November lights and overcoming fears

I painted this painting, during the Autumn when we were first starting out Taekwondo practice. November that year was extra slushy and the Mondays that we walked to practice were dark. I was fascinated with the red backlights of cars, how they lit up the dark sky and how my solar plexus felt, watching the red glow. I wanted to explore the persistence it takes, to keep moving in wet and dark, to do the work it takes to bring a project to its completion. This painting project was imprinted with memories from Taekwondo practice, the walk there and back, through the mushy wet snow, the darkness and the red lights.

Now, three years later, on Sunday, the most part our family is taking part in the next Taekwondo belt exam. It is on my mind a lot. With every belt, the pressure to perform well increases. During the three years we have been practicing, I have also had a chance to watch my story about myself and my body change many times.

When I started out, all the inner stories about being clumsy and not sporty enough to start martial arts were activated. A beginner of almost forty years! Our group was practicing in the school gym, with the other parents watching us learn. Their witnessing exacerbated my feelings of inadequacy.

During the practice sessions, the most difficult thing, if you didn’t take my bad coordination into account, was overcoming my upbringing to be a good, polite and sweet girl. When I tried to kick a teacher on command, I found myself falling backward. Punching felt like I was doing something wrong and dangerous. I didn’t have the first inclination to block a punch when it came towards me, I just stood there and watched it approach.

It seemed my mind and beliefs were blocking my body at every turn.

Despite being so far from my comfort zone that it felt like I was on a new planet, I continued going to training together with my children. My fear, stories, discomfort and occasional feelings of humiliation felt much less important than what I wanted to learn. I started enjoying the kicks and punches, learning the techniques that made them effective.

I still don’t feel that I’m especially good at Taekwondo, despite my love for it. But I notice that my stories about being afraid of the training sessions are starting to feel faded, as if they’re not quite reality anymore. What feels vital and alive is that my body is starting to understand how my hips are creating the explosive speed of the kick. The feeling after training, when both halves of my body are in sync is more essential than the hundreds of revisions I need to make during every training session. The joy of what my body can do is more important than my attachment to the discomfort that I need to overcome to keep training.

I’m writing this with a wide sweep of compassion, for how difficult it is to feel the whole range of your discomfort and then do what you need to do to bring your dream just one step forward. The encouraging fact is that this one step at a time is enough. It is more than enough. Because you are braving it, you are doing it. You don’t let fear stop you, you keep moving onward.