fitness · habits · martial arts · motivation · new year's resolutions

Go Team! January 15: Put on Your Dobok (or bandana or fancy socks or…)

If you are having trouble getting in the exercise frame of mind, creating an external cue might help.

Let me give you an example:

Last Sunday morning, I participated in an international online superclass for Taekwondo .

When I registered for the class back in December, I hadn’t noticed that it started at 7:30am Newfoundland Time.

I was excited to take the class but 7:30am on a Sunday seemed really hard. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get into the Taekwondo ’zone’ and that I wouldn’t get as much out of the class because I would be sleepy and uncoordinated.

Luckily, I was wrong.

Even though it was early, even though it was a Sunday morning, even though I was online instead of in a class, once I put my dobok (my TKD uniform) on I was in taekwondo mode.

It was a kind of magic. One minute I was sleepy, grumpy, and vaguely regretful about committing to this. The next, I was awake, interested, and ready to get moving.

My dobok gave me an exercise context, it was an external cue.

After all, I only put my dobok on for Taekwondo. I don’t put it on to lounge around the house or to run errands, I put it on because it is time to go to class.

And, it turns out that any time can feel like class time…if I put my dobok on.

Obviously, most people won’t have a dobok but you probably have a piece of clothing or gear that symbolizes exercise for you, an external cue that will put you in a movement frame of mind.

If you don’t have one yet, it might be a good time to start developing one. Find something you can use or wear every time you exercise so, eventually, that item will tell your brain that it is time to get moving.

(A category of item can work just as well as an individual one, i.e. wearing any bandana around your neck could be an exercise cue, it doesn’t have to be that specific red one.)

Do you have a piece of clothing that puts you into exercise mode?

If so, what is it?

If not, what *could* you use to help you slip into that zone?

Keep up the good work, Team, building habits takes conscious effort and, like I said the other day, it’s okay to give yourself what you need to support those efforts.

Here’s your gold star for today!

A  multi-sided gold star ornament hangs on an orange-coloured wall.
Another day, another gold star.
Keep up the good work!
fitness · motivation

Go Team, January 12: Give Yourself the Things You Need

Does your idea of the way you *should* be get in the way of getting the support to deal with things the way they are?

For example: For ages, I thought I *shouldn’t* need to set reminders to exexcise because if I really wanted to exercise, I would find an effortless way to fit it into my day.

That’s nonsense, of course.

I have lots of different priorities on a day to day basis and no matter how important exercise is it can get lost in the juggling of my different priorities.

When I finally gave myself permission to set reminders for everything I needed to be reminded of I had a lot more success and I relaxed about the whole thing.

We all lead complicated lives, and we have a lot of things to fit into every day. If we don’t make things easier for ourselves we will struggle to fit even the most important things into our schedules.

So, please give yourself the things you need in order to be successful.

That might mean you set reminders to exercise. Or even reminders to get ready to exercise.

Perhaps you sleep in your workout clothes so you can be ready to go in the morning.

Maybe you need a pair of kneepads for when you do yoga because it’s too uncomfortable otherwise.

Perhaps you make a list of exercises to do.

Or you buy yourself a set of gold star stickers to stick to the calendar after every exercise session.I

f you want to exercise regularly give yourself the things you need, emotionally, physically, psychologically, logistically, or socially, to give yourself the greatest chance of success.

And try not to think of any ‘shoulds’ connected to it.

If you have a plan in mind and it would be easier if you had certain supports in place, then, by all means, get those supports in place.

Even if those supports seem silly or ridiculous, if you need them, you need them.

Don’t ‘should’ yourself away from anything that will help.

Give yourself the things you need when you need them.

You can do this!

Here’s Your gold star for today’s efforts:

A GIF of a five-pointed gold star with a sparkly white part in the center.
Such a shiny star! A worthy marker in celebration of your efforts so far.
fitness

Taekwondo is a little strange these days

I had to do a lot of thinking before I returned to Taekwondo this fall.

Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, we have the advantage of isolation/low population density and that, combined with early strict measures, kept our COVID numbers low overall (fewer than 300 cases in a population of approximately 500,000.)

So, this fall is finding us slowly getting back into something that looks similar to the old normal. It’s a more complex normal – physical distancing, elaborate sanitization, and more rules than you could shake a stick at- but it does bear a certain resemblance to the before-times.

Kids are in school, Guide and Scout groups are starting up, you can eat at restaurants but capacity is reduced, a lot of things are happening outdoors and there is tape on the floor everywhere.

When my instructor contacted me in August to tell me that classes would start again in September, I couldn’t commit right away. I wanted to see my friends from class, I wanted to get back into that routine again, and I wanted to re-sharpen my skills. But, I didn’t want to do something foolish and take a health risk so I could punch things in my fighting pajamas.

A selfie by the author. She is wearing a white dobok (martial arts clothing) and a white mask and her hair is pulled back in a bandana.  Two masked people   in doboks are far away in the background.
Myself, Mr. Power and Ms. L. Zurel during one of our breaks. I only realized after I took this photo that I didn’t even try to smirk or smile. Everything feels a bit more ‘serious business’ these days, doesn’t it?

I relaxed a bit when I saw the list of rules for the school. The timing of classes has changed (to accomodate cleaning between groups), there is tape on the floor to mark a distanced spot for each student, we have to wear masks on the way in and out and during breaks and we are welcome to leave our masks on all during class (at 2m apart, we technically don’t need to be masked.)  All of that helped but the thing that made the most difference for me was the fact that we are prohibited from breathing out sharply when we execute a move. That was one of my biggest concerns – the idea that I would be in a room of people projecting their breath out forcefully into the room.

So, I have been to about half of the classes* so far and it is great to be back but it is also very strange.

The class is both familiar and unfamiliar. It’s like when you dream about something that you do in real life – it has basically the same shape and the same purpose but the elements aren’t quite right.

The 2m difference in spacing is just slightly more that we would usually be apart when we are Doing our patterns. So my friend Kevin, ahem, Mr. James, is in the correct place on my right hand side but he’s too far away from me. So the unconscious cues that I would normally get from his movement under normal circumstances are now gone.

A photo of beige flooring with two pieces of red duct tape  approximately  2 m apart from each other.
Usually, only the youngest students have duct tape on the floor to keep them from piling up on each other during kicking drills. Now, there are duct tape markers to indicate a spot for each student.

I’m slightly too far away from my instructor to see them well without my glasses on. I have to keep my glasses off because I’m wearing a mask and the steaming up is too irritating. (Yes,I leave my mask on the whole time, I just feel better that way.) This isn’t a crisis, there aren’t too many subtle movements that I need to see, but it adds to the weird feeling I am experiencing.

The weirdest thing though, the most eerie, is the fact that the class is quiet. Under normal circumstances as we are doing our patterns everyone is breathing out on almost every move. So the classroom is filled with the sounds of this rhythmic breathing. Now we are all quiet. I’ve noticed myself adding comments or slightly nervous laughter more often and I am working on reigning that in. I guess you could say that the patterns could be more meditative now but it is hard to adjust to that idea in a context that was not particularly meditative before. For right now, it feels a little like something is wrong, like we are sombre as a reaction to something (and I guess we are.)

I imagine I will adjust to this over time. After a while, it probably won’t seem so weird, the silence will just become part of how class works. But, for right now, it really makes me conscious of how things have changed. And it makes me aware of the sensory clues I was picking up from other people. 

If you had asked me before, I would have said that I spent too much time glancing at other people to make sure I was on track with a given pattern* (it was a habit I was trying to overcome.) However, now I am realizing that hearing breathing patterns and judging people’s proximity were also a big part of staying on track with both the pattern itself and with the group as a whole.

But, all of that being said I really appreciate being able to return to class – especially since so many people around the world are still unable to have any sense of normalcy in their days. 

And, I especially appreciate the flexibility my instructors and my classmates are offering right now. 

Everyone in the class is able to participate at their own level of risk-tolerance. My comfort/lack of comfort with the current risk level means that I am leaving my mask on, that I am a bit rusty in my movements because my ambient anxiety affects my concentration, and that I could not participant in certain drills that would bring me ‘too close’  (for my comfort) to another masked person. All of that has been fine with everyone else. We are all being very careful of everyone else’s feelings, needs, and comfort levels and that is what makes our classes work well right now.

I’m ending this with a kiya because we can’t shout it in class these days.

KIYA!

*I misjudged the weight of something while cleaning my shed and wonked out my shoulder for a while so I stayed home from class a few times.

**While that could be interpreted as a lack of confidence on my part, that is not exactly it. Sometimes, I lack confidence, but mostly I think my challenges with proprioception keep me glancing around. Sometimes, for example, I firmly believe that my foot is in the right spot for a given stance but something twigs me to the fact that it isn’t – a quick glance at my neighbour lets me correct something that I can’t quite figure out by how my body feels.)

Aikido

Self defense is a feminist issue

rape
Tips to prevent rape tshirt

Let me begin with a story about why I first took self-defense classes.

In 1984 I was an undergraduate student at Dalhousie University.  I was attacked in Halifax on a crowded street during the day. I wasn’t hurt and in a way it wasn’t a big deal. The guy was likely drunk, and given that it was a busy street in broad daylight, I don’t think he’d have gotten away with very much. My response, or lack thereof, really bothered me more than anything.

What shocked me was that I was silent while being held against a car on a crowded street. There were police officers across the street and I could see them but I didn’t yell to get their attention. Not even a “Hello” or “Over here.” I don’t know if 19 year old me was scared that the man holding me against a car would hit me if I yelled. I don’t know. I didn’t think about it. I just froze.

The police saw me and rescued me. Thank you. After, while getting a lecture from the police about being in that neighbourhood (I lived there!) I felt so stupid and so angry with myself.

So I did something about it. Along with a group of young women I spent a weekend learning some self-defense basics. It was an explicitly feminist course, focused on teaching women some self-protection basics. I learned to get up quickly from the ground, to break a board into two pieces, and most importantly, to yell.  I used the broken board as a cutting board for years. The class I took was called Wen-do.

Those of us taking the class were all surprised at how hard it was to yell loudly.

It’s still hard. Read more about that here.

Yelling is a feminist act, writes Susan Schorn for the Hairpin. Schorn is defending teaching women’s self-defense in her piece, The Shark Has Pretty Teeth, Dear: Why I Teach Women Self-Defense.

“I also feel qualified to defend “yelling” as feminism. Our voices are one way we can define ourselves. They let us set boundaries. They project our power. They connect us with others who can help us escape harm, or heal from it. Communication skills are critical to transformation of all kinds: personal, interpersonal, political. The ESD instructors at Thousand Waves Martial Arts in Chicago teach an entire workshopdevoted exclusively to communication skills. When I teach, I spend at least a quarter of every class on the concept of “Yell”—that’s how vital it is to empowerment and safety. Yelling is the opposite of silencing. Yelling stands at the very heart of feminism.”

Yes, yelling is a feminist issue, so to is looking large, taking up space, and looking tough and confident. That’s far removed the way women are socialized to look and act.

See Lisa Wade’s Gender and the Body Language of Power for a nice discussion of the ways women are socialized to be quiet, demure, and not take up space.

“Philosopher Sandra Lee Bartky once observed that being feminine often means using one’s body to portray powerlessness.  Consider: A feminine person keeps her body small and contained; she makes sure that it doesn’t take up to much space or impose itself.  She walks and sits in tightly packaged ways.  She doesn’t cover the breadth of the sidewalk or expand herself beyond the chair she occupies.”

There is also a new tumblr about men taking up space called Move The Fuck Over, Bro that’s worth having a look at.

I’m always surprised when I hear other feminists upset at women’s self defense training. I don’t think it’s my responsibility that I was attacked. It seemed clear that it wasn’t my fault. But in a world in which women face the risk of assault, I want to be able to respond a little better than I did. Acquiring those skills doesn’t make me any less a feminist.

I think there are two very different worries about self-defense classes for aimed at women.

The first is practical. They worry that a few classes won’t do any good and that they might merely build a false sense of confidence.  When you’re actually attacked, they worry, you won’t remember any of it. A friend says she worries that she’ll feel like Buffy after she’s taken the class but really she won’t be able to execute any of it.

I can say that for me, I didn’t feel invincible after the taking the class. I was more alert and aware of my surroundings and I probably took fewer risks not more. Even now, after 6 years of martial arts training, I don’t feel invincible. I do know that i can yell loudly. In Aikido there is even a name for the yell you make when striking. It’s called a “kiai” and is a self-defense technique in its own right.

I know I can engage physically with another person without freezing in panic. And I think I walk with confidence, eyes up and alert. I do believe that my martial arts training makes me much less likely to be attacked in the first place. I’m going to post later about some of the things Aikido has taught me.

When I say that I’m not saying I won’t ever be attacked again, nor am I blaming women who are attacked. I am not blaming the victim but that leads to the second worry.

The second worry is more political. The worry is that teaching self-defense to women shifts the burden on to women to protect themselves and off the men who are the attackers. We should stop writing lists of how to protect yourself from rape and start writing lists that tell men not to rape. But I don’t see this as an either/or thing.

It reminds me of the debate in political theory about the distinction between ideal theory versus non-ideal theory. Yes, in an ideal world we’d have successfully taught young men not to hurt women. In this world, we ought to try to pass that lesson along, but we also ought to teach women to react in a way that is most likely to lead to a better outcome. Yes, men have the greater responsibility but it’s also feminist to defend a women’s right to self-defense.

I cheer when I read stories like this one–“An off-duty US Navy sailor stopped a Dubai bus driver from raping her at knifepoint by breaking his knife in two, biting him and putting him in a stranglehold between her thighs,” (see rest here)–while at the same time wishing I didn’t live in such a world filled with violence and hate.

On the Ms Blog Meg Stone writes in favour of women’s self-defense classes as empowering women. In A Call for Self-Defense Against Victim-Blaming AND Against Rape, she writes,

“Self-defense training with a social justice perspective should be embraced, not dismissed, for three main reasons:

1. It Works

In a recent review of the state of research on strategies that are effective at stopping rape, the Violence Against Women Network (VAWnet) identified self-defense as one of the most promising practices. More than ten years of data collected by people of multiple political persuasions (or no apparent political persuasion) shows that women who forcefully resist attempted rapes can stop them effectively and can do so without increasing their risk of injury.

2. Instant Accountability

The ability to protect our bodily integrity gives women and others targeted by rapists the opportunity to right an injustice as it is happening. It means not having to depend on others (men) to keep us safe.

3. It Doesn’t Require Women to Diminish Our Lives.

Most advice women get about how to reduce our risk of rape is also advice about how to reduce ourselves. It’s about places we shouldn’t go, clothes we shouldn’t wear, times we shouldn’t be alone. The message of feminist self-defense is just the opposite: Use common sense, sure, but if you have the skills to verbally and physically protect yourself, you can live your life fully and safely in a rape culture.”

I agree.

Here’s some further reading:

1. “Protecting One’s Commitments: Integrity and Self-Defense,” by Sylvia Burrow, International Journal of Applied Philosophy, Spring 2012

Abstract: Living in a culture of violence against women leads women to employ any number of avoidance and defensive strategies on a daily basis. Such strategies may be self protective but do little to counter women’s fear of violence. A pervasive fear of violence comes with a cost to integrity not addressed in moral philosophy. Restricting choice and action to avoid possibility of harm compromises the ability to stand for one’s commitments before others. If Calhoun is right that integrity is a matter of standing for one’s commitments then fear for safety undermines integrity. This paper extends Calhoun’s view through arguing that integrity further requires resiliency to protect one’s commitments. My account shows that self-defense training is a key source of this resiliency because it cultivates self-confidence. The practical point is that self-defense training directly counters fear and other passive responses to violence that undermine integrity. The theoretical significance is that violence against women is a social condition threatening integrity. Hence, integrity requires self-protection for more socially minded reasons than moral theorists have previously recognized.
2. Real Knockouts: The Physical Feminism of Women’s Self-Defense
by Martha McCaughey, New York University Press (1997)
Abstract: An examination of women’s self-defense culture and its relationship to feminism. I was once a frightened feminist. So begins Martha McCaughey’s odyssey into the dynamic world of women’s self- defense, a culture which transforms women involved with it and which has equally profound implications for feminist theory and activism. Unprecedented numbers of American women are learning how to knock out, maim, even kill men who assault them. Sales of mace and pepper spray have skyrocketed. Some 14 million women own handguns. From behind the scenes at gun ranges, martial arts dojos, fitness centers offering Cardio Combat, and in padded attacker courses like Model Mugging, Real Knockouts demonstrates how self-defense trains women out of the femininity that makes them easy targets for men’s abuse. And yet much feminist thought, like the broader American culture, seems deeply ambivalent about women’s embrace of violence, even in self-defense. Investigating the connection between feminist theory and women physically fighting back, McCaughey found self-defense culture to embody, literally, a new brand of feminism.