Was reminded this evening of the power of the voice. I was practicing my Tai Chi routines, and had just started my saber routine-in fact, I just performed a launching move which, due to the lightweight, springy nature of my cheaper saber makes a loud clashing noise–when a pair of young women sitting on a park bench shouted at me. Apparently they had been unaware of me performing my Tai Chi routines and were quite surprised by a sabre being wielded in a park. They also made it quite clear that I couldn’t be wielding the sabre because it was a weapon and were shouting at me to put it away.
I do not know whether it was the profanity laden commands to put my sabre away, the unexpectedness of somebody not realizing I was simply practicing Tai Chi (the vast majority of people pick that up pretty quickly), or the hostility in their speech, but I was unable to summon my voice to tell them it was alright, that it was just a Tai Chi practice sabre, kept dull and unable to hurt them any more than if I was bare-handed (in fact, rather less likely–given the cheap natures of my saber and sword, I suspect it’s far more likely they would break upon contact with a hard human body part–and if they didn’t break, they’d still bounce more than even a well-executed punch would). I could do far more damage with a well-executed elbow strike, which is actually one of the strikes were trained to execute in Tai Chi–far more than we are to punch or kick actually.
This inability to summon my voice is a persistent problem that has its roots in the combination of anxiety and autism. While public speaking was one of my first fears to overcome, a “wall of fear” does come up to block my ability to speak in a variety of situations—when I’m unsure whether it’s appropriate to interject, when I need to warn someone of an impending emergency, or when I’m shaken in some way. I have, with great effort, improved upon my ability to speak up in all of these situations, and have learned to muster my strength and break through that “wall of fear” as I have often found much more harm and damage to occur when I don’t speak than when I do. Yet the problem persists, and I suspect it is because I am fighting a strong aspect of my nature. Even in casual speech, I find there to be a barrier between the desire to speak and the ability to do so–which is curious because I’m actually a good half-second faster at processing and analyzing speech, but to speak myself involves pushing through a natural inhibition.
Fortunately, the young women quieted down long enough for me to finish my saber routine and switch to my sword routine. This interlude was enough for me to compose myself so that I was finally able to speak and reassure them that both sword and sabre were Tai Chi practice weapons and unable to do harm. Once I had assured them of this, they DID seem to be much calmer and more receptive–though admittedly, part of that could also be the fact that at this point I had been wielding saber and sword on the same patch of grass at the park without showing any inclination to come over and assault them. And I cannot be entirely certain that I was actually reading them correctly–it is possible that they were still angry at me, but my gut said they had calmed down and felt much calmer once I told them the facts about what the sabre and sword were.
This was, by far, the most tense situation that has happened when doing my routines. As I mentioned earlier, most people pick it up fairly quickly. For those that don’t, most have asked much more calmly, and I have been able to reassure all those that have asked. I do not blame the women–there’s definitely a time I would have been rather freaked out by someone wielding a saber or sword in the park. I merely hope that the next time someone gets more panicky and hostile than the norm, that I am able to break through the “wall of fear” and find the courage to speak much sooner.