I’m not sure how my instructor knew what I needed to hear, but he did. I’m sure it had something to do with it getting back to him that I was leery of practicing the circular punching techniques because most of the available training partners did not use adequate control.
I’ll pause here to explain to non-Bujinkan readers that when we train, we do not use protective gear. Instead, we are instructed to train at full intention, but not full speed. This means that when performing a strike we do in fact aim for the face, or stomach, or whatever, but we use control so that when the strike lands it is not as damaging. It will still be effective, but will avoid injury. Don’t misunderstand me, training is hard and everyone is sore afterward from time to time. When you train with an experienced person, techniques will hurt while they are being applied, but rarely will they continue to hurt (even if it caused bruising). Injury occurs when a training partner fails to use adequate control. Not only does the technique hurt in the moment, but continues to hurt for some time afterward (regardless of visible bruising).
I don’t know if my instructor had noticed my avoidance of training in these particular techniques (although, he’s very observant, so I’m sure he did). But I guess it was confirmed when someone mentioned to him that since I was leery of being hit and injured as a result, I was also unsure if I wanted to continue training at all. At the next class, he took me aside and said that he had been made aware of my concerns. I admitted I felt that I needed to be just as “tough” as the guys but that I didn’t think I could do it since I did not want to become injured. He first asked why I felt I needed to be just as tough as the guys. I didn’t have an answer. We then talked about the fact that men and women are different and therefor train differently. He assured me that I did not have to “get hit” to fully train. He used the senior female student in the class as an example. He noted that she did not always train in the techniques in question, and yet she was still a black belt. He said that training isn’t about getting hit or not getting hit, it was about training. Period. He commended me on the fact that I was even in fact still training and encouraged me to continue, but to acknowledge that I’m not a guy and I do not have to train like a guy.
This was an odd epiphany for me. It was the first time that I actually had thought about things that way. I had spent all my time up until that point trying to be “one of the guys,” proving I was just as strong, just as tough, just as crass, just as everything as they were. I was obsessed with them not seeing me any differently than the other guys (even though by default since I’m a woman, they of course will not see me as one of the guys, but that’s another topic altogether). I had never really thought about it from the perspective that I didn’t have to be one of the guys. It never occurred to me that I could just prove I was doing my own personal best, regardless of gender.
I will still push myself, but I will push myself to my next level and not to what I think will prove I’m “just one of the guys.”