When I was nine, my parents enrolled me in a Tae Kwon Do class through a local dance studio and I fell in love with it during the first class I took. I stayed with the martial art through the end of high school, grateful for the discipline and patience that the training taught me, as well as the relationships I gained over those years. I grew close to my instructors, both of them taking active roles in my life akin to parenting, which was absent. For the first time in my life, I had the care and guidance I’d been seeking but not finding at home. After I graduated from high school, however, I stopped going. I’d come out a couple years earlier because I felt somewhat at odds with my straight peers, needing a community of people who supported me. After I transitioned, I never really looked back. I was living in rural Vermont with no transportation to classes and with the changes in my life, my priorities had shifted. Still, I missed the training, both for the physically challenging exercise it brought me and for the family I had left behind.
Over the years, I’ve thought about the hole this had left. I briefly thought about trying to find a local studio to begin training with again, though never got very far with that idea. When I’d left, I’d earned my second-degree black belt and was training 4-5 days a week. With the time having passed since then, I’d forgotten most of the physical part of the art. I could no longer remember the forms or the moves that I’d grown to know so surely I could have done them in my sleep. The idea of starting over again felt disheartening. The idea of starting over with strangers even more so.
Then I started getting treatment for CPTSD. I kept hearing, and reading, about how yoga was really good for helping to heal trauma helping to integrate and regulate mind and body, which after years of dissociation were skills I didn’t have. Unfortunately, I found the idea of yoga completely intimidating. Maybe it was just my preconceived notions of what yoga studios were like and my assumptions of the people I would meet there, but it felt like an insurmountable goal to break down. And I know there are probably many perfectly nice people in yoga classes who would welcome me with open arms if I wanted to try. I just couldn’t.
A few weeks ago, I was walking through the downtown area of my city with my partner and I noticed a local martial arts studio offering Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Tai Chi had been recommended years prior by a DMH (Department of Mental Health) caseworker as something to try. It has a lot of the same benefits for trauma that yoga does. When it was suggested, I wasn’t really in a place to even think about it. I was still pretty mobility impaired and in a lot of chronic pain on a daily basis. With walking being a challenge some days, martial arts seemed out of the question. But things have changed a lot since then. It’s been over a year since I stopped needing to use crutches to walk and both my stamina and strength have increased a lot since then. When I brought up the idea of looking into trying Tai Chi at therapy a few weeks ago, my therapist was enthusiastically in favor. Still, I was pretty noncommittal and only willing to agree to look online for more information. But the information I found was more promising than I had expected it to be. The local studio offered adult classes twice a week, and one class on Tuesday nights was structured in a way so that they could easily accommodate beginners with multiple instructors. I was cautiously optimistic when I e-mailed them, asking if myself and my partner, whose attendance I knew would bolster my confidence to try it, could come in the following week to try a free class.
And it was good. It was better than good. I was engaged all through the class. I felt challenged emotionally and physically, but not too much. I liked the instructors working that night and we weren’t the only new people there! Maybe because it was so close to the beginning of the year, there were five people trying it out that night. I left at the end of class feeling energized and excited and looking forward to returning the following week. In a lot of ways, I felt like I had after that first Tae Kwon Do class when I was nine. We went back last night and I felt more at peace in my body than I have in a long time, which is not to say that I felt comfortable, but that is probably a long work in progress. And of course it’s only been two weeks, so I’m not going to get ahead of myself here, but I left feeling actually happy and that doesn’t happen the often. For now, I am glad to have found a place that feels safe to work on myself and to learn that maybe it’s okay to trust my body again, however slowly that may go.