Fighting the good fight.

 

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A year ago yesterday, at the time of starting to write this post, (22nd February 2015), I acquired my first real Karate injury; a broken toe. The injury was, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, a catylist for positive change. My injury made me realise that it is possible for me to pick myself up, dust myself off, and keep “fighting the good fight”, where I formerly would have catastrophised for way too long to do so in a timely fashion. Although, initially this lesson was learned in a physical sense, it quickly translated into all areas of my life.

Fighting the good fight means more than just being able to train while recovering. Fighting the good fight means doing your best in whatever you do. Fighting the good fight is looking out for yourself and for everyone else. Fighting the good fight is being proud of who you are and leading by example. Fighting the good fight is being honest with yourself and being honest with others. Fighting the good fight is finding the light at the end of the tunnel and setting your course toward it. Fighting the good fight is living everyday as if it is your last.

When my toe broke, a lot of mental barriers broke too. Sure I had made a lot of positive changes in my life before, but it took breaking a bone to remind me that like bones, life is fragile, and life is precarious, and life can change in an instant. It made me confront the fact that no matter how I live my life, I won’t be here forever.

This made me considerably more determined to share more with people, to plant seeds for positive change, both close to home and further afield, and to lead by positive example. I started to care more about how I lived my life and care less about what others thought about how I lived my life. I started to believe in myself and believe that some of the things I believed in were worth sharing. I know I am far from perfect. Perfection is a long road with no end in sight, so I do the best I can with what I have. So a year ago (25/2/15), when I was finding it difficult to walk, and a bit frustrating not to, my blog, “A work in progress” was born.

It started with recipes (which people had been asking me to blog for ages) but the blog quickly grew into a space for sharing my ideas and reflections on much more than just what was going on in my (evolving) kitchen. I will admit that I enjoy writing just for myself. This is a surprise to me as English was my worst subject at high school, and I disliked writing prose and essays throughout university and beyond. I have, however, found writing this blog to be therapeutic and, at times, even cathartic.

For whatever reasons this blog came to be and continued, I seem to have gathered a reasonable audience now.  Some people give me feedback on google plus or facebook, some on the blog itself, and some in person.

I would like to that each and every one of you for joining me on my journey, (especially those who have over the years encouraged me to start it – you all know who you are!!). I appreciate being able to share something with you. If I have made you smile, if I have made you cry or moved you, if I have made you think, if I have convinced you to try something new, or take a step outside your comfort zone, if I have planted seeds for change, if I have given you insights on what it is to “grow up” and keep growing, then I guess I am heading in the right direction. I am still and will always be a work in progress. I will keep fighting the good fight because life is here to be lived.

(Oh, and happy blogoversary to “A work in progress”)

 

 

 

Harder, better, faster, stronger. There are no excuses.

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Off days, injuries, bad moods; we all have them at some point. There are mornings we would rather turn off the alarm and go back to sleep than get up and face the day, days when we feel like a truck hit us, afternoons when we feel like we could do with a nap (but don’t have the luxury of being able to have one), nights when we are sick and can’t sleep. And of course, there are times when we perhaps have an inner debate about whether we should exercise or go to training.

In my experience I have found that exercise and or training generally makes things better; makes you forget your troubles, even if temporarily. So, on days when I am tired or hurting for some reason, for me, it’s a matter of “pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile” as the song goes, (or, in reality: pack up your troubles in your karate bag and leave them at the dojo door for a couple of hours……perhaps even forget them after training altogether – result!). I figure even if I watch half the time and train half the time, I am still doing better than if I were sitting at home on the couch feeling sorry for myself (and wishing I were at class!).

In the bigger picture though, fighting at your best is not as important as being able to fight at your worst. When it comes to self defence, an attacker isn’t necessarily going to pick on you when you have your A-game on. In all reality, if you are going to get attacked, it’s likely to happen on a bad day. And if you can’t immediately switch on your A game, then your bad day may get a whole lot worse! Being able to fake your A-game might be enough, but to really convince someone else you are not worth messing with, let’s face it, you probably need to be convinced of this yourself.

Realistically, how you feel is more a mental thing than a physiological one. I have niggling musculoskeletal issues and various hang-ups acquired along the journey of life. I can’t tell you the last time that I woke up and I did a body scan only to discover I was feeling 100% fit, well and healthy. I am not complaining, but it is what it is! I also can’t tell you the last time I let it bother me for more than a second, because fundamentally it comes down to this: (1) I am awake, (2) I am breathing, (3) I am aware, (4) I can control my body, and, most importantly, (5) I can control my mind.

If I acknowledge every small ache or pain or emotional hurt, and let it invade concious thought, where would I be? I tell you where…..still in bed. And what room would I have for other concious thought then? Not enough to be on my A-game that is for sure.

Fortunately mother nature gives us incentive and a push in the right direction. In a training sense there are the endorphins (aka happy hormones) produced with physical activity, that start swimming around in your blood and making you feel really good and forget the pain. In a street scenario there is also the whole “fight or flight” thing going on which results in the priming of skeletal muscle making you “Harder, better, faster, stronger” like in the song.

Most importantly the power of the mind; focusing on one thing (eg a punch / a block) for concentrated periods of time, helps clear your other thoughts, the way it would in a mindfulness exercise (as well as having the benefit of building muscle memory!). So next time you feel bored practising kihon (who ever get’s bored practising kihon?) don’t be bored, be mindful.

I was nearly finished this post yesterday and didn’t get around to publishing it then. Strangely, now, I am not sorry I didn’t. Why? Tonight’s class started with our instructor talking about “no excuses” and how it fits in with the dojo kun and dojo etiquette, which was part of where I was headed with this anyway, just not as explicitly, initially.

No excuses means being patient with your self and your body. No excuses means taking pride in what you do. No excuses means respecting your instructor and any feedback / advice from him / her and showing courtesy to everyone you train with and respecting the dojo as a place for training and development. No excuses means letting your spirit rise above any ills going on in the background.

So yes….I went to class tonight, even though it was a long and challenging day, even though the traffic was less than conspiratorial to my efforts at getting there, even though there was a lot on my mind, even though I have a really busy weekend and week, even though I am still limping a bit from a minor foot injury……I won’t go on….you get the picture….I went to class…..and, unsurprisingly, I am not sorry I did.

At the end of the class, as we were packing up, our instructor remarked to me that I hadn’t missed a class since I started training there (except, as I pointed out, for the few before Gasshuku when I was on holiday with my family – and as I explained then I was madly texting my Sempai and Kohai after those classes to see what I missed out on and what I needed to practice). For me personally there are few excuses to not be there, only reasons to be there. Being there is good for me. It is going to make me “stronger, better, faster, harder” for sure……but that’s only the start of it!

 

 

“A-hah!” and “Ah Duh?!” moments: The beginnings of cognitive incompetence

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Brain loading in three, two, one: Three karate styles in total tried out, just shy of two years in to my training, one major decision made about ryu ha (lineage / style) and it finally feels like I am in the groove and walking in the right direction on a well worn path…..only then it doesn’t.

As I feel more comfortable with things that were once a struggle and do more things more automatically compared with having to be more cognitive about every movement I want my uncooperative body to do, I start to discover there is more to each technique than what I had initially thought or noticed. I am starting to realise the purpose and seeking to understand more fully.

For the first year or so, everything was new. There was so much to learn, and if I could keep up and keep my head above water, then I was (or at least felt like I was) swimming with the current. Now that things are becoming more familiar, when we revisit basics (as we do, and as we should) and slow them right down for the new beginners we have welcomed this year, I notice that I have been short-cutting things, misunderstanding others, unwittingly perhaps, but now, I notice subtleties that I hadn’t noticed when trying to copy at speed, or when I was in information overload.

Over the last month I have had several of these “Ah…duh?!” moments, by this I mean that feeling you get when you pick up from someone else’s (action or instruction) something that really should have been obvious to you already (and probably wasn’t because your brain had bigger fish to fry at the time, or was thinking too much about it to see the wood from the trees).

I have also had a lot of “A-hah!” moments. Those are the ones where suddenly the little threads of concepts weave themselves together, seemingly without your active help, to give you a fabric of more profound understanding, hitherto elusive from your grasp.

I used to get a bit frustrated when I couldn’t immediately grasp concepts or movements, or understand something my Sensei or Senpai said or did. The time has has gradually extended from immediately to weeks, weeks to months, and now, indefinite time periods. My patience is stretching beyond what I thought was possible. It has to. This isn’t something I am going to get the hang of quickly. This isn’t a journey that will ever be completed but rather a continuous process of polishing and self development.

Gradually, I started to realise that I would get things when I was ready to (often when I least expected) and as long as I did my best and kept trying and practising, eventually things would fall into place. The difference between my “a-hah” moments now and my “a-hah” moments 12 months ago are that many of them happen when I am practising on my own. This can be good and bad. It’s good that I am developing the capacity to self diagnose and correct problems. It’s bad that there is potential for me to beat myself up over things and be too harsh on myself. As long as I practise patience and keep an eye on the self deprecating tendencies (which still lurk), I can celebrate these “a-hah” moments as small wins, and build on them.

I feel like I crossed the bridge of incognisent incompetence (not knowing enough to know you don’t know) and have moved on to the path of cognitive incompetence (knowing enough that you know when you are not getting it right), and that cognisant competence (knowing enough that you know when you are getting it right, which is most of the time, but still having to think about it) is not too far out of my reach……..Some day I can look towards incognisent competence (knowing enough to know you are getting it right but not having to think about it to get it right)……but then no doubt I will further reflect……..and the cycle begins again….We will always be beginners; after all, it is only our starting point that differs. However, our starting point matters less when it isn’t a race and there is no end point.

 

 

A deeper connection – caught in the web.

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I have been a social media user for about 8 or 9 years now. I used to use it because it was new and fun and all the cool kids did it. I used to play online games like scrabble in the days when I had spare time and no spare kids! Now that I have spare kids and little to no spare time, I find it an easy way to stay in touch and stay connected with friends, especially those further afield (useful since I have lived in 3 cities). It’s also a quick way for me to arrange in real life catch ups, and open or continue discussions related to in real life meet ups post hoc. I also find it an effective means of staying abreast of what is happening in the world and locally. As a busy person, I don’t get time to watch or even listen to the news regularly so I generally hear about things via social media and then further investigate online as required.

I have been observing social media too, more so in the last 3 years. There are obviously algorithms for what I see on my news feeds (regardless of how I set it up even), which ads show if I don’t use an ad blocker, which posts are “suggested” for me, which friends I see the most of, and the list goes on. To be honest, I find the filtering aspect annoying and scary in equal measure. Even though I get the idea of how it all works, why it is used, and even though I know it is programme derived and driven (ie not human operated), it still feels like someone out there is trying to brainwash me, or decide who my friends are, or sway my opinion, or  affirm what I believe in*, just to keep me “using”.

I see photos of peoples’ kids who are the same age as mine, martial arts related posts, posts of my friends that mutual friends have commented on, pro-vegan sites, food porn and recipes, ads for things I have bought in the past, healthy lifestyle pages, positive life quotes, word nerd-isms, cats (I seem to have a lot of friends with cats….and evidently cats breed more cats on social media!!), choral and musical event pages, and the list goes on.

It’s not what I do see that worries me, and I can (and have) hidden things / un-followed and even blocked people whose posts are intrusive,  inappropriate, or just plain weird or uncomfortable; I have even blocked people who seem to have been cyber stalking me.

It’s what I don’t see that gives me cause for concern. I seem to see less and less of single friends, older friends, friends with adult children, friends who don’t have children, friends who I don’t sing with or train with, friends with whom I perhaps have deeper connections than merely demographics, connections that social media filtering doesn’t capture. Equally, these friends probably don’t see much of me (unless I actively seek them out and post on their walls, which I do from time to time), but somehow I feel like I am being pushed away from these friends, who form part of the fabric of my life so far. They are being pushed out of sight, but, despite the effort it takes, I am desperately trying for them not to be pushed out of mind.

My news feed feels like only part of a puzzle, and only a small representation of my world. I want to see everything. I want the good, the bad, the ugly. I want the past, the present and the future. I want to remember who I was, who I am, and who I am becoming.

Social media seems to be weaving an even tighter web via filtering which limits what I want from it. I have thought about closing my social media accounts on several occasions and also about reducing my reliance on them. Unfortunately I am well and truly trapped in the web and until my life gets considerably less busy and complicated, and / or human social interaction becomes more social and less media based again (I can’t see this happening), I will have to stick to social media.

“What a tangled web we weave……..”

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*or occasionally not, like odd posts with the word vegan in them that are highly offensive to vegans; when the fallibilities of a computer programme become obvious.

Mean Green Macha Slushie

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I used to think Macha was an acquired taste. I was not a big fan until a few years ago. Mr 7 however has liked it since his first try, so obviously he was quicker in acquiring a taste for it.

I have been getting into these lately. Frankly, it has been hot, I have been training hard and these are really refreshing!!

INGREDIENTS – serves 2 (or 1 if you want a big drink!)

2 cups tightly packed baby spinach

½ cucumber (optional)

¼ teaspoon green leaf stevia powder (optional) *

(you can use 1/2 frozen banana if not using stevia this will sweeten but gives a bit of banana flavour)

1 teaspoon macha powder (green tea)

About ½ cup water or non dairy milk

1 teaspoon vanilla essence (optional)

1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

½ teaspoon coconut essence (optional)

12-24 ice cubes (or more 0r less to desired consistency) – I use about 24 as I like it really icy like a slushy.

Put all ingredients except ice in blender or similar. Pulse and scrape down sides as needed. Add ice once spinach etc are liquefied and pulse until a slushy consistency is achieved, (you can do this gradually if you have a removable central lid on the blender and can do it with the motor running without getting green on everything). Enjoy!