

One simple step seemed to help.

This past week, instead of looking Seb in the eyes while sparring, I focused on his chest. Focusing on his chest and shoulders not only tuned me into the type of movement he was doing (i.e. what kick or punch was potentially on its way), but also tuned me into my own body. Instead of staring into his eyes trying to figure out his mental strategy, I focused on his torso and let my own body instinctively respond to the physical game. And I found myself using a wider variety of kicks and punches. My combinations felt better -- I had more variety, better technique, and didn't always lead with the good old 'jab-cross' from my right side. I threw more kicks (I even got over my apprehension about front-kicks... the first few I ever did landed in his 'no-no' zone). I led from my left. I found his open spots -- the parts of his body that he wasn't guarding and taking advantage of that. I also kept reminding myself to not punch as hard or kick as hard. Sparring isn't about that. It's about strategy. It's about endurance. It's about confidence.

So leading from the body helped. Tremendously. I felt better about this sparring session than I ever have. In fact, Seb told me that this was my best session yet and that he was proud of me. I walked off the pain that resulted from a roundhouse where my shin connected with his knee (our pads shifted). I shook off the pain that came after a right knee to his side, that was blocked by his elbow -- his elbow on my hip. Ouch!!! And I also shook off (eventually) a cross punch to my chest. All in all, at several points along the way when I would have previously given up, I kept going. And that felt amazing.

Leading from the heart only now makes sense to me. After we finished sparring, we had a bit of a heated discussion about the intensity of Seb's punches and kicks. Yes, he can get into the moment a little bit, and punch or kick a bit harder than I would normally like. And yes, that helps test my boundaries and determine my new limits. That's what this exercise is about. But when we wrapped up our session, I was pissed off. I was pissed off that he was kicking and punching harder than usual. I was pissed off that when I told him to lighten up... it didn't feel like he did. And when I gathered myself and got back into the round, he would say something like 'don't punch out of anger'. That makes sense.. yes, if I punch or kick out of anger, I'm not doing it for the right reason. At the same time, punching or kicking out of anger could hurt a hell of a lot more than my regular repertoire.

So, in reaction to a few of his kicks and punches that hit me harder (probably my ego more than my body) than I would have liked, I punched back or kicked back a bit harder too. He forced me to raise the bar. He challenged me to push my threshold to a new place. And it was uncomfortable. But it works. Because as I write this, I realize that I was pissed off in part because I was uncomfortable. I was pissed off because I was being challenged to work harder at this. I was pissed off because I was sparring from the heart -- from that place within me that actually gave a damn about what I was doing, that was less concerned about kicking and punching hard, but more concerned about mastering the skills needed to endure a few more rounds than I normally would with a guy who continues to provoke me with lines like "I'll take whatever you give me." Or, "You're gonna tire out, but I could go all night." Ummm... I know how it sounds. He's talking about sparring endurance. No comment. ;)

All that said, after our friendly disagreement, and clarifying how we can better communicate with one another (yes, we could probably benefit from couples' therapy, LOL!) when sparring, I realized that this session felt fantastic.

It felt amazing.

Not just because I kept up and endured more rounds than ever before.
Not just because I bounced back from some punches and kicks that really hurt.
Not just because I was able to get in some kicks and punches that even took Sebastien by surprise.

It felt amazing because I finally stopped relying on my mind to get me through something, and had the confidence and trust needed to allow my body to do what it does best. My joints, my muscles, my limbs... they know what to do. They know how to respond and react. All I had to do was stop over-thinking it. All I had to do was be connected to my body. All I had to do was think less about what Seb was thinking, and respond more to what he was doing.

All I had to do was 'lead' from the heart.

I think I get it now.
I feel I get it now.
I know I get it.

Looking forward to my next sparring session in September... maybe we'll record it so you can see the difference.

...Maybe. ;)

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome Chris!!! I was anticipating how your session would be...Big S told me you did very well leading from the heart. Very well written and thanks for trusting me and my suggestion:-)