Fellas, do you have a sneaking suspicion your girl might be a martial artist? (That is, if she hasn’t mentioned it ad nauseam already). Here are some tell-tale signs that you might just have the coolest girlfriend in the world:
She still likes manicures and pedicures but usually ruins them in a week by fighting and kicking focus pads.
There is always a sweaty sports bra drying out on a doorknob somewhere in her house. Always.
She has bruises on her forearms and shins and still rocks a sundress.
She’s the one dragging you to the sports bar to watch a UFC match.
She eats more than you do.
She talks about her instructors, students, and practice more than she does work, family, or anything else.
She’s honest, loyal, and hard-working.
She respects and values herself.
She doesn’t pull punches. (Literally or figuratively)
She is a confident, beautiful badass, and you are lucky to have her!
This article gets into the mind of the martial artist facing the dilemma of seeking treatment for pain or powering through and not slowing down the training schedule. I’ve been in physical therapy for nearly a year now, so you can guess which path I chose, stubborn as I was about it.
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There are parts of me that are bony. There are parts of me that are muscular. There are parts of me that are squishy. Often these parts are right up next to each other, which I think gives me an odd appearance (big sculpted and kinda bony shoulder, delicate wrist, soft batwing tricep hanging from a hard bicep), but it’s probably a lot closer to being “normal” than my perfectionist tendencies allow me to believe.
I tend to isolate my body parts. I thank genetics for the bony parts, take pride in the muscular parts, and admonish the squishy parts. I forget that these bony, muscular, and squishy parts all work in harmony to help me do really cool stuff like chop an onion, drive a car, swim laps, and beat other people up. Unfortunately it can be a little more difficult in today’s society to appreciate the squishy alongside the bony and the muscular.
Similar to the end-of-year holiday eating guilt trip, we are all being bombarded with the ads, messages, promises, and media-induced panic to get our bodies “ready” for the summer. What it really means is, “You don’t look good enough to wear a bathing suit yet, and holy crap, it’s June!!” Almost every week at the barre class at my gym, the instructor reminds us that summer is almost here, so we’d better squeeze our glutes and “zip up” our cores. Everyone is going on cleanses and amping up their workouts.
Of course the one place I don’t feel a barrage of mixed messages about body confidence is in taekwondo class. I don’t have time to think about whether my waistband feels too tight or if my butt looks big in my dobok. I’m too busy learning, practicing, fighting, coaching, and generally trying to not get hit in the face. Even if my waistband feels tight, um, there’s a f-cking black belt around it, so I’m doing just fine without washboard abs, thankyouverymuch.
Taekwondo reminds me of how powerful my body is. One night in class we were working on jumps. Sometimes for “fun,” we’ll drag out a thick mat, and two people will stand on either side holding a spare belt between them. Depending on the size, age, and rank of the student, the belt could be held anywhere between two and five feet off the ground. The student then takes a running start, leaps off the ground, tucks their legs in close to their body, and ideally clears the belt and lands softly and safely on the other side. The holders always keep the belt soft with slack in case the student doesn’t quite make it over. It’s meant to be used as practice for flying kicks, but usually ends up being more of a source of entertainment as the giggles (and applause) get louder and the gentle teasing increases.
I was knocking it out of the park. It probably helped that (1) I had done this drill many times before and (2) I was working on jumps in physical therapy earlier that day. I leapt over the belt with no problem and room to spare. There’s always a little rush of fear and adrenaline when I hoist myself off the ground, but I’ve learned to power through it and trust my awesome body to get the job done. I was proud of what my injured, aging body could accomplish.
That night as I undressed at home I caught my eye in the mirror, and my gaze inadvertently went straight to the squishy parts. Out of habit my mind turned to the inner critic that had dragged me down the dark road of disordered eating and body hatred for decades: How can you work out all the time and still look like THAT? Once a man figures out you’re not as skinny as you appear he’s going to reject you. Are you really going to wear a two piece bathing suit at the pool this summer? Perhaps you should rethink that. Why are you flabby? It’s not like you’ve had children and can justify it. You’re not allowed to look like that. [Sorry if I’ve offended any mothers. I’m just repeating what my mean-spirited mind said.]
I think you’d better skip your post-workout snack.
It took me a moment to remember that just thirty minutes ago my body, squishy parts, bulging lumbar disc, aching hips, irritated hamstring, and all, were helping me fight hard and fly through the air as if I were light as a feather.
“F_ck you! I look GOOD!” I said aloud to my inner critic.
I’m starting to believe that a little bit more every day. I’m still learning to love the squishy parts as much as I love the muscular parts. I still glance in the mirror anxiously to make sure the shadows under my cheekbones carve dark hollows into my face. I still count the bones of my sternum when I wear a low cut shirt. My hand still flies to the squishy parts, patting them down in hopes that they’ve shrunk. I’m surprised when I see how thin I look in photos. And then I remember that this body, every single piece of it, earned me my black belt.
Today, on a hot, humid, rainy Sunday, I bought not one but two bikinis. One is leopard print and the other has thick pop art colors and black lines. They weren’t my first two pieces, but there’s always that little voice that asks, “Should I??” My teenage and twenty something selves would be mortified at the thought of exposing my squishy parts. But the only thing I could think today when I was trying on the suits in a multi-mirrored dressing room was, “Damn, black belt, you look GOOD.”
As I write this I’m lying on a heating pad, feeling sorry for myself about my aching back and looking out the window at storm clouds. I certainly won’t be putting these bathing suits to use today or any time soon since there is more rain in the forecast. But it’s nice to know they’re waiting in a drawer for me. It’s nice to know that I’ve stood up to societal pressure to be perfect, and even more so, I was happy that I was beating back my slowly dying habit of harsh self-criticism. It’s nice to know that I’m starting, one day at a time, to embrace the squishy.
2016 has been my year of coaching. When I’m not yelling and punching stuff, I’m a leadership development consultant for a large healthcare organization. A large part of my job is coaching clinical and non-clinical leaders and a select group of physicians. I help them set goals, solve problems, guide them through decisions, provide feedback, and most importantly, I help build their confidence.
Meanwhile I’m continuing my black belt studies, both my own practice with such things as new forms and advanced self-defense, and also learning how to teach and coach other students. My instructor had been calling on me to help out since I was a bo dan, and now that I’m a black belt, the expectation is higher. At any moment I may be asked to help demonstrate a drill, teach a small group of students, referee a sparring match, coach students at a tournament, or do whatever else is needed. While it’s in the black belt’s job description, I also consider it my way of giving back to a community that’s been so supportive of me.
Is it possible to find a common thread between the leadership coaching I do during the day and the taekwondo student coaching I do in the evening? It’s one thing to scream, “Block and counter!” at a nine-year-old during a tournament sparring match and quite another to ask a physician what challenges she thinks she’ll face as she manages a high-profile hospital project with partners who are spread across a large metropolitan area…or are they more similar than I think?
In both instances I’m developing leaders (either future executives or future black belts). One of these days I know those in my care will have to go out on their own. Maybe they will someday be overseeing the opening and staffing of a new hospital, or maybe they will someday be overseeing other students in the dojang. I can’t fight their fights for them, whether in the sparring ring or in the boardroom, so I need to prepare them to branch out on their own.
I’ve identified some universal tenets we can use when developing leaders, regardless of age or level of skill:
1. Compassion. Everyone has vulnerabilities. A leader in charge of a half million dollar budget is under immense pressure, as is a child competing in her first taekwondo tournament. In either case I consider myself a caregiver and try to be sensitive to the individual needs of whomever I’m working with. You can push and stretch someone while still being kind and empathetic.
2. Listening and Observation. People need an objective gauge for how they’re doing. Focus, listening, and observation are crucial for giving meaningful feedback. I am using the same focus when I’m listening to a business client talk about their career goals as I am when I’m observing a taekwondo sparring match. I’m not waiting for a chance to speak and show off how smart I am. I’m focused on what they are telling me (and what they’re not telling me) and how I can help them based on my observation.
3. Customization. While you may choose to follow a standard coaching approach for multiple clients (or students), the individual needs and learning style of each client should be considered. I’m reminded of the categories in Dr. Paul Hershey and Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model. Some people need specific direction (“telling” or “directing”) while others benefit more from being guided to make their own decisions (“coaching” or “delegating”). In some instances, through inquiry and discovery, I can guide my client to make their own decisions about what they need to do to improve their performance. In other instances, say, with young children in a sparring match, I need to be more directive, scream something like, “Back kick!” or “Hands up!” and move on without explaining the “Why?” behind the motion.
4. That Extra Push. Think of coaching as tandem skydiving. It’s scary as hell, but you know you’re in the safe hands of an expert who has your best interests (and hopefully your safety) at heart. Many of us have made the most improvement when we’ve been pushed beyond our comfort zone. The encouraging words of a boss, teacher, family member, friend, or trusted coach can make all the difference. It’s a little scary to jump off the proverbial edge, but the payoff can be incredible. A good coach is willing to support a client or a student through every difficult step…and then shove them off the edge.
5. Praise! People of all ages respond to encouragement, and research has shown that performance improves when positive feedback is given more frequently and at a higher ratio than criticism…not that constructive criticism isn’t crucial, but constantly hearing, “Don’t do this” and “Don’t do that” and “You did that wrong” can make a person become weary and discouraged. Smiles, words of encouragement, acknowledgement, and even hugs can go a long way. Reward people when they do it right and kindly correct when they do it wrong. (Except in those instances where someone REALLY deserves push-ups.)