A “Time Capsule” to my younger self: Fear

Part of the value of the “Ancient Child” technique is to communicate between your current and younger selves. This can be the “Child” communicating creativity or energy or motivation to you, or you communicating comfort back.   The question came to me this morning: what would I do if I could reach back and send specific communications to my younger self?   They would have to be carefully chosen, so as to not change the “present me” too much (wouldn’t want Jason to disappear!) but still…I needed help.


The first thing that occurs to me is the phobic response I had to sparring.   This had nothing at all to do with my skills. It had to do with a very specific event when I was about 25 and got my ass kicked in a school sparring match by a kid who was about 14.  He went on to become Welterweight champion of the world, so it was kind of like being beaten in a piano playing contest by a young Mozart.  But…he reminded me too much of the bullies who had thumped me in Junior High school. As he crowed to the class “I beat a man!” something in me cracked and shriveled.  The voice in my head said “you will never be strong. You will always be weak and helpless.   Give up.”


And for the next two decades I fought with that voice, struggled against it.  Continued to study until I reached the point where my body responded automatically…and then the fear came back and I would almost vomit at the idea of going to a school and being humiliated like that again. I remember leaving a denim jacket at a school, and being terrified to go back and get it, fearing that someone might ask me out on the floor.


I remember driving down La Brea Avenue with tears streaming down my face, screaming “Dammit, God!  Will you either take away my urge to practice this shit or just let me DO it???”


It was horrible.  I couldn’t stop, and couldn’t go forward.  Well, fast forward a bunch of years and thanks to people like Terry Letteau, Harley Reagan, and Scott Sonnon I not only figured out what was going on, and that fear was a totally natural thing I had mis-interpreted hugely, but techniques to actually deal with it.


And dammit, if I had known that last piece, I could have actually used that fear to make me better.  You see, fear is an action signal to DO something, either flee or fight.  Non-clinical depression seems to be fear without anywhere to run and with nothing to fight.  Might as well curl up and die, right?


Wrong.  The answer was right in front of me, but I needed Coach Sonnon’s fear removal technique, the thing we call the “Spider Exercise” to turn that fear into power.


The Spider Technique works this way: choose a fear you want to master. Say…Arachnophobia.  Let’s say that every time you see a spider, you have a “10+” fear response on a scale of 1-10.


To perform the Spider technique you need an aerobic exercise where you go into “second wind”.  CRITICAL that you be sure you have this.  Know what second wind is?  It kicks in somewhere between 12-15 minutes of a steady state aerobic exercise. (as a quick reference: An aerobic exercise is one where you are exerting yourself enough that you can talk, but you cannot sing).  Walking, running, singing, swimming, any number of activities can work, so long as you hit this mark.


Now.  Let’s say it’s walking on a treadmill (and yes, a little privacy is excellent, for reasons that will become apparent).


  1. Sit next to the treadmill.  Begin to imagine spiders crawling all over your body (or whatever your “worst case scenario” might be)
  2. Do this for 10 minutes, getting into the emotion intensely, “until you are crying out of your nose” as another rough measure of total physiological investment in the experience.
  3. Now, IMMEDIATELY jump onto the treadmill (or begin to perform the chosen aerobic exercise.)
  4. Perform the exercise until you hit “second wind”.  You need not be consciously thinking about the spiders.  This all happens on the unconscious level.
  5. As soon as you enter “second wind” you are done. You can continue exercising, if you wish, but it doesn’t matter.


You can perform this exercise about once a week–no more often, though.    It works because fear and cardiorespiratory distress have enough similarities in the body that your brain doesn’t care which is which, and you have a capacity to “shift gears” to become more physiologically efficient and effective, and when you do it WHILE the negative emotions are surging through your body, you are teaching your hindbrain to cope with the powerful survival “dump” of adrenaline and norepinephrine and so forth.  It really does work like magic.


Our research suggests that every time you do this, your fear reaction to that specific stimulus will diminish by about 15%. Which means that if you do it five or six times, you’ll go from a 10+ to about a 3, and manageable.  Again…you have to try it to see what I mean.  Magic.


So: what would I have said to my younger self, if I could send back a time capsule:


“Dear Steve.  You are experiencing massive fear around sparring, and that fear leads to shame and guilt.    I am writing to you from the future, in which I am no longer troubled by that emotion.  Oh, I still have fear, but now I understand that it is just a feeling, just a reaction or sensation like cold, or fatigue, or hunger.  You will have enough trouble just dealing with the fear: don’t bother carrying the additional load of secondary emotions.


But…it’s easy to say that, harder to do.  Let me give you two exercises to master this:


  1. Glitter in Water.  Got this from Terry Letteau, Steve, a Shorei Chito-Ryu instructor who is an absolute badass.   Visualize a glass tube filled with water.   Glitter is suspended in the water.  Watch it until the glitter settles to the bottom. It took me about six weeks for the glitter to settle. It was worth it.  No, I won’t tell you what happened. You’ll need to discover that for yourself.
  2. The Spider exercise.   One change: your aerobic exercise will be working the heavy bag.  Visualize being utterly humiliated and hurt by the toughest guy at your school.   Really get into the misery of it.  Now…envision your five year old self hiding behind you. All you have to do is stop this monster, slow him down, give 100% of everything you have, and that five year old self will be safe, and will love you TOTALLY just for giving it all you have.     Go for it.


Those two things (and hey, I added the Ancient Child in there, did you catch that?) would have transformed my life, vastly sped up my passage through an emotional hell.    When I think of all the people I could have helped if I’d had this specific tool to offer thirty years ago…sigh.


Anyway, that would be the first “Time Capsule” I’d send back.    More on this idea soon…






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