Overwhelmed

It seems that the closer my test date comes the more overwhelmed I become. The things overwhelming me aren’t even karate related. Work. Things are stepping up and moving along which is a great thing. I’m certainly not complaining about having work to do. Just wondering why its all coming right now when I am trying to focus on the upcoming exam. Maybe its just one major distraction that is designed to keep my occupied and not thinking too much. Or maybe its not. Maybe its just another obstacle in my way, a hurdle to jump to prove that I am totally committed to becoming a black belt.

That’s what I think it is. In the home stretch can I stay the course? Can I maintain my focus or will I become distracted by all of the other things going on around me? That’s an important lesson to learn – staying focused and maintaining the course. I was thinking about that the other day. Focus. Having to stay focused no matter what is going on around you. Being aware of your surroundings but having the vision you need to deal with them. Isn’t that really important in self defense? You don’t need to answer, that was a rhetorical question – I know that it is.

My focus has changed so much since I’ve started martial arts. I know that these current distractions will only help to build me into a stronger person and much more able to deal with the things I need to as I become a black belt, an instructor, and a student on the next path of my journey to shodan.

Age is an Attitude – Not a Number

Do you ever have those moments where something just hits you? Perhaps you’ve ‘known’ it all along but you’ve never really thought about it. The kind of thing that just IS until you think about it and then it becomes this earth-shattering moment, where the universe opens up and a choir sings and sunshine streams down…or the light bulb goes on. It’s just enlightening. I guess that’s why we always associate it with light, something to consider in a different conversation I guess because right now this is about my moment of realization.

The aforementioned moment was triggered by a comment from my instructor. He was so nicely pointing out to me that I wasn’t 21 any more. (This moment was much nicer than when he warned me to pick my knee up while I was kicking so I didn’t look like I was kicking like an old lady, which I am NOT.) His point about my age was to make me think about my physical limitations, which we all have, and also because I train in classes with the kids and well, I am over 18…well, you get the gist of it. He also wanted me to train hard so that nobody looks at me and thinks about my age. I’m just an athlete, a black belt candidate who will deserve her belt when she passes her test. And I appreciated his input as well as the new way he presented it. I have to admit though I had some dazzling kicks after that old lady comment!

Oh, and in case you’re worried, my moment of enlightenment was not, “Gosh, you mean I’m not 21 any more?” The reality is that I still feel the same way that I did when I was 18, only smarter and more settled in my own skin, a feeling that I wouldn’t trade for anything, not even becoming 18 again. I really started to think about age in a whole new way. It started to matter less because I don’t feel my age. I feel pretty darn good about myself and love the challenges that martial arts present and especially the challenges that training along side the kids brings. I’ve got to love any day that I’m training and I can get my side thrust kick up higher than anyone else in the class and be comfortable as well. I’m not stretching it up there just to show off and then barely able to hobble off of the mat. I’m really having fun when I do it and love knowing that one day I’ll be some 80-year-old lady (nope, still not an ‘old lady’) out on the mat in the middle of the dojo rocking the side thrust kick, throwing the reverse punch and putting the round house kick right in on the target and having fun. How awesome will that be! Yeah, I’ll probably be smiling and saying, “Yeah, I’m 45”.

Age really is an attitude. My attitude is going to keep me 29 forever. I watch some of the moms in the dojo, sitting on the sidelines while their kids train and I just can’t understand why they don’t want to jump out on the mat and have some fun right along side me. I’m really amused when I see them with their six or seven year old kids and think to myself, “I have kids as old as you,” and I’m still out here. And there’s no place else I’d rather be.

My attitude is taking me on an amazing journey…I can’t wait to begin the next portion. It’s absolutely gonna rock!

It’s a Good Pain

It’s a good pain, that’s what I’m telling myself. The holidays had me less active than usual, so that accounts for some my muscles complaining today. Quite frankly, I’m sore and I hurt. That’s exactly why I’m telling myself its a good pain. Nothing good and important happens without a lot of blood and sweat and exercise. (No tears, I’m not sure a black belt should cry…)

What’s even more encouraging is that I’m sore today which means I should be really sore tomorrow. Bone aching, don’t want to move pain, which also means that’s twice as many reasons that I should be moving. “It’s only lactic acid,” I tell myself. “Move and it will be released which means you won’t be sore any more,” I add as a way of encouraging myself to jump up and down and get moving some more. The good news – that usually works.

I found myself wondering today why I’m working so hard and fixated on obtaining my black belt. Is it so that I can brag that I’m a black belt? I can honestly say no. It’s not about that. If it were about just getting the belt I wouldn’t be training in my dojo. I’d be training somewhere else where I could just put in my time and pay my test fees, progressing through the belts until I reached the top, taking my black belt and bragging rights out the door. Its not about that at all.

This really means something to me. It means that I’ve worked hard and pushed myself to new limits. It means I’ve given up something but gained something much bigger. It means I have an obligation to share what I’ve learned with the next crop of martial arts who come through the door, hopefully teaching them valuable lessons that will impact their lives and help to make them better people and safer all at the same time. It means that I’m not a quitter when things get tough, that I can hang in there and keep working even when the lessons are hard and someone yells at me to get it right. It means that I can focus and see the bigger picture. It means that I can be so picky that the smallest most details don’t escape my scrutiny. Not only do I see them but I want to fix them. It means I’m striving for perfection of character and strength not just of body but of spirit. It means all that and so much more.

I plan on wearing my black belt with humble pride. I know that there will always be people who are better than me, who are stronger than me and quicker than me. I will also know that I’m dedicated to sharing this knowledge and helping to train other students to be better and stronger and faster than me. And I know that whatever my age anything is possible.

See it. Believe it.

I’ve been doing karate training for quite a while now, obviously. Over time I guess I’ve developed a rather unorthodox training style. Sure, I get out on the mat just like anyone else and go through the basics, going hard and strong, focused on myself and my technique. I listen to what my instructor tells me and I try to improve. That’s not the unorthodox part.

What’s different in my training style, I guess, is the way I practice outside of the dojo. Without a large open space to practice at home I’ve had to take my kata and break it into parts, doing only certain portions at a time, refining them and working on them until there is improvement. “So what?” you’re probably thinking. A lot of people do that. You’re completely right. I am sure they do. If they’re not, I hope they start. That’s really not the ‘difference’ in the way I train.

I also train in my head. No, I’m not crazy. Well, I don’t think so anyway, but that’s probably a matter for another day. Let me explain what I mean when I refer to my mind training. If I’m having a struggle with a technique or just want to improve it, tighten it up and get stronger at it I visualize myself doing it over and over again correctly. I can almost feel my muscles doing it while I play the scene over and over again in my head.

I see it. I believe it. I believe that I CAN do it. And guess what? The next time that I jump onto the mat, usually I can. And I do. It’s almost always better than the last time I practiced it in the dojo. Now, before you get all excited and think that you can just daydream all of your training, that’s not going to work. You still have to physically do it. Karate is all about dripping sweat, aching muscles, and persevering through the pain to reach a new level, a new place to start all over again, training towards perfection. A great way to get stronger and build character along the way.

The power of the mind to help you visualize and believe in yourself doing it is a pretty awesome tool to use though as a supplement to your actual karate training. It’s also really handy when you can’t sit at a stoplight and do the move. Yeah, I’m that crazy lady doing inside blocks waiting for the light to turn green. Again…that’s a whole other story for another day.

‘The Talk’

I was chatting casually with my instructor about some marketing initiatives that we were working on, some upcoming events and he was sharing some teaching tidbits and ideas with me when he ever so casually said, “I need to see you before you get out of here.” Just like that. And then he was gone.

Why all of a sudden did I feel like a teenager in trouble? “Whatever it was I didn’t do it unless I was supposed to do it, then I did it for sure”, I thought to myself. Instead that feeling of dread grew in my gut, like a tiny knot that grows and festers into a huge boulder, weighing you down and making you sweat internally overcome with emotion, just waiting until ‘The Talk’.

I taught my class and tried to remain cheery and smiling, upbeat and positive while beads of perspiration covered my brain. Inside, I was a turning into a jello person. I pretty much knew what was coming. I wasn’t ready to test. “But I have to test,” I screamed until my own ears hurt. On the outside what everyone else heard was “great job, let’s do it again. One – two – three.”

I found myself wondering if I could wimp out and escape without facing the music. Maybe if I faced it later it wouldn’t seem so bad. But no such luck. I gamely hoisted my workout bag across my shoulder and smiled, saying “goodnight” in my most pleasant, I-don’t-want-to-face-the-firing-squad voice and prepared to leave.

That’s when I saw the finger beckoning me. “Come here for just a minute. Let’s talk.”

Let’s talk. That sounded so ominous. I carefully dropped my bag on the counter, sauntering off as casually as I could to the back mat. “Okay,” I thought. “I can take this. Toughen up. Black belts don’t cry.”

After a few minutes of conversation about my teaching skills and where I was at and how I’d improved he gently said, “So, now let’s talk about your test.” I didn’t know it was possible to really feel your heart lurch and drop to your feet. It is. Mine did. The only good thing was so far I wasn’t feeling the sting of tears fluttering against my eyelashes. “Toughen up,” I reminded myself. “Black belt’s DON’T cry.”

I must have been thinking so hard about holding it together because I didn’t hear him right. “I’m thinking your test will be at the end of February. Now, here’s what we need to do, here’s what you need to work on…”

Testing? The end of February? Really?

Now, I haven’t done a somersault in a long time but tonight I think I could have. I wanted to grin uncontrollably but figured that didn’t look very sophisticated. Did black belts grin? Yeah…when they tie that belt on for the first time I think.

I slammed my brain back to reality and listened intently to what he had to say. Time to really step it up. I’d be testing on my own, no breaks, no one else to distract the Board. All me. And it would be a Shotokan test, “That’s what you want to test isn’t it?” he asked. I nodded my head almost unable to speak. I’m testing! I’m really, really testing!

How come that feeling of exhilaration when I heard those words only lasted a short while? How come the nerves kicked into high gear and anxiety took over? I didn’t really have to wonder about that. I’d seen other dan exams. Over-confidence is a bad thing. A desire to train twice as hard, that’s what helps to take you to the next level.

I have to be honest, I won’t believe it until it happens. I won’t be confident of passing until I hear those words. “Let me present our newest black belt.” Only then will I believe it. And that’s when one black belt will definitely be grinning ear-to-ear.

Time to Start the Final Sprint

Many, many years ago when I was much younger I used to run.  I haven’t run in a long time, ever since I realized I didn’t enjoy it and there were so many other things that I did like that I could do instead. So I’ve done them and generally just enjoyed myself a lot more. What I did take with me from those ancient running days, however, was the feeling that came when you were reaching the back stretch and almost there and the exhilaration of the final sprint as you kicked your running up a notch to cross the line, reaching a new personal best.

Sometimes it was hard to dig deep and find that extra something you needed when you were plodding along, feeling your feet like lead anchors weighing you down, when just putting one foot in front of another was agony. When each time you took one stride forward you promised yourself it would be the last…just one more you’d whisper to yourself, just one more until you’d conned yourself to finally reach the finish line.

I think that’s where I’m at right now with my training. Working hard and ready to kick start that last lap. Its time to dig even deeper and push myself even more. To feel the scraped knuckles and sore muscles, to whisper to myself when I roll out of bed and feel the ache deep within that somehow just becomes a regular part of being, “its a good pain, its a good hurt”. Just one more day of training. Just one more class. Just one more time, just one more…

The only difference is, I expect this time, that I won’t feel that urge to crash to the ground, muscles spasming as I cross the finish line. This time the victory at the end will feel like a sweet success and drive me forward to keep training even harder towards a new finish line.

The Saga of the Broken Toe

First of all, let me assure you a broken toe may not sound like a huge deal but it hurts. It really hurts when you’re jumping around and trying to be tough and not show that its hurting. I know. I’m that person – the one who cries on the inside and is stoic on the outside. Meanwhile my toe was swelling up, showing bruising and just generally letting me know that it was there.

But I kept on training. Trained in my class and taught the next without a grimace or a sign that anything was wrong. I even came back the next night, toe securely taped up, and trained again. I’m tough you know…

Well, maybe, but I’m also human and I’m not stupid. I had an opportunity to go and train the week that the dojo was closed and opted not to. Why? Well, it went back to a conversation that I’d had with one of my girls when I told her that I was taking my exam in February.

“What if you get sick?” she asked. ”

“I’m taking my exam in February, ” I answered.

“But supposed you’re sick?” she persisted.

“I AM taking my exam in February,” was my reply in pretty much the same tone I might have said, “Because I’m the mother and I said so.”

However, my poor aching toe got me to thinking. Suppose that I trained now and it didn’t heal as quickly. Suppose my training made it worse? Suppose I couldn’t test in February.

Well,  I wasn’t taking any chances. I laid off the heavy training, although I practice on my own at home. The toe isn’t bruised any more. Its still swollen and it still hurts but I’m back to training come Monday. Seriously, did you think a broken toe could stop me for long?

I’ve got goals. I’ve got dreams. And NOTHING is going to stop me now!