Friday, November 26, 2010

"Excellence is not a skill, it's an attitude."

Sorry I've been away from my blog so long. I'm not sure where the last six months have gone. It's the day after Thanksgiving and I just returned from what I call, "The Land of Food is Love".
My parents, well mostly dad, is a food pusher. He shows his love by showering me with my favorite foods.

We had T-giving at my brother's house in Connecticut and he did all the prep and cooking himself. We drive up on Wednesday and come home on Friday and that is about all the time I can spend in the land o' food is love. Luckily Thanksgiving food is not the type of food that calls my name and taunts me to eat more than a serving at dinner. It's the constant food dodging I must do around the meals that's hard. The pumpkin pie my dad made for me to take home, the bags of candy my dad always brings, the constand reminders that there's food available. No matter how many times I say "No thanks." There's another selection offered. I don't want to make this blog entry about that. Instead I want to mention that it's weekends and holidays like this that can get me thinking about my over all health and body and weight and how in the past it may have catapulted me into lots of guilt and negative thoughts. But this year I'm taking a new approach.

You know there's nothing like a hotel mirror to lay it all out there. Why do hotels always seem to have mirrors directly across from the shower? There is no escaping the hotel mirror. But this time it didn't freak me out so much and I think it's because over the past year I have gotten so much better about not beating myself up and not giving in to negative thoughts about how I think I look, or should look. I have to say the positve thoughts are winning. It hasn't been an easy battle but every day I get a little better at it. I looked in the mirror and thought to myself, "It doesn't matter how I think I look, I look fine." When I saw my reflection I actually thought, "I do look fine". Imperfectly fine. Room for improvement? Yes, but fine none the less.

On our drive home I decided not to wait till the new year to make a resolution. And so my New Year's-end Resolution is to take the month of December and do two nice things for myself every day. I'm going to exercise and eat really well every day until the end of the year. It's going to be a crazy month and it will fly. In those moments when things are at their craziest I'm going to take a breath and remind myself the only things I HAVE to do on any given day in December are two nice things for myself. I love how exercise makes me feel and healthy food actually tastes pretty good. Some days I'm sure will be easier than others and no matter how I do, I know I will be fine, imperfectly fine.


Before I go, I would like to give a shout out to my brother. He did all the work and the food he prepared was all healthy and delicious. Thank you "Uncle Dan"! My children LOVE Thanksgiving because of you!

I always like to end with a quote.
"Excellence is not a skill, it's an attitude."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"Being strong and healthy should make you a better person."

I was thinking the other day about where I am with my diet situation. I'm finally at a point where I feel I'm worth it. I am worthy of taking care of myself in a healthy way. It was a Moonstruck, "Snap out of it! moment" Where I finally looked at myself, sort of like when I find my kids doing something naughty that only a kid could think of and I'm so surprised that they thought whatever they were doing was a good idea. It was my "STOP! What are you DOING?" moment. It finally hit home. I deserve to be healthy and taking care of myself is a priority. Damn it. But my point is, it didn't happen over night.

I do think that if I had not gotten on the path of martial arts it would have taken me a lot longer to get here, if at all. With every round of dieting I learn something new about myself. Not just in terms of food but in my life. I uncover an answer to one of the tough questions. And with each dieting go around I go a little deeper. Try a little harder, make bigger more permanent changes that would lead me to a healthier me. Inside and out.

I lost thirty-five pounds while I was preparing for my black belt test. Months before, when I thought about that test, I pictured myself thin receiving my belt. And it worked. I lost the weight through a plan called "Trevose". It's not rocket science. It's a simple plan based on calories and keeping a food journal and weekly weigh ins where they expect you to be at your goal, no excuses. Our group met once a week and it wasn't like a WW meeting where the leader did most of the talking it was a group and everyone got to talk about their week. I learned a lot about myself and the women in the group got to know me well enough to give me "Snap out of it!" advice on more than one occasion. My point is, it was a rich experience. I learned more answers to some more deep questions. I might have even thought I had it all figured out when I got my belt and hit my goals. Life has a way of catching you and hitting you upside the head if you don't learn the lesson completely the first one, two or three times. But if you go with it, roll with it, don't get yourself too bunched up it can lead you to some places far better than you imagined.

I fell off the wagon a bit when I left my old karate school. I went from practicing karate 24/7 to practicing two to three times a week. Immediately I could feel the weight creeping back on but I let myself get stuck in a rut. I repeated some bad choices for several months before I started to gradually gain not only control but my desire to be in control. Because being in control of one's diet is a lot of work. And I had gotten tired and a little lazy and throw in a little emotional eating on top. But I didn't let myself go completely to pot. A BJJ school opened in my neighborhood and I knew the owner because he and some of his guys had taught some classes at my karate school. When I went in to welcome them to the neighborhood I ended up signing up for a year and shortly after that they started a women's only BJJ class. I had two reasons for wanting to learn BJJ. American Kenpo is a standing art and I wanted to get more comfortable moving on the ground. I wanted to understand it and how it worked. The other reason was to kick my sorry butt back into shape.

About a year into it Sharon, my instructor, moved the class to a different day and said she wanted to offer a "fitness" class before the BJJ class. I was the first to line up to try the kettle bell class. I gathered as many friends as I could find so that she would also consider adding a few more mornings to the program. Sharon is a gem. She is one of the first female BJJ Black Belts she is very knowledgeable not only in BJJ but training in general, fitness and nutrition. I was looking for an exercise program with some intensity and kettle bells certainly delivers. Here are a few things that I like about training with Sharon. If I am the only one who shows up for class she will still give me a hard sometimes even harder workout. Some instructors might use that as an excuse to slack off a bit. If I need some extra discipline in the diet department. She will coach me and read my food journal and crack the whip. Our class is still small but a dedicated group of women who take everything that Sharon has to dish out in a workout. I also like the atmosphere of the class. We are serious about our workouts but we laugh a lot and joke around. I always feel great when I leave there. I actually believe the laughter and camaraderie is just as important as the workout. It's another place where I can be in my element where I can strive to be a better me. When I asked Sharon about kettle bell certification she said there was one coming up and she also thought that I would be able to do it. In addition to our regular kettle bell classes she would stay after class to give me additional workouts to prepare for the two day certification. When we went for the certification we met a man, Steve Kardian, who teaches a women's self defense course called "Fight Like a Girl".
Sharon and I traveled to Steve's school for the certification about a year ago. And now we are teaching self defense seminars at the BJJ school. So what started off as an effort to get a little more exercise has blossomed into something bigger than I had ever imagined.

I will admit while I was getting these certs and becoming stronger I was still dilly dallying
with my weight but because of the kettle bells I started reading more blogs learning about the top kettle bell instructors in the country and really starting to take to heart all of the things that they prescribe. And all of them take their diets seriously. So this has brought me back full circle to once again take, not just my "diet", but my choices and commitments to health and fitness to a whole new level. And just like all of the other times, I dug a little deeper, figured out some answers to some of my tough questions, grappled with a few demons and have an even deeper understanding of my self. And it has been this leg of the journey that given me the most confidence and the most discipline. Somehow in this process I have developed an intolerance for feeling bad whether it's emotional or physical. I'm doing it for the right reasons because I just want to feel good which has lead me to finally believe I am worth it. I am worthy of living a healthy life.

My quote for this blog comes from and interview with Mike Mahler a top kettle bell instructor.
I read his blog daily and have been greatly inspired.

" Be brutally honest with yourself. Evil exists and flourishes when people are delusional and fail to be well calibrated. Being well calibrated means your perception of yourself is accurate. Just because you have always done something does not mean you need to keep doing it.You can evolve and be better. However, it all starts with being brutally honest. You have to accept who you are now and take the necessary steps to improve. Surround yourself with great people that tell you what you need to hear instead of what you want to hear. Be humble and avoid looking down on others. Focus on improving yourself and be an example to others."


"Being strong and healthy should make you a better person."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Proper Protocal

A friend of mine posted this in her status update on FaceBook the other day.

"If you join a FB page, it and your comments come up when you are searched in Google."

So out of curiosity I googled myself. I used to only have on or two things come up but it looks like I've become quite busy. Several months ago I posted a question about Kettlebells vs Clubbells on one of Scott Sonnan's blogs. I had forgotten all about my question and when it came up in my search I discovered that Scott Sonnan had replied to my query.

I stumbled onto Scott Sonnan's training videos when I was searching for some exercises to do for my knees that were hurting. First I found his joint mobility DVD, then later I found his "Grappler's Toolbox" which was pretty cool because I had started taking BJJ classes. Which then lead me to discover his "soft work" which looks strikingly like Systema. And then I stumbled onto the Clubbell Circular Strength Training one of Scott Sonnan's tradmarked programs. It looked pretty cool, made a lot of sense and I could see how it would be a nice addition to my growing collection of exercise knowledge, DVD's and equipment collection.

I bought my Clubbells about two and a half years ago. I also purchased Scott Sonnan's
"The Encyclopedia of Clubbell Training". I liked the idea of training with Clubbells very much. Scott's encyclopedia is quite thorough and easy to follow. I was very excited to embark on my Circular Strength Training adventure. Then a few short weeks later, my BJJ instructor moved our Womens' class to Sunday and added a Kettle Bell class in front of it. When I started to attend those classes I put my Clubbells on the back burner. Mostly because I felt I was getting the same benefits from the Kettle Bells that I would be getting from Clubbells and it was a class which makes it easier to commit. I played around with my Clubbells learned the exercises, methodically moved my way through the encyclopedia. But it was a little overwhelming to figure out how to integrate it with the rest of my strength training.

I liked the Kettle Bells from the very beginning. The workouts are short, about a half hour, and also intense. I like that. We have class three times a week which fits quite nicely with the rest of my training. Some of the movements remind me of Systema moves so I wanted my karate instructor to try it because I thought that it would be a nice compliment to our movements. This lead me to inquire about kettlebell certification and eventually becoming certified to teach. The certification was very thorough and interesting to me.
I'm learning so much. Each new inquiry leads me to something else. I haven't been this excited about learning in a long time. And I can see how ideas overlap and all of these things will contribute to making me a better martial artist and over all healthier and physically fit.

The more I learn about fitness the more I want to learn. It seems like the industry has changed a lot in the past 25-30 years. When I was in my twenties getting in shape was a bit humiliating. Aerobics was really big. I tried a few classes but never enjoyed them. And, well, it was in the eighties, so working out required spandex tights with leg holes that extended to the belly button. And it seemed like all the instructors to those classes were all extemely tall, unrealistically thin and blonde. I'm afraid it damaged my self esteem more than it helped it. I liked free weights. That was more my speed. When I was 20 I went to the dilapidated old gym at my university and poked around with my roommate for a few semesters. One of the guys, just a random nice guy, helped us out and gave us some ideas and a routine. It was grungy and not very crowded so I was quite comfortable in my t-shirt and sweats. I liked it a lot.

Viewing fitness through the eyes of a martial artist has grounded it in something more meaningful. If I had only known then what I know now. Martial arts crossed my path at least five times before I seriously considered doing it myself. And now here I am in the sunset side of my forties rolling around on the ground, putting people in arm bars, learning to take a hit as well as punching very hard. Doing burpees, and Kettle bell snatches and guy push ups. I think the universe gives us many many opportunities to discover the paths that we were intended to travel. We are exposed to things and if we are not quite ready to grasp it, the opportunity will come back to us again. In the past two years I have learned a wealth of information and it's exciting to learn, each pathway leads to the next.

Tabata protocol or high intensity interval training (HIIT) is something that I have only recently become aware of. It was developed in the nineties but it is growing in popularity. One of Scott Sonnan's latest training programs, "TACFIT" is based on the Tabata protocol. His program is more detailed than this but in a basic form a Tabata workout is six exercises or movements performed for 20 second bursts with a 10 second rest in between times eight. For the twenty seconds you are fully committed to do as many reps as you can. Rest 60 seconds between each exercise and continue to do all six exercises 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest, for eight times. So the whole thing can be done in 20 minutes or so. In Tabata's study, the researchers found that people who used the routine five days a week for six weeks improved their maximum aerobic capacity (a measure of your body's ability to consume oxygen--the more oxygen you can take in, the longer and harder you'll be able to run) by 14%. It also improved anaerobic capacity (which measures your speed endurance, or the duration you're able to sprint at full effort) by 28%. So the Tabata Protocol is the rare workout that benefits both endurance athletes and sprinters. Tabata protocol is based on a 2:1 ratio and other interval training is based on a 3:1 ratio. It's difficult, it's not intended for people who are new to fitness. We do more of a 3:1 ratio in my regular kettle bell class but I have been flirting with incorporating the Tabata protocol into my workouts at home. I follow one of Scott Sonnan's TACFIT workouts. He has nine variations and a particular schedule and nutrition plan to use. But I'm still just trying it on for size as sort of an add on. I'm still at Level 1, program A.

Back to this blog where I made the comment. It was showing a series of clubbell exercises, 4 total. I knew the techniques. They are all in the Clubbell encyclopedia. Even though it is only 4 exercises he is suggesting to follow the Tabaat protocol for the workout. Back in September when I made the comment, Tabata workouts were unfamiliar but now eight months later I'm actually ready to try the workout. Last evening I did the four Clubbell exercises and then I added 8, 20 second rounds of push ups and another clubbell exercise that had a pulling motion to counter the pushing motion of the push ups. It was difficult but not impossible. Through Facebook the universe gave me another chance and this time I was ready for the challenge. I might even take Mr Sonnan's challenge to do it 2-3 times a week for the next three weeks.
If you want to see the workout just Google "Teresa Westkaemper" and it will come up.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Gift of Learning. Releasing the fear and silencing my ADD Part 2

Silencing my ADD has as much to do with silencing the thoughts in my head as anything else.
I was relieved when I heard about ADD because it was something identifiable. Once I learned about it I had a better understanding of what made me tick. It certainly explained a lot of peculiar
habits and attributes. But once I had that knowledge I had to live with that knowledge and wrap my brain around being someone with ADD. I was happy to have a reason for why I am so forgetful and impulsive and creative, a good attribute after all having ADD isn't ALL bad. "Driven to Distraction" was a good book to read because it explained a lot and by the end of the book I was almost happy that I have it. There are some things that I just have to live with and not beat my self up about. Like my forgetfulness. There just aren't enough post it notes in the world to help me remember all that I need to remember. And my calendar will always be a work in progress, although I will be eternally grateful to those right brained Apple people for the calendar App on my Ipod.

The information and self help books that are now available have come a long way in the past 16 years or so. The first books on the subject were not ADD friendly at all. One of the best books
that helped me the most wasn't an ADD book per se. It was called "Right Brained Children Living in a Left Brained World" I don't believe they ever actually said they were talking about children with ADD but clearly the authors had a great understanding for "my people". After I read that book I discovered I had developed my own coping devices and strategies for learning on my own. It also talked about capitalizing on the things that we are good at to compensate for the things that we are not. Visual right brained children who were bad at math were taught methods of using their visual memories to do long math equations. Right brained children were taught to speed read because they discovered that children with this problem need to read faster and not slower. This book gave me validation and hope but I still had a long road to travel. Feelings of failure don't disappear over night and I had lots of anxiety about learning and reading and taking classes. I now know I was simply getting in my own way but I had lots to learn about myself and discovering ADD was the beginning of the journey.

Before this blog entry gets too long, I would like to talk about how my martial arts training once again gave me an opportunity to learn about my learning process and conquer some huge
stumbling blocks. In the book, "The Gift of Fear" Gavin DeBecker talks about how when women are constantly living in fear, their body will not be able to recognize real fear. The kind of fear that can possibly safe your life. I would have to say the same is very true for learning especially people with ADD. Class room situations unnerved me. I was so worried about not being able to learn that I created a self fulfilling prophesy. But if I was in a particularly hostile learning environment it became much much worse. At my old karate school that was the situation I had found myself in. So when I arrived at the school where I now train I was a little shell shocked from trying to learn and function in an environment that had become so "learning challenged".

I was excited to be at the new school and everyone was pleasant and kind. But every week before I'd walk out on to the mat my hands would literally shake. I was overly concerned about what they would think about the new black belt kid on the block. I was so far behind them in my Kenpo knowledge what would they think of me? I see now clearly I was getting in my own way and what I have since learned from my dog eared, highlighted, post it flagged copy of Eckhard Tolle's book, "A New Earth", about simply changing my thoughts and silencing the broken record of all my failures and fears that repeatedly play in my own head, I would have calmed down a lot sooner.

Luckily after about my third private lesson, before I had actually signed up to train at the school regularly, I asked my instructor if he would mind if I recorded my private lessons onto a voice recorder. What that did for me was to calm me down and lessened my anxiety about, "What if I can't write it all down or remember what he said." I was so eager to learn I wanted to soak up every word but I was worried, anxious and embarrassed. Having the voice recorder helped to free my anxious thoughts and I could be truly present during my lessons and classes knowing that if I missed something I could play it later and write it down. What a huge relief.

When I wrote last weeks blog I had another "aha" moment. Until I actually typed the words I had not realized that I AM a kinesthetic learner. I had never actually put that piece in the puzzle.
What happened next with my voice recorder I think reinforces my newly learned learning style.
I would get home and sit with my recorder and pencil and notebook. It has to be pencil, don't know why, but it does. The notebooks have to be the right size and shape. I'm rather fond of the marbled composition books found just about anywhere. The paper has to have a certain thickness not to rough of a texture or too smooth. I would record almost word for word what my instructor said. If he said, " Hit him, BAM, Pow, SMACK!" My notes will say, "BAM, Pow, SMACK! And what I discovered was as I listened to my lessons and wrote the words I could also remember how it looked in my head when it happened. I could almost relive it. AND when I go back to read my notes I can picture the lesson in my head again. Writing them a certain way helps me remember them too.
Because I write pretty much, but not quite, word for word, what my instructor says, I have also captured his voice because they are written the way that he talks.

Now, three and a half years and ten notebooks later, I no longer have anxiety about being in a classroom. I'm almost to the point where I am so relaxed about learning that I don't have to record every word he says. I can actually be in the classroom and remember what I am being taught. I finally trained my self to be an "A" student.

Having the right instructor helps too. Mr Price knows when to push me, knows when he can put me on the spot, knows when he shouldn't. He's very patient and when I mess up I'm simply given another opportunity to try again later. It also helps that our training focuses on breathing and staying relaxed. Another thing I have noticed when I listen to my recordings is that I hear laughter. I hear people having fun and that helps too. So I guess it's true what they say, "You are never too old to learn."

Here are a few quotes about learning from some other smart people:

"I never let my schooling interfere with my education." Mark Twain

"Learning is not a spectator sport" D. Blocher

"Retention is best when the learner is involved" Edward Scannell, Director University Conference Bureau, AZ

"I never teach my students; I only provide the conditions in which they can learn." Albert Einstein

"You don't understand anything until you learn it more than one way." Marvin Minsky

"What I hear, I forget.
What I see, I remember.
What I do, I understand."
Kung Fu Tzu (Confucius)

Lee Wedlake Seminar

A shout out to Lee Wedlake my karate instructor's Kenpo instructor visiting from Florida.
Mr. Wedlake came to our school today to teach first in the kids class and then two adult sessions.
One where we blended Systema and Kenpo the other was about change-ups and grafting. I always like it when Mr Wedlake visits, usually about once a year. He is very intelligent, has a very calm presence and I enjoy listening to him talk about just about anything.

Thanks Mr Wedlake!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I ADDdid it! ( The ADD is silent) Part 1

Silencing my ADD has been an unexpected byproduct of my martial arts training. I was thirty when I first heard of Attention Deficit Disorder. I heard about it on a morning news show when a group of adults were interviewed about their ADD. One woman's testimony could have been word for word a description of my school days. It was such a relief to hear.

My ADD is not the hyperactive kind. Mine is the kind often found in little girls so it wasn't easy to detect. There are actually a lot of good things to say about people with ADD. We are usually a very creative bunch, intelligent, able to hyper focus if something peaks our interest. The flip side is we can be rather impulsive unable to focus on things like required homework that doesn't peak our interest. My mind would wander which was a good thing if I was inspired to make art but a bad thing if I needed to be listening to a History class in school.

I did not know how to study. I had trouble first getting the info into my head and once it was there I had trouble retrieving it when needed for a test. When I was in high school my mother was worried that I didn't know how to read. She didn't know it was because I would get stuck on a sentence reading it over and over again unable to pay attention long enough to get to the end of the paragraph.

If I had a teacher who was dynamic my grades would soar. But if I had a teacher who tended to talk way to much, who wouldn't deliver concise easy to follow directions I would be lost. My grades were inconsistent. My first brush with failure happened in seventh grade world history class. It came down to the very last test that I had to ace in order to pass the semester. This was my first experience with the fear factor. Who knew that adrenaline
would calm my mind enough to focus and learn and remember a year's worth of world history facts. Much to every one's surprise I aced the test. My grades were so bad that sometimes if I did happen to get a good grade, my teachers would think that I cheated. My teacher didn't accuse me of cheating but I know he was disappointed in me for waiting so long to show him what I was capable of doing.

On paper I may have looked like a failure but I had some redeeming qualities and a few skills that got me into a good college in spite of my SAT scores and GPA. I was an art major and I went to a school that
had extremely creative people on one side of campus and extremely analytical left brainers on the other side. My required freshman writing class was full of artists. Why? "Because at Carnegie Mellon we know that artists and engineers think differently" is what my writing professor told us on the first day of class. Phew! Clearly I was in the right place. Most of my classes were studio classes requiring some sort of major project to get our final grade. My first semester I made honor roll only because my studio classes made up about 85% of my overall GPA. I only had to worry about one elective a semester that would require reading and quizzes and tests. I just had to pull A's in my studio classes to balance the one bad grade I would inevitably get in my chosen elective. There were also a few ways around the system. I got my highest GPA my junior year when, for one semester, I was allowed take a gym class as my academic elective. I took poetry classes because I knew poems were shorter than papers. My sophomore year I had an experience that was much like my seventh grade history class. It was a Humanities class called Art and Culture that was counted as one of my art history requirements. I signed up for the class on my roommates recommendation because the professor was really interesting. It was an excellent class drawing on the local exhibits that were showing that particular semester at the Carnegie Institute and Sarah Scaife art gallery. I muddled my way through most of the papers getting every possible grade and it came down to acing the final paper to get a passing grade in the class. And again I learned that fear and adrenaline is as good as a shot of Ritilin. I speed read the required book and retained the information. Many years later I learned that children with ADD have better reading comprehension when taught to read faster not slower which would have been the prescribed treatment when I was having trouble reading in elementary school. I also went to exhibit and walked around the exhibit many times. My paper was hand written, not typed. folded together not stapled. I pulled an all nighter to finish it up. Stayed up long enough to turn it in and then went to bed, but I got an A-. That was the single most satisfying grade I have ever gotten in my life. I also believe I earned the respect of my professor because I know he knew it wasn't and easy A.

Grad school was much the same. All art and art history classes. I didn't take a single test the whole two years and as an added bonus grad school grades were pass/fail. I was all the way through grad school before I found out what had made me so academically flawed. And flawed is exactly how it feels to have unmediated, undiagnosed ADD. The sense of failure I carried with me was a big suitcase full of baggage that was hard to abandon. Because even when I did excel it always felt like a fluke because there was no rhyme or reason to when it would happen.

My black belt test was the first test I went into with the knowledge that I have ADD. I remember crying in my instructors office. Telling him you don't understand I have never passed a test in my life. I worked too hard to let it all come down to a stupid test. It was the first time I had ever gone to an instructor and confessed my flaw. As I told him my secret truth I knew he wouldn't be able to help me with it. I knew I had to figure it out for myself. I knew that II was on the right track because that single act changed the ending to my recurring ADD nightmare. The recurring dream was always about me at the end of the semester with failing grades with the impending test that would save my grade. The impending test that I had no way in hell of passing. I would always wake up in a sweat. But after that talk with my instructor there would be a new ending to the dream. In the new dream I would go to the teacher and say, "This is unacceptable. You need to come up with a better way."

I was thirty when I first heard about ADD. I was 42 when it was time for me to test for black belt. I had read and learned about ADD. I knew myself better and understood my learning process. Luckily people with ADD have a stronger sense of intuition and I followed my gut and stumbled upon a way to study that actually worked. I had to go to a different school to take my test and there was no guarantee that my instructor would be testing me. My fear was that I would get some big fat "old school" instructor belting out the names of techniques that I would have to perform. If I felt too much pressure or felt put on the spot I knew I would just freeze.

The techniques for that particular school were printed on sheets of paper. Each technique had a one and a half inch square with the name and description of the technique. There were three sheets printed on the front and back. A sheet for three different levels. White, Yellow, Orange techniques on one. Purple, Blue, Green on the second and Brown and above on the third. Step one was to get the info into my head. I gathered several copies of each sheet. I cut out each individual technique and color coded them with Yellow for beginner techniques. Green for
intermediate techniques and Brown for advanced techniques. I arranged them by attack and began to see how the techniques related to one another and further organized them by what they had in common. Then I glued them to sheets of paper. So at a glance without thinking at all I could read visually what the techniques were all about. Because many people with ADD are visual learners, color coding has become a mainstay for anything I need to organize. Because I could picture the techniques on the page and remember how they looked it made it much easier for me to remember them and study them. Phase two was kinesthetic. I needed to practice the techniques so that my body could feel the motion of the techniques. Repetition helped my body remember the movements. I now know there is a neurological connection to "muscle memory".
Once my body remembered the movements I basically didn't have to think while doing the techniques. So lets say in the test something happened to make me nervous or scared, if I could shut my brain off, my body would remember the technique. I missed one technique on my test and it wasn't because I didn't remember it. It was because it was taught to me incorrectly so when I practiced it, I practiced it incorrectly. As I sat on the porch waiting for my ride to my test, no last minute cramming was necessary. I was confident I knew my material. The drive to the school for my black belt test was relaxing and calm.

To be continued...

This is what Wikipedia says about kinesthetic learners:

The kinesthetic learner usually does well in things such as chemistry experiments, sporting activities, art and acting. They also may listen to music while learning or studying. It is common for kinesthetic learners to focus on two different things at the same time. They will remember things by going back in their minds to what their body was doing. They also have very high hand-eye coordination and very quick receptors. They use phrases such as "I can see myself doing that" and "It's starting to come alive".

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Old Black Magic

I'm a bit of a late bloomer. I flirted with exercise and athletics in my twenties. Made more of a commitment to being active in my thirties but in my forties I am in the best shape I have been in in my life. I don't know why it took me so long but this active healthy lifestyle has become a passion.

I used to mark my mental timeline with the birth of my children. "Well let's see, Ruby was born in 1996 and she was a toddler when that happened... Oh that was definitely 2001 because Cady wasn't born yet"... and so on. Now I mark my mental timeline by the year that I turned 42 and became a black belt. It's not the black belt that has made the difference it is the world of possibilities that have opened up to me since then. It was a right of passage and my life has not been the same since then.

When I was growing up in Central PA little girls did not have so many options when it came to being athletic. I can remember walking home from school with my best friend and as we passed by a particular girl's house my friend told me that the girl who lived in that house did karate and she had a black belt. That thought was so out of the ordinary for me, it was as if she told me that girl had magical powers. Getting to black belt at the age of 42 was a turning point for me because it was as if I discovered I have magical powers and the magical power is believing that I can do anything I put my mind to. It has made me much more willing to try new things.

American Kenpo has been my primary martial art for close to ten years. While preparing for my black belt I lost thirty-five pounds and got into the best physical shape I had ever been in in my life or so I thought. Although at the time it game me a tremendous boost in confidence and it seemed like it was the destination, now looking back on that I can see it was just one step of this continuously open ended journey. At the school where I train we also practice Systema. When I first got there it was hard for me to see where the American Kenpo left off and the Systema began. I'm so happy for the exposure to this Russian Martial art because it has made me a better Kenpoist and has introduced me to some interesting concepts and ideas. I like the movement drills the most. I'm learning to relax and breathe and move with fluidity. I find the relaxation and calmness from training in Systema actually crosses over into my life.

A few years ago a BJJ school opened in my neighborhood. I knew the owner and instructor and I needed to add some more days of training to my schedule. I decided to give it a try. I wanted to understand more about how it worked. I wanted to become comfortable working on the ground in close range. I'm also interested in seeing how it relates to Kenpo. I was 45 when I started BJJ. If anyone had told me that I would be grappling on the ground at that age with women and sometimes men who are HALF my age I never would have believed it. The BJJ has enhanced my Kenpo by making me less afraid to go to the ground. And it toughened me up a little bit. I also use my BJJ to practice my Systema breathing and staying relaxed. I have begun to develop new sensitivities to tension in movements. I find that if I stay relaxed I am much more likely to get out of holds because I can feel when the slightest bit of tension is released by my opponent making it easier to escape. Systema taught me to look for tension but in my BJJ training has helped me develop a heightened sense of feel for it.

Because of my exposure to Systema I am developing another way to think about tension. We purposely tense some body parts while simultaneously keeping others loose. Someone might grab me by the shoulder but I still have use of my elbow or hand or other leg and so on. I can see that concept more and more in my Kenpo. My instructor will first teach me the "book version" of the Kenpo technique then he will do what I call "systemafy" it for me. Which actually helps to demystify and usually make the technique work with more sensitivity and less effort. But mostly I am learning that I don't have to muscle my way through it. Some of the movements are so subtle it's almost feels like magic.

The BJJ opened up the door to trying kettle bells. I had never heard of them before seeing them at the BJJ school. Some of the movements required to lift the bell reminded me of the way we move in systema. The motion of my hips when I do wood choppers with a kettle bell reminds me of how we add power to a punch by keeping our hips loose in Systema. When doing Turkish Get Ups by moving one hinge at a time reminds of Sytema movement as well. One common thread that carries through Kenpo, BJJ and Systema is understanding how useful it is to control the hinges whether on the ground or standing up. Good posture is key in any martial art and understanding how to manipulate a persons spine to take them down. Where to apply pressure, when to release or simply move.

A friend of mine is becoming a certified Pilates instructior. She needed to teach to log a number of hours teaching to get to her next level. I jumped at the chance to try it. Sometimes Pilates feels like I have to use a different part of my brain to be able to tell my limbs and abs to do certain exercises. Understanding how tension works is also useful in Pilates as well. There are many exercises where my shoulders need to stay relaxed while my leg muscles are tense. There are also some kettle bell exercises that I do differently now because of my exposure to Pilates. For example now when I do a Russian Twist with the kettle bell if I focus on keeping my knees and thighs muscles tight and together, I find it will work different muscles much deeper in my abdomin.

My kettle bell training lead me to do some work with joint mobility. Joint mobility relates to BJJ for obvious reasons because of the locks and holds but joint mobility is a key component to Systema as well. Many of the drills will encorporate joint mobility. I learned some joint mobility exercises in my kettle bell certification but I didn't start doing the drills regularly until after I started Pilates. When I leave my Pilates lesson I feel amazing. Open. Relaxed. So I decided to add at least one day of joint mobility drills because I thought it would also make me feel amazing and it does. At least once a week I work every joint from head to toe.

I feel I have landed in some fertile ground. Am I in full bloom?
Well that waits to be seen. The more I learn the more I realize there is still way more to learn. The more I do the more I can do. They say a right of passage occurs in three stages. Leaving the old, transitioning and arriving to the new. Earning my black belt was a right of passage but it was really just the gateway and a way to mark the beginning of the next passage way.

One of my favorite artists is Calafornia artist Robert Irwin. Many of his installations dealt with perception. A shift in perception can feel like magic.
He believes that the most important thing a person can learn is how to learn and
he said one of my very favorite quotes, "The wonder is still there."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

In my Element

A college art professor of mine told me one time. "All you need to worry about is who you sleep with, who you drink with and who you show your art with." Although there is a lot of truth in that statement, I'd like to add it also matters who you train with.

The karate school where I train is 72 miles from my home. I have been training there for the past three and a half years. I traveled a bumpy road to get to that school but it has been more than worth the effort to get there. The school where I began training a was only a few short blocks and well within walking distance of my home. When I trained at that first school the idea of traveling so far to train seemed out of the question. Impossible.

There is no shortage of karate schools in my area and many people will ask me why do I train all the way out there. Why do I? I believe I have found my tribe.

When I am at that school I am in my "element". It is the first place I have been in a very long time where I feel like I truly belong. Much of it has to do with the people that I train with and my instructor who runs the school. I initially started martial arts because of my kids but when I tried it, I was hooked. Up until that point, my life's passion, my life's work was my art. When my art business took a turn and sort of grounded itself, It was while I was preparing for my black belt test so it seemed natural transition to let go of the art and throw myself into my training. Everything I could put into my art I could transfer just as easily into martial art. My strong work ethic, self discipline, passion. It was all there. So imagine how disappointed I was when my little neighborhood karate school locked it's doors and closed the week after I passed my test. I was left without my tribe. I had found I nice little safe haven for myself at that school. I had people, instructors who encouraged me to try to do things I imagined that I could never do. I had happy fun people to train with. I could work hard and no one was threatened by that. I could do my best and people would encourage me to do better.

What happened next seemed like a good idea at the time but I was naive and lets just leave it at that. I was approached by another student from the school and I was also approached by the landlord who owned the space where the school was located about opening a new school in it's place, which we did. And, like I said, it seemed like a good idea at the time and it wasn't all bad but it did make my life a difficult struggle for the next two years. Many times I ponder why did I do that and devote two very solid years of my life to that project but I am convinced that I would not be where I am today had I not gone through all of that. People who cared about me the most and who knew me best could see that I wasn't happy. It was my weekly weight group who pointed out that when I was preparing for my black belt I was happy, healthy and in control of my life. They said, "Karate used to make you happy, you need to find a way to make it fun for you again." And they were right. I left that meeting knowing I had to make a change.
As things unraveled at my school shortly after that it was "suggested" that I leave. My ego could have taken that very badly but to be honest I felt a flash of relief and so I went with my gut, packed up my office and never went back.

Luckily I had a place to go. I had seen my new instructor at a seminar performing one of our forms, Long Form 4. I liked his body mechanics and I liked how confident he was when he did his form. I liked how he interacted with his instructor and treated him with respect. I knew I wanted to train with him. The first time I went to his school for a private lesson, I was impressed with how respectfully people treated one another. It was clean and organized and the children in the kids classes behaved respectfully as well. He invited me to attend the adult classes because he thought it would be good for me to work with is black belts.
They could do so much more than I had seen anyone do with their karate. They were knowledgeable and spontaneous. I wanted to be more like them. I had found my element. Training was fun and interesting and the people were great too.

In a book by Ken Robinson, Ph D. "The Element how finding your passion changes everything" he talks about finding your tribe. And he says that when you find your tribe you find yourself with a group of people who see the world the way you do, who allow you to feel your most natural, who affirm your talents, who inspire you, influence you, and drive you to be your best. You are close to your true self when you find these people.

This is what I have found in the school where I train. This is why I drive 72 miles one way to train 2-3 time a week. A few weeks after I left my old school I said to my instructor, "I still don't know how my business partner ended up with the school because I felt I had more passion for the art. And he said to me, " You simply wanted to be here more, You're better off and you fit in better out here anyway." I'm glad he thinks so too.

I'd like to end with this quote from Goethe, "If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; However, if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Perfect Practice makes Perfect

Practicing always seems like a good idea. At least it does until it's time to actually do it. Then I somehow always get cold feet. I put it off even if I have designated a time to do it. When the time rolls around I'll think of something else I have to do, "Oh maybe later. There's still time." I think to myself. And I'll ignore the desire before I finally give in and practice.

If I have a specific goal like when I was training to get my black belt, I knew how many months I had to plan. I had a vision in my head how I wanted to perform the day of the test. So several months out, in addition to going to more classes per week, I made the effort to practice. I was shy about it at first. I would set time aside, go to the studio and walk right up to the edge of the mat and I would have to nudge myself to actually take the final step onto the mat. Just to practice! Recently I have set the goal for myself to practice my forms every Sunday afternoon. It's not a particularly difficult task yet I find myself putting it off. Giving in to guilty pleasures like Sunday afternoon naps or like today, writing this blog post instead. What's my problem? It's really not hard to practice. It can actually be very relaxing to work my forms and the relief I feel once it is done should be incentive all on it's own. Plus I would improve my skill. My practice needs practice.

A year ago this weekend I passed instructor certification to teach kettle bells under Steve Maxwell. I set the certification as a challenge for myself. I knew it would be grueling but I wanted to make myself do it to see if I could. The seminar was geared to professional trainers and school owners and other martial artists. I learned a lot and did better than I thought. My kettle bell instructor from the school where I take my weekly classes worked with me and we practiced before the certification. She coached me to the level I needed to be to pass the certification. In addition to the workout challenges it was interspersed with lectures and information about how to train a professional athlete or high level amateur. Mr Maxwell walked us through some steps and the final steps were mental emotional skills which included visualization. He said all great athletes do this and there are four steps. Step number one visualize a master doing the moves. Step two is a personal point of view from far away like watching the master but it's yourself. Step three visualize from first person. Like you are actually doing it and seeing it through your own eyes. The fourth step is to see yourself in trouble and then triumph because things never go the way that you think they will.

An athlete needs a prematch ritual something that gets you focused and relaxed. Find a way to feel calm and feel good. Next is a performance mantra, self talk, positive statements. For every negative thought replace it with two positive ones.

I feel I need these rituals just to walk out on to the practice floor.
When practicing it's good to have a goal for the practice session especially when practicing forms. Have a plan and know what specific things to work on. Your intent is your purpose.

I know I have greatness in me. We are born with everything we need. But life somehow takes it from us. We learn many things in martial arts that used to be part of us. Much of what we are learning we were born with. When I was a little girl about eight years old I saw ads on TV for a toy made by Whamo that was called a "Footsie". It looked like great fun. It was a yellow plastic ring with a green vinyl plastic string and a hot pink plastic shaped cup at the end of it. It worked by slipping the ring around the ankle and tossing the plastic cup, getting the string and cup in motion. Then with a little flick of the ankle to keep the plastic cup moving in a circle while the other foot jumped over the string and the cup as it came around. It looked so easy on the commercial. I remember the evening I got it. I was at my grandmothers house with my cousin, we both had them and it was so disappointing to realize it wasn't as easy as the commercial made it out to be. And to make it a little worse, but just a little, my cousin who was a year younger was having more success with it. I had a tremendous desire to conquer this toy. I'm sure it was all I could think about. We played with it that night till it was too dark to see. The next morning my parents awoke to the sound of bright pink plastic chafing the macadam outside. At seven a.m. my mother asked, "What's that noise?" My dad replied. "It's Teresa learning how to Footsie, she's been out there for at least two hours since the sun came up. " I practiced it till I had mastered the Footsie by seven am. I didn't hesitate, didn't second guess myself. I wasn't embarrassed to make a fool of myself. I visualized it, I set the goal and I practiced till I got it. Perfect practice makes perfect. The next time I need to practice I'm going to channel that little girl.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Thoughts for Food.

My most recent "aha"moment occurred a few weeks ago while I was attending a Systema seminar in Delaware taught by Martin Wheeler. It was my first seminar in Systema that was outside of the school where I train. I wasn't nervous about going to the seminar. The only thing I worried about was the hour long workout at the beginning that would include multiple pushups.
I get a little frustrated because I do something physical every day, sometimes even twice a day. I do kettle bell workouts, Pilates, Kenpo, BJJ and some Systema to name a few. I get frustrated because I feel like I should be able to do more than two or three what I call "guy" pushups. I mean good ones with your elbows in.

The push ups at this seminar were not regular old pushups these were the push ups starting in the up position at the number twenty. Then counting down to the number one while moving incrementally down to the bottom with each number and then doing the same to get back up. Oh and it was a very slow count. The number one position and the number twenty positions were doable but the numbers two through nineteen that came in between was extremely difficult. I decided to try my best. I could do maybe half of one or I could make it down to the one position but then I would get stuck. When we started in the up position at number twenty I'm thinking, "This isn't so bad, oh I love Systema, yay Systema I'm doing it. " and then we reach the middle numbers and my positive thoughts begin to change to something like, "What have I gotten my self into? this isn't fun, What else will we have to do, this is just the beginning of class, how am I going to do this? " And then I would descend to a point where it would start to get easier and my thoughts would return to loving Systema. It was easier down at the number one position, which I could hold. I would think "oh ok. I can do this... I like Systema again. Yeah it's really not that bad" After a few rounds of these pushups Mr Wheeler demonstrated one for us again. Only this time he included thoughts that you might be having while doing them. It was dead on almost word for word what I had been thinking. I began to wonder how he could have read my mind. My first "aha" was realizing that I wasn't the only one who struggled with this. I wasn't alone. Mr Wheeler went on to say how when you are in this part in the middle where it's really difficult, that is when those thoughts come in and he said, "That's self pity and you have to get through it." It surprised me that he called it self pity. "That's self pity? right there? " I thought. "What's it doing there? Those thoughts in the middle are self pity." It was a major revelation. He went on to say that you have to get past the pity part and work your way through it and not give up because our muscles are strong enough it's our thoughts that are holding us back. "You work your way through it, get stronger, get better and soon you'll love to exercise." he said.

I looked at the bigger picture. I began to think about many other struggles in my life. In the worst part of it, the center of it, was also self pity. It was the self pity that prevented me from moving forward. I've seen this in myself. I've seen it in my kids, my parents, my friends. Suddenly I could see everything differently.

A few days ago I had lunch with a group of women friends. This particular group of women
get together to discuss our problems with food. At one time or another we all had been in the same weight loss group. A weight loss group that was very strict, so strict that if you did not lose the assigned amount of weight for the month or could not maintain your goal weight, you would be kicked out. We all had experienced success in that group and lost lots of weight and even maintained for a few years. The program was simple but in the end it wasn't easy. All but one in the group had fallen off the path and had gotten kicked out. Once you are kicked out, unless you change your name or lie and say you are somebody else, you are never permitted to join the group again. So after several months or years of struggling on our own we decided to form our own group. We used to meet weekly then it fell off to monthly and now we just get together every now and then but our conversations are pretty much the same. None of us except one who is still in the old group, have been able to get back to our goals. We say the same thing every time, "We know what to do! we're just not doing it." One of the reasons we made this group was because we wanted to challenge ourselves to go a little deeper and try to get to the bottom of why we choose to eat. Overall the women have made some progress. I can't help wondering are we all not reaching our goal weight because we are stuck in our self pity mode? It would make sense with the emotional eaters for sure because while we are eating we are all having those negative thoughts. Perhaps we haven't been successfully worked through those tough number two through nineteen mental pushups. We know we are strong enough. We have the brain power to do it. Hmm...have I just gotten to the bottom of this? It's definitely food for thought.