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."