Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sandan: The Brand with the Three Stripes

Last Saturday, my school held its annual year-end grading. This time, I was on the floor grading, too.

I hate grading. Worse than going to the dentist. Worse than doing my taxes. Worse than dealing with my ex. Yes, it's that bad - and if I never had to do it again, I'd be totally fine with that.

But since yondan Training Partner Ed tossed my name in the hat, I was added to the candidate's list. Groovy.

My training - in an actual dojo - has been a sporadic mess due to my looks-like-retail-but-it-ain't work schedule. When grading was first mentioned, I thought it was a joke.

Right after my hair exploded...
Then came a request for a karate bio, which had to be submitted via email and include previous grading dates, rank earned and ranking instructor. After that was approved, a 50-question test was emailed to me. It was designed to be research-based (in that you were supposed to look stuff up) but it was hard. I mean REALLY hard.

In academia, the one adage always heard is this: knowing the format of the test is half the battle. I had no idea what the format of the test would be at all. Training Partner Ed worked with me - as he has for every grading since sankyu - on self-defense and kata bunkai and the like. Bunkai was a bit tricky because some of the last katas I've learned are straight Goju-Ryu, not USA Goju, which made some movements and angles different. We ironed out the wrinkles for about three weeks before the grading, but my brain was fried.

On grading day, the format was pretty similar to almost every other grading - cup-emptying warmup --> kata ---> bunkai, but the bunkai was a bit different; they had each of the four black-belt candidates (two for sandan, one for nidan and one for shodan) do a kata of his/her choice and extrapolate three techniques from the kata and demonstrate the bunkai with ukes. J, the other sandman candidate, chose Superempi as his kata (one I'm still learning) and really did the daggone thing. I chose Shisochin, but had six techniques to demonstrate. Two friends/fellow karateka, Peg and Allyson, stepped in to assist, but the seniors quickly chose the big fellas with the HUGE hands to uke for me (do the grabs and chokes).

Still not done with me, one of the first senseis I ever worked with - one who gave me hell as a white/green/purple belt and who is also a godan in small-circle jujitsu - announced that he wanted to see more "ju" techniques as opposed to the "go" techniques I'd shown. He walked up to me, grabbed my gi collar and told me he wasn't going to let go unless I made him. He checked to make sure I was able to breathe OK then told me to begin when I was ready. I used a wrist manipulation/lock he'd shown me many years ago on him and - surprise, surprise! - I was able to peel his steel-trap hands off my gi, lock his elbow and take him to the ground. He was an amazing teacher, so I knew it would work, but I was still surprised it did if that makes sense...

Thinking I was in the clear, Hanshi McGrath  announced that he wanted to see one more technique: an escape from a rear choke. Ironically, one of my students who is in the corrections academy was going over rear chokehold escapes the night before with Training Partner Ed, who is a retired corrections officer. The two escapes they'd worked on were fresh in my head and had I thought about asking Ed if he was wearing a cup, I would have gone with the second one (a slap ---> grab of the gonads before spinning around with said gonads still in hand, LOL). Instead, I went back to "go" and ended up on the floor with Ed, who just didn't stop once I got his hands off my neck. I'm talking leg locks and all that. It was actually kind of funny once Hanshi said "yame!" but while he was trying to flip/trap me, I kept thinking "What the heck is he doing?"

Tameshiwari was next. Ed called my breaks - ax kick through two boards followed by a haito. Here's what he got:

My son, Squirrel, was there to take pictures and video, which was greatly appreciated. Most every sensei I ever trained under was there as well, and it felt really good to see my students do their thing and actually leave the dojo with all my teeth, LOL. That and the amazing baked chicken wings someone made for the Holiday Party that followed were the day's top highlights. Yummy :-D

The best part? No grading talk for four whole years at the very least!!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Learning from the Abduction of Carlesha Freeland-Gaither

On Nov. 2, 2014, a 22 year-old woman named Carlesha Freeland-Gaither was kidnapped as she walked home from a family function in Philadelphia a little before 10PM. Her abductor approached her after she’d crossed the street and appeared to ask her a question before accosting her and dragging her to his car as she kicked, screamed and tried to get away. In the struggle, she lost her glasses and her cellphone, which were found on the sidewalk near the shattered glass left behind from the passenger window she managed to kick out before her abductor drove away.

Here’s the footage from building surveillance cameras that were rolling during the attack: 
Carlesha was found alive in Maryland a few days later, but we all know this situation could have been a whole lot worse.

While I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to blame the victim of a crime - because a woman SHOULD be able to walk down the street without being accosted – I do think it’s important to examine what could have gone differently.

First, the attacker drives along the same street Carlesha walked down(before turning off), indicating that he may have seen her before he parked. He gets out of his car and walks to the corner he knows she will soon cross. At about the 1:30 minute mark, she passes him and keeps it moving, but, after a brief pause, he follows her and appears to say something to get her to stop and turn around. Suddenly, he gets very close to her and, at the 1:51 mark, he grabs her and drags her down the block toward his parked car. The trip to the car took about 15 seconds – probably the most terrifying seconds of Carlesha’s life.

Through the remainder of the video, you see her fighting back and trying to get away – until about the 2:15 mark when it looks as if he picks her up and puts her into his car. But it doesn’t even end there, as an eyewitness says she kicked out both back windows in an effort to escape before he drove away.

Once she was grabbed, she did everything right, including making noise and fighting – hard – to free herself.
But it seemed as if the trouble started before she was grabbed.

Awareness dictates that familiarity with what is going on around you is of the utmost importance. Once he stopped her with whatever it was he said, he got way too close way too fast. He did come up from behind, but he was close enough to reach out and touch (which he did) by the time she really had a chance to react. 
And most attacks happen just that quickly.

Again, I’m not saying it was her fault at all, but anyone you don’t know who gets within an arm’s distance away is probably too close. Keeping that distance between you and a person you don’t know – especially when you are alone at night – is always a good idea. If they move close, you move away. Keep your outstretched hands in front of you when it feels like a threat may be eminent. A bit of verbal de-escalation, in the form of saying “Look, I don’t want any trouble. Stay away from me” can be used, too.

But the speed with which she was accosted would make a reaction to stop it tough, because the shock of being attacked usually takes more than a few seconds to recover from.

Still, it’s important to do something – like Carlesha did - rather than doing nothing. Her reaction (immediate screaming) and the struggle it caused, made folks notice something wasn’t quite right with the situation.

But a word about the other bystanders (including the person in the car who watches for a few seconds before backing up): it stands to reason that if you see someone being dragged to a car while screaming “Help me!” that you should call 911 immediately. And if you are in a car at the top of a one-way street, perhaps you could even do something other than watch the drama unfold while waiting on the police to arrive. At the very least, get a license plate number.

Again – because an attacker watching you usually has an advantage, be that the element of surprise, a weapon or the fact that he/she may be a whole lot bigger and stronger - waiting until they attack may be too late. Being aware of what is going on nearby – that guy you pass on the corner, the dark shadow in the doorway, the van parked next to your car – might just save you from being attacked in the first place.

So let’s say you see someone who makes you feel uncomfortable as you approach. Cross to the other side of the street. If he/she crosses too, cross back. If they do the same, turn and walk in the direction you came from. It may feel ridiculous, but I say better paranoid and alive than too trusting and abducted.

The reality is that not everyone survives being taken to another location – and I’m very glad that Carlesha did.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I visited a dojang for a TKD earlier this week that I've visited a few times before. It's always a good class - especially since they work lots of kicks and stances.

After class was done, as I bowed out and started to walk down the hall to my gear bag, one of the adults leaned over and asked if he could talk to me for a second.

"Y'know - I've noticed that you change out of your dobak in the hallway after class. You do that A LOT. Not sure if Goju is just different that how we do things here, but some folks might be upset with that," he said.

"With what?" I asked.

"Your changing out of your dobak in the hallway."

My first instinct was to remind him that I wear a doGI. My next was to apologize for making him or anyone who might happen by and see my arm uncovered uncomfortable. I did neither.

For the record, it's not like I'm in a push-up bra and a thong in that hallway. I wear a Lycra tank top that goes all the way to my waist and bike shots that don't end until the middle of my thigh under my gi always. I wear those things to absorb sweat (I detest a sticky, wet gi sticking to me when I'm trying to move around the mat) - but also because many of the places I train don't have changing rooms - only bathrooms for folks to change into and out of their martial arts uniforms, just like this particular dojang. And, no, the idea of peeling off my gi while standing barefoot next to a toilet bowl is not my idea of a good time. Besides, since the entire class cannot usually fit into a bathroom at once, it saves me time as I don't have to wait for an available stall.

Then I understood what he was basically saying: HE was uncomfortable with me sitting on the bench across from the bathrooms in that dead-end hallway taking off my gi top to put on my t-shirt then removing my gi bottoms to slip on my sweats. I wasn't quite sure what the issue was about that, but I was pretty sure it wasn't mine.

So no, I didn't squeeze into the ladies' room to change. I just waited until he dipped into the men's room before I slipped out of my gi top and into my t-shirt. I'm all for "when in Rome..." - but I do have a problem with being made to feel guilty about someone else's discomfort. Still his reaction - and that he felt the need to talk to me about it - was surprising.

That I was surprised was kind of surprising as well, but whatever. It's not like I haven't experienced crazy in and around the training hall before.

And I'm pretty certain that it won't be my last time, either.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Chick With Sticks

The newsroom where I work no longer has
an operating press. In that huge space is
where I sometimes practice my weapons.
I've been training with the bo for about five years, sai for about three and tonfa for close to two.

Bo was a great first weapon for me because it helped me learn what it was to use it as an extension of my body. But because two hands controlled the bo, it wasn't apparent that my dominant right hand was significantly more coordinated than my left until I played with sai for the first time. Not only were they heavy as all get out, but my left hand looked quite sad doing drills because the dexterity and strength just were not the same as on the other side. My then sensei suggested starting with my non-dominant hand for sai drills and having it "teach" my dominant side - something he learned accidentally as a natural lefty. It worked - and I still do single-hand drills on my left side first to this day. Because the tonfa are lighter and use a lot of wrist flexion and extension, doing sai drills before I start tonfa drills/hojo undo has helped with my dexterity and strength.

A few months ago, I started taking drum lessons. I've played for a bit, but wanted to study them the same way I study karate: with folks who also study - and teach - theory. I've noticed a lot of similarities between the two - sticks not withstanding - including:
  • The sanctity of the practice hall - On the mat, all the stuff that happened before you got there - work, the bills, the needed oil change and other stuff we call "life" - is supposed to remain outside the door. For that block of time, the mind clears and martial thoughts take priority. It's the same with the drums - as the focus has to be on the task at hand to keep the mistakes to a minimum. True, no one will get hurt if your foot misses the bass or the cymbal crash is forgotten, but the beat you're supposed to be keeping/accentuating will get lost in the sauce.
  • Upper/Lower body separation - In karate, there are plenty of times when your arms are doing one thing and your legs are doing another. Behind a trap set, it certainly is the same. The concentration it takes to pull that off - and keep pulling it off - is incredibly intense and is remarkably a lot like kata, kumite or two-person bunkai drills.
    My tonfa - which my Beloved calls "chair legs" :-)
  • The basics are the foundation to everything - With the drums, basic structure - control (tempo, and volume), accuracy and sometimes power all make the music. It's the same in karate. It takes all hands and feet working together to make it work - because a strong bass but a weak snare is useless. It's the same as throwing a perfectly-place kick but falling over before the foot can return to the ground. Kihon is kihon, it really is - whether it's barefoot on the dojo floor or sitting down behind a snare.
  • Practice makes for a perfect experience - Just like the kata in my kitchen (while my Beloved and Squirrel are asleep) that begins with drill warm-ups, practice is a necessary part of musicianship as well. My musician brother talks about the importance of "shedding" - that nose-to-the-grindstone practice in the figurative shed behind the house where the kinks get ironed out and the real work gets done. As a classically trained violinist (I began playing at age 7), I have an idea of what it takes musically to connect with your instrument (because I didn't do it with my violin, which is probably why I don't still play today). Things aren't anywhere near perfect because of practice, but the art of devoting time to picking up those sticks every day makes for a much better experience.
  • When you're thinking about it, you're not doing it - This may just be unique to my quirky brain, but being in the moment and suddenly realizing I'm in the moment makes for a mess. In the dojo when it's randori time and I'm thinking about what to do next, that pause between the thinking and the doing is when I'm getting hit or having the technique flipped around and applied on me. Same is true with the drums: thinking about it is the surest way to guarantee that it will fall apart in 3...2...1 seconds. When I'm doing it, I'm totally in the zone. And when I'm there, the only way to the other side is to keep going.
  • My snare practice pad 
There is no "best" side - My first sensei's favorite saying was "In karate, you've got your good side and your other good side." What he meant was this: if your strong/dominant side is incapacitated or busy holding your baby/shielding another from harm's way, your non-dominant side needs to pick up the slack post haste. And when you can't, it's obvious which side needs some extra drill time. It's the same on the drums. I'm left-footed but right handed, which already means my kit is a little unorthodoxed - but it also means I don't have the luxury of changing hands to do anything. My left side is not nearly as loud as my right when both are on snare, so guess which hand gets a little more drilling time during warmups?
  • Being quiet is not allowed - It's usually pretty difficult for new karate students to get into the idea of loud, unabashedly free, roof-moving kiais. Instructors encourage screaming like a banshee on the mat because the voice can be just as much of a weapon as the rest of the body. There's no effective way to kiai quietly, just like there's not really a quiet way to play a percussion instrument - there just isn't. Still, it doesn't stop me from trying, though (I'm as shy in the rehearsal hall as my new students are in the dojo, what can I say?). What I hear most from my instructor during my lessons is "I can't hear your foot." So, just like karate spirit yells, consistency is key. If the tom, snare, high-hat, crash, ride or bass fades to a dull roar when it ain't supposed to, something will be missing, which is totally not good.
  • The journey is more important than the destination - Martial arts is definitely a life-time pursuit. It's not meant to be something done for a few months or even years then put on the shelf until the spirit to dust it off and try again hits you. It's supposed to take a long time to learn, understand and even longer to master. Music is the same way. I know folks who have been playing since they were barely able to walk and still - 40 years later - talk about stuff they still need to work on or learn. Similar conversations happen in the dojo, with karate folks who've been on the mat for decades. 
And like karate, the best part about learning to understand this instrument for me is that there is always something new to learn. Hopefully, the learning will continue for a long time to come.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On Michael Brown: A Conversation with Squirrel

OK, I tried to avoid it, but now I hafta write about the Ferguson situation.

Yes, I'm a mom who with a son who is only two years older than Michael Brown, the young man who was shot to death by a police officer less than two weeks ago.

As an editor, I spend lots of time each day sifting through wire stories about the unrest and police activity going on in that small town in Missouri. And because there is a television in my workspace, I'm also able to catch press conferences and the like during the day as well.

I gotta tell you something: this is making me sick.
Lesley McSpadden (R) and Michael Brown Sr. (L), parents of 18-year-old Michael Brown,

I'm not going to wax poetic about the travesty that is shooting an unarmed teen to death - not at all.

I won't try to pretend I can do anything but feel helpless when I see the faces of his parents in the photographs that come across my work computer screen.

I will not say how my stomach drops when the footage of the police in riot gear, shields and tanks with scope riffles roll across the television screen.

But I will say this: my son, Squirrel, is beginning to stress about it. And that simply is not OK.

Today, he sent me a text message asking if I'd heard about the latest shooting, this one in St. Louis, which is only a few miles way from Ferguson. His choice of words told me he was upset and not really too sure of what to do with this information.

Turns out he'd spent the last hour or so watching CNN. He'd convinced himself that the latest shooting - specifically the way in which it was covered - was designed to only do one thing: justify the police action (unruly man brandishing a knife is lawfully killed when he refuses to obey a police order). He called it "death by suicide" and couldn't believe how quickly the media jumped on it.

I told him what I tell my journalism students: timeliness - stories of similar vein happening around the same time - is one of  the seven news values that help editors and TV/radio news producers determine if a story should be covered. Because the dissemination of information was a major problem in the tiny hamlet of Ferguson, the larger metropolis of St. Louis did not make the mistake of even tying to appear that there was information being hidden. The press was around because there was breaking news down the street in Ferguson. St. Louis, probably learning from Ferguson's mis-cues, got the information out to the public via the press as soon as they could. Yes, the investigation is ongoing, but transparency is important to help people know what's happening and figure out a way to deal with it.

We chatted for a long time. By the time we were done, he was calmer and a bit more understanding of the process. Yes, he was still upset, but seemed able to find a place to put that, if that makes any sense.

We will talk about it again tomorrow, I'm sure.

But that we have to again tomorrow, is not OK.

Neither is the idea that we even have to have reminder discussions and talk about "what to do if" and think about safer courses of action (he's a martial artist, too).

That is the legacy of situations like this, unfortunately. Teachable moments are usually one-shot deals, not gifts that keep on giving.

I feel that sinking thing that lets me know I can't protect my almost 21-year-old child from everything.

And it absolutely sucks...

Monday, June 16, 2014

It Ain't Her Fault

What do you get when a few journalists together in a newsroom and a poorly written press release about an attempted rape comes off the fax machine?

Lively debate.

Here's the scenario: the police beat reporter mentioned that the release included a comment from the district attorney's office about the party the victim went to the night she was attacked and that she may have - GASP! - actually consumed alcohol at said party. The release said she was asleep when her attacker snuck into her room and tried to rape her. Yep - asleep. Not "passed out." Not "highly inebriated." Not "sloppy drunk." Just. Asleep.

The reporter and I had the same question: why was it necessary to mention that she'd gone to a party and possibly drank the night she was a victim of a violent crime?

Allergic to nonsense...
We saw it like this: had the crime been an attempted robbery and she asleep when it occurred, would the fact that she drank have been mentioned? Honestly, I was surprised they did not mention the type of nightgown she was wearing during the attack.

The other two editors didn't agree. They did not see the terms "alcohol" and "party" as faulting the victim, but only as indicators that she was unable to defend herself. "It just goes to illustrate what a scum this guy really is because he attacked someone who obviously could not defend herself," the desk editor said.

Remember, the information said ASLEEP.  Not DRUNK. Another editor said the wording used probably showed that she was drunk because if she wasn't, she might have been able to fight back. A sleeping person, he said, would surely have been able to react.

But nowhere in the info we got did it say she was unable to react. Or that she didn't. That seemed to me to be total speculation.

And as a result, the reporter did not want to include it in the story. The desk editor overruled her - but suggested that she discuss it with the managing editor if she still had a problem with it. The words were still hanging in a bubble above us - like in a cartoon - and the reporter was out of her chair and on her way to do just that. And guess what? It was decided it was OK to include the info about the party as long as it was attributed to the DA who said it.

And my mouth is still hanging open.

Let me fill in some blanks: the other two editors and the managing editors are male. The reporter and I are not.

Did that have anything to do with the idea that the three of them didn't quite seem to get the victim blaming/slut shaming the DA was trying to push via the release? I'm sure it had a lot to do with it.

And I was HOT for the rest of the daggone day.

Just so we're clear, it is never ok to make the victim of any crime the reason s/he was the victim. I have a real problem with the idea that women in sexual assault situations are somehow the exception. What she wore, what she consumed, whether she kissed the assailant are TOTALLY irrelevant when force is involved or a "no" is ignored.

Asleep in your bed in your own home seems like a place to assume you are relatively safe. The assumption of fault on the part of the sleeper is a stretch in my book.

But, I'm sure the DA is betting that more folks in the possible jury pool will be swayed to think that somehow, the victim does bare some onus because, well, she had the audacity to go to a party and possibly drink the night she was attacked. And you know what? The DA might be right.

And that's a total, total shame, IMHO...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Sandan testing has been mentioned. My reaction, of course, was "Are you kidding me?!?"

I don't care if I never, ever grade again. Seriously. As long as the learning doesn't stop, I'm good.

My training has been spotty - other than the outside-the-dojo ancillary stuff. Solo tonfa training, however, is going well, but that and teaching are all I do in gi these days - thanks to my job schedule.

How ironic is it that just as I begin to settle into my "gotta get it in when I can so I don't get rusty" mindset, THIS gets put out there.

Truth is often stranger than fiction, I guess...

Sunday, March 23, 2014


"Every day you learn something new."
- Dennis Brown (musician)

Last year, I went to a tourney in Philly that was one of the worst I'd ever been to - for "executive" competitors, anyway. It made this over 30 girl feel like a total afterthought once the entry fee was paid. But the training partners I went with - all in their 20's - had a great experience, as their rings were run smoothly, none of their center judges took phone calls during the competitions, everything in their respective rings went off without a hitch and their judging was relatively fair. What was a crappy tourney for me was actually a pretty good one for them.

This weekend, I went to a tourney that I'd heard offered lots of competition for senior competitors. The flyer was on my fridge since September and I was pretty happy it fell on one of my off weekends from work. II was happy to see lots of grey-haired judges because I was hopeful they'd be competing as well. And many of them did, which was great for the MALE executive ranks. Not so much for the females.

Adult black belt competition was dead last. They had lots of age group categories (19-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59 and 60+) for kata, weapons and sparring, but while there were male competitors to fill every bracket, there were only four executive women - a three of them were in the 19-29 division. The promoter's brilliant idea was to put the women together and make it one big "over 18" category. When I asked why, he chastised me for not pre-registering (so he would know how many women would be in each division - which I don't get, because even if I would have pre-registered, I still would have been the only woman in my division) but finally did me the "favor" of allowing me to compete in my age division - like he did for the lone 60+ male competitor. 

Here's the thing about the lone senior male: he presented his a weapons, a "soft" form (no idea what that is) and a regular empty-hand form solo - which allowed him to win his division and make it to three different grand championship rounds. When the women were finally called (after all the executive men did weapons and empty-hand forms), the center judge of the ring told me that since I would be the automatic winner, he was sure that I "didn't just want to do a demo" and thought, in the interest of saving time, I'd be fine with just presenting in the Grand Championship. Funny how no one was worried about the time being lost when Mr. 60+ presented three times by himself (they even presented him his award the same way they normally do: with all three judges greeting and congratulating him after his "win" and been announced; for me, the promoter's daughter handed me the award as I was straightening my gi. "Nice job," she said as she skipped away.). Part of me wanted to insist on being allowed to present my kata in my division - just in the interest of fairness alone - but I worried that my insistence would have been seen as arrogance - and that the judging in the Grand championship would have reflected that.

I should NOT have had to worry about that.

For those of you keeping score at home, it went like this: 
Although we both "won" our division, senior dude paid $55 to enter, presented kata six times and competed in Grand Championships three times while I paid the same $55 and was a "one and done." He probably had a decent tourney while my experience there absolutely sucked. There's something not quite right about that - but the something new I re-learned this weekend is that a "good tournament" is a totally relative experience.

I'm so tired of wasting my time, money and gas traveling up and down the east coast to get to these tourneys only to find that I'm not really the type of competitor they are marketing to. It sucks to be seen as unimportant to the folks putting the tournament together, it really does.

So, although I really hoped to be able to compete until my 50th birthday, I'm calling it quits a few years early. This will be my last season doing this tourney circuit stuff. If I hadn't already committed to a few tourneys this summer, I swear this weekend's disaster would've been my last. 

It's such a shame that a desire to compete and the ability to put in the training time and get to the competition site isn't nearly enough. 

To every karate tournament organizer out there who doesn't make sure the five-year-olds and the 50-year-old females have the same kind of quality experience at your tournament as the 6- to 18-year-olds do: shame on you. Sexist, ageist and "you aren't as important" implications are pathetic and have absolutely no place in anything martial at all - even if it is "just" a regional tournament.

It's Women's History Month here in the states. This just doesn't have to be my history any longer...

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dusting and Cleaning

Last month, we traveled to a tournament in NYC. An annual event, it is free, well-run, free and a great way for our students to see a competitive martial environment without any fears (by us and parents) of them getting injured due to poor ring management/judging. Did I mention it was free?

Pulling off a fee-less tourney is not easy. Other than the space usage rental, the biggest expense is undoubtedly the awards. Think about it: awards for top three in every division adds up. So how did the tourney organizers supply awards without having to go into their pockets? Simple: they recycled trophies from their association's students and replaced only the placards/plates on them.

Consequently, some of the awards were smaller or larger than others. You'd think that would hardly be a "thing" - especially at a free tournament - but it was.

While waiting for the assigned ring to begin for three of my students, I overheard a mom saying the following to the woman standing next to her:
"He won, but look at the size of this trophy! It's not nearly as big as the one the kid who won in the 8-10-year-old beginners ring got! Can you imagine?"
Did she forget that she paid not one thin dime for Junior to compete - nor was there a spectator fee for her to watch Junior do his thing?

Typically, tournament registration fees range from $45 to $75. If mom, dad, nana and pop-pop come to watch, they pay about $10 each just to get in the gym door. Even if Junior wins and takes home a ginormous trophy, the family is quite a bit in the hole once travel expenses and lunch are factored in. Should the size of the trophy the main issue here?

Competition should be about testing your mettle in a relatively safe environment - at least that is what we pass along to the students who do compete in our school. Sure, be happy if you happen to pull off a victory or even place, but be just as happy that you had the courage and fortitude to step into the ring in the first place.

Besides, the bigger the award, the more you have to dust. Seriously.

In the interest of cutting my household cleaning duties in half, I think I need to donate a few awards towards next year's event.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

…And Dance by the Light of the Moon

I did it. I finally left my "this place is literally making me ill" job to go back to freelancing full-time. Doing anything as a freelancer is like a feast or famine crap shoot - but freelance writing/editing pretty much always equals "Food is over-rated anyway!" Especially in my little neck of the woods and in this economy, it's tough, tough, tough to make it outside the walls of corporate America and keep roof overhead with lots of bosses instead of just one. Suffice to say I had a plan (which promptly didn't pan out as planned) then quickly made another.

That "other" was going back to newspaper work. Understand that, although I am a journalist, I haven't done much newspaper work - other than covering the school board shenanigans of a district a few towns over - in a while. My first job ever was delivering newspapers when I was in eighth grade. After college, I came home and worked as a staffer for that same paper for over a year. And while going through my divorce, I kept roof over the head of my then six-year old son by covering the city beat (both crime and government) at another newspaper. I've always liked the pace that is working for a daily or weekly paper, so when my current plan crashed and burned, I turned my job hunt radar to area newspapers. I've been an editor now for almost three weeks, replacing a guy who'd been with the company for over 30 years. The work is fun, the co-workers great and the pay is a bit better than I expected. I'm happily doing what I love again, and it feels great.

The only issue I'm having is the hours. My days off rotate - which is fine - but it means my dojo days have dwindled down to a precious few. Once upon a time, I was in the dojo four to five days a week between teaching and learning. This past week, I was only able to squeeze in one class. Sigh…

But of course that does not mean my training has stopped. My kitchen dojo never closes, and many a night in the past few weeks I've gotten in, kissed my Beloved, petted the dog and kicked off my shoes for kihon and kata. I've also done the same in my pajamas before I headed out of the door. In a way, it forces me to be extremely disciplined as I have to plan my training in advance (just showing up in the kitchen without a plan isn't an option) and resist the urge to watch TV for that first hour I'm home. About the only thing that hasn't changed is my lifting schedule, as my gym is open 24/7, so the cardio and moving of heavy objects (yep, picking things up and putting them down) gets done. My new schedule also makes me appreciate my actual dojo experiences a bit more because I know it might be a minute before I get to see and work with sensei and my training partners again. I do have a tourney in two weeks. I'll only do kata - and since the women's executive division is mighty tiny, I usually get to the grand championship round, which is a very good thing. Winning would be even better (as they give a cash prize), but, one can't have everything.

In addition to finally being rid of the old place of employ and the angst it was causing, I get to really give my son something that will help him move down his own path: fully paid tuition and room and board. See, part of my problem at the old gig was the pay - and how, as a result, I HAD to do freelancing gigs just to make the ends meet. It was getting harder and harder to pay his college fees and the worry about how I was ever going to be able to afford his HUGE (I mean, it's gargantuan) dorm fee was constant.

Near the middle of last month, I went to see him in a college production. He's a Dance/Performing Arts major and had decided to challenge himself last semester by not only taking a class in a style he had never studied before, but by auditioning for a school production in that style. Not only was the show really, really good, my son was amazing! Now, trust me, I'm used to seeing things from him during performances that make me "Ooooo!" and "Ahhhh" - but nothing like this. It was obvious that he'd gotten so much better with his lines and his movements than was just six months before (and I wasn't the only one who noticed; a choreographer in the audience sent a text to one of his instructors DURING THE SHOW to ask who he was!! OMG!). When the houselights in the auditorium came on, I just sat there in kind of a stupor, thinking that he really, truly BELONGS on stage because, well, to put it simply, he is a dancer. Before that performance, I'd thought of "dancer" as something he wanted to be, not as something he was. He needs to learn his art and hone his craft - and here, at his chosen college, was where he seemed best suited to do that. As his parent, it was up to me to find a way to help him.

Just before he loaded up his hooptie (the very old and kinda rusty car that gets him back and forth) to head back to school today, we sat and talked about school a bit - and I assured him that it would be paid for without a loan. It felt really good to say that, it really did.

So, I'll find a way to get the training in, I know it. If my 20-yr-old can hold down his part in the studio and in the classroom (he had a 3.6 GPA last semester), the least I can do is my part in the dojo.

And I'm pretty sure it will all be OK.