Sore Adam’s apple or not, martial arts has taught me much more than self-defense


Donavan Barrier

Column author Donavan Barrier grew up in La Porte and graduated from Purdue Northwest in December 2019. He wrote for the Purdue Pioneer for a year and a half while also writing preview pieces for the Canterbury Theater, Footlight Players and La Porte Little Theatre. Currently he works at WNIT-PBS in South Bend.

The other day I found myself in a very tight spot: on the ground with another man’s arms wrapped around my neck. I felt his tightening muscles constrict my throat and bright gray stars clouded my vision.

But this wasn’t a street fight; in all honesty, I haven’t been in a fight in almost 10 years (if you call uncoordinated teenaged slap duels a fight, that is). No, this was actually a controlled sparring match between myself and my instructor — a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He was teaching me through what he called “situational drilling” not to panic in a situation like this and to think on my feet rather than struggle violently and hasten injuring myself.

He had me in a headlock on the floor of his gym, his feet wrapped around my legs to keep me from standing up. With two weak taps of my left hand on his right tricep, I signaled to him that I had had enough and I was getting ready to pass out; this is what we who are into martial arts call “tapping out.” Immediately, he released his grip and I could feel air fill my lungs once again. I coughed hard and felt an intense scratchiness behind my Adam’s apple.

But, I was not angry. Instead, I found myself filing that move away for our next practice session. That was one I wanted to learn, and quick! I resolved to learn that so I knew for next time how to escape from it.

Up until this point I have been practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a grappling art created by Carlos Gracie, for just under four months, but I have been interested in martial arts my entire life. I grew up practicing Tae Kwon Do at the local YMCA before moving on to Capoeira (another Brazilian martial art) and boxing. I never stayed long in the previously mentioned arts either, out of disinterest in the former and an inability to properly train in the latter (the Capoeira gym I frequented was in Chicago, and my mother was not willing to go more than once a week). 

When I started boxing, I thought I’d found my niche where I could grow my warrior spirit and skills. That was until a run-in with a very aggressive partner undermined my confidence. But I was not deterred entirely. Back in November, I discovered two Jiu-Jitsu classes near me, one in Rolling Prairie and another in Westville. Spurred on by a college friend, I went and talked to the two gym owners before settling on the gym in Rolling Prairie. It was a more practical move since my day job required me to commute to South Bend, and Rolling Prairie was on the way. So then I restarted my martial arts journey.

Many people who I tell that I practice martial arts give me one of two reactions; the main reaction is a wondrous interest. Many guys and girls I tell what martial arts I’ve practiced immediately think of stuff they’ve seen on television or in video games and compare me as such. The second and very rare reaction is that they think I’m a violent person. An example of this was when I was in college; I created a project for a speech class about the benefits of martial arts for kids. I mentioned that it was good exercise, a confidence booster and gives people an education in cultures around the world. While I was met with the previously mentioned interest, I had one adamant objector state that it makes people violent. Even though I had stated in the presentation that in a study by a British behavioral analysis group, it was shown that those who practiced martial arts tended to be less aggressive than those who didn’t. It was because martial arts were a healthy outlet for them and discouraged violence within the gym or dojo.

In my personal experience, the people I’ve met who studied one or two martial arts were extremely confident and friendly; only a few were antisocial. In every class and private session, they were always willing to teach me new things and some even became good friends.

I’ll admit that it’s quite humorous to see the two polarizing opinions whenever I mention my hobby, but in the end it doesn’t really matter to me what they think. I find martial arts to be one of the best things in my life and one of the ways that I can relieve stress and use my natural physicality to the best of my abilities. 

While it sucks getting punched, kicked, or — in this instance — getting choked, each sparring session that I’ve been through teaches me something: to take a punch from another person means that I can take on anything. To survive three minutes being hit by somebody with much more experience shows me that I’m much more capable and tough than I thought myself to be. It shows me how to be humble and to leave my ego outside the ring or at the door, and to always respect the other person in front of me.

I plan to continue my martial arts journey and hope to learn much more, even if it means my throat is a little sore for a while.

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