Searching for Balance
“Mom, I want to go there.”
My seven-year-old daughter Annaliese pointed emphatically to the wall of windows for the hundredth time that week as we passed the just-opened dojo, our reflection zooming along beside us on the busy street. In my early 40’s at the time, I had been working (again) on letting go and allowing life to take me where I’m supposed to be, but the graphic of the kicking man made me a tad bit uncomfortable. What did I know about martial arts? Nothing. No, let me rephrase that. What I thought I knew about martial arts was that it was violent. And painful. And masculine. Not that I have anything against the opposite sex. As a matter of fact, most of my best friends over the years have been male. And, having grown up a strong, athletic female, it never occurred to me that I couldn’t do something because I was a girl, or that I couldn’t or shouldn’t play with and/or beat the boys when it came to sports. Over the years I’ve had my own self-perceived limitations, but being a woman was not one of them. However, I had spent the past twenty years consciously avoiding what I considered my own ego-driven masculine energies, and had instead chosen feminine expressions like yoga. Martial arts? Frankly, I wanted nothing to do with it.
So I decided to try some reverse psychology.
“Okay, if you will stop asking me, I will take you there.” Certainly my precocious, athletic daughter would quickly see that it was just boys trying to hurt each other and realize that this was not for her.
But it didn’t exactly work out that way.
From the moment we walked in, she, and I, knew she was here to stay. Talking to Sensei Tanner, my previously-held notions dissipated. His kindness and presence put me immediately at ease. And suddenly I was open to keeping an open mind about this. Annaliese started training that day.
Six months later my five-year-old daughter Sophia also started Cuong Nhu. And for a year and a half I sat back and watched as my girls learned self-defense and grew stronger, more centered, and more confident, both at and away from the dojo.
And then we went to 2011 IATC in Atlanta.
Again, it was Annaliese who was set on going. By this time I had gotten more adept at trusting both my children when they were very insistent about things, so we piled into the car and me, my then-husband, and our 3-year-old son took our daughters to Training Camp. The first morning I took the girls to the gym, sat on the bleachers, and pulled out a book to read. But instead of opening my book, I began to look around. And the more I watched the hundreds of students, senseis, and masters, the more I saw. And everything changed.
You see, I had watched my girls in their classes and on their tests as they advanced, but I had never really seen them. Perhaps it was because they were children and just learning, but I think it was my preconceived ideas that were clouding my vision. So as I watched the masters and the senseis do their forms, it was like a veil was lifted, and I sat spellbound. I hadn’t seen the beauty in Cuong Nhu, the energy as it flowed up and around, swirling like paint. I hadn’t seen the poetry as hands moved like words. I saw the feminine aspect, not the impressive number of women training, but fluidity, receptiveness, and creativity. And when it all came together, the beautiful and balanced expression of both the masculine and feminine intertwined. Up until that point I had been so caught up in the martial that I hadn’t seen the art. And it took my breath away.
In my striving to be less ego-centered, I had forgotten one crucial aspect: balance. My training started when we got back from Atlanta.
The six and a half years I’ve been practicing Cuong Nhu has been life-changing. I’ve grown physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ve grown closer to my daughters through our shared experiences. And I’ve become part of a close-knit community that supports each other.
My goal in practicing Cuong Nhu has never been to reach a certain rank, though it is nice to advance and to know that what I’m doing is working. Nor is it to become stronger and more flexible, though both of these are certainly happening. My goal is to find the balance in myself of the feminine and masculine, the yin and yang, so that I can not only live a more balanced life, but also so that I can maybe one day express the intertwining for someone else, illustrate the beauty that comes when we live in harmony in ourselves. As a mother, I want this for my children, and as a woman, I want this for my planet. Lofty? Perhaps. But I’ve never been one to think small.
I guess you can say that I came to Cuong Nhu led by a child, and stayed for me. Exactly as it was meant to be. Now, if I could just remember to relax my shoulders and let go