“Calm. Down,” whispered my instructor for the third time as we practiced the finer intricacies of hand-to-hand combat, i.e., twisting the crap out of each others’ wrists. Even though I was physically exhausted and wrung out like a dish rag from sparring class I was buzzing with manic energy during the red and black belt class. It came to a head when, jittery and frustrated, I flailed my hands and giggled apologies in a shrill self-deprecating tone after another failed attempt to reduce my “attacker” to a writhing heap on the floor.

Then it hit me–I’m still a perfectionist. I thought I had squeezed it out of other areas of my life–being so chill at work that others came to me when needing to be talked off the stress ledge, FINALLY making peace with my body (well, for the most part), getting past a time in my life where I let another person’s judgments control how I felt about myself, basing my value on whether I was in a relationship and the status of that relationship…and yet there I was, apologetic and fretful because I couldn’t get the mechanics of a self-defense technique exactly right. I was worried that I was frustrating my instructor, and more importantly I was frustrated with myself, the educated, fit, alpha career woman who wasn’t “perfect.” The desire for perfection wasn’t even a conscious effort–it’s been so deeply ingrained that it’s going to take more than one attempt to extract it and reconcile it.

During the drive home it took a few minutes and a few rap songs to get my mood back up from the uneasiness I was feeling. I mused silently that not every taekwondo class is going to be a breeze–if it is then that’s trouble. Sometimes we get too caught up in the performance of taekwondo (or whatever your combat sport or martial art of choice is) and don’t remember the purpose of it. Twisting the sh!t out of someone’s wrist and throwing them on their face IS what I signed up for. “THIS is taekwondo, not pretty kicks,” I muttered as I drove home. If you can’t really defend yourself then you’re just dancing. Funnily enough today someone I just met thought I was a ballerina.

I’m going back to class tomorrow and will try not to let the specter of perfectionism worm its way into my practice.

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