Can you spare any change?

25 Nov

It was at my test for Second Dan back in 1998. I stood at the side of the head table and read my required paper, on the assigned topic: Constant Change in Taekwondo. I recall being very uninspired on that topic, challenged to speak good insights but feeling strained to stay within the bounds of what might be considered proper thinking in regards to not challenging the system or certain aspects of tradition. “Permission to speak freely, sir?” was not even in the vocabulary.

I can’t lay my hands on a copy of that paper at the moment, and I don’t recall what I wrote, beyond feeling it was just a mishmash of haphazard thoughts, walking in the pasture and two steps shy of landing in bullsh*t.

What I do know today is that things change. Everything changes, is always changing. Our bodies, if not minds, are different RIGHT NOW than immediately before right now. In regards to anything traditional, such as a martial art, when is change OK, acceptable, or needed? It is a constant interplay. Tradition changes too slowly, and progressive things too quickly. If we’re lucky, it all eventually balances.

We are evolutionally wired to run away from change and difference. It has to do with survival; it’s our reptilian brain kicking in with it’s natural first response. Fight or flight. We all know people who hate change and surprises, and those who seem to love it, or pursue it. Yet, we all have a problem with it at a base level.

I’ve been experiencing some survival stress symptoms for a while as I face a change with my Taekwondo school. Two years ago my lease was not renewed because the supermarket adjacent to my dojang would be expanding. I was graciously guaranteed 90 days notice of the need to vacate our space, and that notice came this past September. So, in one week, we’re starting up someplace else.

If I’ve been stressed, students and parents have had a time adapting to the concept of moving as well. First off was not knowing. Where would we be going? I knew one thing: I could not afford, and did not want to work to afford, alternative commercial space. We’ve had a really sweet deal where we are (Super sweet. As in high-fructose corn syrup chocolate sauce poured over an ice cream capped brownie. With frosting. And downed with a can of Coke.).

So, when I started looking for alternatives two years ago, I pretty much thought, “This could be it. It’s over.”  I’d go from paying the bills and making some money to breaking even. And I wasn’t going to commit to working to expanding, adding students, because I’d be losing a chunk of my black belt assistants to college, new jobs and other such changes.

Things change, and we don’t always even know what the change will be. Unknown is the worst kind of change. That’s why making a decision helps; at least you know what the change will be.

I decided. Our program will be relocating to an elementary school gym. A nice, spacious, wooden-floored elementary school gymnasium that we get to occupy three nights per week. It’s old school, the way my son and I, and the rest of the first generation of our local school tradition, started off twenty-one years ago. No mats, no training paraphrenalia all over the place. No service desk and no storage for excessive accumulated crap.

So, knowing the change has helped me a bit. But, I’ve been the director of sorts. The other actors — instructors, parents, students — have not been helped as much. It’s been intriguing to experience how they have been reacting. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed is that, overall, even with explanation, they did not readily process the nature of the change I was describing. They kept thinking of the new space and arrangement in the familiar terms of what they experience now.

“It’s a wood floor gym we’ll be training in.”
“So, we’ll set the mats down in there?”
“No, it’s an elementary school; they use the gym for PE during the day. We can’t have mats set up. We won’t use mats.”
“Are we going to have to set up the mats each night?”
“We’ll train on the wood floor; no mats.”
“We’ll train without mats? Won’t people get hurt.”
“The kids run around during PE and don’t have mats. We’ll be fine.”
“Are we going to keep the mats stacked in the corner or something to set up each night”

“We’ll be much more basic. We’ll have the gym to use, a couple of rooms to change in, and a small amount of storage for some shields and kick paddles. I’ll be getting rid of most of the stuff in here. That will be it.”
“Are we going to set up the standing bags in there?”
“(Repeat the first phrasing . . .)”

You get the idea. I’d at least seen the space, and I’ve needed to adapt my thinking and emotions. Still, it was interesting to experience how humans tend to view or react to the future with the image of their present so strongly in mind. Pull that present away, and it’s like yanking on a rug underneath someone and them feeling like there is only an abyss beneath them. We really have a hard time with change.

Here’s my top insights on dealing with people under change:

1. Understand — really understand — that change is hard for people. Further, the bigger or more significant the change — timeframe, circumstance, magnitude —  the more turmoil, confusion, frustration, FEAR people will experience. Let this understanding dictate and influence everything you say and do.
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate. Say it often. Say it different ways. Tell it, write it, show it. Frequency and variety leads to familiarity and understanding. Communicate it more often and provide more details than you think necessary; it won’t be enough.
3. Be encouraging, positive and supportive. Then be supportive, positive and encouraging.
4. Listen. Listen intentionally and fully, with ears, eyes and heart. Then reply, referring back to points #1 & #3 in particular.

The only thing that doesn’t change in life is this: things are always changing. Get used to it! 🙂


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