Guest Post: How to Deal With Life’s Uncertainties Like a Black Belt

BookMartialArts.com, the website I occasionally write for, just retweeted this article. I forgot I’d written it! So, my readers, enjoy it again!

Little Black Belt

Check out my latest guest post on the martial arts travel site BookMartialArts.com:
How to Deal With Life’s Uncertainties Like a Black Belt 

This an expansion on a post I wrote several weeks ago. Life can be frustrating, scary, and stressful, but maintaining a black belt attitude (whether you’re a white belt, black belt, or not even into martial arts at all) can help you get through tough times with confidence and grace.

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Looking for a great way to lower your stress levels? Why not sign up for an affordable martial arts training camp? From Taekwondo to Krav Maga, BookMartialArts.com has camps on various types of martial arts disciplines to choose from!

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Can I Live Without Taekwondo?

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I haven’t been to taekwondo class in over a week. Not by choice–a sinus infection thanks to Texas allergies knocked me back pretty hard. I was thankfully able to attend a lovely banquet for the U.S. Taekwondo Grandmasters Society in Dallas last Saturday, but other than that my participation in the taekwondo world has been nil.

I haven’t done any forms at home, I haven’t mentally worked through my self defense techniques, I haven’t watched any training videos. My uniforms are all washed and neatly folded in a drawer, and my belt is coiled in my duffel bag, waiting for me. I didn’t do anything related to my practice. It seems like I can live without taekwondo. Or so I thought.

I talked to some of my classmates and instructors off and on for a few days, getting the gossip and funny stories about things that happened in class. By the end of the week communication dwindled to a trickle and finally to nothing. Having been burned several times in the past by giving my heart too freely, I’m pretty gun shy about pursuing communication with people who don’t appear to be very communicative. So I didn’t bother. I was too stubborn to reach out. Maybe I should have been the one to call, text, or even stop by, but I was too afraid of being rejected. Decades of hurt and mistrust overtook me and poisoned the relationships with people I love. Apparently they can live without me too.

Boredom set in, then an aching loneliness, then depression. I have cabin fever. Other than a ballet barre class yesterday I’ve been too tired and congested to exercise. I’ve hidden in my office during most of the workweek. I’ve been reading voraciously during all my time at home, taking full advantage of having a well-stocked library in my house. I’ve written in my journal a lot. I began mixing substances just to get the night over with, not really caring what effects they’d have on me.

To my horror I’m tempted to wrap my protective cocoon around me tighter and mutter, “Fuck all of you, I’m done,” when what I need the most is my familiar dojang and friends. But there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to go back at all. I’m safe at home with my books and my mood-altering substances. I’ve whittled myself down to 110 pounds and feel especially elated every time I step on the scale. I could get used to this. I’ve sunken into isolation before, and I’m very good at staying there. Maybe the relationships I thought were solid are just as superficial as all my other ones. Hiding in plain sight is easier than it sounds. Taekwondo is just an addiction that’s been masking my other addictions.

I’ve made the cruel discovery that not even taekwondo, what I thought was my saving grace, can fulfill whatever it is my heart is looking for. I was just clinging to it, like I had to other things or people, to make myself “happy.” I have to generate that within myself.

I can live without taekwondo, and taekwondo can certainly live without me. How arrogant of me to think that I’m an essential part of the school, part of the gang, one of the boys. I’m only a first degree black belt, just a student who plays dress up as teacher once in a while.

But I don’t like how I feel without taekwondo. I still need it. I’m heartbroken without it, yet I don’t like that I feel so vulnerable to admit it. I see how rapidly I declined without it in only a week. I’m angry that it has such a hold on me that I fall apart without its constant presence in my life. Will the spell be broken once I’m back in class?

Little Black Belt is Three! My Favorite Posts From the Past Year

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Hello readers! Today celebrates THREE YEARS of my blog! Thank you so much for reading, commenting, and supporting me on my continued taekwondo journey. During the past year I cut my teeth coaching at a few more tournaments, proudly saw fellow students test for and receive their black belts, wrote several guest posts for the martial arts travel website BookMartialArts.com, and I even had two guest writers contribute to my blog!

To celebrate my blog’s third birthday, here are my favorite posts from April 2016-April 2017:

1. Getting Fat Shamed as a Size Four (April 2016) One of the most popular posts of my blog and one of the most difficult for me to write. I didn’t let a humiliating insult keep me down.
2. 10 Signs You’re Dating a Female Martial Artist (June 2016) This one always shows up in my blog stats for some reason. People keep reading it. If and when I’m ready to date again maybe I’ll refer them to this post.
3. You Can Rest on Your Laurels, But Don’t Stay There Too Long (July 2016) A lesson I learned from my musician brother. 
4. Why I Like Mean Girls (August 2016) My instructor has a knack for turning his female students into mean girls, and it’s awesome. This post explains why.
5. When Life Takes a Swing at You (September 2016) Shit went down in my personal life, and I maneuvered through it like a black belt.
6. Turning Lemons Into Limoncello (October 2016) The second worst yoga class of my life taught me a valuable lesson in self-reliance.
7. Teaching Means You’re Learning for Two (December 2016) The most meaningful part of being a black belt is sharing what I love with others.
8. In Defense of Complacency: When Good Enough Is Good Enough (December 2016) Another popular post that argues the case against striving for perfection every single time.
9. Channeling Your Power: When Brute Force Just Doesn’t Cut It (February 2017) How teaching a teenager the nuances of poomsae helped me appreciate the nuances of approaching life’s challenges.
10. Don’t Forget Where You Came From (Feb 2017) The case for always being a “good white belt.”

So…I Stopped Eating Meat

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I haven’t eaten meat for the past three months…well, six months, really, but with a caveat. I stopped eating meat on September 12, 2016. Exactly two months later I made an exception for a gyro, pastitsio, and souvlaki at the local Greek food festival and later meatloaf for dinner. Worth it. Gyros, you guys, come on, gyros. Then I went right back to not eating meat. I had a little bit of meat over Thanksgiving and Christmas, and when I got on the plane to fly back home after the holidays I was done.

Before I move on, let me just do my instructor and other Texas friends favor and yell “HIPPIE!” Yes, yes, I know. I am a hippie.

Going vegetarian was not difficult for me. I’ve done it before, and even during periods when I ate meat, I rarely ate it every day. It’s not so much that I’m giving up meat (and most of the time dairy, but I’m still hanging on to my local farmer’s market eggs), but rather, I’m taking the opportunity to eat a boatload of vegetables and fruits plus keep up the good work with whole grains and nuts. I’m much more likely to make vegetables the star of the meal when meat isn’t an option.

Meat and I just don’t work well together. It tastes good, and I’m daydreaming about a gyro right now as I write this, but it’s not nice to me, especially beef. One year I spent a week with my then-boyfriend’s family at Christmas. While his parents were fabulous cooks, nearly all the meals were centered around their hearty Bolivian diet of beef, white rice, potatoes, and thick bread. By the end of the week I felt very sick, heavy, and unable to digest anything. I felt awful. The starchy carbs didn’t help, but I knew it was the beef that was doing a number on my digestive tract. I’d never craved green vegetables so much in my life.

Sometimes I can’t even get meat down into my unhappy digestive tract. Just about every time I eat beef, chicken, or pork, no matter how tender it is or how tiny of a bite I take, it gets caught in my throat. I’d rather not be strangled by my own food. (How ironic would it be if I choked on a baby octopus?) Plus—and this is a big reason—I’ve seen and read way too much about factory farming and slaughterhouses to in good conscious continue eating meat from nationwide producers. And I still occasionally eat dairy and eggs and own several leather accessories and pieces of furniture so I’m not going to pretend to be absolved of being involved in this process. I do what I can even though it’s minimal. My blog is not my political platform, so I’ll leave it at that. You can learn more on your own if you choose.

I can hear you asking: But you still eat fish, right? NOPE. I hate the taste and smell of fish and never eat it anyway, plus I’m allergic to shellfish, so giving that up was a non-issue. I don’t get people who claim to be vegetarian but proclaim they still eat fish. It’s from an animal, therefore it’s meat nor do I understand that question when I say I follow a vegetarian diet. My brother and I used to argue with our Catholic Sunday school teachers that eating fish on non-meat days didn’t make sense. Have you ever seen a fish gutted and cleaned alive? I’ve seen plenty, and the fish are PISSED. It’s an animal, duh! I guess if I wanted to do penance I’d choke down some fish because I hate it so much. Forgive me, Father for I have sinned, let me just skip the Hail Marys, hold my nose, and eat this disgusting packet of tuna so I can be absolved of my sins…

I feel good! I’ve lost nearly 10 pounds over the past few months. Some of that was due to some unexplained stomach problems, but I think not going to Arby’s and Jack in the Box and eating more fruits and vegetables helped.

But where do I get my protein? I get plenty of protein; I’m just fine. Animal products are not the only source of protein. I still eat eggs, plus avocado, nuts, tofu (to the point that I actually crave it, mmmm!), beans, lentils, almond or coconut milk, seeds, and of course, God’s gift to humanity, peanut butter. More plant-based food sources than you think have protein such as quinoa, steel cut oats, leafy greens, and broccoli…yes, really!

So what DO I eat? More like what DON’T I eat! I eat just about anything other than meat of course, lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and eggs and cheese on occasion (and chocolate…and alcohol). I’m not vegan although my diet ends up being vegan many days. I have plenty of energy for the taekwondo classes I attend 4-6 days a week. And I don’t care what some of these purist fat-phobic hippies in the vegetarian/vegan world say, I’m not giving up olive oil. Not because it’s a source of healthy fat but because I’m ¼ Italian and cook everything with it. I can’t give up olive oil now, not while a picture of my Nonon is glaring at me from my living room mantelpiece.

I try to stay away from refined carbs and processed foods, although I have to have a little bit of the junk poison from time to time…okay, sometimes more than a little bit. I once knew a “vegetarian” who only ate mac & cheese and cheese pizzas so it is possible to avoid meat and still have a very unhealthy diet, but I haven’t quite fallen that low yet…well….Uh…I had a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for dinner Sunday night and okay, so I had a grilled cheese sandwich and fries Monday night, but that was after a REALLY hardcore taekwondo workout, shut up, whatever! (Sigh) Was it vegetarian? Yes. Was it full of helpful nutrients? NOPE. Will I eat that stuff on the regular? Nah, probably not. I did put fresh raspberries in my cereal and used an almond/coconut milk blend. That should count for something, right?

During my little meat-eating holiday interlude did I my mother’s delicious Thanksgiving stuffing made with Italian sausage? OH HELL YES. Did I eat her Christmas Beef Wellington? F-ckin’ A, you know I did, and I even took on the job of wrapping the tenderloin pieces in puff pastry. If I go to someone’s house and they make a special meal just for me that includes meat, will I eat it? Yes, I probably will to be polite although I’ll be piling on the veggie side dishes. But 95% of the time I’ll pass on the meat and load up on plants. But then there’s this BBQ place I’ve been stalking for a while. As a Texan it’s my duty to try it out…maybe on my birthday. Just one time.

So what did I eat today? I had egg and veggie tacos for breakfast with some raspberries on the side, brown rice/quinoa pasta with homemade marinara for lunch plus a clementine, and Thai vegetables and tofu with brown rice for dinner and a big fat juicy navel orange afterwards. Yummy and satisfying! (And a tad more healthy than sugary cereal and fries)

Should you go vegetarian? That’s entirely up to you. If you’re into fitness and want to explore a vegetarian diet a good blog to check out for tips is No Meat Athlete by Matt Frazier. Frankly I don’t care what anyone else eats so I’m not going to judge anyone for eating meat. Like sexual orientation, reproductive choices, and religion, what other people eat is none of my business. I just know this works well for me. If you’re looking for something to shake up your diet and help you eat healthier, then consider joining me on the green side and giving a plant-based diet a try.

Guest Post: The Best Sports to Complement Your Martial Arts Training

running on the beach

Hey Little Black Belt readers! Do you want to supplement your martial arts training with another sport or activity? Check out my latest guest blog post from BookMartialArts.com:

The Best Sports to Complement Your Martial Arts Training

Looking for something fun to add to your martial arts repertoire? Why not sign up for an affordable martial arts training camp? From Taekwondo to Krav Maga, BookMartialArts.com has camps on various types of martial arts disciplines to choose from!

My How You’ve Grown

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Silence surrounded me other than the ticking clocks I love to have in my home. Afternoon sun poured into my living room as I settled into my recliner. On my lap was a plain brown envelope–my medical records. One of my physicians, a specialist I’d been seeing for years for a chronic condition, had passed away suddenly. I wanted to get a copy of my records so I could easily transition to another doctor, but I mostly wanted to see them just because. 

I was a little nervous about reading my doctor’s notes this afternoon. I was very sick when I first started seeing him. By the time I found him I was desperate. My health had rapidly deteriorated, and I was nearly out of options. I slowly opened the envelope and pulled out the stapled packet of notes. I was curious about his initial thoughts the first time he met me. He saw what my illness had done to me. He’d seen me through remissions and relapses. Sometimes he seemed concerned or disappointed with my ongoing struggles. Sometimes he was cheerful and proud of my progress. What had he really thought of me?

The last time I saw him, though, we agreed that I’d made vast improvement over the last five years. And I have. I am not the same person I was when I first saw him at age 32…or am I? Had I really changed? Were my records going to reveal the piece of me that I’d worked so hard to fight off? Was it still there? Had I made as much progress as I’d thought? Had I really gotten my health back, and would I never be able to let my guard down?

His notes not only told the story of my treatment and healing but of all the good things I did with my life during a very difficult period. His first entry of notes mentioned that I was in the process of buying a house. Later entries mentioned closing on the house, changing jobs, and completing my MBA. The next to last entry mentioned how excited I was about receiving my black belt. That one made me smile and tear up a little. I wasn’t so bad after all. I really had done something good with my life despite the ways my condition threatened to hinder me.

I have him to thank for helping me get my health back, and even more so, I have taekwondo to thank. He was a huge help, but taekwondo was the clincher. It helped me get my life and my health back on track. It is the absolute best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Getting me well was a team effort.

When I cross paths with my departed doctor in the next life I hope I’ll have a chance to shake his hand and tell him that I turned out okay.

Finding Fresh Ways to Learn…Or, I Geek Out at a Forms Seminar

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This past weekend I attended a poomsae (forms) referee seminar sponsored by USA Taekonwdo, the national governing body for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and is a member of the World Taekwondo Federation. I’m not really interested in judging or refereeing at tournaments, but since forms are one of my favorite aspects of practicing taekwondo, I was curious enough to sign up.

I figured it would be good to know what judges were looking for so I could prepare our students (and myself) to compete in forms at the next tournament and just improve our daily practice in the dojang. Plus I get a little tired of always being on the facilitator side of training, so once in a while I like to be a participant and learn something new.

Oh my, the math and the details! I knew when we were handed a sample of the official scoring sheet that our brains were going to be spinning. We discussed accuracy and presentation (and the sub-categories of each), major deductions versus minor deductions, disqualifications, and rules for recognized forms versus freestyle forms. I didn’t realize how much and quickly forms judges need to react, calculate, and recalculate all within about a minute of a competitor performing a form.

The fun part began when the instructor began demonstrating details (both mistakes and what judges want to see) of kicks, blocks, strikes, and stances. “Is that a major or minor mistake?” he’d frequently ask. As the morning went on our answers were more confident, and we’d nod and smile in recognition. He then began performing combinations of forms and asked us to critique through the lenses of accuracy and presentation.

While the instructor used Taegeuk forms for most of the examples, which I am not familiar with (we practice the older, more traditional Palgwe forms at my dojang), he did make several references to the black belt forms Koryo and Keumgang, so I had light bulbs exploding over my head during those moments…if anyone saw me nodding and whispering “Ah-haaaa” while scribbling down notes it was probably during the Keumgang examples.

Did I not have a clue about accuracy or presentation during the Taegeuk combinations? Of course not. It turns out that technique is technique is technique, which I suspected all along. It’s not like the Taegeuk forms have completely different movements. A low block is a low block no matter where it falls in the form. Alignment, accuracy, tempo and rhythm, power…those are key elements we teach as well with our Palgwe forms.

And lest anyone think I’m cheating on my own home dojang instructors, I still defer to their teaching methods when I’m practicing my own forms or coaching another student. However, it’s nice to get an outsider’s perspective once in a while, even when I disagreed on some of the finer details. For a poomsae nerd like me, talking about nothing but forms for four hours was heaven.

Now to truly prove that one can use transferrable knowledge to a new situation (meaning, I can perform and judge a form blindly) I probably should have stayed for the second part of the day when the class was going to perform several Taegeuk forms. Technique is technique, right? I should just be able to learn and perform the form on the spot since I’m supposedly good at forms and pay a lot of attention to detail, right?

Well…yeah…but I opted out, mostly because I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time since I’d just slow down the process (everyone else knew the forms). I also knew my Koryo and Keumgang were different enough stylistically that I’d stand out if we did the black belt forms, and I happen to prefer my ways of doing Koryo and Keumgang. And…well…I had company coming that afternoon and figured opening a fresh bottle of wine would be a better use of my time.

I thanked the instructor, told him the lecture and demonstration portion was fabulous, and assured him that I could apply everything I learned that morning back in my home dojang. The seminar inspired me to refine my own forms practice even more, and it gave me some language and talking points to use when I give feedback to other students.

The moral of the story: seek out continuing education in whatever it is you love to do whether you’re feeling stale, looking for a new perspective, wanting to learn a new skill, or simply want to enhance and revitalize your practice.