Updated: Jan 7
When I began my pursuit towards a career in stunts, I knew that I had the acro and aerial abilities. I also knew that I did not yet have the fighting abilities required to be a versatile stunt performer. Fight, flip and fall equals the triple threat (and then there’s the driving, water safety, fire burns and any of the multitude of other special skills required to be a top professional, but that’s for another post).
I knew that learning how to punch, kick, evade, and strike with a weapon would be a painful experience. Both figuratively and physically. It can take a Sifu or a Guru between 10-25 years to become a master in one discipline and here I am hoping I can condense it into a weekend course. Ba! This was going to take time. Lots of time, discipline and humility.
It is quite easy for me to show up to a gym and jump, flip, or contort my body with great confidence. The first time I showed up to a martial arts class, I felt so incredibly awkward and out-of-place. Holding a small stick in one hand and drawing an “x” in the air with it sounds simple right? I had forgotten how many thousands of cartwheels I have done in my life to be able to produce one flawlessly acro trick. Well that stick did not want to go in a straight line. It hit me in the side of the face, it fell out of my hand if I was holding it too tight or not tight enough, or I’d forget to swing that damn stick altogether as soon as the instructor asked us to move our feet at the same time. I was a hot, embarrassed mess. Out of my element.
I believe that many of us experience being the least knowledgeable or capable participant in a room. It’s not a great feeling. One tends to desperately jump to the part of learning where we are considered good or competent. That feeling of vulnerability, of needing guidance, patience and assistance to learn is far to uncomfortable to bear. Or is it? Perhaps it could be one of the most liberating experiences instead. In the words of Bruce Lee:
I continued to show up, to be the least knowledgeable student in the space, to fill my cup with a new knowledge and a new set of skills. I have spent so many years of my life being a teacher of other sports, it became refreshing to submit my ego to the humble truth that a teacher can and should always remain a student. To truly learn something, one has to check their ego at the door. I have infinite examples of students I have taught in the past who spend the entire class interrupting me in order to demonstrate their knowledge and prowess. They get in their own way of learning.
I started taking martial arts class because I thought I had to, for my career. I have continued to study various martial arts because that ‘filling up of one’s cup’ every single class has become such a welcomed experience in my life. My wooden sword “x’s” continue to get sharper and less awkward. I may never become a master at any of the martial arts I’m studying, nor is that my goal, but damn the journey is pretty sweet.
Updated: Jan 7
I am fortunate enough to have been able to travel to many different places around the globe. From the mountains of Austria for a wrestling tournament, to the fjords of Norway to coach a team of female athletes or the beaches of the Philippines just to get away. Besides the breathtaking scenery, tropical climate and ancient architecture, travel can have a profound and lasting impact on a person. The biggest is the effect culture shock has on a traveller, and the growth and adaptation one can experience from being uncomfortable in a new place.
“Holy uncomfortable batman! Last night we took a 6-hour van ride to El Nido without knowing if we had any accommodations when we arrived. The whole town was booked up, our cell phones didn’t work and the topsy turvy highway left us a little too queezy to think straight. The only place we could find in the dark, had one room left, just for us. This room was something special. There were no windows. When the air conditioning was on, it was so cold that our paper-thin blanket could not stop us from shivering. When the air conditioning was off, the room produced a smell so unique and offensive that it kept us awake. As I lay there, unable to sleep for a single second, I plotted. I plotted ways to get back to Canada by first light. I plotted all of the money we should have wasted on an ultra-luxury hotel room. I plotted. My sleep is sacred to me and the lack of it made me so incredible uncomfortable.”
Next time you go to book a trip to a place where you do not speak the language, you do not have easy access to Google, or you are travelling solo, look for those moments that you can work through an uncomfortable situation. Celebrate staying fairly calm and trouble-shooting your way to a solution. Recognize the knowledge that has been gained. Culture shock can be fun guys (well maybe not fun, but definitely exciting).
Updated: Jan 7
Just this past weekend, I was able to visit my sister and my niece on the island. My niece is such a cool little cat. Without any fear, she climbs the furniture, jumps off the stairs, and hangs on the big kid monkey bars. Even though she is a bundle of freaking joy, she’s still only two, and that age range can come with some wild mood swings and a lot of meltdowns on the floors of various public places.
Toddlers seem to thrive with routine. Doing the same things over and over. It’s safe and familiar. They have their bottle they always drink from, their stuffed animal friend that comes with them everywhere, and their warm and cozy safety blanket that tucks them in at night. But then, the time comes when their bottle needs to turn into a cup, their stuffed animal friend is hanging on by a literal thread, and the cozy safety blanket is still there but does not cover the whole surface area of their new big kid bed.
My niece fights it at first, flailing on the floor of the local coffee shop because she wants her bubba. Shrieking at a pitch that is deafening to all mammals, insects and invertebrates over having to drink from a cup. You feel like the worst Auntie in the whole world (mainly because you hand the screaming child back to her mother and walk away, pretending as if you don’t know them). One day though, out of nowhere, she’ll be asking for more juju in a cup and the bottle has been long forgotten.
Just like a toddler who detests being uncomfortable with change, we adults don’t react to it much better. We do everything in our power to avoid it. To stay in the safe zone. The monotonous environment that holds little to no surprises. And….little to no room for any sort of growth; physical, emotional, social, etc.
Discomfort is essential to growth.
My sister, like many others, is painfully afraid of heights. She thinks what I do for a living is insane because I am constantly putting myself outside of my comfort zone to learn new things, to overcome fears, to adapt. Well she surprised me on my last visit with a trip to the local climbing gym. She was determined to work through this uncomfortable feeling of believing she was going to fall to her death if she got on that climbing wall. The sister in me, found this irrational fear hilarious.
She made it to the very top of the wall her first time and didn’t stop trying new problems until our hour session was up. I was really proud of her. Knowing her daughter, who was already eyeing up the 5.11 problems on the wall, she’ll need to do lots of these things to keep up.
It’s so easy to revert back to what is safe and painless.
To go back to the couch and watch Netflix instead of the gym because your muscles still ache from that inaugural workout
To avoid going to that new Meet-up group alone for fear of having to strike up a conversation with some stranger (who could end up being your next new friend)
To only jog or bike as your form of physical activity because the learning curve for rowing, climbing or cross-country skiing is just too intimidating
If we fail to work through these moments of fragility, we will fail to ever come close to our potential. Adapt or die is a thing. Our brains need new challenges to grow and build new synapses. Our muscles need new stimuli to keep from atrophying and to protect our joints from injury.
So next time, you find yourself experiencing that impulse to reach for your ‘safety blanket’, consider riding that wave of discomfort to the other side. It may take you to a new place. A place which you will never want to return from.