Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I Do This Why?

It is almost five years since I started doing Myo Sim kendo. I told someone recently that I'd been doing it for six years, but it's really only five. I've been doing Myo Sim karate for a bit more than two years. In the five years since starting Myo Sim something, I've had countless bruises and more than once been asked in a roundabout fashion by medical personnel if I'm in an abusive relationship. I've had swollen fingers and knuckles. I've had the back of my head cracked open and one of my front teeth knocked askew (it reset into position on its own but not without a wee bit of pain). I've had minor knee surgery to be able to keep doing kendo and minor hand surgery to be able to keep doing karate. At the immediate moment, I have bruised knuckles on my left hand (from kendo a week ago but not helped by last night's karate, a bruised left shoulder (from karate a week ago), and a brand-new bruise on my right shoulder from last night's lesson on punching.

So why do I keep subjecting myself to all this? Because every now and then there is a class or workout that is so special that I grin with joy for days afterward. Such classes are rarely easy; I usually leave them soaked in sweat and drinking massive amounts of water. We've actually had one of those classes in both karate and kendo recently. The kendo one we did blindfolded. Yes, we swung bamboo swords at each other while our eyes were covered. Mind you, we were wearing full sets of kendo armor at the time, including the men or helmet. What was amazing about this was that once I got over the anxiety associated with the first strike and the first block, I knew I could do this just fine. Five years of doing head strikes have left me with a pretty good idea of where the head of someone facing me would be and where a strike coming at my head is likely to land. The instructor who did this class is a challenging one. I usually feel less than competent during his lessons, which made the feeling of competence in this one even sweeter. It was a real confidence builder.

The recent one in karate involved doing self defenses for three straight minutes. A self defense is a response to a grab. I know eight of these techniques; a first-degree black belt will know more than 20. Watching these, you might think that they involve throwing and being thrown. Actually, someone who appears to have been thrown has chosen to fall in order to avoid having something broken. Someone who appears to throw someone else has actually just put them in the position to fall or be broken, and falling is always the better of the two. We practice self defenses in a circle. The person in the center is open for grabbing by anyone on the outside of the circle in any way for which the person attacked knows the response and the person attacking knows the fall. This means someone could grab you from any direction--front, side, or back. You have to respond almost immediately. It sounds easier than it is. Take my word for it--three minutes is a long time. And it's a very physical workout whether you're attacking or being attacked. Moreover, when we did this class last week, I had not done any self defenses in over two months due to the hand surgery. I blanked for a moment on the response to one grab, but so did several other people. We all quickly recovered and completed the technique. I finished my three minutes in the center of the circle tired but confident that I could have continued if I had needed to.

You may have noticed that a feeling of confidence appeared in both the class situations I described. One of the things I like about the martial arts I do is that they offer a workout that is as much mental as physical. My performance on an exercise cycle or elliptical machine is all physical; there's no real mental aspect to it other than keeping the physical part going. One day's workout is pretty much like any other. Karate and kendo challenge me mentally as well as physically. Learning the techniques is as much a mental process as a physical one. As I understand a technique better, my performance of it usually improves. When I prepare to practice either martial art, I need to clear my mind of the day behind or ahead of me. While I may spend my time on a rowing machine or a treadmill (I actually hate treadmills but wanted a fourth type of cardio equipment to cite) rehashing things done and still to do, I want those as far as possible from my mind during martial arts. My mind gets a break from the mundane and gets to do something different just as my body does.

I'm not sure I've done a good job of explaining this, but hopefully I've done an adequate one. I know that acquaintances often see my latest bruise(s), and give me a look that suggests they wonder at my sanity for engaging in such activity six times a week. The next time that happens, I can direct them to this post for a good part of the reason. And, as our senior master kendo instructor likes to note, "If it were easy, what would be the fun in staying with it?" He's working his way through his 70s now, suggesting that I have a few more years of martial arts ahead of me.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Scar Tissue

I had minor hand surgery on November 4, a procedure called a trigger finger release. I had a follow-up appointment on December 14, with a final one scheduled for January 25. Over the last couple of weeks, principally while in Florida for the celebration of my dad's life (a happier term than "memorial service"), some swelling appeared in my palm centered around where the incision had been made. The swelling was fairly obvious; showing someone my open would elicit a comment of the "what's that?" variety. Fearing it might be infection of some sort, I e-mailed the surgeon asking if I should come in earlier than the already-scheduled appointment. The fact that she asked if I could come in on her next clinic day didn't really help keep that "this is really nothing" feeling alive. Still, it seemed better to get it over with.

It turns out that there's no infection. What there is is a lot of scar tissue forming, more scar tissue than the surgeon says she's ever seen with this sort of surgery. It may not help that I several times a week grip a sword hilt tightly for upwards of two or more hours. I didn't ask her that, though, because I didn't want to hear that perhaps I shouldn't be doing that. I got some massage and stretching exercises from the physical therapist and some gel pads to wear over the scar at night, and I'll go back for another follow-up on the 25th. The aim is to break the scar tissue up to get the flexibility and range of motion back in my finger and hand.

Thinking about my distinction of producing more scar tissue than the average patient on the street led to thinking about emotional as opposed to physical scar tissue. Grudges over past slights, regret over things done or undone, the emotional luggage we all carry. I like to claim that mine is a matched set, but that's probably not the case. I have occasionally said, not entirely jokingly, that I am probably more normal than I should be given various things in my past that other people cite as dysfunctional in their own and as causes for their problems in the present. I wonder if I've done a reasonable job of massaging and stretching out my emotional scar tissue, though it could well be that it's just deeply enough embedded that I no longer feel it or recognize it for what it is.

It's a rhetorical question, really, but one to think about over the next while as I massage and stretch and try to break down the physical scar tissue in my hand. Better to think about it then than when I'm holding a sword in the same hand.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Over the Shoulder and Straight On Till Morning

It's that time of year to look over one's shoulder at the year now past while stepping, hopefully confidently, into the new one. I posted my resolutions for 2010 here and offered an update here, on my birthday that falls halfway through the year. Now it's time for the final tally of the 2010 list sitting here beside me.

Lose weight (for real this time). It's not that I needed to lost weight. I am not overweight and though I haven't computed my Body Mass Index lately, it's probably quite good for a woman my age. Still, some jeans that fit me comfortably two years ago, or even one year ago, are getting uncomfortably snug. The grammarians among my readership may note a tense change there, from past to present. I accomplished nothing toward this goal in 2010, and a variation of it tops my list for 2011.

Exercise five times weekly.
I achieved this and more, though I was not compulsive enough to go through my workout calendar and count just how many times I did work out. If I was in town, I did six martial arts workouts each week, ranging in length from 90 minutes to three-plus hours. Several days a week I also did cardio and/or weights in the morning. In July, I did the equivalent of an Ironman Triathlon, though spread out over the entire month. Yeah, I can check this one off as done.

Create more.
I am not sure that I actually made more quilts, did more knitting, felted more bags in 2010 than in 2009, but I'm satisfied that I created enough. Besides getting my studio set up, I did projects in some areas I hadn't done before or hadn't done in a long time. While it would always be nice to have more time for my creative interests and passions, I don't feel I short-changed this one this year.

Finish The Fifty. The Fifty is a list of 50 things I wanted to do to mark my 50th year of life. I didn't make it. I still have seven to finish, including "write 12 poems." One poem a month should have been easy, but I guess I'm not a poet at heart. Several of the ones still to do are to visit or re-visit some place ... Monticello, Montpelier, Colonial Williamsburg, a winery.

Learn material for second dan in Myo Sim Kendo. This is another one I can check off. I don't consider myself ready to test for my second degree black belt yet, though that's a decision actually more appropriately left to the instructors, but I know the material I need to work on.

Better organize my kendo notebook.
While it continues to be a work-in-progress, it is better and more organized than it was last year, so I am comfortable considering this one accomplished.

And the list for 2011? I must have been over-caffeinated when I wrote it, because it's so much longer than the lists of past years. Without a lot of detail, here's the new list, conveniently organized into three spheres.

The Physical
(1) Lose five pounds and keep them off.
(2) Ski, cycle, row, swim, run, walk, or otherwise cover 700 miles to nowhere. This can include the miles needed to complete another Lazyman Triathlon in July.
(3) Remember the Food Pyramid. In other words, eat more fruits and vegetables and give the starches more of a pass.
(4) Drink more water. In other words, drink less caffeine. (This typed as I have a cup of coffee out of my Journeys mug.)

The Mental
(1) Do one craft devotional, drawing lesson, or similar short creative activity weekly.
(2) Keep a journal in the same volume(s) for one year.
(3) Put up one blog post weekly. In other words, write more.
(4) Learn as much Vietnamese as possible. Perhaps try to study it five hours weekly?

Somewhere In Between
(1) Learn all the material for Myo Sim Karate Blue 5, the rank I'm currently working toward.
(2) Finally finish The Fifty.
(3) Concentrate on needs not wants. In other words, spend less money and save more.
(4) Find something for which to be grateful daily.

I hope I have not been overly ambitious for 2011. The above goals are written on the first page of what I hope will be my 2011 journal. The second page holds another list of goals that didn't make the cut or that got subsumed into the larger ones that did. I don't know where working on all these will take me in 2011, but Ill let you know if the road to hell really is paved with good intentions.