Friday, February 24, 2012

Something in Common

About a month ago, I got a PM on FaceBook from a karate friend I'd known for a few years. I'd seen her at a few seminars and workshops when I was an underbelt because her current sensei and my former sensei are brothers. Although I don't remember working with her at those outtings, because she was another female on the mat - and one who was many ranks my senior - I had lots of respect for her. Her husband - also an instructor and dan at their school - was never too far away.

The FaceBook message I got from her summed up why he was never that far away: she told me he had been physically and verbally abusive, the latter of which had actually gotten worse now that they are separated and she is filing for divorce.

She and I had had a pretty intense conversation via email once when I revealed that one of my son's high school friends was being abused by her boyfriend and she was really struggling with putting the nastiness of the physical abuse, the forced sex, the order of protection and the upheaval it all caused behind her. That email exchange was when I revealed to my karate friend that I had also been down a similar road with my ex - and that once upon a time, I also had to file an order of protection against him.

The first time he tried to hurt me, I was five months pregnant. It manifested itself as a very hostile, very hard, angry and mean-spirited push that sent me flying over a small piece of furniture - all because I had the audacity to disagree with him. I left the house we shared immediately and only came back many hours later after he apologietically swore it would never happen again. And yes, I believed him - and even almost managed to forget it ever happened - until five years later when he pushed me again, knocked me onto my back and straddled me while his hands wrapped around my throat. Once the shock and the tunnel vision wore off, all I could see over my ex's shoulder was my then four-year-old's tear-streamed face as he watched the entire 30-second spectacle.

A year later, my son and I were living in a small apartment on the other side of town. My ex came to that apartment one Sunday as we were heading out the door for church, ranting about wanting his son and attempting to rip him from my arms. In retrospect, it's probably a good thing that I hadn't started training yet as I went right into "Mama Bear" mode and ended up scratching him pretty good in an attempt to keep him away. I quite possibly might have broken a limb of his had I had more of a clue how to focus the chi that was swirling inside, who knows? Under the advice of the local police, I drove to the county courthouse the next day to file an order of protection. It took two more trips to the courthouse over two days get it done, but I did.

My karate friend's new order of protection presents a real problem in her dojo as she and her soon-to-be-ex can't be there to teach or learn at the same time. Suffering from PTSD and battling anorexia as a result of all she's been through, she said she'd only recently returned to training, but although she was still working on her stamina, she wasn't ready to give up karate altogether. After speaking with my sensei about it and receiving the go-ahead, I invited her to our class - an invite she took me up on last night. Still very thin, she had not been cleared to spar yet (her doc wants her to gain a few more pounds first) - but she was able to join us for warm-up, stretching and self-defense. She told us later that watching us spar really made her miss it and a little more anxious to return.

If you would have seen either of us in gi last night, you probably would not have had a clue about the crap we've been through with our significant others. Both of us are teachers of young, female karateka and instruct our students on escaping violence and fighting back intelligently if necessary, yet we both have been in "how the heck do I get out of this?" situations with people we loved. It may be automatically assumed that the person we may need to get away from is a stranger marking us from afar as a potential target/victim, but as my karate friend and I can attest to, acquaintances, friends and/or family members can be the perpitrators of violence, too. Just check out these statistics from the US Department of Justice:

* In 1992 and 1993, women were the victims of more than 4.5 million violent crimes, including approximately 500,000 rapes or other sexual assaults. In 29 percent of the violent crimes against women by lone offenders the perpetrators were intimates - husbands, former husbands, boyfriends or former boyfriends. The victims' friends or acquaintances committed more than half of the rapes and sexual assaults, intimates committed 26 percent, and strangers were responsible for about one in five.

* Forty-five percent of all violent attacks against female victims 12 years old and older by multiple offenders also involved offenders they knew.

*During 1992, approximately 28 percent of female homicide victims (1,414 women) were known to have been killed by their husbands, former husbands or boyfriends. In contrast, just over 3 percent of male homicide victims (637) were known to have been killed by their wives, former wives or girlfriends.

Nastiness comes in all shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, if you are a woman, chances are that nastiness might be shaped like someone you know. It might even wear a karate gi.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


This has been a heck of a year so far. I've lost several friends and acquaintances to breast cancer and several more to heart attacks and accidents. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, a call, email, text or Tweet would come about someone else's passing. The memorials and funerals have truly exhausted me, but they have gotten me thinking about legacy a lot more than ever.

My reality is this: I am a breast cancer survivor. Since there is absolutely no cure for this disease, the chance that it could come back with a vengence and take me away from my family is very real. Other than some meories and a few blog posts, what will be left of me after I'm gone? And what will those life left-overs say about me and what I did with my time here on earth?

The friends whom I lost recently ranged in age from 21 to 65 years of age. Their legacies include their children, their writing, their advocacy and the promise of what life had in store for them had they been here still to live it. They leave behind husbands and wives, children and Internet sisters, girlfriends and parents, relatives and friends who all remembered them "when" - when they were alive and kicking, doing their thing and living life like they had all the time in the world. Sadly, they didn't. How will the memories of who they were live on?

A few days ago, I was asked to write a bio for a presentation this spring. I was warned that writing about myself can be difficult - which I already knew, but I really had no idea why until I sat down to write this particular bio. Most of the people reading it will know me from the world of martial arts, although the award is for teaching outside the dojo. The truth is that I'm more than just a teacher and a karateka, but if you only see me in a gi or behind the podium in a lecture hall, you'd be none the wiser. The difficulty in writing about all you do and all you are, I found, is all about what NOT to include. Who wants their bio to read like they are a superhero?

But isn't that what we all are? Nobody just does one thing all their life - be that world politics, a more mundane day job or heading a fabulous yearly fund-raiser/event. We're all much more of a multi-faceted entity than how we can describe ourselves to someone we're meeting for the first time.

So this is who I am: mom, divorceé, wife-to-be, advocate for at-risk youth, college professor, karate student and instructor, track coach, former soccer coach, dancer, wanna-be drummer, rabid Prince fan, editor, writer, publisher, photographer, track star, best friend, payer of tuition, chief cook and dishwasher, dog walker, cat litter-scooper, blogger, dreamer - still, none of that completely captures...well...ME.

What I want people to know about me when I am no longer here for them to get to know for themselves is not the sound of my voice or my love of R&B. I want folks to know about my passion for doing what is right - be it in the dojo or with people who expect to learn something from me in the classroom or for folks who stumble across my breast cancer blog. I want people to know that I felt things while I was here - and that I tried my best to do something to help right as many wrongs as I could.

I've learned a little something from every person I've ever come in contact with, too. All of it - the good and the bad - have helped mold me into the person writing this today. As I learn more lessons, I have come to understand that I am still a work in progress - and I hope to be until the day I draw my last breath.

Thanks for being a part of my progress, dear reader. Thanks for letting me be a part of yours, too. But thanks mostly to the wonderful souls who have gone on. The facets you let shine were appreciated more than you could ever know.