Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Fun

See that bear over there? Look how much fun he is having rolling in the grass! Have you ever seen bear cubs wrestle? They look just like 5 year olds at the playground, tumbling all over each other, not a care in the world. I am not saying that the cute bear over there wouldn't eat my foot if he got the chance. But look at him! He is like a newborn baby sucking his thumb, only furry! With claws.

This time, two years ago, two fantastic karatekas named Russell and Desi, were testing for their 5th degree black belts. One year ago, Matthew and I were doing the same. And since it is mid-March again, today we begin another black belt promotion. 

There are no higher ranking candidates this time, just a few shodans and nidans from the Brooklyn dojo, and two advanced brown belts, one from the Brooklyn school and one from ours.

There is no shortage of martial arts media on the Internet. If you are so inclined, you can browse through hundreds of Facebook memes that quote the old masters. You can read technical articles on how to kick harder. You can watch inspirational videos full of powerful knockouts. Everyone who trains brags about the hard of it all, the challenges, the wars, the blood, sweat and tears. Each one of us has a sparring tale. (Or two. Or ten.) We are all, myself included, supremely proud of the horror stories, the times we almost gave up but didn't. It is what made us who we are today.

There is no better place to showcase all this struggle than at black belt promotion. Challenging combinations. Tons of pushups. Performing beautiful kata that flows like a river. Giving a speech in front of a roomful of black belts. Over two hours of sparring. It is hard, and it is supposed to be. The hard makes that moment you get your belt tied on all that much sweeter.

But it is also supposed to be fun. Kyoshi Desi, one of the men who received his Kyoshi rank two years ago, is fast and strong and extremely focused. He is also always smiling. Kyoshi Russell, the other candidate, is a very talented student and teacher who will learn from and train with almost anyone. He just loves training, period. 

Our advanced brown belt student is named Adri. He is young and athletic and strong. He knows his Kenshikai material like the back of his fist. (Uraken!) His kata is beautiful and when he spars it is like watching a very cunning spider spin a web. But what is equally important, in my opinion anyway, is that he truly LOVES karate. He loves to train, he loves to teach, he loves the dojo with a passion not that different from what a mother feels for her child.  Every time he steps onto the floor, you can tell he is having the time of his life.  

Good luck to all the promotion candidates this week. Work hard. Don't give up. You got this! 

But most of all, have fun. Enjoy it! It is not just supposed to be a war, it is supposed to be a game too.





Friday, February 27, 2015

An Open Letter to My Body

Dear Body,
Let me start this off by saying that I love you. I mean sure, I wouldn't mind being a C cup, or perhaps a few inches taller, but that does not take away from my appreciation for all that you have done for me. You helped me grow and then push out a beautiful baby girl. You were strong enough to get me through multiple sparring classes and karate promotions and training sessions. You are durable and powerful and you look fairly decent in a tank top. And although no one would ever mistake you for a supermodel, you are pulling off this athletic but cute look quite successfully. So for that, I thank you.

We've been through a lot together you and I. Remember that high ranking black belt who used to regularly attend Friday night fight classes? You know the one who would get into his little fight zone where he would just keep punching you, not noticing how small and completely FEMALE you were , or how you were struggling, or that the bell had rung five minutes ago. In truth, he may have been a bit crazy, that guy.


I am sorry for him.

And body, while we are being honest with each other, I am sorry for Wednesday too. I am sorry that I let you roll with that guy.  I know he was only a blue belt, and an average one at that. He was not that much bigger than you. And he was a very friendly, helpful guy. But I still knew, without a doubt in my mind, that if I rolled with him I was going to hurt myself.
You. Us, I was going to hurt us. 

I did it anyway. I felt bad leaving him without a partner to roll with. And I wanted to train more. And to be honest, there was a little part of me that was actually looking forward to a round where I knew I had to protect you. Where no one else was going to do it for me. Isn't that what all this training is about?

It is an interesting feeling going into a BJJ round certain that you are going to get injured. I managed to keep us from being randomly elbowed in the nose, having an arm hyper-extended on an overly aggressive arm bar, and I tapped instantly to a gi choke that was clearly destined to cut our windpipe in half. The whole time I am pretty sure this nice dude thought he was going light. Who knows, maybe he was, for him? In any case, at one point he tried to get the mount, I twisted hard to my side to avoid it and felt a little pop. Then that little pop turned into a dull ache and then a sharp pain that made further twisting impossible. So I stopped rolling, explained that I was nursing an injury, and thanked him for the training session. Then I took a taxi home and you and I curled up with an ice pack.

I am not mad at that dude. It wasn't his fault. The truth is, friend, I am beginning to wonder if we are not cut out for this BJJ thing. If perhaps you are just too damn small. (Sorry, I know that's harsh.) I mean I have been trying to do it right, to use technique and brains and skill. And sometimes I really feel like we are making progress. But at least once a week someone who I know I am better than just totally smashes on top of you. Some days we are just stuck on the bottom and these dudes (and sometimes even the ladies) are so damn heavy and spazzy and speedy and my brain is not good enough yet to counter their strength or their size or their 22 year old athleticism. In truth, sometimes they are terrible at jiu-jitsu, they are all elbows and knees and heavy breathing, yet I still end up stuck on the bottom.

I am sorry about your neck last year. About the MRI and the physical therapy and the constant whining. And I am sorry about your rib on Wednesday. I am sorry I didn't listen to my instincts and sit out of that round, even though he was just another nice guy who never learned how to go slow.  I am sorry I couldn't protect you better. I am sorry about this whole BJJ thing. Especially since I plan to keep doing this torture to you. Indefinitely. 

I know I should have picked Yoga. Or curling. No one ever injures themselves in curling.

So I guess what I am really sorry for is being stubborn as all hell, for knowing that you and I are not so good at this jiu-jitsu thing but insisting on continuing with it anyway. I know that you are not getting any bigger. But maybe someday, the brain part of me will get smart enough where it will no longer matter.

Not today. Or tomorrow.
But someday. 

So here is an ice pack and some more Advil. 
Just bear with me, ok?
With love,
Jenn

Sunday, February 22, 2015

I Deserve

It is that time of year again. No, not the weary end of winter exhaustion, although I will admit to groaning out loud while brushing snow off the car window again last night. But that whining is for another post. March is coming. Time to once again write about promotion.

Whenever this subject comes up, there are people who get a little uncomfortable. This is because in many traditional dojos, belt advancement is not something you talk about. You are supposed to just keep showing up to class and when your instructor thinks you are ready for a new belt, he or she will invite you to attend the next promotion. Asking him about it is unheard of and unacceptable. 

Of course, there are a million different styles of martial arts and a million different ways to do promotion. I described a few of them in this post awhile back: http://mamommyarchives.blogspot.com/2014/09/new-belts-for-all.html. Some places count classes. Some martial arts, like karate, have a clear syllabus for each rank. Some schools base it completely on performance in competition. 

Having so many different philosophies leads to much debate about whether or not a student "deserves" his or her rank. Lets say my school promotes white belts after 60 classes. What happens if you have taken your 60 classes but I can consistently "beat" you in class? And what if promotion is based on performance but I am smaller than everyone, or older, or have some kind of physical limitation. If I am unlikely to ever tap out any of the giant white belts in class, does that mean I should never get a blue belt? 

This debate goes on and on. What about the black belt who is 70 years old? What about the young super athlete who can out-muscle everyone in the room? What about the student who comes to class 7 days a week for years but just learns things a bit slower than everyone else? What about awarding children adult black belts? What about the one woman in a class full of bigger, stronger men? What about high ranking "sensei" who never teach? And so on and so forth. If martial arts is about fighting, than shouldn't the ones who win all the fights be the highest ranked? And if martial arts is about knowledge, than shouldn't we just give belts to the students who have memorized the most techniques? Don't even get me started on the money issue, those schools where you can sign up for the "black belt club" on day one and so long as your checks don't bounce you are guaranteed to get there in 3 years.

It is nearly impossible to identify a "best practice" when martial arts systems are so varied. What works for a karate dojo may not work for a BJJ school or a judo club. Besides, an argument could be made that wondering whether or not a student "deserves" their rank is missing the point entirely. 

What is a black belt to me? Someone who has committed multiple years to the study of a martial art. Someone who shows a high level of proficiency and knowledge. Someone who gives back, either by teaching classes or simply by encouraging lower belts when they need it, which is often. Someone who cares about the world and the people around them and contributes to the good in it. Do I expect a black belt to win every bar fight? No, I couldn't care less. Rather, I expect them to be a person I would not mind having a drink with. 

Furthermore, assuming you (or I) could accurately assess the worthiness of every student who receives a new belt at promotion time is not only extremely arrogant, it is blatantly disrespectful to the teacher. I train at a BJJ school where belt advancement is usually a surprise and the criteria for promotion is a mystery. I have no idea what goes through my instructor's mind when he decides to give someone a new belt, but I assume it is based on something. I assume there was a thought process in there somewhere. I trust he knows what he is doing and when and if I ever get a purple belt it will be because he thinks I am ready to be a purple belt. Period.

In contrast, I promote one of my little white belts (or many of them) to blue belt every two months. Some of them have simply taken the "right" number of classes, a milestone that we decided on many years ago. Some of them are the "Hermione Grangers" of the dojo who can perform every move perfectly and answer every question on command. Some of them cannot remember a thing, and do not know their right from their left, but at the time of promotion they can stand still for a full five minutes, a feat that when they first joined seemed as impossible as winning the marathon. 

They all really, really love karate. 

So who "deserves" to be promoted? People who train. The students who come to class whenever they can and try their best to learn and improve every time they are there. 

Who does not "deserve" it?
The ones who quit.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Month I Thought I Had Cancer

There is this post that I wanted to write. I had already composed part of it in my mind, and even started writing it last Monday while waiting for the "potentially historic" snowstorm to hit NYC. In my mind (and on this laptop), I was already bragging about my newfound "zen-ness", the fact that I did not care that three feet of snow was about to be dumped upon our city. I was not anxious about the travel ban, or the complete shutdown of the subway, or the fact that I waited in line for half an hour to buy a box of pasta and some hot cocoa. No, I was above all that. I was going to let this storm just roll off my back, so to speak. No refreshing weather.com. No watching Di Blasio insist over and over again that this was going to be snow like we had never seen before. Not me. I was far too enlightened.

But none of that happened.

I do not mean the storm never happened, although that too was true. (It turned out that the so-called "Blizzard of 2015" was just as big a failure as my meditative bliss. We got a foot of snow here. But we got to go sledding, which was awesome!) I mean that some time around Monday afternoon, stuck in the house with not much to do, I went on Facebook. Which led to checking the weather report again. And then, while trying to watch regular Monday night television, there was Di Blasio once again warning us to not, under any circumstances, ever, GO OUTSIDE!!!! 

So yeah, I was a little tense. For nothing. Again.

But all that is besides the point. The reason I had been all excited to live and let live is because of the news I received Monday morning.

Here is the short version. Remember the itchy ears? The ones that prompted a visit to the ENT doc? My ears were fine. But that simple checkup resulted in a sonogram of my thyroid, which when the results finally came back, resulted in the discovery of a few "nodules", which the doctor said were most likely benign but I could do a biopsy on the larger one "just in case". Then the doctor went on a week long vacation. 

Seriously, he did. When he came back I went into his office where he proceeded to stick a long, thin needle into my neck. He sent it to a lab. I went to the dojo to teach kids class.

You know what's fascinating? That the rest of the world just keeps on going. While you are waiting for biopsy results, the rest of the world just keeps on being its normal damn self.   You  ride the subway. Walk the dog. Have sex. Teach karate. It doesn't make sense that all these people are commuting to work. Aren't they all waiting for a phone call too??

To be honest, there was some comfort in that. The doctor may or not call. Tumors will be malignant or benign or entirely inconclusive.  And meanwhile there will still be kids to teach karate to. And lunch to eat. And a daughter to care for. And a husband to love. And it is not so much that I must do these things but that I can. I do not have to just sit there and wait for my phone to ring.

The doctor said he would call on Friday. But he didn't. So I waited at the dojo. Occasionally I would call Matthew to tell him something completely unrelated to cancer, and I would start the conversation with "He didn't call yet. Do you know where the laundry detergent is?" "He didn't call yet. Do you want the other half of my tuna melt."

I wanted to be all "whatever happens, happens." But I wasn't. It was a looooong day. When I was finally done teaching my classes, I called the doctor's office but he had already left for the day. 

I suppose I should pause this dramatic story to tell you that thyroid cancer is both very rare, and very treatable. It is slow to progress, rarely spreads, and can usually be "cured" just by removing part or all of the thyroid. I actually know a couple of people who have no thyroids. You take medicine for the rest of your life. I am not trying to belittle what they went through, I am sure it was still pretty awful. It is still cancer. It is still surgery. There are risks. Sometimes it takes a long time to get the medicine levels right. All I am saying is that if you absolutely have to have cancer, thyroid is one of the better ones to have. 

On Sunday night, while everyone else was planning their snow days, I was thinking. "Oh crap. My ENT doc is 75 years old (literally). There is no way he is going to come to work if we get 30 inches of snow. He may stay home all week just to be safe! And I do not have his home number!"

When you are waiting to find out if you have cancer, it helps to keep a sense of humor. Matthew and I had a running series of jokes that involved the most insensitive way the doctor could break the news. They included things like "Good news Jennifer. You do not need to take any more tests. You have CANCER!" and "Raise your hand if you do not have cancer....not so fast, Jennifer."

You get the point.

I called his office around 9:30 Monday morning. Our conversation went like this. 
Him: "Good news. Your nodule thing is a benign gobbledygook-medical term-something goiter." Me: "Um can you just say NOT CANCER?" 

The doctor recommended I have my "not cancer" checked periodically to make sure it is not growing, impacting my thyroid levels, or being otherwise annoying. Sometimes these things go away, sometimes they stay the same, and sometimes they poke at you in uncomfortable ways and have to eventually be removed. 

Whatever, I am off to jiu-jitsu. Life affirming jiu-jitsu, where someone can grab me, toss me around and wrap my gi around my...thyroid. Hmm.... 

Fuckit, its not cancerous! Choke away!

Last month, somewhere between the sonogram and the biopsy, I took my daughter to Madison Square Garden to see the Fresh Beat Band in concert. Most of the adults looked as if they were barely holding on to their sanity, but every few rows there was a mom bobbing her head as if she were reliving her NKOTB youth. And three rows in front of us was superdad. Superdad had two young daughters and he was dancing with them as if he were tying to win a million dollars. And smiling. And laughing. And clearly having the time of his life.

I loved that concert. I danced with my little girl and sang along to Marina and Kiki and Twist and Shout (not only do I know their names but I know ALL the lyrics) and at one point even got a little choked up. (To be fair the song was "This little light of mine". Who can stay dry eyed listening to children singing about letting their light shine??) Maya is seven. There are only so many more years where she will actually want to go to a concert with her mother. And while looking around the theater at all those families I realized that I was really, really happy to be a mommy.

I know all the cliches. Life is short. You never know when your time will be up. You never know what surprise is going to come around the corner. So we gotta enjoy the moments. Not sweat the small things. Let go of those things we cannot control.

For one hour on that Saturday evening, I managed to do just that. 
And then the "blizzard" came.

Don't get me wrong, I am incredibly, thoroughly, one hundred percent thankful to not have cancer. I could not be happier. Other people are not so lucky. But I guess I expected to wake up transformed. To no longer care if the subway stops between stations or the car gets stuck in traffic. To not care if we get 6 inches of snow or two feet. To be happy in my warm apartment, on my cozy couch with my wonderful family and to never ever worry about stupid minor things again.

Hence my smug "I don't care about you Di Blasio" blog post. The one that never happened because it turned out that actually I was a little worried about the travel ban. Because it turned out that even with completely benign test results I was still just me.

I am sure there are plenty of people who have moments in life that truly and magically change how they see the world. The rest of us, we actually have to work at it. 

So what did I learn from the month I thought I had cancer? That being in the moment requires actually being in the moment. That if you want to stop obsessively Googling medical facts you have to actually put your phone away. That yes it is true that life will throw you curveballs, things that you cannot prepare for and cannot control. And yes, you will get through them. But if you want to actually enjoy the time when things are good you have to make a conscious choice to do so. It takes work. 

Or at least it does for me. I have to treat mindfulness the same way I treat rear naked chokes. I have to train at it. 

But that's ok. I am good at training.

By the way, we are expecting more snow here in NYC. I do not know how much. I didn't check the weather reports.

Ok, I lied. I checked. Once. I checked once. But only so I could know what to wear to jiu-jitsu tomorrow. 


Friday, January 23, 2015

Belly Breathe

On Thursday mornings I volunteer in a first grade classroom at my daughter's school. It is an ICT class, which stands for "Integrated Co Teaching", and basically means the class has two head teachers, plus an aide. The students are a mixed population of special ed kids, or more accurately kids who have an IEP (individual education plan) and have been identified to need some extra help, and general ed kids. Every public school classroom has a variety of learners in it, but this ICT class also includes a boy who cries frequently and most of the time would rather lie underneath his desk than sit at it. It is a tough environment for these teachers and they are all absolutely fantastic.

Yesterday one of them showed the class a short video from Sesame Street, that starred Elmo and a rapper named Common singing about "belly breathing". You may have seen it on my Facebook page but I shared the link at the end of this post just in case.

This is not the first time I have seen the idea of deep breathing and meditation presented to children. When Maya was in kindergarten a woman would come to their classroom periodically to teach the kids things like closing their eyes and counting to ten when they were mad and taking deep breaths to relax. She was from a program called Mind Up but Maya referred to her as the "calming down lady." 

Just this morning, on Nick Jr., there was a clip between shows where some little boxes were singing about breathing. It seems to be the new thing. Sophia the princess, Jake the pirate, Sponge Bob, that annoying Peppa Pig...and mindfulness.

I think teaching young children how to calm their minds and bodies is a fantastic thing. In fact, I often end my kids karate classes with a minute or two of "meditation", although it is usually explained as a lesson in "being still and doing nothing", rather than a way to combat stress.Still, as someone who occasionally suffers from panic attacks and anxiety, I can certainly get on board the deep breathing train. 

But...

Focusing on your breath can be useful for a whole slew of ailments, from stiff sore muscles and headaches, to stress and depression. This kind of meditation is a skill that I certainly need to work on, as do most adults I know. Life can be really, really stressful. But why do our children need this? What are today's youth so stressed out about anyway?

Young children get easily overwhelmed, and child therapists have long advocated deep breathing as a way to combat sobbing fits, tantrums and normal childhood fears. But why are we teaching this stuff in schools now? Perhaps it is because our kids are being expected to sit still for a completely unreasonable amount of time each day. Maybe it is because kindergarteners are expected to perform like second graders and second graders like middle schoolers. Or that recess is twenty minutes long and in the winter often includes little more than standing behind their chairs and wiggling to a couple of songs before being herded back to their classrooms for more sitting. Maybe it is because gym is once a week at best, and half the year is spent preparing for some kind of test. Or maybe its that our children's food, which is supposed to come from the fields and the earth and a warm oven, instead often comes from a plastic wrapper or a frozen tray or the drive through on the way to swim team practice. Maybe it is parents who watch too much news and read too many Facebook posts. Maybe our kids need belly breathing exercises because Ebola Newtown flu season measles at Disneyworld Nigeria Isis Russia that autistic boy that rape case that missing plane the fire trucks down the street and did I mention how important the grade on your third grade reading test is?????

Sweet Jesus I need me some more Elmo videos!

Or maybe it is because we need to prepare our kids for a life of 9 hour work days in an office doing some mundane mind-sucking task while chatting with the guys, refreshing your fantasy baseball stats and counting the days till your next vacation. But that is a whole other blog post.

Ironically, this week has been a particularly stressful one for me, a week where for the most part I completely failed at all attempts of "breathing and letting go." When you are a grownup, like I pretend to be anyway, sometimes life just throws random, completely unexpected things at you. Since I am a person who likes to plan for everything, it is these unplanned surprises that hit me the hardest. The things that come out of nowhere and take a long time to resolve. A sudden death of a family member. The loss of a job. Waiting for a doctor to call with test results. All of these things that are out of my control scare the living crap out of me.

Kids are more resilient. They are braver than us. They worry less. They can surrender control because they do not yet care if they have it or not. They don't look before they leap and that is exactly what makes childhood so beautiful.

We do need to teach our kids some coping skills for the scary monsters that lurk underneath the bed. For tummy aches and broken bones and bad dreams. There will be stress and some of it will be unexpected, because life is both beautiful and brutal, or as Glennon of Momastery.com would say, brutiful.  But school is not supposed to be one of the stressors in a child's life. School is supposed to be a place of wonder and discovery and friendship and success. If it isn't, than we, as a society are doing it WRONG. Plain and simple.

We are doing it wrong.

So lets teach our kids how to breath deeply because damn it, it feels really good to do so. Because it makes you slow down and be in the world and that is a good thing. And yeah, because at some point they might need it. 

But not today. They don't need it today. 
The sun is out here in NYC. 
Can't we just let them run around?

Want to learn how to "belly breathe"? Let Elmo teach you. He's just as good as that yoga teacher you pay $200 a month for.
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH8TWHv0UkU.



Monday, January 12, 2015

Opening the Mirror

If you were anywhere near my Facebook account this weekend you may have noticed that we did some karate. There are multiple photographic records of this event. If you missed them, because you were doing something more valuable with your time than scrolling through Facebook, here is by far the most interesting of the bunch:



This cool pic was created by a friend of Sensei Jennifer Rennie, a fellow Kenshikai karateka. It shows the magic that is created when 40+ people in gis show up to work out on a Sunday morning. (Apparently some really high level practitioners can hang from the ceiling like bats!)

Ok obviously what this photo really shows is some pretty slick photo editing software. But the actual event, known as "Kagami Biraki", was kind of special.

Wikipedia, the deeply wise source of all useful information, says: "Kagami Biraki (鏡開き) is a Japanese traditional ceremony which literally translates to "Opening the Mirror" (from an abstinence) or, also, "Breaking of the Mochi." It traditionally falls on January 11 (odd numbers are associated with being good luck in Japan) It refers to the opening of a Kagami mochi, or to the opening of a cask of Sake at a party or ceremony." For a great description of how this ceremony plays out in many martial arts dojos, you can read this article: http://fightingarts.com/reading/article.php?id=156, which coincidentally was written many years ago by a very high level Seido Karate practitioner with whom I used to occasionally train.

Actually, it is not really a coincidence. The practice of Kagami Biraki, which most of us just refer to as "New Years Training", occurs in most traditional Japanese dojos here in NYC. I write a lot of blog posts about how all of us, no matter what patch we wear, are doing the same karate. (It is kind of my thing.) But specifically if you practice Oyama, Kyokushin, Seido or Kenshikai you are doing the EXACT same karate, derived from the exact same lineage. And I can guarantee that if your dojo had a Kagami Biraki training yesterday, you and I participated in very similar events. (With the same sore muscles as a result!)

So yeah, we are all one world. And that, in my opinion, is pretty cool.
But that is not really what I wanted to write about today.

I have been training for 26 years, which means I have probably attended at least 20 Kagami Biraki events. Most of them were pretty similar. I wake up early, have some coffee, grumble about the cold, complain about having to put on my gi so early on a Sunday, whine about my stiff sore muscles, and then get ten minutes into training and realize that there is no place I would rather be. 

Ok, that is a bit exaggerated. Sometimes the above happens. Other times I get ten minutes into training and go "Hey this is not so bad. This is almost fun. And in just another 40 minutes I can go eat pancakes!"

Since I am one of the higher ranking people in our style of karate, I am often lined up in the front row, facing the rest of the students. I am sure this is meant to be inspirational in some way. It mostly just means that if I slack off, everyone will see me and wonder why that Kyoshi Jennifer is so lazy. 

This vantage point also means that I can see everyone else, and about halfway through yesterday's workout I noticed that one of our students, a very nice white belt woman who was literally in her first week of classes, was having some trouble figuring out the combinations. So I left my spot in the front and went over to work out next to her, talking her through the moves and encouraging her to keep going. Then, since I was already back there, I moved over to stand between two of our blue belts, and did some kicks with them. And then I lay down between my daughter and one of our top brown belt kids and made them do knuckle pushups with me, yelling at them to not give up. When I next positioned myself between our top advanced brown belt students, one of the Shuseki-Shihans (heads of our organization) walked by and I smiled at him and said "Now they are motivating me."

It was true. Those last two students didn't need my help any more than the black belts did. They are both strong, athletic karateka who never give up. Being next to them gave me energy. 

Eventually I made my way back to the front for the last section (about 100 knee kicks),  the workout ended, and I had some time to reflect. I had not intended on making a statement in any way. Honestly, I just saw one of our students struggling and did not want her first Kagami Biraki to be a negative experience. The rest of it just kind of happened. But in retrospect, I realized that I was very pleased with how it turned out. Instead of in the front row where I normally am, I ended up right in the middle of the pack, punching and kicking right next to our lower belts, doing this Kagami Biraki thing together. And that, I realize, is exactly where I should be. It is who I am in the dojo. It is the kind of "Kyoshi" I want to be.

At the same time this was going on, my husband remained in the front row, pushing himself to go as hard and as fast as he can, motivating others in the room to do so as well. Showing his students that if he could keep going, so could they. When I asked him later if he had planned to do that he said "No, it just made sense at the time." 

It was two very different kinds of leadership, and it suited us perfectly.

In my opinion, being a Kyoshi, particularly in this organization we call Kenshikai, should mean different things to different people. Perhaps you are a teacher, like myself and Matthew and a few of the other 5th degrees in our style. Perhaps you are the highest ranking female in your dojo and consider yourself a role model to all the ladies who join. Perhaps you are the right hand of your instructor, advising him or her, supporting them in every endeavor.  But regardless of what you decide it means, you are more than just another student. Yet sometimes, like during Kagami Biraki, you are also exactly just another student, doing the same knee kicks, punches, and pushups as everyone else.  You are a part of the team.

I am not Japanese. But if were to draw my own meaning from the phrase "opening the mirror", it would be this: When you open a mirror, you see yourself. You see who you are. The practice of Kagami Biraki; the hard training, the sweat on the floor, the never quitting, the family that is created when we all train together; this is who I am.  This year, in 2015, I hope to make that reflection someone I am proud to look upon.

Happy New Year to all of you, no matter where you train.
Be strong. Be kind. Be joyful.
Make yourself proud this year.
Osu.  




Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Less Google, More Arm Bars

I'm going to jump right to the finale. The moral of this little tale is that doctors don't know anything. 

Here is the short version. About three weeks ago I developed an itchy ear problem. I ignored it for awhile but eventually it got too annoying so I walked the two blocks to the lovely urgent care place in my neighborhood. There is never anyone in there so after about ten minutes I was on my way out with some antibiotic drops for an ear infection. Fast forward three days where now not only are my ears itchy but they are now hurting and feel like someone is constantly pouring water into them. Same clinic, different doctor. New prescription, this time for antifungal ear drops. Fast forward one week to where I now have slightly less itchy ears and a very itchy rash on my belly. Same clinic, different doctor. Hmmm, you seem to have an allergic reaction to something. (No shit, lady.) What, well it is hard to tell. You should stop using the drops and go see an ENT doc. Cut to me pouring some vinegar in my ears. (Seriously, I did that. You can blame Google.) Fast forward to a 78 year old ENT guy using a tiny vacuum in my ears and handing me a prescription for yet another ear drop which he says is mostly vinegar anyway. Followed by me sitting in a radiology office having a sonogram on my thyroid "just in case", although the doctor is pretty certain there is nothing to worry about. (Like 90 percent certain. Seriously, that is the number. WebMD told me that and it never lies.) And then I am lying in bed at midnight with an itchy back and suddenly wondering if perhaps the problem is actually the old humidifier that I pulled out of my closet about three weeks ago and is currently pumping moist, moldy steam all around my bedroom. 

Or CANCEBOLAIDS! It could always be cancebolaids!

It is New Years Eve day. Time for resolutions, those silly promises you make to yourself that you are certainly going to break by January 15th. In general, I don't do that. Mostly because I like my life. I am not all that motivated to make a list of everything that I am doing wrong because in fact I am pretty damn awesome! So in 2015 I vow to teach more karate classes, to enroll more students, to practice more katas, to roll with more people, to cuddle with my daughter, hang out with my family, kiss my wonderful husband and to eat and drink exactly the same way I have been all year. Because for the most part, I make good choices. Healthy choices. So yeah, I'm gonna keep doing that.

Ok there are a few things I would like to do differently. I would like to stop obsessively checking Google Maps to make sure there is no traffic that I might get stuck in. I would like to stop wondering if the subway is going to stop between stations and just enjoy the music in my earbuds. I would like to truly believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with me all the way until the exact moment a doctor tells me otherwise, since that exact moment will probably never happen.  I would like to stop using the internet to look up scary things and reserve it for only those searches that are truly useful. Like how to get mold out of a humidifier. Or what Snooki had for lunch yesterday. I would like to stop assuming that the reason Matthew is not answering his phone is that he is lying dead in the middle of the BQE. (It seems perfectly logical at the time.)

So in other words, I would like to let go a little and just live. You know, be all zen and shit. 

Aside from that, I'm all good. Bring it on 2015, I'm ready!

Happy New Year everyone! I hope your year is awesome!