How Your Kryptonite Can Save You

Sadly, too many of us have experienced abuse as kids — physical and/or emotional. Statistically speaking, you dear reader, are likely one of them.

So I have a story about a major chapter in my Journey. A story about how I face-planted into Tough Love for myself.  First, the story, and then some observations on how you might adapt it to yourself…


When I was a kid, my biological father was AWOL chasing other women. When I was 11, mom had enough and divorced him. And married someone who was decent enough at first, but then alcohol got the better of him and he became physically abusive. And he was a big man — not obese, just a 6’2″ beefy guy. Well into my 30’s I still had regular nightmares about him — standing by helpless watching him hurt my mom.


At that point in my life someone took a swing at me out of the blue, trying to punch me out. I was able to duck and run. Luckily I was able to run faster. Methinks: maybe it would be a good idea to learn some basic self-defense. No silly notions of Rambo or revenge ever — just some basic skills to stay safer.

So I started surveying the martial arts schools in the area. I was looking for a school that wasn’t about competing in competitions — I was not interested in trophies.

It took some doing, but I found one. The head instructor was Mr. B — a formidable Black Belt. Mr. B also had a master’s degree in Sports Physiology, and his day job was working for the school district developing physical education curricula for challenged kids. As I got to know him, I think a fair description would be “Mr. Rogers with a Black Belt.” He was amazing with kids. And one time he came to class, laughing about an encounter he had just had in a parking lot. He had backed into someone — unquestionably his fault. The other guy jumped out of his car and wanted to take him out. But Mr. B. danced around the car — keeping the car between himself and the other guy — until the other guy calmed down enough that they could just exchange insurance information and be on their way. The other guy will never know how badly it would have gone for him if he had cornered Mr. B.

Many martial arts schools have the philosophy of stopping inches short of hitting your practice opponent in class. Mr. B’s philosophy is that this is a bad idea: if you’re going to learn to fight, you need to practice the kinematics of hitting. That impact is going to throw you off balance as much as your opponent. Plus, in a fight, you can expect to get hit — best get used to it. So the idea was that in sparring (practice fighting) we would really punch and kick each other — not hard enough to do real damage, and with protective gear, but hard enough to get the feel of it — on both the giving and receiving end. It was called “using control,” and if, in Mr. B’s opinion you weren’t using control, you got to spar with him. Nuf said. That was rare — the feeling among us students was one of mutual respect — we were all there trying to better ourselves. As hard as we’d try to beat our opponent in sparring, when it was over we’d embrace as friends and fellow students. And mean it. The camaraderie was wonderful.

The Soul-Work of Sparring

In my innocent goal of trying to learn some basics of self-defense, I had no idea I was stepping into major Soul Work. Mr. B’s practice was to have ‘sparring night’ once a week. Mind you, I have a mild case of Aspergers — which means I’m really good at things like math and music, but really terrible at athleticism. I’m the kid in high school P.E. class that you’d dread being stuck with on your team. And so, Mr. B would demonstrate some technique, and everyone else would get it in 3 or 4 tries, but I was still struggling after 8 or 9. Belt advancement that took everyone else 3 months would take me 9. I didn’t care. So when it came to sparring, I knew I was up against it.

Worse — and this is key and much to my astonishment — sparring took me back to what it felt like with my stepfather: physically helpless in the face of an overwhelming opponent. So as a newbie I’d spar as best I could, and of course being a complete beginner I’d get clobbered (with control!). But, much to my dismay, sparring also dredged up front and center the feelings of my childhood helplessness. So I would emotionally hold myself together for the rest of class, drive away a few blocks, and sob uncontrollably. And show up for class the next day.

Pretty much when the school was open, I’d be there for class. Something in me knew I had to do this, so I kept going back. Meanwhile, the nightmares of my stepfather hurting my mother continued.

With time, I got better at sparring. If you keep showing up and trying, funny how that works. Then, after about a year and a half of this, I had the same dream — except this time I knocked my stepfather down. Didn’t hurt him, but I stopped him from hurting my mom. I had that same dream a couple more times — knocking him down, stopping him without hurting him. I’ve never been troubled with that nightmare again.

The Lesson

First of all, you’ve got to be thinking I was completely whacko! And I’d wholeheartedly agree! All I can say is that a door swallowed me up, I went with it, and it all worked out beyond my wildest expectations. Not an approach I generally follow or recommend.


We all have strengths and weaknesses. Doesn’t it seem obvious to present our strongest side to the world and to our challenges, and protect our weaker sides in the background? That’s probably the best approach in general.

And yet…

We present our strong side when we don’t want or need change. We use our ‘strength’ to preserve our status quo.

But sometimes we know we need change. And so, without entirely understanding what I was doing, some wiser part of me threw myself headlong into a highly athletic and confrontational environment — martial arts. I, Mr. Asperger Nerd who had proudly failed miserably at all sports as a kid, a “conscientious objector to P.E.” now embracing major athleticism — my Kryptonite. Because that was the way forward for me out of the Castle Perilous in which I was trapped. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that tackling my trauma with my stepfather from a nerdy/intellectual point of view would never have worked. What did work was going through the dragon’s lair of my weakness — athleticism and confrontation, my Kryptonite.

Think about the archetypal “Heroine’s Journey” story.  The heroine is walking along one day, minding her own business, when the earth swallows her up and drags her down into the Underworld. There she has to face various monsters and dragons, and with perseverance, she finds her way back to the land of the living. And she’s transformed in the process: she now has unique gifts to offer Humanity that she wouldn’t have any other way.

Dragons and monsters in the Underworld are inevitable. We have to face and overcome them if we’re ever going to find our way out. At the same time, however, in the real world, it’s essential to find a safe place to face them. I was in “talk therapy.” I was reading countless self-help books. All good stuff, but I wasn’t making significant progress. Meanwhile, I stayed ‘open’. I count myself blessed to have been guided to a martial arts school where the head instructor was “Mr. Rogers with a Black Belt.” But that started with a willingness to face a Big Fear. An openness, even though I had no idea how to tackle what might come. I just kept taking baby steps, one at a time, and then Spirit in Her own good time stepped in.

Our Kryptonite — the thing we’re afraid of, the thing we’re bad at — might be the very thing we need to make progress. Instead of running away from our Kryptonite, consider being open to embracing it. (Safely! For heaven’s sake, don’t be stupid about it!) After all, if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll keep getting what we’ve been getting. If we want something different for ourselves, we’re going to have to step — or face-plant — outside of our comfort zone. And maybe we’ll make a dream come true — or a nightmare become false — in the process.

— William

This article was first published on Substack.

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