Sunday, January 15, 2017

Healthy and Scared

When I was younger, I used to get a lot of stomach issues; heartburn, pains, bloating. I also had pretty bad health anxiety. These two things are not a good combination. Over the course of a couple of years I took every kind of antacid known to man, messed around with my diet and sat in multiple doctor's offices convinced that it was only a matter of time before they diagnosed a severe bleeding ulcer.

There was nothing really wrong with me.

About three summers ago I had a sinus infection. After a few days of antibiotics, I decided to sleep propped up on a stack of pillows in order to alleviate some of the sinus pressure and woke up with terrible neck and shoulder pain. This led to weeks of heating pads and ice packs and massages, along with a very panicky day where I swore I had meningitis. (I didn't. Health anxiety can be very convincing.) The shoulder/neck problems continued on and off for months, which eventually led to an MRI, which led to a diagnosis of herniated discs, which led to months of physical therapy combined with a horrible and completely unwarranted fear of instant paralysis. (Not physically possible. Again, anxiety is a bitch.) Eventually my shoulder got better.

There was nothing really wrong with me then either.

If you know me well you probably have heard me talk about Dr. Sarno and TMS. You have also heard me talk about my belief in psychosomatic illness and the power that fear and anger can have on our physical health. If not, that will be for another blog post.

But, a person who struggles with anxiety has stomach pains? No shock there. A person who puts a lot of pressure on herself to be perfect has neck tension? No s$%t Sherlock.  A person who gets a cough and sees tuberculosis should not be too surprised that fear and health are all wrapped up together like a burrito. 

Some people dread public speaking. I fear cancer, car crashes, any debilitating illness or injury that will take away this life that I love. That will make me unable to be a good mother, a great karate teacher, a loving wife. I fear anything that will mess with my constant desire to be working on arm bars.

It turns out that all that fear can make you sick. Its a lovely Catch 22.

I am a lot better now. I do not mean that I am physically better, although I am lucky to be very healthy right now. But more importantly, I mean that I am mentally better. I am more in touch with my feelings (and less afraid to connect with them). I can usually tell when a sore muscle is a sore muscle (all that arm barring hurts!) and not a cancerous tumor. I can also tell when a sore muscle really means that I am just furious about Donald Trump. 

I have banned myself from using Web MD to diagnose anything, ever. 

Most importantly, I have re-learned to trust my body. Turns out that it is much more durable than I thought it was. It can still work really, really hard and then it can go home and magically fix itself. (Most of the time, anyway.)

I am 41 years old and I am thinking of competing in Jiu-jitsu this year for the first time. So that should tell you something. (That I am either really confident or a total masochist. You be the judge.) 

Of course I am still terrified of the unexpected. Cancer, car crashes, some asshole tearing out my knee in rolling. Every time someone I know gets sick or hurt I feel a knot in the middle of my belly that no amount of Prilosec can get rid of. But I have learned to not let my fear stop me from doing all of the things that I want to do. 

I do not go the doctor very often anymore. Thankfully, I have been lucky in the past year to have not needed to. But I still have pretty good health insurance, just in case.. Because of what I do every day (i.e. the punching, the kicking, the choking). Since I own my own business,  I purchase this insurance myself. My "job" does not provide it for me. Yes it is overpriced. But thankfully the Affordable Care Act provided my family with some money every month to help with this expense, making this choice more affordable.

Since I am fortunate to be in pretty good shape,  that makes me one of those healthy people who currently "help pay for the sick ones " I am fine with that because I also have the peace of mind to know that if the tables ever turn I will have decent medical care that I can afford. For now.

The Republicans just voted to get rid of all of Obamacare but it seems they do not yet have a plan for what's next. 

Meanwhile, I teach very small children every day, children who come to class with coughs and sneezes and then smother me with hugs. Meanwhile, I train karate or BJJ almost every day. I climb rock walls. I do these things despite the fear that sometimes resurfaces. They are what I love. They make me happy. They make me a better wife and a better mother. They also keep me healthy. For now.

Meanwhile those who are not as fortunate as me have used their ACA insurance to treat cancer. They have used it to treat their children's asthma attacks. They have used it to save their own lives, and the lives of their family members.

No Obamacare was not perfect. But it was a start, and it allowed millions of people to live healthier, happier lives. 

I will try to be hopeful. But it is hard when it seems more and more that the people in charge of taking care of our country are like children, just trying to win a game. A game where none of the stakes effect them. 

Meanwhile, us real people are trying to live a life, one with joy and risk,  passion and hard work, and most importantly, one with less fear. 

Stop fucking with it.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Not-Bob

There was this guy who used to spar with us on Fridays, many, many years ago. Lets call him Bob. Bob was a black belt. He was very fast and super strong and I used to watch him knock the other students around the floor, terrified of when it would be my turn to fight him.

When I finally faced off in front of him, I was pretty pathetic. I basically stood there with my hands up, afraid to throw anything for fear of getting killed. After about 30 seconds of this, Bob gave me a look of utter disgust and said, ''I am not going to hurt you." Apparently the idea that he, a big, male karate black belt, would attempt to kill me, a five foot two, relatively inexperienced lady, was incredibly insulting to him. "Just throw. Move around. It will be fine."

It was fine. Ironically, Bob ultimately ended up being one of my favorite people to spar with. That was later, when I switched from being timid and sloppy to being that tiny aggressive girl who really loved the hard rounds. Bob was great for pushing you, for making you exhausted. He had super fast punches and a spin kick that had knocked many a competitor unconscious. So yeah, it was fun. In a weird, masochistic kind of way.

But as I got older, and more experienced, I became less interested in all that aggression. I wasn't afraid, I just wanted something different out of sparring. I wanted to learn. I wanted to work on strategy.

I wanted to be able to walk the next day.

I thought of Bob again when I started taking jiu-jitsu. There was this new white belt guy, we'll call him not-Bob. Not-Bob was typical for a new white belt. He rolled fast and hard and spazzy. His limbs often seemed to have minds of their own, flailing out in awkward ways. There were head butts, elbows to the nose, a way too fast transition that crushed your windpipe. He, like many newbie's who have not be taught otherwise, assumed that there was only one way to grapple: hard. Not-Bob seemed to forget that his partners were actually human beings, ones who were there to also work on jiu-jitsu. He had no idea how to roll light and he had no idea how to roll with a tiny woman like myself.

I had been wrong in my assessment of Bob back on those scary Friday nights. But I was not wrong about this white belt dude. When I stepped on the mat in front of him I was absolutely, one hundred percent without a doubt going to get hurt. The question was just how badly.

I have been doing karate for 28 years. I have only been doing jiu-jitsu for a little over 6. But yes I am often the smallest person on the mats/ sparring floor (other than the children) and I am often one of only a few women. And while most of the men I train with now are wonderful, there certainly have been a few bad eggs over the years. There was "stand there with his hands down and his chest wide open and tell women to just hit him" dude. There was "whisper something inappropriate and suggestive in your ear whenever he gets close to you" guy. There was "my ego truly cannot handle being tapped out by a woman so I am going to give you unnecessary advice for how to complete the submission instead" guy. And then there was of course, not-Bob, the guy who doesn't care that you are smaller, or a woman, or more experienced, because he isn't really paying attention to you anyway. He is too busy trying to rip your arm off as fast and as aggressively as possible.

Sometimes new women can be super aggro too, but it is mostly the dudes. I guess I can't really blame them too much though. Maybe they just never learned any differently. Maybe they had a bad teacher, or at least one who decided that controlling the pace of the room was not necessary. (AKA, a bad teacher.) Maybe they just needed someone to tell them how to do this with women. Someone like me.

So lately I have tried to become somewhat of a "white belt whisperer." I am the gal who teaches all the newbies how to relax. Ok now, breathe, move, keep moving, you are supposed to flow, you know, like water, breathe, slow down, no really, slow down, see how slow I am going, its like molasses, good, now breathe, I said breathe, great, really great, now get off my face. 

Most of the time it works.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, all of the teachers I am fortunate enough to train with now are perfectly willing and capable of keeping their room under control.

Also, in case you were wondering, my roll with not-Bob hurt my rib cartilage. I was out of training for a couple of weeks and after that I made sure to be nowhere near him when partners were being chosen.

That was at least two years ago. I am sure he knows better by now...


Monday, January 2, 2017

The Story of Justin

In November of 2004, about a week after the unexpected death of our karate instructor, my husband (boyfriend at the time) and I held a meeting of parents at the old dojo. We sat with a small group of shell-shocked moms and dads to discuss the future of the kids classes, while their children had slippery sock races across the smooth wooden floor. We couldn't really stay in that space for long, we told them. The landlord wanted us out. We'd basically be squatting there until they locked the door or we found a new place.  But yes, we suppose we can have classes again if you want us to. I mean if you don't mind your kids taking karate with us instead of their real teacher who is dead now. Taking classes in the room where their teacher passed away. You know, if that isn't weird. (Don't worry, we didn't actually say all that. Not out loud anyway.)

Yes, they said. Please have class. Can we have it tomorrow?

Then two tween-aged junior black belt girls offered us the money in their piggy banks to help pay the rent.
Seriously, that happened.

I had a full time job at the time, as an after school coordinator, but I got my boss' permission to leave work early so I could teach a 6:00pm kids class. It wasn't my first time teaching karate to kids; I had been assisting my teacher for awhile and had also taught at a kids gym out in Brooklyn. But this felt different, bigger. Of course I had no illusions of taking my teacher's place in their hearts and minds, I just wanted the kids to have fun.

But before I could do that, there was Justin to deal with. It was 4:30. Justin was in my office because of a fight on the basketball court. Apparently his buddy had pushed him trying to get the ball. So he pushed back, and then in the way of 9 year old boys, the pushing turned into more pushing which turned into harder pushing and then mediocre wrestling and then their counselor pulled them apart. The other boy stopped and walked away. But Justin, still furious, tried to get back at the kid, punching and flailing and yelling until the after school counselor had no choice but to bring him to me.

I should tell you that Justin was often furious. That he sat on the chair in my office, fists clenched, face scrunched up and called his friend names that no 9 year old should say. That he tried to run out the door twice. That eventually he burst into tears and I hugged him and told him that it was going to be ok.

That was a long time ago. I don't remember any of the other details of Justin's life. I don't remember what his dad said when he came to pick up his exhausted son that afternoon. I don't remember if he had a diagnosis of some kind, or was on medication, or was simply a very frustrated 9 year old boy who really hated to lose. But I do remember feeling grateful, that an hour and a half before leading my first karate class to the students of the now dead Shihan William Oliver, I got to hold Justin's angry trembling body and tell him it was going to be ok.

The class that night was fine. Whenever I was unsure what to tell the kids, I just made them kiai really really loudly. Yelling always works. I am pretty sure they had fun. Its possible they even learned some karate.

My husband will tell you that the minute before we lined up that kids class was one of the top five scariest of his life. And he has climbed up cliff faces and sparred with champions.

We squatted in that location until early January, when two things happened on the same day: we found a room in a yoga studio down the street to rent and the landlord stuck an eviction notice up on the door.

Three years later we moved to our current dojo on 106th and Columbus.

2018 will mark the end of our ten year lease on this current space. We are hopeful that we will be able to sign a new one.

Its funny how time passes. Of course, none of the kids in that first class train with us anymore. A couple of their parents are my Facebook friends. One of the junior black belt girls who offered us her allowance has a younger brother who comes to sparring sometimes. His name is Kei and is a killer.

Hundreds of kids have come in and out of my life since then. So many different personalities, I could probably write a blog post about each and every one of them. I am thankful for all of them, even the ones who take extra work.

I sometimes wonder what happened to Justin. In truth, he was just one angry kid in a sea of frustration, memorable more for what else what going on in my life at the time then for anything he actually did. He was neither the first, nor the last angry 9 year old boy in my office. But I remember him because he is symbolic of that day, that first class, the beginning of this wonderful life that I have now.

So here's to another year of little ones; of messy hair, sticky fingers and slippery socks. We are going to work our butts off in 2017!

Don't worry, if you aren't sure what to do just kiai really, really loud. It works every time.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017

I am one of the lucky ones. While politically and internationally, 2016 was somewhat of a shit show, inside my own small circle it was a great year. I learned how to climb up cliff faces and how to be a little less afraid of the woods. I got my purple belt in jiu-jitsu. I taught another wonderful session of Kindergarten karate at PS84 in Brooklyn, along with all of my normal classes at the dojo. I finally got my drivers license, and leased a new car.

On top of these cool accomplishments, I trained a lot. I learned a lot. I hugged my daughter a lot. I spent 365 days basically living my life and I am fortunate that that life is pretty damn good.

Also, there was coffee. Lots of delicious coffee.

But I know that I am one of the lucky ones. Close friends of mine suffered greatly this year. There was illness and injury, personal and financial stresses. There were unmet goals and disappointing outcomes.

Lots of celebrities died this year.
And then of course, there was Trump.

I am going to be honest with you here. It doesn't really bother me all that much when celebrities die. I mean I feel terrible for their families of course. But personally, nothing. I didn't know George Michael. Or Carrie Fisher. I am thankful to have been able to enjoy Star Wars and to sing along to "I Want Your Sex" in the shower, but I didn't KNOW these people. It is hard to get too worked up about the death of someone I have never even had a conversation with.

As for Donald Trump, I will admit to having moments in between BJJ classes and bike rides, where I am concerned for our country.  Deeply concerned. But then I have a 3 year old to teach. And a heel hook to defend. And my kid needs dinner.

I guess my point is that I don't spend too much time obsessing over these big world things that I have very little control over. Does that make me selfish?  Insensitive? Maybe. Privileged? Certainly. But what is the alternative? I have my own life to live. Am I wrong for putting most of my energy into making it the best it can be? I am not trying to be happy at the expense of anyone else. I am not trying to step on anyone on my way upwards. I am just limiting my reach to those people that I can actually touch with my fingertips.

It is January 1st, 2017. A new year.

This year, if I get on your back you will be in trouble. I will attach myself to you like a barnacle. I will be the most annoying backpack ever.

Also watch your ankles people. I'm coming for them too.

And little ones, you are going to do SO many pushups this year. It will be awesome! Also you are going to have some pretty fantastic roundhouse kicks. And some fierce punches.  But your confidence, that is what is really going to blow them away. How amazingly awesome you are. How you can do anything. Even the stuff that scares you. Especially the stuff that scares you. You will become Superman this year. All of you. Even the whiny ones.

My little bunny is going to become a junior black belt this year.
So I plan on doing a lot of crying some time in mid-March. Get the tissues ready.

Our dojo has BJJ white belts who roll with technique and compassion. Do you have any idea how rare that is? Matthew did that. So yeah, more of that in 2017.

Also, you have no idea how much BJJ tape my husband watches. Seriously, no idea. He is going to become the most brilliant mind in jiu-jitsu this year. But that's for his blog post.

I do plan on hugging him a lot.
Gross, I know.

More walls and cliff faces.
More trees and rivers.

Coffee.

The smell of Maya's hair. While she still lets me in there.

More coffee.

That bar on 106th and Amsterdam, on Fridays after sparring. With my Kenshikai family. Ya'll know who you are.

No drama, just training.

Just in case you missed that.
No drama, just training.

My mom, my dad, my brother. Spaghetti.
Lots of cheese.
My brother really likes cheese.

Also I'm gonna write more. Feel free to block me or something.

Did I mention the coffee?

Happy New Year Everyone!
Make it a great one!




Friday, November 11, 2016

Tired

Like many of you, I have spent the past 3 days reading articles, blogs and Facebook posts. I have read, and shared, so many. Us writers, we often process things with our words so I know I have to put something here. Yet every time I sit down in front of my computer I just stare at the screen. Then I type something, erase it, type something else, erase it. 

I am just so very tired.

Like most of you, I was up until 4am Tuesday night. But that is not the problem. Last night I got a solid 9 hours of sleep, woke up this morning, had a full cup of strong coffee, and yet I still feel exhausted. 

I don't really know what to say.

To those of you who voted for Trump, I get it. I don't think you are all racists and misogynists. Really I don't. I get that he spoke to many of you, promised you things that Hillary did not. I get that many of you just want change. But still, I am worried. I want to believe that things will be ok. And the truth is, for me and my family they probably will be. I live in NYC. I am white. I am straight. I have many years of martial arts training. (Go ahead just try to grab my pussy!) But I am worried for my friends who aren't these things. I am worried that Trump's victory will empower those who want to hurt them. I am worried about our safety and about our planet's safety. I get that I am lucky to get to worry about these things. But here we are.

I want to do something. I do. But protesting in the streets does not feel right. Signing a petition to urge the Electoral College to vote for Hillary on December 19th doesn't feel right. Moving to Canada does not feel right. Its really cold there.

I am just so tired.

I want to believe that Trump really won't do all the terrible things that he says he will. That if he tries, the system of checks and balances that we have in place will stop him. That he will actually create more jobs and make us safer. It is hard to believe these things but I want to.

I can't read any more articles or Facebook posts. I am not going to sign your petition, or show up for your protests. I am sorry if that offends you. You can call me whatever names you need to, it is ok. I get it. 

Here is what I am going to do. I am going to keep training. I am going to keep mom-ing. I am going to keep teaching karate to children, all children, anyone who wants to sign up is in. That is where my powers lie. To help kids feel powerful, valuable, capable. I am going to unlock the doors to the dojo every day and be thankful that I can. That hopefully we have created a place that helps.  A place where people feel safe. Where they feel empowered. Where they can grow. 

A place where love trumps hate. And hard work and sweat trumps everything.

Its Friday night. I will be in sparring class.
You are all welcome there. 

I am going to feel the weight of my bare feet on the floor, the rush of the wind in my hair, the joy of my heart racing, the sweat on my neck. I am going to breathe deep, be in the world and be thankful. You can call me whatever names you need to, it is ok. I get it. I understand that I am privileged to be able to do this. 

I am sorry if it isn't enough. 
It is all I have right now. 
I can't be angry anymore. 
I am just too tired.

I love you. 
Come to class tonight, ok? I will be there.


Monday, November 7, 2016

An Open Letter to All of Humanity

It is 9am and I am sitting in my classroom at PS84 in Brooklyn waiting for my first kindergarten karate class to show up. It is my first class of 4. They are good kids and I am a very good karate teacher, yet I am always a bit nervous right before my day starts. I want it to be a good day. I want the kids to learn a lot. I want them to have fun. I only get this particular group of kids for 10 weeks so I feel extra pressure to make every class the best it can be. To be perfect.

Today, the Monday before Election Day, seems extra tense. The florescent lights hurt my eyes and I feel as if at any moment a full blown migraine is going to explode across my field of vision. At one point my daughter pokes her head in on the way to the bathroom and her little face makes me feel slightly teary. 

Am I the only one who feels this way today? Like the top layer of my skin has gone missing? Like all of us are just hanging on by a tiny thread, and at any moment it could just blow away?

Its not my kindergartners, who are still so innocent and full of hope, who come to class every week just wanting to jump up and down and say "kiai!!" really, really loud. Its not my daughter, who is still young enough to be proud and happy that her mom works at her school one day a week. 

In the event of full disclosure, I am voting for Hilary Clinton tomorrow. I don't really like her much, but I think she is by far the better candidate for our country and I think Donald Trump is a racist misogynist who has no idea what he is doing. 

But it is not fear of a Trump presidency that has me so stressed out. It is that never before has the distance between me and my fellow human beings seemed so far, the thread that unites us so fragile. 

What if we forget? What if we are so angry, so scared, so lost in the horrific reality show that has been this election, that we forget who we really are?

We may not vote the same but my kid and your kid both get sick. And you and me, we both lie awake in the wee hours of the morning putting cold towels on tiny, feverish foreheads. We both drink extra coffee when we need it and keep a bottle of wine handy just in case. We both have waited for biopsy results. We both knew someone who was not as lucky as we were. We both have panic attacks. We both cry in the shower where no one else can hear. We both feel joy beside the ocean. We both love the sound of the rain on our car window. We both sing along to Justin Timberlake and dance around our living room in our PJ's. We are both trying every day to be better than we were yesterday. A better mom, a better wife, a better boss, a better employee. Better.

The truth is, I could go on for hours about how alike you and I are, despite all that separates us. No matter the outcome of the election tomorrow, we cannot forget that deep down, beyond the anger and the fear and the masks that we all wear, we are all one. 

So if your candidate wins, cheer and then move forward.  Please don't brag, don't gloat. Just move on.

And if your candidate loses, cry and then move forward. Please do not resort to violence, to intimidation, to bullying. Please do not refuse to accept the election results and make this horrible experience go on longer than necessary. 

We have to move forward, together. We can disagree but we cannot disintegrate.  

Please, above all, do not forget that we belong to each other. 

And our children are watching.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

To the Man Who Tried to Hurt Me

“You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.” 
― Mary OliverWild Geese

Today is Wednesday. Over the past few days, numerous people have asked me if I am ok. This question, simple as it may be, has made me pause and think. If by ok, you mean am I able to go about my life like normal, to teach my classes, to train, to be a mom, then yes, I am absolutely one hundred percent ok. Sunday's situation has not changed my actual life one bit. But if by ok you mean am I still angry, still sad, still disappointed, then the answer is no, I am not ok at all.

Many of these well wishers have been men, and when they ask if I am ok, they all have the same look on their face. I didn't really understand that look at first, but now that I have had a few days inside my own head, I get it.  I realize why, despite the very perfect resolution that my husband provided for me on Sunday, I am still positively furious. Despite witnessing a whole team of black belts literally have my back, I am still furious. And hurt. And confused. 

I stood up to a bully last Friday. I spoke up for someone who was being mistreated, someone who is a bit weaker, someone who was not in a position to speak for themselves. I did so in a private conversation between myself and one other person. No one else heard it.  But because I did this, I was verbally and publicly attacked. I was threatened and shamed in front of my family, my friends, and a room full of black belts who have known me for years. I was shamed in my own dojo, in my own house.  By a man in a position of power. 

What a cliche.

While all this was going on, out of respect for the people who were taking promotion, I held my tongue. My husband did not. He pronounced the promotion over, called forward his army of black belts and together we stood, us against the world, until everyone else had left the building. Because no one messes with our family.

I am deeply grateful for the people in our little Upper West Side dojo. I am so thankful for my husband who immediately stood up to defend me and our team, who is a leader in every sense of the word. You don't always get an opportunity in life to really see how many people love you, to see who is willing to stand by your side when a choice has to be made. It was beautiful.

Yet still, I am angry. 

Immediately after the promotion ended, two women who are very close to my heart came over to me. One of them said, "I can't believe you didn't cry. I would have been in tears." The other one gave me a hug and said, "I am so sorry this happened to you."

I do not regret what I said to this man in defense of our student. I also do not regret holding my tongue while he retaliated in a very aggressive, very public way. It was the right thing to do at the time.

But martial arts masters get confused sometimes. You forget that the respect people give you is earned. You forget that we bow to you because of your years of experience, because of your talent, because of your generosity. You forget that we bow to you because we choose to. You forget that your belt, no matter how many stripes are on it, is not a get out of jail free card. You don't get to bully people just because you can. Because of your name or your rank. Because you are physically stronger. Because you are a man. You do not get to make me feel small in my own house. 

So for every woman in that room on Sunday morning, and for every woman anywhere who has ever been belittled and bullied by a man, this is for you. On Friday I stood up for someone who was being treated unfairly.  I would stand up for him again, just like I would stand up for any one of you.  I do not care if I am lectured for twenty minutes or 4 hours and I do not care how many people attempt to embarrass me for it.  I am a fighter. I am a teacher. I am a wife and a mother and a successful business owner. I strive each and every day to contribute to the good in the world. Those students fighting for their black belt on Sunday contribute to the good in the world. The other karate teachers in the room that day contribute to the good in the world, as do every single one of their students.

To the man who tried to hurt me, I do not know what personal struggles you are dealing with in your life right now. I do not know what pain has led you to such a dark place, but I hope it is short lived. I hope you find peace from your bitterness and anger. I hope you find joy again. I really, truly do. The man I used to know was warm, and passionate and full of life. I hope to see him again some day.

But I know who I am. I know who my family is. I know who my team is.  Nothing you say can touch that. You can't break it, and you can't take it away. I am a strong woman with an even stronger team behind me.

You are either with us or against us.