Monthly Archives: April 2014

Not for Anything

In the fall of 2000, right around the time then-Governor Bush’s drinking history became the October surprise of the presidential campaign, my three-year-old boy was earning the nickname “the littlest techie.”  I was one of the senior producers for an entertainment company that was starting a news division, and shortly after the job began it came with the unexpected twist of requiring that I commute back and forth from DC to NYC for several months.  They let me bring my son to New York and into the studio with me for part of that time, after I tore into an underling over a minor mistake and apologized with the tag line, “I miss my son!”  That was the first business trip of motherhood for me.

While it was a nightmare in many ways, it also enabled me to live well in Manhattan – a place I’d always wanted to live, having grown up right over the state line in Connecticut – on someone else’s dime.  It’s certainly been true since then that all work travel comes with similar fringe benefits.  Still, as time moves on and the children need me less, these trips remain hard to make – and I couldn’t be more grateful for the difficulty.

For nine years now, the four of us have engaged in martial arts training as a unit. There’s never been a time when just the children attended or just the parents.  One of the four has taken leave to either physically repair or mentally regroup, but we have always returned to our place in the family ritual.

Kung fu is at the center of our life routine.  It is the thing all four of us plan around.  It is the reason we’ve spent an enormous amount of time together, been present to watch each other grow and change, hurt and celebrate.  There might have been another activity to bind us, but I can’t imagine what it would have been.  I share love of baseball and football with my daughter, love of fine dining with my son, love of all three with my partner.  But we couldn’t afford to do any of those things outside the home three to four times a week, and at least one family member would probably want to sit out.  Martial arts was the activity we wanted to do that we could do, and it’s helped maintain an amazing relationship that I wouldn’t exchange for anything.

Tomorrow I leave on a business trip that includes a free evening in Beverly Hills to do as I please, and I’d rather stay home with my family.  I’m sure that’s crazy to some.  It feels awfully lucky to me.


Middle of the Last Decade

“There are muscles hurting I didn’t know I had.”

My son’s very glib response to this announcement was, “Well, at least now you know you have them.”  I wanted to go a round with him after that one, but in my state, he would have won before I moved a finger.

I attended Sanshou class Monday night for the first time and walked myself into a state of contented numbness. We did footwork drills – forward and back, side to side – for so long that the pain in my knees and calves had me moments from telling Siheng that I had to bow out of the exercise, perhaps even the class. But a funny thing happened on the way to paralysis.

While chanting in my head “get to the end” in the middle of what turned out to be row ten, the searing pain in my tense, overworked, pissed-off knees and calves dissolved. It just disappeared into the steamy air that covers the windows with condensation. In its place was a numbness that enabled freer movement.

What just happened here? I thought, switching directions to do the sideways two-step back down the floor. There was the obvious, clichéd reality that by continuing to do what I was supposed to do, I’d made it to the other side. But something brand spanking new had happened, too; I could literally feel it in my bones through the aching that set in later in the night.

Sure enough, I woke up Tuesday feeling like mind and spirit had been transplanted into someone else’s body. Nothing hurt! I mean nothing. The last time I could say that without aid of a shot was about the middle of last decade! If I’d known that moving around with bent knees for the better part of thirty non-stop minutes (and then another hour of it, with a handful of standing-up and sitting-down breaks sprinkled in) would be some kind of cure for what physically ails me, I would have joined Sanshou on day one!

Perhaps it’s a fluke, and my knees and lower back will be killing me by the end of eight hours at a desk. But for now, I’m a convert on a cloud of happy anxious to practice more footwork.

Did I just say that?

The Language Dance

I struggle with communication problems.  Perpetually.  Not my own, mind you, but other people’s – and the effect their choices when speaking (or to stay silent) have on my life.

I would like to say it started with my fallout with Sifu over his response to my first tournament win or with the endless weeks it took to get a straight answer from the gym on whether I could run a kung fu class.  But it didn’t.  I would like to say I’m immune to such problems myself, but I’m not.  I’ve noticed, for decades it seems, going back to arguments with an ex-husband who excelled at passive aggression, that most people do not simply state what they want or need at the appropriate time in the appropriate way.  The burning question of my morning is: can anything be done about this?

If there’s a solution, the first order of business would be to determine why people don’t just speak when they should.  The obvious answer, of course, is fear – fear of not getting what’s wanted; fear of disappointing, hurting or angering the other person(s) in the conversation.  But the painful irony is that the language dance that must be done to avoid the disappointment, hurt or anger leaves the core of the message undelivered.  Sometimes what is said is so ambiguous interpretation is required to decipher the point – and misunderstanding is virtually guaranteed.

The flip side of the beating-around-the-bush-approach is the one I was raised with – an often-disturbing absence of nuance that unquestionably causes the hurt, anger, etc. that I would like to avoid as much as the beat-around-the-bush folks.  I just want to be clear and understood more.

I never had any problem understanding my parents or other family members.  I thought everyone was as direct as they were.  Then, I left home.

I’m not recommending my familial approach.  Regular readers know that I’ve made greater mindfulness an important part of my life in recent months.  That includes trying to be aware of how my words will be received before I speak them and adjusting accordingly.  Some days, though, I’d give an awful lot to just get through an entire twenty-four hour period without having to ask: “Why didn’t you tell me that before?” or “What does that mean?”

Surely there’s a middle ground or two, a way around both communication approaches without the entire human race having to take classes in behavioral psychology or clinical social work.  But maybe not… you know what I mean? 🙂

Strange Day

Testing day yesterday was small, quiet and lonely.  Only six black sashes were there to evaluate the candidates, and for the first time since his promotion, my son was not among them.  He had a school obligation, and the rest of the family simply had no reason to attend.

Adding to the unusual vibe of the day, only one Siheng joined Sifu in the demonstration portion of testing.  A two-person demonstration was a first in my testing day experience – but it certainly made the morning move faster.


The upside of so small a contingent of black sashes was that I ranked higher than normal in the hierarchy of those present and thus was able to award the sashes for the first time.  I enjoyed that – particularly since I got to award the yellow sash to my last new student, the seven-year-old who joined the school and my class right before the class was no longer mine to teach.  It was bittersweet.


I ended the morning bolstered to come out of the box I’ve been assigned to for two months.  Taking advantage of what seemed to be a decent mood for Sifu, I asked if he has an idea of when I may return to Friday class.  I’m not actually sure I prefer his Friday class to the quiet and freedom of intense self-training in a gym that’s near empty during end-of-the-week happy hour, but I’d like the freedom to choose.  It’s strange to be without that freedom after three years of taking it for granted.   Conscious of both Sifu’s discomfort with confrontation and my own with face-to-face disappointment, I waited until I left the guan and emailed the question.

While waiting (now at the twenty-two hour mark) for Sifu’s response, I look forward to hurrying through an extra Sunday workday and finding a solution to the broken down laptop problem along the way.  It’s been a bit of an abnormal weekend with no Saturday kung fu class, no family quality time, no home computer and an extra workday… but I’m still smiling. 🙂


Smile Therapy

I woke up with a sore throat from the cold I’ve been fighting off for a month with endless horse pills of vitamin C. So I took the day off to give my body much-needed rest.

I have to work this Sunday to cover for a producer who’s on vacation. That would have been my second one-day weekend of the month, if I hadn’t called in today.

I have to spend four days in Los Angeles next weekend working on a show that I don’t think is worth crossing the country to do. I would have flown the author to us as normal, but the call wasn’t mine to make.

My computer stopped working last night. I found out from the tech person at Office Depot that my hard drive is shot, and it would cost less to buy a new laptop than fix the hard drive.

I drove across town to the martial arts store to replace my staff only to find a “back at 3p” sign on the door. It was 2 o’clock at the time.

In short, mind and body are dealing with more than a few annoyances today. So I’m smiling broadly – at every stranger I pass on the street, at every customer service rep and cashier working with me. And you know what? They’re smiling back, adding warmth to the day, making me feel good about having the presence of mind not to be dragged down by ankle biters.

Each day turns on the little things, it seems. I’m rarely let down when the part that I play is a positive one.


Retiring a Partner

I’ve been in denial about my beloved staff.  It’s time to give up the ghost.  I must replace it as soon as possible.

I aggravated my shoulder twice last night when I abruptly clenched my hand and arm to keep the former from sliding across the splintered section of wood on my staff.  I don’t know who I was kidding when I said the missing chunk wouldn’t interfere with the hand slides.  Maybe I was just tired at the end of training and not executing properly when I imagined I wouldn’t get splinters from the break.  But reality is now here.  And reality bites.


My attachment to my weapons is obviously strong, and I’m not alone in that phenomenon in the martial arts world. The better we get at our weapons forms, the more it feels like the object itself is its own actor in our performance, capable of doing powerful and beautiful things in anyone’s hand, because IT is so cool.  While there’s inevitable joy in starting over with an improved version (the first of any of kind of weapon is rarely the best fit, even after getting used to it), there’s still some grief in retiring a partner earlier than planned.

Ah, well.  One of the few guarantees in life is that everything changes.  Truth be told, this change should be a good one.

War With Ourselves

I got my body mass index measured at the gym on Monday, which I’d never done before.  It came in at a more than respectable rate for an overactive, middle-aged, female martial artist.  Unfortunately, the BMI was displayed on a print out full of additional information about my body, and one line of that little piece of paper keeps coming back to me in flashes – the line telling me my weight.

I’m disappointed in myself that though martial arts has returned me to wearing the same size I wore when I graduated high school, I still care about what the damned number on the scale says.  Never mind that the number reflects muscle mass more than anything else!

The brainwashing of American women has been thorough.  These Barbie Doll, size zero images that have ruled since the days of Twiggy in the late 1960s, have been ingrained as the body image to shoot for.  Weighing more than a buck and a quarter is incompatible with acquiring the ideal – even when the body looks great.   It’s ridiculous, but for so many women like me, it’s true – women who’ve been overweight and have gone to war with ourselves to keep from becoming so again.

I’m very happy to have dropped almost thirty pounds from the days of my depressive overeating after my mother’s death through the beginning of black sash testing.  I’ve only regained five pounds or so in the fifteen months since testing ended, and I appeared to have dropped them again while training for tournaments.  But I will never forget feeling too tall and too fat from about five-years-old until thirteen.  And after shedding the pounds and the laughter of schoolmates and family members alike, I spent the latter part of the teen years as a bulimic, fearful of ever going back.  It isn’t just societal ideals that warp the mind; one’s own experiences can do further damage.

It’s up to me to remember that those days are over.  I will never be shamed again for my weight.  Even if another life tragedy produces a depression that’s soothed with food, I’m capable of returning to a body that makes me happy.  I’ve proven that more than once.

The scale is irrelevant.  It’s up to me to remember that.

Hope and Headaches

It finally happened – the slam that broke the staff. A small section near the top of the narrow end splintered, leaving the length of the staff in tact with a chunk missing from one side. The damage isn’t even in a section that interferes with sliding my hands around; so I’m not at risk for splinters. Still, I’m going to have to replace it before I can use it in another tournament – an expense I was putting off as long as possible. That’s the bad news from the weekend.

The good news is that I learned a bit of how to spin the staff while also spinning my body around. It’s a move I’ve been most fearful of, since it always looked likely to come with a few knocks of the staff against my head. Sure enough, it does. The edges of my frontal plate, where forehead turns into temple, are both feeling pretty tender. I’m just glad there aren’t two symmetrical knots at the top of my face.

Even better news: I met with my future supervisor today at the gym and was also introduced to head of operations. They tell me that the soonest they’ll get the class started is the middle of May, but they’re toying with the idea of just waiting for the summer. When school’s out, I’m virtually guaranteed to have parents beside themselves looking for things for their children to do that don’t involve sitting in front of a screen. I still hope I can get back at it sooner rather than later.

Not much else happening in my kung fu world that hasn’t been written about incessantly. I’m just filled these days with hope and headaches and grateful for such a high class of problems.

Kung Fu Infusion

My gym is closed this Easter Sunday, which left me with far too much time on my hands after cooking and baking for the family.  So what did I do?  I fed my need for a kung fu infusion by revisiting my daughter’s tournament performance last weekend and my own.  I got a touch creative with the video while I was at it.

Enjoy the minute of long staff and the rest of the day.  Happy Easter to those who are celebrating it!


Fun and Family

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“It was nice working with you today. Or nice playing with you, really,” Siheng Perry said with a big smile. Today was the first time in a long time that he was in class with us, and he didn’t disappoint. Siheng Perry can be counted on for both wry humor and corny jokes, and with Sifu out of town judging a tournament, he practically gave us a nightclub act.

Coupled with the warm, easy, enthusiastic instruction of Siheng Steve, my compatriot in kung fu pain and passion (see “Facing the Door,” 4/5/14) it was a truly fun Saturday in the guan. That fun was sorely needed after approaching the school door this morning with a chip on my shoulder I hadn’t been able to shake.

My son attended Friday night class, a class that Sifu has yet to welcome me back into, though we’ve allegedly turned over a new leaf. When my boy began talking about happenings in the class, I felt nostalgic for the camaraderie of the select group I used to be part of, becoming angry about my punishment for the first time in a while. That anger then morphed into renewed disappointment in my son (see “A Small Moment, 3/31/14), who seems completely unbothered by my continued exclusion, though it should have been over the moment Sifu said, “I want us to start over from right now; forget everything I said before today.”


I’m used to a young man known to show righteous indignation over unfair treatment. Perhaps he thinks empathizing with his mother would require boycotting Friday class. I’d settle for a simple, “It really sucks that you can’t come too, Mom,” on his way out the door. But that doesn’t appear to be forthcoming anytime soon – and I still have to feed him. 🙂

Yeah, I definitely needed a fun day in the guan. Gotta love it when the universe gives you what you need.

Not Enough

A meeting is set for next week to finalize plans for the children’s kung fu class at the gym.  My excitement grows as the days pass.  But joy is a bit muted today on this Good Friday, because I miss my mother.

Mom was raised a Fundamentalist Baptist, but by the time she died, she’d probably attended a service of every Christian denomination in North America.   Though she wasn’t loyal to the Fundamentalists (I can’t help but be a bit grateful for that), she was a church-going woman who consciously strove to be a good Christian until the day they wheeled her into the hospice center for the final day of her life.  So, from as far back as I can remember, Easter was a big deal in our household.  And though I’m not a church-going woman, it’s still a big deal to me today.

Ironically, the part of the holiday that makes me wistful for my mother’s presence is the pagan ritual.  Easter egg hunts in her yard are some of the fondest memories I have of the extended family.  And her final Easter, three months before her death, was the last time my children saw her still looking like herself, still acting like Nana.

I wish I could personally thank her for the many wonderful Easter weekends of my life – before and after my children came along.  I did so while she was living, but not nearly enough.


The Missing Question

Do what you love, and the money will follow.  If you love what you do, you’ll never really work a day in your life.  These adages keep bouncing around between the ears, as I recall the series of questions I was asked to answer yesterday for the new gig at the gym.  Each question made me happier than the last, in that they offered me a measure of control I hadn’t previously had as a teacher.

“Do I require a minimum number of students?  Do I have a maximum?  What kind of room set-up will I need?  Do I need the gym to acquire equipment for my class?  What days and times work best for me to teach?”

The last question presented the greatest challenge, because I really wanted to answer: “Whenever you want me to.”  That would not have been wise.   Most notable was the question that wasn’t on the list.  There was nothing at all about expectation of pay – and I was unbothered by the absence.

In the almost two months I’ve spent trying to get this kung fu class off the ground at their facility, the only thought I’ve ever given to compensation is: maybe they’ll give me the gym membership for free in exchange.  Depending upon how successful the program is and how often I find myself teaching, free membership might turn out to be a drop in the bucket for what the class is worth to the gym.  After all, the gym folks are phrasing this as “branching into a new market.”  Common sense says not to sell myself short, and yet I find myself thinking…whatever.

It appears I’ve actually been underestimating how much I love teaching kung fu, if that’s possible.  For I truly just want to do what I love and let the money follow.  That’s a first for this career woman and mother of two, with one child a year away from college.  It’s a great feeling!

Class, line up!