“You cannot be better and stay who you are. Improvement. Demands. Change.”
I am lucky to have a very supportive husband. Our vows were not about obedience or about forever. They were about being mirrors for each other in our journey to becoming our better selves – regardless of where or when that took us.
The road has been hard, full of hard edges and deep valleys with equally soaring heights and smooth roads. I had never had that kind of selfless support in my life until I met him; and, as a part of that support, his constant reminder to the two of us:
“Improvement. Demands. Change.”
We had figured that people willing to be that supportive came along only once in a lifetime, and that, as such, if we could be those people to each other, we should be that support to as many people as we could reach, from our children to our friends, to our community, and beyond. So, we embarked on an adventure, teaching empowerment self-defense in South Florida, offering that support to anyone that would listen, and helping them become that support for everyone they could reach. We felt we were alone in our belief that the key to self-defense, whether in everyday decisions or in emergency situations, was personal empowerment and the knowledge that we were never alone – that the support network that we were working to build was always there, with every single one of us.
It was, ironically, a long, lonely road.
Then, like lightning, I got an email from a strange woman in Israel. She suggested that we may have some things in common and that we should talk. I researched her and her organization and met her when she came through town. Listening to her sounded an awful lot like listening to us.
Empower people to live their best lives. Be bold. Be confident. You are not alone.
And, then, she told me about camp. How could I not go?
To be honest, while most people think of me as an affectionate (adjacent 😉) extrovert, I am painfully shy, introverted, and, because I am still, at 47, dealing with past traumas and abuses, not very open or trusting. My husband pushed me to go to camp. The closer it came, the more I dug in with reasons to not go. He practically had to escort me onto the plane and tie me down into my chair.
But off I went.
I hid behind my camera that first day, taking photos of everyone, camouflaged behind my lens.
I hid behind jokes. I hid behind my desire to be “quietly” open to the experience. And then, the stickers and the boards came out.
The instructions were simple: take this sticker and write the negative things that others have said about you, or that maybe you’ve said to yourself, peel the backing off and stick it to your chest. Now, walk around, and when you hear my voice – Yudit’s booming voice, stop, face the woman closest to you, and just Be. Observe. Feel. Know. Empathize. Relate. Simple, sure.
Certainly not easy.
As I wrote, I could hear my mother’s voice in the background, repeating all of those words, over and over, and so many more that I could not fit onto the sticker and many more that I have only shared with my hubby. I got through the exercise, barely. But, I realized that, even as I watched the rest of the wonderful women at the camp remove their stickers and ball them up, tear at them, and in some cases, carefully fold them and save them, I was for some reason unwilling to remove the sticker from my chest.
When the boards came out after the sticker exercise, I ran for my camera so that I could have photos for everyone of their breaks. I put the sticker out of my mind but left it in place. I don’t think I was ready to deal with it. I hid behind my camera again. “I break boards all of the time,” I said to myself, “The rest of the ladies need to have the experience.”
I had had my students write things on their boards as well: things that scared them, things they wanted to overcome, things that they wanted to leave behind. I knew the exercise well. I didn’t want to do it.
For the life of me, I cannot remember whose voice I heard point out that I had not broken a board. I am pretty sure that I excused myself from doing it, and somehow, I don’t know if my feet carried me, or the ladies pushed me, I still found myself in front of Ms. Arlene Limas, with a marker and a blank board.
$h¡+!!! And there was my mother’s voice again, repeating every word on my sticker. My sticker was still on my chest. I only know it was because I saw it there later and stuck it on my broken board.
But, in the midst of her voice yelling in the back of my mind, I heard the ladies offering support to move forward. So, I finally wrote something on my board. “I forgive you, Mom.” And, I really did. Putting my hand through *that* board was my biggest act of defiance against her memory and abuse. It was genuine forgiveness. It was powerful.
And it was only possible because of the women that were there, the experiences I was having with them, the voices and support they lent each other and me, the strength that they had as individuals and as a group.
Later that night, the best roomie in the world let me cry and bitch and need, offering me an ear, a shoulder, and love, thanks to which I left that board, broken, back at camp, along with my mother’s words and constant judgement.
When I got home, my husband said I came back from camp different, solid, more me than I had been in years, and, yet, better. Today, I am better. I changed.
Master Liz Fitzgerald Sensei and Sifu, ASSERT Empowerment and Self Defense, Jeet Kune Do, Filipino Kali, Rapid Assault Tactics, Tae Kwon Do, and Rock Steady Boxing Against Parkinson's Certified Coach
Liz Sensei is a Yondan in Traditional Tae Kwon Do, Nidan in Aikido as well as a member of the Jeet Kune Do Athletics Association Instructor Team under Sifu Harinder Singh Sabharwal, PFS Edged Weapons Law Enforcement Instructor, and Apprentice Instructor under Sigung Paul Vunak. She is a Rock Steady Boxing Certified Coach.
She is co-creator, Chief Training Officer, and Chief Instructor of the ASSERT Empowerment and Self-Defense program, is working towards her CNVC Non-Violent Communications Certification, and has been studying Cat Sensei’s blend of martial arts for over twelve years. Liz is an award-winning marketing editor and writer.