The Dangers of Anger

A friend of mine – also a highly accomplished Martial Artist – posted a very thought-provoking video yesterday of a young man throwing a full-scale temper tantrum at his teacher. To feel frustration, disappointment, some upset is to be human – it will happen in life. But to get to a point of anger and rage is simply not okay. Ever. Even when there is no physical violence, the words and actions can still be as damaging as if there were.

He posed some very interesting points about why people react this way (because it isn’t a response, it’s a reaction), about avoiding the discussion because it’s too close to home, or because we have differences in opinions (which are nothing more than the lenses we’ve gained through our experiences)…

As a Martial Artist myself, and someone also studying a personal protective defense system, my priority is non-violence. My priority is to have enough wherewithal to exercise control of my person and my reactions / actions / words, even when pushed to the point of anger. I had coincidentally just posted a snapshot of an article I read on a plane this weekend speaking to the very idea of walking away, of non engagement. . .

This teen’s anger is horrifying on so many levels. Respect (in my own world) is of the utmost importance – the things that are said, and the actions taken, are testament to the complete lack of respect for another human being. . .and they can, as above, be as damaging as if the teacher was struck physically.

This also calls to mind the idea that help is desperately needed – but I wonder whether it would be sought, or if someone who knows him would every attempt to initiate that conversation. Sadly, I doubt it. I suspect he will go on to injure himself or others in some way…

It isn’t my training that has me thinking this way, though, but rather that I too am human and have never liked confrontation. Human beings are “flawed” by nature but we have the capacity to be empathic, compassionate, and loving – we have the ability to learn control of all aspects of ourselves and to do good in the world.

I commend the teacher for not reacting as I believe that is what might have kept him safe. The wiser man is the one who walks away from the “show” and doesn’t react to the anger with the same.

 

On Eating Disorders And Being An Athlete In The Midst…

I appreciated receiving this article, written by Karen Crouse, which speaks to a very real problem in sports. It is also – I should point out – scarcely relegated to figure skating (the topic of the article) and related performing or aesthetic sports such as dancing, bodybuilding, and the like.  Rather, it has a much broader (and frankly insidious) grip on athletes around the globe. 

Eating disorders were something I grew up knowing plenty about – I was classically trained in ballet for over ten years, competitively figure skated for about sixteen years, and danced competitively in International Latin and American Smooth ballroom for seven years. In those arenas, thin is ALWAYS in.

Yikes.

Can weight make a difference in performance? Yes, absolutely. When it comes to one’s joints, or one’s ability to do the particularly acrobatic and athletic jumps and spins, it’s important we are at a weight healthy for our frame. Figure skating, for one, is a high impact sport and that takes a toll even on a healthy body. When we are unhealthy, those negative side effects can be multiplied many fold. However, a lot of it – a sometimes far heftier percentage – is about the “look.” And, when it becomes about our appearance, things can go downhill very quickly…

It isn’t only that I, like many athletes, was “young and impressionable” at the time – top athletes generally ARE on the younger side (remember that part about impact on the body?) Athletes begin training early, so there is certainly danger in implanting these injurious notions early on.

What is also a real issue, however, is that a focus on a person’s “weight” can suddenly have bearing on whether or not you are even “considered” for a winning position – that will change your tune pretty quick if you have goals of any kind. (Deny politics play a role in results? You’re kidding yourself!)

In ballroom, for example, if you aren’t groomed properly, you simply aren’t taken seriously. Period. It’s as easy as that. I’m not putting it down, I was in it…and LOVED it. But it was a horrible hassle, and I knew I didn’t really have a choice. Before a competition I needed to be:

  • Spray tanned…TWICE (because my pale skin wasn’t in)
  • Have my nails done (as in, they needed to be long and noticeable)
  • Have my hair professionally done every time I competed (multiple days, means days of hair-doing)
  • Professional makeup (fortunately I did this myself, but then half my suitcase was makeup I had to lug)
  • Make sure I was as fit as could be (wearing next to nothing / very revealing costumes…yes, people would notice if you gained a little extra. And they wouldn’t be shy about mentioning it)

Those things were prerequisites.  Then you added to that judge preferences like wearing tan fishnets or stockings (okay, no big deal, that helped “pull me in” a little so I stayed slim in that tiny costume…) But it was rough because if you didn’t take those “suggestions” you often were out of the running…before you even took the floor. No, I’m not kidding. Figure skating was a little less harsh on that front, but the pressure to “lose a little” was definitely an undercurrent.

I remember going to skating camp at Simsbury’s International Skating Center of Connecticut. I was in my mid to later teens (definitely the mesomorph of the group!) and I recall – very clearly – the younger skaters being worried about gaining weight. They wouldn’t eat ice cream, they would ask for coffee (at that age?!) with skim milk… They wouldn’t have chips…. Even back at our dorms, some would skip breakfast because they didn’t want to have too much (more Lucky Charms and Golden Grahams for me?)

Let me be clear, I am ALL about healthy, clean eating – it’s not about how I look so much as how it makes my body feel. My body is a “finely-tuned machine,” according to my doc, and it tells me what it needs. But when you are FIGURE SKATING…for HOURS A DAY…you burn more than a Clydesdale! I mean, it was craziness!!! These kids were WAY too young to worry about weight, not a single one had any inkling of a problem (which could impact joints, as athletic as skating can be), and they couldn’t enjoy themselves as a result – it was heartbreaking!

Now a days, the pressures are – apparently – still there. It was eye-opening to read that Brian Boitano (an idol I watched win his gold when I was ten years-old) was very much subjected to this, and wasn’t actually at peak performance (very likely) at that time. Hard to believe if you saw those jumps! It’s also saddening to hear that Adam Rippon has struggled with this as well. I love that they are open about it because eating disorders carry a lot of shame with them – speaking up and making it known that we are not alone can be enough to save someone afflicted from a life of suffering.

My disorders – Anorexia and Exercise Bulimia / Anorexia Athetica – were a result of something very different, but they nearly devoured me whole too. I thankfully managed to cruise through my sports both unscathed and unapologetically…but I was acutely aware of the oft-unspoken-about illnesses in the background. Having suffered through it later, knowing full well how damaging and dangerous such sickness can be, was testament to how powerful these diseases are… 

For many of athletes, body image is tightly wound around performance. . .which is tightly bound to our identities. Sometimes – to add fuel to the fire – that can be perpetuated by the people we look up to or rely on in the sport, as well as tied to our future success.

It’s a struggle to see the “good” sometimes – to see how strong we are, how well we are doing… It’s even harder to recognize…and then ADMIT…when we aren’t fueling ourselves the way we need to. I recently took back to the ice (on a VERY minor scale) but I’ll tell you…my legs are different. I can see it, I can feel it, and my body is asking for more carbohydrates and food. And…that’s what I give it if I need to. But like Adam Rippon, the mind will make a point to call out that we are doing something different – It’s like an internal guilt trip from the Ghost of Athletics Past!

Eating disorders are terrifying – like other addictive illnesses, they have the power to completely derail us, if not end our lives completely. While I refrain from “talking politics,” and don’t much care for celebrities shouting out their messages at the top of their lungs…there is some benefit in this particular arena. It is important to be honest and open because eating disorders are often highly isolating – we begin to decay on our own, and keep everyone at a distance while we whither away. The knowledge that we aren’t alone in our struggles it might help others find the strength and courage to seek treatment – one life saved is one life saved!

Truth be told, having had no one to look to during my own…? I would have LOVED to have this kind of hope to grab onto… 

 

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Rest Days

Some days, we just need a little extra self-love and rest. As an active person, sitting around makes me nuts (and ugly!) but if I don’t listen to my body, things will get worse...fast.

We all need to tune in to what our bodies are saying, and to give ourselves the rest we might need from time to time. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve needed more of it…and that’s okay!

It’s important not to beat ourselves up for wanting or needing the respite – as a dear friend once said to me “once I’ve made the choice to rest on a given day, I embrace it and let go of the guilt.” It’s easy to feel like we are doing something wrong but as she – and ancient wisdom (or Gandalf if you’re a Tolkien fan!) points out – we only have the time given to us. To accept and appreciate our decision means we are free to enjoy the present, allowing our body and mind to get what it so richly deserves.

Aging Gracefully Looks Different For Everyone

I came across this image the other day and found it to be incredibly inspiring (I have head of these ladies before but I am always impressed.)

As we age, it takes longer to recover, and we may not be able to handle the intense training of our youth.  (I sure as shit can’t!!) Our bodies change beyond that too – we may not look the same as we did when we were younger. We may also not be as able to achieve those results without more work than it once took.

One of my biggest pet peeves, though, is when people say it’s impossible to stay fit, healthy and strong as we age – they dismiss it with an apathetic resignation that doesn’t resonate for some of us. . . Just because we are getting older doesn’t mean we can’t stay active, continue to be an athlete, or stay in good shape.

I am a strong proponent of setting ourselves up for success, and believe that unreasonable goals are a fast track to disappointment. I also believe we can achieve anything we put our hearts to provided we are smart about it. If we want to achieve a healthy body, we CAN…and without having to work until we are horribly run down – that is a more than realistic scenario.

Staying fit isn’t about the OUTSIDE appearance – for many of us it is a lifestyle because it permeates every aspect of our lives…not just the exterior. It means having more energy, and feeling proud of little accomplishments along the way.  It means being able to participate in activities we enjoy without feeling horrendous doing them, as well as having a clearer mind, and more self confidence. It may also mean staving off some unnecessary (and unkind) illnesses as well.

We don’t have to force ourselves into the box of looking the way we did at 20 – we’d not only be disheartened, but it also isn’t going to happen (unless, of course, you find a genie in a bottle.) I struggle with this sometimes too – it’s hard to see those changes and know there isn’t a ton we can do about them.  I don’t think it’s necessary to beat ourselves up for feeling that way either, ps – it isn’t about vanity all the time.  For those of us who have been active our whole lives, and fueled our bodies with healthy foods, we might identify with certain conditions (internal as much as external.)

In this way, it might feel all the more overwhelming to lose the control we might have *thought* (wrongly!) we had.  In order to stay on a track to success we need only allow that “fit” may look a little different in our older age, and continue working towards incorporating healthy choices in our lives. That includes eating healthy, whole foods, staying hydrated, staying active, and at least *trying* to get a solid amount of sleep.

Remember that deviations once in a while are okay – living life behind bars isn’t exactly the point! It’s the overall attitude, approach, and consistency that will get you where you want to go…and keep you in that vicinity.

I was definitely more “fit” when I was younger – who wasn’t!?  I’ve backed off a lot of activities, as well as the duration an intensity of the ones I’m doing. I need more time to recover, and there are days when rest is more in line with keeping me healthy than going to lift or to class. I may also have days where I need to eat more…or less…depending on what my body is telling me. But the short of it is…I’m thankful beyond words to be healthy, to have the ability to be active, and to better recognize my body’s cues. There is such a thing as aging gracefully…and staying badass while you’re at it (however you choose to define it.) Never let anyone tell you what is…or isn’t…possible – that, my dear, is up to YOU.

 

 

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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.”

BudoRyoNinjutsu

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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Train The Way You (Want To) Fight

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.

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