The Calypso effect.

A few weeks back I took an indefinite hiatus from this blog (she writes in the blog she is no longer writing: 10 out of 10 for consistency). There were several reasons for my decision. The main one was a simple issue of headspace management. I would guesstimate that each blog takes me an average of 8 hours spent thinking about an issue. Given the profoundly unjolly nature of the field I fell into, this was taking quite a toll on me.

I also started  a second fiction book, and found myself writing a eulogy to my old life. I was writing about things I love as if they were distant islands I could no longer hope to reach. I wasn’t entirely wrong. It’s not that those islands were unreachable, but that I was paddling in the wrong direction. Spending hours upon hours musing about violence and trauma wasn’t going to get me any closer to the things I love. I could  get lucky and stumble upon those things by accident, but I was doing absolutely nothing to increase my chances. Having realized that, dropping the blog seemed the obvious choice.

This blog is not about me and my poor time management, though. It’s about the ease with which this kind of thing can happen; specifically, the ease with which a need for self-defence can turn into something that closely resembles a passion, but isn’t. This is my personal bias speaking: I think a passion should add to your life. Something that infiltrates your life and takes it over, making it narrower and frankly crappier, seems to me more like an obsession.

An old acquaintance of mine wrote a piece a few years back about The Calypso Effect in martial arts cross-training, using the story of Odysseus and the nymph Calypso to illustrate a common phenomenon. To cut a looong story short, it’s very easy to get sucked into stuff to the point that we forget why we got into it in the first place. In a martial arts/sporting context, you might join a boxing gym purely to sharpen up your footwork, and enjoy it so much that you lose track of what your original goal was. Years down the line, you turn around and realize that you’re a boxer. You never intended to be; it ‘just happened’. But it just happened because all your time and focus went into that, over a period of time.

I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Plans may optimize your chances of reaching a certain goal, but unless they include a mechanism for re-evaluating that goal, they can restrict you. It could well be that the distractions you find on your journey are infinitely better for you than the destination you once set. I don’t want the me from yesterday to hobble me today.

That’s not what I did with self-defence, though. I just got so into it that I forgot that SD was only ever meant to be a means to an end. I forgot what I was trying to defend. I invested so much time into it, that I lost chunks of my life through sheer neglect. That’s not self-defence’s fault; it’s on me. But I’m looking around, and, like all recovering addicts, I’m seeing the same kind of behaviour all over the place. I know so many people for whom self-defence is their life. They may deny it, but I’m making a purely quantitative call: that’s where most of their free time and energy go. If that’s a choice they’re making, and if it makes them happy, healthy, and functional, great. The problem is when it’s not a conscious choice, and when it takes more than it gives.

Self-defence is my kind of thing. Both the theory and the practice fit my personality very well. It’s not my only kind of thing, though, and that’s what I remembered when I suddenly wasn’t spending umpteenth hours on it every damn week. All the time that went into it could suddenly go into other stuff. I sat zazen. I cooked. I wrote a metric crapton of fiction. I found some wicked tattoo designs. I got a haircut. I shot my crossbow. I got me a geetar. I dusted my bass. I re-learnt to play a bunch of songs I’d not even thought about in years. I discovered that there were no tabs online for My Little Kookenhaken, so I tabbed that beauty down. I had a good time. Whimsy reigned supreme.

I remembered what I did with my time before self-defence took over the bulk of it. I remembered what used to make me happy, and I remembered that it was important.

I remembered why I got into self-defence; what I was trying to defend. I wanted to be able to keep myself safe enough that I could be myself, do my thang. Self-defence was supposed to be like learning first-aid: you get it down, you prep for it, you put it into practice when the occasion arises, and you refresh your learning regularly because skills are perishable. You don’t live and breathe first-aid all the damn time to the point that you don’t need it, because it takes up so much of your life that your only chance of hurting yourself is repetitive strain injury from rolling up bandages.

I could quote a bunch of blogs from Rory and Kasey about training out of love rather than fear, keeping things in balance, looking after your tethers, and so on. In truth, I read them months ago or years and agreed with them in theory, then totally failed to apply them to my life. The only thing that actually worked was getting smacked in the face hard with a fictional character’s approach to life:

“There’s only really two things about a man that matter: what he wants, and what he’ll do to get it.”

If my stated goals and my efforts are not aligned, then something is plainly awry. It’s a quantitative call, not a moral one. Denying that discrepancy isn’t going to make it any less real.


2 thoughts on “The Calypso effect.

  1. Thanks, Anna, for sharing this. It really spoke to me. I previously worked on violence for a long time from another angle (war, conflict, politics, prisons, humanitarian work). Even got my Masters in it and spent 24/7 thinking of it from a place of passion. Then I exited for a few years as work re-routed. I began writing about it again a couple of years ago and returned about 6 months ago from a self-defense instruction angle. The same passion and curiosity and the question of “why” or “for what” is so important to ask. It is as you point out easy to get caught up in our passions and when those are related to violence or trauma many of us need to come up for air, or perhaps take a seasonal approach. Really appreciate your writings. Gender shouldn’t matter but it does make a difference to see women out there who have been working on this a long time.


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