In the sport of jiu jitsu, there is a submission called an arm triangle, where you put your opponent into a choke hold by trapping one of their arms and neck with your arms. When I first learned it, the guy who taught it to me briefly explained the position, but said it probably wasn’t important for me to know because most of the time girls don’t have the strength to finish that submission. There are so many problems with that entire situation I can’t even point them all out in a reasonable amount of time, but I have faith that most people can see how that mindset, statement, and refusal to teach someone something because of their gender is all very problematic. As much as I would love to go into a feminist rant over it, my point is surprisingly not specifically feminist (though it might be able to fit into the agenda somewhere). My point is that at the time, yes I was annoyed and refused to believe that women lacked the ability to do that submission (jiu jitsu was, after all, invented to give small people an advantage in a fight) but eventually forgot about that incident and moved on.
However, last week I was in class, rolling (sparring) lightly with a friend of mine who outweighs me by a hundred pounds, and got a good setup for an arm triangle on him. Then I let go, and tried to transition to something else, though I didn’t have a good position for anything else and ended up opening myself up for an attack. Instead of taking advantage of that, my friend just stopped, and asked why in the world I didn’t go for that arm triangle. It took me a minute, because I honestly didn’t know how to answer, and had to think. I knew the setup was good. I told him I just didn’t think I could get it. He asked me why not.
What a heavy question. Well, remember how I said I didn’t believe when that guy said I didn’t have the strength? How I’m a feminist and refuse to think there’s something a woman can’t do? Well, I was wrong, because it turns out that despite how much I acted or thought differently, subconsciously there was a part of me that did believe him.
It makes me wonder, first of all, what else I haven’t gone for because someone told me I can’t? How many times have I believed people when they have put me down? Believed something I didn’t think I believed? It makes me realize how problematic even the smallest little put-downs are, what in feminism and social justice we call microaggressions and how much they can affect someone, no matter how thick your skin is.
Lastly, it makes me tired. Silly, I know, but let me explain. I wonder how I am supposed to keep doing this – how am I supposed to keep my head up and keep believing in myself when I am constantly reminded by others of my weaknesses, exaggerations of my weaknesses, or beliefs in weaknesses that aren’t even there? When I am continuously told, in different and subtle ways that I don’t always even notice, that I will never good at this because of something I can’t change? I don’t think the advice “just believe in yourself” quite cuts it anymore after a while. When you are repeatedly told that you can’t do something, it wears you down.
This happens in the rest of life, too. We are constantly told by others what we can or cannot do, what paths we are able to take, or what risks we cannot cope with. We are told that we cannot handle more in our lives, yet at the same time we are told that we should be able to handle more. (No wonder us twenty-somethings are stressed out and confused!) We are told we are clueless, we are told we are entitled, we are told we are lazy. Where does that leave us? Feeling pretty badly about ourselves, if you ask me. Feeling pretty small, and inadequate. It’s hard to live up to your highest potential when you feel this way.
So, if it is so difficult to deflect the negative things people say, what’s the solution? Most likely, the entire world is not going to change overnight, and people are still going to say negative things. How, then, do we keep ourselves from believing these bad things about ourselves?
Beats me, kids, I sure don’t have an answer. You think I have this whole ‘life’ thing figured out? Ha! Have you even read the name of this blog? I’m out, have fun thinking you suck at everything.
Just kidding. Kind of. While I am still trying to figure out how to keep myself from being caught in that same trap again, I do know one thing: I know better than to give up an arm triangle now. That is one step more confident than I was before.
My mom told me once that she used to meditate when she was younger, but that she was terrible at it because her mind would wander so much. I have heard similar things from a lot of people. Recently, I saw this video on meditation that was basically saying how the whole point is for your mind to wander, but to focus on bringing your thoughts back from that. This re-trains your mind to catch itself sooner and more often, and over time your thoughts wander less. I think these self-defeating thoughts can be treated the same way, the more you catch yourself and change your views, the easier it becomes.
So, the lesson I have taken from all of this is that I for one need to be more active in challenging ideas that “I can’t” do something. So, here is my vow to you, readers: the next time someone else tries to tell me that I am going to struggle with something, I will not hesitate to try it out, so I know where I actually stand. The next time I catch myself hesitating to try something, I will ask myself why, so that I can pick out and challenge any hidden self-doubt. And lastly, the next time I have an opportunity for an arm triangle, I will go for that submission like no one ever told me I can’t.