Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Thursdays With Sensei...

Remember the book "Tuesdays with Morie"? Well, I have my own blog version I'm calling "Thursdays With Sensei"!
This past week, the gentleman who usually helps with the kids’ class was feeling “puny” as a former co-worker of mine used to say. So, I volunteered to help with the kids’ class. The kids were learning to fall properly. I know – it’s more of a judo thing than a taekwondo thing, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

I was watching the kids fall properly when Sensei walked into the dojo. Normally, when he enters the dojo, we all stop what we’re doing and bow, but Sensei almost always tries to catch the eye of one of the two senseis he trained to signal to them to “carry on” instead of bowing to him.

Since I am trying to get a website up and going for our school, he walked over to me immediately to let me know he had received my e-mail asking for an accurate history of our school. I have some info, but it is somewhat sketchy. He said he would get that to me. He said something, I don’t remember what, that prompted me to say, “I’m just trying to help for what it’s worth” (in regards to helping with the kids’ class). He turned to walk away but then turned back and commented that, “when teaching, you also learn.” And a truer statement could not be uttered. I totally agree with that and said so.

And I was especially blessed in that Sensei stuck around for quite a bit after that and we talked about quite an array of subjects relating to martial arts. When I told him I was, in fact, learning quite a bit from the kids falling class because since I had been attending, the adults had not had a “falling” class. Sensei looked a bit surprised, but then said some people did not consider learning to fall productive because it didn’t work toward gaining a belt in Tae Kwon Do. I asked if he thought there were many in our school who felt that way – that it was all about the belt. He said, no, not the people who came to class every week like me. But he said there are a few people to whom it really does matter a lot. I said, on the contrary, I felt all the martial arts fed off of each other and that one could learn from all disciplines. Sensei brought up how Bruce Lee was of that school of thought. He said, if you practice strictly one art – Tae Kwon Do, for example, that you may learn to kick and punch, but if someone happens to be better than you – and there is ALWAYS someone better than you – you had better know how to fall without getting hurt so you're able to get back up quickly to use that Tae Kwon Do again. Great point, don’t you think? I cannot imagine anyone thinking otherwise…

Sensei then kind of brought our conversation back full circle to the issue of belts and testing. Surprisingly, he said he used to be very nervous when it was time to test. He said when he was coming up, his sensei did not give much of a “heads up” to when you’d be testing. He said he would be going along and feeling pretty good about his skills and then his sensei would say it was time to test. He said, “I got nervous and disappeared for a few days.” But then he came right back and nailed it. He said that this is why he suggests that a candidate for testing not practice the day before the actual test…to give them a chance to let their body and mind take over what they know. Alleviate the nerves a bit.

We talked about the small differences that can make or break a competitor in a kata competition. Sensei reiterated what he had taught us the previous week – how a kata we do in class cannot be “just” done the way we do it in class if we were in a competition. We would have to show that “something extra”, which could be almost anything. If two competitors executed the same kata in almost the same way, something would have to stand out differentiating the two. It may be something as seemingly inconsequential as one person wearing an ill-fitting gi, or a dingy or very wrinkled gi. If their performance was almost identical to another person’s – Which one do you think would win? I commented that attitude could play a big part in that as well. Sensei responded passionately, “Oh, yeah – attitude makes a BIG difference! It can be the one thing – like the dingy gi – that can make you stand out from the others in competition. And depending on the nature of that attitude, that could be in a positive way or a negative way.”

And about that time, being completely immersed in our conversation, we noticed it was time to bow the children’s class out, and almost time for the adult class to begin. So we ended our chat session for that evening.

Sensei and I probably discussed even more subjects as well, but these were the ones that really struck home with me. I mean, So many of the things he revealed about himself – the nerves he felt when preparing to test and showing a little disappointment - albeit without showing judgment - at knowing a few were “all about the rank and belt”. This was all so eye-opening for me. I guess I know that everyone is nervous – at least to a certain extent - when they test. But you just don’t think in terms of your Sensei ever having been in your shoes, when in fact he has walked in your shoes, and it has made him what he is today. And whether he reads this blog or not – this is how I truly feel – what he is today is a great teacher and a great person as well. And I value his opinions and viewpoints on not just martial arts subjects, but in other life issues as well.

Looking forward to many more “Thursdays with Sensei”…

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Chuck Noland Balance Program...

Well, remember a few months ago, I started a balance training program? Well, have you also noticed that I haven’t written an update in…well, forever? That’s because with all that has gone on lately in my life, and just general exhaustion – both mental and physical – because of it, I just haven’t cared. That’s probably not the right way to phrase it. I do care. Another set of instructions, rules that I need to follow and remember – now that I just can’t get into right now.

Normally, I like instructions. I like to take the necessary baby steps to accomplish a goal I’ve set for myself. In fact, any book or movie that involves someone making very slow, but steady (and creative) progress is going to be a winner with me. For example, I just love how Tom Hanks, as Castaway Chuck Noland, starts out with the clothes on his back and nothing else after his Fed Ex plane crashes. The first step he takes is to make “shoes” for himself out of materials he has on hand. As we watch his saga unfold, he consistently takes these baby steps to create a life for himself, that despite the loneliness (no offense, Wilson), works. Now if this had really happened to someone (and hey, who knows, maybe it has and we just haven’t found him/her yet!) you can bet the events took a heck of a lot longer than 3 hours to unfold! And it probably did not (or does not) seem very enjoyable to the person to which it is happening.

But then there is fire. Remember when Chuck created fire? “I have made FIRE! Fire is what I’ve created. I …have made…FIRE.” He was so proud of himself. And that is how I want to feel about my everyday life and my martial arts life (which are, in fact, the same life!)

I have been occasionally standing on one foot while I dry my hair again. I would look in the mirror as my hair flew up all around me and tell myself that I should be trying to balance instead of just wasting this opportunity to mere drying of hair. So, the other morning, I did that. And I did it again this morning. And you know what, I will probably do it again tomorrow morning. Now that I’m in a more private office, (Remember I started a new job about 3 weeks ago), I think I’m going to bring my big balance ball and sit on it at my desk instead of a chair. I’ve heard that improves your balance and also helps tone your abs, glutes, etc. Small, incremental steps. Steps I’ve created myself.

So, I have abandoned the coach’s formal balance training program. But you know what, I think I’m going to pursue the Chuck Noland Balance Program – take it one step at a time to reach my goals of being able to have better balance. Matter of fact, I will stand up and balance on one foot at my desk as soon as I finish typing this post. And then while I’m waiting for my lunch to heat up in the microwave, I’ll…

Hey, maybe someone will make a movie about my personal journey to order and balance…

I could name my balance ball Wilson…

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Life is a Picnic...

Last fall, I missed what would have been my first karate school picnic. I don’t remember the reason I missed it, but I do recall that I had my potluck dish all prepared and was ready & excited to attend, but something came up at the very last minute – like an hour or so before. Why can’t I remember? Oh well…

This year, I was lucky to be able to attend with my son, my daughter, and her new boyfriend. Since my husband does not practice martial arts, he really doesn’t know anyone, so he opted out. But he did contribute his famous made-from-scratch potato salad, which always seems to be well-received.

Weatherwise, the day could not have been more beautiful. The second weekend of October, and it was in the low 80’s with barely a hint of humidity – in St. Louis! Our group had reserved a large, shaded pavilion with big shade trees surrounding it, which just enhanced the beauty of the day. The leaves are just starting to turn those wonderful autumnal colors and drift to the ground on light breezes. My favorite time of year!

When my son and I arrived, many were already there. We were welcomed by everyone and I placed Hubby’s famous potato salad in a larger bowl of ice next to the other fare of veggies, a hot potato casserole *YUM!*, a couple of varieties of pasta salads, along with the hot dogs and burgers (sauced or non-sauced) provided by Sensei.

I am normally not big on BBQ sauce, but when it came time to eat, Sensei asked if I wanted a burger with or without his BBQ sauce. Before I knew that it was his famous BBQ sauce, I said plain. Then when I heard that he made really good sauce and was proud of it to boot (He’s a guy – c’mon – what did you expect?) I said I wanted to try one with the sauce. He joked, thinking I was sucking up I guess, and said, “No BBQ Sauce for you!” (think Soup Nazi voice from Seinfeld!) Of course, everyone had a good laugh over it, but he did serve me up a burger with his oh-so-good BBQ sauce. And I’m glad I did try it because it really was very good. (And no, I’m NOT just saying that to suck up – I’m sure he doesn’t even read this blog, although I know he did see it once!)

After chowing down on all the great main dishes, we had an entire picnic table of desserts from which to choose. There was “Women’s Pie” which was basically chocolate with a pie crust used as a vehicle in which to get the chocolate to your mouth. I, not being the chocoholic like so many are, gravitated toward the apple pie, made by one of our senseis.

I learned a fun story about the apple pie too. Our sensei and his sensei, the one who just passed away last month, are and were respectively, both apple pie connoisseur. Every year, the older sensei would tease the sensei who baked the pie that she just didn’t quite have it right – it needed something more – that she’d have to keep making more and letting him taste test them. And as another who considers herself an apple pie enthusiast, I can tell you, if she does not have it right, she’s pretty darn close! It was delicious. In telling this story, Sensei said he was all about the apple pie…”Gimme an apple pie and big glass of water or milk…mmm”

I made the acquaintance of many family members whom I had not had the pleasure of meeting before. For example, Sensei’s wife, whom I had not met before. Very down-to-earth, wonderful lady. I enjoyed her company very much.

The married couple, he a black belt, she a brown getting ready to test next month for black belt, brought their two adorable sons, who, again, I’d never seen before. Cute kids and very well mannered.

I also learned some things I didn’t know about the people I see every week. For example, Mack, who I told you about in my first blog, I think - the late starter who encouraged me to start martial arts because, “If he could do it, anyone can do it.” Mark told us how he had a lot of people depending on him and how he takes it all in stride and offers help in any way he can. But if you knew Mack, this would not have surprised you. You can just tell he is that kind of person.

I met the owner of a sister dojo, a 4th degree black belt I was told, who brought along her pet sugar gliders. If you don’t know what a sugar glider is, they are adorable. They are basically a small flying squirrel. She educated us all on their origins (Australia) and how they eat, how they interact, fly and attack if they are truly threatened – which takes quite a lot from what I understand.) I had met her once, very briefly, at O-Sensei’s wake a few weeks ago, so it was nice to get to truly know her in more pleasant circumstances.

Everyone seemed to know my daughter’s new boyfriend. It was kind of funny because at least two or three people said to me, “What’s his name? He looks so familiar to me.” Turns out he went to high school with many of their kids.

Kids and adults had a blast participating in activities ranging from knife/hatchet throwing. (Yes – it was safe – a knowledgeable adult was supervising at all times.) to football and frisbee. The younger attendees spent some quality time on the nearby playground. My personal favorite activity was just sitting around talking, getting to know one another and our families better.

It is so fun to interact with these folks outside of the dojo. It’s also very interesting because in retrospect, in thinking about all the new things I learned about these people, none of it really surprises me. The way they act “in regular everyday life” is the same character traits that I see in the dojo. The things that make them great people both in and out of the dojo.

I can’t wait for next year…

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Yes or No

Copied from Perpetual Beginner, who got it from Becky at Fine Martial Fiber.

Only yes or no answers allowed, no explanation unless asked. And away we go!

Over 18? Yes
Danced in front of your mirror naked? No, none of my mirrors are broken!
Ever told a lie? Yes
Been arrested? No
Kissed a picture? Yes
Fallen asleep at work/school? Yes
Held an actual snake? Yes
Ever run a red light? Yes
Ever drink and drive? Yes, once, and not proud of it
Been suspended from school? No
Ever been fired from a job? No
Totaled a car/motorbike in an accident? No
Sang karaoke? Yes
Done something you told yourself you wouldn’t? Yes
Laughed until something you were drinking came out your nose? Yes
Ever laughed until you wet yourself? Yes
Caught a snowflake on your tongue? Yes
Kissed in the rain? Yes
Sang in the shower? No, but I've cried in the shower
Sat on a rooftop? Yes
Thought about your past with regret? Yes
Been pushed in the pool with your clothes on? No
Shaved your head? No
Blacked out from drinking? No
Had a gym membership? Yes
Been in a band? Yes
Shot a gun? Yes
Liked someone with nobody else knowing about it? Yes
Played strip poker? Yes
Been to a strip joint? No
Donated Blood? Yes
Liked someone you shouldn’t? Yes
Have a tattoo? Yes
Have or had any piercings besides ears? No
Made out with a complete stranger? No
Caught someone cheating on you? Yes
Skinny dipped? No
Regret any of your ex’s? Yes
Been to a rodeo? Yes
Been to a NASCAR race? No
Been in Love? Yes

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Road to Orange Belt...

There is a large learning curve in my new job. I have used Microsoft Visio before at my previous job, but it was the older version of Visio, plus it was quite a few years ago and even then, I only used it a few times. And I don’t recall ever having created a timeline with Visio in past experience.

Same goes for printing on a plotter. If you are not of the computer world, a plotter is a huge printer used for posters, blueprints, things of that nature. Again, I set printing up for a plotter once or twice about 2 years ago, and wasn’t very successful with it at that. LOL!

So, take a lucky guess what my first assignment from new boss involves? Yup – creating a new, very cramped timeline in Visio 2007…and wait, it gets better…to be printed out on the plotter!!!!

I really struggled. Not only are these programs I haven’t used very often, but both the software and the hardware are much newer versions of the ones I used in the past - Which really shouldn’t matter anyway, because it’s not like I remember what I did with the old versions either after all this time! J

So, today, once the frenzy was over and I succeeded in creating this huge document, and after I let out that matching huge sigh of relief, I thought I’d go into Visio and just play around with the timeline feature. (Of course, now that I’ve done so, I’ll never be asked to create or update a timeline again! That’s how it usually goes in my neck of the woods anyway.)

Since I did not have a real project on which to experiment, I thought I would start a timeline for things I need to learn and practice leading up to my orange belt test.

My first step was to create a goal for myself – a date by which I’d like to be ready to test for my orange belt. I thought – hmmm, February sounds reasonable to me. That would be almost a year since I passed my yellow-belt test. I used February 26, 2009 as my goal date to test. (It’s the last Thursday in February.)

Next, I knew what I’ve been working on the past few nights – reviewing my first three katas and reviewing Pal-Gwe 1 and 2. I’m not positive I have the two Pal-Gwe katas techniques exactly right, so for this week (today) I marked my timeline with “Confirm I’m doing Pal-Gwe 1&2 correctly”. There are a couple of hand placements that I’m just not quite sure of, although I think I am doing them correctly.

Next on my timeline, I added a period of time, not just one point on the timeline, the coming week – as in tomorrow through next Wednesday and labeled it as “Practice Pal-Gwe 1&2”.

Last, but not least, I labeled next Thursday with the goal of learning Pal-Gwe 3. Of course, you can guess my next “interval” as it’s called on a Visio timeline, will be “Practice Pal-Gwe 3” from next Friday through the following Wednesday.

The following week, I will ask my senseis on what I need to concentrate for earning my orange belt. I will soon add that to my timeline. Once they have clarified my objectives, I will add these to the timeline.

This practice timeline has become more than just practice. It has morphed into a valuable tool in my road to orange belt. With all the problems going on in my life the past few months, I have not been very focused on my martial arts journey, and I think that, in itself, has caused me even more stress and feeling like I had no control over things. So, this timeline gave me the opportunity to really examine where I am now and where I want to be in my martial arts journey.

I guess it’s true what they say, “Time Is On My Side”.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Natural...

From what I understand, it is very rare to have someone start martial arts and be considered a “natural” by those teaching the class.

We have a girl in our class who started last session and I had not really paid much attention to her before she and I paired up a few weeks ago as partners for kicking drills.

I’m going to call this girl “Roxy” because when it comes to karate, this girl ROCKS. I don’t know her exact age, but I’m guessing about 16 – 18. She is very quiet and polite. And, no, she’s not an Amazon either - She’s of average height and weight.

Like I said, until about 3 weeks ago, I had seen her do a few drills, etc. and thought to myself that she was good. But that is about as far as it went. Then, she and I paired up to do walking, kicking drills. I struggled. She didn’t even flinch. She was great. She has balance, technique and power (as evidenced by the red stinging flesh of my forearms under the focus pads I held to which she administered her walking roundhouse kicks!)

I told her she was great and that I really felt bad about my own performance in partnering up with her. She giggled a little but kept on ploughing through the focus pads and encouraged me to do the same. Once when I was extolling her martial arts virtues, Sensei walked by and said, “Yeah, she’s a natural.”

We had a good workout. I think I tried a little harder with Roxy as my partner. I knew I was not nearly as good as she, but it didn’t stop me from trying!

We paired up again a little over a week ago for self defense drills. I liked working with her because we were on more of a level playing field with self defense drills. We practiced as close to reality as we could without actually hurting each other. Sensei had us get out of different holds, including if someone was choking us up against a wall. Really great resources to have stored in your brain! And we both saw the value in this.

And although we were on that level playing field, Roxy excelled at this exercise as well. She didn’t blow me out of the water this time like she did with her kicking, but she paid attention, took it seriously, questioned why we did it the way we did it and if it would work another, but similar way. She and I exchanged ideas and thoughts. She always seems ready to learn. I really enjoyed training with Roxy. She can be my partner any day.

Even though I am not by any stretch (pun intended) a “natural”, I do have motivation. I really and truly WANT to learn and improve my performance. I will never be a “natural” and I don’t think it will ever come easily to me. (I’d like to be wrong about that though.) but I will never give up.

It goes to show – It takes all kinds – from “The Natural” to “The Motivated”…(And in Roxy’s case, she has BOTH…a winning combination!)

Go Roxy!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Precious Jewels

I loved my job of 6-1/2 years. I loved 99.9% of the people I worked with. (.1 percent, if you're reading this, you know who you are...snicker...I know - my bad) Yesterday was my last day at that job. And just wait until you hear what they did to send me out in style...and in tears...tears of gratitude for having had those 6 plus years with them...
Then why a new job? Well, the group I'm going to work with also works with the group I am coming from. And they have needed an "admin person" for almost 2 years now. They finally got a new director and he secured the authorization of the creation of this new position. I will be the Office Administrator for the Performance Improvement Group (the PI Group for short) of the biggest health care company in St. Louis, MO. (If you live here, you know which company of which I speak. If not, it wouldn't matter to you anyway LOL) As I said, a few of the people in this group have wanted me to come work for them for almost 2 years. It's nice to be wanted that much. Plus I thrive on new challenges. I'm not shy about meeting new people. In other words, this is gonna be exciting - being the person who creates this job and makes it what it ends up being someday when I move up...and that is the other reason I'm leaving the dept. for which I worked as of yesterday. There was really nowhere for me to go there. My boss tried to upgrade my job with corporate 3 times and 3 times they shot her down. In this position, I have the opportunity to work with a program called Six Sigma, with which some of you may be familiar. The new position is also much closer to home and only about 2 miles from my husband's work, so we can commute together. That alone is about a $50/week raise in gas price savings. Otherwise, it is a lateral move. It is also right next door to the company at which I worked for 10 years, so I have built-in lunch buddies!
So, now, you're probably wondering what they did to send me out "in style". You are NOT GOING TO BELIEVE THIS, but every word is true. First of all, the other admin assistant there, with whom I've become very close over those 6 years, planned a going away pot luck for me - a POTATO POT LUCK at that! (I'm a MAJOR potato-head!). Then, she orchestrated a chain of events to surprise me by having the diamond replaced in my engagment ring of my wedding set! Yes, really! She knew I was devastated when I lost the diamond about 4 or 5 months ago and could not afford to have it replaced. She and these other wonderful, special co-workers wanted to give me a going away present that would really mean something to me. (Can you imagine anything meaning much more than that????) She called my daughter and had her bring it out to her. (She met her at a half-way point and told me she had a lunch date that day! :) Anyway, she handed it off to another woman I work with whom I'm also pretty close with, who handed it off to her next door neighbor, who knows a reputable jewelry broker to get it replaced/repaired. (Fun side note to that: Ironically, when I went to the Journey concert a few weeks ago, the woman told me she had it in her purse that night without me even knowing! And the other couple with us - her neighbors!!!LOL)
So, fast forward to my last week of working with these folks. I had to train my replacement in 3 days. That's cramming about 3 weeks of training into 3 days. It was very grueling for both of us. I was exhausted to the point of not even being able to go to karate this past week. I was zonked and I mean really zonked - mentally and physically. And I knew the material! Can you imagine how overloaded the poor new girl felt?
At 11:30 am yesterday, the potatoes started flowing (that was the 2 varieties of potato soup)They also started rolling (the potato candy) and being scooped (all the varieties of potato salads & casseroles, both hot and cold) It was buffet heaven for me! LOL The conference room was overflowing capacity with people. There must have been 100 people there total. People craning their necks in from the hallway to watch me open the gift - a gift I thought was basically gag gifts. Wow - was I ever wrong!
I felt like a mother-to-be at a baby shower. Silence, all eyes on me as I tried to open the box. (I was waiting for someone to break out a skein of yarn to take guesses at measuring my belly girth! Embarassing enough when you really are pregnant, let alone if you weren't!LOL) So, the first gag gift in the box is a little basket that had been on my desk and I put in a community public place to try to get rid of it when I learned I got the other job. Everyone laughed. Then I open a wrapped CD case says "I Can't Drive 55"...a Sammy Hagar CD, right? Nope. A gift card to QT - my favorite gas station who has the best coffee around - even better than Starbucks! I did not open it - just said thanks. Went on to the next item, a red apple candy jar that again, I had tried to get rid of from my desk. More laughter. Then I unwrap a mug that bears the newer logo of the part of the company I'm leaving. Aw, a memento...It's filled with those pretty decorative glass rocks. The other Admin Asst tells me to pour our the rocks. And there it is...a ring box. The other Admin Asst is a jewelry fanatic and I say, "Oooooh, jewelry!" Well, jewelry is right! My repaired wedding set is staring back at me. I just couldnt' believe it! Nobody pulls off big surprises on me! I was flabbergasted. I tried to get it on my finger and I'm all puffy lately (gotta cut out that salt, plus menopause would probably help too - LOL) but my hands were shaking so much I could barely get it on. I could feel the tension as everyone thought it wasn't gonna go on. But it did, as I knew it would - My knuckles are huge but my fingers skinny, so once it was over the knuckle, it was all good. They even increased the size of my diamond! Yes, really! And it is just so clean and sparkly! I couldn't stop staring at it (in between power-training my replacment that is!) Later while back at my desk training her, the other Admin Asst told me I needed to look at the QT gas gift card. So, I did and had to blink a couple of times at the amount - was that a typo??? It read $175.00!!! OMG! It was correct!!! OMG again!! Can you believe that???? A diamond, free gas - which is about as valuable as gold these days, potatoes...yukon gold...
I would have stayed in touch with almost all these people even if they had given me all gag gifts. But just because I won't see them everyday like I used to, the most "precious jewels "of all are these people whom I shall ALWAYS call "my dear friends".

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I'll be back...(in an Terminator accent)

Just in case you're wondering where I've been and if I'll ever post again...(I know - all those compliments as of late have went to my head)...
I told you a few weeks ago that I am transferring from one part of my company to another. Well, my replacement at this job just started yesterday, and there is a going away party for me tomorrow (a potato pot luck yet!!!) so I really only have a total of 2-1/2 days to train her in about 2 weeks worth of learning needed! So, she is catching on FABULOUSLY, but there is just soooo much to cover that I swear to you, I know I'm stressing waaaayyyy more than she is. LOL! I have loose ends to tie up to have ready for tomorrow - my last day at current job - so I can't even go to karate tonight. I hate to miss, but circumstances prevented me from tying up those loose ends last night.
So, I arrived at work early today just so I could give you all the heads up that I'll be back (again in a Terminator accent) as soon as I get my life under control with the transfer. I start there next week, so I imagine the first week will probably be a bear, but we have our karate group picnic next weekend, so that should be fun and I'm sure I'll have all kinds of fun stories from that!
Anyway, "talk" to you in a couple of weeks...
P.S. - I miss you!