Coping with the Pandemic

Folks, my world is being shaken by COVID-19. My life is changing every single day. The college where I work is a ghost town and next week almost all staff will be working from home. I really miss the students, who are taking their classes online now. Trips to the grocery stores are depressing – empty shelves and people keeping their distance are real downers. I can visit my parents only if we’re outside and at a distance from one another. Even before COVID-19 my husband and I were thinking that declaring bankruptcy could be a viable option, and now it’s looming. My dojo hasn’t met this week. I feel like my world is shrinking, imploding. I am stunned by how much has happened in so short a time.

I took a week off from working out. I needed the time to wrap my head around the new reality and to grieve a bit for the things that need to be set aside for the time being. I came to the realization that I did not need worries and anxieties about Karate on top of everything else that is going on right now. I knew those worries about my Karate were actually quite silly. Ordinarily, I could easily dispel those anxieties with any number of coping mechanisms and just plain hard physical work.

I just didn’t have the energy this past week.

So I let go. Sort of.

I prepared for the weeks to come and these preparations solved a multitude of problems. My husband needs quiet as he works from home – which he’s been doing for several months now. I need an area big enough to accommodate kata (forms) practice. My husband was in a big basement room with an outside entrance to the driveway. I was in a teensy bedroom in the basement. We were using the wrong spaces.

This past weekend my husband and I concentrated on making the teensy basement room into an office. My husband now has a door he can close. No one will traipse through with sacks of groceries. We focused on getting that office functional ASAP. My new workout room was a complete disaster area for most of this week. And that’s OK.

Like I said, I needed time. Emotionally and psychologically, I was drained.

I know exercise is good for what ails you, but sometimes it’s hard to get the motivation to do so. I assured myself with the fact that I never intended to set aside exercise and karate permanently. I knew all I needed was to come back rested and with a fresh perspective on the little hangups that seemed so enormous while I was dealing with the grief and strain caused by the COVID-19 situation.

Wednesday night I felt guilty that the exercise/craft room wasn’t quite done yet. Throughout the week I picked through craft stuff and boxed up quite a bit of it for the thrift store, but there were still a few piles of stuff on the floor. I decided the space didn’t have to be perfect to be usable. I shoved what remained of the mess into a corner of the craft area. As I worked I realized that I was happy. I vacuumed the floor and went to bed excited about resuming my workouts.

The new, bigger space is wonderful. I only have to do a little scootching when practicing the kata (forms) which require the most space. I never realized how annoyed I was at the constant scootching I had to do in the little room. Thursday, when I worked out for the first time since the last class day, I felt free and I felt… Flabby.

Oh well. I guess I’ll just have to set the bar a little lower than it was for just a little while while I rebuild. I’ve lost a little ground physically. Mentally, though, I’m back. Yes I’m sad about the cancelled classes, yes, I feel lonely for my little tribe, and yes I am frustrated that tournaments are being cancelled left and right. But now that I’ve wrapped my head around the other things that are going on in my life I’m ready to deal with this.

I have to stop feeling guilty about the week I took off because it gave me a little bit of breathing room – a little time to gradually work through some things as I prepared my new and better workout space. Of course I’m going to miss my fellow karateka, but I also know how to work out on my own. Prior to the cancellation of what would have been my next tournament I was, like every year, tearing my hair out trying to pass the online test for renewing my kumite (sparring) judging license. Now I have quite a lot more time to study (God knows I need it). I had one excellent tournament before everything was shut down and the 2nd and 3rd place medals I won were good, solid wins against some excellent ladies. Even if all the tournaments are cancelled this season, I will still have the good memories from that one tournament. Most importantly, to me anyway, I have more time and space to improve my karate in preparation for my Shodan (1st degree black belt) test.

Dear reader, my answer to the question, “When will you test?” remains the same: I am preparing for that test, have been since November 2018. Frankly, nothing is certain given the COVID-19 situation. I’m hoping for the best – that all this will be a memory in a month. But… Reality is that I will have to be clever and diligent in my study, and I might have to wait quite a long time to test (which could be true anyway regardless of any stupid virus). God knows I have a LOT to work on. And thanks to the little break I took this week I am ready to buckle down again. I am hoping this discipline will help carry me through the challenges in the weeks and months to come.

Intermittent

As 2019 winds down I am making some choices about how I spend my time. Some of these decisions are tough, some are easy. 2020 will see me letting go of some things and ramping up others. Unfortunately, dear readers, I am letting go of posting on this blog regularly. I will be intermittent at best. Years ago I started out blogging quite frequently – and later recognized my need to scale back. I’m at a similar place now.

I love writing. The discipline of writing about Karate has been beneficial to my mindset and practice. I have enjoyed interacting with those who left comments. There’s also a bit of accountability involved – if I say publicly that I do something or will do something I’d better do it and keep on doing it until I change what I’m doing for the better. Those who have been reading this blog for awhile have seen growth as a result. But blogging biweekly has been something of a strain the last two months.

I’ve reached crossroads not only in my Karate training, but also in my personal and professional lives. I’m not going into the personal and professional crossroads here – except to say I anticipate great things in the coming year. This blog is about Karate, so here are the details of my Karate crossroads.

I’ve already been scaling back in Karate. A little over a year ago I had to let go of helping out with the college PE class. I suppose I could have made it happen but it would have squeezed out other things in my life. Other karateka stepped up to the plate and I’m glad to see them taking on the responsibilities. Earlier this week I let go of my involvement with our karate booster club, which I’ve supported for most of my karate career. I’m still “on call” and anticipate returning in 2021. I don’t plan on competing and judging at Nationals until things settle down in my personal and professional lives. I’ve scaled back some things but I’ve been ramping up others.

I have been actively training for Shodan (first degree black belt) since November 2018. That’s when one of my sensei(s) told me to start training as if I had that invitation to test. I hadn’t yet tested for i-kyu (my current rank). For about 13 months now my mindset has been, “What do I need to do now to make Shodan happen?” While I wait for the formal invitation to test I sometimes tinker with the structure and content of the workouts and practice I do at home. I know I’ll continue to adjust as new things come up, and that’s OK. I anticipate this hard work will pay off and lead to big things – if not in 2020, then some other year.

But blogging isn’t one of those big things. I’ll maybe check in a few times in the coming year, write an article here and there…

When I first started this blog I drifted between aping other bloggers and trying to find my own groove. It didn’t take all that long for me to figure out that autobiography and introspection came more naturally to me than anything else. I don’t know why some of my earliest posts drifted away from my original idea to record my Karate journey right from the start.

I pretty much got the idea to start blogging after I read Smile at Strangers and Other Life Lessons by Susan Schorn. I loved this book. It spoke to me in many ways. Yet I wanted to know more about what she experienced when she was a beginner like me. When I started this blog I wanted to document the beginning of my Karate journey from the perspective of a beginner, not retrospectively, as Susan Schorn had. It’s OK – the whole point of her book was lessons she’d learned, and honestly she got right to the meat and skimmed over the baby food. I just wanted to do my own thing.

And I have.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t “arrived.” I haven’t “finished.” I don’t consider myself to be in some sort of a “holding pattern” while waiting for the invitation to test for Shodan. As this blog’s banner says, ” I will always be beginning something new and will always be discovering my abilities. ” I’ve probably promised before now that this blog won’t stop when I reach Shodan because Shodan is a new beginning. Yet here I am trying to keep way too many balls in the air. I need to let go of posting regularly.

Honestly, there’s not all that much more I really want to write. I fear repeating myself. I know there’s nothing wrong with learning the same lesson on a deeper level, but I have trouble making repetition into a good blog. Also, as I’ve written before, there are some things that are best left private. Sometimes these things are negative, sometimes these things simply involve someone’s privacy… These things are part of life in the dojo and therefore are also part of the karate journey. I’m also finding myself increasingly reluctant to write about some of the most exciting things about learning and growing in the art of Karate.

I’m finding that there are quite a lot of treasures and discoveries that I want to keep to myself. I have been reading Andrea Harkins’ blog for longer than I’ve been writing my own. I recall her writing at least once that there are some really wonderful treasures that are best kept “secret.” These are not negative secrets designed to hurt or exclude. Neither are these “secrets” some sort of woo-woo magic Karate tricks taught only to certain ranks. These little gems are a lot like Christmas presents. Secrecy is best for those kinds of gifts.

Anyhow, that’s what’s going on with me nowadays. I’ve been getting loads of “Christmas presents” all along, but it just seems like it’s getting harder and harder for me to want to try and describe them here in this blog. I’m not a tech writer nor am I a philosopher. My strength is narrative, and my material is limited (out of respect for others) and starting to cycle. That and I need to cut back on some things in my life. Cutting way back on blogging was a hard decision to make, but necessary.

Greater things are ahead. I’ll stay in touch as best I can: intermittently.

The Professionals – Part Three

Click here for Part One

Click here for Part Two

The local police department’s Citizen’s Academy wrapped up this week. I have already compared and contrasted police work and karate twice (see Part One and Part Two). Of course not everything I learned over the course of ten classes was directly relatable to karate. That’s perfectly OK – I enjoyed learning new things and making connections with people in my community. I had fun listening to people whose perspectives are different from my own. During the penultimate class, we found out that we share a deeply fundamental thing. By and large, we want to preserve our own lives and we are capable of making choices, for good or ill, pretty much instantly in a “him or me” situation.

For the next-to-the-last class, we got to experience a simple firearm simulation program. With the right software I can download, say, a clip from the movie “The Shining,” then, with a fake gun and a special screen, “shoot” Jack before he has a chance to sneer, “Heeeeer’s Johnny!” Or I can “hunt” velociraptors in Jurassic Park’s kitchen. That’s all fun stuff, of course, but think about this. I can also download actual dashboard camera or bodycam footage recorded on the scene of a real situation. I can compare my performance to actual policemen.

I know in one aspect I’d do worse than any given police officer. As of this writing I’m such a poor marksman that I can’t even hit the broad side of a barn. I don’t have the muscle memory to pull the trigger of a pistol properly, much less pull the pistol out of its holster without shooting my own kneecap off. My incompetence could change over time. With a good bit of consistent training and practice, I could be even more of a badass with a firearm than I am with empty hands. Some of my fellow students were good marksmen, firing neat little clusters of shots at the bad guys’ vital organs. But that wasn’t the point of our lesson at all.

Before my fellow students and I got to try out the firearm simulator, we spent about an hour talking about decision making and consequences. This was mostly about the standards that the police are held to and the options they may or may not get to employ before taking a life. Apparently, at least in my state, civilians are not held to the same high standards (see Washington RCW 9A.16.010 for what civilians can do). I need to ask if training in empty hand or firearms makes any difference for civilians. But one thing is for sure – police and civilians alike usually face civil lawsuits for their actions.

For the purpose of the lesson it didn’t matter that one participant clearly would have killed the baddie while another participant shot a wastebasket instead (hey, she did better than me). Three instructors and at least a dozen citizens, all agreed that whoever was “on stage” was justified in their actions. Everyone who tried the simulations made the right decisions – they got the baddies, they didn’t shoot if the baddie surrendered, and they didn’t shoot anyone they shouldn’t have. We all agreed on what the right thing to do was in every single scenario. Every single person who actually fired that fake gun at the screen made their decisions instantly.

So in one sense, I don’t think I have to worry at all about my ability to assess situations and employ my options. It’s good to have that confirmation of seeing my fellow humans make those decisions and to experience those scenarios myself. So far in my adult life, I’ve been able to avoid fighting. But if and when I do have to fight, there will be consequences.

Other authors have far more authority than I to write about PTSD. I don’t mean to downplay it by skimming over it. But PTSD is only part of the aftermath of violence.

In one of the scenarios shown when it was my turn to fire the fake gun, a guy suddenly charged towards the camera, intending to stab with a barbecue fork that he’d previously hidden from view. In that instant I had no idea that it wasn’t a knife. I didn’t know it was a knife until the scene was played again. Everyone in the room agreed that it would be nasty to be stabbed with a barbecue fork. Everyone in the room agreed that I was right to “kill” him even if he wasn’t holding a knife. But one of our instructors pointed out that the fact that I didn’t see that the barbecue fork wasn’t a knife could count against me in court. Also, the media could paint a picture of me killing a guy charging me with “a fork.” I joked, “Naw, they’d say it was a spork.” But that’s not all.

The same instructor pointed out later that it doesn’t matter that the bad guy’s family hasn’t talked to him in ten years – chances are the family will chase the money and file a civil suit. People who are lawfully justified in their actions to protect their lives can still lose civil suits. Yes, those same people could win, but still lose a lot. Who among us can afford a lawyer? Even insurance against such a suit, as some firearm owners have, could be beyond some people’s means. So – I could save my life but I could lose my house years later. Fair trade? If I were single, yes. But I have a family.

This is what our police officers put on the line for us every single day.

So, what does this mean for us martial artists? Be freakin’ careful. Duh. But more than that – learn the deeper lessons of your art. Self control is the biggest lesson. Self control helps keep you from shooting off your mouth or engaging in unnecessary violence. Of course knowing how to handle pressure and stress is a useful skill too. When you’re in as good a head space as you can manage, you’re more aware of your options. I’ll write more about that in my next blog post.

Police departments vary in where they draw the lines between levels of violence, but all departments have formal, written standards (usually accompanied by neat little charts or graphs). Us martial artists don’t have to write stuff up and accompany it with a cute little graph, but we are aware of which techniques do what and often we can vary the degree of damage. Some martial artists study weapons in addition to empty hands and so have more tools at their disposal. But there’s one tool that everyone has as their baseline. You should use it as your first line of defense IF you can.

Your voice. Every single self defense class I’ve taken or helped teach has stressed the importance of one’s voice. Yes, shouting to draw attention. But there’s more – provided you have the luxury of time and if you are dealing with someone who is rational enough to listen. I recommend Rory Miller’s book _Conflict Communication: A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication_. After class, us participants were invited to take a book home. Our host instructor had too many books, evidently. I gleefully chose _Verbal Judo: The Art of Gentle Persuasion_ by George J. Thompson. Maybe some day I’ll let you know how I like it. Yes, I had a literal takeaway, but I also had a very affirming heart takeaway.

I have faith in my own ability to make life or death decisions and to quickly employ whatever tools are appropriate. I had no problem reading the intent of the baddies and making the instant decision to preserve my life. I can trust my karate training. And as far as PTSD and civil lawsuits go – I’ll cross those bridges if I come to them. Forewarned is forearmed.

Butado – The Way of the Pig

A friend of mine posted on social media that she’d introduced her little girl to Jim Henson’s Muppets. Happy memories flooded my heart with joy. I know the thrill from both perspectives – that of the mother introducing her daughter to old friends, and that of the little girl reveling in the world of the Muppets’ vaudeville-style show. Because I am a “first generation” Sesame Street child, Henson’s creations have had a huge influence on me. For one thing, Henson taught me how to read before I set foot in Kindergarten. It’s quite possible that I was drawn to Karate because of Miss Piggy.

At the very least, Miss Piggy reinforced what was already there. Most two year olds, and I was no exception, cannot focus on anything for an hour. But I did once. My parents recently told me I was absolutely enthralled and delighted by a karate demonstration when I was two years old. Four or five years later I was always curious about the dojo across the street from the ice skating rink. What the heck did they do in there – chop boards and pummel one another all day long? Did they yell “hiiiiiiya” like Miss Piggy?

Miss Piggy was very much a product of her time. As a little girl, I saw her strength, both mental and physical. This was refreshing – by the time I was five years old I was heartily tired of heroines who were passive, weak, brainless, and easily frightened. Miss Piggy didn’t take any crap from anyone. For comic effect, Henson made Miss Piggy into a total and complete diva. I found her funny, and still laugh at her. But when I look at Miss Piggy through the filter of what’s going on in the world today, I realize maybe she isn’t quite the heroine I made her out to be when I was a child.

Jim Henson was always very much in tune with what was going on in society. He had a knack of distilling popular culture and social issues into something both children and adults could appreciate and laugh at. Children do have a sense of what’s going on in the world around them. And now that I’m an adult, I find “The Muppet Show” to be ten times funnier because I understand what was going on in the world during the 1970’s. Miss Piggy was a representation of what women of the time were striving to be. She was strong, independent, ambitious, and she was not about to mope around waiting for her love interest to take the initiative in the relationship. Nevertheless, “The Muppet Show” was a comedy variety show, and the humor of that time shaped Miss Piggy.

What we laughed at in the 1970’s is now widely considered to be inappropriate. Physical humor is becoming passé. Beating up one’s boyfriend is domestic violence. Many believe it’s no longer appropriate to laugh at someone who goes about sabotaging a rival’s work and bullying them. Aggressive flirting is often considered sexual harassment. To be honest, we’ve always known these things are wrong. What made us laugh is that Miss Piggy was completely over-the-top. Us women have always known divas are not the best role models. Laughing at Miss Piggy’s antics, though, was like releasing a pressure valve. Us girls and women felt the tension between what society said we were supposed to be and what we wanted to be. We laughed with glee because Miss Piggy got away with this stuff, whereas we constantly had to fight battles on so many fronts.

One of those fronts was the depiction of women as capable warriors in movies and TV shows. No doubt Henson watched Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris flicks, but I don’t think that’s why he gave Miss Piggy her signature karate chop. I strongly suspect Henson kept tabs on his prime time competition. “The Bionic Woman” and “Charlie’s Angels” were vying for viewers’ attention the same year that Miss Piggy made her debut. Adding karate to Miss Piggy’s character was Henson’s way of bringing in a whimsical element of physical humor that was in step with the times.

Miss Piggy’s karate was never meant to be taken seriously. Sometimes she does practice good bushido (the way of the warrior). We cheer her on when she sends the bad guys packing. But most of the time, she uses her karate inappropriately. Kermit, her boyfriend, is her favorite target. Miss Piggy hauling off and hitting people at whim has shaped many people’s perception of karate, whether they are aware of it or not. Every time us karateka hear, “don’t piss him/her off,” that’s Miss Piggy lurking in that person’s subconscious mind. I’m sure Henson didn’t intend for that to develop. Nor did he foresee a day when we’d have to explain butado (the way of the pig) to our children.

My friend’s little girl is growing up in a world that is totally and completely different than when I was her age. A lot of people no longer laugh at domestic abuse, bullying, acts of sabotage, sexual harassment, and random acts of violence. Probably a lot of younger parents, accordingly, don’t let their small children watch the Muppets. I can understand waiting until the child is old enough to understand fantasy versus real world. But what I don’t understand is forbidding the child from watching The Muppets altogether because of Miss Piggy’s butado. As their children mature, good parents will discuss age-appropriate topics that come up while watching Miss Piggy execute her famous karate chop.

My friend said her little girl was drawn to the way Miss Piggy fought off the bad guys in “The Muppet Movie.” Brava, little one. Keep talking to your mama about what you see Miss Piggy doing. If your mama needs me to help explain something to you, I’m here. When you are mature enough to handle a bit of hard work and sweat, and if you’re still interested in being a fighter, I should be a fully fledged sensei (instructor) by then. I’ll be there for you and I’ll teach you the difference between butado and bushido. Until then, keep laughing and keep learning those life lessons of joy and wonder that have always been at the core of Jim Henson’s work.

The Professionals – Part Two

Click here for The Professionals – Part One

As of this writing I’m four classes and one ride-along into my local police department’s Citizens Academy. I’m getting a little glimpse into what life is like for people who deal with violence as part of their profession. By comparing and contrasting and by looking through the eyes of my fellow Citizens Academy students, I’m learning some things about my own karate training as well.

I mentioned in my last post during my ride-along I learned that police officer training is extensive. The first part of our second class covered this training. I took notes – what’s covered, how many hours, etc. There’s even a probationary period, during which the new officer is constantly being evaluated while on the job. It’s all very impressive, but I was most pleased to hear is training is ongoing for our police officers. This isn’t just physical skills training, by the way. For example, laws change, procedures change, and sometimes there are new discoveries about human behavior. Most officers do more than the yearly 24 hours mandated by the state. I can relate to this constant refinement of skills and learning new things – or even different aspects of familiar skills.

What was surprising to me is that many (not all) of my classmates don’t seem to grasp just how powerful ongoing training really is and what the benefits are. Repetition, time, and being continually pushed outside one’s comfort zone might be utterly foreign territory for these students. How do I know this holds true for many of my classmates? I listened to their questions. I wish I’d written down the questions and the contexts for those questions, but perhaps something would be lost in the telling. Suffice it to say, the first question jolted me to the core. I realized that some of my fellow Citizens Academy students need a little help understanding things that I simply intuit. That’s not to say I can relate to all the material presented in the class – I can’t. But I do grasp some things at a very deep level.

The second half of our second class was about patrol procedures. This gave me a wider view of what I’d learned on my ride-along. A team of officers came to talk with us about this. There was a good bit of “show and tell” with the various tools of their trade. Using weapons to mete out violence is not something I grasp intuitively, as kobudo is not part of our curriculum and, of course, we don’t play with tasers, pepper spray, or projectile weapons in karate. I know for sure the two students grasped some things about these tools intuitively (a gun instructor and a veteran, respectively), while the rest of us needed a little help. In order to gain a better understanding of what the use of deadly weapons entails I started listening for the underlying themes woven throughout the “show and tell.”

Teamwork is not emphasized much in karate, but it’s vital to police work. The most I’ve ever done is I’ve taken my turn being one of two or three “attackers” in a sparring exercise. I have only the tiniest of inklings on how to help someone take a person down. Add weapons to the mix and I have absolutely no clue. But what I can wrap my head around is the value of training as a team. Ongoing, repetitive training with updates and innovations as needed – that I understand on the individual level. The police take this to the next level. Each person on a team knows their role and they’ve practiced different scenarios with all their weapons. No training is ever perfect, nor can anyone anticipate absolutely everything that might happen in any given encounter. But continuous training involving loads of time and buckets of sweat is powerful – it’s the foundation of any combat system or art. I know from competing in tournaments that it’s easier to adapt what you’re doing if you have a good, solid foundation. I’m convinced each team of our city’s police has a solid foundation.

Respect and trust are vital components of this foundation. In karate, we play with fire. We emphasize respect and trust so that our training partners are healthy and available to train with us next class. Police officers don’t just play with fire: they’re sometimes right inside an inferno with weapons that can kill at a distance. They have to trust that their teammates know their roles and have each other’s backs (so to speak). Respect for their leaders and for one another is crucial when the heat is on – there’s no time for arguing and petty sniping. Trust and respect are interwoven throughout the police’s extensive hiring process. The team that came in for “show and tell” didn’t explicitly talk about trust and respect, but I saw it was there. It was there in the non-verbal communication among team members. It was there in how they directly related to us students and with one another.

Us karate folks would say my city’s police practice good bushido (the way of the warrior). As one of my sensei(s) taught me just last week, you have to know the people you’re going into battle with. That’s what bushido is all about. You know your comrades’ training, you know their strengths, you know their weaknesses. You know you can rely on them. Not that anyone in my dojo is going to battle anytime soon – not like the police who, on any given day, could find themselves in a confrontation. That said, I know who will back me up if I’m ever jumped while stepping outside the dojo some dark night. And I know who to call after it’s all over.