Some feel a latent rage when moving into deeper tension which has been locked away for a long time. Rage may make you feel out of control, like you’re not equipped with the tools to harness its explosive energy. Allow me to share with you a little about myself, and how I confronted and released of the rage within me through the martial arts.
My earliest childhood memory was of my father beating my mother. No one, especially his family, understood his post traumatic trauma returning from the Korean war, and the insidious corrosion of our family it caused. My brother heard our mother crying in pain as she lay thrown in a heap on her bed. My brother told me to go in and see if she was okay. Terrified, I felt like I had done something wrong (an operating system lasting throughout my life). I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t say a word. I couldn’t move. I don’t remember anything else. Just fear.
Pan forward 2 years; after the divorce, my mother had to raise us on her own. She had broken up with a man she had been dating who was drunk outside our trailer. He kicked the door in and started beating my brother and I. He had his hands around my throat, choking me. My mother knocked him over and off me. Livid and furious. “Don’t you EVER touch my kids!” she screamed. I covered my head and ran into my room. He then started on my Mother. I trembled with something large and hard in my throat, unable to get it out. My face red and my fists clenched, as I listened to him beat my mother. My mother screaming back at him, fighting him toe to toe.
The door to our room flew open, then slammed shut and locked. My mother standing there, broke one of the windows with her elbow and, hefting us out, told us to run to the neighbor’s house and call the police. I screamed that I didn’t want to leave her, as she lowered us out the window in our pajamas. Even as her ex-boyfriend kicked open the door, she looked at me calmly, told me gently that it would be okay, and told me to run as fast as I could. I don’t remember anything after that moment.
Pan forward 3 years; my mother was steadily dating a new guy which I would meet that afternoon when we all went swimming in a stream up in the mountains. When we arrived, my mother went off swimming by herself. I forget why; maybe I didn’t know. I felt nervous. This frighteningly large steelworker said to me sternly, with a low, forceful voice that he was going to marry my mother and be my father now; and he was in charge now. Erupted with a rage that I couldn’t understand, I began screaming, “NO! You’re not my father,” but he pushed me underwater and held me there. Thrashing futilely, he pulled me out, and I gasped for air. He asked me if I was ready to obey. Fury filled me, and I lashed out at him. He pushed me underneath again. But my scream gulped mouthfuls. I don’t remember what happened afterwards. He became my first step-father.
Fourth grade and a kid in the playground stole out of my backpack a coin that my brother lent to me for “show and tell.” Telling the teacher on the playground, the teacher accused me of lying. Like a volcano I was on the other kid, grabbing at the coin to get it back. The teacher pulled me by the arm into the school, to his office and shut the door. He pulled out a baffled paddle. On the 10th time he hit me, it snapped in two over my lower back. Although I don’t remember what happened afterwards, I do remember that later that year he was fired for the abuse.
Four years later, I was in 7th grade, new to the different building where teachers unsuccessfully attempted to integrate grades 7-12 integrate without problems. I was one of their “problem kids” who “always seemed to find trouble.” A gang 11th grade students walked behind me taunting me. I ignored him, even though that burning lump in my throat started to form. Not getting the response he wanted he started stepping on the backs of my shoes, then pushing my books out of my arms, then flicking my ears…
I turned around and hit him as hard as I could in the groin. He went down hard and limp. His friends were in hysterics laughing and making fun at him for this little, fat kid with horn-rimmed glasses knocking him down. Suddenly, he was off the ground, holding me in a headlock. I couldn’t breath (again). He drove my head into the concrete wall. I blacked out. I don’t remember what happened after that.
These handful of experiences are only highlight of much more graphic events from that time. Being terrorized by many more physical fights, and the much more toxic anticipation of violence. So much rage and fear and feeling trapped and hopeless and at the same time vulnerable and exposed.
What followed from that point forward was an ongoing pattern, repeating this drama over and over throughout my childhood. I didn’t understand why the meanest people always seemed to peg me as the object of their animosity. Incapable of understanding why they targeted me, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I’d explode against them.
As a freshmen in high school, I landed in a psychiatric hospital as an in-patient in the children’s ward, admitted by a crying mother who didn’t understand what was ‘wrong’ with her child. I learned I had to do what they told me and I would be set free. This discovery compelled me to mask and suppress the rage (so I thought).
When finally released, by law no one at my school was supposed to learn where I had been. Unsurprisingly, one teacher told another teacher which was overheard by a student… a week later everyone knew. Reinserted into mainstream population, the negative stigma amplified ten fold.
As a freshman, a senior approached me because for the photosensitive eye protection my doctor had me wear in school. He asked me if I thought I was “cool” to wear sunglasses in school. His first strike slapped the glasses from my face. The second punched my eyes and my head bobbed backward several times before I realized what had happened. For some reason it didn’t hurt, but actually gave me euphoria. Then the explosion.
When a teacher pulled me off of him, the blood pooled underneath his head. Despite the crowd of witnessesing students and teachers, I was suspended for always “bringing out the worst in others” (the vice-principle’s words that day to my mother.) My mother drove me home and dropped me off as she returned to work, seething with disappointment in my actions.
When I returned to school a week later. The senior, with two of his friends cornered me and held me down, repeatedly punching my stomach so no bruises appeared for evidence. I threw up alot of blood.
A pattern in my victimizers materialized though: If I fought back, they ganged up on me. If I ran away, they found me. If I smiled because it didn’t hurt, they beat me unconscious. But, if I rolled with the punches and kicks and pretended as if they really hurt, my would-be attackers would stop feeling successful, their drama played out to conclusion by me fulfilling my part of the social contract as a victim. Their group dynamics, posture, movements, expressions, gestures, syntax and words burned into my brain as I studied them through the fog.
I found myself in martial arts, some would say, “obviously.” They attracted me for reasons most didn’t understand. I saw these martial arts masters with the greatest of composure, minimize harm to their would be attackers, and resolve conflicts without emotional arousal. Asking, “how?” led me on a very long odyssey.
Style after style I studied, some red-faced, arrogant “master” would try to teach me how to ‘fight back.’ Sometimes I laughed during sparring, as the “master” would beat me senseless and then tell me that I needed to be more “counter-aggressive.” Counter-aggression was counter-intuitive. Experience proved it to be an ineffective approach – force only begot more force. That much was obvious to me, though oblivious to the “masters” teaching how to “destroy an attacker.” Destroy? I just wanted to be left alone.
In university majoring in Philosophy, I gravitated to the debate amd rhetoric classes, enjoying most the professors who managed to pick apart seemingly superior arguments with calculated ease and lack of emotion; a verbal compliment to my martial arts exploration. But there, I encountered a new martial art, one of yielding and blending with force, one where if attacked you folded around attacks, rolled with the punches. It resonated with me! It would work, since I had already proven it successful intuitively throughout my life.
Years followed as I delved deeply into this practice of yielding to force. I fought around the world, fought some of the best in the world – beat some, lost some. But that wasn’t important to me. It wasn’t the fighting that made any difference to me whatsoever, but the efficiency of my emotional calm during violence. No freedom comes from escape. You can only be free, if you can stay present in the worst of situations and not be emotionally attached to the excessive stress of negativity.
Martial art allowed me to cathartically release my pent up rage without exploding. Rage wasn’t part of me, and exploding wasn’t how I needed to respond to threats. Rage, only what happens when you suppress how you feel, like a pressure cooker to emotions, which elicits reflexive defense mechanisms. Martial arts (and philosophical debate) took the lid off and allowed me to see that I’ve always had the tools I needed, if I could keep my head cool under pressure, without the defensive reflexes being triggered.
Martial arts, yoga, dance, and other movement methods became rage-therapy. Moving in certain ways removed the lid from the pressure cooker. You dont explode, if you dont suppress. Movement increases your sensitivity to force as it really is, not force as your reflexes interpret it.
Excessive stress, bottled up, triggers defense mechanisms to protect its survival. If you’re heavily armored and you feel pressure against that armor, it’s indiscriminate – it’s a threat and you explode. But if you release that tension, when you experience force, your body folds around it, like when you press your finger into your skin. Perfectly agile and accommodating. In that malleable nature, we become invulnerable.
I stopped fighting. And to prove it to myself, I sought one last time to find the “perfect fight” where I could efficiently perform against some of the world’s best and remain emotionally calm. Finally finding my perfect fight by winning the 2010 World Martial Arts Games, I learned that I can prevent accumulating excessive stress without discharge.
Don’t put on a lid on the pressure cooker. Move, dance, play. Movement keeps the lid off. Movement keeps you sensitive to the actual events, not the false threats misperceived by excessive stress. Fear can be understood as False Evidence Appearing Real. Excessive stress makes you feel it’s worse than it is. Excessive stress builds and reinforces it.
You can’t help others until you first help yourself. Being able to recover from and resist excessive stress dramatically changes how you view others; it softens critical judgment and prevents misperceiving threats. Everyone suffers, and if we realize the source of our own suffrage, we can truly empathize with the plight others endure.
It allowed me to look back upon my poorly equipped father, returning from war, and unable to transition to non-combative domesticity. How different would our lives have been if he had been readied with the tools and techniques to recover from and resist excessive stress? His trauma caused him to sacrifice his entire family life. Releasing my rage, I now thank him for his sacrifices, even though he didn’t choose those.
So, my friends, after decades of trying to discover how to ‘keep the lid off’ of rage, my teachers helped me learn resilience (recovering from excessive stress) and toughness (resisting excessive stress). These tools help us become sensitive again to the world as it really is, not how the defensive reflexes triggered by excessive stress interpret it to be.
Don’t fear rage. Rage is the pressure cooker, and if you fear it, it increases, magnifies and then explodes. Let it burn white hot. MOVE, DANCE, PLAY! These three therapies will take the lid off and keep the lid off.
You are not the excessive stress. The reflexes it triggers do indeed protect you. They’re not bad. They’re helpful survival mechanisms, primal protective reflexes. But you don’t need to rely upon them as your default setting for stress. You can let-go. You have the tools, because movement can heal, like it did for me.
I wish you all the best on your own odyssey. Don’t hesitate to talk about any emotion, image or sensation, because sometimes it can appear that they are real. But they are not. They are only biochemical echoes stored by excessive stress. As you move, those feelings, sensations and images may bubble to your brain. They may not. They may just burn off through your movement. Start moving, keep exhaling… Freedom from excessive stress is now, here. Always.
Next week, my new book on “Primal Stress: Revive, Survive, Thrive” publishes. If the above interests you, please keep an eye out for the announcements.
www.BreathingGift.com (a free preview of my book.)