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The Balance of Power: From the Gym to the Boardroom, What Martial Arts Has Taught Me

Posted on May 20, 2017 by Society Nine | 0 comments

 

About the author, Beverly Baker:

Beverly’s mother always wanted her to take ballet. Instead Beverly fell in love with the fluid and powerful movements from those super-corny martial arts movies her older brothers used to watch. She aspired to move that beautifully (not including the mismatch of mouths and words caused by English dubbing). Beverly is a 2nd dan black belt in ChaYon Ryu, a Yellow Belt in Krav Maga and has trained in a range of traditional and modern styles including karate, jiu-jitsu, boxing, aikido and judo. She lives in Los Angeles, holds an MBA focusing in digital media management and spends her free time road tripping with her boyfriend, Brian.

This is a follow up to her previous Society Nine Storytellers blog, which you can read here.

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I was at the gym tonight. This new guy, he was 20-something, was there holding the heavy bag as I was hitting. When I finished he said, "Wow, she really hates men." 

In my teens I would have crumbled at the remark. 

In my 20s I would have clocked him when we sparred. 

In my early 30s I would have said, "Hate men? No, I live life with just as much passion." 

Now in my late 30s, all of these ran sequentially through my mind, but I let them all go. I just kept working out, shrugging his attitude off as his problem, not mine. 

I love being me. 

I jotted that down a few years ago after coming home from my boxing class. I was astonished that a fellow boxing student would equate punching a bag hard with some kind of hatred inside of me and writing those words down helped me put them in perspective. But even more important, it helped me see how far I had come mentally in dealing with these kinds of comments. 

Now in my 40s, I was reminded of this story after a former co-worker encouraged me to write about the cultural bias against strong women. He had read my first blog post for Society Nine and wrote to me in an email:

One of the things I've always admired about you is your confidence and strong presence in meetings and calls. It was really interesting to read your article and realize you may not have always had that, and that martial arts helped you become stronger in other areas of life. I think it's really interesting because a lot of women struggle with confidence in a largely male environment, and are afraid of being perceived as bitchy. I see a lot of articles about this in business and especially in tech, and I’ve learned a lot by talking about it with my girlfriend. It’s a delicate line, and definitely a double standard. But I think you handle it really well! You’re generally upbeat and outgoing and smile a lot so I think it’s hard for people to believe you’re angry or bitchy. People like you! :) 

I think more women would be into martial arts if they knew it could help them be more confident at work or elsewhere. Beyond the techniques, I think there’s a lot of really helpful philosophy with broader applications, like de-escalating a situation before there’s conflict.

I was moved. And he gave me a lot to think about. In training, there is a time for making my partner at ease and comfortable and there is a time to plant my sidekick in their gut. Before I read his note however, I wasn’t aware of how much of that delicate balancing act I brought into my professional life.

But why is it important for women to manage how we’re perceived in the professional world? Shouldn’t we be judged by our merits alone? Unfortunately, study after study demonstrates that women are judged more harshly when we compete in areas traditionally defined as male. Further, while the women who receive the most rewards at work (promotions, etc.) are those who display “masculine” traits, they only reap those rewards if they can soften the edges of their assertiveness.

So just as we often do in martial arts training, women in business face a double bind: If we are too assertive or outspoken, we are labeled as “dangerous,” even as our assertive male counterparts are regarded as “driven.” But if we are perceived as too feminine, we are viewed as weak and ineffective. Our very success can thwart future success as we face negative reactions from our peers. And should we succeed in a traditionally male arena, our reward is being liked less and put down more. This dislike can hurt our careers long term even after we’ve clearly demonstrated our competence.   

Whether I’m training or at work, I’m often in male-dominated environments. If I want to be effective, I have to consider how I’m being perceived and adjust accordingly. For example, in developing business deals, I negotiate hard, but not in a hard way. You could describe my negotiation tactics as akin to the principles of aikido. And then there are the times that I have to take a hardline with an external partner. Perhaps they’ve not delivered on their promises or have otherwise underperformed. As a woman I’m not able to get away with the hard line stance that my male colleagues can. Keeping in mind the consequences discussed above, I still have to set boundaries in such a way that does not damage the relationship. In working with guys in my physical training, who are generally larger and stronger, I’ve learned that my strength comes from attacking creatively, rather than simply head on. While my physical training has taught me to not be afraid to throw a proverbial hard punch, both physically and socially it has also taught me that who I’m working with is critical. Some people are fine with a head-on approach while others need a bit more finesse. While it may not be “fair”, “fairness” really isn’t relevant when there may be important consequences at stake. 

It was through my martial arts training that I first learned to manage these perceptions. Early in my training I began to notice that my assertiveness sometimes elicited reactions that my male training partners don’t have to deal with. Ninety percent of my training partners are cool training with aggressive women. We work together with no problems. The other ten percent peg me as angry or in a bad mood when nothing could be further from the truth. I train not because I’m angry, but because I’m happy. And training makes me happy. How can I be in a bad mood when I’m doing something I love so much?

Dealing with that ten percent — and they aren’t all men, by the way — I’ve had to learn how to balance being serious and focused with being approachable and friendly. As my former co-worker observed, de-escalating a situation isn’t just about physical safety but also about reading the other person and managing their perceptions. In the earlier days of my training, I was terrible at this. I came across as cold because I didn’t want to make small talk in class, but rather stay focused on the drills. Over time, I’ve developed the habit of always giving my partner a big smile before we train and being sensitive to his or her social cues. Now when a partner wants to chit-chat during class, cutting in to our precious training time, my go-to response is: “That sounds great! I’d love to hear more about that after class!” Then we start the drill.

After all this time however, and regardless of my efforts, I’ve seen that I can still be misunderstood. Though more and more women are now training, we all still run into the negative perceptions assertive women face. The most recent came while I waited for some girlfriends after training to head out for our regular “Punch & Brunch” Saturday. As I waited I joined a conversation with a few guys in the lobby. Most of them I had trained with previously, one I didn’t know at all. As one of them, an instructor, described his curriculum for his upcoming sparring class I got excited and asked about his class.

“Oh, do you take sparring classes?” the man I didn’t know asked, surprised. 

“I do, I love it. It’s a lot of fun!” 

The other men joked, “Oh yeah, and she’s tough too.” Then one of them added, “You’ve got to watch out for her. She’s got a lot of hate in her heart.”

I generally let nonsense like that slide. But something about those words stung. I asked, “Would you say that if I were a man who liked sparring class?”

“Well, no,” he stammered.

I didn’t want to make it into a thing, and by his stammer and the sheepish look that came across his face, I saw that he got the point. I recognized those social cues and happily changed the subject.

It was my training that first taught me how to express and harness my physical power. As an unexpected benefit, my training has translated to skills for the business world. Perhaps one-day women won’t need to manage perceptions so carefully. But until that day, I am grateful for my training that helps me walk that fine line. 

 

Posted in aikido, boxing, chayon ryu, executive coaching, female executive, jiujitsu, judo, karate, krav maga, women's empowerment, women's leadership

Shannon Kasperson: Choosing To Uncover The Fight Within

Posted on March 31, 2017 by Society Nine | 1 comment

 

Shannon Kasperson is a new(ish) member of the boxing community whose journey truly began when she recognized her ability to choose. With that, she began uncovering her fight within and never looked back. When she isn't getting rounds in at Uppercut Boxing Gym in Minneapolis, she is helping students and veterans navigate the financial barriers of reaching their educational goals.

This is her story.

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I can’t remember a moment in my thirty-two years that I haven’t been overweight.

I’m sure the times are there, but I must have been a child because I have no memories of being at a healthy weight. I wish I could say it was just an extra 15 or 20 pounds I was carrying around, but even on my best days, the times where I was reaping the benefits of months of dieting and hard work at the gym, I was still considered “overweight." Most of the time, if I’m honest, I’ve been obese. Over time, carrying this weight had become my way of life. I learned to live the role of “the fat one” in the group: at work, at school, with friends, even in my own family. You learn where to buy larger sized clothes that aren’t hideous, you wear ugly ass orthopedic shoes that can handle your weight without killing your feet, and you learn to tell yourself that this is just going to be your thing. Everyone has a thing, right? It is something you struggle with that very few people really understand, that you just deal with. Like any thorn in your side that refuses to leave you in peace, you learn to live with it. Because, what other choice is there?

Living with it, for me, meant a lot of things. It meant thinking no one would ever find me attractive. It meant realizing I’d never be running those fun 5K events where you get doused with buckets of paint or wear a stupid tutu across the finish line. It meant giving up on so many things that so many other people enjoy every day without having to think twice about it.

It also meant always watching what I ate. Even when I wasn’t actively losing weight and just trying to stay afloat. It meant I couldn’t put a single thing in my body without having to spend enormous amounts of time either thinking about it, or worse, feeling bad about it. Going to the bar with friends for happy hour drinks after work? Eating a piece of cake for your co-worker’s birthday? Or partaking in the donuts that that one girl in your office brings in all the time? Yeah, not things fat girls can do. Well, okay, you can…but you’ll never get anywhere with your weight loss with habits like that, so we say “oh no thanks, I already ate” and then wait for everyone to tell us how stupid we are because I mean, come on, it’s just one donut, one drink, one piece of cake, one fill-in-the-blank-piece-of-food-someone-can’t-handle-that-you’re-not-eating.

But here’s the thing: “living with it” isn’t really a thing. Trying to forget about it and live the best life you can despite the circumstances, is damn near impossible. Because it’s bullshit. It leaves you pissed off, resentful, and feeling helpless over your life. It leaves you missing out on So.Many.Things. So one day I made the choice that I was done missing out on things. I wanted my life to be beautiful and it was time to figure out how to get that. I wasn’t going to stop eating healthy or pursuing weight loss, but I was going to learn how to do this in a way that was honoring to myself and my life. I needed a way forward that would create less extremes and more balance for long term sustainability.

I was looking around on Pinterest for some inspiring quotes to help me get started, and I came across one with the quote “Losing weight is hard, maintaining weight is hard, staying fat is hard. CHOOSE YOUR HARD.” The words were set over a picture of a girl holding up her arm wearing a boxing glove. She looked strong and powerful, and that is when I realized I wanted to learn how to box... It would take me three years until I finally got the courage to walk into my first class.

I knew I needed something for women only, and something that would work with me where I was at: not physically fit whatsoever. One night I decided to google “women’s boxing in the Twin Cities” to see if I could find something that wasn’t completely terrifying. Even though I’d looked for a place many times before, that night I magically found something called “Pink Gloves Boxing.” Pink Gloves Boxing is a small program for women to learn boxing in a safe, women-focused environment. I found a chapter here in the Twin Cities (MN) and attended two classes before the instructor had a baby and took time off. Four months later, I learned they were permanently ending the chapter. To say I was bummed would be an understatement. It had taken me three years to get the courage to walk into that class, and now it was over before it really started?!

I was facing another decision moment: I either wanted to box or I didn’t. I was either about it or I wasn’t. I had to decide one way or another. So I found one more gym in Minneapolis and decided that if it didn’t work out, then I’d be done with boxing. Uppercut Boxing Gym in Northeast Minneapolis is a legit boxing gym, located in a warehouse down an alley in an industrial part of the city. While this gym is woman-owned, it is co-ed and they are there for one thing: to teach you how to box. No weight loss gimmicks, no “we work with you where you’re at;” they train people for the sport of boxing.

I walked into what I considered the most intimidating place I’ve ever been to in my life, and that first class kicked.my.ass. As did the second, third, fourth and really every single class I’ve taken since. You’re talking to the girl who when she “ran” her final mile in gym class during senior year of high school, actively celebrated that she’d never have to do anything like that ever again. These classes, however, had me doing squats, jumping rope, wall sits, crunches… and I could barely do any of it. Who knew so little of boxing is actually boxing?! And for a plus sized person?

In the beginning I was given little to no instruction on how to do any modifications for my 240lb frame. It felt like this gym was meant for one type of person: the fit person. The person who, while might be new to the sport but could attend for a few classes and get the hang of it and keep up. I am not that person. I can’t hold a plank for 10 seconds let alone 60 seconds. I can’t jump rope for 20 seconds without having to stop and pull up my gym pants from sliding down over my gut. Also, remember when I said it was co-ed? That means I spend each class huffing and puffing my ass off around a bunch of muscle-y, tatted up dudes and super fit, lean women. So it didn’t take me long to feel like I 100% did not belong there.

I felt like I had two options at that point: become the person this gym seems to have been made for (fit athletes) OR bow out now and go back to being “the fat girl” who just had to live with it. This realization led to a breakthrough for me: I could go back to my old way of thinking, giving up and resolving myself to the half-life I was living, or I could fight back. I decided to create a third option: I wanted this world, the fitness and boxing world, to be broad enough to include people like me. For that to happen, I had to fight my fear and ask for what I needed. An acronym for a move on the chalkboard that I’d never heard of? I’d walk right up to the scary trainer and ask them what it meant and to show me how to do it. An exercise my body physically could not handle? I’d ask my teacher for a modification after class and do it the next time around. Whatever I was still struggling with in class, I’d work on privately outside of class at my regular gym or at home. I learned during this time that if you wanted something here, you just had to f*cking take it. It was up to you to make it happen, because no one was going to do it for you. Would they be there to help you when needed it? Absolutely. But, it was up to me to figure out what I needed and wanted, and then chase after it.

I should note that this is all still super super hard. I go to class and look around and feel like an imposter many days. I still feel shame over the fact that people don’t look like me in my classes, and that there are many moves and exercises I cannot perform due to my weight. I’m still scared to walk into this crazy intimidating boxing gym and show up knowing I won’t be able to keep up. But sometimes, the fear won’t go away, so you just have to do it afraid. Sometimes you have to tell that voice in your head to shut the hell up and keep moving.

I started boxing to gain strength. Physical strength yes, but more than anything, mental strength to fight back against a world I’d lived in for so long. Because really? This is not a story about boxing. This is a story about fighting the inner demons inside your head that tell you that there is something wrong with you or that you are not good enough. It’s about persisting even when you don’t fit in, and choosing to make it so you fit in on your own terms, and then owning what that looks like. Having the confidence to identify what you want, and then take it. Sometimes when things are hard, you just have to fight back harder.

Society Nine is for the fight within EVERY woman. I may not be a professional boxer, I may have only started this sport in the last six months but I am fighting for myself, I am a fighter. My fight is against the false things I’ve believed about myself for so long and the resentment, fear, and self-doubt that comes with it.

It’s fitting that Uppercut Gym has us training in front of a wall of mirrors. Every class I stare at myself sweating and working as hard as I can to battle those thoughts and adopt new ones. I fight the idea that I am not good enough, and then punch that shit right in its face. Because I will be victorious. Because either it wins, or I win. And guess what? It’s my turn to win.

Posted in Body Positive, Boxing, Boxing Gym, Choose To Win, Choose Your Hard, Positive Mental Attitude, Self-Doubt, Weight Loss

Susan Botyrius: Boxing out Parkinson's Disease.

Posted on December 05, 2016 by Society Nine | 0 comments



 

Susan is a mother of two, badass engineer and when she isn't taking life head on she is battling Parkinson's Disease. Diagnosed when her daughters were young, Susan set out to show them that no challenge was too great and to set an example of strength and fight. Along her journey, she was directed to the Rock Steady Program where she found a community of support and her love of boxing.

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I have always used the words of others who said I could/should not reach for a goal because of my gender as motivation to reach that goal. I have taken the path I wanted to take, not the path others told me I should take. Sometimes that path was the conventional one and other times it was not.

Growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis in the 60s and 70s, I never understood why I could not attempt anything I wanted to simply because I was a girl.  When I was a little girl my grandfather nicknamed me Susan B Anthony because I wanted to be the first female cadet at the air force academy. Unfortunately I was born about 6 years too late. Someone else beat me to it.

The idea that anything except an individual’s abilities dictates which paths are open and which are closed to that individual has always rubbed me the wrong way. I believe every individual is unique and deserves to pursue his/her dreams as long as they stay within societal ethics and morality. I am an individualist and this belief still drives me to this day. 

In college I earned degrees in electrical engineering and computer science and turned those into a career as a control systems engineer. I started my career at a small consulting firm in Tallahassee. My boss was a terrific mentor and I learned a lot from him. However, when I went to site, I was the only female working in the production area and the head of maintenance felt I needed a babysitter and proceeded to assign an engineer to stay with me. The reasoning, I was a woman.  

Outside of work I did not fit in very well either, there were very few people I could relate to because of my field. The breaking point came when I was at a barbeque and I was talking to an older couple. They asked me what I did. When I responded that I was an electrical engineer, both the man and woman looked at me as though I had grown another head. Then in a thick southern accent the man said “You must be smart.” And the woman said, “You are a role model for young girls everywhere.”

I did not want to be known just for being smart and I sure as heck did not want to be a role model. The last thing I needed was to be put on a pedestal. I simply wanted to be the best engineer I could be and I wanted to connect with other people like me.  I wanted to have friends that were young and single. I also wanted a job that offered me more opportunities. It was time to move on. 

Eventually I found a job working at a rubber compounding plant in South Carolina for a major tire manufacturer. One of the possibilities that had attracted me was the potential opportunity to work overseas for a period of time. A year and a half later I was asked to go to France as a trainee for six months to be help with the design of a new production line to be added here in the United States.

While I was in France testing the controls at the vendors facility, I saw safety flaws in the design that would pose a serious danger to anyone working on the line. I spent HOURS attempting to explain my stance to co-workers. At first none of them understood what my objections were but I was able to get them to agree that maybe, just maybe, I had a point. But they were not going to change the design. In the end, I refused to accept the design and my boss in France overrode my objections allowing the design to be accepted. I lost the battle in France, but won the war in the United States when the plant maintenance department agreed with me and insisted that the vendor's design be changed. 

In France, I may have struggled to have my views understood but I met the man whom I would marry. He was the only American working for the vendor on the same project. Two years after we returned to the States we married and he moved from New Jersey To South Carolina to be with me. And after our first daughter was born we moved to Pittsburgh and I stayed home and became the traditional Mom. We had another daughter and I continued my Mom role, working intermittently as a contractor. For the most part we were the conventional suburban family.

In 2004 my world changed dramatically when a persistent tremor in my right hand was diagnosed as probable early onset Parkinson’s Disease (aka PD). Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive neurological disorder that causes tremors and other motion control issues for the patient. My oldest daughter was just starting fourth grade and my youngest daughter was just starting first grade. I quickly decided that I would do anything in my power to keep myself active and keep the disease at bay. I did not want my daughters’ memories of me to be those of a person defined by a disease. I wanted them to remember me as me. I also wanted my daughters to see that difficulties can be overcome and you cannot let anything stop you.

I have watched my daughters grow up from little girls to big girls to teenage girls to amazing young women. I cannot begin to say how proud I am of them. During this time my diagnosis has been confirmed as early onset Parkinson’s. I am a lucky one as it is still a very mild form. Parkinson’s disease predisposes a person to depression and that has been a challenge for me. To help overcome, my neurologist suggested I visit a counselor and also try a program called Rock Steady. That was a turning point for me.  

Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding goes the bell and then the instructor yells into the mike,  
“ARE YOU READY?”  
“ARE YOU READY?”
“ARE YOU READY TO ROCK STEADY?”
Everyone in the class moves to a heavy bag and round 1 begins.

Rock Steady is a boxing class for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). The Rock Steady program is specifically designed to improve the quality of life for people with PD by mitigating the symptoms using boxing. Boxing helps PD patients in two ways. Firstly, the whole body coordination required for boxing helps combat the loss of movement control prevalent in PD patients. Secondly, intense exercise has been found to help the brain use dopamine more efficiently and PD patients do not produce enough dopamine, so using the dopamine more efficiently results in an improvement in symptoms.  

I began The Rock Steady program at Fit4Boxing in Pittsburgh and I can speak to how it does much more than just help with the physical symptoms I am fighting to overcome. Every Thursday before the class starts there is a discussion and anyone who has read about or heard about anything that might help others is free to bring it up for discussion. Several members of the group have a medical background and are able to explain why certain protocols are used. The staff has worked hard to cultivate a family like atmosphere in which every person is valued. All the participants in the program support each other.  

I have found that boxing has helped alleviate my physical symptoms while the support and camaraderie of my fellow patients and the staff at Fit4Boxing has improved my mental state. It’s pretty incredible that the sport that has been blamed for multiple cases of PD, including Muhammad Ali’s, has also been found to be one of the best activities for helping people cope with the disease. I doubt that I will ever actually participate in a true boxing match. But by practicing as though I will, I hope to prevent or slow further progression of the disease. My end goal is TO KICK PARKINSON’S ASS.

Posted in badass women, Boxing, community, Depression, Engineering, fight like a woman, Fit4Boxing, Mom, Muhammad Ali, Parkinson's Disease, Pittsburgh, Rock Steady, society nine, Society Nine Storytellers, The Rock Steady Program, women's boxing, women's boxing gloves

Kayla Hracho: Proving to myself that I am worthy.

Posted on April 14, 2015 by Society Nine | 0 comments

This is the eighteenth profile in our Society Nine Storytellers series where badass female fighters across all sports, media and culture in our community share their definitions of femininity, strength and empowerment and discuss what they fight for.

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Posted in boxing, kidspeace

Gemma Fleming: My own champion and protector.

Posted on April 06, 2015 by Society Nine | 0 comments

This is the sixteenth profile in our Society Nine Storytellers series where badass female fighters across all sports, media and culture in our community share their definitions of femininity, strength and empowerment and discuss what they fight for.

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Posted in boxing, female fighters, muay thai, senshi documentary

Mildred Apenyo: Women and spaces.

Posted on January 26, 2015 by Society Nine | 0 comments

This is the sixth profile in our Society Nine Storytellers series where badass women in our community share their definitions of femininity, strength and empowerment and discuss what they fight for. Have a story to tell? Email us at contact@societynine.com – tell us who you are, a little bit about your journey and what you fight for –… Continue reading

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Posted in body image issues, boxing, fitclique africa, mandela washington fellowship of young african leaders, self defense, Society Nine Storytellers, ted talks, tedX, uganda, white house, yoga