I got him. I finally landed a solid shot on Fred the Dentist, a soft-spoken black belt and occasional sparring partner. During our other fights we always gently slip by all of my attacks and I’d feel soft taps on my noggin and gut where he’d let me know where he would have dropped me.

The first time I ever fought Fred the Dentist, he asked me, “Are you breathing?” and my cocky 15-year old self huffed out, “Yah! <gasp> of <gasp> course <gasp>.” And every fight after that, he’d say the same thing. Not once did I ever see him break a sweat even when he was fighting equal or better martial artist.

Fast forward three years, and I’d gotten really good and was already testing for my brown belt. My instructor asked all of the black belts into class that day after I had finished up my forms. And I fought them one-by-one medium- to full-contact with no breaks between.

Two of the four matches I had landed (in retrospect) some lucky shots, mostly due to adrenaline fueled speed. Soaked with sweat. my last opponent bowed towards me – Fred the Dentist. After exchanging shots for about a minute (which feels like an hour for anyone that’s ever spent time in the ring), neither of us hadn’t connected anything real – that slippery, easy breathing bastard remained annoyingly calm. So I went on the defense for a bit to re-group, then and I finally got him, trapping his leg between my knee and pointy as all hell elbow.

Fred winced. I smiled victoriously.
Less than a second later, I was the floor, on my back with the ball of his foot pressing into my forehead. Fuck!

He pulled me up, still not sweating with a perfect dentists’ smile, and said, “You forgot to breathe.

It took me a few decades of life with lots more fights – from boxing at the Air Force Academy to custody battles to combating addictions – to truly understand why that painfully simple advice was so damned important. Fighting of any type is complex with infinite variants and outcomes. You’ve heard the saying, “learn to walk before you run“? Well, maybe we should learn to to breathe before stepping into the many battles we’ll encounter.

How are we supposed to survive (let alone win) any of them if we can’t even remember to breathe? Last I checked oxygen is kinda important to this living thing.

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