Behind The Mask

I’ve recently restarted attending HEMA sessions having spent three or four months off with real life pressures of relocating for work – the details of which you don’t care about, so no more of that. The club I’m hoping to make it to on a weekly basis is new to me, although I’ve known the instructor for a while due to the small world nature of HEMA. There are also a few other HEMA people near me but real life being what it is, we haven’t actually organised some playtime, yet.

Being somewhere new brings exaggerates two problems associated with a skilled physical activity. If I’m not careful, I can be overconfident and overestimate my abilities – or underestimate those of my club-mates (or, something like the Dunning-Kruger Effect). If I get too nervous, I start to feel as if I’m faking it and it’s only a matter of time before I’m found out (or the Imposter Syndrome). These are things that almost everyone goes through at some point or another and the only difference in HEMA is that it’s one of those activities where we get to wear an actual mask for a large proportion of the time and therefore can hide the worst of it.

The Dangers Of Overconfidence

If you followed the link to the Wikipedia page on the Dunning-Kruger Effect, you’ll see a better definition than I could give. But, basically, ignorance leads to overconfidence. Ignorance in a martial art can be anything from being a beginner and assuming a couple of lessons makes you as good as someone who has been studying for years to assuming that you’re better than your opponent because you know you have been studying for years when you know nothing about your opponent.

In my case, my main source of overconfidence issues is that I’m a chatterer. It started as a way of handling nerves but it’s got beyond that into a habit of forgetting to keep some things in my head and away from other people’s ears. As a result, I tend to say things that aren’t true, or aren’t all true, before I’ve really thought things through. I probably don’t switch mental gears as well as I should and there are more focused, more experienced instructors who can give much better answers, particularly if I’ve come in thinking abut my other interests instead of fencing. But then we know I don’t want to be an instructor, anyway.

There is an action-based equivalent of this in that, basically, fencing is not the core of my being and I forget how to do things from time to time. We all gradually forget how to move if we put aside a physical activity for a length of time but I’ve found that I can genuinely misplace the memory a drill from one week to the next. On the other hand, I know I can be forgetful and try to remember that this needs to be accounted for when drilling and sparring, particularly as HEMA isn’t my first love (that’s probably my duvet).

Putting the actual mask on makes it harder to apologise for these lapses – conversation is difficult with your ears covered and mouth muffled – but it also seems to make people less inclined to admit them. Perhaps it’s as much about the defensive mindset that martial arts can put (some of) us in.

The Commonality of Fraud

Likewise, if you followed the above above link to the Wikipedia page on the Imposter Syndrome, you now know as much as I do.

With an estimate rate of 70% of the world population experiencing the effect, notably women and minority groups who do not fit the “standard” description of a successful person in a given location, the most comforting thing about the situation is that the majority of the people around you probably feel the same. We just don’t talk about it.

I spend a lot of time feeling like I have no idea what I’m doing and if today’s the day when people actual realise it. There are some activities and parts of my life when they do (sorry, boss) and some where the shit just never seems to hit the fan, no matter how much it feels like it’s going to. It is, of course, one of the reasons I chatter, thereby coming off as a confident if somewhat dimwitted member of the club. In fencing, I’ve only found one real answer: keep training until I can do the required activity without thought. Given that I have other interests and time-sinks, I haven’t actually got that far. However, I’m committed to trying and if I try long enough (as oppose to hard enough), one day I’ll get there.

It’s all a question of doubt. Although too much is crippling, no doubt at all tends to lead to over- or false confidence. The trick I have yet to learn is to recognise those moments when I probably should be questioning myself. Particularly when I’m sword in hand and attempting to communicate with my sparring partner through the medium of low contact, interpretive dance.

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