Tag Archives: inspirational

Lessons

I don’t recall ever being told as a child not to talk to strangers.  Perhaps I was, but if so, I’m sure it struck me as a strange directive, and thus, one I would ignore.  After all, the people at the bank of mailboxes who shared the same apartment building as my mother and me would have qualified as strangers.  I didn’t know most of their first names, though their last names were on the mailboxes, but I still saw them often enough that it would have been rude not to speak.  No, I don’t believe I ever was told not to talk to strangers.  But it’s a warning I’ve given my own daughter several times.

I also used to walk home from school, alone, back in the 1970s, in the small suburban town that was thirty or so miles outside of New York City.  My Catholic elementary school was almost a mile from the apartment building I called home, and I was a latchkey kid as young as eight or nine.  My mother had no choice.

But I didn’t let either of my children walk home from school alone until they were twelve.  Even then, for my daughter at least, someone had to be home, and they needed to have a phone for emergencies if someone accosted them during a walk that takes less than half the time that mine did thirty-five year ago.

Children must know that no one can be trusted, that they are not safe, and that any adult they haven’t met before is a potential danger to them that they should guard against.  This is what twenty-first century American children are taught every day, it seems – if not directly, then by osmosis.  How sad for them.  How sad for us all, I’ve often thought, enraged by the times in which we live, times that include danger, fear and caution that all but eliminate any possibility of immediate warmth with a person one barely knows.

I had three brand new students in class tonight, all doing kung fu for the very first time.  One was a six-year-old girl.  During our first break, I began to tell her what a good job she’d been doing following along and paying attention, but three words into my sentence, she flung her arms around my waist and hugged me.  I’m almost as nuts about children as I am about kung fu, so I automatically hugged her back without looking around to see if a parent was primed to sue me or something.  It was one of those moments that makes me happy to be a teacher.  Two minutes earlier she’d told me how the drills we were doing were making her arms hurt – but apparently not enough to keep from hugging me.

At the end of class, after that little first grader hung in through almost twenty lines of walking horse stances (twice as long as one of the young men doing the same drill right next to her), she followed the last bow of the evening with a final impromptu hug for me.  As I watched her run off to the parent or guardian who was speaking with Sifu, I thought: We adults haven’t scared the warmth out of all of them yet. Some know that all new people aren’t strangers to be on guard around.

And that’s perhaps the most important lesson for us all to learn.

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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?


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.


The Kid in the Room

At my age, the only thing that can make me sound and act like a five-year-old is to get a correction right in kung fu.

“I did it!” I squealed, fists raised to the ceiling in triumph, with the right one still clenching my trusty staff.  (The “it” was relatively simple, as it often appears to be – but only after I’ve gotten something right that spent far too long being wrong.)

Sifu Kevin looked at me and nodded with a momentary smile, before practicing a section of a wushu sword form that was so fast, loud and frenetic his own niece had once been frightened by the performance.  His expression to me was one that could be found on any parent at a playground whose child had requested that they watch some fantastic display of athletic ability.  In other words, it was a psychic pat on the head.

I couldn’t help but laugh quietly as I walked to the back of the rotation line, staying close to the wall to prevent being nicked by the blade as Sifu ran past me.

I’m old enough to be his much older sister or his frighteningly-young mother, but I’m the kid in this relationship…and I’m now okay with that.

“Maybe you have a problem with my age…” was something then-Siheng Kevin wrote to me in a long ago email, complaining about my propensity to question and explain, or rather my inability to simply say, “Yes, sir” or “No, sir,” when spoken to – and nothing else.

I reread that thought of his several times and tried to consider it objectively.  Had I ever, before kung fu, been in a position where I was expected to follow the directives of someone younger than I?  I couldn’t find an instance in my personal life, nor in my professional one.

The single exception had been in tae kwon do. But there, all the teachers below Sensei were within a couple of years of my age, not more than a dozen years younger.  With the age difference between Kevin and me (and several other kung fu teachers), I at least qualified as a contemporary, not a subordinate.  That was the thought existing somewhere in my head that I hadn’t bothered to consciously acknowledge until Sifu called me on it, back in my green sash period.

There’s a more martial attitude in my Baltimore kung fu school than there was in D.C. tae kwon do.  Sensei had been accorded a formal response to every sentence she uttered, but all other teachers were addressed by their first names, no titles.  I was, in essence, accustomed to being instructed by a compatriot who knew more than I, rather than directed by someone whose higher ranking I had to acknowledge at all times.  It was culture shock of the highest order.  And with every other thing going on in my life at the time (see post “Let Up Already!”) – and my natural propensity to say what’s on my mind – it served as one more hard thing to handle.

Fast forward several promotions and years later, and I’m looking for approval and a psychic pat on the head from the young-un in the blue pants (from my southern heritage, “young-un” is the appellation I attach to anyone who wasn’t alive in the 1970s!)  I was obviously won over somewhere along the line.  And I’m more than fine with that.


The Joy of Fridays

I used to fear Friday night class.  Truly. Thoroughly. Fear it.

I never knew until I was already there what the night’s regimen was going to consist of; so I had all day long to think about it and worry:

How many rows of wheel hands would we have to do?  How many kicking combinations?  Would we do ten full forms in singles or doubles?  After how many rotations of practicing sections?

How would my knees hold up?  My back?  How much pain would I find at the end of the two-hour, invitation-only session that a black sash candidate was required to attend?  Would I get the dreaded cramp in my calf again, the one from empty stances, the one that awakened me in the middle of the night?  No stretch or massage ever relieved it.  I just had to wait, powerless, for long, long minutes, until it released me.

I hated Friday night.

For six months of black sash testing, I wondered, as I entered class on the last day of the work week, if I could execute all I was told to that night without needing to cry or stopping to pray.  By the end of it all, I could.  In the final weeks, I could even smile – before I left the building, not just in the car on the way home.

The joy of Fridays has returned to me.  It returned with the presentation of the final sash.  And I use that joy to bake cupcakes, watch a movie, and rejuvenate for training of my own making.  I use it to do whatever I want to do.

I’m still invited to Friday class and sometimes I go.  But not this week and not last.  I’m not sure when I’ll go again…and I’m not worried about it.


The Martial End of the Art

My boy picked up a gash across his eyebrow in a sparring match tonight, and I took it in much better stride than I would have predicted, given the animosity I once had for the martial end of the martial arts.

“Is there any way I can just do forms and keep getting promoted without sparring?” I asked then-Siheng Kevin in an email, when promotion to green sash meant I had to learn to spar.  The request came after a surprisingly painful first month of my face meeting many a fist in completely involuntary introductions.  In the heat of a round, I regularly forgot to keep my hands up.  It was a really good way to practice getting hit.  The short answer on whether I could skip sparring all together was no.

One would think the objective of taking kung fu is to become a good fighter, and for most of the men I’ve met in the school, that objective is completely accurate.  But I joined kung fu to learn the forms, to commit to muscle memory the choreographed fight moves that are executed without the contact.  It amounted to wanting to look like I could fight without actually being able to.  Why would Sifu have a problem with that?

Then one day, I discovered it: power.  The kind of power that tore my son’s skin along the eye line without weapon or nails, the kind that can take someone’s breath away or snap his head back like the top of a Pez dispenser.  I thought being strong and punching hard would be my saving grace in the endeavor that I didn’t want to do and keep me from hitting the floor. I was wrong.

Power enabled me to win a match or two against those my own size or smaller, but I could still be leveled by one kick from any skilled opponent with at least as much power and significantly more speed.  And let’s face it: most of my opponents were half my age and had no problems with movement.  I may have been heavy on the power, but they all had more speed!  It felt like the odds were rarely in my favor.

But a funny thing happened on the way to my black sash: I stopped trying to win.  In effect, I accepted that the odds were against me, particularly when fighting experienced Sihengs. I wanted only to show in my final tests that my various teachers had taught me how to fight.  That alone, it turned out, was enough to keep me from hitting the floor and give me peace with the martial end of the art.


No Head Hanging in Kung Fu

“Okay… we’re going to do something fun tonight,” Siheng Chris said to the unusually small mid-week class standing in a single-file line in front of the office.

I smiled a little too broadly at the half dozen white and yellow sash students, hoping that the drill Chris had planned for them would in fact be enjoyable.  With about twenty-five years of martial arts training under his belt, Chris considers many exercises fun that a bunch of primary school students would likely classify as hard labor.  On behalf of the children, I inwardly braced for impact.

“We’re going to do flying sidekicks.”

No one made a sound.  But the student at the front of the line, a small, quiet nine-year-old who was one of the newest in the school, started to slowly move backward. He’d taken a couple of steps past the yellow sash behind him when I alerted him that he wasn’t invisible.

“Don’t go stepping back,” I said smiling.  “It’s okay if you’re in the front of the line.  Everyone here is learning this technique.”

“Yeah, don’t go to the back of the line;” Siheng Chris added, “Just stay right there.  That’s good,” he said, positioning him third in line.  Siheng then demonstrated what he wanted them to copy.  “Left, right, left, jump.  Be sure to turn your body sideways and lift your knee the way you would for a standing sidekick.  You don’t have to do the kick right now.  I just want you to practice the jump.”

From the back of the room, as I continued to stretch for the class I was assisting, I watched the first two in line do the assigned task with a small measure of confidence.  They were yellow sashes who’d done the technique before; they both threw in the kick, even though all they’d been told to do was jump.  Then came the brand new white sash.

He took the necessary running steps but instead of just jumping to prepare for the kick, he tried to copy the preceding classmates and execute it. When his legs appeared in the air, they were bent, pointing in near opposite directions, with one extended farther than the other and ninety degrees off course.  The impending landing looked potentially painful.  His feet were reacquainted with the floor much louder than one would expect from a body so small, and he stumbled slightly to regain proper footing.  As he turned and walked back to the line, he bowed his head so low I could see nothing of his face.  He came toward me with only the top of his black hair leading the way.  I immediately tried to reassure him and lighten his mood in one fell swoop.

“Hey!  It’s okay.  That was a good try.  You’ve got nothing to hang your head over.  Besides,” I threw in as he walked past me with his eyes finally visible, “there’s no head hanging in kung fu.”  Sijeh Stephanie got the joke immediately and laughed with me, but of course the child I was talking to wasn’t even alive when Tom Hanks made a similar line famous.  He simply offered a weak smile and took his next turn practicing the jump.

As I watched him tentatively undertake his next repetition, I remember the day I learned the same move.  I was at least as awkward at first go as he was.  The flying sidekick wasn’t the first technique I did incorrectly, but it was the first one that made me feel like I should leave the whole martial arts endeavor to younger generations.  It was a technique that smacked me in the face with my own lack of athletic coordination.  The only one that smacked me harder was the tornado kick.  At that I wasn’t just uncoordinated at first teaching, I was outright inept.  So I knew what it was like to look weird in public with no place to hide, to be comical when I wasn’t going for the laugh.  It was anything but fun.

As the chagrined white sash made his return to the line for his third go at his assignment, I wanted to reach out and grab him into a bear hug and tell him: “You’re going to get better.  Don’t worry.  I promise!”  But that would have been inappropriate and not at all kung fu like.  So I just threw him a smile and returned to my stretching, remembering not to hang my head.


Everything I Paid For

I told Sifu tonight that he looked sick.  He’s not.

“How’re you doing?  You look sick,” is right up there with “Why are you wearing that?  It’s ugly.”  It’s a classic example of the lifelong challenge I’ve had filtering my thoughts before I speak them… or merely keeping my mouth shut all together.  This challenge of mine has been known to bother more than a few members of my kung fu family who outrank me – and probably a couple who don’t.  And it was Sifu Kevin who got hit with it first.

“What’s the story with the little guy in the blue pants?”  That was my first thought more than five years ago after having him come up to us, give us a quick instruction, and then walk away.  I can’t remember what the first directive was that Sifu gave me, Merle and the kids.  I don’t even remember him introducing himself, though I suppose he must have.  I just remember that I had to strain to hear him, and it wasn’t particularly loud in the room.

He was still a Siheng at the time, but I assumed the blue pants meant he was the leader of the school.  No one else in the building was wearing them.  I later met – or more accurately, saw – Sifu Aaron in blue pants too, which made things a bit confusing until someone explained that Aaron was the Sifu, i.e. the official head of the school, but Kevin was chief instructor.

Sifu is slightly shorter than I am, and in the fall of 2008, he weighed less than me too.  A lot less, I would say, since I was at the highest non-pregnant weight of my life when I started kung fu.  My first debates with him were over exercise, if I remember correctly.  The teachers had us doing conditioning exercises that were just awful on the back.  At least they were on mine.

I was still very much a student of my tae kwon do Sensei – a no-nonsense lady who’d been doing martial arts since the year before I was born.  The woman was phenomenal.  She still is, I’m sure, though I haven’t seen her in action in about seven years.  Sensei was very strict about not working the body hard in consecutive days.  Tae kwon do classes were every other day.  In kung fu, however, there seemed to be an expectation to show up at every available opportunity.  “You need to come to more classes,” Siheng Perry used to tell me back when we were only going three days a week.  I thought that was crazy.  But that was then; this is now.

Nowadays, I feel like I’m doing something wrong if I miss a day of kung fu.  And God forbid I miss two days in a row.  But back then, I’d already torn my right meniscus and ACL to shreds; the former had been sown back up, the latter replaced, and I was all too glad to listen to whatever activity limitations were given to me by someone older and wiser than I.

That too was part of the difficulties I had following then-Siheng Kevin.  He wasn’t older, and it didn’t seem at all likely to me that he was wiser than Sensei.  So having him and the other teachers under his direction tell me things that were contrary to what I’d learned from the great lady… it just wasn’t working for me.

I kept going because I’d signed a contract, and I wasn’t about to throw away money.  I had to at least get everything I paid for.

I certainly did – and then some.


Let Up Already!

It’s been snowing all day, and I’m annoyed.  I haven’t had to drive anywhere; I haven’t even had to walk anywhere.  But in this day and age of technology, gaming and not doing anything that might cause one to break a fingernail, many are slow to pick up a shovel and a bag of salt to clear sidewalks in anything remotely akin to a reasonable amount of time.  I’ve also noticed, in more than twenty-five years of living below the Mason Dixon Line (after growing up in often-snowy New England), that city officials don’t ever seem to prepare well for winter.  They usually have far more important things than snow plows and the personnel to run them on which to spend tax dollars.   Bottom line: I’d be shocked if my children have school tomorrow.  And I want them to have school Monday.  I want it rather badly.  That’s why I’m annoyed.

Is it really a big deal if my 12-year-old daughter, Ava, and my 16-year-old son, Aaron, bum around the house a couple of weeks before winter break, get in one another’s way and thoroughly erase the weekend’s housework in a matter of hours?  Of course not.  But our kung fu school is closed anytime that weather closes the city schools.  And that is a very, very big deal!

I need my Monday training.  I need it more than any other day’s, because with the school closed on Sundays, the longest gap in training time is between the end of class in the one o’clock hour on Saturday and warming up in the five o’clock hour on Monday evening.  Think pack-a-day smoker going fifty-two forced hours without a cigarette.  Not pretty, believe me.  I used to smoke.

I gave myself a bizarre bruise of busted capillaries on the side of my index finger Saturday with an awkward – and obviously incorrect – slam of the staff against the floor.  Gotta fix that.  The slam, that is; not the finger.  The finger will have to take care of itself.

Getting a long staff back in my hands is the reason I look forward to Monday – that and helping teach the beginner class.  Getting up pre-dawn for an hour-long commute to work, after getting a couple of extra hours of sleep for two days over the weekend, makes me otherwise loathe Mondays.  Kung fu saves the day – literally.  Only a late train home and an exceptionally clogged drive from the station to the school can make me walk through the door unhappy on a Monday.  Such a far cry from how I walked in the door the very first time back in 2008.  Then, I walked in angry and uncomfortable, though I didn’t know it at the time.

I’d moved up the highway with my family just before the housing market implosion.  My adolescent son, who was significantly less than thrilled to be leaving his hometown of D.C., had already entered the phase of life in which everything parental was bad, stupid, irritating or meaningless.  So between being unhappy about moving to Baltimore and just being a tween, he could generate hostility merely by walking into the room.  Going to kung fu required sharing a seven mile car ride with my bundle of joy.  So it was easy to be tense by the time I got there.

I can’t put it all on Aaron, though.  I still had the job in D.C., and the first year in Baltimore, I drove to work every day.  I was probably more wound up from my commute than I realized back then.  I mean, by the time seven or eight months had passed, it was clear as day that I was going to kill somebody if I didn’t conquer the commute.

I also wasn’t all that happy at the job I was commuting to.  I’d changed departments around the same time we started going to kung fu – a change I’d requested, but I wasn’t doing very well at the new gig.  It was a job that had more to do with putting correct information into a database in the right way at the right time than anything else.  I had too much ADD and too little enthusiasm for data entry to do it well.

I was a television news producer.  I researched political, legislative, executive topics of the day, found the right guest to discuss it, found the right graphics and pictures and video to enhance the story, formulated the right questions and put it all on the air in the hands of the host.  Going from that to primarily data entry made me want a new employer all together.

And, there was losing mom.  I probably should have mentioned that first.  That’s called burying the lead.

We moved to Baltimore one year and three weeks after she died.  We started taking kung fu classes two weeks after what would have been her sixty-sixth birthday.  In fact, we’d started tae kwon do in D.C. right around the time she told me that the cancer was back.  Two years – and for me, two knee operations due to tae kwon do injuries – later, she was gone.  And I certainly wasn’t over it a lousy year later, if one ever is.

So that was the general picture of my life when I returned to martial arts after being sidelined for a year by injuries, the death of my mother, relocation to a new city, and a requested reassignment at work that wasn’t going so well.  Yeah.  I was definitely angry and uncomfortable in the early days of kung fu.  Now, I howl at Mother Nature to let up already on the snow and ice so I can go train!

Quite the transformation it’s been.  Let me count the ways….