Are You OK?

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photo by Francine Schaepper

When I was seventeen I had a job laying tile floors and carpet. There was a subcontractor by the name of Robert who used to come and work with us. He was a hardened ex-Marine, a non-nonsense fellow and an overall fascinating guy.

Now on this job, we used these tools with razor-sharp blades to slice the tiles. I was never very agile with them, and I’d frequently get cut. It was never anything life-threatening, but you wouldn’t know that from how I reacted.

Robert would always look over at me and laugh.

He would say, “Hey man, there’s no difference between a knife cut and a paper cut.”

At the time, I couldn’t understand what he was talking about. There I was, having stabbed myself once again, and this guy was in my face about it.

Flash forward to to the present day.

Yesterday Mr. Vizzio and I were training when he said to me, “It’s not what happens to you that’s important. It’s how you respond that’s important.” 

By way of an example, he added, “If you’re out walking around and some guy’s eyeball falls out on the street, you’ve got to pick it up and you’ve got to clean it off and you’ve got to give it back to the guy, even though you’re freaking out inside. You’ve got to be cool.”

I think you can see that it was another rendition of the point Robert was trying to make to me when I was 17. When we find ourselves out of our element and on the verge of spiraling into the vortex, what matters most is how we respond.

See, our problems are going to come and they’re going to go. But the posture that we have in the situation, the poise and the confidence, even when all hell is breaking loose, that’s what matters.

I met Mr. Vizzio just a few years after I started doing that work with Robert. I was 19 when I began to do full contact sparring with him, and I got an even closer look at this idea of “response/reaction”.

To be clear, Sifu used to beat the crap out of me –  it was not pretty. He would call it “getting happy”: he would hit my chin and put me just on the very edge of being knocked out, to where I was milling and stumbling around like I was giddy.

Whenever that happened, which was often, he would scream out, “You’re OK!!” And like magic, I would somehow come back to life. I was able to regain my grip on reality because he was there to anchor me.

Now I think you can get the point here – our responses to what happens aren’t just for ourselves.

Put differently, we’re able to give people in our lives strength in adverse times when we respond the right way. Robert did that for me when I cut my hand, and Sifu did that for me when we were sparring.

They took my adverse reaction, put it in context and didn’t let me lose my head over what I perceived as a crisis.

See, we can do this. It’s just about giving people that are in jeopardy permission to be stronger. And that’s a lovely thing because then we can have real influence over our worlds.

So, if you’ve been hit, if you’re down, if you’re all cut up, if you’ve just been knocked out, if your eyeball has popped out…“You’re OK!!”

That’s the message. It’s yours to give and to share with whomever needs it.

For more about our larger project of cooperative Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts training, visit the Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Brooklyn BJJ) website here.
Contact Gene Dunn here and Brian Glick here.

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  1. P. Fitzhume

    Thanks for sharing this. I think it’s easy in sparring to lose your head over what you perceive as a petty slight or a personal affront. To keep everything in it’s right place and then to have other people help you to do that is just a great dynamic for a dojo. We need to build each other up.

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