Having a black belt doesn’t mean your life will be free of doubt or uncertainty any more than a college degree or new job would. There are a few things I’ve learned along my Taekwondo journey that have helped me face ambiguous and unstable situations with confidence and self-reliance. Anyone, whether you’re a martial artist or not, can use these learnings to stand tall in the face of uncertainty.
A few weeks ago, during a Taekwondo training, we were practicing a kicking drill: one person held a square pad in each hand and walked backward while another person moved forward, kicking the pad with each step. The twist was the holder changed the target's position every time, so the person kicking had to quickly respond with the appropriate kick: snap kick, roundhouse kick, side kick, turning back side kick, or spin kick.
The purpose of the drill was to practice reacting quickly to an uncertain situation. The students had to choose correctly based on what they saw, which changed with every step. Some students picked up on the drill early on while others had to take a little more time for their bodies to catch up with what they were seeing. I found myself thinking too much rather than resting in that sweet spot when my brain and body are acting in sync.
In a sparring match, a real-life altercation, or any situation wrought with uncertainty you can't necessarily tell what kind of blow is coming next. You’ve learned how to strike and defend, but you also must learn how to rapidly readjust when the situation changes. By using the tactics of trusting yourself, facing fear and failure head-on, regaining power, and jumping at opportunities you’re better equipped to successfully handle moments of uncertainties.
Trust Your Instincts
Image credit: MartialArtsMarlboro.com
Taekwondo students do repetitive self-defense drills in order to get their bodies used to quickly responding to an attack with a variety of blocks, strikes, and takedowns. Eventually, at the black belt level, students move away from the more prescribed sequences and work more on reaction and timing when they don’t know when or from what direction the next attack is coming.
In life, you don't always know what's going to happen next, where the next blow is going to come from, or where the next opportunity may pop up (i.e., that open target). The trick is to stay relaxed and ready and to trust the skills you’ve built up over time, including listening to our “gut” or our instincts. Trust your gut, and go with it. It’s rarely wrong.
Accept the Fact That You May Get Hurt
If you get in a fight you're probably going to get hit and/or will fall. If someone attacks you with a knife and you defend yourself, you're still probably going to get cut. Hopefully, though, if you think fast and respond quickly and intelligently, the blows or cuts won't be fatal (and the proverbial knife won't end up in your back). In an uncertain situation, accepting the fact that things may not go our way is very empowering.
Expecting only one type of scenario and relying on only one trusty self-defense technique is very limiting. By remaining open to a variety of outcomes, even failure, you’re more able to quickly respond when facing the unexpected or a sudden change in course.
Take Your Power Back
A few months ago some friends and I were thrust into an uncertain and incredibly stressful situation. We weren’t sure when the next attacks were going to occur, so we learned quickly to be ready to respond to anything. There were some fakes and some low blows. Like seasoned black belts, though, people responded with grace, confidence, and dignity. They found ways to take their power back either by walking away from the situation, negotiating for better terms, or simply being vocal about what they wanted. Look for ways to regain your power by trying a different tactic or even removing yourself from the situation if that is possible.
Look For the Opportunities
It's easy to get bogged down with thinking of the worst possible scenario, but just as when you are in a fight, we can't become so consumed by worry, fear, or even anger, that you are blind to the opportunities in front of you. When sparring, you must always have your eyes peeled for the next opening even while you’re getting hit. You can’t always plan when that is going to happen, but you can mentally prep yourself to strike when the time is right. In a time of uncertainty, it’s easy to focus only on the negative, but that holds you back from looking for the next opportunity. You may find yourself following a path you would have never imagined had you remained in total control the entire time. You may find that this challenging time forces you to grow and change in ways you wouldn’t have in safer, more predictable situations.
As a black belt, how did I handle my own moment of uncertainty in taekwondo class? When I was my turn to kick during the focus pad drill, my holder was a tall, soft-spoken red belt close to my age. When he held up the target he would mutter the name of the kick along with it. Even though he dropping hints for me, it took a few seconds for my body to catch up with what my eyes were telling me.
"Spin kick," he said quietly. Ugh, I hate spin kick. Okay...whap!
"Oh come on!" I protested jokingly. "I just did that!"
"Spin kick," he repeated with a smile. Grrrr...okay, whap!
"But it's my left leg! I suck on this side! Can't you switch to the right si-"
"Spin kick." Dang it....whap!
While the spin kicks weren't much of a surprise after the first or second time, I was surprised by my holder sticking to his guns and pushing me to do something I didn't want to do. My spin kicks were far from perfect, but I got the job done, and I improved each time I did the kick, which wouldn’t have happened if I were on my own.
Uncertainty is hard. It’s frustrating, scary, and stressful. However, by trusting your instincts, facing your fear of pain or failure, and looking for opportunities to regain control and to forge a new path, you can work through uncertainty with the perseverance and indomitable spirit of a black belt!
*The original version of this post can be found on the LittleBlackBelt.com
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