ADHD · fitness · martial arts

Upcoming: Christine’s 4th Degree Black Belt Test

Sunday, June 19th!

That’s the big day.

I’ve been preparing in a low key way for ages but being only 6-7 weeks out puts my test into a time frame that my brain will accept as ‘real.’

And that means that I can prioritize project Earn My 4th Degree Belt and focus more effectively on the things I need to do to prepare for my test.

Here’s what I am working on:

Fitness

Obviously, improving my fitness level is an ongoing project but with a little over six weeks before my test, I have a very clear short term goal to work toward.

Six weeks is a bit of magic time frame. It’s a short enough time that my brain will buy into pushing myself a little harder – after all, six weeks isn’t forever. And it’s a long enough time that I can actually make some small improvements in my fitness level.

A little girl striking a body building pose.
Borrowing some of Michelle Tanner’s determination for my fitness plans. Image description: Michelle Tanner, the youngest sister from the 80s show Full House, is staring intently forward as she curls her arms down in a pretend bodybuilding pose. This is a joke about a teeny person imagining that she is muscle-bound, but she looks fierce.

I’m in good enough shape to pass my test now if I had to but after six weeks of TKD-focused exercise, it will be just a little easier. And since I want to improve anyway, my impending test gives me a bargaining chip to use if my brain starts chiming in with objections.

Theory

Part of my testing involves being able to complete written and verbal exams about different aspects of TKD, ranging from the technical specifications of movements to historical details of the sport.

I always find this tricky even though, in other contexts, I am perfectly ok with written or verbal tests. I think that having to connect the physical movements of TKD with the surrounding theory trips me up a little.

I have done ok with my theory in the past so it has never been a major crisis but it has made me nervous.

I think this time will be different though because the improvements in my medication, combined with some changes in my day-to-day obligations, has increased my capacity to structure my thinking around TKD.

And, having this capacity six weeks out means that I can also structure my study plan more effectively.

 a person unrolls a set of elaborate plans on a wooden desktop
My plans are a little less complex than this but I like the spirit here. Image description: a person unrolls a set of ‘battle plans’ drawn in crayon.

Patterns

Improving my meds and changing my day-to-day obligations also means that the process of learning my new patterns has been more straightforward this time. I seem to be able to grasp the flow of things more easily and I am holding on to details with far less work than I have had to invest in the past.

This may not all be attributable to the changes mentioned above, it may also be related to the fact that I have been training for a long time and some key elements may finally be firmly in place. (Being a martial artist is a commitment to continual learning so I imagine that I will experience this same sort of feeling again, just on different level, as I progress.)

So, I had three new patterns to learn for this test. I am very confident in one, pretty confident in another, and building my confidence in the third. Six weeks is more than enough time to bring all three up to the same level of confidence.

Three people standing side by side with text below reading ‘Way too many patterns for one person.’
Okay, not toooo many patterns but there are A LOT of things for me to learn and remember. Image description: three people standing side by side, there is a string of lights behind them. Text at the bottom reads ‘Way too many patterns for one person.’

Board Breaking

This is where I really want to do some extra work.

Even though board breaking is the most impressive-looking part of a belt test, it is really a tiny aspect of the process. And because there are a variety of elements involved, no one fails a test if they can’t break one of their boards.

BUT

It still bugs me when I can’t do it.

I struggled with my spinning hook kick break for years but I finally managed it on my last test. And I am not too worried about having to repeat the process with that kick and others for this test.

Three people wearing doboks during a martial arts belt test, two are kneeling and holding a board and one is in mid-air for a kick.
I don’t have a photo of my spinning hook kick but this is me during my last test, about to execute a flying side kick. Shoutout to Mr. James and Mr. Dyer for holding the board for me and to Ms. Zurel for the video I clipped this from. Image description: Me, in my dobok, in mid-air at the edge of a gym mat. Mr. Dyer and Mr. James are kneeling on the mat holding up a board for me to kick.

This time my personal marker of my skill will be to finally break a board with a punch.

I have used a variety of other hand techniques to break boards but I have never managed to break a board by punching.

There are a variety of reasons this could be happening. I know that one of them is that I don’t use enough speed but I may also be pulling my punch a little (I don’t think I am afraid of hurting my hand but perhaps I am, subconsciously.) And I may not be coordinating my movements effectively.

Luckily, I have lots of help to work on this and six weeks is enough time to figure out what’s going wrong and how to fix it.

Focus and Perseverance

Test preparation is not the only thing on my agenda for the next few weeks but I have lots of time and (mental) space to dedicate to the project.

I’m not sure how often I will check in about it because it’s hard for me to figure out which milestones will make sense to other people but you can be sure that I am going to be mentioning some details as I go along.

And I will definitely be asking for good wishes on my post right before my test.

I am focused and I will persevere.

KI-YA!

Fear · martial arts

Stepping Up To Lead At TKD. Finally!

I am pleased to report that after a mere thirteen years of Taekwondo training*, I am finally virtually unfazed by being asked to lead the warm-up for my class.

a GIF of the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants standing in the Krusty Krab restaurant with his arms raised over his head. The text below reads ‘Victory Screech’
Out of consideration for the other students, I only screech internally. Image description: a GIF of the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants standing in the Krusty Krab restaurant with his arms raised over his head. The text below reads ‘Victory Screech’

If you recall, my post for International Women’s Day was about my challenges with stepping up to lead in that specific way and how important it is/was to me to get past those challenges.

So, back in March, I had decided that the way to get over my reluctance was to 1) lead the class for several weeks in a row- so I would be able to get used to the feeling and 2) make a lesson plan in advance to reduce the risk of going blank while I was up in front of everyone.**

And it totally worked!

I didn’t even end up leading the class every week that I was planning to – I was sick one week and my instructor led the entire group together another week. It was still enough time to get used to being up in front of everyone, to find my own groove with instructing, and to prepare enough lesson plans and warm-ups that I can use at any time.

a GIF of Moira Rose from the TV show Schitt​‘s Creek. She is wearing a referee’s uniform and she looks as is she is admonishing someone. Text below reads ‘One must prepare for any event.’
Image description: a GIF of Moira Rose from the TV show Schitt‘s Creek. She is wearing a referee’s uniform and her expression (lips pressed together, eyes looking to one side) looks as if she is admonishing someone. Text below reads ‘One must prepare for any event.’

I have to say, I like knowing that I am prepared and that I won’t feel overwhelmed by being asked to take the class. In fact, two weeks ago, I was asked on the spur of the moment to take the class and as I stepped up onto the small stage at the front I realized that I wasn’t uncomfortable at all.

That was exactly what I was hoping for when I made my plan for March.

In June, I am going to be testing for my 4th degree black belt, a rank that means there is a lot lot more teaching in my future. I am grateful to know that the ‘trick’ to making myself more comfortable with that really is to prepare and to practice.

(Yes, this is the same ‘trick’ I apply in every other area but it had never occurred to me to apply it at TKD.)

A GIF from the show Power Rangers Dino Fury that shows an outdoor shot of a woman clapping her hands. She has long brown hair and is wearing jeans and a pink shirt over a darker pink ​tank top. Text below reads ‘Amazing Trick.’
A GIF from the show Power Rangers Dino Fury that shows an outdoor shot of a woman clapping her hands. She has long brown hair and is wearing jeans and a pink shirt over a darker pink tank top. Text below reads ‘Amazing Trick.’

Do you have one area of your life where you can’t quite bring the same oomph that you bring in other areas? Have you found a way around it? Were you able to transfer a skill from somewhere else?

*I’m being funny here, or at least trying to be. My fear of taking charge of the class has only been an issue for the past few years since I wouldn’t have been asked or expected to lead the class for most of the early part of my training. Previous to the past few years, I might have been asked to lead a small group or to lead students who were behind me in my training but my reluctance to step up in front of the whole group – my peers and students with more advanced ranks – was a relatively recent issue.

**Taekwondo is practically the only time I fear going blank on stage. I tell stories, give speeches and presentations, and do workshops regularly and while I might feel a bit nervous, I don’t worry about going blank. I guess that because TKD involves coordinating what I am saying with what I am doing it adds an extra layer of stress for me.

ADHD · fitness · martial arts · motivation · training

Christine is the very model of a middle-aged martial artist

(This post is long. Get comfy and get some tea before you dig in.)

Usually when I have my dobok on, I’m heading to a Taekwondo class but for a few mornings last month, I headed to art class instead.

A photo (from the chest up) of a woman in a white dobok in front of a blue door.
This photo is a few years old but I am wearing my dobok and I am smirking so it is still relevant. Image description: a selfie of me in my dobok with my hair pulled back in a green bandana. My blue front door is behind me and I was on my way to TKD class.

Thanks to my friend, Jennifer, I had the opportunity to be a model for three sessions of the sketching group that she helps organize and it was a delightfully positive experience for me.

I was nervous about it at first. I wanted to be a good model for them, to do something useful and interesting, but I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to hold my TKD movements for the right length of time or that I would lose focus and move at the wrong time. 

My concerns made sense – I knew I would have to do two 5 minute poses, two 10 minute poses, and a twenty minute pose and then we’d have a break before I did a long pose – 45 minutes to an hour. Even the shortest of those is a long time to hold a move that is supposed to take a few seconds and I had literally no idea what I was going to do for that long pose.

Luckily, for the first two sessions, Jennifer had me do something different for the 45-60 minute pose. Instead of being still, she wanted me to repeat a series of motions over and over so the artists could practice quickly capturing basic elements and then add in details as the movements were repeated. (Doing the same set of motions over and over for an hour was NOT a problem for someone who knows 16 different TKD patterns and is working on the 17th.)

By the time that we got to the third week, I had figured out that I could use some of our stretches for that long pose so it ended up being almost relaxing. 

Overall, being a model was an interesting experience that gave me some real insights into my TKD practice. It helped me to make some connections that I hadn’t fully thought through and it helped me have a better sense of where I am in some important aspects of my training.

Here are a few of the things I took away from my brief modeling career. 😉

Reasonable Facsimiles

Before going to each session, I spent a lot of time thinking about the poses I was going to do – factoring in how long I could hold them and what would be interesting for the artists to draw. They had requested poses at different heights but I also considered having variety in the poses in other ways – my hands turned differently or my foot at a different angle. Doing this sort of deep thought about my abilities and about how to get my movements just right was a really great way to assess my strengths and to ensure that I really understood how certain movements are supposed to look.

I did end up presenting some ‘reasonable facsimiles’ because there would be no way that I could, for example, stand on one foot for 10 minutes straight. I could, however, stand on one foot and rest my other knee on a support so it was almost like I was in the right position. That did mean that I was using my muscles differently than I would in a pattern but the session was about the artists practicing, it wasn’t about producing perfect drawings for a TKD manual. The key thing for me was that I had a very clear understanding of the difference between how I was modeling a movement and how I would execute it in practice. I really had to understand how it was supposed to be done in order to adapt it to use in the session.

A pencil sketch of a woman in a dobok in a wide-legged stance with her arms held in front of her, one across and one point downward.
One of Jennifer Morgan’s sketches of me. I couldn’t hold sitting stance for 10 full minutes so I did this 9-shaped block while resting on a wooden stool. If I was doing the actual stance, my feet would be more clearly pointing forward. Luckily my goal was ‘look interesting’ instead of ‘do it perfectly.’ Image description: a pencil sketch of me in my dobok doing a reasonable facsimile of sitting stance (legs apart, knees bent) while holding one fist downward at an angle while I hold the other across my chest.

All Kinds Of Information From One Pose

 One of my poses involved me reclining on the platform with my legs extended to one side like they would be in a flying side kick. Admittedly, it didn’t look very much like an actual flying side kick but it did give the artists something interesting to draw and sitting with my legs in the right position did give me a solid sense of which muscles I need to stretch and to strengthen to improve my kick. 

An unexpected side benefit was the fact that my friend Jennifer, who among her many other accomplishments, writes and illustrates historical graphic novels, found this pose very useful.  In her current project, one of the things she has to depict is women my age climbing into a lifeboat. Seeing me with one hand supporting me while my hip and butt rested on a flat surface with my leg out to the side gave her a good sense of how a middle-aged woman’s body would look as she perched on the side of the boat and swung her legs inside. 

Using My Whole Body

One of the operating principles in TKD, and probably all martial arts, is that a punch or kick is not just about using your arm or your leg, you recruit a variety of other muscles to add power and refinement to your movements. I understand this intellectually but unless I deliberately choose to focus on it during class, I’m not always sure that I am doing it consistently. 

After my sessions as a model, I feel much more confident that I must be engaging my other muscles because of how the artists commented on my poses. Receiving friendly advice to make sure to use my abs to help support my extended arm and realizing that I was already doing that was a confidence boost.  And hearing one artist comment to another that I was helping her how all my muscles had to work together to create the movement delighted me – if she could see it, I really must be executing the movement correctly. 

Consistency For The Win

As you know from some of my other posts, I struggle with consistency. And, beyond that, I struggle to know if I am being consistent or not, especially when it comes to any sort of physical practices.* I have trouble knowing if I am doing a movement correctly because my brain won’t always hold on to how it is supposed to feel or look. 

A pencil sketch of a woman in a dobok with her arms overlapped at chest height.
Another one of Jennifer’s sketches from the session where I was moving. She drew each separate movement next to each other starting with a light sketch the first time I did the movement and then returning to the sketch to add details each time I repeated it. Image description: a layered pencil sketch of me in my dobok with my arms overlapping in front of my chest. The edges of two other sketches can be seen on either side.

In TKD, one of the ways you check for accuracy and consistency in your movements is if you finish your pattern on the same spot where you started it. When I was repeating my movements for the artists, I knew I was doing mostly ok because I was returning to the same spot at the end of each series. What really made me feel good, though, was hearing one of the artists say that she had been worried that it would be hard to capture each stage of my movements but my consistency made it pretty straightforward. 

That comment was a delight but I also got something else out of repeating my pattern so many times in a row. Normally, when I practice, I don’t spend a lot of time on my first few patterns. I don’t have endless time to practice and I tend to focus on the patterns that challenge me the most. 

For the artists’ purposes though, I needed to pick something that wasn’t especially complicated and that wouldn’t wear me out when repeating for the better part of an hour so I chose our very first pattern. Doing those fundamental movements over and over let me dig deeply into each one and pay very close attention to what my muscles were doing and how I could tweak and improve in even very small ways.**  

It was almost a luxury to have nothing else to do in those moments but focus deeply on that narrow set of movements. And when I went to class that night, I could feel a slight improvement in all of my patterns so I will definitely be adding that sort of practice to my routine whenever I can.

Showing Off

Speaking of practice, one of the things that I did before each modeling session was to practice holding different poses and positions to ensure that I could do them for the right length of time. As a result of that practice, I discovered that, if I sit on an upended yoga block, I can hold a squat-like position for over 20 minutes.

When I asked the group if that was a good option for the 20 minute session, they were very excited about the idea of having the opportunity to draw that pose but concerned that I was going to hurt myself trying to do it. 

Being able to pull off that 20 minute supported squat with ease felt a little like I was showing off but it felt more like a personal victory. I could do something kind of challenging AND be an interesting subject for drawing at the same time. Go me!

Peace of Mind

Before I went to my first session, my friend Elaine told me that she found her stint as a model to be very relaxing because she could just be still and breathe. 

I didn’t think it would be the same for me because I figured that I would get distracted or that each pose would feel like it was taking forever. I even considered wearing earphones and listening to an audiobook while I posed but then I was afraid that would distract me in a different way.

However, I was surprised at how calm and relaxed I felt most of the time. A few of the poses felt long but overall, I mostly just focused on breathing slowly. Sometimes I counted my breaths in and out and other times I specifically chose something to think about – my latest pattern or something I wanted to write.

I ended up finishing each session with a feeling of satisfaction, the same kind of feeling I get from immersing myself into any project and getting into the flow of it. 

Holding poses for so long was a physical and mental challenge but it was an enjoyable one. Being an artists’ model has shifted some important things for me with regards to my TKD practice and I look forward to being able to do it again sometime.

*For example, being told to repeat something until I can no longer hold good form is lost on me because I will never catch the point when I go from good form to not-so-good-form. I don’t know if this is an ADHD proprioception thing or if it is just a Christine thing but there it is.

**I imagine some of you will be reading this and thinking ‘That’s called practice, Christine. Smarten up.’ and you’re right to a certain extent. Thanks to my ADHD, I’ve really only begun to understand how to practice effectively in the past few years. Left to its own devices, my brain forgets that working on small pieces of a project (i.e. practicing) will lead to finishing the project (i.e. knowing a pattern.) Since I can’t finish learning everything about a pattern in one fell swoop, my brain will trick me into thinking that practicing is pointless. So there’s that. BUT, also, the kind of deep practice that I did in the session is a different sort of approach that I don’t often have time for.

goals · habits · martial arts

Christine H is trying to (TKD) practice what she preaches

If all goes well, I’m hoping to test for my 4th degree black belt in ITF Taekwon-Do sometime later this year but I have a lot of work to do in order to be fully prepared.

All through the fall, my practice was restricted because I was having trouble with my leg and my foot but things are improving and I have been able to resume my regular home practice.

I’m fairly confident about the patterns I have learned for previous black belt tests.* And I feel good about one of the three I need to learn for this test but I haven’t yet fully grasped the second pattern that I need to learn.

So, I am taking my own advice from my Go Team! posts and creating a plan for a small, specific practice to really get this pattern, Yoo Sin, into my brain and into my muscle memory:

I’m going to practice Yoo Sin for at least 5 minutes a day, every day, from now until the end of February, or until I can perform it without hesitation, whichever comes first.

This is what Yoo Sin looks like:

A YouTube video of Patricia Pacero performing the ITF Takekwon-Do pattern Yoo Sin in a practice space with white walls and with blue mats on the floor. She is wearing a white TKD uniform (dobok) and her black belt.

I have been through the whole pattern step-by-step a couple of times with guided instruction but at this point I can only get about 1/3 of the way through the pattern without stopping to check the next move.

I’m not sure if 5 minutes of daily practice will get me where I want to go with the pattern in a month but it will definitely move me in the right direction.

And, as I know from my own Go Team! pep talks, I can reassess and do some course correction at any point in the process.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

For the record, this isn’t the only TKD practice I will do in February, it’s just how I plan to add this pattern to my repertoire.

*If you aren’t familiar with how things work in the martial arts, getting your black belt is not your end point, it’s the point at which you know enough of the basics to start deepening and strengthening your practice. I earned my first degree black belt in 2014. I learned 3 new patterns for my second degree belt in 2016, another 3 new patterns for my third degree belt in 2019, and I have to learn 3 new patterns for my 4th degree test. This is on top of the 9 patterns that I learned for the various belts leading to my first degree black belt.

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.