It was just she and I on the mat. We were the only ones left in our sparring section, fighting for first place at a local martial arts tournament.
I fought as I always did: blindly attacking. She, on the other hand, patiently blocked all my wild attacks until she got an opening once, twice, and three times, landing a simple, solid hit each time to win the match.
Looking back at it now, I know why I lost that match. I can now see past all that bravado I took with me whenever I stepped on the mat, and I see a little girl who fought out of fear and anger.
I can’t say why my parents had me and my siblings take all those classes, opting us out of most other sports or activities. Back then, I didn’t care either way—I wanted to learn how to do all those cool kicks and beat up bad guys like in all those martial arts movies I loved.
When abuse came into the picture, I became a more aggressive and frantic opponent. I threw everything I had into practice, hoping to get some praise from my teachers, and I became increasingly frustrated when I didn’t get it. Why wasn’t I good enough for them?
Finally, I gave up. “None of this will save me in a fight. It really is just a waste of time,” I thought.
In a way, I was right; all the self-defense classes in the world is wasted on someone who doesn’t think they are worth defending. After years of being treated as something completely unworthy of love and protection, why would I put up my guard in a real fight?
In spite of all this, I did keep up interest in martial arts, wanting to try new styles and live healthier. I recently considered taking it up again. And this time, I considered all the reasons why it has been such a struggle for me.
I thought about that last match, comparing my way of fighting to the other girl’s. I could now see that her calmer approach had a quiet dignity to it—not to mention better strategy. It is something I’ve seen in friends who can defend themselves and others: They remain calm even when angry. They’ve learned to control their anger, rather than let anger control them.
This good example from my friends has shown me that the “calm even when angry” approach is really the result of knowing one’s true worth. I’ve come to realize from their example of a calm approach to adversity—and from the example of my opponent in that final match—that self-defense isn’t for the sake of gaining worth; it’s because I have worth. I’m worthy of love and respect, and if I’m not treated that way, I’m worth standing up for.
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