Monday, November 9, 2009


I took tango lessons with Egemen last year. It was fun, but not fun enough, so we didn't stick with it. Part of the problem (from my point of view) was that I couldn't persuade him to lighten up about it. After years of studying the martial arts, he couldn't quite internalize the idea that the stakes weren't all that high. If you make a mistake doing the tango, the worst that will happen is you'll look ungraceful and uncoordinated. This is pretty much inevitable, if you're just beginning. As far as I was concerned, it wasn't a big deal: I'm very used to that feeling.

If you make a mistake in a fight, the consequences would obviously be much more serious. His athletic learning curve is much steeper than mine, so I was the one making most of the mistakes. I think in some deep, preconscious way, he suspected I was trying to get him killed.

His attention to detail and perfectionism are exactly what you need in a martial-arts instructor, but perhaps not quite what you want if you're taking introductory tango lessons. His point of view, I think, was that there was no point in doing it if you didn't mean to do it well, and it was frustrating to him to have a partner who wasn't trying her best. (I was trying, but I just refused to get stressed about it.)

I think for Egemen, too, it was hard to be a beginner again. He's used to being a teacher, and to being very good at the skill other people are struggling to learn. It was probably good for him to be reminded how awkward and clumsy most people feel when they're just starting something like this.

On reflection, thinking about that experience, I think both of us have underestimated that kind of discomfort -- the feeling that you look stupid -- as an obstacle to taking up a martial art. He underestimates it because it's been so long since he's felt it; I underestimate it because it's not my nature to care much about it anymore.

I think what I'd say, to women who are thinking about studying a martial art but not sure it's for them, or men contemplating taking up the tango, is that of course feeling clumsy and out-of-place is inevitable, at first, and probably for quite some time. (I'll let you know how long it takes to go away when I find out myself.) There's quite a bit of value, though, to doing something despite feeling that way. It's good to practice having that feeling. It allows you to get used to it and put it in perspective. Making a mistake in a fight could cost you your life, but being stared at -- or feeling clumsy, or unfeminine, or unmasculine -- isn't actually life-threatening at all. Having a fairly thick skin for those sensations, and knowing that they don't mean much, is a big asset, if only because a life lived in extreme sensitivity about how you appear to others is not, ultimately, your own life.

1 comment:

  1. My best experiences in martial arts are re-becoming the beginner by taking different arts or studying with different instructors. There's nothing that has opened my eyes more.