Feeling Stupid? Good! How to Stay Motivated When Learning Seems Hopeless

i-cannot-brain-today-i-has-the-dumb-cat

“I feel like a dumbass.”

The tall, grey-haired white belt sighed with frustration. Adults in our small dojang are few and far between, so when one shows up I make a beeline for them, try to get to know them, and make them feel welcome. I was waiting for the advanced class to start, so I was chatting with this man about his upcoming orange belt test and what he had learned so far. He had been meticulously practicing fundamental blocks in the white belt class and was struggling with getting the movements just right.

I remember that frustrating feeling when learning blocks as a white belt. Inside-to-outside middle block was one of the hardest things to master. How could a simple twist of the elbow and flick of the wrist be so damn complicated? Suddenly I didn’t know my left from my right, and my brain felt like it was trying to wrap itself around quantum physics. Girl, bye.

“It gets better,” I assured him. “It just takes time and practice. You’ll be frustrated for a while. I still feel like a dumbass with some of the stuff I have to do.”

Sometimes we just have to sit with discomfort, whether it is frustration, grief, uncertainty, or feeling like a dumbass. We can’t bypass it or take a shortcut. We can’t wish it away or admonish ourselves for our sins of omission. We just have to get through it.

The discomfort of not knowing and stumbling as we learn can be an opportunity to think outside the box and deepen our understanding of an unfamiliar concept. I was recently working with a group of nurses on a communication tool they commonly use when calling physicians or during shift changes. This time, however, we were using the tool with a non-clinical scenario. The nurses remarked how weird it felt to use the tool out of their normal context. Suddenly they weren’t the experts, and that felt very uncomfortable. They had to think differently and be more mindful of how and what they communicated than they typically do when they are in the hospital. Hopefully they now have a deeper understanding of how they communicate when sharing vital information about their patients.

Not knowing can also be an excellent lesson in humility. Getting a black belt is a great ego boost, don’t get me wrong, but much of BEING a black belt is realizing what I DON’T know and adding to the list of things I need to work on. If I knew everything and did everything perfectly that would get boring after a while. Not knowing means I have room to grow and opportunities to see my practice with a fresh perspective. It’s kind of fun to go back to techniques I learned as a color belt and tweak them with the skill I now have as a black belt. It’s like getting to learn what I love to do all over again. I still have so far to go. At least I am a self-aware dumbass.

I have no doubt my new white belt friend will be practicing his blocks with great effort and concentration over the next week. He will work hard and try his best, which ultimately will make him a better black belt than if he just breezes through the motions. The learning process he is building now will be a foundation for him as he moves up the ranks and learns more complicated kicks, sparring techniques, and self-defense. If he’s anything like me, he will have many more moments of feeling like a dumbass, and that’s okay. It will make that moment of realizing he mastered something so much sweeter.

Guest Post: Using Martial Arts Forms As Moving Meditation

Check out July’s guest post from Book Martial Arts!
Discipline of the Body and Mind: Using Forms as Moving Meditation.

Poomsae_Training (Medium)

Nothing, and I mean nothing has helped me practice presence better than taekwondo. This month I go all hippie in the dojang and discuss how the martial arts student can use their poomsae, kata, or other type of form to quiet the mind, focus the body, and ultimately improve their practice.

Thinking of starting your own Taekwondo journey? Interested in honing in your martial arts skills? From Kung Fu to Capoeira you can find, browse and book a vast selection of martial arts training camps at BookMartialArts.com, the world’s leading martial arts travel website.

Martial Arts Ruined My Love Life…or at Least Ruined What It Used to Be

istock-single-and-happy

“Keep your heart open,” my mom said with a fake-sappy smile as I hugged her good-bye at the airport last week.

“Oh gross, don’t let that be the last thing you say to me!” I said. Since Mom and I primarily speak in sarcasm and South Park references, we both knew it was a joke. A few days earlier and after several glasses of wine, I had admitted to my parents that I rejoined an online dating site that I’ve used in the past, so Mom was probably just half-heartedly teasing me about the reservations I expressed about dating again (although I sensed a glimmer of seriousness in her voice). Now I didn’t actually rejoin the site after several glasses of wine–that was merely brought on by a short bout of temporary loneliness and boredom, a blip of having my guard down in my otherwise very busy (and guarded) life.

I was genuinely curious to see if my feelings had changed since I published my “Love is Like Grape Soda” post on Valentine’s Day. At the time of that post I had absolutely no interest in dating or getting into a relationship after being out of a serious relationship for nearly a year. I didn’t dislike love or relationships. I regarded it as a neutral, non-meaningful entity, much the same way as I regard grape soda: I don’t really like it or dislike it. I simply can’t be bothered to care. It doesn’t interest me. I fully support other people’s decision to drink themselves sick on grape soda, but none for me, thank you. I don’t know if I’ve ever even had grape soda.

I’ve been out on a few dates, talked to a few guys, and have had a nice time. The men were warm, funny, good looking, and accomplished, and I’ve enjoyed some great conversations…and I also didn’t feel any connection, spark, whatever, and I doubt they did either. I haven’t heard from any of them in a while, and for once, I’m not upset about it. At first I actually felt pleased at my feeling of no-feeling because I proved to myself that I had broken my habit of instantly falling for whichever guy happened to be nice to me and putting them on a pedestal while devaluing my own worth. It truly is a case of “It’s not you, it’s me.” I am not going to force myself into a relationship just because I’m lonely or just because a man pays attention to me for a brief moment in time.

Maybe at this point for me love is less like grape soda and more like popcorn and ice cream. I’m interested, but not so much that I’m willing to pig out. I like popcorn and ice cream and even have both in my house, but…still…meh. I forget they’re there. I don’t get the allure. I roll my eyes when people say they’re giving up ice cream for Lent. I don’t understand how people go absolutely apeshit over the free popcorn at the hospitals where I work. There’s even a sweets shop in my city called “Popcorn and Ice Cream,” but I have yet to walk through its doors. I like popcorn and ice cream more than I like grape soda and even crave a taste now and then, but I don’t want to commit to a whole bag or a whole carton.

(If love were like Doritos and cookie ice cream sandwiches washed down with cabernet, on the other hand, I’d be married by now.)

Then it happened a few more times–that feeling of no-feeling– and I was struck with a confusing and profound sadness. While these dates had proven that I can wait to see if someone is right for me rather than jumping prematurely into a relationship and hoping for the best, it’s also hinted to me that perhaps I’ve become so independent and self-sufficient that I am not capable of sharing space, time, energy, and love with a man. It has proven to me what I’ve been casually tossing around since my tongue-in-cheek Valentine’s Day post: I want to be single and alone. I cannot have a relationship again, at least for the foreseeable future. It’s over. I’m done. That part of me is dead…or okay, maybe undead and waiting to come back years from now. It wasn’t the loneliness or longing for a relationship that made me sad–it was the absence of that longing that confused me and broke my heart just a little.

There is a part of me that is afraid if I enter into a relationship again I will lose the gifts taekwondo has given me: confidence, self-respect, independence. The feeling I get in taekwondo class feels so damn good that I don’t want to let anything bring down my high. It’s been my savior and my drug. I don’t want to lose that unique feeling of elation I get in class. It’s a high that lasts longer than any kiss or coveted text message.

I don’t want to go back to being the Old Me. I don’t like who I was when I was in relationships. I was needy, self-conscious, self-deprecating, and sad. I let men treat me like dirt. Rejection destroyed me. I didn’t have the peace that I have now as a single and unattached woman, and if relationships only bring out the worst in me then I want no part of them. I’d like to think I’ve changed enough that this time around things would be different, and I think most of the men out there are genuinely good guys, but without solid proof it’s hard to want to take the risk.

I like who I’ve become. I’m stronger, more confident, funnier, and frankly, much nicer and more pleasant to be around. I’m happy with who I am and have started to open my eyes and see how I can help the people around me. I’ve found my niche and how I can contribute to the world. Taekwondo has made me more empathetic, mindful, and hopeful. It’s help me accept and appreciate my body. It saved me from self-destruction, some of which was wrapped up in how I handled relationships. I’ve learned to find happiness within myself.

Several years ago a priest asked me if I considered the thought that God might want me to be single. I was furious and felt like he was giving me a death sentence. Now, after many years and many more emotional growth spurts, I’m starting to wonder if there might be a grain of truth to his question. I’ve considered the thought, and at this point, I’ve accepted it if that is indeed God’s plan for me.

I’m okay with it now. I would rather be alone than stressed out over whether a man approved of me or not, whether he was attracted to me, whether he wanted to spend time with me, whether he thought I was worthy. I have found a rhythm to life that works for me. I don’t want to compromise who I’ve become and what I’ve gained with something that I have learned the hard way won’t bring internal peace and happiness. I’ve found my bliss and have become the woman I used to hope would be magically conjured up by a man’s love and approval.

Maybe it’s not so much that I am incapable of dating, but that my standards have changed, and I still don’t quite understand how to navigate the dating world armed with them. I know now that I deserve respect, honesty, and compassion, not just fleeting attraction and hollow promises of love. That’s all thanks to taekwondo, and if I have to be unattached to be the New Me, then so be it.

I’ve since cancelled my online dating subscription. At some point I became bored with the whole process and eventually forgot I had my profile up altogether. When I first got into online dating I was delighted about how many interesting men I was able to meet that I would have never encountered in my regular daily life. Now it just felt limiting and like a chore. If and when I do “meet” someone again, I think I’d like it to be the old fashioned way. For now I’m going to continue to enjoy doing whatever I want whenever I want. I have a book to finish writing, after all.

The only person I initially told about my tentative foray back into the dating world was my brother. I expressed doubt and regret over restarting my profile and wondered if it was just misguided loneliness. He cautioned me to not get into something I didn’t really want to do, and added this statement:

“We just want you to be with someone who deserves you.”

Yeah, that’s what I want too. If I meet that guy who makes me feel as good as I felt in class Monday night or who even makes me want to skip class to spend time with him, then maybe, just maybe, I’ll consider taking a swig of the proverbial grape soda. Until then, I’ll see you in class.

 

 

You Can Rest on Your Laurels, But Don’t Stay There Too long

apollo

“I’m just resting my eyes for two seconds!”

“I believe in my own skills. I just always try to look forward to what they can be rather than to always look back on what they used to be.”

This was my brother’s response to a friend complimenting him on his musical talent. My brother is a musician (primarily piano and keyboards), and has been able to support himself with his talent since graduating college. He’s proud of that fact, as is the rest of his family. His passion isn’t just his hobby; it also happens to be his paycheck. If only we could all be so lucky.

My brother’s no slouch, though. He works harder than most people I know, spending countless hours composing, rehearsing, teaching, and marketing. What he also hasn’t slacked off on is good old fashioned practice–building his skills and continuously improving them. As he said to his friend, he knows he’s good, and he also knows he can be better.

Good old fashioned practice is probably one of the things I enjoy most about being a somewhat freshly minted taekwondo black belt. Sure, I’ve learned new forms and self-defense techniques and will need to master them to test for my next black belt degree, but what I’ve spent the most time on since last fall has been refinement.

You don’t get a black belt and then just stop practicing…or you’re not supposed to anyway. Being a black belt is an ever-evolving process. Since I haven’t the pressure of a test hanging over my shoulder I’ve been able to relax and take a much deeper dive into taekwondo technique than I ever had time for as a color belt. I can always make little tweaks and adjustments. My front stance can always be sturdier, and my kicks can always be more precise and powerful. I can go back and add black belt level attention to detail to color belt forms and one-step sparring. I can try a wider variety of offensive and defensive moves in a sparring match. I can use my knowledge of color belt techniques to help other students improve their own skills.

The opportunities for growth are endless. And that’s a wonderful thing. It’s not a matter of being dissatisfied with one’s current situation–quite the opposite. It’s a matter of being infinitely curious and passionate.

If you’ve earned your college degree, married your childhood sweetheart, started a new job, or gotten your black belt in taekwondo, then celebrate! Be proud of your accomplishments. Relax and enjoy the moment. Go ahead and rest on your laurels…but don’t stay there too long. Don’t stagnate in what was. Look forward to what can be.

10 Signs You’re Dating a Female Martial Artist

karate couple

Love at first fight…

Fellas, do you have a sneaking suspicion your girl might be a martial artist? (That is, if she hasn’t mentioned it ad nauseam already). Here are some tell-tale signs that you might just have the coolest girlfriend in the world:

  1. She still likes manicures and pedicures but usually ruins them in a week by fighting and kicking focus pads.
  2. There is always a sweaty sports bra drying out on a doorknob somewhere in her house. Always.
  3. She has bruises on her forearms and shins and still rocks a sundress.
  4. She’s the one dragging you to the sports bar to watch a UFC match.
  5. She eats more than you do.
  6. She talks about her instructors, students, and practice more than she does work, family, or anything else.
  7. She’s honest, loyal, and hard-working.
  8. She respects and values herself.
  9. She doesn’t pull punches. (Literally or figuratively)
  10. She is a confident, beautiful badass, and you are lucky to have her!

Guest Post: To Treat or Not To Treat? How to Handle Your Martial Arts Injury

black knight

Check out this month’s guest post on BookMartialArts.com:

To Treat or Not to Treat? What to Do With Martial Arts Injuries

This article gets into the mind of the martial artist facing the dilemma of seeking treatment for pain or powering through and not slowing down the training schedule. I’ve been in physical therapy for nearly a year now, so you can guess which path I chose, stubborn as I was about it.

Thinking of starting your own Taekwondo journey? Interested in honing in your martial arts skills? From Kung Fu to Capoeira you can find, browse and book a vast selection of martial arts training camps at BookMartialArts.com, the world’s leading martial arts travel website.

Embracing the Squishy: Body Confidence One Day at a Time

Quote-be-confident-No-matter-what

There are parts of me that are bony. There are parts of me that are muscular. There are parts of me that are squishy. Often these parts are right up next to each other, which I think gives me an odd appearance (big sculpted and kinda bony shoulder, delicate wrist, soft batwing tricep hanging from a hard bicep), but it’s probably a lot closer to being “normal” than my perfectionist tendencies allow me to believe.

I tend to isolate my body parts. I thank genetics for the bony parts, take pride in the muscular parts, and admonish the squishy parts. I forget that these bony, muscular, and squishy parts all work in harmony to help me do really cool stuff like chop an onion, drive a car, swim laps, and beat other people up. Unfortunately it can be a little more difficult in today’s society to appreciate the squishy alongside the bony and the muscular.

Similar to the end-of-year holiday eating guilt trip, we are all being bombarded with the ads, messages, promises, and media-induced panic to get our bodies “ready” for the summer. What it really means is, “You don’t look good enough to wear a bathing suit yet, and holy crap, it’s June!!” Almost every week at the barre class at my gym, the instructor reminds us that summer is almost here, so we’d better squeeze our glutes and “zip up” our cores. Everyone is going on cleanses and amping up their workouts.

Of course the one place I don’t feel a barrage of mixed messages about body confidence is in taekwondo class. I don’t have time to think about whether my waistband feels too tight or if my butt looks big in my dobok. I’m too busy learning, practicing, fighting, coaching, and generally trying to not get hit in the face. Even if my waistband feels tight, um, there’s a f-cking black belt around it, so I’m doing just fine without washboard abs, thankyouverymuch.

Taekwondo reminds me of how powerful my body is. One night in class we were working on jumps. Sometimes for “fun,” we’ll drag out a thick mat, and two people will stand on either side holding a spare belt between them. Depending on the size, age, and rank of the student, the belt could be held anywhere between two and five feet off the ground. The student then takes a running start, leaps off the ground, tucks their legs in close to their body, and ideally clears the belt and lands softly and safely on the other side. The holders always keep the belt soft with slack in case the student doesn’t quite make it over. It’s meant to be used as practice for flying kicks, but usually ends up being more of a source of entertainment as the giggles (and applause) get louder and the gentle teasing increases.

I was knocking it out of the park. It probably helped that (1) I had done this drill many times before and (2) I was working on jumps in physical therapy earlier that day. I leapt over the belt with no problem and room to spare. There’s always a little rush of fear and adrenaline when I hoist myself off the ground, but I’ve learned to power through it and trust my awesome body to get the job done. I was proud of what my injured, aging body could accomplish.

That night as I undressed at home I caught my eye in the mirror, and my gaze inadvertently went straight to the squishy parts. Out of habit my mind turned to the inner critic that had dragged me down the dark road of disordered eating and body hatred for decades:
How can you work out all the time and still look like THAT?
Once a man figures out you’re not as skinny as you appear he’s going to reject you.
Are you really going to wear a two piece bathing suit at the pool this summer? Perhaps you should rethink that.
Why are you flabby? It’s not like you’ve had children and can justify it. You’re not allowed to look like that. [Sorry if I’ve offended any mothers. I’m just repeating what my mean-spirited mind said.]
I think you’d better skip your post-workout snack.

It took me a moment to remember that just thirty minutes ago my body, squishy parts, bulging lumbar disc, aching hips, irritated hamstring, and all, were helping me fight hard and fly through the air as if I were light as a feather.

“F_ck you! I look GOOD!” I said aloud to my inner critic.

I’m starting to believe that a little bit more every day. I’m still learning to love the squishy parts as much as I love the muscular parts. I still glance in the mirror anxiously to make sure the shadows under my cheekbones carve dark hollows into my face. I still count the bones of my sternum when I wear a low cut shirt. My hand still flies to the squishy parts, patting them down in hopes that they’ve shrunk. I’m surprised when I see how thin I look in photos. And then I remember that this body, every single piece of it, earned me my black belt.

Today, on a hot, humid, rainy Sunday, I bought not one but two bikinis. One is leopard print and the other has thick pop art colors and black lines. They weren’t my first two pieces, but there’s always that little voice that asks, “Should I??” My teenage and twenty something selves would be mortified at the thought of exposing my squishy parts. But the only thing I could think today when I was trying on the suits in a multi-mirrored dressing room was, “Damn, black belt, you look GOOD.”

As I write this I’m lying on a heating pad, feeling sorry for myself about my aching back and looking out the window at storm clouds. I certainly won’t be putting these bathing suits to use today or any time soon since there is more rain in the forecast. But it’s nice to know they’re waiting in a drawer for me. It’s nice to know that I’ve stood up to societal pressure to be perfect, and even more so, I was happy that I was beating back my slowly dying habit of harsh self-criticism. It’s nice to know that I’m starting, one day at a time, to embrace the squishy.