The Life Lessons Of Competitive (Performing) Sports – OWN It

There are countless benefits to participating in competitive and / or performing sports, but one of the best lessons therein embedded is the idea of “owning it.” 

What does it mean to “own it”? Fear, anxiety, self-doubts be dammed, you walk on the floor or take the ice like a champion, PERIOD, as if you know you’ve already taken first place.

At first blush I thought that concept was not only egotistical, but also downright rude – I (I know – GASP!) actually cared about my competitors, and felt it was important never to seem cocky or rude, or even a hair too self-confident. It felt wrong to me, as if I might offend someone or be misconstrued as an insensitive person.

Really!?

Competitive sports are just that, and I’ve witnessed such an array of absurd / inappropriate / infantile behaviors over the years you wouldn’t even believe them…not only on the part of my fellow competitors, but their parents / significant personages in their lives. There’s plenty of “ugly” going on behind the scenes and perhaps for that reason I felt particularly compelled to rise above it and ensure that people knew I was a good person who sincerely wanted us all to succeed. 

 

 

Well…no one really cared WHAT I was thinking or how I came across! I wasn’t that important in the scheme of things (as it is said, no one is paying attention to you because they’re too busy with / worried about / preoccupied with themselves!) Yes, I’m the INFJ queen of reading into things and I was certain that I might offend someone if I acted a little too sure of myself…

But, as the Grinch once said, “W R O N G O!”

I learned very quickly in my competitive and performing career that my attitude was always VERY apparent – not only to my partner (in the case of dancing), or to my coaches and family, but to every person in the audience…and the judges. If I wasn’t 1,000% confident, it was visible – it is no matter who you are. How, you ask…?

When our self-confidence falters, we don’t carry ourselves the same way – our self-doubt often manifests as over thinking. And OVER thinking causes a host of physiologic changes in our body, posture and movement:

  1. We become more rigid, less fluid and flexible in our movements, as if they are contrived and strained
  2. Our breathing becomes shallow and we are aware that we might be sweating…
  3. Not to mention the torrent of butterflies that decided to stampede the “calm” within us right at that moment. Sigh. Nice timing!
  4. We also show it in our face…we lose the smile or seem overly concerned, so much so that our expression can be easily misconstrued as something negative by anyone observing us. Never a good thing when performing, in an interview or presentation, meeting someone for the first time etc….

It is therefore CRUCIAL that we pull it together and act AS IF (article here). As if what? As if we know damn well we are going to win, wow the crowd, have the desired result we want etc…

That doesn’t mean it’s easy because some of us may not totally have that self-confidence. YET. Owning it is very much a “fake-it-till-you-make-it” thing…and that’s okay. You have to PRACTICE.

You have to push the discomfort to the side and recognize that your internal “stuff” is going to show externally. People will also FEEL it, so if you want to come off as a shining star, you need to be sure your energy is aligning with that vibe. When you “own it,” you help to get the brain on the same wavelength as what you are aiming for, and that will make a world of difference in how you are perceived.

Remember, owning it doesn’t mean you are cocky or rude or anything else that may feel “negative” to you. It’s about acknowledging all the asweomeness you have to offer, and ensuring that others catch a positive vibe from you. If they are wondering what your problem is, think you aren’t taking the opportunity seriously, or that you don’t’ believe in yourself, they are going to reflect that in the scores / in their response to you (or your performance.) If you want to bait them hook-line-and-sinker, you want to be absolutely certain that they know you feel confident in your abilities, and that you KNOW you have value. It will be clear in every aspect of your behavior and physicality. 

So next time you have to get out there…shake your tail feathers, smile a huge smile, and say to yourself, “I OWN this. I already know I have the result I want because I have all the tools I need to achieve that, and the hard work and talent to back it up.”

Go GET IT!

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Martial Arts Humor – Jiu-Jitsu Folding

It kind of IS like folding laundry when you think about it… Double underhook guard pass to side mount is a whole lot like tackling a big pile of laundry and submitting it into drawer-worthy shape.  The only difference is that there happens to be a human being in that gi.

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Ohhhh…what a shame…!

NOT!

 

So NOT sorry!

 

More Martial Arts jazz…

Thankful In The 2nd Degree

I recently had the good fortune to complete my 2nd Dan promotion in Taekwondo, Hapkido and Kumdo – Our curriculum includes all three Arts, though we focus primarily on the Taekwondo, and Hapkido (both of which I adore!)  I hadn’t actually stepped foot in a dojang until my early 30’s – but despite zero background in Martial Arts as a whole, I maintained the belief that anything was achievable.   

My personal athletic history includes classical training in ballet for a decade, competitive figure skating for about sixteen years, and competitive ballroom dancing for about seven.  I supplemented my training with weightlifting and some cardio from the age of 13 on, and certainly gave other sports a try over the years (many of which, I confess, were under duress.  Still, it was to my benefit, as I learned what did…and didn’t...work for me!) 

The school I attend is run by the phenomenally accomplished Grandmaster Ik Jo Kang of Korea – not only an 8th Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo, but also a 9th Degree in Hapkido, as well as highly skilled in knife throwing, short stick, long stick, and nunchucks (among other things.)  He’s most definitely a force to be reckoned with, and someone I looked up to from day 1.  

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Kwan Jang Nim (the appropriate term for Grandmaster) welcomed me warmly, encouraging me in spite of my very dancelike habits and lack of experience.  He generously took me under his wing, and I spent countless private lessons trying to learn as much as I possibly could retain.  Most Grandmasters at his level are no longer teaching, not to mention teaching lower belts – we, his students, are very blessed.

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During one of my more intense lessons, in which we practiced nearly and hour of jump kicks and combinations (yung seuk chagi), my foot rolled into a divot in the mat, changing my athletic career in less than a second.  As I took off for a spinning, jumping back kick, my knee jolted left to right, severing my ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament), tearing the meniscus, tearing the hamstring (at the gastrocnemius tie-in), and severely contusing the bones.  

I literally saw stars (I describe it as the Cinderella, Fairy-Godmother-effect from my skating days – spin super fast, and that is precisely what when down!)

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Kwan Jang Nim, seeing that I couldn’t move, helped me put pressure to assist with the pain (the hamstring tear was likely the most intense part – popped ACLs cause swelling, but not the dramatic wave of pain I was experiencing.  In a fit of cold sweats I tried not to be sick, and to get myself to my feet.  I was able to do so within a minute or two but there was something clearly amiss – athletes (of whatever kind!) get used to the bumps, bruises, and muscular pain – this was something different.

Sad to say…I was diagnosed with a torn hamstring only.  The trauma within the patellar region was severe enough that the swelling prevented the Lachman’s test from divulging what was really going on (typically, it’s a failsafe – the knee pops forward and it’s pretty darn clear that the ACL is damaged, or no longer intact!)  We didn’t think the MRI was required – though it was painful, stiff, and swollen, I could still bear my weight.  I could still LIFT weights at the gym.  I could do everything pretty much as normal except that I “felt” like something wasn’t right.  There was a hair of instability that I didn’t believe I’d had prior and, four months later, without signs of abating, an MRI confirmed I wasn’t crazy.  (Bottom line: YOU KNOW YOUR BODY!  If it doesn’t feel right, check it out immediately!)

I read the MRI report and burst into tears…  Two months prior I had won two titles at the World Championships in ballroom – I was right at a peak age, and ready to revamp my routines and push myself as far as I could go… But in the fell swoop of one, poorly-supported moment…my competitive dreams were taken away.

I was in surgery days after receiving the news. The recovery itself was the most painful physical situation I’ve been in, not to mention one of the more trying (though not the worst) on an emotional level as well.  My parents are saints for having put up with me – the prospect of not dancing was already devastating, and to know that physical activity was off limits for months did NOT sit well.  I lost three inches around my thigh – my quad was actually concave when the swelling subsided – and about eight pounds on that side.  Let’s just say it was eye-opening.  

Perspective…

I remember meeting my friend Roger for the first time.  Roger was a Sergeant, SWAT Team member, pilot and badass Harley-rider who had been diagnosed with ALS some years earlier – he has since passed, but will ever be remembered as a hero…and an inspiration.  When we were introduced, my best friend mentioned that I was a dancer.  Roger’s face lit up like a sun and he smiled larger than the room (I have goosebumps recalling it.)  He typed (with his eyes) into his computer, “do you watch Dancing With the Stars?” “My old teacher is on the show!” I replied.  The warmth, excitement, and genuine care Roger’s face expressed nearly moved me to tears – in that moment I remembered my first day at physical therapy after my knee reconstruction…

I remember that I was asked to “fire my quad” and I couldn’t do it.  Confused, I looked at my thigh, sending the message to it to contract.  Nothing.  It was like a dead limb…and it was terrifying.  When I spoke to Roger I thought “my God…he wakes up every day knowing it won’t get better…  He wakes up and something else doesn’t work, and it won’t come back.”  There I was acting like a big baby…and my leg WAS going to heal.

That moment stayed with me, and it’s something I think about when I’m feeling down – I am SO blessed.  He would smile and tell me to be careful, despite his own circumstance – I will never forget the bravery, nor his ever-present selflessness.  He affected me so much that I agreed to do the Tri-State Trek in his honor – we knew his time was limited and I wanted to repay him for the gift of sight and perspective he gave me while he was still with us.

I didn’t have my first Black Belt at the time, but Roger and I, and one of my best friends Rick, would always share smiles and laughs about my Martial Arts training – I was determined to become a badass one day!  I would say the training (road bike) ride was exhausting and I was going to kick Rick’s butt for it…adding a “KIYAH!” along with my kicking motions.  Roger would always giggle and say that Rick would have to “watch out! She’s dangerous.”

The knee recovery derailed my competitive ballroom dancing…but I was as set on getting my black belt no matter how hard it would be, or how long it took to get there.  When I was able to finally get up one stair – ten months after surgery – my Grandmaster allowed me to come back to the school to start training again.  He was incredibly patient, and always mindful of my injury.  I took baby steps and modified where necessary – while I couldn’t do everything, I still could do SOMEthing.  I wasn’t giving up…

The only aspect of the Black Belt promotion I had some trouble with was snapping a side kick and breaking boards – the emotional paralysis you can sustain from traumatic injury can really stick with you, and it was quite prevalent at that moment!  Fortunately, I was permitted to do breaks with my hands.  PHEW!  The new rank meant the WORLD to me…because it represented my persistence, my perseverance, my dedication…  It represented that I could achieve anything I set my heart to – just like the 300 mile bike ride for Roger.  

I continued my training with Kwan Jang Nim, eager to perfect what I knew…and to learn even more – in Martial Arts, the learning NEVER stops!  I managed to tear my right knee along the way – again with a kick – but I refused to reconstruct it and kept forging ahead (despite the chagrin of my orthopedic surgeon!)  

After maintaining the rank a while, students were getting excited for the next big promotion.  But, while they usually occur at quarterly intervals (maybe more), the schedule shifted dramatically.  Kwan Jang Nim was given an opportunity to finally shoot his Screenplay– a long-time dream of his.  While we were sad we couldn’t do our promotion, we were incredibly excited for him that his dream was coming to fruition.

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Within that time, though, I met the Love of my Life…who had apparently lived just yards away from my Dojang all that time… He was moving away from our town two weeks after we met and…fast forward six months, I was following him out of state too. The promotion loomed over me – I was ready to test, but I was no longer at the school to participate in classes, to practice, to learn, to perfect… 

I stayed in touch with Kwan Jang Nim, eager to hear about any set dates for the testing.  I practiced on my own, as I always did back home…but it was so much more important without others to work with me.  My hunnie kindly “stole my wallet” many nights as he grilled dinner so I could practice my Hapkido defenses.  And I never gave up the hope of getting back home to take my 2nd Degree test.

In January I got a call that the promotion was set for early February – I wasn’t sure I could get back for the actual date, so Kwan Jang Nim…very generously…agreed to meet me privately and do my test earlier.  FINALLY, the day came, and I was overjoyed.

Seeing Kwan Jang Nim again was amazing – I realized how much I missed my classes, and the Dojang, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to “do my thing.”  The test went amazingly – I feel like I’m still glowing from the experience.  I feel so blessed, and so thankful to officially be a Kyo Sa Nim. ❤ 

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It’s funny because sometimes people assume that getting a belt is something that you just “pay for.”  There is a business aspect to many schools that allows for that to occur…but there are a lot of us who work HARD to get where we are.  We get their early, do chores we aren’t asked to do, practice on our own.  We go to class, ask for feedback, and repeat until we can’t move.  

Some of us – MOST of us – have had debilitating injuries over the years, and we push through them with determination to reach our goals.  It is EARNED, NOT GIVEN for many of us, and there is a lot of sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears along the way.  

My friends have achieved incredible things – feats I look up to with deep reverence.  Overcoming personal setbacks, in particular, is something I have profound respect for – whether emotional, physical or spiritual.  For me, this was one of those things… I refused to give up my Arts because I destroyed on knee – it had already taken so much away.  I refused to give them up when I tore the second one – my passion never diminished.  

I have modified, and persisted, and kept my eye on my goal – those two stripes will forever remind me that I have what it takes, no matter what.  Having the heart is more than half the battle – never give up on you, or what brings you joy.  

Practice, Practice, Practice

I recently moved to a new City – one I know nothing about.  Having lived in the same “home town” for three and a half decades, it definitely takes adjusting.  

Sometimes you say “I’m moving” and people assume it’s a piece of cake, it’s just around the corner, or that it only involves your “stuff.”  (Did you ever see the George Carlin bit about “stuff?” It will have you in stitches whether you’re moving or staying put – fair forewarning, he doesn’t censor particularly!)

But no, it isn’t just about the physical aspects – a new location, a new living space, or new furnishings – which would be far less daunting.  In most cases, moving involves fully uprooting all your reference checkpoints.

One of those reference points for me has been my Martial Arts – I have studied Taekwondo for some years now, along with Hapkido and Kumdo as adjunct disciplines (I’d love to have delved more deeply into those as well, Hapkido in particular, but as an adult, time is a huge factor.  Our resources are also more limited!)  I had the blessing to be taken under my Grand Master’s wing, on a regular schedule, and what he wanted to focus on, we focused on!    

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Despite two devastating injuries – both to my knees – I have continued with my study…not surprisingly, to the chagrin of my loved ones.  In any sport (at least in my own mind) injuries are par for the course – I aim to be as safe as possible, but I have absolutely, out of necessity, toned it down.  To give it up completely, however, was simply not an option – I devoted myself to regular classes, and stretching and practice on my own time irregardless.

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I am still preparing for my next promotion, sometime in the next few weeks in my original home town.   I no longer have my class, my Grand Master, my peers, nor my familiar surroundings with which to continue on this path, but I HAVE to practice, lest I lose my form, memory, flexibility, or skill – these are, without question, a use-it-or-lose-it deal.

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I am eager to reach this benchmark as it has been a long-standing goal.  My move, however, came at a time of great transition for me…far too great to enumerate without launching into a novella!  It’s been a whirlwind of “wonderful”…but even wonderful can be overwhelming.

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Had I not been prepared to participate in the coming promotion, the next step would have been to find a new Art in which to achieve.  One could continue with Taekwondo, reaching far beyond 2nd Degree (my Grand Master is a 9th), but there is an overwhelming feeling of “change” to 2015.  The year has already blessed me with many changes, all of which have been positive. ❤  

Martial Arts is known for its roots in, and focus on, discipline. In my view, discipline is the backbone of the Arts, tempering the sometimes volatile and emotional nature of human beings, and grounding us solidly in what truly matters.  

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Given my circumstance, this means holding off on moving forward until my goal is reached.  Some people might jump into a new Art during the grace period, particularly having moved to a new City without a school branch, or familiar Dojang – new start, after all.  For me personally, though, rushing into a new Art feels foolish – I prefer to focus, stay loyal, and do the best I can, new training circumstances notwithstanding.

I found a room today at my new gym with a ton of heavy bags…and I lit up.  Flexibility is one of the first things to go, so stretching and maintaining my kicks is incredibly important.  I am not in the Arts to “fight,” I should interject.  As I have mentioned in other posts, Martial Arts is so much more for me – it is a dance, albeit a deadly one.

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We still don’t have a set date (which would possibly unnerve any of the students – and it is!), but I am doing my best to review what I know on my own.  My Grand Master always made a point to say it takes “character” to practice solo, and the sentiment extends to many aspects of our person – our morals, our discipline, our determination, our passion…  We need to stay hungry, especially when we are faced with change.

When everything around you turns upside-down, there is a way to stay centered.  It doesn’t mean you won’t be frazzled in the process, but it gives you something familiar to embrace mentally, spiritually, physically.

It is that “something” you can take with you no matter where you go…in Life, or in the World.  

Your spirit is ever-present, and stronger and more equipped than you may imagine.  Trust your memory, work hard, stay hungry…stay grounded.  In many ways, in a century of massive change, that really is all we CAN do.

I’m okay with that.  I’ll be in the back room going through my forms. 

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#NOMERCY, Nitromethane Drag Race shirt – says it all!

Finding Peace in the Chaos

Yes…it’s “one of those weeks.”  Lots of stress, not enough sleep, feeling overwhelmed…  I’ve had a few “venting” moments, but…at least for me…I REALLY need some time where I can just breathe, focus, and relax.  We all need to have down time, but it doesn’t necessarily mean spending it inactive.

I’m thankful to have a key to the Dojang because getting there early is effectively my sanity insurance!  I not only take time for extra stretching (given my injuries, the portion dedicated in class isn’t enough)…but I also take time to practice.

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Practice makes perfect, so it goes…but as any martial artist would say, there is a spiritual, intellectual, and emotional component to going through forms – and I mean properly, without stopping.  

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I try to practice as if I am promoting, because when I do, I want them as clean as possible.  Perfection isn’t necessarily the goal – that in an of itself is rather lofty given the accomplishments of my Grandmaster.  BUT, to do them WELL is achievable, which helps to solidify the movements therein (essentially, all those vital “basics.”)   

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Doing forms in a group is incredibly valuable – it helps us learn our timing and placement in an unpredictable space.  But…having some time alone is truly restorative, and not so unlike an active meditation.

Today…I needed restorative.

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Everyone is different – we each have activities that calm our system and help us to soothe the frays.  Whatever that is, make sure to take time for yourself to do just that – you deserve it.  AND, it will prevent getting completely out of hand when chaos seems to be the trend!