The Lightness of Beginning

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“The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure of everything.”

Steve Jobs

It’s been a few months, and I can finally say that I’ve logged enough hours to say that I kickbox, Muay Thai style.  This is in every way contrary to my personality, five mammoth steps beyond the periphery of the border of the fence that lies five miles beyond my comfort zone.  For reference, let me share what I did before this: yoga.  I suppose hiking counts as well, but neither is directly confrontational, and neither involves punching anyone.

I can now say that I have been on both ends of the punching spectrum (both times with dragging reluctance).  One day, one of the instructors pointed at me, pointed at a girl who was in high school (although roughly my size, to be fair), and said “beat her up.”  That was my introduction to sparring.  I got punched in the head.  It was inevitable. I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, I had entered a free for all punching and kicking buffet and there were no set rules as to how to conduct myself.  I froze, didn’t keep my hands up, and got beat up by a high school girl.  It was an even deadlier blow to the ego.  On the other end of the spectrum, the same instructor put me in the ring again (why??) to spar against someone who was training for an amateur fight. I freaked out (having learned nothing the first time, apparently) and ended up punching her. In the head. I apologized. I felt genuinely bad. Being on the giving end didn’t feel great either.

In retrospect, I think the apology was most illuminating. I saw guys hit each other all the time. They never apologized. I don’t think it even occurred to them to do so. I think the moment that was mostly revealing, where I was most quintessentially female, was in that moment of apology, because it revealed an underlying unspoken rule: that as a female, you are not allowed to be aggressive.  I have followed that rule blindingly, without regard to context.  In the context of sparring, where people put on protective gear and expect to be hit, in fact need to be hit in order to improve, you are supposed to strike to learn. But my mental brakes were on, and completely unyielding, entirely irrational.  It was one of those rare flashes of introspection when I could see myself from afar, and realize: Ah, so this is a problem I didn’t know I had. I will probably have to get over this.

This all sounds rather painful. In the short term, on a small scale, it is literally painful. The sore muscles from activities your body isn’t used to, the sore ego from having children able to beat you up.

And yet.

There’s been a lot of change I’ve embarked upon voluntarily lately, and I’ve been deeply uncomfortable every time. Please refer to the section on punching above, for reference.  I do things on instinct first, and figure out my motives afterward.  It’s easier that way.  I spend less time procrastinating, and more time diving in. It wasn’t until that random Steve Jobs quote that I was able to see the big picture.  I was caught up on small details: the sore muscles, the sore ego, apologizing for my existence, etc.  That is the small picture. On the larger scale, the whole process of immersing yourself (not dipping your toe into a class here and there) into something new and uncomfortable is deeply refreshing.  There’s a lightness that comes with it. I am expected to be bad, to kick like a duck and punch with limp wrists, and that is wonderful. Even though I’ve been going to class regularly, I still enjoy telling people I just started. If I manage to improve, even better.

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