There are Big Brians everywhere you go. They are the people who immediately make your pulse begin to race and avert your eyes in case they spot you staring. There's something about them that says "don't mess with me or it could get nasty." Wanting to not feel this fear was a key motivator for me in returning to karate.
It was my second session at a new club when I met the resident Big Brian. He must have been 190 cm tall and 110 Kg, maybe more. He certainly wasn't overweight and looked in pretty good shape; and while he was wearing the red belt of a 9th kyu he carried himself with just a touch too much confidence to make his disguise believable. I was paired up with Brian for a front kick drill against the kick shield. Out of the corner of my eye I could see everyone looking in our direction... What was going on I wondered.
I soon found out. Brian kicked like a horse. No wonder everyone else had avoided him. He also had the focus of a professional killer and threw himself with total commitment into every single kick. Despite the kick shield the blows were incredibly powerful and I was struggling to hold the shield still. On and on it went. Eventually someone else offered to take over but I declined - it was too late by then, I was already bruised all the way down my ribcage.
After the initiation was over the truth came out - Brian has years of martial arts behind him, and has a black belt from another club. His propensity for pounding training partners (in a nice way) is well known. Don't get the wrong idea, Brian is never teamed up with someone who might actually get hurt and, if he is, he tones it down. The rib cracking enthusiasm was pretty much my fault for telling him I was fine whenever he asked - stupid macho pride I guess.
After many more sessions I learnt ways to partially handle him. Like many big guys he will tire quicker than me and he is not as fast across the floor. Trying to dart in and out, move sideways and keep out of his range are all slightly more effective than standing toe-to-toe. I once thought that the ideal technique would be to get him to the ground without going down myself as forcing him to repeatedly stand up would wear him out. Nice idea until I tried sweeping him and half broke my foot against his tree trunk legs.
But despite this, and knowing that Brian is a lovely guy, he still manages to invoke that pulse racing reaction in me when we are teamed up. So this is what I have learnt. The fear will never go away, but it no longer controls me and I don't panic because I am afraid. Yes I feel nervous when facing him but I don't shy away from it and I don't panic. That I think is all anyone can actually expect - not an end to fear, but the ability to perform despite it.