Warning: Learning to Flip Grown Men Can be Good For Your Health

I never imagined that I’d get into martial arts.

Aikido is a Japanese martial art that blends the motion of the attacker with redirecting the force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on.

Here’s diminutive me using Aikido to, yes practice the Japanese martial art, but – perhaps more importantly – learning to ‘inhabit’ my body.

In fact, as a teen, the thought of martial arts made me feel weird and angsty.

I think it was a combination of having seen bad kung fu movies and having no concept of how martial arts could relate to my life whatsoever.

I had no intention of using physical force against anyone, I didn’t like rigid hierarchy or formalities, and on top of that, being precise about how my body works has never really been my gig.

Yet, as a little person, born without thigh bones or knees, it’s nearly impossible to not be conscious of my body everyday.

This world was not built for my 3’6″ stature, so I am constantly aware of my size and people’s reaction to it.

Although I’ve come to use my body as a political statement – mostly by using it to draw attention to inaccessibility and stereotypes – I also realized that often I forget about my body by ignoring my needs to stretch, eat lunch, or sleep.

In the past, I imagined my head as a balloon, floating up, up and away from the ground, where my body is still under the influence of gravity. It’s not that I’m an air head, rather that I’ve been so focused on what my mind can do, that I’ve been willingly leaving my body behind.

It’s been easier to run with my strength, which I have always considered my brain power. It’s been at the expense of ignoring my body.

I believe that’s because, in this society, those of us in the disability community are programmed to see ourselves as inadequate because of our physical limitations. There was some part of me that believed this myth.


Disability is not a brave struggle

or ‘courage in the face of adversity.’

Disability is an art.

It’s an ingenious way to live.  – Neil Marcus


What I’ve been realizing is that I’m not my whole self when I do this – and I’m probably not as healthy … so I’ve been making some changes!

Last week I found myself in a dojo for my first Aikido class.

I’m as surprised by this as anyone! (But more about that later.)


What Does Our Body Have to Do With Showing Up In the World?

My curiosity about body identity began in the spring when I went to a leadership training for work.

This wasn’t your typical leadership training, its focus was embodied leadership. We spent four days learning how the way we inhabit our bodies plays into our ability to succeed.

The way we move and treat our bodies is often indicative of (or a metaphor for) how we show up in the world.

Our bodies reflect where we are emotionally, spiritually, and relationally.

Point is: to be holistic in our approach to leadership and success, we must be in touch with our bodies.

At the training, we practiced walking around the room – all 25 of us walking with purpose, but trying not to run into each other, gracefully maneuvering around our colleagues without breaking our pace. We meditated, trying to quiet our minds and be in the moment (a rare state for most of us!).

We did exercises where another trainee would grab our arm and we would note our initial reaction to this stress – this trigger buried deep in our experience that manifests regularly, whether appropriate or not.

In a nutshell, we focused on our bodies and listened to what they were telling us about how we operate in the world.

As a result, I’m engaging in new body-centered practices that help me de-stress, as well as be more balanced all around.

I’m calling it my “Summer of the Body”.

It includes a daily 20 minute meditation, a morning walk, ensuring that I take breaks when working, checking my posture and my mood throughout the day, centering myself when I begin to feel stress, and, of course, the weekly Aikido class.

When I walked into my first Aikido class, I was planning on just watching.

The instructors weren’t having it. “You won’t learn a thing if you just watch. You have to jump in!”

“OK!” I thought. “Here I go!”

My class - as you can see gender and size have no bearing on the art.

Here I am with my Aikido classmates – helping me learn, grow and balance.

Jump right in I did. For the next hour and a half I imitated everything the other students were doing – adapting as needed with my “Little Person” frame.

By the end of the evening, I was learning how to flip an attacker, called a Nagi in Japanese.

I am thrilled that “My Summer of the Body” is allowing me to get in touch with a dimension of myself that I had unwittingly neglected.

And, as a special bonus, I have to say it’s pretty fun to flip grown men.


About Dessa

Originally a Southerner, Dessa loves the charm and hospitality of Detroit. Dessa is a proud Little Person, using her disability to challenge, endear, and cut lines at amusement parks. Training community organizers by day and earning her Masters of Social Justice after hours, Dessa loves shifting paradigms, breaking glass ceilings, and honoring the Feminine Divine. Click here to read more about Dessa

, , , , ,

9 Responses to Warning: Learning to Flip Grown Men Can be Good For Your Health