A Blogger Buddy asked me, paraphrasing, “How can an introvert teach Mixed Martial Arts?” It is a valid question. Teaching anything is after all, a performance art.
But I think her question was more about the rough and tumble nature of Martial Arts than teaching. Introverts are meek and mild, aren’t they? Not always. When I am in my element, I am as crass and blunt and rough as anyone. The environment is key.
I have asked myself similar questions, especially as I began to realize my Social Anxiety Disorder. Many Comedians and Actors consider themselves to be shy or introverted. The act is merely that, an act. An alternate persona that shields the real self buried deep inside. You can tease Mr. Happy Feet Steve Martin all you want but he knows you are teasing the, “Let’s Get Small,” guy. Steve Martin, the quiet, reserved home body who likes to pick the banjo, sits at home safe and sound.
One of the classes that I teach is an advanced class for people who want to be teachers themselves. I have told them directly, what you see is not my true self. It is an act carefully crafted over decades. I know my subject matter. I know every question that will arise and I have an answer. I have a raft of jokes and diffusers in my back pocket waiting and ready.
On the training floor the students are in my arena. They come to me and give me their attention, asking for me to lead the show. I cut up, tell jokes and often beat the snot out of students – not really, but I make sure they know I could. What they see is an act. Yes, in many ways it is me, the me I would like to be all the time. But it is a honed version of me that can only come out when I have a function that I am accomplished in. That said, my introversion does show its ugly head.
The owner of the school is really big on marketing techniques and the presentation of the service. When new students arrive I am supposed to shake their hand, introduce myself and ask them questions about themselves, use their name three times and touch them three times during the course of the class. All the tricks that marketing gurus have worked up over the years. I cannot do it. I just can’t. I am too uncomfortable with people I do not know.
But I have an answer. I pair the new student with a happy, bouncy student that I know. They can do the touching and talking and name learning for me. I teach the class, doing my thing with jokes and threats and all, while watching the new students from a distance. Over days I slowly absorb them into my space. Because of my training and experience I will know far more about them based on how they move, how they take instruction, how they interact with other students, long before they know much about me. Then I can begin to open up to them, knowing in what ways I can deal with them while keeping the private me protected.
Take that same brash, joking, aggressive me, and plop me in a bar or in a birthday party and that meek, shy person that you would think couldn’t possibly hurt anyone will appear. In any social gathering I have no function. I do not have the experience. I do not have the tools. No jokes are loaded. I do not know what questions will arise. The real me is so boring I dread that you ask anything about me. So I do all I can to avoid getting into that confrontation. If I get in the corner and sip a drink quietly, maybe no one will notice. It is all about the environment.
Guro Dan Inosanto whom I have trained under, was one of Bruce Lee’s major students and was in Bruce Lee’s last film, “The Game of Death.” He tells a wonderful story of when he was in the army that relates directly to this issue.
It was pay day and all the guys in his barrack were making bets on who could beat up who. Suddenly one of the more quiet guys lays every last dollar on the table and says, “I bet my entire check I can beat all of you, so long as I get to pick where we fight.” They all take the bet. The quiet guy leads them to the gym where there was a pool. He jumps in saying, “We fight here, in the pool.” Each of the big guys takes his turn, jumps in and is promptly held underwater by the quiet guy until they give up. You see, the quiet guy was a water polo champion. He could hold his breath for close to three minutes and could maneuver in the water with ease. The big guys were completely out of their element. They were in his.
We are all shy at times, and boisterous during different situations. For me, unfortunately that extroversion is totally lacking when I could use it the most, when fun is to be had and friends could be made.
So the next time you are at a party or in a bar or anywhere and you see the quiet, meek person off all to themselves, know that they are probably out of their element and playing it safe. There maybe a real cut-up, Happy Feet sort of person there. Give them a chance and it may be Show Time.