Sunday, June 30, 2013

...And A Fun Time Was Had By All

Remember that joy I touched on in the last post? I just realized that I spent so much time detailing the ugliness that happened at the end of the grading that I totally forgot to tell you about all the wonderful things that happened up until that point - namely that our school promoted its first student to shodan :-)
Training partner Ed ties on Andrew's new belt

Meet Andrew. He'll be 20 in a few months and began karate about five years ago. We met at my old, old school (two senseis ago). He followed training partner Ed and me to our new locale about six months or so after we began. He's a wonderful young man - hard-working, dedicated and in love with all things martial, despite the slight mental challenge he has. He is, by far, one of the hardest working and most resilient folks I've ever met - often arriving early and staying as late as possible - even when he has to leave early from class to get to work (although it exasperates his mom - who, I'm sure, often wondered how she would drive from the dojo to his job site in the five minutes he'd given her because he wanted to get just one more kata or self-defense technique in before he bowed out and changed clothes).

Andrew is one of the only folks in the dojo who is as tall as I am (he's actually a little taller - about 6'3"). When we spar, I try to encourage him to use his length, the one thing that seems to be hard for folks with long limbs to realize is a true advantage. Like me, he tends to want to fight "small," choking his kicks and punches in order to blend in and look like everyone else. Been trying to have him extend and do what those long limbs of his are totally capable of: reaching someone who thinks they are "safe" and out of striking distance. We've been saying this for a while now: when that young man learns how to reach out and really touch people, not too many folks will want to stand in front of him for kumite, that's for sure.

Last Saturday, he worked his butt off during his three hour grading. By the time sparring was to begin, he'd been through a thoroughly cup-emptying warm-up, bunches self-defense techniques, every kata in the syllabus and tameshiwara against three boards that snapped like twigs and a cinder block that did not even wiggle when he tried to go through it. Suffice to say he was pretty exhausted - so much so that his gi was so wet from his sweat that it was dripping.

Still, he had 18 30-second to one-minute fights to get through. At one point, I had to pull him aside and remind him to conserve and reserve, because he still had quite a few folks left to spar and he was going at everyone like it was the last round. The black belts on deck were literally salivating...

Quite a defensive fighter who normally waits for the attack then counters, he was so tired near the end he could barely keep his hands up. But then a wonderful thing happened: he stopped thinking and began re-acting. Here is fight #16 - against a 9th-Dan - where he simply did what his instincts told him to do, resulting in a near joint lock of Hanshi McGrath's ankle. It was so very cool to watch because a fresh Andrew never would have seized that opportunity (and yes, that's my big mouth you hear during the round; I always forget that cameras record sound, too!).

So, yeah, foolishness at day's end aside, A good time really was had by all - including Andrew and the 27 other students who graded that day. Congratulations to them and welcome to yudansha, Andrew!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lessons From An Asshat

This post should be subtitled "Don't Let Anyone Steal Your Joy" - a reminder to me of how very necessary it is establish boundaries. Let me explain...

Yesterday was the spring grading at my teaching dojo. A young man with a minor mental challenge -  who started in my old dojo and came to join us about two and a half years ago at the school training partner Ed and I started - graded for Shodan - our first. It was a very big deal - and as a result, we invited all of the amazing martial artists we've trained with and under over the past decade to come and see him test. Most of them accepted - including the instructor I parted ways with last October. It was an amazing time - with 27 other students grading as well, and we ran almost completely on schedule and without a hitch - at least until it was all over and everyone had said their goodbyes.

I had personally thanked everyone of the black belts who ventured north to be a part of the day's events, but once the chairs and mats were put away and the place was cleaned up, I followed up with a few (individual) texts to everyone saying the same. My former instructor didn't just respond with "You're welcome - and thanks for inviting me/I was honored to attend!" as most everyone else did; he had to toss in his take on why he thought our karate affiliation ended. Totally ego-driven, erroneous and unnecessary, his words made me see red and slide right into "fight or flight" tunnel vision mode. I. Was. FURIOUS.

My very first impulse was to call him up and rip him a new one, but I knew there was no way to do that without a profanity-ridden tirade which would cause me to not be heard at all. So I decided to ignore his ignorance and keep it moving. Unfortunately, I ended up thinking about it for the rest of the damn day before the real reason I was so upset finally hit me: ignoring his foolishness was ALWAYS the way I'd handled similar nonsense - and it only seemed to net more of the same nonsense. When someone else called him on his crap (usually training partner Ed), he would quickly and profusely apologize - before repeating the nastiness again, catching us all in a wash/rinse/repeat vicious cycle of "I treat ya badly --> apologize --> start the crazy all over again." And you know why? Because we allowed him to.

After my divorce, my son and my ex went through a very rocky period that lasted for years. When my son got a little older - mid-teens or so - and the "Why does my dad treat me like this?" questions started to intensify, I finally had a heart-to-heart sit-down chat with him. We talked for hours, and this is what I finally said: People will treat you as badly as you let them. Really, the point I was trying to hammer home to him was that although he could not control his father's actions one iota, he most certainly had control over how he reacted to them - as well as the ability to check the madness and call his dad on it so it was understood that it simply wasn't going to be tolerated anymore.

So yesterday, my now almost 20 year old son quoted that very same advice I'd given him right back to me (he's an amazing young man!). As a result, I took my time and responded to my former instructor via text - as respectfully as I could (ummm...without the profanity, basically) - with what loosely amounted to a "Look, I cannot allow you to act like an asshole to me anymore. Let's just call it a day and lose each other's contact info, OK?" What he does from here is not my concern or my problem. This conversation was one that most certainly should have happened face-to-face, but I wasn't capable of it yesterday, and I won't be tomorrow, or next week or even the week after that - and I felt this had to be addressed post haste. Writing it out gave me a chance to calm down and organize my thoughts without being too reactionary or explosive. Truthfully, I'm kinda proud of myself for saying what I felt and not letting this one go.

I'm sure we will eventually have that face-to-face conversation, and when we do, I'm pretty sure I will be as calm as I am now, because I learned a valuable lesson in all this: confronting an asshat is a lot like confronting a bully: it is hard as hell, but necessary if you want the asshat-ery to stop.

People will treat you as badly as you let them - so don't let them treat you badly.