Featured Budo Sister: Michelle C. Smith
WHY FAILURE DOES NOT EXIST
MICHELLE C. SMITH.
Right now, I’m sitting in the bedroom of my new Montreal apartment. Last week, I drove 3600km across Canada to get here. Only a year ago, I left Vancouver, my home of 12 years, to live in Calgary. Twelve months later, here I am in Montreal. Following my intuition and faith in the life I am creating for myself, I can’t help but reflect on what has brought me to this moment. The ups, downs, successes, epic failures, life changing adventures and everything in between have come with me to Eastern Canada as I start this new season of life. I am calm, confident, courageous and creative. This is where I am meant to be and as one chapter closes, I KNOW this is just the beginning of something massive. Massively cool & life changing!
Recently, I had an epiphany about my own personal “greatest failure” and how it has inadvertently brought me to this perfect moment time I am experiencing now. It has taken me all over the world, made me join the Circus, guided me into Martial Arts and the Film Industry before eventually leading me to a spiritual journey across Spain and back to my roots…Baton Twirling.
LET ME TELL YOU A SECRET…
I am a Baton Twirler.
I dedicated my entire childhood to Baton, sacrificing my free time and social life to compete at the sport’s highest level. I wasn’t the absolute best in the world (I got 2nd, a lot…) but I was definitely a top contender, as my batch of World Championships and National Competition hardware will attest too.
In 2003, at the age of 19, I decided I would compete at my 8th and final World Championships. My coach and I put together a routine, (called a Freestyle,) that showcased my artistry, strong technique, unique style and love for performance. The routine invoked confidence and consistency in me, which showed when I competed at Provincials and Nationals, easily qualifying for Worlds in Barcelona, Spain.
I went into Barcelona confidently with my eye on a gold medal. However, things got a little shady when dramas of years past (politics and me running my mouth, as I had a habit of doing) came bubbling up to the surface just as I should have be focusing on competing. The hurtful rumours and off hand comments from other athletes, upset me and rattled my spirit.
I remember my coach, Loren, telling me more than once to “let it go” and “don’t worry about that right now.”
But as my 19 year old, angry teenager brain would show, I was simply ill-equipped at the time to release the drama I found myself surrounded in. I became fixated on my anger and hurt of being shunned by my community, the only community I had ever had. I allowed myself to be taken down a rabbit hole of drama. Unfortunately, this commotion would have a disastrous affect on my performance and experience.
DRAMA DRAMA DRAMA
Cut to me competing my preliminary round of freestyle and BOMBING! Really, truly, having a nuclear melt-down. It was as if the air had been sucked out around me, everything moved in a slow, sickly green haze. I felt out of my body as I watched my baton hit the ground, over and over and over again. There was nothing good about my performance and I received some of the lowest scores I had every received at Worlds. (My first Worlds Championships, I was 11 years old.)
"I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING TO ME," REPEATED IN MY HEAD.
I was devastated, thoroughly embarrassed and truly sad. All because I was unable to remove myself from the perceived drama around me. Although I pulled it together for the next qualifying round, it was not enough to accomplish the goal I had come in with. I had failed, hard, and that was my last experience as a competitive athlete in the sport of Baton. The sport I had dedicated my entire life too at that point.
Shortly after returning from Spain, I moved to Vancouver, put my batons away and did not speak of them or my previous life for many years. In an unconscious act of redemption, I set out on a career of circus, dance and stunts. The horror of Worlds 2003 following me like a sad puppy.
For the first 10 years of my professional career, I felt the anger and resentment of 2003 in every piece of work that I did. The need to prove that I was the best and a winner became an obsession of mine. I worked harder than everyone, was intensely focused and was determined to be successful…whatever that meant.
I danced religiously at first, but ultimately felt like I was underselling myself. I joined the circus and learned every apparatus I could and delighted in my ability to perform on all of them with out failing. Still, I avoided my batons at all costs. Citing that “the audience is not educated enough and it bores me. Been there, done that.”
Soon, stunt work found it’s way into my life and with it, martial arts, which turned out to be a excellent outlet for my anger. Although I was growing my physical vocabulary of movement and experiencing great professional success as an artist, I still avoided my batons like the plague.
Yet, I always felt like something was missing. Blaming Worlds in 2003 for my mistrust in baton, I was essentially avoiding a huge part of who I was and undervaluing myself as a performer because of that.
Those sticks are/were a part of me. NO amounts of weapons training or other high level skills could fill that void for me. I was constantly unfulfilled artistically because I knew and didn’t want to admit that the one thing that would help me fill that gap was the one thing I hated the most.
SOONER OR LATER, I WOULD HAVE TO FACE MY DEEPEST FAILURE ACCEPT IT AS MY OWN.
Sooner or later, I would have to face my deepest failure and accept it as my own.
In 2013, ten years after Worlds in 2003, almost to the day, I found myself back in Barcelona, ready to let go of the burden I had kept with me for so long. I was finally prepared to release the shame and step back into who I am and what I uniquely do! It took me walking 800km across Spain to discover that.
The most beautiful and challenging part of this realization was that it was ME who caused the momentary laps in concentration way back in 2003. It was ME who maintained the nightmare feedback loop of anger, shame and self doubt. This self-acceptance, in turn, freed me from my shackles because I discovered it was ME who could get myself out of it by employing self forgiveness and compassion.
Since that day in 2013, I have recommitted myself to my truth and my art. I have rediscovered a new passion and reverence for this amazing skill that I have been lucky enough to acquire. I see endless possibilities and a future for it in my life. There is an ease and a lightness to all of the work I take on. By not denying who I am, my life flows at a beautiful pace, opportunities are abound.
I have been tested and tried since then on whether I have completely released this failure from my life. Each time, I have passed tremendously! Finally, I have rediscovered the joy of what the sport held for me; peace, clarity and creativity. The artistic expression I rarely feel with out a stick in my hand. No longer afraid of it, I am now comforted by it.
Sure, I still have some old conditioning to work through. Such as dropping…could I recondition myself to believe that dropping is not a bad thing but actually something good?
(That one still hurts my brain a little.)
The moral of the story is that with out this “massive” failure that I experienced at age 19, I might not have had the drive and tenacity to push myself so far outside of the box or stick out this career in the Entertainment Industry. Had I not forced myself to learn and perform in new ways and forms, I certainly would not be standing here today, with the skill set, resume, opportunities and attitude I have now.
And all that emotional baggage I have been pulling with me? Though challenging to get through, it has taken me on the most incredible journey across the globe, time and space. All of this together makes for the most beautiful story that I am able to share with people all over the world!
As I journey farther down this path of enlightened awareness, I am discovering that this magical skill of Baton/Manipulation I possess is SO much more than just a learned skill. It is my connection to the Universe and all consciousness around me. It is an extension of soul that I am not complete without and the tool I use to reach others.
And within this wisdom, I realize that these sticks, whether batons, staves, hands or whatever prop excites me, are the key to my purpose on this earth. My job is to use the mastery I have spent this lifetime creating to inspire, empower and elevate millions of people to become their own best selves by being my own. Through engaging workshops, keynote speeches, performances and rad online videos, I strive to share my passion of living life in the most bad ass-ly powerful way.
The first step is sharing the incredible skill of Manipulation/Baton Twirling with the world by transforming it into something more accessible, modern and cool while building an awesome community of Bad Asses around me.
I call it Freestyle Staff.
This is how I will change the world! And I’m only just getting started!
HERE IS A TASTE OF WHAT FREESTYLE STAFF LOOKS LIKE: