The difference between reacting and responding has to do with causal chains. Reacting continues a causal chain, while responding requires breaking from the causal chain, and acting on one’s own terms.
Each individual has different reactions to being struck. I have noticed that my immediate reaction the majority of the time is to strike back, in the same way I was struck – and this behaviour sometimes derives from our inclination to mimic one another. Other times, it derives from pride, vengeance, etc., but that’s another story.
While I continue to work on responding to strikes rather than reacting to them, I have noticed that this work is tenfold more difficult when introducing any sort of weaponry into the equation. Upon being shot, I know my initial desire is to shoot back. During training, my mind naturally posed the hypothetical scenario of one of my training partners intentionally shooting me at point blank when we were supposed to have our weapons on safety and were preparing for the next drill. I noticed that my immediate desire was to shoot back, even though at a meta-cognitive level I know I would rather not perpetuate and involve myself in this [hypothetical] horsing around.
It’s astounding to me that this urge is so much stronger when involving guns as opposed to fists. It was strong enough to make me question whether I could control it. Luckily my fellow training partners are not so careless when we study this work, so the scenario remained a hypothetical one.
The key to ensuring our movement and actions derive from ourselves and are responses rather than reactions is our breathwork. Breathing can offer calmness within when there is chaos in our surrounding conditions – chaos that affects our neurology so much that it feels infectious. When the nervous system starts to experience chaos, we can breathe through the chaos and restore our own clarity and integrity. This will in turn free up our movement, help us to continue moving, and improve our decision-making. This clarity and integrity will also allow us to respond to incoming hits rather than react.
In short, I am again reminded that breathing is the foundation of our work and again I feel an imperative to really focus on using my breath for all of my movement. However, I now understand the connection between causation and breathing: breathing equips us with the ability to break from causal chains and become a source of our own.