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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Gwenternational Dimplomacy- A Story on Weightlifting abroad

I was coaching last weekend at the World Master's Championships. I needed to get in a work out.  So, early in the morning, Ivan and I arrived at the training hall. It was in an open air basement in the bottom of a the training hall.  It was literally a biergarten (beer garden?) with some curtains put up to divide the training platforms from the beer drinking. It was Oktoberfest.
Giant Weightlifting hay monster, greeting you to the World Master's Training Hall

There were a total of 3 platforms and 1 squat rack. Two women's bars and 3 men's bars. This, again, was for a world championship. It seemed the beer drinking during Oktoberfest had taken priority over getting some training in.
Beautiful Ruins near Heinsheim, Germany Bad Rappenau , taken from the Competition Hall parking lot

I was training alongside lifters from Japan, Australia, and France. Turns out the French guys, who I spoke to in French, knew the coach at the gym I often frequented while in France.

Then a lifter from Norway came over, and she proceeded to do about an hour of mobility WOD work with the bar at the edge of the warm-up area. Maybe not the best use of space given the crammed quarters, and, well, I probably would not recommend any of the exercises she was doing for a lifter about to max out the next day.  But, hey, she's not my lifter...and, you know the code, do not coach others who do not lift for you, unless their coach/they asks for your help.

About halfway through my workout, a team of Iranians and 2 IWF Iranian Referees came over to train. The Referees were more there to hang out and watch training. The Iranian team is all male as weightlifting is generally not seen as a sport for women to do. They seemed to move as a team.

Because I try to be a decent human being --really, people, I try-- I offered for them to work in with me. There were no open platforms; it was now just me on the platform, and there was a free men's bar.  I felt obligated to help another weightlifter get their training in; this urge to accommodate other weightlifters transcended any realization that I was a Western women in tight work out clothes offering them help.

So, we started working a rotation.  My work out called for me to go up to 90kg power clean and push jerks.  At this point, one of the older men in the background said to me, "Mashallah".
The training hall really was an open air basement with fancy tarp segregating it from the beer garten

To which I replied, " Inshallah."  I had learned from my Muslim friends the relationship between Mashallah and Inshallah, and I automatically equated them to one another. With inshallah meaning, "God Willing" (in some ways, when you're asking God to help you make something happen) and Mashallah meaning to thank God or express gratefulness, particularly, after something you had once had expressed "inshallah" about. Maybe like "praise be to God, Alleluia", sort of?

Anyhow, he seemed happy that I clearly knew these two words - mashallah and inshallah- then he promptly corrected me.  Then said, "No.  Mashallah- Thank God" ,and sort of gestured to the bar I just lifted.

"Yes, mashallah. I understand".

I then asked my coach,"Should I go up to 95kg?", to which my coach in almost unison with the  Iranian lifter and referees answered , "No. no, stop there". I was starting to lift more than some of their male lifters, which perhaps was the root of this request.

I went back over an conversed a bit more with the elder Iranian.  He seemed to be in his 60's.  He wanted to make it clear that I should be grateful to God for my good lifting.  The Iranian referee chimed-in and gestured "gold medal" to me.

The elder Iranian commented, " You not woman, you boy... Are you boy or girl?"

"Umm, I'm a female."

Seeing the dismay on my face, he corrected, "This is joke. 'Are you boy or girl' "  .

Somehow, I was to understand that this was a compliment. In his culture and even American culture, we are taught that women are not supposed to be as strong as men or strong at all. So, he was saying, "you are very strong".

At this point, many people would have been mortally insulted and walked away.  Now, I have been called worse things, and this man was clearly trying to somehow compliment me. So, why walk away? Even in our current world of "micro-aggression", where back-handed compliments like this should send me off to a safe-space, I opt to seek to understand before being understood.

We talk for a few more minutes, and it rapidly descends to who will I vote for in the coming presidential election (he called Trump crazy, with the classic crazy hand gesture to the head, where one swirls their index finger around their temple. He was not much more enthusiastic about Clinton.).  It always amazes me to see how much people from other countries follow the US election. I make it known that I must depart for my lifter competes later that day.
Tug of war statue in downtown Nackersulm, Germany, near the meet hotel. Metaphor, anyone?

Once again, being respectful of fellow lifters, I hand out business cards. One of the younger lifters (40ish) seems eager to receive one.  The elder gentleman I spoke with indicates that it is not good for him to receive one.  Yet, I gestured that the card was of no value to feel embarrassed by, that it was only valuable in what it symbolized- respect through acknowledgement of my fellow human being's existence.

In my culture, when I make a new acquaintance and had a good conversation with, particularly in a formal manner, then I will give out a business card (if I remember to bring them with me).

Treading the line of cultural acceptance is always tricky. I 'm not sure if I insulted or caused embarrassment over a behavior. There were also a couple times when I thought I was supposed to shake hands, and sensed fairly quickly that touching was out of the question.

Earlier that week, I had been in France where acknowledging ones existence is paramount to showing respect. At work, you must shake a person's hand upon greeting them the first time that day. If you see them a second time, you must remember to shake their hand, again, or it is seen as disrespectful-- that they were so unimportant that you forgot that you already shook hands. What is more bizarre is that this is for every person you run into at work -everyday.  It is not just for someone who is visiting for a business meeting, it is literally everyone in the plant.

I was just talking to French people before my interactions with the Iranians.  So, not only did I had to switch languages, I had to also switch behaviors.

Navigating this cultural sea has its rewards. By making an effort to meet people half way in what seems like odd behaviors to you, you actually build bridges of understanding. and, when you are out to learn as much as you can about weightlifting around the world, it comes in handy.

I'm not saying this is something everyone should do, All I'm saying is, if you are feeling enlightened, then, yes, make an effort, and what you learn from these transactions are reward enough, And, maybe you will build a network a little bit in the process.

Finally, we must not overlook Context.  In this circumstance, a key factor to building these cultural bridges was Sport.  Weightlifting, like all other sports, has a common language and sets of behaviors. All weightlifters around the world speak the same language- weightlifting . We don't even realize that we have this new mystical, intuitive way of communicating until we are forced to use it in a training hall with non-English speakers. This is also why weightlifters get so touchy when people from other sports flood-in and try to rapidly add new behaviors-- the weightlifting culture is universal, world-wide, established over a century and enables our ability to communicate cross-cultures because of a common set of behaviors.

Women's 35-39 69kg winners. Risto Sports lifter Jessica Weisman brings USA home the Silver Medal

1 comment:

fahiamalam said...

Weight lifting exercises consists of repetitions and sets.
Free weights and compound movements such as squats, bench press, shoulder press, and bent over barbell rows apply a lot of stress on the supporting muscles.
More in fo: weight lifting

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