I’ll never forget the first time I looked into the eyes of a man I barely knew and heard three little words that helped change my life. It wasn’t what I was expecting, especially from a man I had just met. We were brought together by a strange twist of fate. I remember standing close to him while he murmured those words in a soft, silky voice that nobody else could possibly hear. But I heard them. I still remember them. And it’s not what you think.
It was in the early days of my martial arts training. That means I was in the first six months and still not sure what I was doing there and wondering how soon I would quit. But, I was learning a few things, so I kept going to class. Somehow, I was talked into attending a seminar. I was assured that it was great fun, low key, no pressure, and I would have a marvelous time. I was more gullible back then than I am now.
During the seminar, I found myself paired up with a huge bull of a man. I am good spirited by nature and a natural born flirt, so I was okay with it. At first. Everything changed when I suddenly found myself in the middle of a huge circle surrounded by all of the other students, instructors, and Sensei walking straight toward us. I was the only woman there, I was the center of attention, and everyone was staring at me.
I froze, like a deer in the headlights. I looked towards the back door to see if I could make a quick get away. Unfortunately, there was a wall of black belts blocking my path. They were lined up next to each other like the ninja version of Red Rover. “Red Rover, Red Rover, we dare Cheryl over!” I was fairly certain I couldn’t break through that line. I glanced around for my teacher to bail me out. No help there. I had no way out. Honestly, I was just a heartbeat away from a serious and very public major melt down.
Terrified, I looked up at my partner. Very softly and quietly he whispered those three magic words, “Don’t be intimidated.” Easy for him to say. He outweighed me by at least 150 pounds. And he was quite comfortable in this testosterone infested environment. The circle was closing in tighter and I looked at the back door again. Maybe I could break that line. My partner shook his head slightly and said it again, “Don’t be intimidated.” All of a sudden, the circle that was closing around me opened up. I got out of my immobilized state and found the courage to start moving again.
That was eight years ago. The rest, as they say, is history. That man gave me a gift beyond anything he could have imagined, and the support I needed without embarrassing me. It was our little secret. I can’t help but wonder what the outcome would have been if he hadn’t been so supportive. Maybe that would have been the end of my martial arts training.
A few years later I ran into him again at another seminar. He looked at me in surprise and said, “You’re still here!” Then he looked down at my belt and burst out laughing. “And you outrank me now!” Later that day we were paired up again. In that same soft voice, he taunted me this time. “Look at you, girl, you’re not scared any more. Look at how strong you are.” Of course, strong is a relative term. I can’t overpower a cat. But I have developed a strength of spirit and courage that I never knew I had before, thanks to my training.
Words can have a powerful effect. It’s important to choose your words carefully. Speak softly, honestly and gently. You may be giving someone a powerful gift that keeps on giving. After all, you never know when you may be in need of some encouragement. Recycle the gift.
Cheryl Ilov. PT, GCFP