Predictable and Purged

Two people dear to me received bad news this week.  The issue for one was professional; for the other, medical.

Bad news produces a predictable response for me.  I feel angry and know that emotion will last a while.  I feel self-pity and immediately try to will that response away as quickly as possible, because it simply produces more anger.  (Self-pity makes me feel weak; the Marine father is responsible for that.)

I do my best to get a prayer out as quickly as I can, even if it’s one of complaint.  It serves to remind me that most things are beyond my control and that they always will be.

Depending on the news, I probably shed some tears or at least feel the sting of salt from the ones that don’t fall.  Then, I make a call or send a text to Merle, because being loved makes all things bad better.

Finally, I do some kung fu: a volley of triple straight punches into the elevator air, as if the bad news has taken physical form that I can strike.  A couple of sidekicks against the wall of the handicapped bathroom stall – gently, so as not to damage a knee or be heard by others.  The release is cathartic and just enough to get me to the next class, where I can thoroughly purge it all out and take the next right step to the next best thing.

Neither of my friends do kung fu, but they have their equivalents.  We all do, I believe, even if not recognized as such.  Whatever returns one to center, provides assurance that all will be right at some point, even if “right” looks different than initially imagined, that’s the best bet for getting to the other side of bad news.


Seems Like Minutia

My son doesn’t believe in free will.  He’s a philosophy buff with strong analytical skills that serve him well most of the time, but he may be overthinking things on this one.  By contrast, my daughter acts as if she thinks free will is the end all and be all, and there should be nothing but personal choice.

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Sitting in front of the flower stand in Philadelphia’s South Street today, scarfing down a snack before an author interview, I was feeling pretty philosophical.  That’s what got me thinking about my children and choices.  I wondered if the very campus I was headed to for a work assignment would be Aaron’s home by this time next year.  He would then spend a fair amount of time in the very station I was sitting in, catching trains home for… kung fu.

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Will he be chosen by the school(s) of his choice?  What will he choose to do if not? I wondered.

What if my own first and second choices for colleges had been reversed and I’d gone to Boston instead of D.C.?  I wouldn’t have been in D.C. to choose to help a co-worker drive from Washington to Austin for graduate school.  Aaron and Ava wouldn’t be here, then.  I wouldn’t have met the Texan ex-husband without those choices.

Choices and the consequences thereof can be wild and crazy things.  Even the ones that seem like minutia can be game changers. I thought as I sipped from a soda.

As I gathered my equipment to head to the taxi stand, I could feel a headache coming on.  It was time to give philosophical musings a rest.  So I chose to do just that.


Ninety and Ninety

Ninety minutes of learning in the guan today.  Ninety minutes of teaching at the gym.  My most faithful student came early and stayed late for the final class of the session, and I hobbled together an hour of self-training in the time before and after she left.  By the time I washed off the day’s training and teaching in the shower, I’d been in one set of kung fu clothes or another for more than eight hours and felt like I’d worked every muscle I have, whether I wanted to or not.

It was a successful, exhausting day of martial arts mania.  And I liked it.  A lot.

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Here’s hoping the next session brings many more like it… along with new and better ways to  nurse my knees when the days are done! :-)


The Only Variable

I took a night off from kung fu last night, which always leaves me anxious to get back a little faster.  My mind’s already in the guan. But there’s a lot besides kung fu going on in my head today; so I’m going to let things tumble as they may.

A third member of the family has begun black sash testing.  Here’s Merle post sparring practice with me, sometime last week.

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Our girl has decided that she’s not thrilled about being the only member of the family who’s not yet eligible for testing.  All of a sudden, Ava’s stepping up her game and executing some of the better kicking combinations she’s ever put out.  Today will tell the tale on whether she’s really pushing for eligibility. Today, she has the sparring practice that she dreads, and I want her to do well.  I want her to be deemed eligible for testing if she wants to be.

In her favor is the absence of a brother who’s normally a thorn in her side whenever the sparring gear goes on.  Tonight, he’s going to work.

This fact was a bone of contention of sorts last night, as I always seem to be the last to know when his plans change.  Now that Merle is testing, that can be inconvenient, with one car in the family and three people who often have different places to be that are 10 to 40 miles apart or the same place to be at different times.  I’m apparently supposed to “just chill” when a conflict arises, even if it could easily have been avoided by a sharing of information – and even though I’ve requested info sharing ad nauseum.  Such is the plight of parenting a teenager who, by definition, thinks he should be in charge of all aspects of his life at all times, legal liability and severe financial restraints aside, among other things.

Every once and while I have to stop, take a breath and say aloud, “I’m sorry, Mom,” because what goes around truly does come back around.  My son has become just as good at telling me what he thinks is wrong with me as I was at telling my mother.  And that’s just the way it is.  It’s his turn.

Here’s what I know about parenthood, regardless of how my children assess me, each other, themselves: “You’re only as happy as your unhappiest kid.”

I can’t remember where I first heard that, but I remember feeling socked in the gut with its undeniable truth.  I was so moved by it when I first heard it a dozen years ago that I repeated it to half a dozen friends and co-workers, all of whom visibly had the same reaction that I’d felt.  This fact is the reason my son probably hasn’t heard the word “no” from me more than a half dozen times in his 17-plus years (and my daughter’s heard it a lot less than she should, given behavioral issues not entirely in her control).  It’s also the reason I make myself nuts getting them to where they want and/or need to be.

I am unhappy when they are.  Period.  The only variable is the extent.  I can chill all day long if all I have to care about is me, but I doubt there’s a good (custodial) parent on the planet who lives that way.

I have children living near downtown Baltimore, going to underfunded public and parochial schools, with peer influences that haven’t always been good.  But today, I’m not worried about drugs, sex, gangs or bullies – just whether my girl can get eligible for testing if she wants to and if my son can get into and afford the college of his choice.  I’m still moving slowly at becoming a duck (explained here), but I’m surely doing something right!


Surreal but Serene

It all started with flying headgear.  My right hook flung the old, ill-fitting, vinyl-covered foam across the room, where it struck the mirror before laying limp over the air conditioning grate.  I stepped back with hands up, giving the 15-year-old powerhouse the room to retrieve it, but she declined.  I insisted she return the protective covering to her head; she insisted I continue the fight.

I looked at her face, hidden behind long, disheveled hair, and for just a moment I could see it.  She wasn’t simply exhausted after the ninth fighting rotation of the class; she was irritated – more than was warranted by losing her headgear to the second or third punch of our match.

I looked to my left and quickly caught a glimpse of a grin on her older brother’s face.  Less than a minute earlier, she’d been fighting her greatest and longest-standing rival, an 18-year-old bulky brawler with good footwork (long-haired blonde in the picture below), who was good at keeping his hands in motion before punching.  My opponent was annoyed at her brother, and she wanted to take it out on me.  She wanted to be the one doing the beating for a while.

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Against my better judgment, I got back in fighting stance and threw a jab to the top of her stomach.  Immediately after it hit, she was wrapped around my midsection and driving hard, trying to use her uncovered head to push me to the floor.  It was reminiscent of a fight earlier in the summer discussed here; only, my most logical and effective weapon of throwing upper cuts to a face in perfect position to receive them couldn’t be used.  I had to remember that she wasn’t wearing headgear.  Just as I was swinging my hips to fling her off of me, I caught sight of the wall she was rapidly approaching and knew her head would hit first.

“Wait a minute!”  I said as I pulled my hips back the other direction to slow her collide with the wall.  “I’m at a disadvantage because I can’t hit you in the head.”

“Hit her in the head!” her brother said while punching someone else.  She agreed.

I looked around for our instructor, thinking he’d put a stop to the MMA-style thinking these kids were famous for.  He was too wrapped up in his own match to say a word.  He was also used to granting their family permission to bloody each other.  So, with no one telling me I couldn’t hit her in the head unless she was wearing headgear, we proceeded.

It was among the more surreal experiences of my martial arts life.  For the remaining ninety seconds or so it felt like I was fending off a mugger – an upper class, suburban mugger with a few pounds on me, despite the three decades I have on her.  Fending her off required that I pummel the unprotected head (and body) of a doctor’s daughter – with the doctor in the room, saying nothing!  Go figure!

“That was not at all ‘light and fast,’” I said, quoting Siheng Mark’s directive on how to fight.  Moving on to the last opponent, still winded from fighting the kid and the eight opponents before her, I thought: What is with these teenagers?  Do they always fight like they have to take out the world, even with each other?  Or do they just need to prove that a middle-aged woman with really bad knees is not going beat them?

I don’t know the answers to my questions, and I don’t care.  I just know that the two teens who literally tried to knock me down this summer couldn’t.


The Honest Answer

It feels like I’ve been a student of communication forever.  The thing I tend to catch pretty easily – probably because it’s a pet peeve as much as it can be a professional liability – is when an answer to a question I’ve asked is nonresponsive.  Politicians are great at that: telling an interviewer whatever sound bites they want repeated, rather than actually answering the question that was asked.  People who aren’t big fans of direct communication or who simply have their own reasons for avoiding the truth are good at it, too.

I thought of Sifu as good at being nonresponsive, after our communication catastrophe earlier in the year, which effectively ended with a demand for my silence.  But after six months of squelching my natural impulse to simply ask for the information I want, an overflowing class of first-timers on Saturday compelled me to offer to teach again at the guan and ask Sifu if he’d allow it.  If ever there were a time to call in the teaching cavalry, it would have been with Saturday’s motley crew; so I was surprised and upset not to have been tapped.

When I first read his emailed response, all I could see was this: “I appreciate the offer to help.  But it’s not necessary at this time.”  You didn’t answer my question! I thought.  But I received the email right before having to give my attention to a group of friends for a couple of hours.  The time spent not thinking about the nonresponsive nature of his answer was a godsend.  For when I reread the exchange later in the evening, I saw more than I had upon initial reading.

He’d also told me that he understood I was willing to help and would keep me in mind in the future.  I was still a possible substitute somewhere down the line.  I just didn’t know when.  He might not know either.

So what’s the big deal, one may ask?  The episode made me wonder if I need to reconsider what constitutes nonresponsive.  Perhaps questions of mine that I think have a definitive black or white answer actually don’t.  Maybe instead of yes or no, the honest answer is I don’t know.  Maybe the question itself isn’t as clear as I think it should be to the reader or listener.  Maybe, just maybe, I misread or misinterpret the answer simply because it doesn’t contain what I want it to.

Sifu may have just been letting me down easy.  I have no way to know.  But the questions his answer made me ask myself were a worthwhile lesson for this student of communication.


Sash Levels and Surveys

This is what boot camp must be like.  Going to sleep late after nursing one’s strained muscles until well past midnight, then rising early to abuse the body all over again.  Only in boot camp, one gets paid for the privilege.  As much as I love kung fu, sometimes I wonder why I put myself through this.  The  morning after the Friday night class is usually when that happens.

With my students out of town this weekend and Merle beginning testing (and thus required to attend Friday class), I accompanied her to the guan last night to find that things had changed a bit since the last time I was there.  In walked two green sashes and a blue sash, making me wonder if I was in the right place.  Friday night used to be a red and black sash class only where the body was put through the grinder of kung fu techniques for two hours.  The presence of the lower sashes didn’t lessen the repetitions, but it drastically eased the difficulty level of the drills.  What’s happening to Sifu?  I thought.

This discovery came in the same week that my inbox included a survey from him.  A survey.  The man who practically screamed at me back in February that things are the way they are, they’re going to stay that way, and I need to take it or leave it, is now asking all his students to tell him what they think could stand to be changed about the curriculum, teaching methods – the whole kit and caboodle.  I like to think that his unfortunate exchange with me in February set him to thinking about being set in his ways.  But maybe it’s just fatherhood that’s changing him.  Either way, I’ll take it!

Now, I’ve got to get ready for more kung fu.

 


Drive Time

Twice a month I drive to work.  That’s about an hour and fifteen minutes of one-way driving in rush hour traffic.  Unlike driving to and from the grocery store or kung fu or college visits, that bi-monthly drive has become the time that I listen to music that’s special to me without the interruption of family conversation.

Driving up the highway last night, on my way to kung fu training at the gym, I just had to hear a song from a CD my son gave me for my birthday.  It’s a great collection of tunes I loved back in my twenties and songs he loves today that are similar to the old Nineties “alternative music” hits.  My need to hear the song was a direct result of a cool photo of the extended family that he sent me from his grandparents house, where he’s the photographer for a change.

Courtesy of YouTube, of course, here’s the song the picture put in my head.  The studio version is one of my new favorites of 2014, thanks to a kid who knows me pretty well, but the live version is pretty good, too!

 


Bending Before the Break

Kung fu and cupcakes – that’s what I want.  I’m finding it harder and harder to get out of bed for the commuter train in the morning, which is why I’m becoming habitually late.  My boss is on vacation this week; so the guy with one-third of my experience in the industry is in charge in his absence.  I just love it when that’s the case.

Truth be told, I think the ability to bend my hours as sleep, child and kung fu needs dictate is a direct result of the under-experienced one being made second in command.  It’s been insinuated that my freedom of movement is the Bossman’s way of making that indignity up to me.  But it’s not enough anymore.

I leave Sunday’s class, miniscule though it is, satisfied, happy and wanting to do it all over again the next day.  My six-year-old’s mom joined us in class, and she was pretty good.  More to the point, her  presence made the first grader work harder.  I was able to get through half the Chu Chi Chuan form for the first time, having previously been forced to settle for having the students do repetitions of the first three horse stance punch moves.  I’ve spent so much time on double straight punches and walking snap kicks (coordination doesn’t come naturally to every recent kindergarten graduate) that the form has taken a bit of a back seat.  Additionally, both students have only attended a class a week.  (If I were the parent, I’d be getting my money’s worth!)

The benefit of halftime attendance is that they have to sign up for the second session to learn the rest of the form, and they’ve already told me they’re going to do just that.  My energies are now turned to drumming up more business, and I’m enjoying that, too.  I never thought marketing would give me a charge.

Could I make a living at this, supplemented by cupcake sales (I’ve signed up for the food manager certification to be licensed to cook in a commercial kitchen) and freelance journalism?  I believe I could.  And with each passing day the happiness attached to doing and teaching kung fu, and hearing the enthusiastic inquiry “Do you sell these somewhere??” from almost every person who’s recently tasted a baked good from my kitchen, has finally come to outweigh the fear of not making the bills.

In 2015, my son starts a new chapter of his life.  Barring the unforeseen, I think I might beat him to it!


Quiet in the Kung Fu House

I am alone in my own home.  The children are at their grandparents’ house, and my better half is out of town for a Monday funeral.  The last time I went to sleep and woke up at my address with no one else in the building, I didn’t have a daughter yet and my two-year-old son had a weekend’s head start on Christmas vacation with his dad and grandparents, while I was finishing up the work week.

The quiet in my house was disquieting once I wound down from a good class and training session.   Without a family meal to cook or laundry to fold, I noticed for the first time that there’s a kung fu item of some sort in pretty much every room of the house.  Not that I didn’t know they were there.  I just didn’t realize that my entire living space contains kung fu items, until there was nothing to distract me from the realization.

There’s the 100-pound bag in my bedroom, and the adjustable bag in the family room.

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There’s the inability to use the first-floor stairway or the kitchen without passing the collection of workout bags and gear in front of the basement door.

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There’s the virtual staff store we pass when leaving the house, and the sashes and medals hanging on walls, mirrors and doors.

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This is a martial arts house – period.  Even when I’m the only person home.

I have to smile at that fact…even while I’m shaking my head. :-)


Foot-cramped and Kid-Free

My beautiful babes were in a goofy mood as they waited to get through airport security.  I’m in the middle of day one of nine without my loquacious Minecraft and Warriors-loving girl and my ear buds-donning, bilingual boy, with arms full of self-made bracelets.

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He held up the security line for a good five minutes getting them off and back on.  I’m fairly certain he’ll pack some of them on the way back.

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All four family members sweat together in Saturday’s upper sash class.  It’s the only hour of the kung fu week that we’re all guaranteed to be together.  So, of course, I missed my kids today — particularly as my beleaguered glutes started screaming for relief somewhere around the forty-fifth outside crescent kick.

Misery loves company.  In this Saturday of seemingly endless kicks and horse stance holding, my daughter would have commiserated and then some.  “Batman” might have asked to kick in another rotation or two.  Then, I would’ve wanted to kick him. :-)


Britches and Cheeks

Watching from the car as my children and other students awaited the arrival of Siheng, I realized that a month had passed since last we had a Thursday with Pooh.  First he was on vacation; then, we were college hopping. It was good to see him again.

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But my children’s adopted local dad came back from vacation with a bee in his britches.  No more socializing, goofing off, complaining, he lectured. His is an advanced class; it’s time to stop acting like beginners, he told the class.  He took half of the blame for the relaxed atmosphere on his watch, but no more.   Pooh was decidedly out of honey, yet no one seemed to mind.

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It was a hard-working, focused session.  My son leaves town on a high note for vacation with the grandparents; my daughter leaves with the worrisome realization that even with Pooh, who’s awfully fond of her, she’s going to have to act like a red sash – finally.

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What’s the worst thing that could happen?  She might get tapped for black sash testing earlier than she thinks.

Meanwhile, downstairs, Merle practiced all of her under sash forms to prepare for her first of twelve black sash tests.  The kids are going to miss cheering her on for the first test but will have a front-row seat for number two.  If all goes well, my better half and I will share the same black sash award anniversary weekend every January.  That thought makes me grin until my cheeks hurt.

Speaking of hurt cheeks, there’s nothing like a form full of deep empty stances (at least four, by quick count) to make this woman more conscious of her ass than I ever wanted to be.  I’ve spent so much time this summer concentrating on swinging the staff, running with it, walking with it, turning, etc. that I was temporarily oblivious to the pain that can be generated just standing still with it, like below.  Of course the only reason they hurt so much is because this pose is much closer to the floor these days than it is here.

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Progress can be painful… especially when the goofing off is done.


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