A Liminal Experience

I was archiving old blog posts when I ran across this one from February 2015, when I was eight months into my training. In the introduction of that post I wrote:

“I am not always comfortable with sharing my inmost thoughts… I don’t like opening myself up. But I’ve met enough of you to know that if I do step out of my comfort zone a bit I will come out better for what I’ve learned from you.”

I sat bolt upright in my chair and read the whole post. In that article I wrote that I had been waffling but eventually decided to go ahead and write about a punch that, fortunately, missed my sparring partner. I outlined how I processed my feelings about knowing that I could inflict great harm so unexpectedly early into my training.

Further down, I read my words:

“I have a feeling I’ll be revisiting this issue and working through everything that goes with it throughout my karate career. Am I correct?”

Oh I was absolutely correct. I read through to the end:

“If even just one person can benefit from what I’ve written, it’ll be worth everything.”

I had no idea how much my own words from my past would benefit my own self nearly two and a half years later. I stopped archiving old blogs and started typing the draft of this post. I had been waffling about writing this blog post, but I saw the courage I had then.  You see, shortly after my last blog post I landed in the same position I was back in February 2015:

“It was tempting for me to just never let anyone know [about the lethal punch that didn’t land], but this blog is about the experiences of a beginner. Sometimes us beginners have to deal with hard things.”

I still consider myself a beginner. My belt rank (currently 4th kyu – an intermediate rank) says I’m not a newbie, but there’s still a pretty wide gap ability-wise between myself and a shodan (1st degree black belt). I’ll still consider myself a beginner after shodan because I’ll still be learning new things. And yes, sometimes us beginners have to deal with hard things.

Earlier this month I accidentally injured someone while we were sparring.

It took me quite a number of days to process everything that went with the accident. Some people were concerned that I was taking it too hard. I dragged myself to the dojo and was grateful whenever my fellow students showed they weren’t afraid to work with me – particularly the teenagers of both genders. I received advice from sensei (instructors, plural).

One kind friend wrote, “Perhaps try to look on this as a liminal (transitional) experience if you can? You are becoming Joelle who has the genuine ability and power to hurt others; and to be a woman who can live and thrive well beyond the tight, dreary rules about what “femininity” is supposed to look like.”

I know very well that transitions can be hard (e. g. college to working world) or downright brutal (e. g. puberty). If we play our cards right, we come out better people for what we’ve learned. As another confidante put it, “As we used to say in the mountains of western North Carolina – sometimes you get the bear; sometimes the bear gets you. Just try to be better than you were the last time you met a bear.”

An interesting phenomenon to note is that the gentlemen I’ve confided in are quite pragmatic about the whole situation and about what I need to do and not do. There are some women who echo the gentlemen’s perspective. But most women have a different take on the incident. My opinion is that this difference in perspective exists because most boys grow up with rough-and-tumble play in which they injure themselves and each other fairly frequently. I simply listen to what everyone has to say and I try to learn from all.

“I have a feeling I’ll be revisiting this issue and working through everything that goes with it throughout my karate career. Am I correct?”

Yes, this has already happened nearly two and a half years after I wrote those words. Furthermore, I’ll bet some day I’ll have to counsel my own students through a similar situation.

On this blog I’ve been loosely translating “sensei” as “instructor,” but a better definition is “one who has gone before.” Sometimes being the one who has gone before means you’ve walked down some roads that nobody should walk down (but we’re human, so we do walk those roads sometimes). From raising my own children I know this is true. Sometimes your darkest moments and deepest regrets enable you to effectively counsel your children if and when they face similar situations in their own lives. I deeply appreciate the sensei (plural) who have said what needed to be said about what I did, especially if it was hard for me to hear. I am learning how to handle this situation so that when my own students go through it, I will have the tools to help them.

As a side note, I’ve been treasuring the continued confidence of a young girl kohai (a student lower ranked than oneself). She was a witness to the incident and immediately afterward she was the one who insisted that I take care of myself.  She brought me a damp towel and told me to clean up so I could see if I myself had an injury.  She has not been afraid to work with me during subsequent classes.  Her trust has helped me to regain my confidence.  Some kids just goof around and don’t do much then they quit. Some kids stay, and boy are they molded and shaped!  Hats off to my young kohai.

Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

2 thoughts on “A Liminal Experience”

  1. Hi Joelle, reading this this sent a shiver down my spine. That’s a lot for you to process – I hope you’re feeling ok about it all as the days pass. So touching to read about your young dojo sister who had the presence of mind to check whether YOU were also hurt. Will be interesting to see how you feel about this when some further time has elapsed, another year or so down the line . . . ps your illustration is perfect! Kx

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Kai – and it is a lot to process. I’m new to this, so learning how to deal with all this has been a bit of a learning curve. Yes, it’ll be interesting to see how the ripples spread. I had forgotten about the first post, and it came back to me just when I needed it. Thanks for stopping by and for your encouraging words!

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