It takes a tremendous amount of courage for a woman to walk into a testosterone infested Dojo and begin training. It also takes an enormous amount of trust. I had neither. I was scared to death for the first two years. However, the guys were incredibly tolerant, gentle and patient with me. Most of the time I was the only woman in class, and they dutifully took turns working with me. I thought that was awfully magnanimous of them. I soon discovered that it was because I was prettier and smelled better than any of the guys, even on my worst day. They had plenty of opportunities to work with each other, and they seemed to enjoy tossing me around for a change.
Even though I was enjoying the classes, I was still incredibly intimidated. I was a good student, not because I was interested in going up through the ranks, but out of a strong sense of self preservation. In keeping with my good humor and to hide my perpetual state of terror, I hid my fear by setting some ground rules. So, I told the guys that they were permitted to kick me, punch me, throw me and pin me, but for Heaven’s sake, don’t mess up my make up. That would make me mad. After all, we all have our limits, and it’s good to set boundaries.
It’s funny to remember how my friends responded to my sudden interest in martial arts. I had some impressive bruises during the first year, and many of them encouraged me to quit. My girlfriends just knew I would get hurt, and some had the audacity to suggest that I was too old. That did it. I was determined to stick it out for at least another year. I would quit when I was good and ready to quit, and on my own terms. Have I ever mentioned my incomparable stubbornness?
Some days I would go straight from ballet class to the Dojo. Some people thought I was nuts. Sometimes I thought I was nuts. In reality, it was good cross training. But during this incredible journey something really strange happened. My experience slowly transitioned from the physical training to something deeper. My nervous system was responding to my newly discovered patterns of moving and sensing myself in this new environment. The term is called neuroplasticity and refers to our ability to learn new things by responding to changes in our environment.
So, something inside of me changed. It was slow and subtle, but it was there. My intimidation turned into awareness. My fear changed into confidence. My incomparable stubbornness developed into Spirit. My humor and acceptance about my gender, size and age led me to the understanding of my limitations as well as the acceptance of my possibilities. My lack of trust transformed into self compassion. And now, with each rank I achieve I experience an overwhelming sense of humility. And respect. For myself, and for my art.
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP