On my radio show, “All Things Pilates,” I recently had Dan Cutherbertson, a local Martial Arts expert, who has been teaching and training children and adults for the past 40 years. Dan explained about the different types of Marital Arts he taught at his Martial Arts school, and as the interview unfolded, he shared one of his experiences as a young Martial Arts student, training and preparing to fight an opponent in the boxing ring. Though used to losing his matches, he still gave his all, and was as amazed himself as he realized he was winning the match. Then he heard his coach shout, “Finish him off, finish him off!” and at that very moment he realized this type of training was too violent for him, and he lost interest in winning, vowing he wouldn’t fight in the ring or street ever again. Dan began re-evaluating the various self-defense techniques he’d learned and thought it was time to redirect his attention to a more peaceful practice. Tai Chi and with its meditation component, seemed like a natural next step to help calm the mind and develop a new inner strength in which the goal is not to physically take down an opponent, but to dissipate and diffuse a potentially tense situation with humility instead of with aggression. As he was sharing this epiphany with my listeners and me, I had a quick, vivid memory of my own.
I was in 5th grade, and there was a boy in class that bothered and teased me, and one day I’d had enough. As the fourth and youngest daughter from a boisterous and expressive family, I was used to being teased. It didn’t help matters that I was a very small and skinny child and was called, “Skinny Malink” and “Vuncela,” a Yiddish term for a bed bug. But by the time I was in 5th grade, I had gained strength and confidence in my athletic abilities and played sports only with the boys. I passed a note to one of my friends in class and told her that I was going to beat up the bully. She must have passed around the note because when school was out, a crowd had already formed at the bike pen where I planned to kick this boy’s butt. And just like in professional fighting matches where the reigning champion struts in from the back of the gymnasium, fans parting the way for him, the school kids cleared a path for me. I was on fire. This boy was going to learn that teasing me wasn’t going to happen again, especially, when he felt the lump I was going to leave him with. But as I approached him and walked into his personal space, I saw the fear in his eyes and felt a moment of compassion for him.
Two voices in my head were battling for my attention, and seeing the boy’s fear would have been enough for me to change my mind, perhaps. I’ll never know for at that moment, the vice principle showed up and everyone fled, except the bully and me. He took us to the principle’s office, and we reluctantly sat down and waited for our parents.
It was an odd sensation, that day, feeling both compassion and anger at the same time. These strong emotions both hold energy but at different vibrations. I’d like to think, like Dan, I would have chosen the higher vibrational path, though not sure what would have happened had the vice principle not appeared. I am sure, though, that my initial attraction to Pilates was because of how powerful it made me feel. The Pilates method is an athletic blend of science and art, combining gymnastics, dance, boxing, swimming and yoga, and as it turned out, the perfect remedy for my fighting impulses.