Tag Archives: change

…No Pressure!

I’m behind in my posting, which irks me almost as much as being late with homework.  But it couldn’t be helped.  Sometimes taking care of things is more important than writing about what you’re taking care of, and my days seem to be filled with that circumstance with greater frequency.  How cool is that?  I think, once the impulse to scold myself passes.

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My food manager certification is in the mail, as I passed the exam with flying colors!  So I’ve now begun working on the first real business plan of my life, the construction of which is redefining the term time-consuming as I know it. Rent or purchase?  Mobile or stationary? Wholesale or retail?  These are the questions for the baker side of my life.  Then, there’s the Sijeh part.  (Greater explanation of these “parts” discussed here.)

I ordered sashes this week to tie around my students and hopefully inspire greater investment.  The key to the success of the kung fu side of my future lies in keeping the students I have, of course, and acquiring new beginners every session.  Flier construction has already begun for enticing the next crop in November.  The difference between the number who expressed interest and those who finally showed up was too large.  I’ve got five weeks to shrink it.  But, no pressure.

Meanwhile, it appears there’s a new form on my horizon.  On Saturday, I was assigned a move with the staff that involves shooting it off the left arm from behind the back and catching it with the opposite hand.  It’s a nifty little trick that requires moving the breakables out of the way and making sure the lower back muscles are sufficiently stretched.  I thought Sifu was a making a change in one of the final moves of White Eyebrow until Siheng Allen (pictured below, instructing the Monday night class) said: “Oh, that’s for the spear.”

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Spear??  There’s a spear in my future…  along with a whole lot else!  🙂

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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.

 


Who Knows?

“You were right!”  If I had a dollar for every moment since moving into my freshman dorm that I had that thought about my mother, I could have a first-class vacation abroad every year.  It’s one of the more painful aspects of her not being around anymore: the inability to give her the satisfaction of hearing that from me.   And of course, what she was most correct about – countless times in any given week – was the simple assertion that I didn’t know everything.

I was very young when it became apparent that I was a pretty good student.  I couldn’t have been more than nine or ten the first time I heard Mom say, “You don’t know everything,” in the low voice that use to indicate her annoyance.  Several years later, in the middle of my frequently-exasperating teens, she flat out yelled it at me.  I remember thinking, I’m ashamed to say, I know more than you do.

Segregation left my mother and countless other African Americans under-educated.  And she didn’t go to college until after I’d gone to graduate school.  So in a purely academic sense, the stellar education she made available to me undoubtedly gave me more book learning, as my grandmother would say, than Mom had back when I graduated from high school.  But then, there was what she learned just by living — which I hadn’t really begun to do.  It didn’t occur to me at the time that her learning was at least as valuable as mine.

Twenty years ago, no one could have convinced me that the older, more experienced, more educated, more attentive and better read I became, the more I’d a) realize how little I actually know and b) find that fact thrilling.  But that is the current state of affairs.

My work with and around a lot of the country’s movers and shakers and my passion for a martial art steeped in a tradition of instructor infallibility often leave me feeling suffocated by the very attitude I’m so happy to have shed.  So today, as an often-exhausted parent and an excited teacher with a new class, I take a moment to celebrate the willingness to be taught, even by those who allegedly know less… and to acknowledge how unbelievably often my mother was right!


The Box on My Desk

I own a crystal ball.  My better half gave it to me about ten years ago.  It was a gift that needed no explanation, a joke that I got right away.  Within the first two years of our relationship, she tired of me asking her to go find a magic wand to zap success over my larger life decisions, like returning to school and selling and buying houses, etc.  So she just gave me a crystal ball and effectively told me I was on my own with the magic.  I knew I had to keep her.

I always know that change is coming when my eyes regularly wander over to the box on my desk where my crystal ball lives.  The vast majority of the time, I put a healthy and honest amount of effort into working for what’s needed and wanted.  The brain only breaks for tea and biscuits, subconsciously peeking over at the fairytale item that should tell me if my work and choices will pay off, when I’ve multitasked my way into too much to do and too little sleep.  I only remember there’s a crystal ball when I need to collapse, need to do something different, and need to have a voice outside of my own tell me what that something is.

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I’ve had two good friends in two consecutive days tell me to get more sleep – even if I have to use vacation days to do it.  With my son returning home tomorrow, my kung fu instruction beginning on Friday, college visits with my boy next week and the week after, and substituting on the weekend shift for a colleague in mid-August, now would be a good time for more rest.  It’s also quite clearly a time of change.  No crystal ball really needed to see that.

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Money Under the Door

I slipped the last ten dollars in my wallet under Sifu’s office door before leaving the school on Saturday, then fought back resentment all the way home.  I’m nevertheless glad I gave.

The money was a donation for movie night at the guan.  Unlike movie nights of old, it wasn’t simply a social gathering opportunity.  It was a fundraiser – one of three currently running – to help pay for Sifu’s travel and testing materials to become a certified judge for wushu competitions.  He’s using paid private lessons, a new student’s services as a massage therapist and a movie night to pay for it.

I think the relatively new practice of project and charity fundraising through social media is phenomenal, and I’m all for it. I myself have benefitted from the kindness of friends and acquaintances who, some twenty years ago, pitched in to get me a plane ticket home from school in Texas when my mother had to have a sudden operation.  I have nothing against making a pitch to the masses when money is needed for a worthy cause.  But Sifu’s fundraising has rubbed me the wrong way because of…let’s just say…inconsistencies in philosophy and behavior.

When announcing his need in an email, he suggested that private lessons could be used to learn more of one’s form or a new one entirely.  This from a man insistent that forms should be learned very slowly, in sections that are repeatedly practiced before new moves are introduced.  Apparently, that deeply held principle can be irrelevant at times of his choosing.  Additionally, the Jekyll and Hyde nature of our Sifu, which I’ve written about in this previous post, is even more apparent when he wants something more from his students than he already demands.

Two hours before bowing out of the building with a big smile on his face, warmly proclaiming his desire to see everyone at movie night, he barked angrily at a student, saying: “It doesn’t matter what you thought; all that matters is what I’m telling you now!”  He was in the process of changing a move that it seemed everyone in upper sash class had learned a different way, and we were all a bit confused and slower than he wanted us to be.  This tension was after a return-from-banishment Friday night class (the aftermath of which is pictured below) that was surprisingly easygoing – which made his Saturday morning mood all the more jarring!  In short, Sifu’s demeanor can give one whiplash and dampen any inspiration to assist in his ambitions.  And yet….

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What could I accomplish by being an obvious abstainer to the fundraising effort?  As the saying goes, resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

I want good things for this person whose instruction has visibly changed a lot about me and my life.  I want to be at peace in this relationship that can be so trying, with this person who can be so disappointing.  I want peace, so I must offer the very thing I want.  I wasn’t going to give him my Saturday night, but I could at least slip my money under the door.


Almost Nothing

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This was my mother’s house.  I was there today for the first time in almost seven years, visiting a stepfather to whom I was never close.

To my surprise, almost nothing has changed.  The furniture is the same and in the same place.  The pictures, both on the walls and side tables, are unchanged as well.  None of the rooms have been painted a different color.  None of the drapes have been replaced for more stylish patterns.  The only thing that’s different is the woman walking through the front door, using her own key.

 


Not-So-Easy Streets

It was a beautiful day in the capital today, and I was conscious of needing a greater-than-normal infusion of protein to ready myself for a return to Sanshou class.  So I bypassed the salad I normally bring to work in favor of procuring a hefty sandwich.  The walk off the beaten path to a deli I only hit a couple of times a year afforded me a view of the street I work on that I don’t encounter often on foot.  So I captured it.

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I’ve spent the majority of my waking hours for the past seven years in a building at this intersection.  It sends a shiver down my spine when I think of it that way.

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About six hours later, I thought the street on which I’ve spent the second greatest number of waking hours in the last several years deserved to be commemorated as well.  This one – the one where my kung fu school has existed for more than thirty years – means a lot more to me than the first.  In fact, as the years have ticked on, my feelings for the two have completely reversed.

I was once so grateful to be back near Capitol Hill, bringing the news of what happens there (or doesn’t, as the case may be) to the interested masses, after a long hiatus for childbirth and another college degree.  Now, I go there almost exclusively for the paycheck.  There’s gratitude for that still, of course, but no longer the kind that’s wrapped around joy.

“Kung Fu Road,” in contrast, was once a place I went to get a little exercise and lose a little weight.  But most of all, it was where I dragged myself to make a resentful child a little happier, after I moved him up the highway against his will.  Now, it’s the street where I changed for the better when I wasn’t looking, and I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve spent there for anything.

Neither has been an easy street to occupy.  But both have made my journey a fascinating one.

Here’s to the streets each of us trudge in our lives and the days we have to enjoy them….

 


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? 🙂


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.

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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.


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!


Letting Go & Logos – Part 2!

Email from the gym today on me teaching kung fu: “…I think it would be awesome to try it out here if you are still interested.”

There is most definitely something to be said for letting go!