Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hair's the Thing...

Warning: This is a particularly female-friendly post. If you've never had to hold your hair back with bobby pins and a headband or you've never dumped out your gear bag in a mad search for a scrunchy before class, you may, of course, still read this, but some of the references may leave you scratching your head.

A few months ago, I read a post on a martial arts message board about what female practitioners do with their do when training.The original poster asked if others always wore their hair up/back or always wore it down and free when training and why. The answers were pretty thoughtful, with most women either cutting their hair short or wearing it back to keep it out of their faces on the mat. A few said they generally kept it down, just like they do during other parts of their day for the sake of "realism" - meaning that if they found themselves in the middle of a confrontation on the street without a hair-tie, they didn't want to have to worry about how they would deal with tangled or grabbed tresses.

Realism for me is that my hair most often behaves during class but becomes an absolute hard-to-manage mess after. That makes converting back to Corporate America Jane the next day that much tougher because my hair always seems to look like I've just been in a fight. Not the look I'm going for at all.

I've got what my dojo family hears me refer to as BGH - Black Girl Hair. It's thick and dry without a consistent curl/wave pattern in its natural state, although I haven't seen that natural state in a while thanks to the chemicals to relax the curl that I've been putting in it since I was about nine years old. It used to behave when I was dressed in anything but my PJs - until I started training on tracks and in weight rooms at age 15. Moisture (that includes sweat) tends to make my want to curl again - which is why washing it is such a major ordeal and something that just can't be done every day (once weekly is the goal).

But it's not just the washing that's the thing; it's the relaxing and the styling. And since I'm getting older, it's also the coloring to cover the grey. Suffice to say that as I've..umm...matured and my training has grown to include more days each week, my hair has become more and more of an expensive, stress-inducing, time-leeching aggravation - and that just ain't cool.

Since college, I've been the one doing all the work on my do as regular visits to the salon - other than to get it trimmed - were not something I could afford (for those guys still reading: a salon trip for a wash/"set" or relaxer/perm and cut costs $50-$80 and can be closer to $100 if you add coloring). I have a few friends who say they couldn't be bothered with all that hair-doing - so they spend hours and hours a pop in the salon. Highlights, braids, extensions and coloring all take major maintenance, which means you sort of get to know your stylist pretty well because you see him/her so often. I simply do not have time for that.

I dyed my hair last weekend. It literally took three days before it stopped looking like a Brillo pad and began to look like it did before I whipped out my box of Dark and Lovely. That's three days of scrunchies, folks. It was just. sad.

This past Thursday was a long, 13-hour day for me - culminating with an evening meeting that pre-empted class. By the time I got home, my hair was flying every which way and looked quite tore up from the floor up. Had I dyed my hair Rihanna Red instead of jet black, I would have seriously looked like a brown Bozo the Clown.

So yesterday, after a few suggestions on where to go for a good cut from some friends, I hit the salon. My goal was to get my coife cut into something that was easy to manage in the mad dash that is my morning (I'm talking finger-fluff and go) but could also hold up under a sparring helmet without looking like a spiky rat's nest after a two-hour class. I found a picture of style I liked in one of my old Essence magazines and was off to meet Christina at Fantastic Cuts.

"So" she said when she picked up the scissors after I'd been shampooed and dried. "Are you sure you want to cut it so short?" And I was. I only second-guessed for a fleeting moment when the hair that used to be attached to my head started piling up on the floor around us.

But the finished product was amazing - if I do say so myself. The back is scalp short, but the sides and top are long and even (no layers that will take forever to style). It dips over one eye so I can look serious and serene in my work uniform (glasses and kitten heels) and ready to roll in my other one (a gi). I didn't really sweat too much in class last night (it was a "thinking" night), but it wasn't flying everywhere and wiry at evenings end. When I got home, I dabbed it with some leave-in overnight product, wrapped it in my trusty scarf and called it a night. This morning when I untied the scarf and fluffed with my fingers, it was good to go!

The tally:
Shampoo, cut and tip: $50.
New teeny-weeny flat iron from the beauty supply shop down the road: $25
Time spent getting my do done: two hours
Having one less thing to stress over each morning: Priceless :-)

I should have done this years ago...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Diamonds in the Rough

Yesterday, our little group from the Salvation Army caravanned up to Herkimer, NY for the Diamond Valley Classic Karate Tournament. Always a good mix of styles and talent, it was the very first tournament most of our students had ever competed in last year. Back then, they were brand new and not quite sure what this karate thing was about, but willing to give the tournament a shot. Although winning was not the focus, I'd be lying if I said it that watching our youngest competitors (all of five years old) leave their ring holding trophies that were almost as big as they were didn't make me smile a little.

This year, all but two of our students had competed before so the venue, format and time schedule were not new to them at all. They were focused and ready to compete - so much so that more than a few folks came up to us during and after the tournament to make a comment or two. They weren't just talking about the katas or sparring. Training partner Ed and I heard time and time again about our students' confidence and poise - and how gracious and humble they were both when they won and when they didn't. For us, that is what it's all about.

In the middle of the meet, the director called us over and asked us to wait with him for a moment in the center of the gym. He then presented us with the Top School award. It was our turn to be humbled - by the very students we instruct.

There was some amazing competition in all divisions (check out this video of weapon's grand champion Sensei Jeff Melander to see for yourself), but that wasn't all there was to see yesterday. Outside of the ring, I saw one of my parents tear up as he watched/filmed his seven-year-old's first ever kata presentation. I watched my sensei and many other high-ranking dans get out of their seats after judging all day, step into the ring to spar/present kata and give clinics on how to do the damn thing. And every Grand Championship given out yesterday - for kata, weapons and men's and women's kumite - was awarded to black belts in the "Executive" (over 35) Division. Score FOUR for the old-heads :-)

Here's what the Grand Champion's plaque looks like (this one happens to be hanging on the wall in my den now :-):

My honey was there with us - filming and helping with the parents to hand out water, fruit and granola bars and to get everyone to their proper rings on time. I watched the video this morning, saw some kata and kumite that I missed while judging and competing and remembered what an amazing learning tool video is. But even for those who haven't seen any video yet, I'm sure they learned as much as I did - including the fact that there is always more to learn. Hats off to you, Shin Ri Tan Kyu Martial Arts Academy students, for doing your best and re-enforcing the idea that a family (ryu) is much more than the people you happen to be related to.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Trouble in Paradise

My home life is usually a pretty cool place to be. Last night, however, I got grief from my significant other for the time I spend away from it. I thought he was talking about my time in the dojo or gym or on my way to the dojo or gym as the class I take is two hours away and I also teach locally two nights a week. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that he was really complaining about the amount of time I spend with my training partner, Ed.

I met Ed about four years ago in the gym. Ironically, I'd happened to wear a t-shirt with a Goju fist on it that day (and that's ironic because I had never worn that shirt before and I haven't worn it since); since he'd just moved to our suburb from NYC and wasn't aware that there was a Goju dojo in the area, he saw my shirt and inquired about where I trained. His wife was on the treadmill next to him so I met her at the same time.

We've trained together ever since. We did forms and Ippons side-by-side every day for six months before our shodan grading. We left our old instructor/school together and have traveled the hour each way to get to class with our (now not-so) new instructor twice a week for the past two-and-a-half-years. We started a karate program for youngsters at the Salvation Army together and we teach side-by-side two days a week. He and his family have eaten at my dinner table and my family has eaten at his. Retired from a career in corrections, he was also my son's barber for quite a while and was one of the many people who helped teach him how to drive. Suffice to say he's very much like a brother to me.

So, yeah, I guess we do spend a lot of time together - karate time. I was the first one to congratulate him when we got the news he would be testing for nidan earlier this year and he was the first to console me when we knew I wouldn't be testing along side him - purely happenstance, as I was in class kneeling next to him when the announcement came. Our relationship is purely plutonic - or as another friend put it, karate-tonic. He's a good egg.

My honey, howeverer doesn't quite get this. Although he studied Judo as a kid and joined our class for a few months this summer, I'm not sure the idea of the never-ending pursuit of learning that is the martial arts makes sense to him. He does have other interests and understands athletic goals (he's a coach of a nationally ranked track team and still competes in the sport himself) but this martial path seems totally foreign to him. And I'm not quite sure what to do about that.

If you have a spouse or partner that is not a martial artist, how do they feel about the amount of time you spend teaching and learning? How do you deal with those feelings?