Personal space? What personal space?

Someone backed their chair close to mine recently. We were at a farewell bash at the local pub, and making room for more people around the table. Eventually he turned around and said, “Sorry! I moved into your personal space.”

Personal space? What personal space? I’m in karate – we don’t have personal space! Or if we do, I’d have to say “My personal space is your personal space. And your personal space is my personal space.”

I had personal space once upon a time, back when I was new to karate and wore a crisp white belt. It was uncomfortable to touch other students and have them touch me, and maybe a little weird since we all work together. One co-worker tried karate but admitted she didn’t stick with it because she didn’t like people touching her. I’m sure she’s not the only one. In our society, personal space is a big deal and learning karate definitely encourages, even requires, invasion of that personal space.

Somewhere along the line I discovered I was no longer bothered by someone’s face in my armpit, or being trapped on the ground by one of the guys while I’m learning a ground escape. I’ve spent so much time with these guys that it’s like having your brother pin you to the ground and tap, tap, tap your forehead while you scream for mercy!I’m so used to closing in on someone that personal space no longer seems like a good thing, especially in jujitsu. After all, you can’t take someone’s center without getting up close and personal unless you have Jedi powers.

Funny how the normal social conventions go out the door as we got acclimated to working out with each other. At last year’s Christmas dinner, we crammed 14 people into a booth built for 8 or 10. Were we sitting on each other? You betcha! Did we care? Nope, not one bit! In fact, I think it was even more fun because it was easier to steal the gift you wanted during the gift exchange, and nobody missed out on the conversation like sometimes happens with a larger group.

Now that’s not to say I don’t have any personal space anymore. As long as I am in a “safe” zone, with people I know, I don’t need so much personal space. But if I encounter a stranger, I’m in an unfamiliar place, or am otherwise not completely comfortable and maybe even feel threatened, I have quite a large bubble. I would still be comfortable with someone’s face in my armpit, but not with my face in their armpit or my neck in their grasp.

And while karateka don’t necessarily have a ton of personal space when training or socializing with other martial artists, one thing should be remembered. People who don’t practice martial arts still appreciate their personal space! Don’t be surprised if they don’t like you standing right next to them or grabbing their arm in the middle of a conversation to try out a technique. Even though you don’t mind? They might.  🙂 

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One thought on “Personal space? What personal space?

  1. Pingback: The Personal Space Debate Bitterness | Ben's Bitter Blog

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