Last week, I broke a brick with a palm strike.
But more importantly, before I did that, I also failed to break a brick with a palm strike.
Let’s back up a little. I teach taekwondo at a martial arts studio that just celebrated its third anniversary (yay us!) As part of our celebrations, some of the students and instructors did a small demo including forms and board/brick breaking. This wasn’t my first time putting my hand through cement for fun and training. So I stopped in to my neighbourhood Home Depot to pick up a small stack of paving stones for us to smash, much to the consternation of a few employees and customers who saw me wandering around the store with a stack of bricks under my arm instead of in a cart.
Our demo was great, for the most part. We had a bit of trouble setting up our brick breaks in a spot where we had a good surface and people could see us. I don’t think I was entirely focused, and even though I’m pretty strong, I can’t get away with relying just on muscle and body weight to make it through. So even though I hit the brick good and hard on my first attempt, it wasn’t quite right, and it didn’t budge. (Much to the concern of some of our poor audience members, mostly our students and their parents.)
Second try, all good. No damage to the wrist or hand, just a bruise.
At the risk of trying to justify things after the fact, I’m glad I had the chance to let my kids see me fail before I succeeded. I find a lot of them are still learning what is to be rewarded and what is to be valued, and I like teaching them that effort and perseverance are to be valued, not only success. And also that you can be good at a task and still sometimes fail to perform it successfully.
(This, incidentally, is part of why, during my day job as a philosophy teacher, I’m perfectly happy to say “I don’t know” to student questions when appropriate. If they think they have to know everything to be a professor, they’ll probably never see themselves as capable of it.)
But maybe failure is a feminist issue. There are some interesting gendered questions here, after all, with letting my students see me fail. The (much larger) man who was also part of the brick breaking demo broke his on the first try. I suppose I could worry that I’m just confirming stereotypes about women being weaker, but I don’t think we have to see it like that at all. I think it’s inevitable that we all fail, and one of the privileges of being a man in sports is that you’ll have lots of readily available male role models with a wide variety of trajectories of success and failure. But the girls (and non-girls) I teach know I’m successful at taekwondo. I have a 4th dan black belt, and teach them how to kick several days a week. So why shouldn’t they see that even their teachers will sometimes have to display the very perseverance that we demand of them?