Spending time with a group of people that includes a 40-year spread of ages is so revealing. We were talking about where we were in 2010 and where we see ourselves in 2030. One person said, “Ten years ago, I was fourteen?”
Thank goodness, I thought, I’ll never have to go through my teens or twenties again. My skin alone!
On the other hand, the most senior member of the group was a bit discomfited by the topic. That happens when you perceive yourself to be closer to the end of your life than the beginning, and at sixty-plus that’s statistically true.
(Although such a long way to a 114th birthday, which is possible though still newsworthy).
Younger people tend to be very focused on how they look and whether other people think they are good-looking. Probably because they’ve spent their entire lives being photographed. Middle-aged and elderly people tend to be more accepting, or at least philosophical, about their appearance. It can be relaxing. Older people always think you look young and refreshed.
My experience with becoming middle-aged has been great. My body has been and looked a lot of ways over the years, enough that I know change is not just possible but inevitable.
The trick is that we can conduct body transformation willfully. We can choose to transform our bodies in so many ways.
For some reason, our culture seems to revolve around this suspicion that OTHER PEOPLE ARE STARING and that everyone is J U D G I N G.
OMG who cares
Ride mass transit long enough and you will soon feel like one of the best-looking people of world history. Visit a hospice, or just a nursing home. Just be glad at your relative healthfulness for once.
The trick is to turn inward. Direct your attention away from the external and ask yourself what you think of yourself on the inside. How does it feel to be you, to stand up and walk around as you?
If it looks culturally beautiful but feels physically terrible, then forget about it.
Look at all the paintings of medieval women with high round foreheads, no eyebrows, and big swaying pregnant-looking bellies. That’s what they found attractive. Shave your hairline up to the top of the head, hawt! Then put on a tall pointy hat.
Our century of stiletto heels is one day going to look just as ridiculous. Why did all those people limp around bow-legged, grimacing in pain? Why did they carry their shoes and walk barefoot down the sidewalk on festive occasions? What did they wear for warm outer layers? You can’t convince me they just stood in line shivering in the rain. The archaeological record must simply be missing some key garments.
This is how I feel about whatever supposed social pressure about how my body is supposed to look: Get back to me after you’ve read my monograph.
I read “body acceptance” and “body positivity” now all the time, and what I understand it to mean is “be big enough.” I don’t feel that it literally means “be proud, strong, and muddy.” I truly don’t feel that it means “thin and small is okay too.” I haven’t felt that it includes me or other women like me.
That’s okay, though, because I don’t honestly care that much!
I don’t care because I’ve felt my own body transformations over the years. I have lived a body that is different from one year to the next, sometimes by accident, sometimes through intense bouts of purpose. There is no way I’m going to trade my strong body for a weaker version just because it’s trendy.
Twenty years ago, I wore a clothing size that was six to eight sizes bigger than I wear today. Weirdly, my body weight is only about ten pounds lower. That’s because I dropped about forty pounds of body fat and built about thirty pounds of muscle.
It sounds hard to believe. I should probably dig up some old photos and spreadsheets for documentation. Again, though, it’s my body to live in and inhabit, and my body is not an object for society to critique. It’s my home.
In my early twenties, I was ill. I went to a lot of doctors who did not have a lot of answers. I felt tired and ill all the time. I fainted at the grocery store a couple times. I saw black spots when I walked up a flight of stairs. For a young woman, I felt like an old woman, one who clutched railings.
Now I’m in my forties, old enough to be the mother of my younger self. I feel like I could pick up Younger Me and carry her up the stairs. Maybe not a fireman’s carry but certainly a piggyback.
Younger Me would have been angry and hurt to feel so judged by Today Me. Get up, get up, I want to tell her. Don’t quit! There is still time for you!
I look how I look, she thought, just like I do today. At the time, though, she believed in a fixed body. That how we look is a million percent genetic. That the head of anyone who thinks differently should simply explode, because nothing is stronger than my internal rebellion or determination of my identity, of what counts as me.
It turns out that that same resistant feeling was exactly what I needed to propel me up a lot of hills, along thousands of miles, through hundreds of burpees and all the rest. My rage at anyone who dared tell me about my body or criticize my personal autonomy, that was the fire that consumed Young Me. Stubborn, I found myself a warrior of sorts.
When I was young, I felt just as judged as any other young woman. As an adult, I find it hilarious to walk around covered in mud, or carrying my kali stick. Men, even very very large men, get very squirmy and nervous when they find out I do martial arts. “Just don’t attack me and you’ll be fine,” I say, which usually makes it worse.
Posture is what makes the change. A vertical posture says a lot. A comfortable stance says more. I reside in a strong body and I can use it to do some pretty surprising things. Ten years ago, none of that was true, because I hadn’t yet seized ownership of my identity as a midlife athlete. Today, I feel that I will be stronger at sixty than I was at thirty. I know it will be true because I know how to make decisions and I know how it is done.
I was in my apartment alone one night when a strange man knocked on the door.
I answered it.
The strange man asked if we had change for a twenty.
At this point in my life, my husband and I live at a pier, a busy tourist area with a lot of foot traffic about ten feet from our front door. Anyone who shows up at our door could be, quite literally, anyone, from a transient to a yacht owner.
The smart thing for any true crime aficionado and student of the martial arts, especially a small female one, would be to ignore a knock at the door entirely. If you know me, text me or call out my name and prove it. If you don’t know me, vamoose.
I’m a trusting soul, however, and I answer my door.
The man introduces himself as my new neighbor and says he needs change because he’s trying to sell a piece of furniture to someone from craigslist.
A likely story!
Surely this dude is trying to convince me of something. He wants to find out if I’m by myself, he wants to know if he can trick me into showing him where I keep my money.
Or, he’s purely honest and he believes that neighbors can approach each other and ask for small favors.
I have the luxury of taking him at face value, for several reasons.
There’s also the fact that this guy fits. He’s from a different ethnic background than me, but he clearly looks and sounds like the software engineer he describes himself to be. He seems like the kind of guy we would hang out with.
This is the funny part. Everyone in this story definitely has twenty dollars, or, rather, the ten dollars needed to make change for the furniture sale.
We just don’t have it in cash.
What, like, bills? From the ATM? Do they still make those?
Where we live, we can go weeks at a time without handling paper currency. We can go days without touching a plastic card for credit or debit as well. Neither of us has had a paper checkbook for several years. Often we can pay for things with our phones, which for people who grew up with rotary dial phones still sounds utterly preposterous.
We have at least three separate caches of paper money, no, wait, four? Five? None of them have anything smaller than a...
The fairy jar!
I have a glass jar filled with money, all of which I have found on the ground since I moved to California. More accurately, I’ve found it in the street, since I don’t take coins if I find them indoors. It has to be “free range,” which my husband finds hilarious. If it’s indoors I put it in the next available tip jar.
Fifteen years of pennies and nickels tends to add up, especially if you walk a lot, especially if you have a dog who likes to stop and sniff every blessed thing.
Whenever the jar has gotten full, I’ve “bought” coins out of it with paper bills. When the wad of paper money gets too big, I’ve bought the small bills with bigger bills.
It turns out there’s nearly two hundred bucks in there now!
You’d think there’d be more, but we don’t really generate our own coins in change because we don’t really pay for things with cash.
Sure enough, there is easily change for a twenty in the fairy jar. Our new neighbor has been patiently hanging out on the porch while hubby and I scramble around looking for small bills. We make the exchange.
Now there’s a new twenty-dollar bill in the fairy jar where there used to be pennies.
More importantly, we’ve met a new neighbor who feels like a kindred spirit. We’ve done a tiny favor for him. Through this transaction, we’ve gotten to learn each other’s names and recognize each other’s faces. When we see each other around the complex, we’ll recognize each other as ‘NEIGHBOR’ rather than ‘INCIPIENT THREAT.’
With the pennies I’ve found on the street over the years, I’ve bought another layer of safety and connection in my neighborhood. I’ve added trust to the world, or my corner of it.
This is abundance. This is how it works and how it feels.
I open my door freely to a stranger because I feel like I can do that without real risk. I’m happy to meet someone new who might be a new friend, or colleague, or an eligible date for one of my single friends.
This person asks me for money (well, kinda) and I have it. I have this specific money because I find it all the time, on the ground, like a walnut or a crabapple or a blue feather.
I find money because I believe that I “have the time” to walk my dog, to walk on errands, to go out and hold hands with my husband while we watch the sun set. I have the identical twenty-four hours as everyone else who has ever lived, and I’m one of the few who feels like I “have the time.”
I put the $20 in the jar, in place of the smaller bills and coins that were there before, and it looks mighty fine.
I’m creating something out of nothing.
I’ve recognized subtle opportunities and taken advantage of them.
I’ve made my own fairy jar and I’ve filled it with coins that other people never bothered to pick up. I’ve made my own bit of whimsy and I’ve used it to work a bit of magic in real life.
Not everyone realizes this, but it’s not okay to change your fitness routine. It’s not okay - it’s MANDATORY. First of all, doing the same routine over and over can eventually lead to stress injuries. Second, it’s boring. Third, the body adjusts and the law of diminishing returns sets in. Perhaps most importantly, any single routine may neglect entire areas of the body. This is why it’s so vital - and fun - to occasionally pause and pivot.
I first started switching up my workout because my college gym had strict 30-minute cardio sessions. If you tried to stay on the machine longer, a bouncer would come over with a clipboard and evict you. I used the cardio equipment while I read my homework, and a half hour wasn’t enough. I learned that I could get a better/longer workout if I signed up for adjacent time slots and simply moved from one machine to another.
I also learned that more than five minutes on the stair climber made me want to barf.
Sometimes all the cardio machines would be booked. That’s when I started learning to use the weight machines. I was getting over a bad breakup, so my girlfriends would spot me and encourage me and keep me company. That boy was no gym rat and it was one place on campus where I could sulk in peace.
I started to see the gym as a place of refuge, a solace, and a mood adjuster.
Over the next fifteen years, I learned that Gym Me had high energy and a good mood, while Default Me was mopey and got sick a lot. I also had to change what I was doing many times due to relocation, job change, injury, or forgetting who Gym Me was. For a while.
Being fit has a tendency to reveal mysterious superpowers that weren’t even what you were training for. I’ve astonished myself with the suddenly revealed ability to climb a rope, do a headstand, or whip out a new hula hoop trick after watching someone else do it for a few seconds. The fun stuff!
The fun stuff, like toppling a 250-pound huge dude with a jiu jitsu throw.
I’m doing a pause and pivot right now. It’s been really emotional and difficult, because I’m stubborn as all-get-out, but it has to be done. I recognize this. It’s my own idea and my own plan, and still I’m struggling with my traitorous emotions. My feelings, always getting in my way and trying to ruin my strategic vision.
I’ve been enrolled in a martial arts school for nearly a year and a half. I convinced my husband to join, and we’ve been going to kickboxing classes together, a lot of the time at least.
There have been problems, though.
On his end, he’s lost nearly twenty pounds. His neck mobility has vastly improved and his chronic back pain is almost completely gone. He revels in fighting and he’s been getting the blue belts to teach him higher level secrets. He’s in the best shape of the fourteen years I’ve known him. He’s as happy and excited as a little kid with his first skateboard.
On my end, I’ve been going through several months of health struggles. I got a bad cold in the beginning of August, and that somehow turned into being sick 40% of the time between August and January. I missed (and paid for) weeks of classes, which unfortunately cost 25% more because I had just leveled up to the advanced classes. I went to the doctor to find out why I kept getting sick, fearing the worst, and she said she had known a fellow doctor who had the same problem. She wasn’t getting enough sleep during her residency, her stress level was high, and she could never quite recover fully before she was exposed to another cold. This doctor told me I would probably keep getting sick until the end of this year’s cold and flu season.
I mean, at least my blood work is good.
I did some research on my own end. It turns out that intense exercise can lead to being more vulnerable to colds and flu. Yeah. It makes sense. I would keep pushing myself a little too hard and trying to get back into classes a little too soon. I’d start going out and trying to work out at my normal intensity every time I reached 80% recovery. It was like trying to shut a door and having a mosquito fly in. Again and again and again.
After literally the twelfth time I got sick in eight months, I finally realized I had had enough. I need to give myself a break before I wind up on an inhaler. I paused my gym membership and told everyone I’d be back in six months or so.
This has nothing to do with grit or perseverance or fortitude. Those are the qualities that got me into this mess.
This also has nothing to do with abdicating on my body and burrowing into a recliner. I know I can’t do that because sedentary behavior impacts my thyroid, and I feel far, far worse when I sit around all the time.
This is a sabbatical, a pause and a pivot.
The first thing I’m going to do is to get over this most recent cold. I’ve been organizing my digital files, catching up on email, reading, and sleeping as much as I can between my neighbors’ centaur races or whatever they’re doing up there.
My pivot is to focus more on cardio over the summer. My husband and I talked it out, and remembered that when I was training for my marathon, I felt great all the time and I never got sick. I didn’t get sick that entire year! The only reason I quit was that I overtrained my ankle and wound up in physical therapy for six months.
I know more about stretching and cross-training now. I also know the warning signs. There’s no way I’ll do that to myself again.
The other thing is that I gained fifteen pounds in my shift from endurance running to boxing. Granted, some of it is muscle, but it doesn’t seem to be doing me many favors. My weight regain is perfectly correlated with the return of my night terrors, migraines, and vulnerability to seemingly every passing airborne virus. It’s gotta go.
The great thing about testing weight gain or loss as a variable is that it’s temporary. If you don’t like the results, you can always go back in the other direction. If I lose “too much weight” I can just eat more and put it back on over the weekend. *shrug*
The most important factor in a pause and pivot is the feeling of returning to center, of fully inhabiting one’s physical vessel. I am my body and my body is me. High energy is my birthright. I’ll do whatever I need to do to take care of myself and give myself the utmost strength and mobility.
First off, don’t get in the van. This is an R-rated post about physical danger and self-defense. When you read the phrase “Get in the van,” hear it in a grim and menacing voice, the voice of a highly trained sadist and criminal who intends to do you great harm.
If you’re looking for motivation, here is your motivation.
Someone might try to throw you in a van one day. Worse, they might grab a child, your child, your friend’s child, and throw the kid in the van right in front of you. What are you prepared to do about it?
I train in Krav Maga, a system of martial arts designed for smaller, weaker people to fight larger, stronger people. A core training goal is the fighting mindset, to continue to fight when you are physically exhausted and confused and demoralized and experiencing a massive adrenalin dump. Part of our discipline is to vividly imagine specific physical threats and then confront them.
As a result, I have practiced several ways of getting out of chokeholds and wrestling my way out from under attackers. I have practiced gun and knife disarms. I have practiced fighting with knives, hammers, screwdrivers, and ink pens. I can throw eight different kinds of elbow strikes, and that’s just to the rear. I have fought five people at once. I have fought with my hands duct-taped together. I have fought in the dark. I have fought with a sack over my head.
(You have to pay extra for that, though).
The owner of our school is a man so physically imposing that it’s impossible not to notice. He trains police officers and soldiers and military contractors. He has the natural ease and stance of pure confidence. It’s arresting. He holds the room effortlessly. This is what he has to say about training in self-defense.
There are predators in this world. They’re angry because they didn’t get what they wanted in childhood and they’re looking to take it out on someone. They pick on women because we’re easier targets. We’re smarter, but we’re smaller and weaker and we don’t have the same drive for aggression. We’re also distracted by our constant multitasking, and that makes us easy marks.
We should be on the lookout, aware at all times of who is within fifty feet of us. We should have our eyes up and our hands free. We should hold our keys so that we’re ready to unlock the door, not to fight with them, because punching with keys hurts and because you might break your keys. You need them to get away.
Even though intellectually we know that we should be alert, rather than distracted, we let ourselves get distracted. We’re distracted by our phones, our music, our to-do lists, our many bags, our children, and all the other things that distract the typical multitasking, busy woman. We don’t look up even when we know we should, and we have our eyes down when we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
That’s one takeaway. No matter how else you feel about anything else I write, please take away that anyone is capable of being more alert. At least a minute or two each day, keep your eyes up and your hands free when you’re going between your door and your vehicle.
Let’s think about predators and prey. What do prey animals do? How does a predator choose its prey?
Prey are weaker. Slower, older, younger, less physically capable. A predator cuts them away from the safety of the herd and takes them to a secluded area. A predator is excited when the prey animal runs faster, getting tired and further isolated.
How do we stop acting like prey? Stay alert, yes, but what else?
Take care of ourselves.
In the context of self-defense, this should not be considered controversial. It is a basic, quantifiable measure. Fitness literally means the ability to physically survive. By definition it is a biological survival trait. It applies to a vole or a sparrow just as it applies to us.
When someone yells RUN FOR YOUR LIVES, can you? (Wildfire, flash flood, gas leak, tsunami, tornado, terrorist, bomb threat, active shooter, home invader, serial rapist, murderer). How far can you run? When is the last time you tested that ability in yourself?
How much of what we do is visualization, the momentary excitement of watching a tense sequence in an action film? How much of what we do is physical, real action in real conditions?
I know how fast I can run up a flight of stairs because I run up flights of stairs every week. I know how fast I can sprint down the street because I sprint down the street. I know I can fight five people because I train it in class. I don’t have to imagine what it’s like to get my wrists taped together because I just did it.
I do have to imagine someone trying to kidnap a child right in front of me, because fortunately that has not happened. I have, though, had to sprint to grab a child (more than once) because little kids suddenly try to run out in the street or into danger. If I were slower I can’t say what might have happened.
This doesn’t have to do with body image. I don’t concern myself much with that. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to leave the house with a black eye and a big bruise on my face. People Will Think: my husband did it, I have no self-esteem, anything other than “she is a kickboxer.” It’s none of my business what other people think about my body and what my body looks like. If they notice me at all, they must have nothing better to do, and that’s boring and sad.
What I do concern myself with is what my body can do. How much energy do I have? How capable do I feel? The feeling of “no, no, I can’t” extends everywhere, into every part of life.
No, no, I can’t try for that promotion.
No, no, I can’t update my resume.
No, no, I can’t afford X, Y, or Z.
No, no, I can’t get sweaty or dirty.
No, no, I can’t set boundaries with other people.
No, no, I can’t make a fuss or inconvenience anyone.
No, no, I can’t make a mean face.
No, no, I can’t raise my voice and yell BACK OFF.
No, no, I can’t make a fist.
When someone yells at me to get in the van, I’ll get in the van, and there I’ll join the endless parade of dead women, made beautiful in their final photo, sainted and martyred by senseless violence. Even better, the photo of the little lost child who was stolen right in front of me, that photo will look great on the news. It’ll be a movie of the week.
“There was nothing I could do,” I’ll say, weeping prettily, because I never knew I could. I never knew there was something I could do.
That’s a visual that is motivating to me. I run through pictures in my mind, images of children who are important to me, laughing and happy, and then I picture the hands of an experienced predator grabbing at them. It gets my blood up.
There’s another visual that is motivating to me. It comes from horror films and it’s reinforced by true crime. I sometimes watch movies or TV episodes before I go to class, while I’m eating the large, heavy meals I eat before I train. A man, a scary man. Chases a woman, grabs a woman, chokes a woman. Stabs a woman. Pop culture runs almost purely on images of vulnerable femininity, and this is useful for training purposes. Picture that it’s you. Picture that it’s your friend. Notice a pregnant woman out in the world, and picture yourself standing between her and danger. I got you, honey, now RUN!
The fastest I ever ran was out with my husband, trail running in our favorite park at sunset. I slapped his butt and took off, and he sped up and came after me. I imagined he was an axe murderer, coming at me through the trees as the sun went down. It was exhilarating. I could hear his heavy tread behind me, his big boots thudding as we both ran as fast as we could. He couldn’t catch me and I got away. When I explained later what I was doing, he laughed and shook his head. “Whatever it takes,” he said.
I don’t give a damn about body image. If I do, it’s because I like to make people flinch when they see my big arms. I can ballroom dance backward in high heels, I can bring a crowd-pleasing lasagna to a potluck, I can plan a wedding, I can carry a child to bed without waking her up. I can also fight five dudes with my hands taped together. All of these images are consistent with womanhood. It is a core duty of an adult female to protect children, and fighting like a crazy bitch from hell can easily be integrated with that.
I hope at least one thing I have written here makes you angry. I hope it gets under your skin and that you can’t stop muttering about it. I hope it gets your attention enough that you make a change to your default behavior, and that if you pick only one, it is to keep your eyes up and your hands free.
I also hope it gives you cause to reconsider your relationship with your physical energy level and your body image. Come join me and lace up your gloves. You can hit me first if you want, I don’t mind.
“Don’t overthink it!” I hear this a lot in my martial arts classes. True to form, now I’m overthinking overthinking. Or am I? I’m getting my head around the difference between athletes and people like me.
It’s also the difference between anyone who is “natural” at anything and those who aren’t.
What am I doing in class that qualifies as “overthinking”? I’m asking questions when I’m doing something wrong, for instance trying to block a head shot and instead smacking myself in the face. What “everyone else” is doing is practicing the block over and over.
Makes sense, right?
The part that doesn’t really make sense is why an otherwise intelligent person would keep showing up in a room only to make hundreds of mistakes and punch herself in the eye with a boxing glove.
This is the essence of growth mindset versus fixed mindset. I’m in the room because I believe I can be taught, eventually, despite all evidence to the contrary. I believe it is necessary to my wellbeing to push myself to learn new things. I believe strength comes from facing obstacles and overcoming them.
“Everyone else” is there for more or less the same reasons: enjoying the difficult workout, needing an outlet for intense competitive drive and physicality, or simply loving martial arts culture.
Why are my fellow students grasping things so much more quickly than I do?
A young man in my classes hit upon it the other day. He’s young enough to be my son and he started training as a beginner around the time I got into the advanced class. He’s already better than I am.
“Did you do sports in school?”
I explained that when I was in school, girls weren’t allowed to play sports because Title IX wasn’t being enforced. The only option for us was girls’ softball, but that was a league sport.
“That makes no sense,” he said, mystified, and then explained why he had asked. He had two female friends who wanted him to teach them how to skateboard. One got it right away, and she had a sports background. The other, a musician, struggled terribly. He saw it as a matter of time spent rather than a matter of aptitude.
I’ve thought about this for a long time, and it’s interesting that it would be obvious to a young person. My husband, for instance, started on athletics as a preschooler. He can’t even remember exactly when he got on the swim team. It’s just always been a part of his life. He participated in every possible sport offered in his region.
Does swimming at age five have anything to do with swinging a sword at age forty? Evidently!
What all these “natural” athletes have that I don’t is a track record. (Sometimes literally on the track team!). They were up and moving their bodies at a younger age. Every year of our lives, these “natural” athletes have spent a significant part of their day in motion while I sat on my butt reading a book.
They acquired what I have to learn. It did NOT come “naturally” - it came from deliberate practice. It came from doing different things as children. It wasn’t always even their choice; their parents may have pressured them and insisted that they do stuff they deeply loathed doing.
In some cases, they’ve built a different physical framework than I have. For instance, my thirteen-year-old training partner is shockingly heavy for her size. If someone told me she had a titanium skeleton, I wouldn’t be surprised. She’s been practicing martial arts since the age of three, and her bones are undoubtedly denser than those of another child. Her body composition is also probably much more muscular and lower in fat.
These “natural” athletes have been building better cardiovascular fitness all this time. By ‘fitness’ I mean that exercise actually grows more blood vessels and expands the lungs, among other changes. While I was sitting around reading for thousands of hours, I was not building that same infrastructure.
The biggest difference is in proprioception, I’m sure of it. My classmates are able to watch something demonstrated once, maybe twice, and then copy it. I watch the same movements and I’m completely befuddled. I have to see the same motions at least five times before I start to get it. Often I’ll misremember whether to go left or right.
I have trouble knowing where my body parts are. I can only seem to track three out of four limbs. If I’m moving both legs and grabbing someone, my other hand seems to float off on its own. After a year I’m still being constantly reminded to keep my hands up. In my mind, I am! I can’t tell when my butt is sticking out. It feels like motions that should be in 3D are only 2D for me. What I’m worst at is moving with my face blocked, when I can’t see what I’m doing.
What I have is like being tone-deaf, which I’m not, or having a tin ear for languages, which I don’t. Colorblind, I’m not either. I’m fairly good at yoga, probably because I’ve spent so long in two dozen familiar poses over the years. I’m competent at ballroom dancing because I went to the kind of dance school where you drill the box step hundreds of times and learn where to put your arms separately. What I’m telling myself is that I’m already good at certain things, because I spent time on them when I was younger, and I’m not yet good at other things, because they are new to me.
I seem to be overthinking things in class because I lack the facility to copy what I see. This is strange to sporty types who have done it all their lives. They can’t understand why not everyone can do it. They don’t understand why everyone isn’t like them. They’ve never experienced being awkward or inept in the kinetic world. To them, it isn’t a subject of study. This is part of why I stay in a class where objectively I don’t belong, because I have as much to teach as I have to learn. If they can teach me, they can teach anyone.
I had a bad night. There are always at least three things going on during heavy training: the physical battle, the mental battle, and the emotional battle. Sometimes there’s also some social conflict thrown in just for fun. On this night, I had a mix of all of these.
It goes something like this. You want to train, but you’re out of condition and training makes you sore, tired, sweaty, and uncomfortable. That’s the physical battle. You aren’t convinced that this activity is a good use of your time, money, or resources. That’s the mental battle. You feel like other people are judging you, that your body is your enemy, and that you’ll never get the results of those awesome people over there. That’s the emotional battle. Then maybe you have a naysayer who keeps trying to get you to quit, and that’s the social battle.
That’s not me, by the way. Well, the physical part is, but that’s honestly part of why I train in the first place. I don’t do anything at all unless I’m convinced that it’s a good use of my time. I couldn’t possibly care less if other people are judging my physical appearance, and I’m not particularly competitive. Naysayers just make me double down on my commitment, because their presence means I’m onto something. I recognize the mainstream battles around fitness. That helps me to shrug them off.
No, I have to go out and dig up my own special fitness issues.
I’m studying Krav Maga, a non-joke sport that is officially not for sissies. Mentally I am convinced that Krav is the best and most effective martial art and that I’m training at the best school in the region. I believe that the combination of bodyweight, impact, and HIIT exercises is the optimum and that it is more time-efficient than other workouts. I also have all the grit and persistence in the world.
Keep telling myself that.
My mental block is that I am usually the weak link in class - slowest on the uptake, slowest in speed, physically weakest, lowest stamina - and that it holds others back. I keep coming back to the idea that I should put my membership on hold for a few months and come back after I put on a few more pounds of muscle. It’s when my head isn’t completely in the game that I start having more emotional issues. When I’m 100% convinced of something, then nothing but nothing can stop me.
Finally, tonight, after a couple of hours of processing, I realized that this mindset problem is emotionally driven, and it’s compounded by my overall physicality.
Everyone has the occasional difficult moment. They come in flavors. Some people default to anger and “why do these idiots always.” Others default to depressive “this is pointless, why bother.” For some it’s the self-hating “ugly stupid.” Mine runs to helplessness, specifically feeling physically powerless.
My demons: night terrors, being susceptible to the common cold, this fainting issue I had in my mid-twenties, fear of Alzheimer’s disease, and, apparently, being pinned to the floor.
Objectively, plenty of people have far worse issues. I feel dumb even thinking about mine.
Thinking about it, it’s weird that I have no problems with certain things when I do with others. For instance, I’m not afraid of snakes, the IRS, public speaking, or being seen naked. In fact, I wouldn’t even be all that bothered by speaking nude at the IRS in front of some snakes.
What I’ve learned from martial arts is that I’m not particularly troubled by wrestling or being thrown to the ground. I’m relatively unphased by choke holds, being lifted off my feet, or being attacked with my eyes closed. I can shake off being hit in the mouth, nose, or eye and keep going. I’ve been throat-tagged and continued on without a pause. I’ve had small cuts that bled and had to get a bandage (DON’T BLEED ON THE MAT) and gotten right back to it. Hands taped together? Yay, cool. Pinned under a blanket? Okay, got it. Bag over the head? Not my favorite but hey, I’m here to train. Gun disarms, knife fighting? Bring it on!
I have two problems.
Okay, now how dumb is that? Ooh, yelling, help me officer. Out of all the dumb things to set someone off... At least the other one is more obvious and realistic.
It was processing my issues with being pinned that helped me finally understand why this is a demon-level emotional block in my world. It’s that “physically helpless” feeling. Like any emotional block, it’s a package deal. Another person’s self-loathing might lead to a variety of self-sabotaging behaviors, while someone else’s contempt and rage might lead to an entirely different type of self-limiting issues. Mine is this emotional trigger that I am somehow powerless.
It’s worth looking at where else I do and don’t feel powerless, or rather, where I do feel powerful and how I can bring that into the mat room. Powerful: bureaucratic red tape, foreign languages and writing systems, wilderness survival, panel interviews. Powerless: navigation, math.
I’m good at lots of things! I’m good at learning! I’m good at talking myself back into commitments!
Keep telling myself that.
Now that I’ve found my demons and given them names, I can deal with them. I can come up with some strategies to take their power away. It’s my life and my body and I can make choices that make me stronger.
Quitting, what would that do? Because certainly I have felt like quitting. The thought has crossed my mind so many times: “you don’t belong here, nobody wants to be your partner, nobody will judge you if you switch to CrossFit.” Those are emotion-driven and temporary distractions, irrelevant to my aims. 1. Be a quitter for life. 2. Lose all the many benefits of this training. 3. What, sit in a chair? Just start quitting things and become boring?
I have another emotional demon hidden in there, the “nobody wants you here anyway, nobody likes you” demon that is a remnant of childhood bullying. When I’m pinned and I can’t get out and the instructor starts shouting advice at me, this puny feeling starts up this story. “Nobody is coming, nobody will help you, nobody is on your side, nobody is looking out for you, friendless and alone.” Really that’s pretty solid evidence that studying Krav Maga is a terrific and practical plan!
Another person would ball up all that energy of being picked on, tricked, set up, and bullied and use that to fuel an intense and sacred flame of righteous fury. I mean, that’s one way. Some natural and biologically based reactions to being pinned would be aggression, an adrenalin surge, tenacity, and territorial instinct. GET OFF ME. My feeling of helplessness is contrary to survival; it’s not innate, it was learned - and that means it can be unlearned.
I know exactly what I need to do, and the insight came as I was lathering my poor bruised shoulders with gardenia-scented soap, proof that I am fine and I do have control over my world. I need to build upper-body strength. I need to keep training. I need to visualize the specific circumstance of being pinned every time I go to my gym, and use it to fuel a strong sense of AW HAIL NO.
I also need to tell the instructor that yelling triggers me, so she’ll yell at me more.
The whole point of this training is, like everything, to enter the arena and fight the fight. Life is an endless rain of trouble and strife that will never stop. Quitting won’t make it stop. Nothing will make it stop. Might as well figure out a way to carry on, or maybe even prevail. If there are demons to be wrassled, at least I’m going to hit one with a chair before I tap out.
“I’m going to thump you in the noggin.” That’s an example of the type of comment she just made to me, only not as funny. A threat, not a veiled threat. I laughed and brushed it off, and she doubled down.
What’s going on here?
This is a basic business transaction, and this woman just implied that she wants to use physical violence on me! Twice!
“Well,” I grinned, “I’m a kickboxer, so let’s do this!”
The weirdly rude woman frowned and said nothing.
Hey, you started it, lady.
The truth was, in that moment, I was ready. If for some bizarre reason this person insisted on fighting with me, if I had made her angry or if she just couldn’t stand the sight of me... okay, fine. Let’s do this.
If she needs to get it out of her system, I’ve been shoved, kicked, punched in the stomach, thrown on the ground, and hit in the eye, nose, and mouth. Lots of times! I don’t mind, not really. If she thinks she can lay a few strikes on me, all right.
It’s a serious offer. You wanna box me? Let’s do this!
Alternatively, I’d get her on the ground and pin her until she apologized and promised to quit being rude to people for no reason. She would remember the whole thing as me being the villain. Result: even more rude to more people, because it’s so unfair that she never gets her way. Bullies are like that.
In the normal world, there are two things that have made me tough (besides living past the age of forty). One, improv comedy. I’ll “yes and” anything with anyone at any time. Two, my midlife sports background of martial arts, endurance running, and adventure races. If you want to attack me with mud, insults, cold water, heckling, shoving, kicking, or strikes to the torso, well, it’s not my first rodeo.
How have I offended, milady?
I’m the kind of person who goes to the store and constantly gets stopped by random people who think I work there. It’s a family joke that every time we go on vacation, someone will ask me to take their picture. Customer service face. I’m nice and approachable, probably too much so. It’s unusual for me to have an unpleasant interaction with anyone, whether in person, on the phone, or through email.
Nobody who sees me in business casual is going to guess that I do Krav Maga, put it that way. That’s how it should be. Secret weapon.
There’s a threshold that you cross when you cast off conventional anxieties. In the mundane world, I’m unstoppable because I know myself to be a person of high agency. Kindness and patience will get you virtually everything you could ever want, and detached amusement will probably get you the rest.
A little bit of leadership training, a little bit of comedy, a little bit of stress inoculation, a little bit of physical conditioning. Unstoppable.
In the mat room, on the other hand, I’m weak and slow.
I put myself in that situation on purpose. I strive to always be the most clueless student in class. If I’m the smartest or best, then I’m in the wrong room. I need to be pushing myself, partly so I’ll learn, mostly so I’ll stay humble, and also because I get bored easily.
If you’re willing to feel completely awkward, embarrass yourself, and do things you find crushingly difficult, and you can get through the first few months, you’ll be well on your way to developing superpowers. The areas where you struggle are the areas where you can grow the most.
The first year I spent training in martial arts, my stated goal was to work on humility and self-discipline. Find out you can’t do a pushup or a sit-up, and the humility takes care of itself. Stay committed until you can do fifty and you’re on your way to the self-discipline. The most important thing I learned that year is that I’m not afraid to take a punch.
I also learned I was afraid to land a punch. I didn’t like hitting people, I didn’t like it at all.
This got to be a problem. My partners would sometimes complain that they needed me to be more forceful. They would shout and encourage me to kick harder, shove harder, strike harder. I talked it out with several other women, and they all told me the same thing. I needed to give as good as I got. As much as I wanted to learn to take a punch, to be unafraid in hand-to-hand combat, they needed the same from me. It wasn’t fair for me to have a double standard.
I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by being “too nice.”
My training partners want their money’s worth. They want the full value of every hour they spend training. That means, when they partner up with me, I need to show my fangs. I need to go past my little bubble of niceness, at least during that hour, and I need to be scary and mean.
I scare myself sometimes.
All I’m doing is exploring something new in a controlled environment. It’s a classroom. Everyone agrees that while we’re in the mat room, we’re trying to accomplish something very specific. It’s a thing with a certain amount of physical risk, and also eerie noises and unlovely facial expressions.
This is where we cross the threshold. This is where we pass back and forth between the ordinary world and the world of controlled violence. This is why it isn’t funny to make “jokes” about fighting: because there are those of us who are prepared to engage if necessary.
Also, don’t you know any real jokes? Funny ones?
In some ways, martial arts training has made me funnier than I was before. There’s something about the confidence that comes from trusting your body and knowing you are prepared for mayhem. Garden-variety insults and threats are comical. What, you think you’re going to wound me with words? What you just said, that’s supposed to make some kind of impact?
I’m having to learn how to throw a punch, not just take a punch. It means I have to learn how hard to hit. I have to learn to strike with appropriate force. Learning to throw a punch has shown me that it’s almost never necessary. Smile and carry on.
Bleeding from a cut on the bridge of my nose, forehead visibly bruised, sporting my first black eye, anyone could see I’d been hit in the face a couple of times.
I sat down on the mat with my classmates, who had already taken their turn through the ordeal in the other room. Since this was a special workshop, we had a few members of the community who don’t train at the school. One of these women turned to me.
“Ooh, your husband will be so mad!”
It took me a moment to figure out what she meant. Oh, he’s going to be mad because I just got a black eye? Why?
Seriously, it didn’t compute. I had to shift a few mental gears to figure out where she was coming from. Oh, okay, I think I get it. He’ll be mad because he wasn’t comfortable with me taking physical risks and now my face is damaged. Maybe you think he’ll be mad because the school should have protected me more? Or because I didn’t listen to him when he tried to tell me what to do? Not sure, but I think I understand now.
“Oh, no,” I told her, “on the contrary. He loves it. He’s going to be so excited!” I explained that my husband loves fighter chicks, that if I ever became a ring competitor he would probably quit his job so he could follow me to my matches and help me train. In point of fact, he was the one who signed me up for the class, because he found out there was an open spot before I did.
I try to imagine a husband who doesn’t like the fact that I study self-defense.
Then I realize that I should be imagining a man who is angry, a man whose anger dictates what I do or don’t do.
Okay, yeah. I did do that. I thought pretty hard before getting married for the second time, but I also thought pretty hard back in my single days. I explain that I used to have a talk with guys I would date. It went like this:
“If you ever lay a hand on me in violence, I will press charges and tell your mom and your boss. Just saying.”
This is blowing the mind of my young classmate, who in her twenties and from her cultural background may never have been told that you get to choose what you tolerate. You get to lay down the law in your life. You get to accept and reject at will. You determine what treatment you will and will not allow.
Here’s the thing about my husband. He has spent his life doing impact sports, including football, ice hockey, boxing, karate, and armored combat. He is trained to fight with guns, knives, daggers, and swords, not to mention mass weapons or siege engines. He’s twice my size and he knows how to sharpen a chainsaw.
If I were ever afraid of him, I would have changed my identity and moved to Australia. The only chance I have against someone like him is if I have an axe, or a cannon.
Why would I marry someone who scares me?
Why would I share a bed with someone if I had to fear his moods, if I felt intimidated by his anger?
If I thought his anger would be directed at me?
Me? His wife, his friend, his ally?
I married this man because I wanted him on my zombie apocalypse squad. Not because I was worried he’d do things to me if he ever threw a tantrum about something.
I don’t do coercive control. I can’t stand being told what to do. I started making it clear twenty years ago that anyone who wanted to date me would have to be cool with my boundaries.
I would explain that I had a pathologically jealous boyfriend when I was nineteen, who always thought I was lying and cheating when I got together with one or another of my many male relatives. I needed to make it clear that I talk to my brothers for hours on the phone, that I have a vast and close extended family, but also that I sometimes have dinner or trade five-page emails with my exes. I travel alone and I do what I want pretty much 99% of the time. A jealous man should never try to be involved with someone like me.
I spend a lot of my time on the challenge path, doing things deliberately because they intimidate me so I can quit being scared. I have jumped over open flame, hiked in bear country, crawled under barbed wire, climbed a rope, waded through mud, and, yeah, gotten hit in the face a few times.
I’m not going to let a smack in the mouth slow me down. Got that?
I do this training because I’m a distance runner and I like to run at night. My response to challenge and limits is to dig in my heels and double down.
I also do this training as a mercy to my poor husband, because he worries. Even when I take the dog, he worries when I run at night. (Not enough to train with me, *wink*). I asked him how he felt about my decision to study Krav Maga. He said, “relieved.” No hesitation. That was when I found out how much it tormented him to leave me alone at night when he travels on business.
We do well to understand the weight of responsibility that a traditionally acculturated male feels to protect and defend his dependents. It’s hard on a man. That doesn’t mean he gets to circumscribe my territory or dictate where I do or don’t go. It doesn’t mean he’s allowed to control my time, my friendships, or my activities. When I step up as an equal partner, ready to take responsibility for my own physical safety, I shoulder some of the load and allow him to walk free.
I went home to my husband after the special workshop, the one where I got a black eye. It looked like someone hit me in the face with a clothes iron. Bruises on every limb. He greeted me with a bag of ice, a smoothie, and a thousand calories of hot food. He looked me over.
“I got a little marked up,” I said.
“I’m proud of you,” he said. “I’m so glad you took that class.”
It’s that time again! Goals and resolutions time! This year we’re doing our annual review and planning session on the Las Vegas Strip, because we’re party animals and because planning leads to awesomeness.
This is the mistake so many people make, to choose a “resolution” that is grim and dire, the kind of thing that any sensible person would of course immediately want to sabotage. Get out of here with your “drink more water” and “Get Organized” and “lose weight,” just crumple all that into a ball and toss it over your shoulder, and let’s do this with a little more anticipation and delight, okay?
I’ve been interviewing various Las Vegan personages and asking them to tell me their “New Year’s wish.” Everyone had one. EVERYONE! A TSA agent: “To get paid.” A dreadlocked young fellow: “Growth and prosperity.” A balding guy, blushing: “A new baby.” A bearded kid: “To go back to school.” Wanting something better for the New Year is the driving force behind all human progress.
Personally, I don’t stop at one, because there is no upper limit on wishes. It’s also a technicality, because if you make a longer list, then your chances of succeeding at least once are increased. I’ve been doing this process in one form or another since I was nine years old, and each year’s failures and near misses have simply made me better at formulating my plans. First I’ll share how I did last year, and then I’ll go into my plans for 2019, because publishing my quarterly results keeps me accountable.
These were my goals and resolutions for 2018:
Personal: Explore a martial art - SUCCESS+
Career: Launch a podcast - SUCCESS
Physical: Run Shamrock Run 2018, build a daily stretching routine - SUCCESS
Home: Lower our rent - SUCCESS
Couples: Go on an international vacation together - POSTPONED
Stop goal: Stop losing focus on incomplete projects - SUCCESS
Lifestyle upgrades: Upgrade laptop - SUCCESS?
Do the Obvious: Speak more slowly, with more pauses - SUCCESS
Quest: Travel in Asia / a fifth continent - POSTPONED
Wish: To find an amazing pet sitter - SUCCESS
Mantra: PAUSE AND BREATHE - SUCCESS?
I’m making some changes to my template this year. First, I tried doing a mantra for two years, and both times it wound up feeling like I somehow managed to troll myself. Dropping that. If I do one, it will be to come up with a word or phrase at the end of the year instead of the beginning. Instead, I’m publishing the metrics I plan to track. What gets tracked gets managed. I’m also being more careful about not trying for a twofer, because then if it doesn’t happen for some reason, it screws up two categories instead of one. Another thing is that I realized I keep screwing up my “couples goal” because it IS a goal, rather than a resolution, and goals are much less likely to lead to long-term success.
Goal: a specific outcome. Resolution: an implementation intention. Project: a planned piece of work with a specific purpose. Plan: the part most people leave out of their resolutions!
Personal: My personal project is typically something on what I call the Challenge Path, the specific purpose of which is to push my limits drastically and force me to run full speed in the direction of my greatest fears. Contemplating these projects in advance always makes me queasy. At some point within the first three weeks (aka The Gauntlet), I tell my husband I’m going to quit because it’s too hard and I’m wasting everyone’s time and I don’t belong there. Then I stay with it and within three years I’m as good as anyone. This time it’s to submit a book proposal to a publisher. I keep telling myself that I’m going to do many of these and that they will eventually become a regular, predictable part of my life, but bawkbawk-baGAWK! [chicken sounds]
Career: See above. Also, I’m in the final stages of completing the work for my Distinguished Toastmaster. If I can hold the line on all the projects I’ve been doing over the last six months, I can finish this by June 30. If I slip on anything, it will take an entire extra year. The further I go in Toastmasters, the more I see how directly relevant these skills are to what I want to do with my life. That being said, the DTM represents a massive amount of work. It will take the majority of my focus for the first half of the year.
Physical: My fitness resolution is to work on hip openers. If this works the way I want it to, it will help me with my roundhouse kick, my goal of doing the splits, and maybe even my heartfelt desire to turn a cartwheel. Currently I have the ludicrously tight hips of any distance runner and I’m ready to leave that behind. There are a LOT of people in Las Vegas who can do the splits, and most of them can do them while doing a handstand on one hand. This is possible.
Home: My home project is to set up an outdoor writing area. I spend a lot of time on our tiny patio, so my parrot can get some nice daylight, but it makes us visible to a steady stream of foot traffic. We get interrupted a lot by looky-loos. I’m going to set up a folding screen so the wandering public don’t have line of sight with my chair.
Couples: Our couples resolution is to do bulk meal prep. We’ve been taking an evening kickboxing class together, and because it runs from 7-8 it has been making weeknight dinnertime and cleanup complicated.
Stop goal: Every year, I think of a way I’ve been annoying myself (and usually others) and decide to stop doing it. It’s always something I have no idea how to handle, or I would have already done it. Spending an entire year examining my worst character flaws and most obnoxious habits helps me to figure out how to work on them, at least a little. This time, I’m trying to figure out how to clear up the wreckage of my poor health from 2018, a year of chronic colds and the worst sleep I’ve had in fifteen years. Waking up crouched on my living room floor, crying from a night terror that lobster-sized scorpions were crawling on the bed, was the last straw. In 2019 I resolve to stop being sick and tired.
Lifestyle upgrades: My lifestyle upgrade resolution is to buy a new desktop computer. I should have freaking done it last year, after I decided I didn’t want another laptop, but I’m such a tightwad that few forces on Earth can convince me to spend money on myself.
Do the Obvious: “Do the Obvious” is my thing, because as a divergent thinker one of my best skills is overcomplicating things without even realizing it. It means looking at something so commonplace, such a routine keystone habit, that even a stranger on the street could point it out within five minutes of meeting someone. This year it’s to schedule a time block for everything, every last single thing I want to be a part of my life. I’ll write more about this as I work it into practice. Basically it means I need to have an extra “power hour” every week for random tasks that don’t seem to fit into any other category. I also need to be more protective of my writing time.
Metrics: I track a lot of stuff. It’s what helped me figure out how to eliminate my migraines, for one thing. I track my hydration, I wear a fitness tracker, I record all the books I read, and I follow a budget. This year I’m going to try out gear to track my sleep metrics. I’m going to track specific HIIT exercises, because it will be funny to know how many burpees I do in a year. I’m going to track how many martial arts classes I attend, and I’m going to track how many speeches I give. A big one is that I’m going to track how many news articles I read, because that trend line should be going down. I’m also going to track my daily word count. A whole page of metrics! If I make a project of it I’m more likely to catch everything.
Quest: My quest this year is to pursue a Sleep Project and figure out how to get more and better-quality sleep. I’m enlisting the assistance of my husband, who is willing to apply astrophysics-level mathematical analysis to my metrics, just as he did to help me finally reach my goal weight.
Wish: My wish is to be signed by a literary agent. Did I just say that out loud?
Personal: Book proposal
Career: Distinguished Toastmaster
Physical: Hip openers
Home: Outdoor writing area
Couples: Meal prep
Stop Goal: Stop being sick and tired
Lifestyle Upgrades: New desktop computer
Do the Obvious: Schedule time blocks
Metrics: Sleep, fitness, reading, writing, speaking
Quest: Sleep Project
Wish: To be signed by a literary agent.
My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 was to study a martial art. Every year I take on a personal goal that involves doing something I find scary, awful, difficult, totally unnatural and unsuited to my personality, and otherwise irresistible. This is where the utmost growth happens, from expanding into totally unknown areas. Previous goals included running and public speaking, although the hardest thing I ever did was to get my driver’s license. If you’re good at any or all of these things, good for you; now go away. And by “go away” I mean that you should go out and find a goal that is challenging to you in the way that getting punched in the mouth is for me.
When I started out, I knew so little that I didn’t even know which “martial art” I wanted to do. I didn’t even know how many there were. All I really knew was that I’d seen The Karate Kid umpteen times and that Jo from the Nancy Drew books knew judo.
January is for research. I made a plan as part of my New Year’s goal-setting. I would ask people about martial arts and solicit their advice. (People love that!) I would read a few articles online. I would find area martial arts schools and visit them. I would compare them, choose one, and sign up for lessons. I would acquire the gear.
What I did not do, which is rare for me, is to read a foot-high stack of books. I also didn’t watch any videos, which I guess sets me apart from Millennials, who often teach themselves crazy stuff like baby sign language or advanced stage makeup techniques by video.
I bumped into a personal trainer and we had a conversation about goal-setting. He signed up for my public speaking club, showed up three times, and vanished. That was long enough for me to absorb his advice, which was to try jiu jitsu because it’s designed for small people to fight off larger people. Then I bumped into a guy in line at Starbucks who was wearing a jiu jitsu t-shirt, and I asked him a bunch of questions.
I visited three schools, all extremely different, which made my choice easy. One was harder to get to, a better gym overall at the same price, but the “beginner” class looked like intermediate-plus from my perspective and the class schedule was less convenient. The third was closer but more of a club than a school. The second school was “just right.” I signed up for a free class the very next day, took the class, put on my shoes, and walked into the front office to sign the contract and buy my equipment. I came home with a big bag of gear, unsure what it all was or how to wear it.
Two belts, a t-shirt, boxing gloves, tape, shin guards, and MMA gloves, so stiff they would barely bend.
I didn’t understand the belt system. I didn’t know anything about international standards, or competition, or the history of these sports. I’d never seen a ring match. Empty cup, in other words.
So I guess I’m studying Krav Maga and Muay Thai kickboxing?
Showed up the first morning and, to my great surprise, the very first thing we did was: PUSH-UPS. Push-ups?!? But when do we learn to punch?
Found out I could not do a push-up.
A minute later, found out I could not do a sit-up either. Grabbing onto my thigh and trying to haul my sorry self up.
Next, ten jump squats. What the heck is that? Normal people do not do this.
If I had had any idea how many thousands of push-ups, sit-ups, and jump squats I would do in 2018, I most likely would not have signed the contract. I would have “studied a martial art” in a workbook and maybe a documentary film. I would not have committed my self or my nice flat green American dollars to dripping sweat upon an athletic mat for a hundred hours.
Instead, I found myself transforming in ways that would only seem to apply to students at Hogwarts.
My shoulders and arms changed. My feet changed. My posture changed.
I quit bruising and skin quit peeling off my knuckles.
It basically quit hurting if I got punched in the nose, the eye, the mouth (most of which strikes I inflicted upon myself). My pain threshold climbed and climbed.
I quit feeling skittish when Rude People and belligerent street folk accosted me. Instead I thought to myself, “Yeah, come at me.” I learned that people almost never actually do anything other than say rude things or make faces. Pfft.
I got an orange belt in Krav Maga and then an orange belt in Muay Thai. I understand the belt system and the stripes now and I’ll totally tell you all about it if you want.
I got a surprise flu shot and realized, and nothing in my life has ever astonished me quite this much, I realized that I no longer get needle reaction. This was confirmed when I had blood drawn months later and didn’t feel woozy at all. I think I might even try giving blood one of these days.
I found that I had a new ability to fight my lifelong tendency toward procrastination. When the resistant feeling rises up, I simply shake it off and say, “You’re doing this.”
The battle magic itself is the best. Learning to get out of chokeholds, learning to wrestle someone twice your size and prevail, learning to throw people onto the mat, it’s fun! Learning to knife fight and do gun disarms, well, that’s more magical than anything really. It’s a bit like ballroom dance school but with heavy metal.
I can fight five people in a shark pit, now. How crazy is that? I can fight with a bag over my head and I can fight with my hands taped together. I can do a couple of things that I’ve never even seen someone do in an action film.
My gloves are finally broken in. My shin guards probably need replacing. I know how to shape and how to wear a mouth guard. I’m not great... I’m a lightweight, I’m not fast, I’m not particularly gifted, it takes me lots of tries to learn new moves, and I look goofy when I shadow-box. My training partner is thirteen and she’s ten times as good as me. I’m not really a beginner anymore, though.
There were few things less likely for someone like me to try, when I first signed up and didn’t even know how to pronounce the names of my new sports. Couldn’t do a push-up, couldn’t do a sit-up, couldn’t throw a jab properly. I’m a nerdy middle-aged woman, a spelling bee champion, birdwatcher, and Scrabble enthusiast. How does this work? Now I’m also a boxer and a badass, unafraid of your common street scoundrel or your garden-variety riff-raff.
I’ll continue to train. I’ve realized that the major difference between me and a sixth-degree black belt is the duration of their training. They got a head start and they might go to class more often than me, that’s all. Five years from now, I might be quite good indeed. It’s interesting enough on so many levels that I feel like I’m barely getting started at battle magic.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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