You Are Needed
You are needed.
Sometimes we can feel so different, that we feel we don’t belong. We can feel that we’re not needed, that we’re a burden, that others must tolerate us without any benefit in return. Sometimes we can get this feeling when we feel like the only one in the dojang that needs special accommodations for a disability, when we’ve cried in front of everyone, when we’re the only girl or woman, or the only person of color, the only person outside of the gender binary, the oldest, the youngest, the biggest the smallest. Or sometimes we can get this feeling by being new.
Any Partner Can Teach You
One of the big messages of this blog is to remind ourselves that all of our partners have something that we can learn from, and we talk about valuing our partners and being generous. We strive to understand others’ experiences, observe and consider others’ ways of doing martial arts, and internalize all that as part of our martial arts journey.
But What About You?
My cohort and fellow black belt Celene addressed the group of brand new members after their first work-out with us. Most of these people were college students, and most of them had little-to-no martial arts training. For the last hour, they’d fallen to the ground 50 times, had their wrists tweaked, and responded to commands in Korean. I remember that day for myself. How awkward it was for me. I wondered how bored and tolerant my upper rank partner must have been, having to go through what must be so basic for them, to watch my one million errors!
I wish I could have heard Celene’s words then! She said, and I paraphrase:
We need you. We learn from you as much as you learn from us. Please come back so we can continue to learn from you.
An important message not only for those new members, who we don’t want to lose, but an important reminder for all the colored and black belts, too. A reminder to not only teach, but to listen.
No matter who you are, what your body is like, where you come from, or how experienced you are, a wise martial artist will benefit from working with you.
What Have You Taught Others?
Consider for a moment your uniqueness. The parts of you that may have at one time (or still do) make you feel self-conscious, other, or stick out. For me, it’s my bipolar disorder, my history of sexual abuse (at the hands of a martial arts instructor), my size, my way of expressing confidence, my gender. People have questioned my mental toughness because of the first two items, have placed unfair expectation on me because I am a woman, have attempted to diagnose my health and fitness by the size of my body (rather than what I can do). I am also a dancer, former soccer play, a writer, an artist, and was in marching band – all of which affect how I move and approach Hapkido creatively.
Those are just my experiences. We all have things. And we all feel differently about them, we all internalize external reactions to them in different ways.
But what have I been able to teach others because of these things that make me unique? How does my history as a sexual abuse survivor enable to me to express empathy? How does my shorter stature allow me to find the finest techniques to leverage small strength into great effect? How does my being a woman make others reconsider who martial arts is for? Does having dance experience help my feet fall in the right place? Did growing up playing soccer help me enjoy the Rough & Tumble? How did my questions as a beginner help other beginners? How have my mistakes in technique encouraged my instructors to reconsider their teaching methods?
What Have Others Taught Me?
Speaking from the perspective of a black belt, I have learned a great deal from working with new students, and not just the ‘learning from their mistakes’ kind of way. I recall working with a much smaller woman, a relatively newer student, taking a step at an angle I hadn’t considered before and when I tried it I found it was a very useful adjustment for shorter people working with larger people. I don’t know where she picked it up, if it was her own problem-solving, or it came to her naturally – but I’ve been using it to effect ever since.
Other new students have demonstrated and inspired me to understand what confidence is, what perseverance is, and how to think critically about our dojang’s culture.
You Are Needed
In being our true selves, in taking care of ourselves, and in honestly following our consciences, we can all be teachers. Our presence, even when it might not feel that way, is needed.