Pardon Me, You're in My Space

We all have one--our own personal bubble. Some people have small bubbles, others have large bubbles; it is a personal boundary that every person feels should be respected by others. So, what happens when a person joins a martial arts class and then comes face-to-face with a complete stranger coming at them with arms open and who then proceeds to grab the crisp new uniform this new student spent twenty minutes trying to figure out how to put on? First shock...then panic...next, his or her gut says, "RUN", but instead, they freeze. Tonic immobility--when the brain does not know how to react, it freezes.


If you have been around a martial arts school long enough, you are bound to see a few new students who exhibit a look of conflicted terror on his or her face when his or her training partner reaches out to grab them. Maybe you are, or were, that student. It does not happen to everyone, but it does happen, and that is okay. Being comfortable with a complete stranger in your personal space is not, by the rules of nature, normal and so, it is something that may take some time to overcome.


So how does one overcome having another student inside one's personal space? A student should start by compartmentalizing the interaction between themselves and their training partner. The contact, which can be quite close at times, serves an important purpose; it is practice--it is skill development and mental hardening. Over time, which can vary from person-to-person, the brain begins to understand its task and responds appropriately to a grab or strike as the student develops new skills, but it takes practice and exposure to the very thing, which makes us uncomfortable. As the brain becomes accustom to having someone in its "safe" space, it learns to counter, or defend, itself, which, in turn, allows a student to protect the personal space he or she values and wants to preserve.

Viktor E. Frankl, a famous psychiatrist, is said to have made the following quote: "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that, space is our power to choose our response. In our response lie our growth and our freedom." Contemplating the quote in the context of this article, my take away is: although it is difficult to allow a person, we barely know or may not know at all, into our personal space, doing so in a controlled environment, we gain, over time, ultimate jurisdiction over something intimately fundamental to us--our personal bubble.

While on the topic it is, I think, important to remind those who have been students of the martial arts for long periods, how easy it is to become acclimated to having someone in what should be considered protected space. Never forget that while in the dojo, having someone very much in your space, even to the point of bodies intertwined on the mat, is training. You must not become complacent when outside the dojo in an informal setting. Students should always be aware of how close a stranger, or other unwanted person, is to them. Be aware of your surroundings. Children taking martial arts classes should be reminded that they too have a bubble and that they should protect their personal space despite how close classmates may get in the dojo.

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