If you spend any amount of time in the dojo you will eventually hear me say-" this is a safe space." Why do I say this? Because lurking in the corners is fear. One of the first fears encountered in the dojo is the fear of being criticized by your peers. This is only natural since you are usually in a group setting and when you enter your natural inclination is to think that everyone is looking at you and your faults. Over the course of time you realize that your ego was incorrect and everyone is not looking at you ( for many its is a watershed moment) and that everyone is focused on their own progress, not yours.
Then there is the fear of letting go, of surrender. We all walk into the dojo with preconceived ideas, we also carry with us-insecurity, doubt, anger, unresolved self esteem issues, extra portions of ego and bravado, and for some an overestimated concept of our own intelligence. This is baggage that we carry around the dojo, making our training and life harder. Yet however hard it is to carry that extra weight around it is very scary to let go of it because the weight is comforting. It is a known quantity- something we can refer back to, it is security and so we are loathe to release it. The alternative, surrender and release is frightening to contemplate. In order to progress however, we must lose the baggage. For some we lose it all at once, for others its a slower process each piece a battle hard fought. Eventually you must surrender, the training and your growth demand it. It is implacable and infinitely patient.
Another fear encountered is the fear of being hit. This is by no means a sequential list. So each of these fears can appear at any time and usually arrive when you least expect them or want them to surface. Fear of being hit is very debilitating for many people. Many people embark on the study of a martial art because they feel powerless and want to learn to defend themselves. Some have been abused as children or adults and feel that learning a martial art will help them overcome their history. While you may learn about techniques by reading about them or even discussing them, in order to really learn them, you must do them. Spending years striking air will not prepare you for the first time you make contact, likewise walking through prearranged fighting drill will not prepare you for a free form sparring session. Free form sparring will not prepare you for prevailing on the street.
Together with this fear is the fear of getting hurt or having something broken. None of us likes to be hurt, much less go through the breaking of bones or tearing of muscles. It doesn't sound pleasant and its not pleasant to experience. We have students that come from schools where breaking something in every class was considered normal. I don't consider this to be the norm and it is something to be avoided wherever possible. This is not to say it will not happen, whenever you have contact the possibility of something breaking is there. We do try to minimize it wherever possible.
So how to deal with these fears? Each person is different. As an instructor you have to assess what each person is dealing with and when. This is where the safe space comment comes from. It is not just a nice thing to say to assuage fears. You have to create a safe space for the students to go as hard or easy as they wish. Some will have little or no fear and will want to push themselves to the limit and beyond- and it should be available to them. Likewise some will want to take a slower and more cautious pace- this too needs to be available without recrimination. Underlying it all is the presence of a space that is safe to experiment, learn and make mistakes exists and is encouraged not only by the sensei of the school but by every student in the school regardless of rank.
Fear will always be a part of the dojo, of training. Rather than being a negative influence, its presence can spur us to greater mastery. The key is acknowledging that it exists and surpassing its influence over our thoughts and actions. That is one of the primary roles of a good instructor.
strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
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