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  • Writer's pictureChanel Grenaway

Don't throw in the towel...and other tales from the dojo

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

Even after months of consistent training you can have a bad day or bad week that gets you thinking about throwing in the towel. This was one such week for me. As I am preparing for my black belt exam, I was challenged by 3 things:

· The story in my head that is asking what am I doing here?

· Thinking about the worse case scenarios

· Battling high expectations

The story in my head….

We are at the point of pre-testing where my instructors are examining my katas and self-defence skills. It is an opportunity to prove to myself (and them) that I know the curriculum. It is also an opportunity for my instructors to give me customized advice, tips and tweaks to improve my form. Sounds reasonable right? Well this week, while presenting my katas, I was unable to hear the positive feedback and only heard the negative voices in my head. So, when my instructor told me that I’m on track, that it’s looking good and all I have to do is focus on deepening my back stances and adjusting the width of my front stances, I heard this… “You suck, you have been doing it all wrong, what have you been practicing? You are never going to get this, you can’t possibly remember all of this”.

I gave up during that class, I was offered the opportunity to demonstrate/test again and I said no. Further, I was grumpy, and I’m sure this showed in my body language, and in my conversations with other students. It was a bad day at the dojo.

Upon reflection I realized that I had let those negative voices and my inner critic get to me. To help myself get out of this frame of mind, I did two things. I first asked myself what I would say if my son or daughter came to me feeling like giving up, and immediately, more positive messages entered my head. I would tell my kids that showing up is more than half of the battle, that all they need to do is tweak a few things and continuing practicing. Basically, I would tell them that they got this, and to shut down those doubts and negative thoughts. Secondly, I tested my assumptions by getting an external perspective. Again, this involved my kids, I asked them for their honest opinion on how I was doing. My son summed it all up with, “mom, you’re improving every day, look at how far you have come, isn’t that was it’s all about?” Indeed.

Unrealistic expectations

I’ve been practicing karate for 5.5 years. While I might like to think that I know the basics, often times, knowing is different than doing. On any given day, I may mess up a basic drill, sometimes, I don’t know my left hand from my right hand, oftentimes my balance is way off. As I aim to perfect my technique, I constantly have to keep my high expectations at bay. Why don’t I look as smooth as that person? Why can’t I kick as high as that person? I wish my punch and kicks were more powerful. I wish I wasn’t afraid of rolling, jumping or falling. I’ve written about how strong karate makes me feel, but I often don’t think that I look strong on the dojo floor, or that I’m performing the moves in a powerful way.

To get me out of this perfectionism thinking, I have reminded myself and now come to accept and believe that there is no such thing as a 100% perfect kata. People who have been practicing this for years are still learning, adjusting and improving, I am no different and this is a part of the “practice”. This thinking has helped me immensely, before starting a kata I now say…I am going to rock this the best way I know how, I got this.

“On your martial arts journey, getting your black belt is like learning your ABC’s, it is just the beginning”. Senior Karate Instructor

Worse case scenario

My biggest fear about the upcoming black belt evaluation is making a major mistake or blanking out and forgetting everything. Likewise, I wonder how I am going to handle it when I do make a mistake (mistakes will be made), will I again toss in the towel, and give up in frustration? Will my disappointment show up on my face and impact how the remainder of my evaluation goes? What if I run out of breath, or pass out? I’ll be the first to admit, sometimes when I’m training, I’m out of breath after 5 back to back katas (the exam includes basic drills, 10 katas, 3 weapons katas and 20 self-defence drills). Can I physically and mentally “perform” at 100% for 1.5 hours? This remains to be seen….

Ideally, I want to be able to push through any mistakes that I make. I want to look and feel strong no matter what. I also want to bounce back quickly from any errors, and rock the next section. As my daughter said to me once, “if you make a mistake, start where you are at, and end it like it was your best kata ever”. So that is what I have been visualizing and practicing, pushing through the mistakes, ending well, and looking at each component separately. Breathing. Breathing helps too!

It was exactly two years ago this month that I seriously injured my back. I had to stop training for an entire year. But I did come back, and after a full year of training, I’m in a position to test for my black belt. I’ve already won.

The next time you feel like throwing in the towel, find the facts that can quiet the negative voices in your head, and remember how far you have come. Push through the hard days and get back into the ring or in my case, the dojo….and don’t forget to breath!


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