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."