Tag Archives: inspirational

Cosmic Caffeine Boost

I’ve gotten a total of nine hours sleep over the last two days – not counting the snippets of time spent inadvertently snoring or drooling on the commuter train.  Surprisingly, I awoke the last two mornings feeling more refreshed than I have on the rare occasions that my nightly sleep reaches or exceeds seven hours.  Anticipation is the reason.  I think it may be life’s cosmic caffeine boost.  There’s been no difference in my training regimen, eating habits, nightly routine.  Hope is the only reason I’m rested without rest.

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This storefront – five blocks down the street from my house, a block up the street from one of the city’s high foot traffic restaurant areas – may soon be mine.  They’ve had my financials for more than twenty-four hours; they told me it would take no more than forty-eight to know whether my person and my vision are things they want to gamble on by granting a commercial lease.

I’m one giant step closer to adding baker-by-day to my life of Sijeh-by-night!  It’s going to be a long weekend if I don’t hear anything today.  But I suspect it’ll be the most exciting sleepless weekend of my life… however the crumbs may fall.

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The Corporate Go Ahead

The first email appeared around 9:30 a.m.  The member of the marketing department in charge of announcing the enrollment period for the second session liked all the changes I asked to make to my class.  She enthusiastically jumped into creating two fliers and website announcements: one announcing a demo session for parents and children; the other detailing the cost and session dates.

But I kept waiting for a shoe to fall.  I was quite conscious that, excluding the owners of the gym, there were three people above her on the company hierarchy.  Just because she liked the idea of a family class didn’t mean I had the corporate go ahead.  An hour later, I had that go ahead and more.  The head of the marketing department announced her approval of the class changes, and the program director for the entire company was cc’d on the email, indicating the off-camera conversation, as we like to say at that day job.

For the rest of the day, emails flew back and forth tweaking wording and pricing.  It felt like a joint endeavor to kick the next session off right – something I’d been sorely missing for a first session that was hastily thrown together after weeks of delays.

It’s been a depressing few days, as a job that would have paid me what I want and allowed me to work from home was waved in front of me like a cookie before a toddler, then snatched away just as I began to sink my teeth into it.  I wasn’t even looking for it; didn’t know it was there.  An old college friend breezed into town and told me I had to sit down with his boss to discuss running their communications department.  I left our impromptu lunch with him clearly stating he wanted to hire me.  But the partner I didn’t meet overruled him.  Or so I was told.

Today’s excitement and anticipation was small but important.  I needed to feel something going right.  And I got what I needed.


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.


Mental Notes

It was my first Wednesday in forever without a trip to the guan, and it was noteworthy for its lessons:

– Retail space in my popular neighborhood is expensive; retail space with high ceilings is very very expensive.  A school of my own would have to be in another neighborhood.

– Well-established gyms that don’t offer a martial arts class have program personnel who aren’t interested in martial arts.  I shouldn’t spend too much time trying to make them interested before offering my skills elsewhere.

– Training for five successive days is debilitating to the knees, no matter how much massage and ointment are applied to them.  Just because I have the space to practice every day doesn’t mean that I should.

– The method of delivering a message is as important as the message itself.  Don’t put anybody on the defensive, especially if I want them to hear what I’m saying.

– Anger is empowering but destructive.  Put my energy into forgiveness or detachment… or both.

Valuable food for thought acquired this Wednesday.  More and more to be said for time outside the guan.


I’m Still Here

When I walked in the door last night, I bowed to the room, took off my coat and shoes, slung my sword over my shoulder and headed for the basement… right behind the beginner class just back from break that I should have been teaching.  Sifu was covering for the missing green sash instructor, and I bowed to him as I passed.  He returned it with a smile.  It was a smile I’d seen before and precisely the kind I would have expected to get from him upon telling him of my tournament win.  It was a smile of genuine happiness mixed with a hint of pride.

I was there, head held high, despite the devastating dressing down on Tuesday.  I was there at a time that required I face the teacher who’d replaced me, knowing they’d been told of my removal.  And Sifu appeared to be happy about that, though I certainly didn’t do it for him.

Once downstairs, it did my heart good to see one of my favorite students not only light up when he saw me but lightly clap his hands and hop up and down a couple of times.  I winked and smiled at him without saying a word and took a spot in the corner to stretch and warm up.

I noticed Sifu come downstairs while I was practicing front and back sweeps as far out of the way of the class as I could manage.  His presence in the basement meant he’d left a bunch of sparring pre-teens to their own devices.  I’d never seen him do that before.  It made me wonder if he’d come down just to make sure I wasn’t lending my two cents to the class.  I know that’s paranoid, but at this point, looking over my shoulder seems appropriate.

I can’t wrap my brain around all this, try as I might.  The more hours that pass, the more I find myself feeling sorrier for him than myself.  If I hadn’t angered him with my comment about his reaction (or lack thereof) to my win,  I might never have known that he’s considered it disrespectful every time I’ve taken whatever empty space was available to practice staff while another class was going.  Never mind that the sanshou instructor has explicitly told me I’m welcome to practice in the empty space during his class; never mind that Sifu himself has told his tai chi students to move down and give me room when I’ve come looking for it.  Sifu’s explanation is that it was easier to just make room for me then to call me out in front of a class and embarrass me with an order to move.  It was easier to just avoid conflict.

What conflict? I didn’t even know we had one!  When I have a conflict, I say something so it can be resolved as quickly as possible – which is exactly what got me into this mess.  Call me crazy, but I don’t like to be uncomfortable if I think I can do something about it.  I don’t understand preferring to stew.  It seems like such a waste of potentially precious moments in a life that’s doesn’t last forever.  And I refuse to be robbed willingly.  After all, I’m a black sash in kung fu!


Get On With It

Question:  What’s a woman to do when her joy is muted by sexism and insensitivity?

Answer: Make the case that what was awarded was earned and not erroneously given.  Then, sit with the anger without saying, doing or writing anything insensitive in return.  Lastly, shake my head one last time, put a smile on my face and get on with the next day.

‘Nuff said.


Warmth, Peace & Pleasure

I spent the day enjoying congratulations for the win at Saturday’s tournament, with memories of my mother interceding at intervals.  Much to my amazement, there hasn’t been a single moment of anger or sadness over the inability to call and share the good news with her.  I didn’t even have to fight off daydreams, while in Fort Lauderdale, of having her drive down I-95 to actually watch me compete.  I just had one wave of nostalgia for the family vacations that used to be.  I felt it Friday on the long drive from the airport to the hotel, while passing one pastel-colored cement building after another and feeling a hazy humidity only rivaled in my experience by Houston and New Orleans.

There’s a distinct feel to being in Florida for me.  An aura of warmth, peace and pleasure that comes complete with a flood of almost exclusively happy memories – years of Easters, summer weeks and Christmases filled with watching my mother and formerly small children have fun together.

“I just realized that I didn’t give any thought to how it would feel to be back in Florida,” I told my better half on the phone, once I reached the hotel.

“I know.”  There was a hint of surprise in her voice.

I had a quick cry then for what was and for all that’s happened in our lives that Mom hasn’t been here to see.  And that was that.  On to the competition the next morning.

It’s been more than six years since my mother’s death.  Before this tournament weekend, it had been more than six years since my last trip to Florida.  I’d wanted to go back, to revisit the places I’d enjoyed with Mom and my children and make new memories.  But at the same time, I hadn’t been able to imagine setting foot in the state again without being able to see her.

It took kung fu to get me back in the state.  I didn’t even think twice about the venue when planning to go.

Though a mental health professional would probably have a field day with these facts, something about it all seems right.  Something about it feels like the powers of the universe doing for me what I could not do for myself.


Not Today!

‎I’m spoiled. This is not a revelation, actually. I’m an only child, and my mother was loving, though critical. Today, however, I learned that I’m even spoiled in the context of kung fu tournaments. Though I know they are all-day events that are often chaotic in their administration, I’m used to doing my thing and being out the door in no more than two hours. But not today.

For reasons that only God and the tournament organizers understand, youth, teens and adults over thirty-six were all competing out of the same ring for both traditional and wushu styles. Each style and age group had open hand, short weapon, long weapon and “other” weapon categories, and each was divided by gender. And because they put the old folks, traditional style and weapons all last, I spent just shy of four hours watching the competition before I was finally in it.

At one point I was irritated. At another, my muscles were completely cold. But when the moment of truth arrived, I felt my nerves in my throat for the first ten to fifteen seconds of the form – much too long not to make a mistake because of them, and still banged it out like I love it, because I do. Either the judges didn’t notice the flubs, or they liked the rest of my minute so much‎ that they didn’t care about a spin being too wide and a stance being too high.

I took first place for advanced women over thirty-six and got the highest score of all adults, men included! I’ve said before that I never seem to be able to show my kung fu abilities when it counts, only when it’s me and a mirror. But not today.

Not today!


Passion & Possibility

“Stop, stop.  Come back and do it again,” Sifu barked at our contender.

The young Siheng walked back to the point on the floor where the last section began and proceeded with the run into the aerial.  He landed and spun his lower body into the upright, seated pretzel we were all used to seeing, the one we always routed for him to nail flawlessly.  He’d done just that, and all of a sudden, he was fired up.

For the balance of the wushu form, every stance was as low as he could possibly make it, and he hit every stop with the unmistakable punctuation of power. His head snapped sharply when and where it was supposed to.  His cranes were tight and dangerous. He was simply a joy to watch.  The final section of the form only lasted about thirty seconds, but it was the most electric half minute in the building in recent memory.

“What you just did in that last section, was better than all your form practice lately,” Sifu said walking to within a foot of the contender.  “You should be doing it like that all the time.”  He nodded his agreement at Sifu, probably thinking: Easier said than done.

The poor kid is so tired.  He told me so last night after we’d spent almost an hour sharing the floor and taking turns in rotations, as the two-person sparring class took place downstairs.  He said he was feeling slow and he just had to quit for the night, as if I had the authority or inclination to tell him to keep going.  I gave him a sympathetic nod, in lieu of giving him a hug.

But what a difference a day makes.  What a difference a public scolding by Sifu can make.  The contender may have been exhausted last night, but if he does his forms in two weeks’ time with the passion he showed in the final section tonight, he’s going to Turkey as a member of the national team.

I’ve spent the week worried about one little performance of a form that barely requires that I get off the ground.  Meanwhile, the boy wonder has lost count of the number of aerials he’s had to do across the room without landing on his head in a moment of exhaustion.

Everything – absolutely everything – is about perspective.  It’s a lesson I’m always so grateful to relearn.


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.


Best Behavior

It was the first time he spoke to me to say anything other than a whispered, “Yes, ma’am,” and it was because he was afraid.  For more than six months, I’d been watching him execute roundhouse kicks with the snap, speed and height that would make an upper sash proud.  But he consistently had the direction wrong, pointing them up instead of sideways, requiring me to tell him every Saturday morning, “Turn your hip over.”

Until tonight, I thought he might have a touch of an attitude.  Not one of being openly disrespectful; he was too quiet for that.  He just seemed to have a hint of cockiness, like he didn’t need to bother with corrections.  But tonight he needed all the instruction and assistance he could get.  Unfortunately, he was pre-testing, trying to show a panel of teachers that he could execute the requirements of his sash well enough to test for promotion.  It was a decidedly wrong time to need assistance.

“Sijeh, do I do the green sash form first or white and yellow?” he asked in his usual whisper as he stood next to me waiting to be called to perform.  He made eye contact for only a moment while asking, preferring to look at the table of black sashes about to evaluate him.

“You do the green sash form first,” I answered smiling, touching him lightly on the top of his head.  “Don’t worry; you’ll do fine,” I added.

I watched him do his form several times during the warm up period.  Though he made a few mistakes, he looked pretty good overall.  But when his name was called and he walked to the center of the floor, his head seemed to empty of everything he knew.

Just ten moves into Dragon Fist, he froze, and I had to remind him of the next move.  Two steps later, he froze again.  And again.  By the time he forgot for the fourth time, he wasn’t even waiting for me to show him the next move, he was looking over his shoulder asking me with his eyes to come to his rescue.  I finally had to tell him: “You have to do it yourself; it’s a test.”

I knew when the testing group was called up to the head table that Sifu was going to tell the small, quiet, nerve-racked little boy he would not be eligible for promotion this month.  As I watched the green sash nod at Sifu then silently go stand against the wall, he looked much more mature than his ten years.  No tears traveled down his face, though his eyes were wet; he didn’t frown or even pout.  He looked like an adult who’d just had his feelings hurt by his best friend, and he was trying to find the right words to confront the offender.

This child’s behavior is how we should all act when we have a meltdown on something important to us. This little man is anything but cocky, I thought.

As I talked to him about his nerves, letting him know that I knew he could do the forms just fine, I was moved by his continued stoicism, impressed by his composure and anxious for him to get his second chance.


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.