Recently, I took on a student of fencing, and was trying to figure out the best way to teach her the style that I use. It’s a modern style, derived from the styles of period masters like Cappo Ferro and Agrippa, mixed with Eastern fencing techniques largely taken from the styles attributed to the Tokugawa family. As I put together the foundations for the curriculum I plan to teach, the brain weasels came forth and started to play their games. Those notorious but insidious little bastards, whose only purpose is to make you question everything you do, crept in and tried to play punching bag with my confidence in my ability to pass on the skills that I have been taught by my own mentor.
This is not to say that I am a master at it; not by any stretch. I am in fact still a student in many ways, and my desire to teach is as much a desire to improve myself as it is to help someone else; it is old wisdom that the best way to learn a skill or improve upon it is to teach it. Now I have a reason to force myself to practice skills more regularly, that I can teach my student, called a “cord” because of the braided rope they wear on their shoulder, better. Still, it is the anxiety felt of failing my student, or proving myself an unworthy teacher, that necessitates that additional practice; if I lose a match, I have only myself to blame, but if I fail a student, I have not only impacted me, but them as well, and perhaps permanently.
As the brain weasels scurried around in my head prior to me extending the offer of mentorship, I realized that there was some utility to having this mental rodent infestation in my brain. It is worth mentioning, and highly ironic, that my arms feature an ermine field, which is representative of the fur of a particular species of weasel; it feels even more appropriate now. I realized, as they darted and tunnelled and played with my confidence that I could use that fear, that anxiety, as the impetus to do better. If I push myself to accomplish the things I am afraid of failing at, then the fear will become unnecessary because I succeeded. If I fail, then I can use the chatter of the brain weasels to get myself back in order and try again.
Thus the epiphany came forth: overcoming fear and anxiety has nothing to do with exterminating or running off brain weasels; you have to tame the furry little bastards and bend them to your will. Only then will Fear and Anxiety have been overcome; only then will those feelings go away.
So how does one do this? I am still figuring that out, but I am taking a saying I recently found to heart: “if it makes you afraid, you should probably be doing it”. That’s what I will do.