One of the reasons I enjoy practicing martial arts so much is that it changes me.  I often feel that while intellectual learning may grant me more knowledge, it doesn’t have the power to change me.

I was raised on the belief that physical aggression is bad and forbidden, and that displaying any form of physical aggression is primitive, shameful and humiliating.

I remember two instances in which the faintest expression of physical aggression as a child brought on such a severe reaction that I understood quite well that such a behavior is not tolerated.

This and other forms of feminine gender socialization have made me much more comfortable with being or imagining to be the target of physical aggression than being the agent of physical aggression.

Merely playing the role of the attacker during martial art class can be extremely difficult for me. I feel out of place, embarrassed, my limbs heavy.

But I adapt to it. After a while, playing the role of the attacker comes more naturally, eliciting less embarrassment. I feel relieved. This relief comes from having the opportunity to rework and change the corporeal and emotional patterns I was socially wired to in relation to aggression.

During this class, I not only became more proficient in one language of the human body (one can view different martial arts as different forms or dialects of body languages), I had also changed. When I change, I feel as though something in the world outside me has reached through to me and penetrated my soul.

The force of a flickering light-bulb

I want to feel that I truly inhabit my body. But I only experience it very rarely. When I move or execute movements automatically I’m as far from inhabiting my body as one can be. So maybe expressing doubt, indecisiveness, pondering – through the body – is one mode of inhabiting it.

This occurs in situations when you’re not sure what to do with your body or part of it. Or if you are trying to change some form of bodily habit, a former way of moving, adapt yourself to something new. Your movement is tentative, faltering. Your muscle tonus oscillates, tenderly changing, from one moment to another, like a flickering light bulb.

Regardless of your will, you now express something new with your body. It is precisely the indecisiveness and doubt that communicates this fact to you and others. You make an effort; moored in time and space, because you lack confidence and authority.

This experience is inextricably bound to imagining new ways of inhabiting ones’ body, and to a genuine willingness to change. This experience needs to be sheltered to take place. Aggression, humiliation, pressure, social or physical, dictation will strangle it like putting a glass over a little flame. When it comes to human sexuality, I believe that the spread and force of symbolical and material erotization of violence, and more broadly, of hierarchy and power relations ( along with the accompanying construction of human sexuality as genital penetration) suffocates this potential mode of inhabiting one’s body through sexuality. By definition, this mode of sexuality or eroticism, would not lend itself to commercialization or consumption.

Intimacy at arm’s length

“The arm’s length principle (ALP) is the condition or the fact that the parties to a transaction are independent and on an equal footing”- Wikipedia

I used to think that intimacy meant reducing the space or distance between you and another person until you are enmeshed, completely entangled with one another. I thought that I had no difficulty with intimacy since my two default states of being are either severe delineation of boundaries or complete enmeshment. In my everyday life, when I engage in a friendly conversation with a person and he or she touches my hand or my shoulder or come closer, my immediate reaction is to shrink back. I know that it isn’t helpful and that it alienates others, but I can’t help myself. Even when I know that the other person means well.

Recently I came to realize that, in fact, intimacy is strengthened when you are able to touch another person while maintaining a distance between the other person and you. The space between is not only spatial- it is also a “bodily” state of being. It can be conceived along the spectrum between  aggression or stiffness on the one extreme and complete looseness on the other.

Touching another person while preserving a spatial and bodily distance can establish a strong sense of intimacy. This intimacy can be intimidating and raise suspicion toward the Other:  How can I know that I’m not being judged? That I’m not being ridiculed? The intimacy in this encounter can feel extremely risky. When I feel this tension builds within me, I can destroy intimacy in one of two ways: I can either introduce physical aggression or break the balance between looseness and stiffness.

The fear of being judged or ridiculed can be dealt with by brining an Object to my encounter with the Other, like some sort of achievement, be it intellectual or physical , or a status symbol. With this third object I try to impress the other person, to defuse his or her imagined criticism or manipulate him or her. Having to approach another person, without any “third object” to bring with me, can lead to extreme vulnerability. If only I could become enmeshed with the Other- appropriating him or her- I could escape my state of being vulnerable and defenseless. But this time the Other won’t let me use aggression to break the distance. The Other will use aggression against me- pushing back, recreating the distance between us.

When intellectual learning interferes with corporeal learning

I really like doing drills with B. Even though he trains about 1/6 of the time I train, he teaches me a lot. He sees right through my errors. He told me that I think too much about the drill, and that I should just do it. He’s right.
Whenever I’m presented with a drill, and I need to  execute it or perform it, I try first to intellectually plan or go through each phase of the drill and then do it. But then I get confused. I have this kind of very strong, inner lack of trust of my corporeal learning ability. If I physically execute a drill correctly, I’m surprised. I tell him: I have no idea how I did it. But I did it.
By saying that I have no idea how I did it I actually say that I execute the drill without figuring it out intellectually. My intellectual capacities are much more developed than my corporeal learning abilities. I have learned to trust and use my intellect much more than my corporeal knowledge or learning. And in relying on the wrong brain faculty I interfere and slow down the development of the right faculty of the brain for this kind of learning.This also makes me think about the traits that a good teacher needs to have for this kind of learning process.
More than anything else, it is our body that connects us to out fragility and weakness. My inability to trust my body partly stems from the difficulty in accepting my weaknesses.

Many people find it difficult to bear another’s weakness and so they react by patronizing -denying their own weakness. Alternatively, they expect or even try to force the other to behave as they do. This may also be another way to distance themselves from their own vulnerability.

My body and death

When I touch my body with my own hands, I live and express the duality of the subject and object- I touch and I’m being touched, I’m touched because I touch, and vice versa.

When I touch my body with both of my hands I connect with my mortality. When I touch my body I recognize and meet again in my present body my past body, the way my body used to be, when I was a baby and a toddler and a girl. When I was born, I was completely dependent upon the two humans who created me with parts of their flesh. In one act they in motion the myriad of potentialities that would become me.

Before I was born I fed on my mother’s flesh. After I was born, she became everything and everyone to me. My body, small and amorphous. Still hasn’t been exposed to the light of the sun. Today, some of what were then potentialities have materialized, others never will. I think that when you’re 30 you begin to grasp that it’s not likely that you will undergo a dramatic change. When you die you will be, more or less, who you are today.

If I do not die young, my  future body will return to being an amorphous bundle of need dependent on others. This time I will not be adorable and sweet, but a sign of decay and disgusting to others. Exploited minorities will be paid to touch my flesh. Medical tubes will pierce my body, many more artificially produced chemical compounds penetrate my blood flow daily, my insides monitored and checked.  When I write this or think about it, I shed tears. Is it still crying if you shed tears in silence? I read about crying in Wikipedia. It says: “[T]he act of crying has been defined as “a complex secretomotor phenomenon characterized by the shedding of tears from the lacrimal apparatus, without any irritation of the ocularstructures”

How the image inverses reality


    This image is a blunt example for patriarchal ideology at work:

1.It says: “I have tits= women”, ” I have a penis= men”. Wrong. Men have tits just as women do. The correct equation should be “I have a vagina and a clitoris= cis-women”.  The mistaken analogy that’s expressed in the image serve to reinforce the cultural mechanism by which  women’s breasts are objectified while men’s undergo naturalization. It also serves to to erase the reality and plurality of female genitalia, as they exist in and of themselves and not as just complementary to men’s genitalia.Another possible explanation is that this part of the image refers to the fact that the majority of people in prostitution are women and girls, and the majority of clients are men. In this case, saying that women (“because they have tits”) get stuff for free will amount to the erasure of the crimes against humanity performed by men against women in all forms of prostitution, documented prostitution (“pornography”) and White slavery.

2.”I have tits- give me free stuff”. Men are the ones given free stuff in contemporary Western societies. Whenever a men gets a dollar for every 70 cents a woman gets for the same job, men get stuff for free just because they have a penis. Men also get stuff for free because the majority of housework and children rearing services are performed solely by women. In the contemporary, Western capitalist societies, this kind of work doesn’t “count” because it is performed in the domestic sphere and not in the public sphere. However, the public sphere depends on this unpaid and unrecognized work.

3.”I have a penis-blame me for everything”- wrong. Most women and men are insufficiently aware of the damages and problems brought on by male domination. Not the other way around. And we don’t blame you. We demand the right to have at least half of the world re-made in our image.

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.