Ninja On The Green

Ninja On The Green — Performance In Motion Metro Magazine Article

By Susan Gaines Sevilla

I’ve always been addicted to ventures—such as writing and martial arts—where the better you become, the further from mastery you find yourself. So you’d think I’d have taken up golf long ago. It’s a delicate pursuit that can be ruined by the slightest hint of negative thinking, yet can also deliver pure joy. But golf always seemed like a sport for the boys and girls of the boardroom. I wanted to be a ninja girl who could break boards (or heads, when I was younger and angrier), not a lady on the green. I had demons to fight; being a superhero was far more appealing than knocking a ball into a hole.

But I’m older now, with more to learn and less to prove—or so I’d like to think. And I’m always up for a vehicle that uses movement for teaching broader lessons. So when PGA golf professional Dan Demuth offered me a couple of two-hour sessions at his Performance in Motion studio in Golden Valley, I accepted. Using a combination of golf and boardroom-style debriefing (he’s not a therapist, after all), Demuth guides individuals and corporate teams to define, refine and achieve their goals. I wanted to see what the game, or at least a little putting, could show me about the bigger picture.

I started by filling out a “scorecard” that asked me to identify goals in three areas: business, life and hobbies. Fitting my activities and passions into compartments is tough for me, because everything I do is fluid. I’m a parent 24/7. I’m lucky to have two careers that are extensions of who I am: writing and teaching, both of which involve sharing my experiences and my belief that we are capable of healing and changing. I teach the movement system that has transformed my life, lifted my pain and made me feel whole; I teach my hobby and write about my life. I live as true to myself as I can; that’s why I don’t do well on multiple-choice tests. I read between the lines. I prefer to write essays.

Golf, I would soon discover, is not a multiple-choice exam, but it’s also certainly not an essay. Over-thinking is the sure way to miss your target. Thinking is interference, especially when it comes to movement (and golf).

The studio was lit like a movie set, with a detailed backdrop depicting sand traps, ponds, hills and a big green; it gave an illusion of space. Demuth put a putter in my hand and rolled some balls toward me. With no instruction on technique, he told me to knock them into the hole. At first it was easy: They went right in. Then he asked me to take a few steps back. My hands tightened on the club. The ball curved and rolled past the hole. I analyzed my technique and tried again. Things got worse.

Demuth gave me a little technical help, having me choke down on the grip, but that was about it. Focusing on technique can get in your way, he told me. “From experience, I began to realize that there was much more to the game than just swing and technique,” said Demuth, who was a golf coach before he moved into the world of team-building and life-coaching.

“See the target?” he asked. “Hold it in your mind: Focus, relax and release.” I overshot the hole again. The harder I tried to do it right, the tighter I got. I was looking so intently at the target that I couldn’t see it. Then Demuth handed me a padded club and told me to throw it at a little flag on a hill in the backdrop. When I let the club fly, I could feel my swing opening up, from my toes through my hips, core, shoulders and out through my fingers.

“That’s your swing,” he said. I’d had to literally let go to find my natural, expansive swing. I felt energy flowing from my mind and beyond my physical body. When he put the putter back in my hands, I loosened my grip, closed my eyes and relived one of my most triumphant martial arts moments—the time I broke two boards with a spinning hook kick, blindfolded; the boards had felt like butter. Now I saw the target rather than merely looking at it.

The ball went in. Then again. “Now you’re in the game,” Demuth said.

“Golf is played on the five-inch course between your ears,” said Bobby Jones, hailed in his time as the Babe Ruth of golf. The body is a metaphor for life’s lessons—letting go, trust—but it is also the vehicle. Whether I met the ball with the tension of ego or addressed it with the flow of my own confidence was the difference between hit or miss. Finding that mysterious flow, on and off the green, takes a different kind of superhero, one who can flow between business, hobbies and life. Now I want to be a new kind of ninja, conquering the obstacles on the five-inch course between my ears.