Reblog from October, 2014: Embrace the Suck

When I was in second grade, we moved to a new school district. Nobody in my class knew me. The teacher didn’t know me. We might even have had a student teacher. I don’t remember.

One day we were doing science, a rare treat in this county school. I was good at science. I read dinosaur books and watched the rocket launches (this was at the end of the Apollo era). My dad talked to me about how the rockets worked, what happened to the dinosaurs, and I even remember him teaching me fractions on the back of the TV Guide when I was five or six.

The teacher was talking about astronomy that day.

“Who knows how fast the earth moves?” she asked.

Well, I did. Not in numbers, but I knew that it moved fast. I raised my hand energetically, even though nobody else was raising theirs.

She called me up to the front of the class.

“Show us with this globe how fast the earth moves,” she said.

Well, that was a problem. I looked at her and the globe. I knew that from space, it really wouldn’t look like the earth was moving very fast. But I remembered reading the numbers that told how fast the planet was spinning on its axis, how fast it was revolving around the sun. There was only one way to show that.globe

I stepped up to the globe and spun it as fast as I could.

The teacher laughed.

The other students laughed.

“What would happen if the earth was spinning that fast?” she asked, searching the rest of the students for a more rational face.

“We’d all fly off,” someone said.

“That’s right,” the teacher said. “Who can show us how fast the earth really moves?”

She chose another boy to come up. Carl, I think his name was. He put his hand in the Atlantic Ocean and moved the globe as slowly as he could.

“That’s right,” the teacher said. “It’s barely moving.”

Well, obviously I was right. I just didn’t know how to articulate it at the time. The earth spins roughly 1000 miles per hour at the equator and is moving around the sun at about 66,600 miles per hour. Nothing the teacher said could change that. Nothing I said would change her mind.

Still, I never stopped speaking up in class. I was always willing to risk being told that I wasn’t right. I wasn’t a star pupil. I just wasn’t afraid to be wrong. I enjoyed learning.

When we begin martial art training, it’s essential to develop this quality, especially when we begin as adults. We’re going to be bad, to “suck,” for quite a while. It’s a fact that it doesn’t take long to begin seeing changes in your body, strength, and balance especially. But there’s no getting around it; martial art is hard.

White Belt BoyEmbrace your beginning time. You’ve got your whole life to be good at things. Your beginning, when everything is new, is over and done very quickly. Take time to enjoy your crappy kicks and stances. Make them better, by all means, but don’t hate your “sucky-ness.”

Martial art students need to lose their fear and dislike of being corrected and being wrong. If I’m teaching a timid student, sometimes they’ll change their hand or foot position several times before they do the technique. I tell them that they need to be confident. Even if it’s wrong, do the technique decisively. When techniques are wrong, I can fix them. When they are “mushy” it’s much harder.

Remember: when you bow into the dojang, you are supposed to leave the outside world behind. That includes your ego. The ego is what wants to be right and hates being wrong. When you train and practice without your ego, both of our lives are much easier.

Finally, when you laugh at someone remember that they might write about you forty years later. Be gracious when you think you have the answer that others are looking for.