No luck needed, please send focus – Christine prepares for her 3rd Degree Black Belt Test

This time last year, I was wrapping my mind around the fact that I would soon be testing for my 3rd degree black belt. Then, I broke my wrist and those plans went out the proverbial window.

At the time, I wasn’t sure when I would get to test – it’s not just a matter of me being ready or not, there are a lot of factors to juggle – and it seemed like it was a long time away.

It’s not a long time anymore.

If all goes well, and pending my instructors’ final approval, I will be doing my 3rd degree black belt test on Sunday, February 10th.*

I have to perform 15 patterns (including a demonstration pattern – one step at a time, explaining the purpose and method of each step), do drills, step-sparring, ring sparring, and break some boards.

I’ve been practicing all of those things, especially my patterns, for weeks now. Well, I practice regularly anyway but I have been practicing INTENSELY for weeks and my brain is full of bits and pieces of patterns, remembering the little quirks and memory tricks I have for each one.

The author, a white woman with her light brown hair pulled back from her face with a cloth band stands in front of an orange wall. She is wearing a white martial arts uniform and glasses and she is smirking.
Here’s my smirky self after my first class of the 2018-2019 year.

Even though I’m doing a lot to prepare, this is still going to be hard.

Luckily, I am testing with 4 other people and they are all much better than I am so I am constantly challenged to improve. I’m not putting myself down – they are testing for 4th, 5th, and 6th degree belts and they have a lot of experience that I don’t have…yet.  

It’s been great to train with them because they can help me bridge the gap between where I am and where I want to be and, to a person, they do that with kindness and encouragement. Thanks Heather, Cathy, Joanne, and Barry, I am so grateful for your help!

And while I’m thanking people, I’m going to give a shoutout to Kevin, my dear friend and mentor, who has helped me iron out all kinds of tricky bits of my patterns.

I could use this post to illustrate all the things that I’m struggling with (because I am VERY aware of every area where I am not quite getting it yet) but I don’t think that’s a good approach. I’m at the point where I need to just keep forging ahead, making changes here and there, not aiming to be perfect but aiming for that magic level of practice where I’ll feel confident and capable. That is totally within reach.

This afternoon will find me at the back of the room during other people’s classes, doing my patterns over and over again while I work out the glitches. Then I’ll put that practice to the test by working with Master D for a while, she knows exactly where my hands and feet should be at every point in the pattern and how fast they should get there.

I am VERY grateful for Master D’s time and expertise and working with her will make my patterns much, much better but I’ll be nervous the whole time. Understandably, standing alone in front of an expert**, trying to execute a series of moves with skill and precision, is a little intimidating. In fact, there is nothing more likely to make me forget what I am supposed to do next.

It’s funny how I can stand up and tell a story or perform a monologue with no preparation, or even make one up on the spot, and it doesn’t faze me in the least but asking myself to do something physical – even patterns I have practiced hundreds of times – makes my mind go blank.

Blank mind or not, my Saturday practice with Master D is an important part of my preparation for the big event on February 10.

Photo shows a whiteboard with green trim with black text at the top that reads 'Countdown to 3rd Degree' There are 24 circles with dates in them and 7 circles are coloured in with black marker. Text below the circles reads "PS: Just do the thing. Start. Work. Be Done.'  and then there is a list that reads 'Patterns, Boards, Drills, Theory' with check marks after each word. There is a timer, a star shaped magnet and a smirking emoji magnet at the bottom of the whiteboard.
I decided to keep track of the days until my test and my work in each of my practice categories. The visual is really encouraging for me. (I haven’t broken the boards while practicing, I have just done the kicks and punches.

Usually, on the morning of my belt tests, I post on Facebook that I don’t need luck (because, after all, chance favours the prepared) but I do need focus and calm so I will accept any offers of those two qualities. So, I am going to ask you for the same.

Please send along any focus and calm you have to spare, today, next week, on February 10.

I promise to put it to good use for my practice and for my test.


*And that’s just the physical part, I actually do my written theory test on Tuesday, January 29. I’m generally pretty good at written (or verbal) tests but I find it tricky to translate my physical knowledge into words, so we’ll see how that goes!

**I know that as soon as she reads this, Master D will prep a comment to say that she’s not an expert and that she is still learning. And, of course she is, that’s the nature of a martial art, but she is a MASTER and that’s close enough to an expert in my books. *Christine bows respectfully to her instructor*


A Christmas Gift To Myself

I started 2018 with some great intentions, fitness-wise.

I was going to really firm up a daily exercise routine.

I was going to test for my 3rd degree black belt in June.

I was going to do a lot more exercise outside.

Instead, I ended up with a new writing contract (which was good news) which changed the way my days unfolded.

And I broke my wrist (which wasn’t good news) which took several months to get sorted. I knew that it would be over 6 weeks from the break until the cast came off but I didn’t know that it would be many more weeks after that before I could spar at Taekwondo.*

And that was just the first six months of 2018.

The whole year has been like that – I’d have something that seemed like a solid plan, well thought out, and then some metaphorical wrench would come out of nowhere and mess up the works.

It wasn’t all downside, though.

The author, a white woman in her mid-forties with shoulder length brown hair and glasses is wearing a martial arts uniform and holding a bronze medal.
I did have a few fitness highlights though. Getting all the way through my pattern during a TKD competition in June was one of them.

I had some success with short term challenges – a month of yoga, a few weeks of meditation, a week of specific patterns practice.

And I successfully kept up some practices – regular Taekwondo, some walks, some yoga, that sort of thing but I didn’t make much progress. I’m sure that, if I could go back in time, I would be able to tweak the way I went through my days so I could have fit in more exercise but I didn’t have the benefit of that overview while I was living them.

And, I had to recognize that having ADHD can mean that when I get thrown for a loop – in small or large ways – it can take me longer to get back to where I started.

I’m refusing to be hard on myself about the whole mess though. In fact, I’ve decided to do quite the opposite.

My Christmas gifts to myself this year are compassion and understanding, about my fitness and about everything else.

I did what I could with the resources I had available at the time and I am okay with that.

It didn’t work out like I had planned and that’s okay, too.

As for my fitness, I’m going to take the temporary lull in my routine over the next week or so and do a little extra yoga or take a few more walks.

A snow-covered landscape with trees on either side of the image and a small frozen stream in the middle.
A snowy scene from one of my recent walks.

And, for fitness and for everything else, I’m going to get a bit more specific in my plans (and my back-up plans) for the new year.

My focus is going to be on establishing routines so it is easier to get my work done and my workouts in.

And, no matter what the next year brings, I think that I will give myself the same gifts in 2019 – compassion and understanding never go out of style.

I have lots to spare if you need some.

*That and some other factors changed the timing of my belt test to February 2019.


Make it weird: How would you describe YOUR fitness activities?

It’s kind of weird how we all find our different paths to fitness and we all find different things that we enjoy. It’s even weirder what people in a given sport find fun.

Martial arts are definitely a case in point for weirdness.

Possible trigger warning: Physical violence. I am a martial artist so my sport involves getting struck. We employ all kinds of safety practices and I am never in danger but depending on your history, my descriptions might be upsetting or triggering. Please proceed with caution or feel free to skip this post..

I don’t know what you were up to last Saturday, but I spent my day choosing to be a target. And if my opponent missed, I advised them on how to kick and punch me more effectively. And then congratulating them when they did better in the next attempt.

This isn’t as odd as it sounds, I was actually at a sparring seminar hosted by our school and led by Grandmaster Laquerre, a highly skilled international sparring trainer.

I literally spent four hours taking turns kicking and punching someone and then letting them kick and punch me. And we observed each other’s kicks and punches so we could provide insight into how to fine tune our technique for when we are in the ring.

It was fun and challenging. I learned and practiced lots of great techniques.

Sparring is great exercise and great for letting off steam.  I know that it’s not for everyone, though.

The author, a white woman in her forties with short, light brown hair. Is wearing a white martial arts uniform. She is sweaty and she's smirking. There is an orange wall behind her.
Just FYI, four hours of sparring practice is hard.

And I’ve been doing this for so long now that it seems completely normal to me but when I try to explain it to someone else it sounds so very weird.

And it kind of reminded me of that Facebook meme where you are supposed to describe your job in as odd a way as possible. (e.g. I’m a writer so my response was ‘I spend my days in imaginary worlds and try to get other people to pay to keep me there.’)

So, just for fun, how can you describe your fitness activities in a way that would make people raise an eyebrow?

aging · fitness

Christine’s ‘Face Gym’ Is An Eye-Roll And A Smirk

A while back, Sam posted this link about the world’s first face gym without comment:

My reaction went something like this…

A face gym?


Is there nothing the beauty industry won’t try to shame us about?

Then my eyes rolled out of my head and I had to spend some time patting the floor to find them.

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the target market for this gym. I wear make-up sometimes, mostly because I like the ritual nature of putting it on.  I use moisturizer so my face doesn’t feel tight, but I am not regularly checking out the mythologized  ‘7 signs of aging’ (according to the Oil of Olay prophecies). I’m not even sure what those signs are.

I get irritated by the idea that I am supposed to want to look younger. In fact, I get irritated by the whole idea that youth is an aspirational thing in any way.

I’m with (the late) Carrie Fisher on the whole thing, really.

Photo of (deceased) actor Carrie Fisher ( white woman with light brown hair who is leaning on a window in the left of the photo, with a quote at the right. 'Youth and beauty are not accomplishments. They're the temporary happy byproducts of time and/or DNA. Don't hold your breath for either.'

And it’s not that I don’t get why things like a ‘face gym’ feel important – we’ve all been sold on the idea that our faces are our fortunes and the most youthful possible versions of our faces are worth even more. Every message we get is that youthful beauty is the only way we will be ‘worth’ anything in the world.

But if we don’t push back against some of these ideas then we will spend even more time chasing perfect appearances – as dictated by someone else – and we will have even less time to do the cool stuff we are actually here to do. We have inherent worth and the more of us that stand up and say that, the easier it will be for everyone to take up their space.

The thing is, I don’t exercise because of how I will look, I exercise because of how I will feel. And getting poked and prodded at a face gym does not sound like exercise and it does not seem like it will feel good.

If a face gym sounds like something you need, go right ahead, but understand what you are buying into – the idea that you are not good enough the way you are.

The author, a white woman with chin length reddish hair and a round face, is smirking. She is wearing red lipstick and brown eyeliner. There is a window and a green wall behind her. Here I am doing one of my personal face gym exercises – full smirk. i am probably also causing wrinkles. The HORROR!
I am also showing what I think of the idea that you are not enough just the way you are. (I am skeptical about that to say the least.)

I’d rather see you buy into the idea that you are not a damn decoration and your face is terrific just as it is.

PS – I didn’t even get into the whole nature of the privilege involved in being able to spend $70 for someone to rub rocks on your face. That is a whole separate monster.

PPS – Besides, I am pretty sure the idea for the face gym was stolen from my Great Aunt Lucy who was telling my mom about how to pat her face to stay youthful over 50 years ago. Ha!


Change, Comfort Zones, and Saying Nope

I know that growth requires some discomfort.

I recognize that change is challenging.

I understand that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is pointless.

However, I still HATE being told that I have to step out of my comfort zone.

For me, even the phrasing is upsetting.

It’s a disorienting piece of advice, like being told to abandon everything you know and leap into the unknown.

My immediate reaction is to say ‘NOPE.”

A drawing in blank ink on white paper of a young person with bobbed hair. They are standing next to a ladder that leads to a diving board that extends over a very small swimming pool. They are saying the word 'Nope.'
Luckily, I have no comfort zone when it comes to sharing my drawings. I’m still learning and I mess stuff up regularly
but as long as they make the point I was trying to make, I go ahead and post them.

So, I was really expecting to agree with Melody Wilding’s Please stop telling me to leave my comfort zone it seemed like it was going to be the sort of advice I use with my clients.  I was expecting to be disappointed that I hadn’t written the piece.

That’s not how it worked out.

Even though she and I share a lot of the same perspective on the value of ‘comfort zones’ and the same distaste for being told that leaving that zone is the only way to grow, I found her depiction of leaving a comfort zone to be very odd.  It was as if, for Wilding, there were only two states of being – living in a comfort zone or constantly maximizing your stress.

That’s a very extreme view. It’s no wonder that she wants to stay in her comfort zone if the only other option is full crisis-mode.  

I don’t want anyone to regularly spend time in full crisis-mode, that’s not good for your health. However, I also don’t want anyone to stay confined to a ‘comfort zone’ if they want something else for themselves.

That’s why, when I have to coax my clients toward change, I encourage them to EXPAND their comfort zone. To take small risks, be slightly uncomfortable, and gradually increase what the actions and activities that they are comfortable with.

I tell them that change is difficult and it can be uncomfortable. And I remind them that some people enjoy the disorienting feeling of jumping right into something new. If my client doesn’t enjoy that feeling, then there are lots of other ways to change and to grow – slowly.

It will require a certain amount of willingness to be uncomfortable, and maybe even a few minutes of panic, in some cases. However, they can build up their tolerance for those feelings.

And, in talking about this whole issue with some of the other Fit is a Feminist Issue bloggers, I came to realize that there was an aspect of the issue of comfort zones that I had been missing. 

Since I am firmly pro-comfort zone, I didn’t know that there are people (Hi Mina!) for whom the comfort zone is actually UNcomfortable – it feels too safe, too easy, too controlled.  So getting away from that comfortable feeling feels GOOD to them, they aren’t ‘stepping outside their comfort zone’ in the same way I am. They are stepping TOWARDS something that feels better for them.

(So, perhaps there are multiple kinds of comfort zones. Maybe some are about staying the same and some are about constant change, depending on what feels right for you.)

But, when it comes to what we usually mean when talk about comfort zones (i.e. staying in a ‘low-risk’ area skills-wise), I agree with Wilding about their importance. There is a lot of valuable work to be done from within an individual’s comfort zone, a lot of good things come from there. I don’t advocate making yourself miserable for no reason, or worse, just to show that you can step outside your comfort zone.

And I think that she and I are probably operating in some of the same spheres – calculated risks, small steps, gradual growth –  but I think that there is something off about setting up comfort and panicked stress as a dichotomy.

Ultimately, these quick snippets of advice that get tossed around as memes are lacking in nuance. They are one-size-fits-all and it can be annoying the way they held up as received truths.

When you are trying to make changes in your fitness, your self-care, or in your habits, you have to take your own path.

Maybe you thrive on the stress of the unknown and you love the challenge of overcoming your discomfort and meeting your goals. If that’s the case, keep stepping towards what feels good.

Or, maybe you are more like me (and, apparently, Wilding) and you find that full-on discomfort is overwhelming and prevents you from making progress toward your goals. If that’s the case, keep taking those small steps outward and EXPAND your comfort zone until you are where you want to be.

Neither approach is bad or wrong in itself.  It just might be the wrong tool for a given person and we can’t presume that our approach is the ONLY way to get things done.  Obviously, different tools work for different people 

One of my favourite writing quotes is by A.J. Liebling  – “The only way to write is well, how you do it is your own damn business.”

The same principle works when it comes to making changes – “The only way to change is by changing, how you do it is your own damn business.”

So, my question is, how DO you like to change?

Do you jump toward that feeling of discomfort or do you prefer to deal with it step by step?


Yoga. Practice.

I’m challenging myself to do yoga* every day in November.

Many of the writers here at Fit is a Feminist Issue are already very fit and have a consistent fitness routine but I’m not quite there yet.

I am moderately fit and I can keep up at Taekwondo but my commitment to consistent, regular movement varies. I am still working toward the point where daily exercise is an automatic part of my day.  

I may not be consistent (yet) but I am PERsistent and that brings us to today’s post.

As much as I had hoped to be very fitness-focused these past two months, I have ended up doing bits and pieces of exercise all over the place. A few pushups here, a walk there, some yoga one morning, my Taekwondo patterns another. I’ve attended TKD classes but I have had to miss a few.

I’m okay with all of that , I have been juggling a lot of things and had a lot of pop-up tasks and it won’t help things if I start being mean to myself about not managing to get more exercise in.

I don’t enjoy this haphazard approach though.

It’s ‘good enough’ but it doesn’t increase my feeling of well-being very much.

I end up feeling kind of scattered. Not a feeling I enjoy.

I want some consistency. I want more physical ease. I want more fun.

And THAT brings me to daily yoga.

Just me and my mat, at home, every day.

A rectangular, light brown cork yoga block sits atop a green yoga mat that is decorated with lighter green flowers. Dark brown floorboards are in the background.
My yoga mat and my cork block await me.

I want to do other movement, too, of course, but yoga is the right answer for right now.  

a) I like short term project commitments (a month of something feels do-able for me).

b) I find it easier to do something every day than every once in a while.

c) I don’t need to be wearing something specific to do yoga.

d) I can do yoga first thing in the morning without waking anyone else up.

e) I can do it right before bed without waking myself up.

f) And, most importantly, it doesn’t just feel do-able or manageable, it feels necessary. I WANT to do yoga daily.

Of course, going from no specific practice to a daily practice will be challenging, I know that.

That’s why I’m keeping my expectations low.

7 minutes** or 7 poses. Every day.

Care to join me?

*I’d like to acknowledge here that my measurement of whether or not I have ‘done’ yoga for the day will be if I have done asanas, the physical aspect of a yoga practice. I am working to develop my practice in all 8 limbs of yoga but that does not lend itself to measurement or to public discussion. I just want to be clear that I understand that yoga is more than stretching on a mat.

**My choice of 7 minutes comes from two things. 1) I like the number 7 and 2) Kara Leah Grant’s book Forty Days of Yoga.


Sleeping Goofy

A few months ago, I lost the knack for sleeping.

It wasn’t that I *couldn’t* fall asleep, and it wasn’t that I wasn’t sleeping for long enough,  the problem was that the quality of my sleep was poor.

I thought I had tried everything  – I went to bed earlier, I stayed in bed later. I stopped taking my ADD meds for while in case they were the problem.

Nothing worked.

I was doing basically okay but my energy was low and I felt out of sorts. Exercising felt like a HUGE effort.

I thought I should try to change my sleep environment – perhaps I was too warm, too cold, or the room was too light.

Then I remembered how, a few years ago, I had to ditch my light-based alarm clock because as soon as it brightened at all, I immediately woke up fully. There was no gentle awakening, I was asleep and then AWAKE and still tired.

And I thought about how, even though I went to bed fairly early, half the household was going to sleep after I did so there were lights going on and off in the hall as they got ready for bed. And then I considered that, when the sun rose, an unavoidable sliver of light leaked around my curtain and woke me up.

I thought about trying to get them to change which lights they turn on, and maybe buying a darker curtain for my room. That seemed complex and possibly expensive.

That’s when I hit on the solution….a sleep mask!

I even had one already – it came with a pair of pajamas my mother-in-law gave me a few years ago.

In my mind’s eye, I was going to look like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, all sleepy glamour and tassled earplugs. (I can’t actually imagine wearing earplugs to sleep but to each their own)

Actress Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. She is a slender, brown-haired woman and she looking out around her apartment door. Only her head and one shoulder can be seen, she is wearing a light blue sleep mask pushed up on her forehead and there is a tassel visible, dangling from her right ear.
Audrey and I have very little in common, apparently. 😉

In reality, of course, I look ridiculous.  

More sleeping goofy than sleeping beauty.

The author, a white woman in her 40s with chin-length brown hair, is wearing pink and white pyjamas and  a white sleep mask that has black stars on it. She is smirking. The background of the photo is green.
See what I mean? Totally foolish. PS – My pajamas read ‘waking up is hard to do’ – ha!

Luckily I don’t have to watch myself sleep* – I can just enjoy the process.

And I REALLY enjoy waking up feeling refreshed.

It’s not just that the mask helps me regulate the light level in the room, it has also become a signal that it’s time to sleep. It’s almost like a focusing tool for resting. (I even use when I am taking nap)

Even though it feels faintly ridiculous, this small change has made a HUGE difference in my life.

Totally worth feeling like sleeping goofy.

Have you ever tried a sleep mask? Could you sleep while wearing earplugs? Do you have any other tricks for making your environment more amenable to a good night’s sleep?

PS – Yes, I have also tried melatonin, on the advice of my doctor, and it’s great. That was after the mask solved the problem, though.  The melatonin just makes things a bit better again.

PPS – Also, I have been able to start taking my ADD meds again which makes life a lot easier.

*I’d end up awake all night laughing at myself. Even that photo is cracking me up. All glam, all the time, that’s me!