When I first moved to London, I spent most of my time during my first year alone. As an introverted and fairly independent person, this didn’t bother me too much. After all, I had plenty of people I was friendly with, we just weren’t necessarily friends – and that was enough for me. It wouldn’t be until later when I would look critically at myself and recognize how closed off as a person I was and how my self-imposed isolation was rooted in my fear of failure and feelings of inadequacy.

This was the reason why I never liked sports. I hated the feeling of losing, and I hated the idea of disappoint myself and others. Everybody in my life has always held incredibly high expectations for me and I was terrified of letting them down. I would rarely ever try something that didn’t give me good chances of success – which meant that I would rarely try new things period, because I knew what I was good at and why would I leave a space that was familiar and comfortable?

But truth be told, it was a lonely lifestyle. I wanted to have real friends, I wanted something to look forwards to, and something to challenge myself with – and that something turned out to be aikido. As a form of Japanese martial art, aikido is rooted in pacifist ideals and the concept of protecting yourself and your attacker simultaneously, and the first time I laid eyes on my instructor’s demonstrations with another student, I was in awe. It was the first time I was able to recognize the beauty in martial arts. Their weightless bodies danced on the mat like they were listening to music only they could hear. The first thought in my head was “I will do whatever it takes for me to be able to do that too”. The second thought in my head was “There is no way that I’ll ever be able to do that, I shouldn’t even try”. The third thought in my head was “I will definitely do whatever it takes for me to do that”. And it was that day when aikido became part of my life.

Now training in any martial arts is no short journey, both physically and mentally. There are still  times when I stand outside the dojo nervous to step in. I’ll look at myself and see this round, clumsy girl and think “you’ll be the worst one in the class”, and “you’re going to slow everybody down”, but that’s when the people within the dojo will find me and their endless patience and the sense of community they offer always convinces me that I won’t be judged and that it is okay to be a work in progress. Through aikido, I have met some of my best friends and I’ve become so much stronger both bodily, and as a person. It has done wonders helping me open up to challenges and connecting to other people. I am now happier, relaxed and a more accepting person than I’ve ever been before, knowing that I will be able to welcome whatever challenges that lie ahead in the future for me. Failure used to shatter me like glass, but through aikido, I’m no longer afraid to meet the ground, knowing that I will be able to bounce right back up.

by Karissa Tam