I have a belt now! See?
They don’t really have you test at my school unless they know you’re going to pass–I’ve heard Majikan (the head instructor for the school) say it’s more of a celebration of what you’ve learned. But still, it’s exciting that I passed and have a belt now.
At the end of testing, Majikan said to me, “I haven’t worked with you much, and you always came across before as quiet and kind of shy. But you were nothing resembling shy on the floor. You had good spirit and energy, and you really fought.” It was a very high compliment, and it made me happy. I don’t think anyone has ever called me quiet and shy before, though. I guess around authority figures who intimidate me (Majikan is a third-degree black belt and just seems very self-assured in general), I do tend to stay quiet and make myself unnoticed.
But I do fight.
I’m not just talking about martial arts, but I do think that’s what really allowed me to get in touch with that part of myself. I started studying karate in college on a whim–my friend Jamie Rose thought one of the sensei was hot (he was) and wanted to look at him, so she dragged me to the karate class with her. I’d never done martial arts before, unless whacking my sisters as kids counts, but it turned out I really liked it. Within a few months, I was competing around the Southeast, and I got halfway to my black belt in U.S. Yoshukai.
I’d never thought of myself as an aggressive person; in fact, I’d done a lot to kill off my aggressive tendencies because I didn’t want to turn into my parents, who were angry and violent. When I started studying Yoshukai, I wouldn’t hit someone even if we were both wearing full sparring gear. I’d defend myself, but I wouldn’t strike. One of the sensei joked about how it was his mission in life to turn me into a “psycho killer woman.”
I got better at it, but I still had to force myself to hit people. It scared me, though I was never afraid of taking a hit. Then in my therapy at Riggs, I got in touch with the anger I’d spent so long killing off, and I (very slowly) learned that it wouldn’t destroy anyone if I allowed myself to feel it. After Riggs, I learned to get angry and fight back about my treatment and my life. That life was far from perfect, but it was mine, and I wasn’t going to let anyone take it away from me again. I think the only reason Menninger didn’t break me was that instead of giving in and bowing to authority, I got angry, fought back, and refused to let them break me down. I think anger, aggression, and stubbornness are WAY underrated in consumers of mental health treatment.
So when I started kung fu a few months ago, I was in a place where I was much more comfortable with my aggression and anger; I’d learned they weren’t bad words.
I fight my best when I’m backed into a corner. I know that seems counter-intuitive, but it’s the most defensible position–there are fewer directions an attacker can come at you from, and you can see their approach. This works literally and metaphorically. Maybe you feel a little scared and desperate backed into a corner–that’s okay. You fight better when there’s a sense of risk. You get your emotions involved, and that’s good. It gives you an edge.
I fight. It’s what I do.