A Happy New Year Free Of Fear

I’ve largely lived my life by these words, in spite of sometimes vacillating when I’m on the precipice of going through with whatever it is that’s frightening me…

Generally – after tears have dried, and doubts have reached their peak – I dive in. Why? Because ANY day could be my last. Not going through with something is a disservice to every part of me – heart, soul, mind, body, spirit.

For years, though, I shied away from figure skating, a sport I grew up doing. I learned at so young an age that the slick, icy surface of the rink was like walking on solid ground is to a toddler… The rink was my second home. But after a massive setback in 2012 with a leg torn in three places, severe contusions, a 2-in-1 reconstruction surgery, and a complicated…very long-winded…recovery, I always seemed to find a reason not to lace up again.

With the goal to become a Black Belt (and getting sidelined while at Brown) I went back to the Martial Arts that claimed my left knee. A year and a half later another round of ballistic kicks tore the right ACL and meniscus, though this time I flat-out refused to fix it. As my right leg is my “landing leg” in skating, the fact that I’m missing the tendon responsible for holding the patella in place (in the forward direction) has been the key driver of my anxiety.

Enter needing to move my belongings from my home of 33 years, five years after the first knee injury… There I find my beautiful custom ice skates, hand-crafted by a legend, in desperate need of TLC – I actually shook my head in disgust that I’d have let them sit there so long unloved. After brining them back home and finding a pro sharpener, my husband hopped in the car and drove me a distance to get them tended to.

Once at the rink I began to share my experiences with the sharpener and his wife, both of whom remember what figure skating was in its heyday (honestly, a lot different from what it is now.) We gushed about compulsory figures and the impeccable edge manipulation of the pros back when…and of the strength, power, and infinite grace of the skaters who were on the world stage at the time I was training. I mentioned some of the places I trained, and the coaches I worked with – to my joy, they knew exactly who I was talking about – it felt like I was chatting with old friends. ❤

I’m certain I was brimming over with happiness – feeling as though I was back in my world – and as such, my husband decided to give me a nudge. And then a few more… He could tell I needed (and deeply wanted) to be encouraged…but that anxiety was doing it’s best to keep me derailed.

No such luck!

I remembered the phrase above (uttered brilliantly in a favorite Bar Luhrman film, Strictly Ballroom) and I thought…“damnit, I’m here. I am putting these on and I’m just going to try…” I was sure I’d face plant but the encouragement of my husband (and knowing my parents would have been at my side too) helped me brave the moment.

I went around two times, came off…and burst into tears. I feel the tears overtaking me even now, and can’t begin to enumerate the breadth of feeling within me. I posted a photo on social media as some of my friends (who endured the brutal winter winds at 5:30am alongside me!) would understand the accomplishment. The comments – wholly unexpected – not only warmed my heart, but brought (thankful) tears to my eyes. To know that I was remembered is like receiving a gift I never dreamed of receiving… The joy of my parents and in-laws too…it’s overwhelming and incredible. Figure skating was my “language” – it gave me words when I could not speak, and courage when I was in the throes of fear. I felt as if I was the wind itself…  

Feeling “home.” And…once a performer, always one! 😉

I have struggled over the last two decades feeling that I shouldn’t have given up the potential, the dreams, and the hopes… I remind myself that going to college was the “right” decision, and an important one. . .but I would be lying if the “what-if”s don’t’ plague me at times (never a good thing – to read my post on “Letting Go Of SHOULD”…click here.)

Part of my emotion is sadness – I know I can never go back, and that my landing leg isn’t stable enough to sustain the jumps I so loved doing…

That hurts

But I also know that no other sport has been as “right” for me as figure skating. I was meant to be on the ice and if getting my sea legs back means I can at least help others (Special Olympics and adapted sports are on my mind!) in future, then I know it was worth doing.  

2018 arrived in the same silent fashion as the sun each day – there were no fireworks beyond what we (as human beings) artificially set off. It is, therefore, up to US to “just do it”  – carpe diem, carpe noctem, carpe VITAM. We can easily sit on the sidelines and watch life go by, but we deserve so much more than that. . .

It’s okay to cry.

It’s okay to need an extra nudge or two…

It’s even okay to say “I don’t know if I can do this. . .”

But once that’s out of your system (and I’ve been there too), dust yourself off and take the plunge.

You deserve the richest and most wonderfully happy experiences in life – without trying, you’ll never know what you are missing. . .or. . .what you HAVE missed all along.

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Nutrition Humor – Germs

Everyone is always so quick to say there’s five seconds in which you can pick up your food an be safe.  I think as a figure skater who dropped food on the floor during summer training (when the rink was open but the snack bar wasn’t) the “five second rule” was more in effort to salvage even the tiniest morsel of food…lest I (like one of our cats claims an hour before dinner time) waste immediately away to a pile of skeletal remains.

The sad reality is, though…it happens much quicker.  I’m not sure who assumed germs are so nice-ie-nice but, hello, they aren’t exactly counting down on our behalf. . . E.g.: “Hang on, Irv!  Kid didn’t realize he dropped that – let’s give him an opportunity to pick it up first!”

No…they’re just like our vacuum…er…cat…. They’re on those crumbs double-time (sorry to burst any dreamy bubbles.)

(For the record, that didn’t stop me.  The lofty claim of germy kindness remaining my scientific excuse so I didn’t (not) starve to death. 😉 )

The Secrets Of Ninjutsu

Ninjutsu is probably one of my favorite Arts – its unique and unorthodox techniques, its higher-level, somewhat ethereal concepts, and the intriguing furtiveness captivated me from the get go.  It is, truly, an Art…and as a dancer and ice skater at heart, artistry is my language.

I’ve (rather sadly) seen traditional Arts dismissed as irrelevant – many modern-day practitioners want techniques that they can apply to modern-day scenarios.  Makes sense.  But therein lies the deception. Being rooted in a deep and complicated history also means that there are thousands of gems lying within the teachings.  Ones that have not only stood the test of time – when it was truly life and death – but ones that can also be very readily adapted and applied to “today.”

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One of the most interesting facets of Ninjutsu is the whole air of “secrecy.”  It sounds like an exaggeration but trust me, it isn’t.  Even within the walls of an official school, we find lots of “Henka,”or variations on specific techniques – the thing is, they are not always relayed in a straight-forward fashion, and sometimes are only hinted at.  For some Artists, that idea doesn’t go over (I can feel the eye rolls.)

While reading a Curriculum, for example, you might see images that don’t always jive with what the written directions are saying.  It ISN’T a lost-in-translation mistake either.  It’s completely deliberate.

The idea here is not that the “powers that be” of Traditional Ninpo are aiming to be unreasonably difficult, nor necessarily that they want to add some mysterious air that the Art can’t back up.  It’s more about the principle that learning is very much about DOing. Your Sensei is “passing down” the traditions, so to speak, and it drives home the idea that just reading a book, going online, or cerebrally understanding concepts ISN’T enough.  Martial Arts transcends any one approach – it takes grasping the fundamentals intellectually, absolutely, but the Art cannot be realized without being fully hands-on.

Taking it a step further, there are countless layers to the Art – you may learn a technique at one level, only to discover – throughout your own progression – profound jewels embedded deeply with in them…ones you neither could see, nor were capable of comprehending, in earlier training.

Ninpo embraces that we are not always ready for all of the “secrets” but that to develop our true “artistry” will take time, hard work, both finessing and breaking down the techniques until we can create our own. I suppose in a way many Martial Arts take that tact but here, some of the information is simply not shared until one has proven oneself to be ready.

The multi-faceted Ninjutsu is 1,000% NOT for everyone. It is acrobatic, intense, a little bit cryptic, unabashedly sneaky, and incredibly down-and-dirty at times.  Remember, the Ninja needed to survive…not stand on the battlefield until they – or you – were terminated (a la Samurai.)  

Ninjutsu focuses more on learning to keep distance, disabling, taking up an opponent’s space (including mental and spiritual) and getting away with one’s life.  To me, that’s the ultimate – I never began Martial Arts to “beat someone up.”  It’s an ART first and foremost for me, personally.  But, should I be faced with a true threat, I want the ability (or at least the tools) to disable, disengage, and get to safety.  It isn’t about “the fight,” but minimizing injury and getting away.  No ego.  No heroics.

Ninjutsu specifically will expose the student to everything from joint locks, small joint manipulations, grappling, takedowns, throws, sweeps, striking and weapons, to name a few.  I love that we have the opportunity to have such exposure, as many Arts are much more limited in scope. That said, the journey for each practitioner is unique, and built upon vastly different goals – in my own heart, I believe all Martial Arts are worthy and beneficial, markedly different they may be.

Martial Arts isn’t for the faint of heart – Ninjutsu isn’t “gentle” by any stretch, but it does teach us skills by which we can learn to keep ourselves – and our opponents – safe.  At the end of the day, however, we are taught that if we must overcome that individual, we must be prepared to do so.  Fortunately in modern times we don’t have to take it quite that far (certainly not in practice!)

Sometimes techniques hurt, sometimes they baffle, and other times they’re a little difficult to track down…. But each one of them – both the clandestine and the clear – are there should we be required to use them.  

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Think Like A Warrior

This think-like-a-champion mindset is the kind of approach that always works. You may not always have the answers, nor the most skill.  You may not have the most experience, nor be (even remotely) the most brave. . . But when you adopt a “I’m not going to lose” attitude,  you will come out on top no matter what.

In Ninpo, we teach the children to “love to lose” – when we ask them WHY they love to lose, they say “WE LEARN!!!” And that’s 1,000% true.  

When I read “I don’t know how I’m going to win, but just know I’m not going to lose” I see words that express…“I may not win, but that doesn’t mean failure.”  To me it isn’t as much about dominating the battle and coming out on top – it’s more that, in this semantic case, the “lose” part isn’t an end-all-be-all defeat.  There will be something gained from the experience and in that way, the warrior wins no matter the physical outcome.  

For us in Ninpo, we want to tie the word “lose” specifically to “learn” for the kids – that association, the notion that losing is not a negative, needs to be strong and firm in their minds. 

But another layer to this – and what I also read in the quotation – is  the idea of “walking on the floor like a champion.” It is the way I took the ice as a figure skater, the way I walked to the center of the mat when testing in Martial Arts, and the way I took the ballroom floor in dancing competition – you have to OWN it. You have to own yourself, and what you have to offer – even if you don’t have as much as the other competitors (PS: THEY don’t know that, only you do!) you need to act like you are on top.  

If you walk out there with any self-doubt, it’s going to show, and it will leave room for someone else to sneak in.  If, however, you raise that head high and own what you have got to give. . .you will astound yourself with how much you can achieve.  Trust me, you can do that without the ego too – it’s about knowing you have what it takes and acting in accordance with the idea that you have already won.

Martial Arts Humor – Preparation (And The Benefit Of Martial Arts in Life)

I have to say, Mr. Rogers, you let me down! 

The streets here are not exactly tame, depending on the block – happy-go-lucky mindlessness and handing out “hi, neighbor!”s is a surefire way to get in (possibly serious) trouble.

When I began Martial Arts, it wasn’t because I wanted to be “badass” or that I thought I’d need to fend of a gaggle of muggers, necessarily.  I was a lifetime athlete – primarily a performing one (ballroom dancing, figure skating, ballet, and the like) – and I wanted to up the ante.  I wanted more power, newness, and something that combined athleticism with artistry (which figure skating, for one, manages by default.)

That said, I was enamored of Martial Arts in general from an incredibly young age.  It had nothing to do with being a female, by the way – I’ve never felt that I couldn’t achieve the same thing the “boys” did, and in sports the men were more my idols than the women.  The grace and fluidity were something my body already knew how to create inherently, but the power and strength of male athletes inspired me on a whole other level.  

Martial Arts movies were common enough in our household – older brother = badassery.  And watching them, in and of themselves, made me feel empowered – imagine being able to do those things, and hold my own, for myself?!

I didn’t start (Taekwondo, Hapkido, dabble of Kumdo) until the third decade of Life, but I still don’t think that was “too late.” My current Arts are Ninjutsu / Ninpo, and Brazilian Gracie Jui-Jitsu. I feel that the combination of the former, and being in a new, and much tougher city than those I’ve lived in before, has prompted me to develop and even stronger situational awareness.  I notice my surroundings, but also am more attuned to the details – how someone is walking, if they are carrying something, if they look in shape and strong, or less able. . . It’s sort of just “there” and it makes me feel even more thankful for my training.

I can’t say whether or not my muscle memories would kick in – I certainly hope so – but I definitely know I am far more prepared than the average person, and have some chance of submitting, escaping, keeping my life. I’m also more aware in general, a direct result training with people, so I can possibly be more proactive.

It may not always be a “beautiful day in the neighborhood” much that my happy-empath spirit would like it to be. Mr. Rogers let a little me down but I picked up the slack and have trained my ass off in the last ten years just in case a “hi, neighbor” leans a little too hostile for my taste!

 

Halloween – Lip Smacker

I’m a total balm girl – I don’t wear lipstick (save for when I was performing in Ballroom Dancing or Figure Skating) and I love flavor! I also – no grand surprise – adore Halloween.  

When Halloween items crop up in stores, suddenly I want to buy everything…including limited edition Lip Smackers, designed with the holiday AND Disney Villains in mind.  As the kind of girl who prefers to be Maleficent at five years-old and NOT the Princess, no shocker here!

Lip Smacker has a bunch of fun Fall flavors but I hope I find the same setup Musingsofamuse did! I’ll snatch up all of them as fast as Jack Skellington did Christmas!

Martial Arts – Beyond Than Being An Athlete

Being a Martial Artist isn’t completely akin to being just an athlete – while both designations require a high physical demand in combination with mental focus, there is – in my own mind – a level of spiritual attunement that takes Martial Arts a step further.

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I’ve been an athlete my whole life – for better or worse I have always identified myself with my athletic endeavors.  Extracurricular activities were equally as committed to as my studies growing up – I didn’t train here or there, I was “on” five to seven days a week, multiple hours a day, interspersing my training with homework and school time.  To many, I didn’t “have a life.”  I still managed to get to sleepovers and do “kid” things, but I was up well before the group and off to the ice rink while they still caught their Zs.  

I guess there were a few days I minded – in the dead of winter, 5 am looks a lot like midnight…and it feels that way too!  But MOST of the time, I loved it.  I had my own routine, and my own sense of uniqueness.  I felt empowered, strong, and enjoyed having the physical outlet for my ridiculous Geminian energy, and my sometimes awkward way with expression (that is to say, movement was as much a language to me as English!  Ask a dancer, and he or she will understand what I mean.)  Other kids maybe slept later, or hung out until the wee hours when I had to be back in bed…but at the end of the day, being an “athlete” meant more to me than being like everyone else.  

My circle of friends was relatively small, no question – there were days when I wondered what it was like being the most popular kid in class but. . . It was short-lived.  The prospect of worrying more about what I wore to school every day didn’t really have room on my list of things to do, nor did who asked who out – I simply wasn’t on that wavelength. My best friends very much included my coach, a skating buddy or two, my parents, and a gymnast. Oh!  And I had a horse riding friend also.  Shocking, I know – another athlete!  Life wasn’t exactly the same for us as it was our peers – the time commitment, for one, was massive.  The friends I had were those who suffered the same constraints I did so we had an understanding by default (no, I really DID have to miss that birthday party because of a competition!)

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Being an athlete also required an enormous physical demand – maintaining that level of training and impact at 38? Not going to happen.  Eight Marital Arts classes a week, two days of HIIT cardio, and three to five lifting is MORE than enough. It was something to behold, for sure, and I am extremely proud of my body for getting me through it.

Add to those two hefty components (the commitment of body and time) the ability to focus the mind – not only for competition, but for training in general.  There were plenty of days of pushing through feeling under the weather, bleeding feet, strains, sprains…even a collapsed lung.  It was absolutely vital that we spent time visualizing, and keeping our mind sharp – on ice in particular, being “out of it” could be incredibly dangerous.

There was something else, though… An entirely other layer that seduced me from the get go – one that I dare say was evident when I performed.  When I watched top athletes I could always see the difference in “spiritual” commitment.  ALWAYS.  It wasn’t that the skater did, or didn’t, love the sport – most all of us were infected with intense ardor from an early age.  It was more so that some were devoted on another level...  Not just mind, not just body…but soul.  It wasn’t “spiritual” in an ecclesiastical way, but rather the presence of a transcendent passion. They weren’t skating to music, they were the music.  That, for me, was what made all the difference.  I didn’t want to just hit my elements…I wanted to string together each movement into a story that those with loss of their senses could still feel and understand.  

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In Martial Arts, such a level of dedication is – I’d argue – required.  Being a Martial Artist isn’t just about attendance, accomplishing the moves, passing tests, or breaking boards.  It isn’t just about being able to focus the mind on a task at hand, pushing through, and staying on point.  And it isn’t about getting a rank and calling it quits.

You can DO Martial Arts, absolutely.  To be a true “Martial Artist,” though, I (again, personally) feel as though the soul connection has to be there.  So yes, in my mind, I am eliminating the guys who get in a ring a kick ass but don’t do it for any reason beyond beating someone else (at their game, or literally.)  

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There are plenty of sports where you can sneak by without that soul connection – even in the most aesthetically-based, such as dancing and figure skating.  You can still complete the technical components, and maybe do okay with the artistic portion.  The average spectator very likely won’t notice the difference.  I guess in Martial Arts that can happen too…but then it isn’t really Martial Arts, it’s strictly striking, grappling, whatever…

Being an athlete is something to be proud of – it takes WORK.  It’s blood, sweat, and tears…peppered with (hopefully) some laughs.  Depending on the level (and the nature of the specific Art), Martial Arts requires that practitioners are athletes – the conditioning dictates it by default.  

But. . .to BE a Martial Artist really means devotion beyond the physical and mental – it’s a layer (or several) beyond just saying “this is my sport.”

Being a Martial Artist is something that will permeate your Life, and remain “true” for all your years – it is a lifestyle.  It is a way of being, thinking, acting, existing.  The lessons we learn, and strive to perfect, belong to a pursuit that extends well beyond our age and body – one of the reasons I say to people that Martial Arts is “timeless.”  

My sports and activities – figure skating, dance, weight lifting etc – those things take a toll eventually.  We get to a point where we can’t continue nearly at the same level.  But in Martial Arts, we somehow get better with age, regardless of having to potentially tone it down – there are so many layers beyond the “seen” that movement, ability, learning, philosophy etc…continues undeterred.  We become wiser and more balanced, not just stronger, more agile, more fluid with our movement.  I feel like those who have become impossibly proficient are not just skilled, they are IN it – they are tied to the activity with heart and soul, not just the desire to get better. They become the Art. 

That undercurrent is very much the one that finally got me to start – I wanted to do Martial Arts forEVER but was so inundated with demands from extracurricular sports, school, and then work that it was put on the burner.  For a long time.

In my early 30’s I revisited the “if I get injured and can’t dance, what ‘sport’ will I be able to continue with..?”  It was a very real issue when deciding between figure skating and college – I took the later path knowing that one derailment could cause a massive ripple effect later, leaving me in the dust of my peers.  After sitting with the thought a while, I manned up and marched into a Dojang – a decision that changed my Life forever.

I incidentally did get injured – through Martial Arts.  It incidentally DID take me out of ballroom competition for good.  But somehow I have been able to continue – no matter the modifications, I am still growing, learning, AND contributing (the most amazing part.)  I will for as long as I take it and I hope – though the capacity might change – that I will forever. 

The injuries I sustained would have (very likely) completely ended my career in figure skating, possibly ballet…definitely ballroom (because it did!)  But Martial Arts – with its countless facets – offers me the promise of maintaining my athleticism along with mental growth, emotional intelligence, and spiritual attainment.  It takes being an athlete to a whole other level and I LOVE that.  I know  that even when I have to do a little bit less physically, I can still reap the rewards of the sport – as a sport – without having to throw in the towel before I am ready (which will be NEVER!) 🙂 

My Martial Arts and Dance album…