I cried again yesterday. After sparring, as I was changing for jiu jitsu. I took those few minutes while I was alone in the changing room to secretly let out the frustration I felt, burying my face in my sweaty shirt as I pulled it off over my head. Just for a moment, to wipe away the silent tears so no one could tell. My ankle hurt and was swelling from where someone had blocked one of my sloppy kicks. My nose was throbbing and bleeding a little again, having still not fully healed from getting busted a few weeks ago. My muscles and joints ached, and I felt the bruises already starting to form on my skin. And I was already freaking exhausted. But it wasn’t the physical discomfort making me cry.
No, the reason I was crying was from a much deeper feeling, one of discouragement and inadequacy. One that told me that all that pain was for nothing, that I wasn’t getting better, that I wasn’t ever going to get better, that I just wasn’t physically cut out for this sport. I am small, short, 125 pounds, and female. I always tell myself that none of those things matter. Then I try to keep up with the other people in class, and repeatedly prove myself wrong…in almost every aspect of training. I am not in great shape, I have a hard time running, I am an embarrassingly slow sprinter, I have no reach in sparring and can’t seem to connect punches, I can’t always see punches coming and even when I do I don’t dodge or block them well, I get tired and flat-footed, I can’t seem to get the bad habits out of my kicks, and when I roll against bigger people I still get crushed, even if they are a lower rank than me. Yet I still go to training every day, because I keep telling myself it will get better.
Though yesterday, I stopped believing that. Just for a little while, but it still scared me. I am afraid that the pain, discomfort and frustration will all become too much and I will let myself give up. I don’t want to. I want to get good at this. Or at least adequate. It’s just…so unbelievably hard. Especially for someone at such a big disadvantage – and I hate to admit it, but yes I do have a huge disadvantage because of my size. (And honestly, I think because of my sex – not physically, but because martial arts are not set up to be inviting to women, and society doesn’t lead women to believe they are cut out for such a sport.)
Since then, I’ve tried to make myself feel better. I’ve had talks with my friends, and looked at a bunch of motivational memes online. Somehow it’s helped, but I still feel myself dragging this weight around that has been getting heavier every week, every time I struggle, and especially since getting a bloody nose the other week and feeling like a complete joke. When it comes down to it, I just don’t like being this bad at anything. I do wonder why this means so much to me, and why I chose a sport so difficult for someone like me to get better at. I think I believed in myself at the time – believed in my motivation, and athleticism, and thought that I could easily prove everyone wrong who thought that someone like me couldn’t really do it. But I would dare say that even I, with the martial arts experience I do have, and by all means should have known better, completely underestimated this sport. It is damn hard. I am only about a month and a half in to sparring, and looking forward I am thinking the hardest part is going to be the motivation. I’m already having a hard time with it, and I am literally at the very beginning. I honestly don’t know how I am going to keep it up.
That is why I am writing this. Because, this struggle, this discouragement, I think is a crucial moment. I am not going to say I have a decision to make, because that decision was made a long time ago. I have always known that I am a martial artist, I just need to prove it. Even if it’s harder than I originally anticipated, I still don’t have any choice but to face that and move through it. No, the crucial moment is in the frustration itself. I want to remember this feeling, and any feeling I have that is even lower than this, so that I have something to look back on and be proud of overcoming. I want to remind my future self that this was not easy, and that a lot of people would have given up. So, despite where I go, how much better I get (or not), my victory will never be based only in winning or losing; my victory will be that I just didn’t quit. That is a kind of strength that not everyone has, no matter their size.
Now, I have to go. I’m off to spar again.
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with dirt and sweat and blood, who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions and who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the thrill of high achievement, and if he fails, at least he fails daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
~Theodore Roosevelt (quoted by William Manchester in The Last Lion)