Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Controlling the Gag Reflex

I’ve always encouraged my students to wear a mouth guard for safety while sparring. Even though I discourage my students from using a lot of force when hitting the face and head, accidents happen when the adrenaline is pumping. And when those wayward blows hit home, a mouth guard is an important piece of equipment for protecting against concussions and mouth injuries.

That being said, until recently, I hadn’t been wearing mine. I had bought a fairly high end one, the Brain Pad Lo Pro for women, which has a breathing channel and protects the upper and lower jaw. I hadn’t even boiled it and fitted it to my mouth, the reason being that I remembered what it was like the last time I wore one. I could only just barely control my gag reflex while I was wearing it.

For some reason, and I don’t think I’m alone here, it feels very unnatural to have that piece of plastic stuck in my mouth. The moment I put it in, I feel the urge to spit it out. I have to really relax and keep breathing to keep the gag reflex from taking over. Usually when I get sparring, the sensation goes away – I’m too busy trying to hit and not get hit – but the moment I stop sparring, the gag reflex comes back.

At any rate, I decided it was high time I get my gag reflex under control. I’m always asking my students to do things to push them a little outside their comfort zones in order to progress and improve. I ask them to learn to throw themselves to the ground, to get hit in the groin (with a cup on, of course), etc. It seemed hypocritical that I was putting off doing something that brought me outside my own comfort zone.

My students now get to chuckle at me as I make massive gagging noises every time I put my mouth guard in before sparring. Yes, it’s embarrassing because it shows a weakness. At the same time though, it also shows strength. I’m facing my physical awkwardness and working through it. Each time I put it in, the gag reflex becomes less pronounced.

Everyone experiences some kind of awkwardness, fear or embarrassment when they first start taking a martial art. The goal is to work toward mastery of the body and mind so we can better use them in training and in life.

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