Week 3: A Quarter of the Way There!

Since Week 4 of training begins in T-minus forty-five minutes, I figured I should update on last week’s adventures.  Even though it was a vacation week from school/work, time really escaped me.  One “highlight” of the week was a four-hour trip to IKEA – and then, of course, the following day when you just build and arrange everything from IKEA.  This was some quality family time!

As the pattern predicted, Week 3 of training focused on advanced material, including forms, defense, kicks, strikes, and blocks.  We also continued with our 100 push-ups and sit-ups each night, which happens after we complete the “workout” portion of the regular karate class.  The advanced defense includes movements against a stick (or bat), knife and a handgun.  These are more fresh to us since we have been learning the advanced defense for the past two and a half years.  Some of the advanced forms were a bit rusty, and ironically the one I have had the least amount of time practicing (Hwa Rang) is the one I know the best, since we just tested on it for our candidate belts.  The first night of training was just re-familiarizing ourselves with the content, and then we were able to really work on the details later in the week.

On Thursday night, I practiced my aerial break with success (a jump switch front kick), but I am still working on my speed break (spinning hook) and was able to gain some pointers on my form and positioning for that particular break.  I was able to achieve a spinning hook speed break during a breaking class last Spring, but it has been giving me a bit of trouble since.  I would really like to perform the spinning hook speed break or a roundhouse speed break for my black belt test, so it is something that I will be working on in the next couple of weeks.

The last time I saw Blue Man Group was in 1996.  I am officially old.
At the end of the week, I took Steve up to Boston for his real birthday gift.  We went to Blue Man Group at the Charles Playhouse and out for dinner.  Although Steven was not chosen to go on stage, as I hoped, my name was flashed across the screens in the beginning of the show when they are entertaining the audience before the performance begins. Therefore, I had a bunch of strangers screaming a meditation at me (about a cow in a field, nonetheless) in an effort to stop my “headache,” whereby they were chanting at me and using my full name.  The names they use in the beginning are chosen completely at random, so it was a surprise to us and hilarious.

After the show we went for dinner at a restaurant called Post 390 (http://post390restaurant.com) in Boston; they refer to the restaurant as an “urban tavern.”  I did not quite get that tavern vibe considering I had a very confusing and over-thought lobster-squash bisque topped with crème fraîche, pistachios, and a very heavy-handed pour of balsamic glaze.  What made the dining experience more interesting than the complex cuisine, however, was that we were seated next to a couple that was not only on a first date, but a blind first date at that.  Our entire dinner conversation was dominated by the man on this date, whom my husband affectionately referred to as “Foghorn Leghorn.”  Mr. Leghorn was essentially screaming at this poor young woman (who just kept ordering glass after glass of red wine) about his super fascinating engineering job and his high school glory days (apparently he scored over 1400 on his SATs).  Needless to say, we were happy to high-tail it out of there and find a cozy Italian-American restaurant to have some dessert and an aperitif.  By this time, it was only eleven o’clock, and we still had a lot of energy.  We took a midnight walk around Boston Common when it started snowing and I felt compelled to get some roundhouse kicks in.  Why not?

A snowy Boston Common at midnight.

Just in case anyone wanted to mess with us, I decided to whip some roundhouse kicks in Boston Common.  This is perfectly normal.
The rest of the weekend was spent between basketball games for my oldest son, errands, and general end-of-vacation week clean-up to prep for the major dose of reality that buzzes in with the Monday morning alarm clock.  We were able to close off a restful and eventful week with our friends for what we call “Sunday Family Dinner” at one of our favorite restaurants – Aidan’s Pub (http://aidanspub.com) in Bristol, Rhode Island where the the food tastes like home cooking and the drinks are plentiful. Very often, and particularly on Sunday nights, there is live Irish music. Now, here at Aidan’s, I was granted the “tavern” feel that I appreciate most!  Not to mention, the more satisfying feeling of being with friends who know you well and who feel like home.

Cheers to everyone for a great week — I am off to begin Week 4.


Week 2: Noses are Red, Fingers are Blue, This Week Was Insanely Cold, and Exhausting, Too.

This week’s title inspired by my son’s homemade Valentine.

Week Two of training started off with a snow day (last Monday), which meant that we were expected to attend three training sessions on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  Due to the President’s Day holiday, this week will be the same with three straight nights of training.  I definitely prefer having the Wednesday, mid-week night off, but I am lucky that this is our February Vacation from school and I have the great fortune of catching up on sleep.

Last Tuesday we had our first Candidate Class where we were required to stay for another hour after our regular training class.  The total training time on Tuesday evening was from 7:30 to 10:00 p.m.  Having to rally for two more nights of training after Tuesday night was a bit exhausting, but not anything I couldn’t handle.  Candidate Class is a time for all three instructors to observe and offer assistance on the training content up to that point.  They focused on intermediate forms and defense for this class, even though we just came off of a week training on the beginner content.  This was a little nerve-wracking because we had only one night to prepare the intermediate review – the very same evening of the Candidate Class, so we were all a little rusty.  During the Candidate Class, I basically learned all of the ways that I was doing blocks and stances wrong in my forms and the fine details of the defense that we never really practice in the regular adult class – the expectations for performance are certainly much higher, which was eye-opening.

One interesting toll the training has taken on my body is that my left hip keeps falling out of alignment from all of the kicking we do.  I know that it is out of whack when I cannot whip my left-leg kicks around as fast as usual, and I start to feel a tingly sensation in my hamstring and down my left leg.  Lucky for me, my husband is some sort of sports massage shaman and has been able to realign my hip after class using pressure points and adjustments.  One of the evenings there was a quarter inch difference in the length of my legs after training and he went to work adjusting me.  When he was done, the discrepancy was resolved.  I probably should make an appointment with an actual chiropractor, but this is working for now – and it is free!  In other training news, we are doing upwards to 150 push-ups and sit-ups a night, which is definitely transforming my upper body already.  After class, I have taken to drinking a combination protein and immunity boosting “green” shake to aid in muscle recovery and general health – especially with it being cold and flu season.  My training partner was ill and hospitalized for dehydration from a stomach virus the weekend before, so I was a little concerned about getting sick since we have been in such close quarters, but I kept pounding the Airborne gummies – which are really just glorified sour candies, let’s be real.

Lulu, our guinea pig friend for the week.

After what felt like a very long week, we had some friends over for pizza on Friday night when they dropped off our charge for the week -a guinea pig named Lulu.  The dogs are perplexed by this new friend, but all are getting along swimmingly. After the pizza party, I promptly collapsed at 9:00 p.m., but made up for it with a busy weekend.

Although it was impossible to get a run in with “feels like” temperatures registering at -33 degrees Fahrenheit, Saturday morning I taught kickboxing and was able to get in two rounds of Thai kickboxing, five kicking rounds, medicine ball ab work, and strength training, as well as practice my karate forms when I had the mat to myself.  In the afternoon we went to see the movie The Revenant with friends, which was… intense.  Do not see it unless you are up for an emotional rollercoaster and some truly realistic blood and gore. At one point during the movie, Steve turned to me and said, “So, when you are running through woods for your black belt test, just be happy there is not a grizzly bear chasing you.”  Way to keep perspective!  Afterwards, the husband/chef made an amazing Valentine’s Day dinner of porcini risotto with black truffle and parmesan and an incredible Barbaresco – all of my favorite flavors from the Piemonte region of Italy that I have never visited – but hope to sometime soon!

Antipasti of champions and Valentine’s Day dinner pre-game:  marinated mushrooms, artichokes, hot peppers stuffed with cheese and prosciutto, green cerignola olives, and piave and parmigiana reggiano cheese.

Yesterday was Steve’s birthday and he chose pub fare for his birthday dinner. We went to The Abbey (http://www.92beers.com) right near Providence College. If you are looking for a burger and beer joint with some seriously decadent burgers, this is your place.  I went for the “Wild ‘Shroom” burger with grilled mushrooms and Swiss cheese on a sourdough bun.  It was heavenly, but will probably be my last greasy hamburger for a long time.  Red meat and I do not agree with one another – ’nuff said on that note.  The occasional burger may be tough to let go of, but I’ve gone meatless before.  I can get my protein from many other sources that I love and I have never been a devout carnivore.

Tonight will begin Week Three of training and I have no idea what to expect.  All I know is that after this week, I will be halfway to the mid-point Progress Evaluation that is six weeks into training.  Tonight I am bringing some boards to class and hoping to practice my aerial break, which I currently believe will be a flying, switch, front kick.  I will have to see how my practice session goes.  Hopefully, this week won’t be quite this cold:

Frozen olive oil from…inside our kitchen cupboard.

Week 1: This Blog Post Brought to You By – Another Snow Day!

I am writing this post a bit later than I hoped to, but with the kids home from school for two snow days and helping my mom move into her new house – it has been difficult to find a spare minute.  As I write this, I sent my kids upstairs to play Monopoly (figuring an average game of Monopoly takes a couple of hours), but it sounds like they are actually playing basketball with elephants up there.  I fear my time is short!

Image by Andree Design

First, I would like to give a huge shout-out to my friend and fellow kick-boxer, Jess, from Andree Design (you can follow her on Twitter @DesignAndree) who created my NinjaSuze logo and header, along with some other fantastic stuff I hope to share soon.  Thank you, Jess, for making my blog look so much more legitimate and professional!  I could not be happier with the designs.

Training this week went quite smoothly, which was a welcome surprise.  I was able to fit in a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday evening schedule without a hitch.  Honestly, every day I look at the calendar on my iPhone and think, “Okay, I can do this!” so having the mid-week, Wednesday night off was ideal.  It was an evening to tackle the ever-growing heap of laundry in my basement, eat a non-rushed, sit-down meal with my family, and catch-up on Downton Abbey.  It was dreamy.

The candidate training plan for this week was to review the beginner forms, defense, strikes, blocks, kicks, and to complete one-hundred push-ups and one-hundred sit-ups.  This is in addition to the warm-up and calisthenics that we do with the adult class before the candidates separate for their training – so one of the evenings we did one-hundred and fifty push-ups total.  I did not notice any soreness other than my quads from holding a riding stance for at least thirty minutes a night while practicing ten-point blocks.  All I can expect from this week is continuation of beginner material.

Much to my surprise, there was a snow day on Friday; so even if my body was taxed from the run around, I was able to catch up on some rest.  Saturday was plenty busy with kickboxing in the morning, a basketball game for my oldest, and a karate tournament for my youngest. Without sounding like a braggart, but since it is karate related — I was super proud of my little guy for winning his division in forms during the karate tournament, especially since last year he came in second-to-last.  I saw a major improvement in his self-confidence. It made me proud to see how hard he practiced before the tournament – at home and with his instructors after class.

Happy about that guard stance!

Saturday we had a night out to celebrate my husband’s birthday with friends who will not be around for his actual birthday.  Despite the THREE HOUR wait, we had another delicious meal at Al Forno in Providence (http://www.alforno.com).  It is one of our favorite places in Providence, and if you have not been, you must have the experience at least once. However, be warned, they do not accept reservations for parties less than six. I recommend going on a weeknight, if you can swing it.  This Saturday evening, Providence College played Villanova AND our former mayor, Buddy Cianci (may he rest in peace), was being waked, so the city was bumping – with all sorts of personalities – including a guy who was screaming “Happy Birthday, Suede Jacket” to my husband when the waitstaff sang “Happy Birthday” to him while serving his twenty-dollar dessert.  Yes, my husband was wearing a suede-ish blazer, but this guy was off the hook!

Unfortunately, class is already canceled for this evening, so I will not be afforded the luxury of a mid-week night off and will have to train Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  It has not been super easy to get in two runs a week (as is expected) with the snowy, frigid weather, so I am planning on an indoor workout with my husband today…if I can get these darn kids to play Monopoly, maybe!  For now, it is time to bundle them up and go get some fresh air – even if it is for fifteen minutes.

This is what happens when you send your kids out to play in -1 degree weather.  Needless to say, it was short-lived.
Arlo didn’t seem to mind the cold!


So, That Happened…

My final stripe in under-rank training.

I almost feel like I need to extend an apology to the kind friends who advised me to exercise caution and not take my stripe test this week. However, the situation presented itself where: I needed to go to karate class anyhow, it happened to be a testing week, and I actually felt quite optimistic about my healing. With that said, I was able to take and pass my final stripe test before I head into my black belt training this coming Monday.  The stripe test went really well, and I felt confident performing the material – so if anyone currently in training suffers an injury – have faith.  I was reminded by one of my instructors that I actually exercised patience this time, and it paid off.  Watching the class, as difficult as it was for those few weeks, was a good call.  Actually, it gave me a completely different perspective of my own abilities.  When I saw others execute a form well or maybe flub a spinning kick, I could see where both the progress came from or where errors were made; this will allow me to apply those lessons to my own training.  It was a unique opportunity to observe and learn from others, which I think came at a good time for me.

After the stripe test, my training group had our first official black belt candidate meeting. The meeting was an opportunity for one of the head instructors to go over our training schedule, specific candidate classes (where we have to stay later on some nights after our training), the actual test dates, and supplementary “assignments” that have to be completed along way – including gaining character recommendations, intensifying our fitness levels, and writing personal essays.  At one point I looked around and everyone except for one other candidate had their mother with them.  I am the only person who is (well over) 21 in my training group.  That certainly makes it…interesting.

This morning I was able to participate in the Saturday kickboxing class that I teach; I felt so much more like myself.  I really prefer to be involved with the class and do as much of the workout as I can, while still helping those who would like or need some instruction.  I was back in my Saturday morning happy place, even if I stayed out a little too late last night while taking full advantage of my children sleeping over their grandparents’ house.  We had a great night out celebrating our friend’s birthday with dinner at a tasty little place called Noodles 102 (check it out sometime –> http://www.noodles102.com), rock ‘n bowl, and shenanigans with a unique birthday present – shout out to Len the Chicken.

Len the Chicken enjoying his night at rock ‘n bowl.  Can you tell?  #lenthechicken

This weekend will include two basketball games for my older child – one at the Dunk for a halftime show, a science fair, prepping lessons on Ernest Hemingway for my American Studies students, the typical housecleaning, grocery shopping and other errands, but I am definitely excited to start black belt training Monday evening.  I am anxious to feel what it’s like to put in the training hours three nights a week, along with my 5:30 a.m.  wake-up call, and teaching a full day. I’m sure it will take a couple of weeks for my body (and mind) to adjust to the rigor.  My goal this week is to gather my wits around the busy weeks ahead and, essentially, try to follow the clichéd adage “take it one day at a time” – which I think will be a popular mantra throughout all of my training.


It’s All in a Name

Ninjas Can't Be FoundThe learning curve for blogging, specifically the technical aspects, has been great this week. With a slight change in name, I was able to acquire the domain name http://www.ninjasuze.com, as well as the Instagram and Twitter handles for ninjasuze.  Hooray – nomenclature complete!

Although the blog and domain name ninjasue was available, ninjasue was taken for other social media. I tip my hat to the lady in Great Britain who calls herself ninjasue; I am sure she is a badass and I do not want to mess with her internet alter-ego.  In the spirit of consistency, I gladly took ninjasuze since (a) I have never really felt like a “Sue,” even though everyone from my hometown called me that and (b) there are quite a few people in my adult life who currently call me “Suze.”  So all is good.

The next decision is how public to take my blog.  As of now, I have only informed a small group and I am trying to decide how to handle telling others without anyone thinking that I am acting against some sort of dojo secret code.  With that said, I do want to state that I will not use the karate school’s name or individual’s names (unless I have permission).  I will also protect the privacy of the school and its members with my use of images.  Furthermore, I am committed to keeping the details about our karate school’s black belt testing private.  I hope that clears up any potential issues for members of the karate school, particularly my training group.

Five years’ worth of belts – minus the one around my waist.

With regards to last week’s goal:  don’t be dumb – I fared pretty well.  Without question, I was much more intelligent on Tuesday night than I was on Thursday night.  On Tuesday, I took class, but I did not allow any take-downs, nor did I participate in a linear kick timing drill or do any spinning kicks, and I did not do push-ups (partially dumb); on Thursday I actually just took class and did it all – even the stomach-buster jumping-jacks (probably very dumb).  The good news is that I only felt a little sore on Friday morning; I took a couple of ibuprofens with my oatmeal in the morning and I was good to go.  However, I do fear that being old and trying to get your black belt may require more ibuprofen than my stomach will appreciate. (Note to self: monitor ibuprofen intake.)

On either Monday or Tuesday night, I will have my official meeting to begin black belt training.  The initial meeting is when the head instructors go over the training schedule, the dates for testing, and they clear up any questions.  I am excited, for sure, but I just simply cannot believe that it is already here.  This week’s big decision will be whether or not to take the Stripe Test.  I qualify for black belt candidacy regardless of earning this week’s stripe.  One of the instructors has already told me to just to take the week off, rest up, and come back ready to begin training the following week.  The problem is that I know all of the material and I know I could earn that final stripe on my candidate belt – and there, my friends, is my pride rearing its ugly head.  Stripe testing asks for your maximum effort – for you to snap all of your punches, go hard during defense, and make your mark with kicks.  I am not sure if I will be able to “go easy” and earn a stripe.  Is it worth taking the test?  Will I potentially set myself back before training begins next week?  These are my questions heading into the week.  I will accept any and all advice!


When Laughter is NOT the Best Medicine

Today marks four weeks since I was side-kicked in the chest during routine sparring and ended up with bruised ribs.  The injury happened right before Christmas, which was bad timing to start having chest pain – not that there really ever is good timing for chest pain – but bad timing because I had to visit the medical clinic on Christmas Eve.  My doctor thought I had a case of costochondritis – otherwise known as “pulled muscles from coughing” – and this very well could have contributed to the excruciating pain in my chest whenever I coughed, laughed, sneezed or, God forbid, took a breath.  However, I clearly remembered being kicked in the chest at karate, which is something I just sort of left out during the examination.  I mean, really, either way the prognosis is the same (rest, rest, ibuprofen, rest, rest) and every doctor I have ever talked to about karate-related injuries has basically just looked at me with disbelief and then asked me why I couldn’t take up a more tame hobby, such as yoga or “jogging.”  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some shavasana, and I do run for fitness, but there is no turning back for me.  Even after a separated shoulder and a couple of concussions (one unrelated to martial arts), I never seem to learn and I often just jump back on the mat before I am fully healed.

What I have learned in the past four weeks, however, is that bruised or broken ribs seem pretty standard as you run up the ranks in martial arts training.  It just so happens that my injury landed at about six weeks before my official black belt training is supposed to begin.  I’ve said all along that this could either be perfect timing or bad luck, depending on my perspective.  Now that I have entered the fourth week of healing and can take a deep breath without a searing pain through my side, I am going with the glass half-full approach.

What I do need to focus on this week is not being stupid.  I have been watching karate class for the past two weeks and it has been brutal – just light stretching and walking through forms.  I really want to jump right in tonight, but as one of the instructors already told me this afternoon, this is the exact time when I need to be more careful so that I do not re-injure and throw away my opportunity to start black belt training in two weeks. So, with that being said, my goal for this week is:  Don’t be dumb.

Wish me luck!