Helping Hands

by Liz Durning 3
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Ever since I found out I was chosen to be a Sponsored Athlete, I have been looking deep into my heart and soul about what I should contribute to the Chi blog. Since I teach karate and self-defense to little and big girls, the natural choice would be to write about those topics. But I don’t want to write the proverbial self-defense rhetoric: Be aware, carry your keys in your hand, don’t park next to a nondescript white van, and my personal favorite, “Just yell FIRE!”

But something happened to me recently that made me take a closer look at what I’m really teaching.

Liz Durning and SarahI’ve been teaching a five-year-old girl I’ll call Sarah. Her parents brought her to me because she has some physical challenges, which are manifested in weakened arms and legs, and she has trouble with balance. She has had lengthy physical therapy, but (according to her parents) she was tired of it. The therapists suggested karate to strengthen her core. During her first lesson, I held her hand as she did her kicks so she wouldn’t fall down. The next week was better—only a little support from “Miss Liz.”

Martial Arts, like any other activity, requires learning the moves correctly then practicing them over and over. Rarely do I have a new student able to balance herself properly while learning kicks, blocks, punches, etc., because she just hasn’t learned the proper mechanics.

Well, on this particular day, I was working with Sarah on her side kick. Her arms were flailing around and her head was cocked to one side, as her eyes were on everything else in the room more than what she was doing, and her support foot was not turned out correctly, as is common with any five year-old. I was trying to tell her that she needs to stand tall, head up, arms in, shoulders back, and to keep her eyes on the mirror. As I said this, Sarah commented in the sweetest little voice, “God didn’t give me good balance.” It felt like a dagger through my heart. I wanted to say to her, “Maybe God didn’t give you good balance, but Miss Liz will!”

Instead, I told her that no one is born knowing how to do karate, and everyone loses their balance.

As I shared this story with my close kickboxing friends, one gal said, “Maybe God didn’t give her good balance, but he gave her the will to try!” COUNTERPUNCH!

Liz DurningI have since been reflecting a lot on Sarah and what she said.

Everyone has challenges, whether we can physically see them or not. I was painfully shy growing up. I was paralyzed with fear of doing anything. Sports, clubs, etc., were not an option for me, as much as I wanted to do them (especially karate). Little did I know that what I had is called Social Anxiety Disorder, and now they would recommend medications for that.

What was a turning point for me, at the age of 23, was not medication, but discovering exercise. My roommate at the time took me to a high impact aerobics class. Thongs were everywhere. After dancing and jumping around to music for an hour, I was hooked. If it hadn’t been for my roommate, taking me by the hand into that massive intimidating environment, I would have never found my strength and confidence.

Sarah needed a helping hand to help her discover she can stand alone. I needed a helping hand to face my fear and shyness. As instructors, athletes, or anyone who is trying to make a difference through fitness, we have the capability to reach out to someone who may have a challenge we cannot see. Maybe they have been through a divorce, have a sick parent or child, a job loss, whatever. We have the power to help them discover what we have. That is our power to the SHE.

When I walked into the studio, I didn’t have the fear of being bullied by girls, because there were very few. I walked in not knowing anything, and everyone knew it (by the white belt I wore), so there were no high expectations. I didn’t have to be fast or fit or flexible, which I wasn’t. But it was the gateway to all of those things and more. Self-esteem, self-confidence, self-worth, physical fitness, and friendships.

Whether you’re an instructor, a competitive athlete, or a weekend warrior, I think we all have great gifts. We can teach each other about being able to do something you thought you could never do.

Liz Durning got a big idea. It was 2003 and she had seen enough. As a 4th Degree Black Belt in American Kenpo Karate and Rape Counselor in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, she knew that girls needed better self-defense skills. Girls needed to be empowered. Girls needed martial arts training... more »