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Mentally Practicing

My hands were full, and just before the hotel elevator doors closed a young man slipped through. Because I’d flown into town, I had switched purses and wasn’t carrying my usual array of knives. Even if I had been, they wouldn’t have been easily accessible with full hands.

My thoughts: I could front kick him. Probably wouldn’t drop anything. Do I need to close in first? Ah! This is why Kyoshi had us practice standing sidekicks. Take out the knee. Kick the head.

 

The MAT therapist seated behind me cradled my head and moved it in various directions to assess my mobility and strength.

Me to the MAT therapist, “This feels like how they teach us to snap necks!” To which he paused, then asked, “They really teach you that?”

 

I’ve been off the mat for the last year. While I couldn’t run through all my kata without hesitation, and I’d most likely get my self-defense sets mixed up, I’m comforted to know that the important things have stuck with me.

The lessons, drills, and self-defense conversations from my 8 years of training have given me a different mindset than I had before I started training. I’m able to connect the dots – what does the lesson have to do with real life? I didn’t see it in the beginning, but I remember some of my early times when the light bulb would go on.

Now I notice that more and more I think with a self-protection mindset. I’m making an extra effort to pay attention to my surroundings and to the people within my sphere. And I’m running through the appropriate scenarios from the lessons and practicing in my head what I would do if challenged.

Even though I’m not physically practicing martial arts, I’m mentally practicing them so I can be ready if the time comes when I need the skills.

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Sometimes Failure Means Success

I failed in nearly all my weights tonight – and Shawn, my trainer, said, “Good work.” He says that often when I fail. I’ve gotten used to it, but I sometimes struggle with the concept.

As a runner, volleyball player and martial artist, I’ve never trained to fail – only to win. Win the race, win the game, and at all costs, win the fight! To fail is to lose. So this is tough for me – to  embrace failing.

The gym is one of the few places where failure is good, where failure is the goal. In my case, I lift a certain weight until I fail, which means I can’t complete another rep with proper form. When I get stronger and it takes longer for me to fail, my weights are raised. Occasionally, like tonight with my bicep curls, I failed very quickly and my weights were lowered. (Ugh. I’m still not happy about that!)

As I write this, I realize the dojo is another place where failure can be a benefit. We fail often when we spar, we fail when we try new self-defense moves, we fail while we are learning new katas. I never thought of that as being OK – only as things I needed to work harder on, things to fix. But now, due to my trainer’s coaching, I’m seeing failure in the dojo with new eyes.

When I fail during sparring, hopefully I learn from what I did wrong and maybe next time I don’t get popped in the face. When I fail doing a throw – even when I break my toe in the process – I learn what I did wrong and work to fix it.

Sometimes I’m OK with my failure and even proud of it. But too many times still, I get frustrated and Shawn reminds me that failure can be good, and failing sometimes equals success. I don’t know if I’ll ever 100% appreciate failing, but I’m trying!

Getting My Story Out First

Hanshi has a saying around our dojo: “It’s whoever gets their story out first.”

If you get your story out first, you can tell it your way and that becomes Truth. If someone else gets their story out first – even if it’s really your story – then that becomes Truth. So with that in mind, here I am – getting my story out first.  😉

I always think it’s odd when someone gets their black belt and then walks away from karate. That said, I just got my Shodan in Kobujitsu (Weapons) in May. And after way too much thought, angst, deliberation, and uncertainty, I’ve decided to take a break from my karate training. Am I walking away permanently? I don’t know. But in some ways I feel I’ve become one of “those” people.

I know Shodan is just the beginning of the journey and there is no end to things to be discovered. And truthfully, I really enjoy weapons and would love to spend more time studying them. So why, when admittedly I think it’s dumb, am I walking away?

If someone else tells my story, it might sound like one of these:

1) I travel a lot for work.

Incorrect. It’s been over a year since I visited our NY office.

 2) I work too much.

My fatigue says that’s true, and often it’s tough to get to classes. But again, incorrect.

 3) I’m injured…again.

True, but once more, incorrect. Tomorrow I see the podiatrist who says he can fix my lingering foot issue, but only if I take a break from karate. Someone who spent 7 years running full tilt at hurdles, racing with a knot the size of a golf ball on their knee, and wiping out on an irregular basis isn’t really afraid of working through yet another injury.

So what’s my Truth?

Simple. It’s time to give back. I’ve spent the last 8+ years focusing on myself, spending my time and energy on martial arts and my achievements. But lately, I’ve been convicted of selfishness. Nobody’s world will change if I learn another set or kata or whatever. Nobody besides me benefits from me earning a higher rank.

In a world that seems more uncertain each day, I need to do my part to make a difference. I’ve recently connected with two charitable organizations, and I’m devoting my time, my writing and my kitchen skills to those.

That’s my Truth.

I don’t know where these opportunities will take me. I don’t know if I’m taking a temporary or permanent break from karate. But what I do know is I need to do this. I need to do my part. So in a way, maybe I’m being selfish still, but if that’s so, I hope someone else benefits from it.

Martial arts thoughts and blog posts lurk in my head. How my brain and body handle this hiatus is yet to be seen. So don’t go away. I’m not. And maybe I’ll manage to write more often!  🙂

Where Do I Fit In?

I’ve seen a few articles lately that convey the idea that quitting martial arts is akin to quitting life. That to quit martial arts is to give up, to crap out on your training, to abandon your passion and your art, to let everyone down from your training partners to your Sensei. You might as well curl up in a corner and die, because you’re a loser if you quit.

Well to be honest, I think that’s a really dumb attitude. It smacks of all or nothing, and it feels like an elitist club that ostracizes anyone who doesn’t sacrifice their all for their training.

Martial arts is a lifetime activity – something that can be done forever (supposedly) and something that always has things one can learn. I get that.

But reality says the body isn’t always willing. The injuries accumulate, the desire to be hit or dropped on the floor wanes, recovery takes longer and longer, and the body just doesn’t always show the same desire as the mind – or vice versa.

The assumption seems to be that once the physical ability is no longer there, the karateka naturally transitions to the role of teacher. That’s nice and a compliment and all that, but for those like myself who don’t want to teach, where does that leave us?

I’ve never enjoyed teaching or even training my new employees. It’s not my gift, and it never will be; I don’t have the patience for it. And I tell people what to do all day at work, so I don’t want to go to the dojo and tell people what to do. That’s my time to refresh and renew my energy. A time to give my bossy, decision-making head a rest.

So the people who say you can still train regardless of your age? Maybe it’s true. I know of one 60+-year-old who still gets on the mat as a student during clinics and warrior weekends. He sets a great example for the rest of us and I admire him! But in my experience, he is in the minority.

And even if someone says you aren’t expected to keep up with the younger, fitter students, the majority of drills and classes are geared towards that demographic. And often times those are the students who are promoted faster, because they are more dynamic and they “look” or sometimes just “sound” better.

Most of those I know who claim you can train forever regardless of age or injury are either younger and don’t really know, or they’re older and not actually running up and down the mat doing drills, or being tossed on the floor, or doing 40 minutes of kata. They are the senior instructors, those who are passing the baton.

As a 54-year-old Nidan, I don’t see myself ever becoming an instructor. And my body protests more often than I’d like. So where do I fit in? Or maybe the question is do I fit in? If I don’t want to teach and my body can’t keep up with the younger students, is there a place for me?

Test Anxiety

I have test anxiety. I never had test anxiety in school, and never when we had a small karate club and tested within that group. But now I have major test anxiety when it comes to black belt tests. Ugh.

The biggest contributors to my test anxiety are not wanting to embarrass my instructor and not wanting to look like an idiot. If I’m uncomfortable with my knowledge or my fitness, I am really hesitant to test.

I never want anyone to look at me and wonder how on earth someone thought I was ready to test. I feel a responsibility to represent my Sensei with a good showing. I want to show that I’ve earned my rank.

I know perfection isn’t expected at a test. It’d be nice, of course, but in reality we all have bad days. In fact, last year I forgot a few moves in my kata during my test, yet I still passed…with laughs. I was one of the last black belts in the room to know I missed something! Probably a good thing I didn’t know or I would have been flustered, right?

I know if I’m injured or have “dings” that keep me from doing my best, but the watchers don’t know it. As students we know perfection is not required, but the non karateka attending the test may not. I hate the thought of looking bad or feeling stupid in front of a bunch of people I don’t know. Looking dumb in front of people who know me well? Not a problem!  🙂

The bottom line is that it’s on me to be at my best when test time rolls around. To train hard, pay attention in class, work on my fitness, and study, study, study for that test!

Even though I wouldn’t test for 3rd degree for a minimum of 2 years, I need to work hard now. Not 4 months before the test, not after I receive a test notice, and not 3 weeks from today, but now, starting with today’s workout and tomorrow’s classes. I’ve “rested” for the last year, but rest period is over.

So here I go!

Better fitness? I’m trying to workout every day and I’m really enjoying it!

Smart eating? Working on it but always a struggle for a sugar freak.

Getting to class consistently? Tough due to my work schedule, but I’ll make a renewed effort at it.

Working on my material at home in between classes? I started today!

It’s my job to learn my material. Repetition, repetition, repetition will be my friend. “Again” will become my favorite word. Excuses are just a waste of time and not to be tolerated.

Two years and counting to my next test. It’s time to get to work!

Mirrors, Mirrors on the Wall…

Mirrors, Mirrors on the Wall

How the heck do I use you??

 

The hombu has some really nice mirrors. They’re great for making sure my obi is tied evenly and my “Suck it up Cupcake” headband is on straight. They’re even great for checking to see how red my face is during a workout.

But as a workout tool, I’m having mixed results.

For 6+ years I learned without mirrors, except for my visits to the hombu. Dodgeball courts don’t normally have mirrors. We mostly learned things by feel – stances, blocks, strikes were corrected and we learned what feels right, as opposed to what looks right.

Occasionally I could use a window with a darkened hallway behind it as a mirror. But for the most part, we learned kata by following behind Kyoshi while he was leading, and then he would have to turn around and show us any intricate moves he was doing that we couldn’t see.

I wished we had mirrors in the dodgeball court. I thought it would be easier to learn moves with them, and for some things, I still believe that. I like ghosting an opponent, using my reflection in the mirror to see where my punches and blocks might land. I like checking my stances in the mirror, seeing if my feet and hips are in the correct position. And I like being able to see what my training partner is doing when one of us is learning self-defense techniques.

Mirrors can also be useful when learning kata. I can see what Kyoshi or another student is doing even if they aren’t in front of me. But recently I was learning Chinto and trying to follow Kyoshi using both Real Kyoshi and Mirror Kyoshi, and the mirrors were really distracting! I wasn’t sure which Kyoshi I should watch. My mistake was in going back and forth between the two. I was so confused I waffled between frustration and laughter.

Me: “I always thought it would be great to have mirrors. But now that I have them, I don’t know how to use them!”

Kyoshi: “They’re messing you up, aren’t they?”

They were! I didn’t know where to look. It was funny and not funny at the same time.

But wait! I may have figured it out! If I’m a total rookie on a new kata, trying to match my movements to the figure in the mirror throws me off. I need to go back to the way I learned for 6+ years and follow Real Kyoshi. But if I know the kata a little bit, I can follow Mirror Kyoshi because the mirrors are just a prompt to the movements.

Familiar Kata = Mirror

New Kata = No Mirror

 I’ll give that a try.  Do you use mirrors? Do you find them helpful or distracting?

Freedom to Learn

I had a good class last night! Not because I was buzzing from an energy drink and a chocolate-frosted brownie, even though I was. (Ugh. What was I thinking??)

I had a good class because in a flash of brilliance, I realized I don’t test for at least 3 years!!! I admit I’m relieved at not dealing with my freaky test anxiety for awhile, but that’s not what I’m excited about. I’m excited because now I can just enjoy learning!

There’s a freedom in being in a post-test phase. I can focus on the lesson without worrying that I need to work on my test material. Or being afraid that my brain might lose something important if I try to stuff something new in there. Or wishing Kyoshi would only teach test material until the test was over.

I know I shouldn’t think this way even pre-test, but I can’t help it. It’s how I’m built. If I have to perform at a test, and it is a performance, I want to focus all my energy on getting ready for that test. The closer we get to the test date, the less I want to stray from test material.

But now, instead of thinking “How does this help me at the test?” I can embrace new ideas. I can play with them, think about them, see what works or doesn’t work for me.

It’s very freeing to realize I can just learn without worrying about performing! I can spend these next few years gaining a better understanding of the things I’ve been learning the past 6 years.

It’s freeing. It’s luxurious. It’s exhilarating! And I’m really excited about this time ahead of me!