Loosen Up, Embrace Aggression
Are You Going to Cry Now?
I used to spend a lot of effort pushing back aggression as a kid, I think. Expressing aggression or anger made me feel vulnerable and exposed, like not only would I ruin everything, but that my feelings didn’t matter. “You’re so cute when you’re angry.” I never felt particularly quick to temper, but without the ability to control an emotional escalation, it felt like I’d just pop. I rarely showed anger until I was at my breaking point and that’s a very raw place.
It didn’t help that I cry when I’m angry, which didn’t make me feel powerful or effective at all.
Oh, Just Stop
In a martial arts context, I always felt like people were trying to pull aggression out of me. My lack of aggressive expression was characterized as being ‘too nice’, or not appearing the right brand of Strong Female Character, and that it would put me at disadvantage in a Real Situation.
Man, I really resented that. I already felt confident in myself, my ability, and my reasons for training. Why were they questioning me? Did I have a say? That, and I didn’t want to be pushed into the mind/body experience of even a simulated Real Situation. I’ve been in Real Situations before, and it’s not a place I wanted to revisit in an environment where I didn’t feel supported.
But things started to change about the time I was getting my brown belt in Hapkido.1 It was a time in my life where I began to stop caring so much about what others thought of me. I started to let myself be myself.
Go For It
I let myself move when I wanted to move, rather than hold it in and try to be tiny.
I became more myself in Hapkido, too. Letting go of all that tension made me looser in mind and body. I could smile if I was having fun, shout in excitement, gleefully tangle with a favorite partner. I felt like I could use friendly aggression as a part of trying my hardest for something very difficult, and that I could fail without humiliation.
An aggression that comes from confidence and joy isn’t something that can be used against you. I don’t think that kind of aggression is going to backfire.
I started to really enjoy yelling. I started to latch on to the parts of Hapkido that were about control in adversity – that showed that aggression isn’t always destructive. I embraced connecting with people and having fun. Throwing and being thrown is fun! Hapkido could be play! Discovery and learning and mastery thrived when I could use aggression safely and freely to go for it.
Part of letting go of my self-restraint was to begin to shoulder off who I let be in control of me. If I realized I didn’t have to please all the older men black belts, then I didn’t have audit my emotions for them. I felt more free to express myself honestly. I didn’t have to walk a tightrope for them anymore.
See More Clearly
If before I saw aggression as tangled and inseparable from destruction and anger, now I see it as something far more supple. If I know what I’m about, aggression is a river to ride.
- Brown belt is a mid-high rank in my school, earned after a couple years or so. [↩]