“I’m going to thump you in the noggin.” That’s an example of the type of comment she just made to me, only not as funny. A threat, not a veiled threat. I laughed and brushed it off, and she doubled down.
What’s going on here?
This is a basic business transaction, and this woman just implied that she wants to use physical violence on me! Twice!
“Well,” I grinned, “I’m a kickboxer, so let’s do this!”
The weirdly rude woman frowned and said nothing.
Hey, you started it, lady.
The truth was, in that moment, I was ready. If for some bizarre reason this person insisted on fighting with me, if I had made her angry or if she just couldn’t stand the sight of me... okay, fine. Let’s do this.
If she needs to get it out of her system, I’ve been shoved, kicked, punched in the stomach, thrown on the ground, and hit in the eye, nose, and mouth. Lots of times! I don’t mind, not really. If she thinks she can lay a few strikes on me, all right.
It’s a serious offer. You wanna box me? Let’s do this!
Alternatively, I’d get her on the ground and pin her until she apologized and promised to quit being rude to people for no reason. She would remember the whole thing as me being the villain. Result: even more rude to more people, because it’s so unfair that she never gets her way. Bullies are like that.
In the normal world, there are two things that have made me tough (besides living past the age of forty). One, improv comedy. I’ll “yes and” anything with anyone at any time. Two, my midlife sports background of martial arts, endurance running, and adventure races. If you want to attack me with mud, insults, cold water, heckling, shoving, kicking, or strikes to the torso, well, it’s not my first rodeo.
How have I offended, milady?
I’m the kind of person who goes to the store and constantly gets stopped by random people who think I work there. It’s a family joke that every time we go on vacation, someone will ask me to take their picture. Customer service face. I’m nice and approachable, probably too much so. It’s unusual for me to have an unpleasant interaction with anyone, whether in person, on the phone, or through email.
Nobody who sees me in business casual is going to guess that I do Krav Maga, put it that way. That’s how it should be. Secret weapon.
There’s a threshold that you cross when you cast off conventional anxieties. In the mundane world, I’m unstoppable because I know myself to be a person of high agency. Kindness and patience will get you virtually everything you could ever want, and detached amusement will probably get you the rest.
A little bit of leadership training, a little bit of comedy, a little bit of stress inoculation, a little bit of physical conditioning. Unstoppable.
In the mat room, on the other hand, I’m weak and slow.
I put myself in that situation on purpose. I strive to always be the most clueless student in class. If I’m the smartest or best, then I’m in the wrong room. I need to be pushing myself, partly so I’ll learn, mostly so I’ll stay humble, and also because I get bored easily.
If you’re willing to feel completely awkward, embarrass yourself, and do things you find crushingly difficult, and you can get through the first few months, you’ll be well on your way to developing superpowers. The areas where you struggle are the areas where you can grow the most.
The first year I spent training in martial arts, my stated goal was to work on humility and self-discipline. Find out you can’t do a pushup or a sit-up, and the humility takes care of itself. Stay committed until you can do fifty and you’re on your way to the self-discipline. The most important thing I learned that year is that I’m not afraid to take a punch.
I also learned I was afraid to land a punch. I didn’t like hitting people, I didn’t like it at all.
This got to be a problem. My partners would sometimes complain that they needed me to be more forceful. They would shout and encourage me to kick harder, shove harder, strike harder. I talked it out with several other women, and they all told me the same thing. I needed to give as good as I got. As much as I wanted to learn to take a punch, to be unafraid in hand-to-hand combat, they needed the same from me. It wasn’t fair for me to have a double standard.
I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by being “too nice.”
My training partners want their money’s worth. They want the full value of every hour they spend training. That means, when they partner up with me, I need to show my fangs. I need to go past my little bubble of niceness, at least during that hour, and I need to be scary and mean.
I scare myself sometimes.
All I’m doing is exploring something new in a controlled environment. It’s a classroom. Everyone agrees that while we’re in the mat room, we’re trying to accomplish something very specific. It’s a thing with a certain amount of physical risk, and also eerie noises and unlovely facial expressions.
This is where we cross the threshold. This is where we pass back and forth between the ordinary world and the world of controlled violence. This is why it isn’t funny to make “jokes” about fighting: because there are those of us who are prepared to engage if necessary.
Also, don’t you know any real jokes? Funny ones?
In some ways, martial arts training has made me funnier than I was before. There’s something about the confidence that comes from trusting your body and knowing you are prepared for mayhem. Garden-variety insults and threats are comical. What, you think you’re going to wound me with words? What you just said, that’s supposed to make some kind of impact?
I’m having to learn how to throw a punch, not just take a punch. It means I have to learn how hard to hit. I have to learn to strike with appropriate force. Learning to throw a punch has shown me that it’s almost never necessary. Smile and carry on.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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