The Giddiness of Playfighting

I wrote in a previous post that I’ve heard there’s a kind of giddiness that can come from sparring. I’ve now had a glimpse of that for myself.

I haven’t yet experienced it with striking, because so far I haven’t found an opportunity to experience sparring at all in a striking context. Still, when I heard about this experience, it was someone talking about kickboxing sparring, so I feel pretty confident what I experienced is not unique to grappling.

It was in BJJ class. (Feel free to skip past this paragraph if you aren’t familiar with BJJ.) I was trying, against live resistance, to perform an elbow escape from bottom side control, and I was having partial success. I had my frames in, and was keeping the person at a distance, to that other person’s frustration, but I wasn’t able to twist out from underneath quickly enough to start to escape. So we were at a sort of a stalemate, both of us still struggling for our goals.

I was gasping for air, but on my exhales I was releasing brief, chuckling laughs. I wasn’t doing it on purpose, wasn’t trying to play mind games with my opponent or anything. It was almost an involuntary reaction to the situation.

I can’t remember ever having a similar experience in any other sort of sport. Racing after a ball, swinging a bat, winding up for a serve: none of these situations have a similar structure to the experience I was able to have with grappling. I can’t even imagine having an analogous experience in any of those contexts.

I think it’s the combination of safety and trust on the one hand, and on the other hand the physical effort of matching force with force, of fighting (literally) to have victory over the training partner.

You’re not laughing because anything is funny, exactly. But maybe it’s a bit like laughing at a joke. The juxtaposition of things that don’t belong together. The tension of danger and safety. Who knows—maybe the reason why we laugh at jokes is because they’re like playfighting.

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