How many times have you walked into a fitness class, dojo, or gym and not been comfortable in your own skin? How many times have you seen others enter a fitness environment and then not return? Do you ever wonder what happened to them? Why didn’t they come back? How many times have you been asked to meet certain requirements to participate or to be considered legitimate; inferring a person that is included and valued? How many times have you looked at an image of fitness and compared it to yourself or thought you needed to change something about yourself to be closer to a social norm? How many times have you not been able to do something physically in a fitness environment and thought, “what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do this?” Does Fitness have parameters? Do you need to be a certain size, shape, ability, or mental capacity to be considered fit? My answer is “No”, but people make it seem that way.
Fitness whether it be running, martial arts, yoga, rowing, or something else is about finding what makes you happy and healthy. Being healthy is about taking care of your body, mind, and soul. It is doing things to meet these needs are what make you fit. You are legitimate regardless of your mental or physical abilities. As humans who are helping guide other humans in fitness, we need to focus more on meeting people where they are versus asking them to meet us where we are.
After years of martial arts, running, boxing, and many other forms of exercise, being a mom
has taught me the most about what’s important in those environments. I have learned to break up with shame and embrace courage and vulnerability. Being a mom is jumping into the deep end of vulnerability and courage at the same time. Our children bring more out of us and challenge us more than we ever conceived possible. When Life happens, we adapt, we rise, we support even when we do not know how.
A boy with autism, a girl with ADHD, a man with Parkinson’s, a woman with cancer- they can all learn. They can all move their bodies. They all matter. As teachers, trainers, Sensei we are here to meet the client, to help the client find what makes him or her feel good. We are not hired to brag, shame or exclude. We are here to build people up in their own bodies. That means accepting that all clients look different, have different needs, and want different things. We are here to help them not the other way around.
For all the martial artists in the room I am not talking about forgetting your work ethic. I am not talking about forgetting budo. I am not talking about forgetting the history of the art and what makes it fierce.
I am talking about where you are now and embracing growth and development. A man with Parkinson’s can learn to box from a chair. An amputee can practice karate by modifying the movements and teaching his body to work in other areas. A woman with cancer can run a half marathon because her spirit is resolute. A child with learning disabilities can learn; we just have to find the way that reaches him.
Coaches, trainers, teachers must adjust the way they teach to be inclusive, adaptive, and
accepting. We need to stop thinking about fitness in this short-term results oriented transactional
manner and start thinking about it in a long term, relational, transformational experience. Your dojo
only lives on with the students that you teach. If you teach by conditions and shame you are limiting
your student population and thereby limiting yourself and your legacy. There is a market out there that is untapped because mainstream fitness will not alter their programs and processes.
We can make adaptive equipment. May We Help is an organization that creates custom solutions for individuals with special needs. We can teach strategies that meet people where they are. Let’s help people work through those emotions and cognitive distortions so that they can have a whole brain/body fitness experience. There are plenty of psychologists out there that can give you a crash course. We can support all sizes, shapes, colors, abilities, and cognitive behaviors. We simply must change our ways. We must have enough courage to be comfortable with our own selves so that we can create a safe space where others feel comfortable. Stop thinking of yourself as the expert and start thinking about your teaching as a continuing education opportunity. Accountants are required several hours of CPE each year to maintain licensure. Maybe Sensei’s should too.
Fitness is not conditional, people are conditional. Let me ask you as a parent: when your child is
on a different path – learning, psychologically, speech, neurologically, or just sees the world differently – will you place conditions and judgements on him or will youfind new ways to support him? I suppose you havea choice, however I hope you find your love unconditional. I will always advocate for him. I will meet him where he is and help him find his way. When a person with different needs shows up in your class he or she is there because they think you can help in some way. Welcome them. Serve them and you will serve yourself. Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid; do not be discouraged…Be the change you want to see in the world.
The Author and Son
“Speak your mind- even if your voice shakes.” ~Maggie Kuhn