Mamie Chow (center) and her crew
“One of the hardest lessons …. has been learning to accept my power”
I spent 16 years living in hell, another eight years recreating that hell, and the past six years trying to break the trauma cycle. Today I consider myself blessed because I can finally say, “I don’t owe you a damn thing.”
I started training in martial arts because I was angry and wanted a positive outlet for my rage. I had no idea the process would be so significant. Until I started martial arts training, my childhood was the only process by which I defined myself —- defining myself by all that I hated and raged against. There was no core to who I was, nothing original for me to connect to. There was no me — just a wall of pain, shame, and self-loathing that stood in as me.
It is only now that I understand that martial arts training provides me with another process by which I can define myself. That I am not my childhood, but I am something that is positive and pure at its core. It led me back to myself through a dense fog of blocked memories, survival responses, and worthless treasures of self-hate. It led me back to myself before my childhood ended when I was six and my stepfather sexualized me, before I was eight and Gordon the local drunk stuck his tongue in my mouth, before my mother began chanting my worthlessness, and before the five years of childhood that I can’t remember.
One of the hardest lessons in my training has been learning to accept my power, to accept that I exist here on this ground. In many classes I felt my weightlessness, my apprehension at existing in this life. I threw empty kicks and punches because I was afraid to announce my presence or risk being seen for fear of the consequences. What if they know I’m here and they hate me, they blame me, they envy me? I’m not sure how I got through those first years of training when it felt like that. I guess my original spirit was stronger than my learned survivor self. Thank goodness for that.
I recently told my martial arts teacher that I wanted to make the transition to black belt. I am now practicing much more seriously, releasing my power, moving with intent, and connecting to the wisdom of ground. It is feeling less strange and new, and more familiar — an old, familiar feeling that goes back to before I lost my memories. I see now that this training is an open door to my original spirit, that self that is pure and undamaged by abuse. For the first time I can remember, I have access to the self that has been waiting for me my whole life. This self is strong, present, visible, and whole.
As I make this transition and step over more deeply into myself, I know that I will need to become a destroyer. I will need to destroy a concept of myself that I have held tightly for many years. I will destroy the me that takes responsibility for ruining my mother’s life (something she frequently told me). I will destroy the me that blames herself for the sexual abuse of her stepfather. I will destroy the me that thinks my happiness is less important than that of others. I will destroy the me that is the helpless child.
Maybe that is who I was, but it is no longer who I am. It is one of the most painful and terrifying things to destroy because holding onto it was somehow comforting. I was in control. But the destroyer in me now understands that I was not in control of all that happened during my childhood. I finally understand that I was just a child — innocent and good. And I don’t owe them a damn thing, not even forgiveness.
What I owe, I owe to myself. A waiting child to be forgiven. A child that needs to be let go of so she can grow up. Here in this sacred space of training, I have grown up and I’m on the cusp. This phoenix rising deep inside, calls me to return home to my heart and spirit. It is a home I no longer have to fear or deny; a home that is filled with warmth, tenderness, and joy. It is here that I will forgive and let go of that waiting child that is me.
Mamie Chow trained in Tae Kwon Do for six years a JLAG, CA, with head teacher Erica Stone. See the original printing here.
After reading my “Returning Home” essay for the first time in 13 years, my initial response was — dang, that was intense! The good news is that I got my 1st degree black belt a few months after writing my essay. The better news is that I’ve been training now for over 20 years and my daily life really is full of the warmth, tenderness and joy that I fought so hard for.
I feel incredibly grateful to my teachers — Erica, Blaze, Margot, Kate, Elizabeth — for their amazing martial arts training, but even more, for the support and space for so much healing to take place. It saved my life. And not only that, I am living the life I had hoped for.
Those harsh, self-hating voices are basically gone (if I get too fatigued or eat too much sugar I do notice negative voices seem to pop up, so I’m mindful of taking care of myself). Where there used to be heaviness, there is now a light-heart and delight. If I do feel anxious about something, I check-in with Kid Mamie to make sure she’s feeling safe and secure and that immediately re-grounds Adult Mamie. Life is 1000% more joyful!
Just as awesome, I get the honor of holding space for other women, trans and non-binary students to work through their demons and self-doubts in hopes that they too, experience their own transformation through the practice of martial arts.
Mamie is a 3rd degree black belt at Wild Crane Rising Martial Arts (born of JLAG). She lives in Oakland, CA has an acupuncture practice, and is livin’ large with her amazingly awesome girlfriend and two Chihuahua pups.