Looking Like a Fool in Practice

This is one of our biggest barriers to growth. Who doesn’t fear looking like a failure in front of judging eyes? Who doesn’t see all eyes as potential judges? Even brand new students who have never held a sword before share experiences of feeling like they look stupid during their first class. Many resist ever having a first class for this very reason.

The truth is that new students do look foolish, and awkward, and unskilled. Of course they do. They’re practising something for the first time. Yet everyone has not only a desire, but often an expectation of themselves to be a savant. To pick up the sword and do each exercise perfectly the first time.

Many who do not have this fear quickly develop it. As they begin to get good, it becomes easy to build an expectation of oneself based on past performances. Then to see that same expectation reflected in the gazes of others. We can see the correction of our instructors as impatience or disappointment. We can see the feedback of our peers as condescension or ridicule. We can gradually erode the wonder of new discovery with the burden of meeting expectations.

On the true journey, every practice is not better than the last. Every performance is not your best. Every player of every sport has terrible days, months, and years. The professional athletes we see are people who have reached peaks in their sports and then failed completely, terribly, embarrassingly, and yet in spite of that failure have continued to practice and grow. We just rarely get to see these events on television, and when we do they’re quickly forgotten.

The truth is nearly all eyes are turned inward. No one is truly judging your performance; they’re too busy judging themselves. The sooner you can let go of these expectations and just allow each day to exist only for itself, the better off you will be. Allow yourself to savour the journey of that day and let go of all previous days and all future expectations. Not only will you find it easier to start enjoying each day, but letting go of your embarrassment (not clinging to it) will do wonders when it comes to speeding you down the path to getting better.

devonboorman Devon Boorman is the Co-Founder and Director of Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay, which has been active in Vancouver, Canada since 2004. Devon’s expertise centres on the Italian swordplay tradition including the arts of the Renaissance Italian rapier, sidesword, and longsword, as well as knife and unarmed techniques.
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