Category Archives: health


I tried to lay off my wounded arm Monday night; I really did.  But I discovered something pretty obvious about kung fu that hadn’t occurred to me before: everything requires the hands and arms.  I thought that as long as I didn’t do any weapons forms, I’d be good to go.  Let the healing begin.  But freehand forms have big circular arm movements that irritate the tendons in my shoulder, too.  I’ve dedicated so much head space over the years to the performance and protection of my knees that I haven’t given my arms nearly the respect that they deserve for all they’ve contributed to my martial arts success, irrespective of my work with weapons. It’s clear as day when I’m sparring but completely subconscious otherwise.  Go figure.

I thought about doing the black sash freehand form without the parts that would heavily involve my right arm socket, but I quickly dispensed with that idea.  Turns out it would have meant leaving out everything from right after the opening empty stance through the beginning of the kicking combination.  About a third of the form.  I could have made it through from kicking combo to tornado kick, but after that – forget it.  Arms have to fly and circle and slam and double punch and turn into cranes, etc.  So I just did the damned thing and told myself it was much better for my arm than doing staff.  By the third repetition of Lian Huan Tui, I realized that was nonsense.  There wasn’t as much arm power involved, but it was really just a horse of a different color.

So at the end of the night, while stretching my leg muscles on the trusty foam roller that’s done more to keep the legs working than any physical therapy or massage (and significantly reduce the overnight/early morning pain that’s been a staple for a long while now, as well), I wondered if there was any way to transfer that magic to the arm.  It was awkward and unattractive trying to roll my upper arm and shoulder on a roller that was on the floor, but a girl’s gotta do what she’s gotta do.  Low and behold, the wing is flapping like new – at least for now, and Tuesday’s another day of rest.  In fact, I’ll be lying around all day Tuesday after the second of two prescribed shots to the back (a story for tomorrow, I’m sure.)

Ultimately, my most significant obstacle to a complete hiatus for healing is teaching.  When instructing beginners, demonstration is a must; the arms have to be used.  Case closed.  I don’t have to be strong or fast, just reasonably accurate.  So the bare minimum is what they’re going to have to get for a while.  But that’s better than nothing – for the students and for me.


Setbacks & Outcomes

Two of the potential gym spaces I was hoping to rent have turned me down, because weapons on the premises would be a liability issue.  When I began the search, I suspected that this might be the outcome, but I wanted to remain hopeful.

One would think that if I’m paying to be alone in the space, I wouldn’t be swinging the staff or the unsharpened broadsword in the direction of other humans.  But apparently, just the remote possibility of injury (as I walk from the parking lot to the gymnasium and bump someone?) is all it takes to frighten an owner or manager.  It would be a one-in-a-million chance, but we live in an awfully litigious society.  So, I understand.  Back to the drawing board.

In other news, my girl was bouncing off the walls tonight because she’s a kicking combination and a tornado kick away from knowing the entirety of the 12 Kicks form.  Her additional red sash knowledge, coupled with a report card so good she surprised herself, made for an awfully happy pre-teen – and an equally happy mother, despite my training space setback.

Thank you to those who expressed their concern and offered advice over my latest kung fu injury.  I’m happy to report that I’ve found some pain-relieving stretches for my upper arm and shoulder that are already doing the trick to get me securely through Saturday.  Here’s to the wonder of the internet and the knowledge of my massage therapist spouse.  Now, if only I could bring myself to tell the family to hide the staff from me until Saturday…. 🙂

All on the Floor

My right arm feels like it’s going to fall from my shoulder at any minute now. Something inside it has been pulled or sprained for months, but when I first felt it back in October, I thought it was something minor that would repair itself, as most of my bumps and bruises that aren’t knee related all have.

But time for wishful thinking has come and gone.  The reality is that every time I practice this form that’s been the center of my kung fu training for a year, I’m exacerbating whatever is wrong with my arm.  I know I’m going to have to lay off the long staff form for my arm to appreciably repair itself (notice that I’m assuming it can do that), but that can’t happen this week.

Saturday is a final black sash test for a former sparring partner and all around great guy, and I was told a month ago that I’m doing the long staff form during black sash demonstrations at the break for his test.  I’ve declined to do a demo too many times to be let out of it again without my arm being in a sling.  Additionally, Sifu’s told me that this demo is a test for me.  He’ll be grading my performance.  So I don’t have the option of performing badly this Saturday.  I don’t have the luxury to be injured.

All of this made tonight’s training frustrating.  Ironically, that emotion seemed to serve me well.  Two family members volunteered, on different repetitions, that my form looked good.  That’s not something they generally say without me asking how I’m doing; so I have to assume it was even better than usual.

Perhaps leaving it all on the floor, in an effort to see just how far I could push it with a weak arm, was exactly what I needed.  It reminded me of something I hadn’t thought about since my own black sash testing shortly after a fifth knee surgery: hurt doesn’t have to mean mediocre.  It just means working harder than I think the injury will allow to be sure that all my practice shows, even if a hit or two isn’t as hard as it should be.

Just This Moment

Last night I had the best night’s sleep in ages.  I came home from a late dinner of good sushi, changed clothes, and curled up on my bed with the television on.  The plan was to eventually get up and hit the kitchen for some ice cream, but I never made it.  The next thing I remember, I was being told to get under the covers, and I obliged.

At the moment, nothing on my body is aching.  I’m about to stretch, so that’s likely to change.  But for right now, for just this moment, I feel rested and pain free.  I’m calling this state of affairs the birthday present from God.

Gotta get some protein in me now and head off to kung fu.  I’m excited to see the kids, since I had to miss teaching on Wednesday.  Have I mentioned how much I love teaching?  More later.

Rolling to a Stop

On the commuter train Thursday morning, I fell asleep as I usually do when I’ve only had five or so hours of sleep.  I woke with a start fifteen minutes before the train reached my stop, worried that I’d forgotten to ask Merle to bring my sword to training in addition to my staff.  I hadn’t practiced sword in almost two weeks; so I was immediately annoyed with myself, because I still wouldn’t be able to.  Merle was likely already in the car on the way to pick me up from the train to go straight to kung fu, I thought.  And we wouldn’t have enough time for her to turn around and go back for my sword then come get me.  We’d be late for class.  I concluded that I’d have to practice sword on Saturday, the same day as advanced weapons class for staff.  That was going to be intense for my arm.

When my stream of consciousness finally came rolling to a stop, it hit me.  I was sitting on the morning train not the evening one.  I had almost eight hours to call Merle and ask her to bring my sword.

Sleep deprived, anxious for kung fu and no idea what time of day it was.  Good thing Friday was right around the corner.  I clearly could use a break, even if I didn’t want one.

For Good Measure

Thursday has turned into the day of pain.  It’s the day that I just flirt with my staff and actually date the forms and techniques that can break my body.  It has to happen sometime; it has to happen regularly, actually.  If it doesn’t I won’t be able to do some of the things a black sash is expected to do, and that’s unacceptable.

I’ve been there before, as a matter of fact.  I spent most of 2013 unable, at first, to do a decent kicking combination, then, unable to do one at all.  The kicking combination is the red sash testing kicking; i.e., it’s the series of kicks that has to be done very well in order to be promoted to black sash. The humiliation of being unable to do it anymore was more painful than landing on a foot supported by a knee that’s been under the knife four times.

No.  That’s a hyperbolic inaccuracy; otherwise, I would have simply kept doing the kicking combinations to avoid the embarrassment.  But I truly couldn’t.  That’s how much it hurt to land from a jump that’s supposed to be at least a yard off the ground.  And let’s face it: a yard’s not that high in the kung fu world.

The cortisone shot in my lower back almost three weeks ago has returned my ability to do a kicking combination.  The ones I did tonight were not very high, and they still hurt my back and knees to land, but I could execute the move, and so I did.  I did it and the subsequent difficult moves of the Lian Huan Tui form – spinning inside and outside crescent kicks, followed by a tornado kick, a side kick, forward and backward sweeps, a back kick and a final tornado kick, all in quick succession with just one pause – until taking a simple step made my back hurt.  And right after I gave my twelve-year-old a nod of agreement on her observation that I should probably stop for the night, I remembered something crucial to my martial arts training, a fact that I couldn’t have earned my black sash without embracing: fear of pain is more restrictive than the pain itself.

I remember in the early months of my black sash testing (which weren’t long after my last knee operation) having to repeatedly tell myself not to be afraid each and every time I jumped into a mid-air horse stance in the 12 Kicks form and had to land.  The landing continued to hurt for a while; but I’ve had two children and been tattooed several times.  Everything is relative. The more I just went through the pain instead of trying to avoid it, the more relaxed my body became – and the less it hurt.  It didn’t take that long for me not to need the internal, pre-jump pep talk.

I don’t know why I remembered that tonight, a memory that’s fifteen or sixteen months old, but I’m glad I did.  It made me decide to keep going until I was satisfied that progress had been made with at least one thing that needed to be fixed. I only did another half dozen repetitions of the kicking combination, but I did another dozen or so reps of all that follows the combo and even tacked on the ending of the form for good measure.  I don’t know where in that process my back pain turned into little more than a dull ache, but it did.  And more importantly, half of that killer list of kicks looked better when I walked out of the building than when I began.

Walking up and down my stairs after sitting through the twenty-five minute car ride home is as unpleasant as it always is. But tonight, the fact that Thursday is a guaranteed day of pain comes with one helluva smile.

On Her Way

The big toe on my left foot was pointing straight up in the air, perpendicular to its four brothers and nothing I did would make it relax. It was New Year’s Eve, and I was in a hotel room in one of my favorite eastern cities, waiting for the best choice I ever made to return from a trip to the lobby. In pain and a bit fearful, I hobbled over to the cell phone to call for help.

“Hey, honey. I’m in the middle of sending an email; give me five- ”

“I need you. My toe is stuck, and I don’t know what to- ”

“I’m on my way.”

I didn’t even have to finish the sentence, and she was on her way. It’s been that way since my screams for her from the living room during an empty stance calf cramp, while practicing for black sash testing. Or before that, when she sat in a darkened hospital room watching me sleep after the first meniscus operation. I had a problem coming out of general anesthesia, so I had to be kept overnight. She’s come running through every moment of drama, physical and mental without ever saying she’s had enough.

“I don’t know what happened,” I said, as the licensed massage therapist went to work on my leg and foot.

“You didn’t do any kung fu today; that’s what happened,” she answered with a smile.

New Year’s Eve, 2013, the 10th anniversary of my second marriage…spent in the caring and capable hands, as always, of the best choice I ever made.

The Unexpected

At about 1:10 on Saturday afternoon, I engaged in embarrassingly age-inappropriate behavior.  In a room full of people, all but three of whom were younger than I, I jumped up and down and clapped my hands like a six-year-old who’d just been handed tickets to Disney World.  I was giddy, and I didn’t care who knew it.  I trust the world is still turning.

“I learned something new!  I learned something new!”  I half whispered, half squealed to my better half, sounding as young to myself as the green sash who was backing out the door into the sunlight.

One might think that learning something new at a school is a normal state of affairs, but it’s not.  The higher ranked someone is in our school, the greater the likelihood they’ve been working on just one or two forms for a year or more, as I have for eleven months.  There is now something new to practice.  But that alone wasn’t the source of the happiness that stayed with me all day.

Something akin to a flash mob sprung up at self-training, and it included every black sash in the room.  A Siheng that we only see at holiday time mentioned that he was practicing a Xing Yi form a few days earlier.  That’s a style that several of the more senior black sashes have wanted to learn for a while.  Today was their chance, and it turned out to be infectious.

The Siheng training for national trials may have wanted a break from his exhausting routine.  The most recently-promoted black sash may have been happy to conclude his sparring instruction for the green sashes.  I may simply have wanted to give my knees a more manageable looking challenge. Whatever the reason, we all fell in line, one by one, before the mirror, behind Siheng B.

We looked, unchoreographed, as if we were practicing for a performance.  In fact, we wound up with the sanshou class as our audience, as they awaited the floor space we occupied.  The six of us were only able to learn a third of the form before being displaced, but that was enough to leave each of us with a smile, for we all now have a new itch to scratch.

It’s really the little things that make something memorable, being in the right place at the right time, being open to the unexpected and the unplanned.  It’s taking advantage of the new when it’s offered, even if it doesn’t seem to have a practical application to the current lesson or game plan.  It’s being okay with not acting your age when a moment truly thrills you.  That’s what I gleaned from a twenty-minute block of time on Saturday afternoon.  And it simply left me giddy.

Doing Battle

I walked into my house this evening weighted down with grocery bags and was pleasantly surprised to have my daughter take them into the kitchen and unpack everything – without complaint. That’s what a lingering dose of Christmas happiness gets me.  As she tossed into the fridge the Gatorade we’ll be carting off with us to kung fu in the morning, I thought about how well she’d done in self-training Thursday night, following the directives of a black sash big brother she often simply refers to as “Jerk.”

I kept expecting one of her old classic blow-ups, either when he tried to get her to do one more set of front kicks, or when I told her to practice speeding up her wheel hands before we went home.  None came.

Is she finally getting the hang of control?  I wondered.  Is she simply growing up?  Could they be one in the same, despite all diagnoses?

I want to relax about her.  I want to allow myself not to worry about what adulthood is going to be like for her if I’m not there running interference.

My daughter has PDD-NOS.  That’s pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, which means she has issues with social interaction, and appropriate communication and behavior – but without meeting all the criteria for a diagnosis of autistic.  Got all that?  It took me forever to wrap my brain around it, particularly since in her pre-school years, her behavior could be so off the charts, she was thought to have Asperger’s.  Her diagnosis was corrected not long after we got to Baltimore, but changing the words on the page to a milder disability had nothing to do with taking the actual behavior down a notch.

She had such a hard time at her new school when we first moved that she was flipping out on a grand scale at least once a day.  She was teased constantly for her sensitivity, or being taken out of her routine, or having someone take the seat she thought was hers, or invade her personal space without permission.  Anything could set her off without warning, and when she went off, you could hear that girl yell from two blocks away.

Then, everyone would look at me.  I was not accustomed to everyone looking at me as if something was wrong with my parenting; so I spent an inordinate amount of mental time in defense mode.  Think that played a part in me sticking with kung fu?

I have to say, though, that my PDD baby was born with traits of the woman that I would want her to become anyway.  She defends herself when she feels she’s being wronged – often, loudly.  She got that from me (even the loud part, when I’m really upset); so I can’t honestly have a problem with it. It’s a tendency that sometimes has us shouting at each other, but God help me, I respect it.  I’m even proud of how much better she’s gotten at making her case with a lower decibel level.

My girl has kept me on my toes for a dozen years now, either by battling me or necessitating that I go to battle for her.  And that’s okay.  Defend her I will for as long as she needs me to.  More and more, that appears to be less and less.

And that simple fact is my lingering dose of Christmas happiness.

Something in the Water

Self-training tonight could best be described as out of rhythm but back in step.  I didn’t regain the complete groove with the long staff form until I’d done it about a dozen times, but it was good to be back in the only place I’m able to practice it.  The key question of the evening was: would the shot alone provide relief? Unfortunately, the answer was no – and it was clear rather quickly.  So out came an over-the-counter pain reliever for the first time in two days.  The good news, though, is that the knees held up fantastically without the arthritis meds.  So, it would appear the shot to the back works better on the knees.

Okay.  I’ll take it!

Now, if only I didn’t have to return to work Friday.  And if only I knew whether to take as a sign this persistent, increasingly-overbearing reluctance to get up at dawn every morning, to commute an hour to a job that countless people would love to have, that it’s time to do something different.  It could quite simply be a clear indication to come up with a better way of commuting.  But I don’t think so.

I don’t know a single adult black sash at our school working a job they don’t want to do.  There are many who are still students working part-time gigs that they’ll be happy to dispense with when the time comes, but no one with an established career who wants to be somewhere else.  It’s possible that some are concealing their professional unhappiness, but it doesn’t seem likely they’d be able to do so for long with a group of people who’ve known them for years and who see them several times a month, at the very least.

No, I think there’s something in the water, something in the air of a kwoon, guăn, dojo (whatever word one chooses for martial arts training place), some kind of change that takes place in the mind of the martial artist – particularly one that makes it all the way to black – that makes settling for less a particularly difficult thing to do.  This, too, is why I love this crazy compulsion.

Onward!  Only…when?

Feeling Good…

I slept for seven hours last night.  It was the longest sleep in recent memory.  It capped off the second straight day without arthritis meds or an over-the-counter pain reliever for knees or back.  I doubt that’s a coincidence.  I was told to expect only thirty to forty percent improvement from the Christmas Eve shot.  But two days of no pills and real sleep was worth the price of admission all on its own.

And what did I do with this rested body first thing in the morning the day after Christmas?  I hauled it down to the martial art shop to buy my Siheng Aaron his first staff.  It was snowing as we drove over; it stopped by the time we left.  My son and I shared a joint sigh of relief that self-training should go on as scheduled tonight.  My fingers are crossed on still feeling good ten hours from now after first training session since the shot.  Cross them with me, please! 🙂

Shot in the Back

I’m sitting in the waiting room of a surgical suite, awaiting a cortisone shot to relieve the bulging discs in my lower back.  I’m preemptively antsy that the doctor is going to keep me waiting again.

I got this from my mother, this impatient sense of entitlement that I be treated according to the rules.  Whatever those are.  She survived life in a one-horse town of the Deep South during the 1940s and 50s, and when she came north to a New York City suburb, fresh out of high school, she came with an attitude: Don’t tread on me.  Through osmosis, she passed that ‘tude on to me.

Relax, I tell myself.  Doctors keep everybody waiting; it’s not personal.

But I’m anxious anyway.  I’m getting a shot in the back.  My last shot to the back was the epidural when I had my daughter twelve years ago, and that was a disaster!  It gave me a headache so piercing, I had trouble nursing her the first day of her life.  And the day I came home, I couldn’t move my legs without severe pain for several hours.  That’s not a good history with shots in the back.

Mom likely would’ve told me to pass on this option.  She would’ve looked up every herbal concoction known to man that would relieve lower back pain and sciatica and shipped it to me in cases, like the care packages she sent me in college.  She would have lectured me on quitting kung fu back when the tornado kicks began screwing up my back as a green sash.

She already thought martial arts was more trouble than it was worth, after I tore my meniscus in tae kwon do.  That first knee operation almost kept me from being at her side when she took her last breath, her decline came so quickly after it.

I wonder what she would have thought about me starting up again, pushing through three more serious injuries to make it to teacher status.  I think she would have been just like me when watching her grandchildren spar, hit the floor, sometimes even bleed.  She would have winced – albeit through the phone, eight hundred miles away – then found a smile to put into her voice to encourage me to get back up and do what I needed to do.  She would have told me to be careful, to take care of myself…to succeed.  And she would have been in a front row seat the day I earned my black sash and again, nine months later, when her grandson earned his.

She would have hated me getting this shot today and told me to call her the moment I was home.  Then, she would have asked me when I was entering my next tournament.