"Space is a tool for success. We all have the ability to create it, but do we make it a priority?" ~ Ben Baroni, Impact Martial Arts LLC
I was drilling at home with my husband when I managed to create enough space between his hips and mine to shrimp out of his mount and escape. After, he commented on my ability to sneak out of his attack. Pretending I knew what I was talking about, I told him it was all about creating space. And like a lightning bolt from above, I realized I was talking about more than just creating space in a Jiu-Jitsu match. I was talking about how creating space in my life has allowed me to escape from bad situations. How creating space in relationships has allowed me independence, and my partner room to breathe. How creating space between an event and my reaction to it has allowed me to reflect and respond productively. And most importantly, how creating space has allowed me to become a more patient and mindful human being. Realizing the correlation, I reached out to my Jiu-Jitsu crew for their thoughts on creating space both on the mats, and in their own lives. Their responses were profound and made one thing clear: Learning to create space is a useful tool, and you should make it a priority.
Beware of the Void Michelle, a BJJ White Belt and mother of four who has also been practicing Krav Maga for 3 years, reflected that when it comes to creating space, "You have to find your sweet spot." Michelle grew up with the habit of creating too much space between herself and others around her. It was a defense tactic; "It was the easiest way to not get hurt." I call this The Void. Creating too much space, as Michelle did, can lead one down a lonely path into a void, where feelings and connections disappear completely. It renders us hyper-independent, which makes it nearly impossible to allow room for others in our lives. Perpetual loneliness of our own creation. And after all, us humans are pack animals who typically require some level of interaction to thrive. We cannot survive in a void! We need nature and nurture, love and understanding. In Jiu-Jitsu, Michelle pointed out that creating too much space can leave you open to being snared into an even more threatening situation. In my own experience, I've found it difficult to realize when I've gone far enough, and when it's safe to turn around and get back in the game. Once when I was shrimping out of Coach Tori's mount, she mentioned that I could stop shrimping and come back into play. Once you're out, you're out! Why keep going? Where are you even going? Into the void, I guess! Find Your Sweet Spot Michelle went on to explain that after having kids, she initially left no space between her children and herself. Society has historically told women that we should live for our children; they are the future, they are our world, our lives should revolve around them. But this intense attachment left Michelle feeling completely smothered. How can a mother be at her best if she never has time to rest? Seeing both sides of the coin, Michelle knows that creating just the right amount of space in life is not only necessary, but difficult! Finding that sweet spot requires the mindfulness to realize when enough is enough, too little is too little, and too much is too much. And, annoyingly, space requirements ebb and flow based on the situation and the season. It's a continuous walk on the balance beam, but don't worry. If you practice space mindfulness regularly, it'll become an unconscious practice in no time. An anonymous fellow woman in recovery, who I'll call Athena, agreed with Michelle's notions. When she started her recovery journey, she was confident that complete avoidance of her addiction would lead to long-term abstinence. Instead, she found that this void was simply an illusion of safety. Instead of learning coping methods to prepare herself if ever presented with her substance of choice, Athena opted to simply steer clear of situations where she could be triggered. However, she quickly realized that she hadn't developed any real skills to handle it if that substance still managed to creep its way into her life. And those of you who are fellow recovering addicts know, it's always there lurking in the shadows. Athena knew how to avoid, but once avoidance wasn't an option, she was left with no tools in her toolbox and would relapse every time. Clearly, creating space is about equilibrium: finding harmony between your mind, body, soul, and the situation. It's not the only solution to changing your life or improving your position in a tricky situation, but it will allow you enough room to stop, breathe, and rationally think about your next best move. Space is a catalyst for change - not the change itself. Look for Opportunities Ben Baroni, dojo owner and BJJ blue belt, explains that most of the time a BJJ player finds themselves in a tough spot, it's because of space. "One practitioner tries desperately to create space, the other is just as desperate to take it away." Players typically understand that spacing is imperative to the match, but nonetheless find themselves wondering "What the heck just happened?" when the aggressor snares in with an unexpected move. Looking back, the victim can identify where they should have created the space that would have denied their opponent an attack. Learn from those moments. When you find yourself on the other side of a sticky situation, when you're through the chaos and thinking clearly, take a moment to replay the tape. Look for instances where you immediately reacted to a trigger; what was your reaction? Could you have paused there for a moment and taken a breath? Could the outcome have been better or more efficient if you'd taken a moment to breathe and reassess? Next time you're in a similar circumstance, you'll have a better idea of where you can apply space to ease the pressure and gain an advantage. Coach Tori, BJJ purple belt, has similar sentiments. "Creating space opens a small window of opportunity to better your position and if all goes well, and you have the opportunity to become the aggressor." She asserts that timing is a variable for success here. Creating space isn't just about getting a wedge between you and the opponent, but you must do it at just the right time if you really want to turn the tables. If I'm creating space when I'm in someone's guard, I have to be constantly aware of their movements and create my wedge when the opportunity presents itself. I never said it was going to be easy! Space doesn't just come when you call it - you have to be able to identify when and where you can fit it in if you want it to be successful. Remember that Space is an Option Alexis is another mom of four and Jiu-Jitsu white belt. She reflected that during Jiu-Jitsu classes, she struggles to even remember to create space! Again, this is so relevant in life. We get overwhelmed, overstimulated, anxious, and completely forget that a simple tactic to tackling our problems is to simply stop, breathe, re-center, and re-approach. When we pause and remember to create space, even if we're not quite successful, we're allowing ourselves to consider approaching a situation from a better place. And not to be cliché, but if at first you don't succeed? Try, try again. The space will come, if you let it. So, how do you remember to create space when you need it? Association, my friends. We all know what it's like to feel trapped. Start to rewire your brain to associate Trapped and Overwhelmed with Create Space. Say this aloud (yes, right now):
"When I feel trapped, I need to create space. When I feel overwhelmed, I need to create space." Now say that regularly throughout your day. When you're in the shower, when you're alone in the car, begin to remind yourself that space is an option. Next time you need it, your brain will be primed with the association and remind you that it's time to create space. Practice Patience Jen is also a mom and BJJ white belt who agrees with the concept of looking for opportunities to create space. She discusses that when she's feeling trapped, she knows she needs to breathe and wait for an opportunity. Practicing patience when the timing for space is wrong gives her time to plan and make a good decision on where to go next. She relates this to life in the same way. When she's feeling trapped, she stays aware and waits patiently for an opportunity from her Higher Power. I agree with Jen - creating space requires patience. And patience is a surprisingly difficult skill to master. Let's put it all together now. Have patience with the situation. Remember that creating space is an option. Look for an opportunity where you can create space. Get that wedge in and find your sweet spot. And whatever you do, beware of the void. Ultimately, you'll find that creating space in your life will help you navigate not only the day-to-day mundanities, but even the trickiest, stickiest situations that life will throw at you.