Tuesday, January 21, 2020

a force with which to be reckoned-

yup, super excited about this movie
A force with which to be reckoned - 

This is not a “down with patriarchy” conversation. Important to say that because it might be easy to drift into the polarizing feminist narratives in the words that follow. Easy to fall that way to disagree and easy to fall that way in support. There is a gender bent to the words and I am clear this is not unilaterally a gender based dynamic.

Here we go.

There is an abiding social script, an unspoken expectation in martial and combat arts reflecting the rules around achievement. When a practitioner reaches a milestone, we take a picture with our certificate, our talisman (belt, patch etc.), and our instructor. The pictured instructor may be a high ranking Sensei, a Master, someone representing an international team and/or the local instructor. It may be all of these if they are the same person or the roles may be represented by multiple people. 

This is a benchmark moment. Hard training, hours-days-months-years on the mat create this moment. Failures, falls, bruises, struggles, frustrations, dusting it all off to try again. And again. Then it clicks. We fight for this milestone and we earn it. We take this picture and we share it in whatever media format we choose. 

In the sharing we give thanks where thanks is due. We write a comment or a hashtag and we express gratitude to our instructors who fought for and with us as we drove our minds and bodies toward this achievement. Thank you to the Master, the Sensei, the instructor for believing in us, for providing the experience and wisdom offered during our journey. Gratitude for guiding us, for not giving up on us … all the things. 

When we see a picture of the guy with his new belt, stripe, or rank he is smiling, sweaty, and weary standing next to the strong confident presence of his instructor/master/sensei. We appreciate the gratitude and the humility. If he posted the picture and said “fuck yeah! I KILLED that test. I rock. My hard work got me here…and oh yeah, thanks Sense…” we might twitch a little. 

Martial arts and arrogance have a love-hate relationship. We love to hate arrogant students and grind our teeth at Masters who express arrogance and love them anyway. The humility is the script. Give credit to all those instructors, be thankful for the awarded v. earned rank and avoid hubris.

This is not a bad thing. In Alpha-Land humility helps hold the tribe together. In this script, the instructor will often reply with an ‘atta boy. A hearty congrats mentioning the hard work etc. of the student. But we don’t need the instructor to do this. We look at this man who has earned this accomplishment and we know he put in the work. We can see his strength, his power and his drive. 

When she makes this post nothing changes. This is the script – thanks and gratitude. This is the way (sorry, couldn’t resist). Below the public script there is also something sneaky and risky and contrary to the point. 

When we look at her picture, do “we” have the same response as we do to his? Does the instructor? Does the instructor take more credit for her accomplishment? I doubt it’s conscious when it happens – or at least that is my hope (because I have seen it happen more than once). And this isn’t about the instructor or master, it’s about her. Does she embody the same sense of personal accomplishment? The guy on-script doesn’t say:

“fuck yeah! I KILLED that test. I rock. My hard work got me here…and oh yeah, thanks Sense…”

-because he’s not supposed to and inside of the gratitude, he knows he earned this. But does she? I know women in the martial arts world who give all the credit to their instructors. I don’t just mean when they earn the title or rank. 

It’s a challenge for this woman to own her achievement. It’s easier and perhaps, in some martial cultures expected that the women remain beholden to those who raised them up and statistically, that’s likely going to have been a team of male instructors.

And it’s a dance. Her instructors may also subtly reinforce this undercurrent script. Reminding her she has “more to learn” when she expresses strength or confidence. The instructors may say “she worked so hard, I am so proud of her” and this is likely honest. And the ‘atta girl may have a sneaky undertone of …. I helped the damsel become a warrior – instead of – the warrior found her way –

The script is what it is. The undertone is a byproduct of a centuries old male-oriented tradition in which accomplished women were rare birds; and all that the metaphor implies. It doesn’t happen everywhere or with everyone or with the same person all the time, necessarily. It does; however, happen. Changing it doesn’t mean becoming a beacon of hubris. That would have a remarkable and unfortunate backlash. Gratitude for the education is appropriate. 

The change must come from within. With each woman who experiences the accomplishment, that she looks in the mirror and gives herself that nod. The nod that says “fuck yeah – you KILLED it!” 

And then, when she gives her measure of gratitude across the social universe, she can also acknowledge SHE did the work. SHE put in the time. SHE accomplished the goal. It is her journey afterall – nobody else’s; and this is one of the places gender is moot. 

So sister, if you’re out there and you have forgotten the real reason you can have all that gratitude is because YOU stood up and said I will do this, then take a moment and acknowledge who you are. When the next generation of women steps on the mat, they need to see you – they need to see they too can put in the work and become a force with which to be reckoned.