Live and still matter

To sustain a fall, a primitive instinct sets in, causing the body to send both hands forward. I vividly remember what happens when the instinct doesn't set in- as a child I fell right on my front teeth. Luckily, no impact was absorbed by the wrists, only small perforation of the dermis.

To sustain a fall, a primitive instinct sets in, causing the body to send both hands forward. I vividly remember what happens when the instinct doesn’t set in- as a child I fell right on my front teeth.
Luckily, no impact was absorbed by the wrists, only small perforation of the dermis.

The wound after it was cleaned.

The wound after it was cleaned.

Three days post injury. After the bleeding has stopped, the body creates a local infection to reject any bacteria. Local swelling and redness. The wound actually looks worse and is more painful then right after injury.

Three days post injury. After the bleeding has stopped, the body creates a local inflammation to reject any bacteria. Local swelling and redness. The wound actually looks worse and is more painful then right after injury.

Eight days post injury. The wound has practically healed. Almost no pain is left.

Eight days post injury. The wound has practically healed. Almost no pain is left.

 

 

 

I spilled water on my keyboard. I can still use it although it sustained some damage.

This made me think about the difference between live and still matter. In contrast to still matter, live matter can react and re-organize in response to damages. My body matter does it both on the unconscious and involuntary level (healing of wounds, to give one example), and on the conscious level (learning how to fall while minimizing impact).

The mortality of all living things refers to the duration of time in which the ability of matter to reorganize lasts. In this sense, my body creates and constantly recreates time and space. My body creates time as it reverses the damage and returns to an earlier point. My body creates space as it expands and contracts (e.g. losing or gaining weight),  or when it  reworks its lining – the skin – that closes itself once perforated.

The first and essential forms of space and time are therefore dependent upon bodily actions of self-preservation.

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Paying the price of learning to use violence

This post is a response to this post.

In the past I was certain that I want to acquire the ability to use violence to defend myself. As a woman, I feel constantly exposed to violence. But the more I experiment with martial arts; the more I realize that there are prices one has to pay in order to acquire the ability to use violence.

One has to be able to practice the ability to use violence on others, e.g. training partners. In the very least one has to be able to exert bodily movements or to move his or her body in ways that simulate violence. Or, he or she may need to induce pain in others, or take the risk of inducing pain in others.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t want to pay these prices. I don’t want to get my hands dirty. I want to be a good person. I feel that perhaps it is better to remain in the position of the defenseless victim than to acquire the ability to use violence.

I want to describe what I feel in my body when I’m asked to perform a movement that simulates violence. Imagine that my body is a car. I’m driving my car on the road, nonchalantly. When I have to perform a movement associated with violence, the road I was driving on a minute before disappears. Now I’m driving a car that’s hanging on a cliff’s end. I can’t drive at all.

On the one level, I know that this part of my gender socialization, and my oppression as a woman.

On the other hand, this is a part of me I don’t know if I can ever change.

Also my gender socialization has positive aspects.  I’m an extremely sensitive person. I experience many things on a very primordial, child-like level, without many filters. I think that I have a strong capacity to connect to others and feel what they feel.  I can’t watch aggressive sports because I can’t take pain or violence as a form of entertainment, even if the participants consented. Trying to watch the UFC in past had actually made me cry. Living in a society whose members exhibit greater degrees of comfort with violence then me, I often wonder what is wrong with me. But what if things are the other way around? Perhaps society would be a better place if more men and women were weak and too sensitive, like me, then if people like me would get tougher?

An update: I think this post is the mirror image of this one

Update #2 this is really appropriate to put here.

I accept the limitations it imposes on me and it lets me do what I love best

I wrote in my last post that part of my passion for BJJ stems from it being an arena where I’m able to experiment with my mind/body philosophy. I feel that my body is a significant and not an incidental aspect of my existence only in relation to BJJ.  It is the only arena where my body is not a mute vehicle that needs maintenance to keep my mind going and allow me to work, study, talk, think; nor is it an aesthetic object to be looked at from the outside. Injuries are one type of event that highlight the increased significance of my body.

Beyond the common cliché that one should treat injury in training not as an enemy but as part of life, I found that through injuries I remap my body and connect to my body in more meaningful ways than I did before. When all of my abilities are intact, and I experience no pain or limitation in movement, I tend to take the body for granted. My body is transparent to me. It is as me/I as it can be. When an organ is injured, it’s instantly rendered alien to me. The extent of alienation usually corresponds to the extent of pain, damage or limitation. The organ no longer submits to my will, to my mind. It keeps me (my mind) from doing things, from fulfilling my will. I’m usually frightened and uncertain- because I lack the unmediated connection I have with my consciousness is lacking when it comes to my body. I can’t look into my body, and medical imaging technologies will not tell me anything. I can’t know for sure what has happened to me and what awaits me.

But when my body heals itself, I somehow love that organ more than I did before. I look at it, from outside, but differently. That organ is more mine then it had been before. It bears more significance for me, through my memories and the traces of time. I wrote before about how I feel a unity with my right arm. A few months ago, my right wrist was inflamed so much that every movement hurt and the hand got swollen. It has turned alien, and when it healed, it became more mine than it had been before. I remember the pain associated with my wrist, the limitation in the skillful execution of my will. Now my right wrist serves me again.

I  another incidence I hurt my toe.  It became blue and swollen to twice of its original size after a few hours. It was painful to step on that foot for about two weeks. After a couple of months,  that toe still doesn’t look like the other one. It’s shape may have changed permanently. It now bears significance and memory that it hadn’t before.

But these are examples of very small injuries in peripheral organs. As much as I need my foot for my balance, I can do pretty much everything with a very painful toe, and I’d suspect, even if I had lost my toe altogether. My right wrist is important for many mundane activities, but pain in that organ does not influence major activities such as standing, walking, running, stretching. Sparring around injuries that are located in more central parts of the body- such as the rib cage or lower back, organs which pose more severe limitations and influence major activities such as breathing or walking- is more challenging. After you’ve healed enough, you want to go back to sparring. But you know that if you put pressure on that organ you risk flaring the injury again. So, in order to spar painless, you need to keep the hurt organ all the time at the back of your mind. You have to remember to avoid certain movements that will burden this organ. This means that you may have to be creative ( to find alternative movements), that you have to concede more (to voluntarily assume a passive position), that you will react and play defense rather than offence, and that your training partners may try to correct you- as they don’t have the corporeal responsibility you have to remember the hurt organ and avoiding gestures that burdens it- all the time. But somehow, sparring around an injury feels more intimate to me. It augments the intimacy between me and my body. We share a special bond when we (me and my body) spar and train around a central injury.  I accept the limitations it imposes on me and it lets me do what I love best.

The male and female breasts- part two

My post “The male and female breasts” is my most read post. I hope that this reflects the strong argument and clear style, rather than the photograph of a male and female breast on the top of the post.

I have encountered three broad types of disagreement with my position:

  1. Some say that women’s breasts (and not men’s breasts) have always been sexualized in all human societies, and this is evidence that there is something inherently sexual in the former and not in the latter. This claim is factually wrong. In many human societies women’s breasts are not more sexualized than men’s, and women are not expected to cover them (for example, certain African tribes).
  2. Others contend that women’s breasts are larger than men, and there are more ways to “play” with them, hence they are more sexual. But this is not true for many men: I recently read an article stating that about 50% of men have a condition of enlargement of fat tissues in their breasts, called Gynecomastia. Many men who work out at the gym have, at least by my impression, breasts that are just as large as the average woman’s breasts, only theirs are made of muscle and not fat. Moreover, if it was the size of the organ that sexualized it, then men’s sex organs should have been considered more sexual than women’s, which is not the case.
  3. Finally, there the argument that women’s breasts change and develop more during puberty and therefore signal sexual maturity. This widespread notion is also inaccurate. Men’s breasts change and develop just as dramatically during puberty- both body fat and muscle increase and body hair develops. Also, as many feminist authors have noted, “child-like” femininity (signaling weakness and immaturity) is celebrated and sexualized in Western contemporary society. If it were indeed signs of maturity that were sexualized, then an excess of thick, black, public hair should have been celebrated as the epitome of feminine sexuality.

So I stand by my original argument. The fetishization and objectification of women’s breasts is neither necessary nor universal. You will have no luck searching for its rationale in the domain of biology. As women, we would be better off without this fetishization. Perhaps there is room for another posy about the advantages men get from the fact that such a central and big part of their body is not sexualized and objectified.

Measuring up to myself and not others

As a child, I was very afraid of falling, or of losing balance. I remember my mother telling me once that I tumble like a rock. One time I fell on my face and broke both of my front teeth. My entire childhood, I couldn’t do a simple forward roll. Once a friend had tried  to help me, and I rolled but I instantly felt rage because of the helplessness I experienced during the roll. So I never tried it again.

BJJ is the perfect martial art for me, because it involves mainly ground work. But when I came to my first BJJ training, I had to roll forward and backwards as part of the drills during warm-up. I cherish my first coach’s empathy, un-judgmental encouragement and competence in teaching. Thanks to him.  both the fact that I rolled at this first training, and it didn’t make me feel helpless or enraged. I persevered and now BJJ is one of the best and most enjoyable experiences in my life. Through my first coach’s help, I could transcend the limits of my body and mind, and genuinely improve myself. Improve myself in relation to me, not in relation to others.

I’ve been training for a year and a half now, and I usually “lose” sparring matches in both clubs where I train. I often get comments from my training partners, such as, ” You always gives me your back”‘, or “you shouldn’t put your weight forward in guard”, “why did you do this, last time you were better”, or “Why do you keep repeating this mistake”. I know their intentions are good, and that they are trying to help me to improve, but these comments make me feel helpless. I try to do my best. Really. I try to  follow the principles I learned, and I try to work well. But when I get these comments, I feel like I’m not as competent as I should be, or that my understanding is flawed. These comments make me appreciate all the more the teaching style of my first coach. When we rolled, he rarely criticized me. He always succeeded in finding the right level of game that will challenge me yet give me a clear sense of enjoyment and sense of competence.

When I shared my frustration with one of my current coaches, he told me to focus on my successes and not failures. So I want to focus on my success in transcending myself. Yesterday, I had to do a drill that mortified me. It involved jumping to a closed guard when you partner is standing. It was the first time I observed the drill, and taking part in it really scared me. Jumping was relatively easy. Being jumped, was another story. I don’t know whether my fear was related to my body (the fact that I am a woman, and that most partners are much heavier than me), or a mental one (the fact that I never had to stand up with the weight of another person on me).

This really scared me, and the fact that the first time that I tried it I fell on my face and on my training partner did not help. A blue  belt at the club stayed after training to teach me. He had the patience to break up the drill into several stages and I felt that he had faith that I could do it, despite my fear. After several attempts as well as escape attempts (on my part, I already said that I am a coward) I managed to stay on my feet for two seconds with the weight of another person on me. I know that it is probably not impressive in relation to others, and I know that I probably “barely” did it. But I succeeded in doing something that I was mortified from at first. And it was the best feeling I had in quite a while and an accomplishment I cherish. For me, this is the meaning of measuring up to myself, and not others.

I am my right arm but I have a left arm

I am my right arm, although I have a left arm. A sense of ownership versus a sense of being one with. I enact the most complex movements I want to execute with my right arm. It seems to execute my movements immediately and fluently. This sense of uncomplicated immediacy, the fact that the route from my conscious thought to my movement is so rapid, is probably what grants me the feeling of being one with, or inhabiting my right arm.

My left arm is a completely different story. It feels like a tool for me most of the time. It feels clumsy and a bit stiff when I try to execute complex movements with it. I can hold the tomato in place with my left arm, while chopping it with my right arm, but not the other way around. I am usually more aware of the existence of my left arm then I am of my right. The former is a small fleshy presence next to my torso. The latter is transparent to me. It was simultaneously surprising and not surprising to me to discover that my right hand is slightly more developed and large than my left.

Injury disconnects my feeling of being one with my right arm. The strange sensation, pain, damage to my normal range of motion, causes alienation. I now have a right arm. I need to stabilize it a bit in space next to my torso. When my left arm is injured it is made even more alien to me than it already is.

Perhaps it is the immediacy with which my right arm corresponds to my conscious thought that makes me feel I am it. I have a somewhat similar relation to other humans that are very close to me. If someone is close to me to the degree that he or she can instantaneously grasp what I am feeling (and I was blessed with the ability and opportunity to forge such connections), I have a feeling that we are no longer completely separated from each other.

Does this stream of thoughts bring me closer to the question of why most of the time I have a feeling of objectification/alienation regarding my body, while feeling unity with my mind? Immediacy seems to be the answer. My conscious thought immediately reflects my conscious thought. But this is a tautology. And I am no less my flesh than I am my conscious thought.

The male and female breasts

Image

My view of the body is a variant of the social constructivist approach. I don’t deny the power and significance of the organic-material body and biology. I do, however, believe that the experience, interpretation and definition of biological events can only take shape through cultural schemas modulated by the social position of individuals in society.

Many have written about the construction of human sexuality as the domain of the secretive and the forbidden. In Western contemporary society, the human body is clothed and treated as a secret. That is why exposure of certain body parts in specific contexts is arousing. Normally, children’s bodies are not socially constructed as sexual; that is why there are fewer restrictions on children’s bodily exposure.

This interplay of concealment and exposure is at the heart of the differential treatment of male and female breast in Western contemporary societies. As the image above serve to illustrate, biologically speaking, the male and female breasts are not that different. I hope no one would seriously claim that the fact that the bulge is mainly of fat in one case, and mainly of muscle in the second, makes any difference in the two breasts’ potential to elicit arousal. What is dramatically different is that only the female breast is sexually objectified.

Sexual objectification is also evident in the differential treatment of male and female breasts in the martial arts. In some competitions in certain martial arts, men are forbidden to wear a shirt underneath the gi, and women are forbidden not to wear a shirt. In the popular MMA competitions, all men fight bare chested. I assume that the bare chest of men has the same biological potential to elicit arousal in humans that are attracted to men, as the potential of the bare female chest to elicit arousal in humans that are attracted to women. So I can see two possible interpretations of the social legitimacy of presenting the bare male chest in non-sexual settings:

 1.  Either society/culture represses and denies the potential of the bare male chest to elicit arousal, and hence represses the desire for men (just as society emphasizes the (often) male desire for the female body); OR

2.  Society overwrites the potential of the bare male chest to elicit desire by systematically excluding it from the concealment/exposure game (to which the female breast is subjugated and in the name of which it is commercialized and exploited ), sending the message (to those who are attracted to men): don’t make a fuss.

I believe that it is  in the interest of women that we demand to exclude greater parts of our bodies from the cultural concealment/exposure game.