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.

What I love about BJJ has nothing to do with winning or losing

In August I wrote about my experiences of gender and embodiment in the martial arts, specifically in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). A lot has changed. So this post is a kind of update post. From the beginning , the most important thing practicing BJJ  gave me was the ability to unite my body and mind, an ability for which I found no other outlet, before or  since. As a woman whose experiences with her body were objectification or alienation, practicing BJJ was a precious gift – the experience of a unity with my body (generally, I feel far more one with my mind, then with my body).

I was physically active before I started practicing BJJ but what characterized my physical activity was that it was monotonous and solitary. At the gym where I used to work out, there was anti-bacterial spray you could use to clean up the machines before you use them. I think this  spray is a good metaphor to the kind of human relationships that often develop at the gym.

When I started practicing BJJ I had to become one with my body for three main reasons:

  1. For the first time in my life I found an outlet to express and develop intelligence and creativity through my body.
  2. I had to engage in intensive embodied learning that made me concentrate 100% on my body (unlike the simple monotonous movements at the gym).
  3. I had to be 100%in the here and now to avoid pain and feelings of helplessness that sometimes occur in sparring and drills.

However, recently, I have begun to experience unity with my body in a completely different way.

I used to be very competitive. I had to temporarily let go of that competitiveness and toughness, when I gradually returned to practice after the most serious injury I suffered. But this was only a forced concession. Because my body prevented me from doing what I love the most for nearly two months, I lost my trust in him (Hebrew is a gendered language and I think of my body in the usual masculine grammatical way in Hebrew).I was afraid of rousing my body’s fury again.  As I slowly regained confidence in my body’s ability to endure the pressure, I returned to my old (relative) toughness. I measured the quality of my sparring rolls by the number of submissions, of me or of my sparring partners.

For a while, I had felt that I was improving my technique. But lately I’ve been feeling stuck, that my technique was even deteriorating. The number of submissions I succeeded in pulling dramatically decreased, and there were entire sparring rolls in which I couldn’t even reach a dominant position once.

These experiences (among others) drew me closer to the inevitable conclusion that I am simply not gifted in BJJ, and that I probably need to work twice as hard  as the average male to reach his level.  Surprisingly, this conclusion did not change the intensity of passion I have for BJJ. It made me realize that what is more interesting to me than winning or losing, or mastering a technique, is the primordial and primitive physical encounter of the struggle.

I noticed that I started to roll with much less physical force. I get less tired. What is most important for me in the sparring roll is making this connection, bodily communication, with another embodied human being. To get some sort of message through, with my body, and to receive the message (or messages) of my rolling partners

I feel calmer, more relaxed and more focused when I spar. I want to listen and embrace what that other person has to tell (me). His or her achievement (in submitting me, for instance) may be interesting , or it may not, but it does not automatically decrease my presence. I feel almost as though I meditate during sparring . I feel that the alertness of pain is not the primary reason I am one with my body during sparring anymore. I am one with my body because I have to focus, I have to be 100% in the here and now (being  100% in the here and now has always something to do with being one with the body, although not always in positive ways), in order to receive the message the other person sends me through his or her body and movements. I need to be precise to get my own message through.

I want to get better. I want to master additional techniques. But I know that  even if I don’t, or even if it will be painfully slow, what interests me in BJJ has nothing to do with winning or losing.

An update: the fact that I love BJJ most, but I know that I’m not a talented practitioner, makes me understand this line by Nirvana: I’m worse at what I do best, and for this gift I feel blessed.