The Snare of a Glass Jaw

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This week I was supervising numerous 2 minute boxing matches. The participants were all adolescents and mostly inexperienced. Having sparred informally as well as in tournament settings, it was easy to discern what most of their movements and decisions were based on. Many entered the ring without thought about stance, breathing technique, or the 120 seconds between them and the whistle. They appeared to enter the ring with a short game mentality of swinging continuously and wildly at their opponent’s face. In addition to this, the 30 other preteens standing in anticipation outside of the ring only provoked their adrenaline all the more. Cheers, laughs, and shouts of instruction had them all in a frenzied state and it was a high energy environment.

For the most part, everything went positive and there was only one event of tears so it was an overall good experience. Every so often, an underdog would rise to overcome their opponent. But it did not take more than a third of the match’s time to know who had the upper hand. As already stated, the participants were mostly inexperienced and evenly matched so technique was not the giveaway. It was not the amount of swings thrown nor even how many hits to the face were taken.

The telltale sign was the spirit of the competitor.

Every student of combat sports is taught self defense techniques. Whether it is how to react to strikes or being grabbed, every system has its own ideal defense. I have trained in multiple martial arts and over the years I have seen many impractical lessons that only work in a simulated encounter. Every instructor imparts technique and execution with hope the student never needs to use it. Repetition and cultivating muscle memory drives the lesson down into the student and it becomes a part of their skill set. But only one thing will prove whether it ‘took’ or not; the day the real test arrives. There is no lesson like the lesson of experience. Its pace of instruction accelerates faster and travels further than any simulated lesson can.

I still remember the first time I was punched squarely in the face. It was not a friendly environment or a safe place of training; it was neither in play nor in practice. I was hit by a person that outweighed me and stood taller than I did. I was seated and they were standing, I never knew it was coming and they knew all along. I will also not forget the look on their face when I pushed myself off the ground and stood to face them.

Anyone familiar with boxing or other combat sports has heard about the infamous “glass jaw”. It is a term used to describe combatants with limited ability to suffer strikes, typically to the face. A combatant may have speed, technique, and physical strength but if they cannot handle attacks they are already undone. To counterbalance this (mostly) mental state, instructors will drive it down into the student’s spirit – “it’s all in your mind”. When the mind is overcome, the body and willpower follows. So an instructor pushes the student (or should) to a place that feels physically intolerable but is really just mentally painful. The student’s empowered mind will pursue dominion; the body is captive to the sheer force of their resolve.

The term “roll with the punches” is an idiom used to convey the will to persevere through difficulty. But literally, one of the techniques taught concerning being hit is moving with the direction of the blow. Continuing with the momentum of the attack decreases the force of it. Another technique is to keep the mouth closed. Obvious reasons like keeping the teeth in the head are there but it also can prevent a broken jaw or the tongue being bit in half.

These points have not been exhaustive but for the basis of this commentary the last point I will make regards breathing. In Karate and Tae Kwon Do, I was taught about the importance of the Kiyap. The Kiyap is the well-known guttural yell of martial artists and is related to the exertion of breath during striking movements. It is akin to the boxer’s audible breaths expelled from their noses and gritted teeth when they punch. The importance of these is explained a number of ways but the crux of the matter is breathing. The combatant must breathe!

Adversity in life, regardless how it manifests, is best handled like a punch in the face:

1. Sometimes fighting back is counterproductive: the force of resistance can be minimized if you go with the flow. It’s no different than swimming downstream instead of upstream; it’s obvious which direction is the easiest.

2. Keep your mouth shut. “It’s better to be silent and thought a fool then to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” We’ve all witnessed mudslinging and it never looks favorable on anyone’s part. Be careful to hold your tongue lest you bite it off.

3. Breathe: Don’t let difficulty steal your breath but instead regulate your breathing and on your own terms. Keep calm and carry on.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

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