Underneath my yellow skin

The consequence of not reacting

where did my head go?
I’ve lost my head over this.

I’m going to start out this post talking about Dark Souls because one, I love the series and will talk about it whenever I can. Two, I had a realization today about why I’m shit at parrying (in Dark Souls), and I wanted to muse on it a bit. Yes, it falls into the Wellness category because it’s  about mental health manifesting in a physical way.

Brief primer: Due to a traumatic childhood, I have an extremely high pain tolerance. I’ve mentioned this in the past that when we do chin na (joint lock) techniques on each other in taiji class, I have to be very conscious about when it’s reasonable to tap out rather than do it when I actually feel pain. In the beginning, I could only practice with my teacher because she didn’t trust that I wouldn’t get hurt else-wise. Part of that is natural flexibility in certain ways, like I can yank my thumb towards my wrist without even flinching when others jump after a little tweak. Most of it, however, was me training myself not to react to anything because I would get yelled at as a kid if I let one iota of a negative emotion show.

Come to think of it, that’s probably why I don’t talk about my depression much with anyone or I downplay it. I was either told I wasn’t feeling it when I was a kid, ignored, or scolded about it. When my mother actually did something about it, dragging me to a therapist when I was fourteen, it was at a local very religious school, and he had nothing for me. Yeah, it was a man, which only added to the problem.

I was also heavily bullied in school, and my mother gave me the age-old useless advice of ignoring it because that always works so well. The only two times I got a bully to back off (and both girls for what it’s worth) was the time I cried when a much older girl was bullying me. Her face immediately changed, and she complimented my hair and never bothered me again.  This was when I was six, and the only thing I took away from that experience was that it was so embarrassing to cry in front of someone else. Much later, I realized she was probably in a not-great home situation herself, but six-year-old me couldn’t understand why a teenager would want to be so mean to her.

The second incident was in high school. There was a girl (and I still remember her name) who used to pick on me every day in science class. I want to say physics, but that detail is fuzzy. My stomach would twist in knots every time I walked into the classroom because I knew the second I stepped into the room, she would be on me. Why? Who knows? Probably because I was easy to target as an outsider (fat, Asian, smart, and not knowledgeable about American culture at all). Remember, I was also deeply depressed at this time and probably had anxiety, although I didn’t realize that I had anxiety until much later, and the last thing I needed was some bitch picking on me in class.

I snapped. One day, she started in on her usual bullshit. I grabbed her hair, yanked it back, and told her if she ever bothered me again, I would fucking kill her. She blustered something about me thinking I was so big, but I didn’t. I was just fucking tired of her picking on me every goddamn day and no one doing anything about it. She never bothered me after that, and you would think the lesson I learned from that incident was that a bully doesn’t like to be bullied, but no. I was mortified at how I acted, even though I was pushed into it.

That’s part of the problem of constantly put down–you believe it’s what you deserve, and if you stand up for yourself (the general you), it feels wrong, even if the result is positive. It’s a vicious cycle, and it keeps someone who is downtrodden firmly under other people’s feet.

Anyway. This is my long way of saying, I trained myself at a very young age not to feel pain. An amusing anecdote from taiji class about this. My teacher was demonstrating something or the other on me and punched at my face. Not hard, obviously, and clearly with the intent of me moving out of the way. Except, I didn’t move an iota, and her hand glanced off my glasses. She was apologetic, but most people would move if they saw a fist coming at their face. Not me. I didn’t even blink.

Now, this might seem badass, but it’s not helpful in a taiji. Taiji is based on sensing where your opponent is at, then reacting appropriately. If I can’t sense anything, then I can’t react. It’s funny because I am usually really adept at feeling the emotions of people around me, but I am not good at reacting physically to them. Sort of. I used to have claustrophobia almost to the point of being nonfunctional. I hated crowds with a passion, and it was a real chore for me to be in them. I still don’t love it, but I can deal with it in part because taiji has helped me become more adept at being in close contact with people and threading my way through a tightly-woven crowd.

In addition, I’ve been a klutz most of my life in part because I paid no attention to my body or the environment around me. I ran into tables, walls, and I fell more times than I can count. I hurt myself on the regular, and I just accepted it was part of my life. Then, with years of taiji practice under my belt, I started noticing that while I was still as klutzy as ever, I wasn’t hurting myself nearly as often. I’ve fallen off a ladder twice, and both times, I got a bruise on my foot and nothing else. When I was in a minor car crash two-and-a-half years ago, I walked away with only a massive bruise on my stomach, and that was from the air bag detonating. Or maybe the seat belt. Either way, it was nothing in comparison to what it could have been. I had several people warn me that I would have back/neck pains spring up in a few weeks/months, and it never happened.

When I saw that the other car was going to hit me (and it was completely her fault), my body automatically relaxed. It was the same when I fell off the ladders. My mind went, “I’m going to fall” or “I’m going to get hit” and my body went limp. I didn’t have to force it at all, and I credit that all to taiji. Being relaxed is a major tenet of taiji, and it was cool to see it actually work.

Back to  my first paragraph and my realization about why I can’t parry in Dark Souls. You thought I forgot, didn’t you? Well, I didn’t. I used to think it was because I’m old and my reflexes are for shit. But there are people my age and older who have good reflexes. Here’s is the realization I’ve made. The same thing that caused me to not react to pain blocks my reactions in general. So, when I’m facing an enemy in Dark Souls, even when I know it’s about to attack, it takes more than a second to allow myself to react. That doesn’t sound like much time, but in a video game based on a quick reaction, it’s the difference between life and death. The final boss in the original Dark Souls is very susceptible to parries, and I couldn’t get him once. It’s ok, though, because he’s also very susceptible to fire (being hollowed), and luckily, I was a Pyromancer!

In Bloodborne, it was even worse because the combat is so fast. In Dark Souls, you have some time to back off, consider the situation, and plan your response (within limits, of course). In Bloodborne, you’re encouraged to jump back in and fight to regen your health. The gun is for parrying, which meant I never used it. I could never get the timing down, and I found a much better way to get the visceral. Since I’m a weirdo, I did an arcane build on my first playthrough because of course I would. One of the Hunter Tools is the Augur of Ebrietas, which I’ve mentioned before. It shoots out tentacles from your arm, and it staggers an enemy much in the same way as the parry does. You don’t have to time it as well, however, so there’s a much more generous window. I loved using it and yelling, “tentacles to the face!” as I ripped the enemy’s guts out with my bare hand.

I’m fine with not parrying, but I would like to be able to react more authentically to a situation that I have in the past. It’s funny because I know where every enemy is in every Soulsborne game, except a few areas in Bloodborne, the one I’ve played the least, and I know the attacks of all the enemies, and I still can’t parry for shit. By the way, Bloodborne is my least-played game of all the Soulsborne games, and I am in the minority in that while I think it’s an incredible game, I much prefer Souls games to it. There are many reasons for it, but the biggest is that I hate playing on a console, plain and simple.

Anyway, while I’m fine with not parrying, I would like to be able to react more authentically in real life. I discussed it with my taiji teacher and how it’s detrimental in taiji not to be able to react. I’m getting better, but it’s a lifelong process. Hopefully, by the time I’m ninety, I will finally be able to parry in Dark Souls.


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