Saturday, January 8, 2011

A human butterball turkey walks into a martial arts school...

It definitely helped that I knew people there already. To be honest, I was embarassed in that "I'm-about-to-make-a-terminal-fool-of-myself" kind of way, but to my surprise, people were more impressed than anything. Several of the teenaged black belts gave me a high five and said "Way to go!" Well baste me up and call me turkey dinner! I was so shocked and delighted.
Much of my first days are a blur. My kicks were a truly sorry thing to see. I could tap your ankle and annoy you, yessiree, but oh, yes, while I was at it, I would be hanging onto you so I wouldn't fall over (although sifu (teacher) told me it was quite legitimate to hold my victim in place while I whacked the bejeebers out of him). I know how dubious my expression was--over and over--when they told me what new impossibility I was to tackle next. (Really? In the air? Then on the floor? With what?)
Still, I concentrated hard and paid attention and tried with no regard to whether I could do it or not--which is a point I would like to make about life in general. If I had a nickel for every thing I've tried even not believing for a minute that I could do it--and then managed it just fine--I would be retired in the Riviera, pinching the tushies of all those adorable young waiters in their thong Speedos. Scrapbooking, knitting, beading, writing, drawing with colored pencils, sculpting, singing, weight lifting--tried all of them and generally succeeded quite well. Painting with oil paints, making useful pottery--total failures. You can't do things only because you believe you will succeed. You have to try them because they intrigue you, because you want to and never once worry about success or failure. You must simply do them because.
Belt cycles for brown and under (it goes white (comes with the uniform), yellow, orange, purple, blue, green, brown, red and black at Premier Martial Arts--a wonderful school in Olympia, Washington) go in three month cycles. The cycle I entered was 1/3 over when I started; I had a lot of catching up to do. This was a whole new culture and I came into it on the level of a newborn with the mind and head of what I was--a 53 year old, college-educated professional with my own ideas. Some people might be able to wipe themselves clean; I had to figure out how to blend my own ideas harmoniously and respectfully with this new way of being--not to mention remember an awful lot of details! One new friend advised me--"get a notebook and write it down!" I scoffed for about a month. I now have two notebooks. One to write the first time; one to copy into to cement the knowledge into my brain.
Over and over I proved that I could do it, whether I initially believed I could or not. Sure, when I did do it, I was hardly as good as even the most uncoordinated child there. I was routinely outclassed by toddlers.
On the other hand, I discovered I had some real strengths. First and foremost was just--strength. Secretly, hidden carefully beneath my round and squishy surface, is a small titanium tank. Thirteen years of heavy weight lifting--I was the strongest woman at both gyms I had patronized--made me far stronger than I looked. And while from shin down I was (and am) disadvantaged, all that strength and the speed and reaction times given to me by my case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD--that's another story) made me surprisingly effective at sparring. More than one teenaged black belt started out thinking they would baby the old bat, get a look of horrified surprise, and then started fighting for their lives. And then, of course, I had, with a gleam in my eye, to tell them "Honey, I was 40 when you were born." And to the occasional scoffer I would add "Would your grandmother be doing this?" Uniformly, that answer was "no."
The day I got my yellow belt was one of the best in my life. I look back on my pictures and cringe (which I usually do), but I am also delighted. I was still short. I was still fat. My legs looked like tree trunks (and still do). My belly was and still is a personal mortification. But I had done it. And I was (and am) out there and doing it.
More still to come...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I wish I'd started this blog last year!

If you had told me in June of 2009 that today, right now, I would have a brown belt in martial arts, I would have looked at you as if you had sprouted antlers. And a third eye. And tentacles in an unspeakable (and unviewable) place. Not. Happening. Not. Possible.
My granddaughter had been doing martial arts for about a year then and I would come in and watch, the kid in me simply yearning to do it, too. But how? I was (and am) a butterball turkey of a woman--diabetic, numb from shin down, mild vertigo with the tendency to topple over sideways without warning and a complete inability to get my tush off the ground. So I merely yearned, quietly, because it was a ridiculous yearning (that began when everybody else my age did--watching Kung Fu on TV) and I fear the laughter of others.
Still, I confided all the above to a trusted friend at work, who happens to have a second degree black belt. I was flabbergasted when she replied, "Nuh-uh. You can too do it! We can teach ANYbody!" I gave her a dubious look, but secretly, my courage was bolstered, and on a delusional pillow of hopefulness, I went and repeated the same thing to the teacher at my daughter's martial arts school.
You could have knocked me over when she said "Sure! We can teach you! We'll modify things! We'll accommodate you!"
I said "Okay, I'll sign up soon! Like next month!" The panic was setting in and I was backing away as fast as I could and JUST as I nearly escaped, her husband said, "Here, come into the office! We'll sign you up and see you on Thursday!"
EEEK! What had I done? They handed me the uniform, the biggest one they had. Naturally, the pants did not fit (did I mention the whole butterball turkey thing?)
I fretted all that night. I fretted all the next day. Fretfully, I donned the gi. My granddaughter, as we walked to my car said "I'm scared Nana!"
"Why, honeylamb?"
"I'm afraid they'll hate you because you're fat and you don't know what you're doing," she replied, looking up at me worriedly.
"Oh, honey, it's no secret that I'm fat, and if they don't like me because of it, that's their problem, not mine. And of course I won't know what I'm doing. I've never done this before!"
The closer I got, the more worried I was, but at the same time, I thought--fine. I don't know what I'm doing. I am going to look like a complete idiot, but that is rarely fatal. And I will fail, and I will fail, but I will continue until I stop failing. What do I have to lose?
And so, with fear and trembling, I went through those double doors as a student, not a proud and beaming grandmother, sitting on the sidelines.