For anyone feeling nervous when you step onto the mat, I want to talk to you about the difference between being accepted and fitting in.
You see, everybody’s welcome in our school, whether you’re strong or fragile, male or female, gay or straight, Jewish or Muslim or Catholic. But if you feel like you have to be something you’re not in order to fit in here, then I have a problem with that.
As it turns out, some martial arts models create a culture where the class is split between the “intimidated” and the “intimidating”. Those who are currently intimidated are encouraged to overcome their “weakness” so they can in turn become intimidating. This is usually seen as healthy, and the cycle continues this way through black belt.
By now it’s probably clear to you that ours is not that model. We try very hard in the classroom to obliterate the experience of “intimidated vs. intimidating” in order to actually make martial arts available to everyone.
Here’s the thing. This “dojo environment” has been crafted on purpose so that you don’t need to put on airs, play a role or wedge yourself into someone else’s preconception. You’re accepted here as you are.
It’s important to me that you to become comfortable articulating a request to train: to just run through moves, to practice and drill and do your work and have a good time. That’s a totally appropriate, informed and mature request.
If someone were to give a negative response to that, then leave that to the instructor to handle. That’s my work to do, I’ll take care of that. But you need to feel safe and welcomed and included in the training as you are, without pretending to be something else.
Finally, just in case someone out there is thinking, “Well, what if I just don’t want to practice before class? I’m not intimidated, I’m not alienated, I just don’t feel like it”. OK, maybe you just don’t feel like training or working on something. That’s not my preference, but that’s your choice, too. It’s fine – there’s room for that as well.
But trying to fit in, trying to be something you’re not, is a very problematic notion for us all. The world is filled with hyper-aggressive, exclusive and antagonistic settings. We don’t need one more.
This is another reason what we do is meaningful, even if it isn’t easy. There’s a tidal wave of arguments for why we need to winnow the weak or underdeveloped among us, so standing up in the face of that is an important position.
Furthermore, to accept direction and all the course changes needed to stay whole on this mission is admirable, whether you’re a student or an instructor. But I think the payoff is worth it – when we protect a practice that represents inclusion, choice and humanity, we serve more than just ourselves.