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A Moment of Brutal Honesty

A few months ago a woman came into our dojo who was a little odd. She seemed very skittish, eyes darting left and right, hands fidgety as if she was unsure where to put them. She was interested in trying a class but had a few questions. I gave the usual explanations of prices and classes she could take. She listened, nodded, glanced around nervously. There were about 10 kids on the floor at the time, enthusiastically hitting pads. "Is there contact?" I explained that there was only contact in the sparring classes, which she was not required to attend. "I notice everyone is barefoot. I have a problem with my foot that makes being barefoot very difficult. Would it be ok if I wore shoes?" I said that normally we did not allow any shoes on the floor, however if it was a medical problem we could probably allow some kind of special pair so long as she didn't wear them outside also. She nibbled on a fingernail. I could tell she was trying to come up with more questions. I was pretty sure I was never going to see this woman again. There was no way she was going to ever make it to a trial class, let alone sign up. I had a bagel and a hot chocolate waiting for me behind the desk. I wanted her to go away and leave me alone. I was annoyed at her awkwardness, her nervous quirks, the shoe thing. This conversation is so much work, said the whiny voice in my head. Why couldn't she just be normal?

After she left I went back to my desk, relieved to get back to my breakfast. But I wasn't enjoying it and it was no longer the woman's fault. The truth was I was appalled at myself. What an intolerant, judgmental bitch I was! One of the things I have always loved most about karate training is that it can be accessible to everyone. And who better to benefit from it than this woman. Shame on me! I was painfully shy in elementary school and used to nibble on the ends of my hair. I am afraid of flying and when the subway gets stuck between stations I get panicky and can barely sit still. (Sometimes I actually get up and walk to another car just to give my body something to do.) Who am I to decide what is "normal"? Disgusted, I threw out the rest of my bagel.

Every parent (or at least every good parent) wants their child to grow up tolerant of the differences of others. Not to be color blind but to be sensitive and understanding and yes, curious. Yes that girl is in a wheelchair. No she probably cannot walk. Yes that is a little sad. But she can draw and sing and read books and I'll bet she likes chocolate ice cream just like you.

In my quest to be a good mother I often check myself. True Maya was making a rude face but it probably didn't warrant taking away her entire bag of cookies.  And when I yelled at her the other day for what was honestly her just being a kid it was really because I was hungry. And I had a headache. And her singing was really really LOUD. I demand an apology when Maya has done something wrong but I have also been known to give myself a time out when I feel I was out of line. ("I'm sorry sweetheart. Mommy is stressed about this grownup thing called bills. I didn't mean to take it out on you. By the way, do you mind getting a part time job?")  I apologize to her because I am not perfect. I also spill things, have frustrating moments when I accidentally close the car door on my face (yes this really happened. Matthew was kind enough to not laugh at me) And I, like my 4 year old daughter, sometimes have trouble with self control.

Maya was not there when this woman came into the dojo. Even if she had been, I am professional enough that I do not think anyone would have noticed my annoyance, let alone a small child. I am sure the woman herself could not tell. But I knew the truth and I felt awful. Yes, no one is perfect. We all have moments of intolerance, especially when we're angry. We all say completely unacceptable, anti-social things in our head or even among family and friends. (Having been raised in a non religious home, Maya knows Jesus Christ only as the thing Matthew says when someone cuts him off in the car). For the most part these thoughts are harmless. If you are not acting on your feelings, who cares if you enjoy a private moment of hatred, just in your own mind. Right?  Except if what we are doing is striving to be better people. And if your job, like mine, is to teach others to be better people. And especially if you have been fortunate enough to have experienced the tremendous benefits of martial arts training like I have. We have a responsibility to at least try to share it with everyone who wants to learn, no matter what their issues are.

By the way, the "odd woman" did come try a class once, awhile back. She was nervous and a bit uncoordinated. She wore shoes.  The world did not end. Is she going to be the next UFC champion? Probably not. But I hope she signs up someday, I think she would enjoy karate. And I think I would enjoy having her on the floor, punching, kicking, doing pushups, working hard. Just like me.


  1. Reminds me of an old Bill Cosby bit about his two sons. The older son thought his name was Jesus Christ and the other thought his was Dammit. One time when Bill addressed his older son as Dammit, the son replied: “No Dad, I’m Jesus Christ”

    Well, it was funnier when Bill told it.


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