April Showers

I am struck this month by the newness of spring.

I live in this simple and lovely little 1940’s farmhouse in South Carolina.  There are windows on all 4 sides of my home and gazing out any one of them will give me a view that clearly reflects the seasons - which is a delightful change from the ground-level, street facing Seattle apartment I lived in for the last 10 years of my life. Now, I have the pleasure of seeing lush greenery in the summer, bright colored leaves in the fall, barren, gnarled branches in the winter, and bright pink blossoms in the spring.

I have this little screen porch where I am blessed to sit and do work from time to time.  I love that I can feel the breeze on my face, hear the birds chirping, and on less perfect days, even listen to the torrential rains falling just beside me on the other side of the screen.  (There is nothing like a loud, heavy, South Carolina spring rain to make you feel brand new again.)

This month, I keep coming back to this tiny spark of an idea about hope. Hope that physically comes to the earth with the newness of spring and the sense of renewal echoed in the religious traditions of Passover and Easter. Winter has wiped the slate clean; everything looks as though it is dead but, in reality, it is just dormant, waiting for a fertile moment to bloom again as if for the first time.

Unlike the earth, we don’t get to wipe our slates clean in life. Relationships get ruptured, words are spoken, mistakes are made.  We almost always have the opportunity to repair things and try again, but it isn’t as if our faux pas never happened. Relationships and our own memories bear the imperfections of our pasts; there is no such thing as a real-life Etch-a-sketch.

I am a true believer in the courage it takes to own our mistakes and imperfections, confront them, repair them, and move forward.  But I confess letting go of past transgressions is not my strong point.

Troy and I spend so much of our personal time talking about the dojo and our students there.  This is partially out of necessity, partially out of having poor work/life boundaries and balance, and partially because the work we do together is a passion for both of us - something that fills our need to do work that is meaningful and impactful in the world.  No matter how much we may differ, I never cease to be in awe of him and his way with children.

“The thing about being a good instructor is you have to know when to put your foot down and when you need to be playful or lenient.  And once you put your foot down and discipline a kid, you have to be able to let him rejoin the class like he’s brand new. With a clean slate.  You can’t hold grudges against kids. Ever. You have to just let it go.”

He said this to me once and it has stayed with me both because it is true, and also because it is something I could always get better at. Teaching children and the practice of martial arts both require the ability to look with fresh new eyes upon something you have seen a million times.  This way, you can let go of the past and make way for the blossoming, ever emerging present... and future.

Better late than never! Musings on paradox:

They say that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.  This metaphor of the lion and lamb has me churning about paradox and opposites this month.  The freezing nights and the gentle hint and promise of spring make both the strength, courage, and ferocity of the lion and the soft, meek, and bashful image of the lamb imminent in both my surroundings and my heart this March.

I honestly didn’t know if I was going to get something published this month. Usually, I publish my blog by the first and believe me; I tried.  I sat down so many times with the intention to write, but I have been paralyzed. The thoughts would spin around in my head, amorphous and without words.  

I was a philosophy major as an undergraduate. (Those of you who know me, or have spent any time reading my blogs will not find this in the least bit surprising.)  I remember being attracted to Asian philosophy and tradition because it completely deconstructed my very way of thinking. Without violence or aggression, it gently turned my perspective on its head, spun it around a few times, and then dropped it down again leaving me to see things from an entirely new angle.  Of course my vantage point hadn’t actually changed, but my interpretation of what I saw would never be the same. New awareness and a change in perspective can do that to you.

Western tradition and thought are linear and compartmental by nature. We break ideas into parts. We separate and we categorize.  We think of things as black or white, right or wrong, this or that. Asian tradition is entirely counterintuitive by contrast. It is holistic. It is circular.  The world is always both black and white, right and wrong, both this and that.  It is a tradition of both and, rather than either or and opposing forces are thought of as two sides of the same coin, unable to exist outside of relationship to each other.

The lion and the lamb.

Ferocious and tame.

Aggressive and passive.

Hard and soft.

I always say that Troy and I are about as different as two people can be and still cohabitate with each other.  I suppose it is no surprise that this metaphor about paradox and contrast might bring me back to the balance of opposing forces in my primary relationship.  He and I often discuss our differences in approach to disciplining, motivating, and educating students and there are some very big differences.   Yet, we always find that we are coming from the same place with the same intentions and the same passion for facilitating growth and flourishing in others.

All of this to say, my pondering has nothing to do with an evaluation about what is right or wrong or which is the better approach (if such a thing even existed). Instead, I am left contemplating the relationship between these differences with the distinct feeling that they are indeed two sides of the same coin.

 

Thoughts on toughness, strength, and vulnerability… with love.

It is well known that February is the month of love.  Often, we think of couples and romantic relationships, but of course love covers so much more than this cliche.

I want to speak instead about the love and devotion taking me by surprise in my work at Southeast Karate and what it has come to entail.

I remember when I still lived and worked as a mental health therapist in Seattle and Troy had just opened his karate school; he and I used to compare notes about our work long distance. I felt surprise and confusion hearing him describe his involvement in the lives of the families at the dojo; his role was very unclear to me.  Now that I am fully immersed in this dojo and community, I have a clearer understanding of the role and responsibility of a Sensei and a karate school.  

The dojo is a training hall where students practice much more than martial arts. In conjunction with teaching karate, we find ourselves acting as counselors, mentors, family members, coaches and tutors.  Our students learn integrity, courage, humility, strength, compassion, tenderness and toughness, discipline, and commitment. Parents approach us with the most intimate details of their lives and the struggles they have with their children, entrusting us with their stories and their care. I have been a nanny, a teacher, and a therapist and still I am humbled and honored by the trust we receive by this community.  It is a privilege that Troy and I do not take lightly.

So often parents bring their children to us hoping we might instill strength and toughness in them, that we might enable their youngsters to navigate the complexities of childhood and adolescence successfully.   What then, do we mean by strength and how do we define toughness?  I see kids acting “tough” pretending their feelings haven’t been hurt,  concealing their vulnerability, pain, or fear.  My heart breaks for them.  Real strength is not defined by the absence of vulnerability, rather in relationship to it. This is the strength I want them to learn. It is because of the love and responsibility I feel for our students that I am careful with words and what I try to convey to children about their significance.  

Being strong is not about what you feel or do not feel.  It is about what you do in response to what you feel. It is about how you courageously persevere and pursue your heart despite the possibility of failure or pain.

Toughness is never unkind, it does not ignore suffering or belittle the vulnerable.  Toughness is the presence of kindness and vulnerability working alongside persistence, endurance, flexibility, and resilience.  This is what I want our children to learn and it is what we practice in our beloved training hall.  

This is the love I am thinking about this February.

Setting Intentions

Hello and welcome.

Southeast Karate is a school that is owned and operated by Sensei Troy Hirschkorn and myself, Brittany Bacon, and enhabited by an amazing community of families and students that we have the priviledge of serving and learning from every day.  I write today as a beginning, because even after two years we are still very much at the beginning.  

Starting a new business is exceptionally hard.  You constantly feel inadequate to the task at hand - as if you are inventing the wheel over and over and over again. Neither Troy nor I ever dreamt of being entrepreneurs; each in our own way just wanted the simple life: work and people we cared about and enough money to not worry about things.  But purpose is a funny little trickster, and it can hunt you down and pursue your heart if you remain open to it.

Two years into owning and operating Southeast Karate LLC, we are sitting at a major precipice.  It is time for us to step more fully into our purpose with this karate school and with the community that we serve.  This process will likely include "leaning into discomfort" (a phrase made famous by Miss Brené Brown, PhD. in social work, cultural zeitgeist, and personal source of inspiration).  We are working tirelessly to start new programs and grow our school beyond what is familiar and comfortable, but the work is a stretch by all means of the word. 

This is why I am starting our blog now...  with a few specific intentions.  The first one is primarily selfish; words help me process when things seem too daunting and overwhelming to move foward, and communicating them to others helps me to feel less alone and afraid. 

The other reasons are less selfishly motivated.  I realize that in this digital era of constant accessibility, we can often feel disconnected. People as well as businesses can become less transparent and less personable - all of them melting into the facade of social media that they present to the world.  

If you are like myself and Troy, you want to feel connected to the people in your community and to the businesses that you support.  You want transparency and you want to build relationship and trust on the individual level. This blog will be a place where you can get to know us - our motivations, our inspirations, and our passion.  

A mentor of mine used to say that you can have either growth, or stability and comfort, but you cannot have both at the same time.  Here we go, leaning into the instability and discomfort, all the while gently holding our silent prayer for strength as we grow.