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.