Last night I participated in my first wushu class. Wushu is the Chinese word for martial arts, and this particular wushu center does southern and northern kung fu styles, plus staffs, swords, spears, and a whole bunch of other stuff. At first glance, it appears to be much more ‘art’ than ‘martial’, but all those graceful movements do add up to various ways to attack and defend. Before I explain why simply attending this class was such a moment for me, I need to provide some background on some of my neuroses.
I had a pretty decent early childhood. Adolescence? Not so much. I had a really hard time and dealt with a whole lot of really bad situations, abuse included. Those who suffer through abuse and can’t escape the source learn coping mechanisms. My life became all about survival and not all that much about living. There was a period of several years where the sole governing thought in my mind was survive. My prime directive became don’t rock the boat. My brain learned the lesson (remember, your brain is fantastic at learning lessons, regardless of whether they are the right ones) that if you get noticed, you get hit. I was convinced (with supporting evidence) that if anyone noticed me, they would make fun of me or, if I resisted, showed any sign of assertiveness, or even strove for the things that I wanted, I would get punched, kicked, ridiculed, or be subject to more mental abuse.
So now that we’ve established how dysfunctional my childhood and early (and mid!) adulthood was, let’s take a look at what I did last night. I am as self-conscious as it gets, I can feel my heart rate quicken when more than one person in a room is looking at me. Doing a martial art in a room filled with strong, confident people isn’t just outside my box, it’s so far outside my box I can’t even see the comfort of my box from this place. It was terrifying and I loved it.
- I put on a uniform. You can’t blend in wearing a uniform unless every other person around you is wearing the same one.
- This uniform had a red shirt. Star Trek taught me that red shirts die first.
- I then joined a group of people doing graceful, fluid movements and did those same movements. Except, you know, uglier. Much, much uglier. Ever since Mythbusters disproved the ‘bull in a china shop’ analogy, I can’t find any good ones for this feeling. But, that’s what I felt like.
- Near the end of the class, the instructor had each person do a ‘southern fist’ form in front of the entire class. I nearly threw up during this part, but I kept on going.
- The very nature of what you do in this class requires you to be strong, assertive, and confident. I have rarely been accused of being any of those.
So I came, I saw, and I didn’t trip, fall, stumble, or accidentally kill someone with a practice staff. People looked at me and I didn’t die. I asserted myself and nothing bad happened. I was confident (on the outside) and nothing terrible happened. I know that my brain is enforcing unnecessary limitations on me, and the only way to get rid of those limitations is to face them head on, do stuff that scares the crap out of me, and be better for it on the other side.
With that, I leave you with this quote about conquering fear from the Dune books:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.