Friday, February 27, 2009

Mother Bear

Last night the boys went off to their martial arts class together happy and companionable.

That's not how they came home.

Brian was very upset. His elbow was hurt. The class instructor said that it was "a severe hyperextension." (Roland heard that.) First you need to know that when you "grapple" with someone you are supposed to get him into a "submission." One of the ways you win is when the other person "taps out" meaning that they tap you. The rules in class, and perhaps in competition, are that painful submission should be done slowly so that people have an opportunity to tap out before they are injured. Also, of course, you can't pin them in such a way that they can't reach you to tap. According to Brian, Gary broke both of the rules, quickly hyper extending his elbow. Brian waved his hand but couldn't reach to tap and up "screaming in pain" before Gary stopped.

I'm sure it all happened pretty quickly.

I think it probably did happen something like that. Gary is very strong and Brian is just now developing any strength at all. It would be very easy for Gary to pull too hard on Brian's arm by using the same force that would have resulted in a "slow submission" on someone with greater arm strength. That Brian could not tap probably was equally a result of what Gary did and Brian's lack of skill at resisting holds.

Brian complained of a good deal of pain but he was clearly more angry than hurt. (Which doesn't mean he wasn't hurt, just that he was very, very angry.

Roland wanted to know if Gary had apologized. He was surprised that I didn't think it was important that he apologize. It doesn't seem appropriate when both people agree to engage this way. It occurs to me that Gary might even have done something that he considered an apology like saying, "Wow, I didn't mean to hurt you, man. You okay?" which wouldn't have felt like an apology to Brian.

I wanted to know if the teacher talked to Gary about control. The teacher does, I am told, regularly tell them that other people in the class are team mates, "not some thug trying to take your wallet," and so they should therefore be careful not to injure each other. Being able to tap out so that you don't get hurt is important. If Gary did a hold in which Brian couldn't do that, then that is a fairly big deal. I don't feel strongly that an apology is owed, but I would like to know that the instructor is correcting that behavior.

Anyway, the elbow did not appear swollen. He was given ice at the gym and we added some ibuprophen. If it is swollen after school today I will take him to the physician.

Anyway, the point...

The point is that I'm conflicted about how to handle this with Gary. There were a couple of times when Andrew got angry at Brian and ended up hurting him. I was very firm, even loud, with Andrew. I understood that Brian was doing something he shouldn't have done but he can NEVER, EVER HURT HIM. Before they started this class Gary had a conflict with Brian that resulted in Brian's arm being hyper-extended (or at least pulled back until it hurt). I talked with Gary quietly and told him that he and Brian were not allowed to use any martial arts moves at home. Period.

With the class though, I don't really know where the line is. I don't know if what Gary did was very unacceptable or just one of the things that happens sometimes if you engage in this activity. I want to trust the instructor to be setting and dealing with those boundaries.

When I think about Brian being held in a submission and not being able to tap, I feel very angry. I feel the anger of a mama whose baby is being hurt. I know that I would feel the same way about anyone who hurt Gary. In fact I met the guy who broke Gary's tooth. I know that Gary should have been wearing a mouth guard, but still I looked at this guy and felt a fairly strong revoltion. Definitely a "you and me are never going to be friends" sort of feeling.

The thing is that even though I know that I would feel just as angry if anyone hurt Gary, or if Andrew had hurt Brian, I know that my relationship with Gary isn't strong enough for that level of rage.

And yes, I feel rage. I also feel an equally strong desire to protect Gary from the rage. I feel this deep sympathy for a kid who has been rejected because he hurt someone. I know the anxiety that he has under neath all that. It was days later, that time. He had confessed and been moved to grandma's house. He expected to grow up there. One day his stepmother showed up, told him to get in the car, and dropped him off at the police station. It was out of the blue. No warning.

Gary spent what was left of the evening in his room, although he came up quietly later and did most of the kitchen clean-up. He left Brian with less work than is usual and, I noticed, they were all jobs you could do one-handed.

I didn't go to talk to Gary, which I might have done almost any other time. I avoided him this morning, which isn't difficult because he gets up at the last possible moment, showers, and runs for the bus.

I'm not sure exactly what to say to him. To be clear, what I WANTED to do and say last night is exactly what I did and said when Andrew once hurt Brian, and when one of Andrew's friends hurt Andrew. I was furious. I was a little frightening. I was able to move on and not hold it against them.

Though the image of Brian hurting and unable to tap out can still make me feel pretty angry, mostly the moment for fury has passed. I still don't know what I should do though.

I know some people who read this have participated in mixed martial arts. I could use some guidance here. Which of the following would be an appropriate response:

1. "You have to allow your opponent to be able to tap out. If you can't do that, you will have to take a break from these classes for a while."

2. "Listen, I know these things happen, but I don't respond well to any of my kids getting hurt. I really don't want you and Brian to grapple each other."


  1. Anonymous1:07 PM

    Hi. I understand your anger. I really do. The thing is, Brian is involved in an activity which occasionally involves getting hurt. If he took up painting, okay, but he's doing something that involves essentially attacking other people. I can understand the instinct to step in, but I don't think it's necessary.

    Brian should be able to tap out, and he's learned an important lesson about getting into wrestling matches with bigger guys. I don't think he's wrong to be angry. Gary has learned that if the other guy is not strong, you have to be careful. It wouldn't hurt to remind him of that. But at the end of the day, they are teenage boys in a wrestling class and it is what it is.

    Now, if Gary came home bragging about it or swaggering, you nip that in the bud. If Brian didn't seem like a kid who had a tendancy to overreact, that would be something else.

    Given Gary's background, I can only guess what I would do if I were you, and I think I'd leave it in the gym. Obviously, it's not great that Brian got hurt, but it isn't anything life threatening and I think that the less you make of it, the better for both boys.

    That is not to say that the way you're feeling is wrong, just that given the situation, I don't know that a pointed interaction would help with either kid.

    I'm not you, but that's what I think.

    Krissy Poopyhands

  2. As a martial artist I know the tap out rule. I also know that if Gary had been grappling with stronger people before Brian, it can be hard to adjust your force downward. I know this happened to me when I was sometimes the second person in a set in my class. I am like 120 and my advantage is my flexibility so it is hard to hyperextend me, but when the construction worker was torqueing me, I felt it! LOL

    Usually an instructor is pretty intent in enforcing the tap out rule. You might suggest that some schools/gyms/dojos will make you suspend classes for a while if this is a problem and you'd hate to see that happen to him.

    I think maybe if I was saying #2 I would say something about the fact that he and Brian have differing strengths and abilities and because of that you would like to institute a no grappling rule between the 2 of them. However, I am not sure that is totally possible. In my gym our matchups were random.

    Good luck!

  3. I have only the tiniest, tiniest, tiniest bit of experience with MMA/fighting, but I agree that it can be hard to judge exactly how much strength to use, especially when that changes from person to person you are grappling with, especially when you are working with people with different levels of experience and different pain threshholds/flexibility. (There's some hold that's supposed to hurt enough to make people tap out, even though it can't really injure them [as opposed to what it sounds like Gary did to Brian, which can dislocate a shoulder or elbow if it goes on long enough, and that knowledge is what gets people to tap], by sort of pulling on their... feet? I can't describe it -- anyway, it doesn't work on me AT ALL. For other people, it's very very painful.)

    If you do anything I would first a, talk to the instructor to fight out exactly what happened, and if Gary was really being careless, and then b, maybe institute rule 2, if possible.

  4. I think one of the things that attracts young men to contact sports is the discipline and structure put around fighting. Kids hurt eachother. They fight. Young men are growing up into a world where they have to accept that interactions with other young men often involve getting punched, and they have to figure out how they are going to handle that. The appeal of lacrosse was once enthusiastically explained to me by an eight-year-old boy this way: "We can hit eachother where we have guards, but we can't kick eachother in the balls."

    If overall you like the culture of the class and the attitude of the teacher, I think this is something that you can and should let the boys work out between them. Brian got hurt in a fight he chose to engage in. Whether his opponenent was Gary or someone else, this outcome was fairly predictable. Going forward, how is he going to cope with the knowledge that he is likely to get hurt again at some point, even if he never grapples with Gary again? How is he going to deal with Gary? Does he still want to continue class?

    What are the natural consequences for Gary? Might he eventually be kicked out for not exercising discipline? Will he make enemies?

    I don’t think you should get involved too much. This wasn’t on your watch: this was the kids going out into the world and trying things out on their own. That’s their job. There are consequences. Figuring out how to integrate knowledge of these consequences into their decisions and attitude is very, very much their job.

    Note: I am not a parent, not competitive, not male, not a fighter. So while I bravely sally forth with my unfounded opinion, I freely acknowledge that my grasp of subtleties may be lacking.

    Another note: I’m not saying this is unimportant or that violence among young men is trivial. I’m saying that it is very, very important and that a class could be good place to figure it out.

  5. Senseis are well trained, highly disciplined people. They rule over their classes strictly and are very observant - a serious injury could mean a world of trouble for them. This likely happened extremely quickly, as soon as the Sensei realized Brian could not tap out (if indeed he could not - he may have been too freaked out, as is fairly common when in pain) the exercise would have been ended. Likewise, if he was calling out in pain for more than a split second. If Gary had shown brute force with intention to hurt, I have total confidence the Sensei would have disciplined him immediately. I think this is one of those things you should let be handled by the adult in charge at the time - s/he after all, witnessed it.

    Gary is showing remorse for hurting Brian, that alone speaks volumes. I think the boys should resolve this themselves.

    I so totally understand being "mama bear" angry though!

  6. LOL this is going to come as a surprise, but I actually have a brown belt in karate. I nearly got mugged in college and taking karate was my solution, but anyway...

    I once broke my foot thanks to karate. It was a risk you took- you could get injured.

    How would you handle it if Brian had been hurt accidentally by another kid in the class? Probably not the same way as this.

    I think you have to separate prior incidents from this one- Brian took a risk, Brian probably has his feelings/pride hurt from crying like a girl in class ha ha and lashed out. It doesn't sound like Gary acted in aggression, but just that he got a little carried away.

    Personally, I think I would just tell Gary that I understood that his instructor had probably already reminded him, but that he needs to remember to give people time to tap out. I would joke about him not knowing his own strength or must be all those protein shakes kinda thing.

    I would remind Brian that its a risk you take when you do sports, and that Gary didn't deliberately do it. (unless there was some ongoing conflict we don't know about). I would remind Brian that people don't have to apologize for accidents even though we would like them too, and then try to have a conversation about how much of his rage was from being embarassed in class versus a feeling that Gary deliberately did this.

    Maybe Brian needs to be in a class that is for younger/recreational kids? Or maybe Gary needs an advanced/competitive class?

    If I had to choose one of your options it would definitely be #1, BUT the last part seems like a threat in a way.

    Gary made a mistake, but it wasn't intentional, right? If he had accidentally hurt a different kid, what would have happened? What did the coach say?

    And they say all is fair in love and war, and martial arts are a form of war (or at least training for them LOL). I wouldn't stress over it.

    With all that said- I fully understand the Mama Hen response- when one of our chicks gets hurt, we want to peck out some eyes, don't we?

  7. thanks everyone. writing helped me vent a little and I am trying to stay out of. It would help if I was more confident that the instructor was being responsible. I'm not sure though.


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