Sports and the Witch

Sports and the Witch January 10, 2016
Required reading: Keith Farrell's and Alex Lourdes's German Longsword Study Guide.
Required reading: Keith Farrell’s and Alex Bourdas’s German Longsword Study Guide.

So I just got home from my German longsword class.

This is my latest venture in combative sports, and it’s delightful. Simultaneously, I’m feeding both my inner history nerd and fueling the part of me that really just wants to hit things and have weapons. I’m really excited about all of it. It’s like a martial arts jock and a medieval historian had a baby, and only badasses are invited to the shower (and all the gifts are books and weapons).

This is one more in a long line of athletic activities I’ve enjoyed over the last decade, including Taekwondo, roller derby, long-distance hiking, traditional archery, and running.

I only consider myself an athlete on good days, but the older I get and the longer I do this sort of thing, the more good days I have.

I had a really tempestuous relationship with my body growing up. I was overweight, sedentary, grew up eating poorly, and was just never really comfortable in my own skin. I was always bad at gym class in school, so I naturally assumed that I just didn’t like sports. If anyone encouraged me to be athletic, it was never because they actually wanted me to enjoy myself; it was because they thought I should lose weight. Consequently, sports weren’t fun. Sports were about crying (on the inside, of course, to spare more shame), being made fun of, and usually getting hurt.

It took a long time for me to find physical activity that I enjoyed enough to motivate me to take better care of myself (combined with actually being taught how to take care of myself), and it happened by accident. I was dating a guy in college who, after leaving his job at a hotel, and after more than a year with me, surprised me with, “I just took a job teaching martial arts. PS, I’m a black belt.”

I responded with the appropriate “WHAT” and then actually took the time to check it out. I was surprised to find that many different body types were represented in classes, no one was out to destroy anyone’s self-esteem, and it actually looked sort of fun. Shortly thereafter, I started practicing myself, and it very quickly became my life. I became competitive and I began teaching, I even considered turning it into a career at one point.

No longer was athletic activity about punishing myself or trying to hit a particular number on a scale. It was genuinely fun.

Who knew. After all those years of failing at team sports and getting yelled at in gym class, it turned out that the problem wasn’t me.

I gave up Taekwondo after too many dealings with the ugliness that seems to run rampant in large martial arts organizations (nevermind the misogyny that sadly still flows freely through martial arts communities).

It was a major blow (my relationship with Taekwondo had outlasted the boyfriend, by that point), but mitigated somewhat by a sudden, all-consuming interest in roller derby. I’d just moved to a new town, was freshly single (different dude), and was anxious to surround myself with inspiring women. I’d never skated in my life, but I reasoned that joining a derby league would be the fastest way to learn (I was correct).

And through all this, I was running.

I never really thought of my running as a sport worth pursuing all by itself. I only did it to augment my performance in other things. But over time, my distance increased. I got faster. It started being cool all on its own. I started realizing that running had at least as much of an impact on my mood as did the antidepressants and anxiety meds I was on at the time. I needed to run in order to be happy. This year, I’m committing to racing and being more organized in my approach. Maybe I’ll even find myself a running club.

Becoming an archer was the realization of a childhood fantasy. What Tolkien-obsessed kid wouldn’t love to shoot a bow and arrow? But my parents weren’t keen on me having any kind of weapon (that’s the funny thing about being from a military family…most of the other brats I know were similarly sheltered). Realizing—at 30—that I could finally have that bow I always wanted was surreal and exciting. I taught myself out of a book and dove right in, joining an archery club the same month.

Longsword resulted from lots of time spent with traditional archers, who often double as history enthusiasts. And where archery helped me in developing a relationship with Herne the Hunter, I’m really curious to see where fencing will take me. It’s already begging lot of questions about being a “warrior” (a term that gets tossed around pretty casually in Pagan circles, more so lately, I think, but whose meaning seems to me quite elusive and worth considering), and forcing me to further consider my own tendencies to eschew traditional models for femininity, which, for all our talk about gender inclusion, still seems to make a lot of the Pagan men in my life uncomfortable.

Fascinating and challenging stuff, both physically and intellectually.  It’s one more way to practically engage with my Paganism.

I wish I hadn’t been so resistant to sports when I was younger. I wish I’d had people who’d encouraged me, regardless of my weight (which never needed to be a factor at all). Developing athletically helped me to become more confident in every other part of my life. It’s helped me to make friends with people I wouldn’t normally hang out with in my day-to-day. It made me comfortable in my own body, regardless of what it looks like on any given day.

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