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  • Writer's picturePSBN David

Overcoming Shyness - Your Instructors May or May Not Be Jerks

I am very introverted. I always have been, for as long as I can remember. Given the choice, I would rather sit back quietly and play a more supportive role than take the spotlight.

I am also an instructor. I stand up in front of the class, and shout instructions at them. I take charge, I keep the energy of the class up. I’m a martial artist! Loud and proud!

These personalities are naturally in conflict with each other, close to polar opposites. This is a skill I’ve learned and watched many other students similar to me learn. Teaching isn’t something you will get pulled aside to discuss most of the time. There can be pointers here and there, but most students are largely left to their own devices to figure it out. The first time you’re in front of the class, it feels a little like you’ve been thrown to the wolves. Many times, when you first call someone up to lead the class, they’ll give you such a look of utter betrayal.

I admit that I enjoy it immensely.

What they don’t know is that we’ve watched them grow and know perfectly well that they’re ready, though no one ever feels that way the first time they’re put up front. By the time they’re facing everyone, they’ve heard the same warmup over a hundred times. The same words, same routine, same everything; it’s all in their head. The only difference is now they have to recreate it while their peers are watching them.

This is the part that’s the bane of introversion.

Is it an act? Something fake put up as a defense mechanism? Maybe at first, yes. Over time, however, you realize you’ve been building a new part of your personality from scratch, one piece at a time. It’s just as much of a part of you as your introversion. The more you’re up front, the more you learn your own leadership style.

Sports can be good for building this in kids, but you can also find team sports will have a spoken or unspoken “team leader.” As a very shy kid, I can definitely tell you shy people will notice this and jump on the chance to slip quietly to the back. Martial arts are different. There is still a hierarchy through the belts, but when you’re in front, you’re leading everyone. Including your instructors. Martial arts are, above all else, about improving yourself, rather than a more traditional team sport. The instructors are watching for this. The ability to lead is part of your training, so there’s no getting out of it!

But, like I’ve said, we aren’t actually cruel about it (despite appearances). We won’t ask a student until we feel they’re ready. Oftentimes, your first time will be when you’re nearing Black Belt, about 3-4 years in. By that time, you know the warm-up, you know your classmates. Even leading up to it, we’ll sneak things in along the way that help your confidence:

First is the ki-hup. Just a loud shout as you strike something.

Next, we’ll go through the line-up in an exercise one at a time, getting each student to count to 10.

In a testing, you’ll call out what technique you’re doing: “Number 3, Ki Bohn Soo, sir!”

Later, you are left alone to work with classmates to work through things.

You’re slowly taught that it’s okay to open up. If you listen closely, you can often make out the rank of a child purely based on their ki-hup. At white belt, it’s mostly a scream (and very high-pitched). At Brown Belt, it’s powerful, fierce. There’s an intent behind it beyond just making noise.

Suddenly you’re up front, staring at the sea of eyes and cursing your instructors for being so cruel to poor, quiet you!

Lower belts giggle at your mistakes because they don’t feel the pressure of their own time coming yet. Higher belts chuckle because we know exactly what you’re feeling. And then, 15 minutes later, it’s over and you made it through perfectly fine. The next time, there’s fewer giggles.

And eventually you get your revenge by making everyone do some crazy jump kick when they’re exhausted.

Yeah, that’ll show ‘em…

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