Tag Archives: health

Nothing But Crickets

The God of my understanding has a strange sense of humor.  I can’t say I’ve ever liked it much, and last night was no exception.

My better half has never had an affinity for martial arts.  It’s just exercise to stay in shape and provides quality time with the kids and me.  She’s also never been all that enamored with her career as a massage therapist.  She’s extremely gifted at it, as any client of hers will attest to, but it too is exercise.  It requires body mechanics that are probably more complex than those needed for good kung fu.  In short, her work can be as physically taxing as the family hobby.

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For the nine months that she’s been eligible to test for black sash, she’s vacillated on wanting to, while also dealing with minor injuries.  There are a number of red sashes perfectly content to stay where they are in rank.  They attend class mostly to become better fighters and nothing more.  But after watching both me and our boy go through the process, Merle decided to try her hand at acquiring a few of those positive changes the experience gave us.  Mostly, she didn’t want to regret not having tried.

Thursday night, at her second test for black sash, the first of six with sparring, she caught her foot against a loose rug in the basement training room while warming up.  The resulting injury to her knee left her unable to test… and possibly unable to work.

As she sat in the waiting room of the orthopedist’s office this morning, she was notified by gallery personnel that she sold a second piece of art in as many days, after months of hearing nothing but crickets by way of artistic reception.  Sculpting is the other work she does with her hands, the one that feeds the soul, if not the family.  It’s the job that brings her joy.

What are we to make of this debilitating injury sandwiched between music to an artist’s ears?  God has a strange sense of humor, all right – one that I’m rarely fond of.  And yet… I can’t say I’d want to gamble on living without it.

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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.


Remembrance

            I can’t believe it was only a month ago that she was standing tall, dressed in a navy blue pants ensemble with a cream-colored silk blouse, looking as elegant as always as she sent me off to the airport to return home.  “We’ll see each other again,” she told me, with her gold Nephritides necklace hanging from her neck, as it had most days of her life for more than a decade.

            Her matching navy blue sandals had a two-inch heel that restored her height to the stature I remembered her having when I was a child.  I wondered: had she begun shrinking through the normal aging process, or was it the illness that had shortened her?  Perhaps she was no shorter at all; she simply seemed that way to a daughter moving up the ladder of mortality.

            Her make-up was flawless, I remember, and conservative: a light application of base to even out the pecan complexion that was just slightly darker under her eyes, and a wine shaded lipstick that left its imprint on my cheek.  Her signature headwear completed the picture imprinted on my mind. 

            That day she chose a beret – cream-colored to match her blouse.  It was her favorite kind of hat, the one she wore most often if she could get away with it.  It was fitting that a beret was the last hat I saw her in. 

            There is no hat now.  There’s barely hair since Tony came in and cut off the soft, shiny, wavy curls of her mixed African- and Native-American heritage.   I miss the curls as I stare at her, remembering her look of dismay two weeks earlier when I said her hair looked good grown out.  It had been long and enviable throughout my life until the Florida heat inspired her to crop it close to her scalp. 

            I run my hand across the fresh-cut, hoping she can feel my touch.  My other hand is wrapped around her own, squeezing, willing her to open her eyes.


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.


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! 🙂


What’s Changed

My favorite training session of the week is Monday night. It comes after two days of resting the body, so my knees allow me to give it all I’ve got.  But that’s not what’s on my mind, as I plow through the Monday workday schedule.  I keep mulling over the fact that classes are on hiatus this week for the holidays every day except Monday, so today’s class is the last I’ll help teach in 2013, before I hit the floor with my staff for self training.

Instead of obsessing on getting in enough practice tonight to last me until Thursday’s self-training hours, I’m preoccupied by how strange it will be not to see most of the people I see in regular, predictable intervals until January 2nd at the earliest.  Self-training is something few show up for during the end-of-year break, as many are out of town – or are just plain happy not to have to break a sweat.  So it’s likely that my family and I will have the school almost to ourselves during those hours.  I’m already feeling out of sorts about the impending emptiness in the building.

I can’t believe I’m not simply thrilled to have the extra room to swing my staff to my heart’s content.  What’s with this sadness over eight days off the normal schedule?  I don’t recall feeling this way in the previous five Christmas/New Year’s breaks that passed since joining the school.  So I have to ask myself: what’s changed?

Last year, I was one month away from the last of the six tests for black sash, and I was too single-minded to be sentimental.  The year before that, I was just back from surgery to remove the floating cartilage; so my training pattern had already been broken, and I was already missing everyone long before the end of the year. In each of the three years before that, I wasn’t close enough to anyone at the school to miss the people as much as the training time when the holidays rolled around.

And there it is.  It would appear, then, that I am what’s changed.

In 2013, I became a peer of the black sashes I was once expected to speak to with little more than “yes, sir” and “no, sir.”  I got to feel close to people who used to be just instructors to me.  There’s also the unavoidable affection I feel for the people I help teach.  This is family.

There were a few who felt like family members long before the black sash was wrapped around my waist, ones who were nicknamed “little brother” or affectionately referred to as “kiddo.”   But the bond now is with just about everyone who’s been at the school longer than a couple of months.  Somewhere along the line, I became just as attached to the people as the art they taught me.

Would I love kung fu if I didn’t feel bonded to those with whom I share it?  Undoubtedly.  But the unavoidable truth I’ve found this holiday season is that the people make me love it more.


2600 and Done

“Why am I here?” I said aloud in front of Sijeh Stephanie and a group of under sashes we were leading in a Chu Chi Chuan demonstration.  It was the first rehearsal for the Chinese New Year performance we do at a local school, and twenty minutes into it, I was mentally through.

I’d just been told that in addition to leading the under sashes in kicks and Chu Chi Chuan, I was assigned to perform a section of 12 Kicks with three other black sashes – the section that includes jumping into a mid-air horse stance, doing a front sweep out of the landing and following it up with a tornado kick.  I could be annoyed with Sifu for assigning it to me; but it’s his modus operandi to push a student as far as they can go.  It remains my responsibility to remind him of what I shouldn’t do, even if I can pull it off.  And 12 Kicks is something I just shouldn’t do – at least not that section.

I had to do that form about sixteen hundred times during my black sash exam period, and I must have practiced it at least one thousand times before qualifying for testing.  I didn’t expect to ever again have to do any part of a form that singlehandedly took pieces out of each of my knee joints – literally.  I had to have torn and floating cartilage removed from one knee and the torn ends of the meniscus removed from the other, all because of the rigors of 12 Kicks.

I had no way of knowing that I’d be told to do 12 Kicks for this year’s performance.  But once I did know, what possible reason could there be for me to continue to volunteer for something that required I not only do the damned form several times again, but do it publicly, in a group of people who don’t have any injuries (which would make my limitations quite glaring – particularly under stage lights)?

There was no reason.  Not. One.

I’m crazy about kung fu, and the argument can be made that I’m just plain crazy.  But not enough to participate in a show that will cause me unnecessary pain and anxiety for no reason better than good advertising for our school.

I’m not that crazy.  Not yet.  Not today.


Never Seems to Show

Sifu has put me on notice: next month I will be performing the traditional long staff form as part of the black sash demonstration on testing night.  January’s testing night, unlike December’s, will have a very large audience since a new black sash will be joining the ranks.  I’m nervous already.

I love this form, and I’ve practiced it an average of forty-five times a week in the almost eight months that I’ve known it.  I’m told I’m very good at it.  But that never seems to show when I do it for a testing demo.

The problem is I get cold.  I run the floor during testing, so I’m standing on my arthritic, cartilage-lacking, locked-at-attention knees for the entirety of the testers’ performances, tensing up sometimes as I mentally follow along with their movements. Then, with about five minutes of warm up on a floor that I have to share with the other black sashes who are doing demos as well, it’s suddenly show time.

This body can’t perform on demand like that and execute at its best.  Which is why I’ve declined the last two times Sifu has asked me to do a demo.  Now, he’s done taking no for an answer.  Truthfully, I’m surprised he ever accepted no in the first place.

It’ll be fine.  It may even be very good.  The last time I did long staff in public was at a tournament in October, and I scored high even with a couple of errors.  So why don’t I just stay in the moment, keep practicing, and hold off worrying until the last Saturday in January?  Because that would be sensible.  And when it comes to kung fu, I stopped being sensible a long time ago.  During the blizzard of 2010 to be exact.  A story for another day.


Pondering Gratitude

I have an employer that offers a stellar comprehensive insurance plan at a reasonable cost to me.  Far too many people are not as lucky.  I’m very grateful. Were it not for my employer’s generosity, I probably couldn’t have stayed with kung fu long enough to become maniacally crazy about it.  The cost of patching up my legs three times would have been too high.

This is what I was thinking at eight o’clock in the morning, as I sat in the waiting room of the doctor my internist sent me to in the hopes he could do something about the lower back pain and sporadic sciatica that my orthopedist doesn’t treat.  I had a considerable amount of time to ponder my gratitude – an hour to be exact – because the woman who signed in five seconds before me, with an appointment time thirty minutes after mine, was erroneously seen first.  I couldn’t help but ask the receptionist: “Then what’s the point of having appointments if you just have to walk in first?”  I received neither a response nor an apology. That seriously muted my gratitude.  But I digress.

The flip side of appreciating the quality medical care I receive (and believe all should have) is anxiety.  What happens to my kung fu life if I lose this level of care?  It most likely goes away.

I realize that’s an upper Northwest kind of problem, as a D.C. native would say (i.e. high class), particularly when the question for many others is: what happens to life itself without healthcare?  But it would most definitely be a problem, on so many levels, were it to happen.  So chronic pain and long waits aside, I remain indisputably grateful that I continue to be patched up… and that the price of the patching is one I can still afford.


Sharing with Sanshou

The sanshou class Monday night did at least thirty rotations of kick lines before they started fighting.  Just watching them made my knees hurt, and it also made me envious.  Not since I was at my best in tae kwon do have I had a kick that looked as powerful as those invading the edge of what I call my corner of the room, and I will never have one again.

But my little pity party lasted only about twenty seconds, though.  By the time the second row of kicks forced me to halt my long staff form in mid spin, frustration had evicted envy from my head.  See, when kick rows are going, there’s only about a four foot by eight foot rectangle of space free for one who’s not in the kick line to practice anything else.  On Monday nights, from about seven to eight o’clock, I will fight rather fiercely, when necessary, for rights of possession to that rectangle.

There are any number of short sections in freehand forms that can be practiced in a small square of space.  But imagine trying to spin, strike, swing and slam against the floor a solid shaft of wood that’s taller than your head – all within a space that’s about four by eight feet.  It can’t be done.  Not without coloring outside the lines.  This is why practicing the long staff form in such a small space requires stopping, moving back and turning around at least half a dozen times before the one-minute form is finished.  And that’s when there are no kick lines creeping into the rectangle.

Every time a sanshou student gets close to the edge of my practice space, I have to stop again, even if I otherwise would have had space to finish the section.  I say all this to say that trying to practice with a weapon in a small rectangle of space, when the kicks of 180-pound men are barreling toward you like a freight train can be just short of crazy making.

So why not just wait until the kick lines are over, one might ask?  Because the time it takes for half a dozen people of various ages and skill levels to do thirty rotations of kick lines is considerable.  It amounts to half the time I have to train on a Monday, after assisting with the beginner class.  If I sit for half an hour or more waiting for space, I might as well go home.  And there can be no just going home on a Monday.  On Mondays, I’ve already waited more than fifty-two hours since Saturday’s class to get back on the floor!

So when sanshou class starts with kick lines, there’s a cloud in my kung fu world.  It’s not that dark, doesn’t hang that low and only stays for about, oh, thirty-three-point-six minutes.  But, man, it can be crazy making….