Nia really is a lifestyle. That sounds glib. But Nia is giving me a new way of looking at my life, of living my life. I won’t say that it has changed my life, because it’s more of an on-going process than one that has one particular goal or end. In superficial ways, it has changed my life: I left academia with the knowledge that I was going to train and become a Nia teacher and I am walking – dancing- that path now. But what I want to explore here, now is a deeper, revolutionary change in my life.
For example, I’ve always enjoyed the tae kwon do aspects of Nia. The kicks, the strong, lightening-quick punches, the strong blocks, the forceful chops, the almost-primal vocalizations ‘HAH!’ ‘HEY!’ or ‘NO,’ the very yang-ness of it all. When I first started doing Nia I always thought that it was funny (funny odd, not funny ha-ha) that I liked dancing those moves so much because I think of myself as a fairly peaceful person. The pain of other people, of other animals, pains and anguishes me. I find boxing revolting. And war – well I can’t even begin to say how much I think war is wrong, that’s a whole other topic worth several posts. But while at the White Belt Intensive one of my fellow classmates said she was having a hard time making a fist and I marveled at how I had no problem with that, even though I could see her point., theoretically. My love of the tae kwon do movements was unencumbered by emotion. So why should I enjoy being so almost adversarial when dancing tae kwon do moves? I put it down to two things: 1) I was getting out and working through some natural but transitory frustration (i.e., annoyance at something a committee member said, or a reviewer’s comment on a paper I was trying to publish, or a thorny statistical problem, or a particularly annoying student, or at the myriad of little frustrations of being a graduate student), 2) I was reveling in the chance to express the non-feminine, non-traditional, unexpected and often unaccepted (by society and, by extension, me) aspects of my personality. And I believe both of these things are true.
However, recently I began to think that there was something deeper going on here. My biological family are, in general, fighters. My parents fought, loudly and without restraint. Don’t get me wrong, it was always verbal, dishes didn’t even get broken. My brother and I fought, both with each other and with our parents. My father’s temper was legendary and my mother’s not far behind. In fact, a temper is a characteristic of my father’s family (the Bellas): whenever someone has a new child that everyone else in the extended family is meeting for the first time and said child throw a tantrum, we all turn to the mother and father and say, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, he/she inherited the Bella temper!’ And then there is the amazing lengths to which the Bella family’s (and Mami Deer’s too) stubbornness will extend. I have that temper and stubbornness too. It may take more to set the temper off, such that lots of my friends don’t even realize I have a bad one. But it’s there and expresses itself most often when interacting with my family. I get very defensive and intractable. And thus what may have started as a reasonable discussion about nothing in particular becomes a shouting match about whether a radio station I’ve never listened to plays ‘good’ Mexican music or not, to cite one recent example. These aspects of my personality also came out regularly when I dealt with my PhD committee members. I started out on the defensive and this led to incredibly fraught committee meetings and ultimately led to the time when I, as the sqvirrel puts it, ‘dropped the f-bomb’ during my dissertation defense. I’ve always prided myself as someone who is not afraid of confrontation.
So I think my enjoyment of the kicks, punches, and blocks in Nia stems directly from this life experience- it’s a comfortable place for me. But even better, they had the added benefit that, during Nia, there are no heavy emotions tied to the expression of fighting. I don’t have to cry! or feel guilty after! I can just punch through or block without consequences!
However, I’ve come to realize that perhaps I am a little too ready to fight, I much prefer routines with tae kwon do in them to those without. And I’m all too ready to fight with my Mami Deer. I take almost anything she says personally and strike back – verbally – in defense. I’ve been looking for a way to more constructively behave and so my therapist asked, “Have you ever heard of aikido?” And all kinds of bells, light bulbs, and whistles went off. Because, of course, aikido is the another one of the martial arts that informs Nia. In the simplest terms, in the practice of aikido, one takes the (antagonistic) energy that is directed at you and you move it past you. In Nia this is expressed physically by spiraling, moving in a straight line but in another direction, bending back to allow the energy to flow past. The movements are more circular than in tae kwon do. And once again, as so often is the case, I remembered my Awareness sensei from my White Belt Training and its ‘dancing through life’ aspect. Although in my White Belt I was concentrating on my body, I now realize that I can dance through life in my mind and emotions too. And that the lesson I learned about dancing through life and its balance, living meditation, which together lead to experiencing life as art can apply to my everyday interactions with people. As regards to Nia herself, I am going to try practicing aikido in my dancing of Nia more and more. I will be open to finding joy in the movements that draw more upon aikido.
For me, life is about finding balance. The balance between confrontation and peace. I don’t think one can exist without the other and we cannot survive, physically or emotionally, without both. And so in that way, Nia offers me a way to practice finding that balance, literally incorporating both tae kwon do and aikido-like movements. In extension, I can practice bringing Nia and ‘real life’ closer together.
*In Nia we draw upon three martial arts: tai chi, tae kwon do, and aikido. In all cases, the martial arts are not used in sparring situations, but as part of the routine that we dance. That’s why I will say that I ‘dance tae kwon do.’ In addition, there’s much more to each of these practices than what we can do in Nia, and so I have put links to several different websites about tae kwon do and aikido throughout my post, in case anyone wants to read more about these two practices.