Week 7: B-R-O-N-C-H-I-T-I-S

If I could sing that for you in the tune of Gwen Stefani’s “B-A-N-A-N-A-S” song, I would.

I definitely do not want this to turn into “whiny blog,” but bronchitis is what had me all out of sorts last week during the six week evaluation.  I hoped that it was just a cold and would resolve itself, but I finally went to the doctor on Tuesday and he confirmed that it was more than a cold. Unfortunately, the diagnosis means a week (or more) out of physical conditioning.  I was still able to practice forms this week, but it also meant four days out of work; and from the searing pain in my ribcage that I developed this week, I can only believe that I have re-strained my intercostal muscles due to all of the coughing. (See my first post:  “When Laughter is NOT the Best Medicine.”)

So, here I sit, ice pack on the ribs and back to my ibuprofen regimen. I’m on antibiotics for bronchitis until this Thursday, and with the chest muscle strain, it will be tough to run much this week. I’m also thinking that I should not do any abdominal work that requires twisting and either lay off or go easy on the push-ups. My first two thoughts this morning were (1) Am I just really old? (2) Or is this just crap luck? I’m still not sure which!  There is no way I’m turning back now, and I will work through the injury, but I’m also the mother of two and teacher to approximately 100 high schoolers – thus, I do not want to do anything so stupid that I am putting my responsibilities in jeopardy.

It is hard to get out of the black belt training mode and see things objectively as my friends and family who do not practice martial arts may view my scene. I’m sure I seem like a nut to all of them. However, one of the black belt principles is perseverance. I keep coming back to that specific principle when reflecting on the past week and the next five weeks to come. I have to make this work in any way that I can. I just hope that my body holds up with my will and determination.

Trinity Repertory’s version of Harper Lee’s novel is definitely worth seeing if you are in the area!

Last night I saw a theatrical rendition of To Kill a Mockingbird at Trinity Reperatory in Providence. https://www.trinityrep.com/Online/default.asp  In the play (and in the novel), there resides the theme of making the right choices with your words and with your actions.  It is also understood through the character’s experiences that these are not always the easy choices. The Trinity actors broke character throughout the performance and told personal stories of either oppression or misunderstanding. It is always eye-opening to hear a perspective that is not your own, and I thought this theatrical decision was very interesting.  It tied in so beautifully with the advice Atticus Finch gives his young daughter, Scout, in the novel – that “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”  I have thought about Harper Lee’s message often in my life, particularly when things are not quite going my way (*cough*cough rib pain).  Whenever I am feeling sorry for myself, I think about all of the suffering so many individuals in our world (and in our human history) have had to overcome.  Clearly, our ability to be resourceful and positive when we are challenged has immeasurable value.  If you are able to perceive the bigger picture, it allows you to climb out of the rut of negative thinking.

I will close for now and probably go on Pinterest and pin cheesy quotes about black belt training, which always seems to help.  I remembered this morning that one of my track coaches in high school used to make signs that said P.M.A. (Positive Mental Attitude) and hang them all over our “track room,” which doubled as his Social Studies classroom.  I am bringing that acronym back into my life this week.  Hats off to Coach Mooney – still inspiring me after all of these years!

Thank you to my friend and fellow karateka, Michelle, for my weekly dose of inspirational quotes!  I love them.


Week 6: Whoa, We’re Halfway The-e-re!

It kind of felt like I was “Livin’ On a Prayer” more than a few times this week. Unfortunately, I woke up with a sore throat on the day before the six week progress evaluation and had to work through feeling sick all weekend during testing.  Currently, I sound like a cross between Kermit the Frog and Lauren Bacall – or maybe… Yoda.

Fun little tchotchke that my friend and fellow kickboxer gave me this weekend!

I stayed late each night to practice defense – even on Thursday night when I had a 100.5 temperature, which was odd – the fever – because I never usually get them. This past weekend my training group was evaluated for knowledge of defense and forms, as well as physical fitness – which is my strength, honestly.  I did not miss a movement with any of my forms, but I have corrections to make regarding how I throw my strikes and blocks.  According to one of the instructors, I have made improvement with “the lines” in my forms, though.  My defense was fine – I only blanked out on one out of fifty-four, so I don’t feel terrible about it.  I just wish I hadn’t blanked out on any, which brings me to some serious introspection that I need to factor in at this stage of my training:  the idea of not being “perfect.”  Actually it’s more about forgiving myself when I make mistakes and not dwelling on them than being perfect.

Last night I found an excerpt from a book by Bodhi Sanders called Modern Bushido:  Living a Life of Excellence.  I am much more a reader of fiction than self-help, but this book comes highly recommended in the martial arts community, so I figure I will grab a copy in the coming weeks.  The following is what caught my attention:

Wearing a black belt does not mean you are invincible.  It means that you never gave up, worked past pain, overcame the disappointments, faced your fears, and learned enough to realize how little you actually know.

For a long time I had the perception that in order to be a black belt you had to pass every evaluation with flying colors.  Obviously, the standard for excellence is high at the school I attend.  I honestly do not think that most karate schools put their black belt candidates through a four day test.  Clearly, we need to perform to the best of our ability and know our content, but before I started the twelve week training I had this impression that I would be transformed into a flawless martial artist.  I also thought that the instructors would not be satisfied with anything less than perfection.  What I have found out is essentially the opposite of that.  From what I can tell so far, humility is an important part of the process; although the instructors want you to be confident, they also want you to realize that you are, in the end, human.  The fact is that everyone makes mistakes, gets injured, or is nervous – it is how you respond to such stimuli.   Will you focus on the positive and not dwell on the errors?  Will you work through the challenges?  Will you overcome your anxiety?

Now that I have a clearer idea about what the test will be like, I need to be at peace with the waves of nervousness that wash over me every once in awhile when I think about the final testing week. I have always tried to fight my anxiety, which leads to mental paralysis, especially in a high pressure situation.  I am beginning to learn that nervousness is part of the whole experience, and instead of fearing the nerves, I want to get to the point where I can breathe through them and perform.  Black belt training is, in part, about the physical test, but it is also about your mental acuity.  One of the instructors has told me many times that the test is 90% mental.  It took me five and half years (and six weeks of black belt training) to get here, but I am starting to understand that now – not just hear it.


Week 5: Press on Regardless

“When adversity strikes, that is when you have to be the most calm.  Take a step back, stay strong, stay grounded, and press on.” –James Todd Smith (a.k.a. L.L. Cool J)

This may have been one of the longest weeks of training that I have had yet, which makes me pretty nervous about this week –Week Six.  Week Six marks the halfway point of our training, which culminates in a Friday evening Progress Evaluation and a Saturday morning training session.  I am not supposed to give away any secrets of the black belt test, so I am going to leave the description of these two events at a minimum.  Needless to say, I am going to need to prove that I know all of the content up to this point and that I have shown significant improvement.  If not, my training is over.

Now, for last week’s recap.

During Week Five, we had our traditional training sessions for three nights, but on Tuesday night we had to stay until 10 p.m. for a Candidate Class.  During the class we focused only on our defense techniques.  The Candidate Classes are tailored to meet the needs of that specific training group and the defense portion was where we needed help.  After leaving on Tuesday evening, I was in a bit of a funk.  I felt like everything I learned up to that point wasn’t good enough or strong enough or I just wasn’t doing anything right.  I am hard enough on myself and when I feel that I am not performing to my ability level, I tend to become insular.  My confidence level was pretty low walking away from the class, but I had some good conversations with friends who have been through the training, and I felt a lot better by the week’s end.

On Wednesday I barely made it though the work day.  I was living on coffee and fumes and started to get slap happy by the end of the workday when exhaustion was setting in and caffeine was making me brittle.  At one point I started laughing uncontrollably in the department office (at something that really wasn’t that funny)and I ended up on the floor in tears.  One of my friends at work encouraged me to go home immediately at the day’s end and take a nap — so I took his advice.  When you work in a school community and most of your co-workers have known you for upwards to fifteen years, we see it all.  It ended up being a perfect night off with my boys – relaxing, having a nice meal together, and catching up on snuggle time.  Honestly, I barely got through the week.  On Friday afternoon, I felt like I had survived a war (or at least a pretty grisly battle) and when I got home from work, this was my old lady scene:

Acorn and book
Happy Hour?  These days it is more like Nappy Hour!

With my Progress Evaluation looming ahead of me this Friday, I really need to make sure that I (a) take a lot of deep breaths, literally and figuratively, and (b) make sure that I get at least seven hours of sleep a night.  It is going to be a challenge.  I have been thinking a lot about balance and just how much I am asking of myself as a working mom.  Although there is a clear goal and the time commitment is finite, there are some days when it feels impossible; but if I am anything, I am persistent.  When I walk through the dark hallways of self-doubt feeling for a light, I always conjure up one of two things:  anyone in my life who told me that I could not do something — because it is my nature to prove them wrong and that motivates me since I am a freak  — or the image of my father cheering me on at the sidelines — because all I ever really wanted was to make him proud.  Those are my two best motivators, and they work equally well; they snap me out of a dark place and get me back in the ring.