September 5, 2008

Facing Fear

I started taiji (tai chi) four years ago for a variety of reasons. At that time, I knew very little about the sport and had no idea that taiji was a martial art, that every posture had a martial application, that swords could be (would be!) involved, and that there were taiji competitions. Participating in a martial arts tournament had never, ever been on this soccer mom's radar screen. But life can take some unexpected turns.

Three weeks ago, dressed in silk , I was standing just outside a large rectangle made of blue tape. It was one of about a dozen “rings” that sectioned off the carpet of a Marriott hotel ballroom. Every ring had a head judge seated at a table along the side and additional judges planted in chairs at the corners. All of them held dry erase boards and markers for scoring. The spectators and other competitors occupied the rows of chairs nearby.

Each ring was dedicated to a different art. Those closest to me were dedicated to karate and to competitors with weapons (sword, staff, saber, etc.). The farthest side of the room was for wushu (think Jet Li and Jackie Chan). Wushu had the largest and most vocal audience. Their chanting and cheering echoed off the walls and settled over ring 5 where I stood, waiting to be called.

I was definitely feeling the pressure. Part of me prepared to do my best taiji: slow, soft movements, high kicks, low drops and perfect turns. Part of me REALLY wanted to run away. Fast. I guess that’s the “fight or flight response.”

Choose: do it or run.

I was thinking about all the reasons to run, “What if I forget my routine? What if I disgrace myself? What if I disgrace my school?”

Then I reminded myself, “This isn’t life or death; it’s an ADVENTURE! It’s all about BEING here. About participating and controlling fear enough to ENJOY being here.”

Three weeks later, I can’t brag about my performance but I am proud of myself for doing it. I am pleased that I faced my fear and had a great time to boot. I think I'll try it again next year -- with a sword!

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