Every aspect of life is a journey and I suppose that’s the fun of it – nothing remains static and we always have the opportunity to grown and learn. As we get older we are often bombarded with the idea that we have to be young, have to portray that image, or that it is simply too late. None of that is true – there is so much beauty in getting older, and it is absolutely never – ever – too late to try, learn, do something new…especially when that “something” makes your soul glow or your heart beat.
I spent a long time in industries that I was, perhaps, “meant”…but not “destined”…for. While life ebbs and flows, and is indeed rife with ah-ha moments along the way, I’ve realized that I just had a monumental epiphany. And that’s not only okay, but amazing…
I didn’t question my work in fashion – I’d loved so many aspects of the industry from early childhood that it made sense that I was heading that direction. No matter we all thought I was primarily left-brained, I was incredibly drawn to the arts, performing sports, to fashion, to photography, makeup artistry – they were worlds so colorful and captivating that I sort of just “knew” that’s the broad arena in which I’d eventually land. That said, my pedigree was – finally – to the contrary. I did a double major in International Business and Marketing, not exactly the design and creative background required for a position in Product Development. But, what I lacked in typical education, I made up for with enthusiasm and a no-bullshit work ethic.
I suppose throughout it all, I always had a feeling that something was missing – I didn’t have a name for the sensation, nor did I know exactly what, specifically, was absent. I’ve always wanted to do more, be more, achieve more, so I believe I attributed the growing hollowness to that.
But, it wasn’t.
The truth is, life for me is vastly more magical than it isn’t – I will always strive to be better each day, in every aspect of my life, and I will always have goals and aspirations. So that sense of still seeking fulfillment might be there…but after having had more recent revelations, I’m willing to bet it will die down a bit.
I began working with children on a whim many years ago as an instructor in Karate – I wanted to get out of my home town (not to escape an increasingly prosaic routine, but to evade one person, of all things) and this amazing gift, so aptly timed, just fell into my lap. I initially contacted the Sensei in effort to learn new Arts – my background was in the Korean Arts of Hapkido and Taekwondo. Despite my lack of knowledge (or experience) in his Japanese styles, he welcomed me warmly, and with sincere enthusiasm. In seeing my passion for Martial Arts in general, and, I imagine, my personality, he encouraged me to stick around and teach. Game changer.
I realized at that moment both the responsibility I was given, and that I was in the unbelievably fortunate position to offer inspiration to these children. You never know when such moments of motivation and revelation may occur. Knowing that I could provide a strong role model, not only by means of a physically active body, but emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually, was a gift to be valued.
I was, and still am, more of the disciplinarian – it is incredibly important to me that the children enjoy their time at the Dojo (why bother otherwise?!) But it is also a place in which we discuss and learn core values – how to treat one another, the meaning of respect, responsibility, healthy living, honesty, courage, integrity… It isn’t just about how we control our own bodies and space, but how we affect others around us in a physical way, and beyond. Our attitude matters. In some cases, we are reinforcing what is taught at home. In others, however, we are providing a framework and structure that they child is not exposed to elsewhere – a framework that hopefully will help them blossom and embrace life fully, challenges notwithstanding.
I’ve continued working with children in Martial Arts simply because I love to do it – I appreciate the opportunity to instill positive values, to encourage and nudge potential, to lead by example, and to help the children develop important life skills. Along the way, however – and frankly I don’t even recall the impetus – I began to look into working with Special Needs children. The opportunities for children with disabilities is far less, and as a huge proponent of physical fitness, I realized I needed to be out there helping kids who are often denied the chance.
By some great fortune there is a volunteer organization in my state that offers the kinds of hands-on activities I was looking for – they serve children with varying disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism, down syndrome, ADHD, apraxia, and others. None is so severe on the spectrum that they must reside in full-time facilities, but depending on the child, there might be some aggression, or major athleticism (as in, the “runners” who are hard to keep at one’s side!) For me, though, that’s the fun of it – each child is different, and with my background in Martial Arts training and instructing, I feel very comfortable taking on the toughies.
My time with these children has been relegated to my 39th year of life (and some of my 38th) – my path managed to diverge rather drastically in some way, but I feel suddenly so much more aligned. While it is not currently my profession to work with children with disabilities, I have made it my mission to find ways to help. I have purchased several books to begin self-educating myself, and have reached out to others in the field whom I know are both honest and passionate. It is in so many ways the beginning of a new journey for me, but life has a way of doing that…
Life presents us with opportunities along the way if only we remain open to them. When we listen to what our hearts are truly saying in between the beats, we allow a magic we may not have known existed the opportunity to unfold. The gifts you will receive will be priceless…
Training the way you want to fight isn’t always so easy. . .but in a way, isn’t that supposed to be the point? That we train in order to potentially defend ourselves?
The tough reality is that what your muscles remember under duress – which is going to be what you have painstakingly programmed them to do in class, lessons, practice – is what matters. If you train to hand the gun back to the perpetrator – even with mindfulness and the knowledge that you *shouldn’t* – it may happen in real life. Terrifying it may be, I’ve actually heard of cases in which just that has occurred… Scary.
The other day in class, our Sensei decided to do a drill combining old school (as in centuries-old Ninpo) traditional movements with a modern-day scenario and vibe. We had to disable our opponent with a distraction or strike, get away (using those traditional techniques), get to and behind cover, and then “draw” our weapon. The drill was one of the most fun I think I’ve ever done…but I was also so incredibly excited to have another opportunity to flesh out a possible, modern situation. No matter how old movements, or kata, or patterns may be, there are gems within them that can be adapted for, and applied to the times.
I don’t carry, for one thing…so I’m not likely to have a firearm at the ready. But the idea was what was most important here, and learning to do all of those things – without the stress – was hugely valuable. What makes it stick? Repetition! Memory needs to be formed so that when we ARE stressed, we can still perform those functions. Just one day of that particular drill isn’t necessarily going to help me out if something really goes down. But…the principles and techniques ARE ones we use every day…
We learn to strike, distract, disable…that’s number 1.
We learn how to efficiently get away, and to not injure our bodies (or injure as little as possible!) as we attempt to do so.
We learn to asses for cover and get behind it if that’s what the situation requires (versus getting away.)
In practicing those things, our muscles learn on such a level that we work on “autopilot” after a point. And that’s what you want!
The difficulty in this particular environment is that we don’t have real firearms, and we aren’t truly hurting our “attacker.” On a range, in a special type of training, an individual who DOES carry can certainly practice his or her ability to draw, aim, shoot, and make the weapon safe – frankly I think anyone in a job in which carrying a pistol is required SHOULD be doing that anyway!
For us at the dojo, we are working on handling whatever is coming at us as quickly and smartly as possible – but again, there are some strikes we simply cannot do. In Ninpo, strikes can be highly unorthodox and nasty – breaking fingers, ripping ears, gouging eyes…it goes on. It’s tough knowing we aren’t going 100% in this case, but we can’t exactly… So we have to keep in mind that in real life, were our safety on the line, we can’t play the but-he’s-a-nice-“uke” (opponent / attacker) game. It’s a challenge, honestly – how do we bridge the gap, then? I’m not sure you really CAN because none of us are out to break another classmate’s limb!
This is – for me – where the repetition comes in. Learning to master even basic movement can take a lifetime, forget years! But in the daily (or as many days as can be managed!) practice helps solidify as many of the effective ways in which to handle a particular threat. There are – keep in mind – an infinite number of movements available to us, and if we could study every Art and master it in a lifetime, we’d be golden. Not the reality, sad to say! Learning to even do a handful of “go-to”s is great – learn to do them properly, to do them well, and to do them with all shapes and sizes (some techniques are really tough with a HUGE partner!) If you want a real challenge, do them blindfolded.
It’s a very “wax on, wax off” concept – the drills help our bodies to do these things as involuntarily as possible so, should the need arise, we actually CAN do something about it. We don’t always have the luxury of training exactly how we fight – this isn’t the Colosseum, after all – but we *can* do everything in our power to focus, to drill, and to get our muscles so familiar with the movements that they will come to our aid when we need them most.
It isn’t exactly funny. . .but interesting that there are so many memes about this!
I’ve been talking about this a lot lately – I simply have no interest in partnering with students who want to go full-bore. The purpose of my training is to learn techniques, to replicate them properly in order to create the correct muscle memory. I’m NOT interested in going bananas, and cranking my partner’s limbs…OR my own!
Don’t get me wrong, rolling, kicking, sparring, punching…at your full potential is great too, of course! – but this is more with respect to when we are specifically training techniques. I see (and sadly have FELT) rushing far more than I’d personally like – you can’t go at a snail’s pace for sure, but unless you solidly have the technique, it’s important to be mindful.
When you are in a class and learning techniques designed not only to lock joints, but flat-out BREAK them, staying in FULL CONTROL of your body and movement is integral.
Along with that? Keeping yourself tidy – again, mindfulness – so that you don’t put your partner at unnecessary risk (yes, I have had my face gouged my nails. “Ugh, your DNA is under my nail!” my partner said. My response wasn’t so cheeky, as I wiped the blood off my face.) Cleanliness and grooming matter when you are in a close contact sport.
These days, I’d rather say, “slow down,” “hold looser,” or “dude, maybe you want to partner with someone else.”
More substantial – avoidable – injuries? NO THANKS!
Fortunately in Taekwondo, we didn’t spend too much time breaking. I wouldn’t say it’s utterly useless (trust me, I’m not making any grandiose statements.) What I am saying is more that I’m not sure when I’d need it, save for my promotions. I think a lot of outsiders wonder as well. Were I an officer in need of potentially breaking in doors, maybe it would be more handy. Or if I wanted to be more confident in the strength and mental control in penetrating matter with my fist?
For me personally, though, focusing my efforts elsewhere has been more of a help. I do think it’s pretty incredible when a human being can demolish cinder blocks – as in, like, ten at once. But generally speaking, I feel that other techniques are equally as useful as far as honing physical skills while also mastering mental concentration, and direction of energies.
I could – admittedly – help but giggle when I saw the cartoon above. There were some techniques along the way that made me think “and why am I doing this again?” Practicality is always my first line of defense.
Ain’t this the truth…?!
I once “levitated” off the back end of my friend’s horse, having come upon a ghastly banana spider spiderweb (creator, dead center!) which would have been a chest plate had I proceeded on my forward trajectory.
No, Sir, I went back and down immediately, with some sort of kihap on the way down. Babe, my wonderful horse, stopped and stood, ever so stately (probably trying not to let on his true estimation of me. That’s right – moron! It was a long way down.)
I’m delighted to report, however, that my training afforded me the ability to maneuver back up-and-over from a low ditch without much trouble. It was worth the effort to have avoided the sticky, spider-infested wrap I would have been wearing otherwise.
I was very much a full-on Ninja at that moment. Now…to be that way ALL the time.