Different Trees, Same Root
Like many modern humans, I am constantly pulled in several directions at once. I have to work to make money so I can pay for housing, food and everything else. I have to not work so I can spend time with the people I love and maintain those relationships. I have to exercise so I can continue to use my body as I age (and not go insane). I have to train martial arts so I can continue deepening my connection to myself and the world around me. And I have to organize in my community to make the world a better place.
That’s a lot of different places to put my time and energy. And even just one of those has many layers. My desire to make a positive difference in the world includes seemingly different priorities all pulling at my attention. I need to support and promote anti-racist policies, reduce climate change, reimagine the economy, dismantle the patriarchy, pay attention to politics and actively engage my local and national officials.
On its face, these all sound like different issues: race issues, women’s issues, the environment, the economy, politics. Although they are distinct, at their core they are all the same. Underneath each one of these is a deeply human issue. And working any one of these issues on that deeper human level is working on all of them.
The same thing has been true in my martial arts training. Except for the occasional workshop or seminar, for my first 7 or 8 years of training I took only Mo Duk Pai classes. Then one of the teachers in my system got really into Brazilian Jiujitsu and started offering a weekly BJJ class. I went and I loved it. It was completely different than most of what we did in regular Mo Duk Pai classes. As I spent time solving problems and making discoveries on the mat, my regular stand-up game also improved.
That crossover improvement didn't just come from moving my body in a different way. It came from working an underlying martial principle from a different vantage point. The underlying thing I got out of BJJ was additional comfort being in a very crappy position. I am a small sized human, and most of the folks I was rolling with on a regular basis outweighed me by 40 of 50 pounds (or more). I was on the bottom a lot and I was playing defense a lot. As a result, I got comfortable working to solve a problem from the point of no advantage. Working from that perspective forced me to get really creative, and that creativity translated into the rest of my training.
A few years later I began studying more regularly with my current Taiji teacher. I had taken workshops from her at the Pacific Association of Women Martial Artists Annual Camp for a couple years and everything she taught seemed like magic. At one memorable session I stood in class, releasing my tension into the ground while my partner pushed against me. The harder she pushed, the more her force melted into me and flowed through me, rooting me more deeply into the ground. My partner was bigger and stronger than I was, but it didn’t matter. It was magical.
I wanted to add that magic into the rest of my regular training. Taiji was completely different than everything we did in Mo Duk Pai classes and it felt like the missing slice of my training pie. Shanti System Taiji isn’t just about doing specific moves in a certain way. It’s about listening deeply to my body and learning to understand what those sensations are communicating. It’s about discovering more of my internal world and recognizing more of my own humanity. As I developed a more complete relationship to myself, I was able to bring a more complete version of me to my Mo Duk Pai training and my overall martial skill improved.
In the same way, as I work on the underlying human pieces of one equity issue, I bring more of myself to my work on other equity issues. As I delve more deeply into my personal anti-racist work, I also see more clearly how all the flavors of equity work are related. It’s all the same practice of uncovering my own internal narratives and unpacking my own biases so I can look at them clearly. The more clearly I can see these things in myself, the more cleanly I can see these things in other people, in my community, and in broader society. As I have more finely tuned my hatedar on racial issues, I have started to see gender inequity and ableism more clearly.
Initially this felt overwhelming because the roots of all these issues are so deep in our society that at least one version of inequity is manifesting in every moment. Everywhere I look, there is another injustice to tend to. It doesn’t ever stop.
But its ever-present nature is also freeing because the root work is all the same. No matter what issue presents itself in any given moment, that’s a good one to work on in that moment. And that work is valuable for my work on all the other issues. If a male-identifying person dismisses something I say in order to mansplain the same thing right back to me, the root issue is that person failing to see my humanity by devaluing my knowledge and experience. When I call that behavior out, it’s practice for calling out other iterations of that same dehumanizing and devaluing behavior.
This also means that if I feel stuck and overwhelmed by whatever equity issue I’m actively working, I can pick up another one for a while. I can turn my focus to unpacking the narratives I carry about a different branch of the injustice tree. I can work on that root from a different angle. Then when I come back to the first issue, I come to it with a slightly different perspective. A perspective enriched by all my other exploration.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.