Roller-coaster Ride 2018: The ins and outs of negotiating the ups and downs.

2018 has been a good year. I’m not saying it’s been without its share of adversity, disappointments, or annoyances. I’m not even going to bother going into the ins and outs of most of them…..because as they say:

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift – that’s why it’s called the present!”

What’s been good about this year and the ups and downs that have come with it, has been the realisation that I can deal with everything, without letting those speed bumps get in my way and without letting them define how my next day / week / month / year will go.

One of those speed bumps, came in mid May. I “failed” my shodan (black belt) grading. There were many factors at play, probably some of which I’m not even aware of, and I’m not at liberty to really discuss any of the factors I am aware of. Let’s just say, it wasn’t what I had planned, or expected to happen. I won’t pretend it didn’t upset me at all. After holding it together at the post grading lunch, (really afternoon tea by the time we finished at the dojo), I was a mess for a good 24 hours.

But, after letting myself grieve a little, I decided (actually just knew), that all I could do was keep training. I’ll also admit that the main reasons convincing me to come to the dojo two days later, for the belt award ceremony (where I knew I’d be up front helping award most of my kohai with their belts/stripes and certificates), even though I knew it would be potentially triggering for me, were mostly about other people.

Although, I’m mostly past caring about what other people think of me, and what I do, I do care a lot about the example my behaviour sets for others. So, what got me through the door two days after grading (or rather not grading in my case), was largely to do with setting a good example to my seven-year-old daughter (who also trains), and my Kohai. I wanted to send some messages.

  1. Turn up and don’t give up. (Begin Again, Don’t Quit!)
  2. Be there for your “family”.
  3. Your best isn’t always good enough, but if you keep trying to improve, your best is going to get better still.

Of course, once I’d got through the door, the reasons didn’t matter, not being awarded a new belt myself didn’t matter; I felt very happy for my Kohai, who had achieved their new rankings, and it felt great to be back training in my home dojo again.

A month or so after the grading, I set off on a much anticipated journey, to meet, and train with my instructors teacher in Boston. My husband suggested (wisely), that I spend a week sightseeing in New York beforehand, since I’ve never visited. Of course, I couldn’t resist tracking down a dojo in New York too. I managed to attend to classes at Downtown Dojo, in New York City. I wore a white belt, as although our style incorporates Uechi Ryu, I am not ranked at all in Uechi Ryu. The dojo were very welcoming, and it was nice to have some company and conversation for a few hours, since I was travelling entirely alone. Of course, I also enjoyed many of the other cultural and culinary delights that New York City had to offer. I also found that I enjoyed my own company, and the freedom to do whatever I pleased whenever I wanted.

The two weeks I spent in Boston after that week in New York City, were a life changing experience for me. I was accomodated and hosted by two of the warmest women I have met, (one trains and teaches at the dojo), in their lovely home, with their gorgeous fur babies, and was well looked after in and outside of the dojo, by them and by my instructor’s Sensei, and the other main instructor of the dojo. I didn’t spend much time sleeping, as there was so much to see and do (and….jet lag never really let go of me!). The days I wasn’t training (there were three perhaps), were spent enjoying the sun,  sea, and fresh air, and also seeing some of the city. After hours, there were parties (including 4th July celebrations), and social occasions.

Training days during the week, were spent at a summer camp, helping teach, and also joining classes, in karate, BJJ, MMA, and Kobudo (weapons), with kids aged 7 to 14. There was also time for training and talking with my instructor’s Sensei. Evenings were spent in the dojo, training karate and or BJJ, and sometimes helping to teach the kids. Saturday was spent all day in the dojo, starting with yoga, and then various karate and BJJ classes. I had never trained BJJ before, but by the end of my 20+ hour crash course (pun intended) on the mats, I had a whole new appreciation of grappling, and some good ideas to help my ground game.

In between training, and chilling out with new friends, I had some wonderful, and insightful discussions with many people, both in and outside of the dojo. I’d anticipated, going there as a black belt, and had been apprehensive, that not having “got there”, before I got there, would somehow impact on what I could contribute, and what I could get out of my time there. It was made clear by my hosts, from the outset that it mattered little, and in reality, I probably got more out of it, because I could relax and train, unhindered by any perceived expectations of me.

Two weeks flew by, and soon it was time to say farewell to my extended dojo family, and meet my own little family (i.e. husband and kids), in Bali, for some rest and relaxation, and a completely new culture, and pace of life. Whilst I was enjoying a cognitive and physical holiday for a couple of weeks, lots of things were happening in my own dojo. It made me homesick, which was a bit strange, but unsurprising. I wasn’t sure how to feel, but had limited communications with people from the dojo, so in actuality, I had to wait until I got home.

Not long after I got back, I was tested for black belt again. This time, it was a completely different experience. For one thing, I’d just (except for two weeks in Bali), come out of a two week intensive training program. That said, I hadn’t been psyching myself up for a test, since, to be honest, I had no idea when I would test again. The test kind of “happened”. One minute I was teaching the juniors, and the next I was testing for shodan! I don’t know if anyone else (apart from my instructor), knew, but I really didn’t, and as I was used to being put on the spot, and put through my paces, it didn’t actually dawn on me what was going on, until about the third or fourth round of kumite (sparring), by which time I was beginning to get somewhat suspicious. The test I did that night, felt real, when I analysed it after the fact, as I had been made to apply (in a practical way) everything I had learned, rather than just performing various techniques “clinically”, as had been the case in my first test, (at least that was how it had felt to me at the time).

After completing the test, I was presented with my shiny new belt. It felt somewhat surreal, but also perfect. It was a much more intimate affair, more personal than it might have been in May, and I was surrounded by the people who’d help me get there; my teacher and my fellow students. My US dojo family were there in spirit, and I was read messages from them also.

The second half of the year went very quickly. After some initial teething difficulties as a new shodan, I let myself believe it, and stopped worrying about what anyone else thought. There were some changes in the dojo, which I was able to take into my stride, for the most part fairly quickly, and I got on with training, and teaching. I probably took on even more responsibility than before but that was ok. Part of my role was helping the next cohort of black belt candidates prepare for their grading in November. My experiences testing, on both occasions, probably helped me help them prepare for the test, and for the results. And helping them and my other kohai helped me put some of my doubts to the side. Last month I was awarded my certificate and even though it’s physically just a piece of paper, it’s way more than that to me.

We finished training for the year a week ago and have another 13 sleeps until we commence for 2019. Neatly, perhaps even serendipitously, I finished the notebook I started in April 2018, (the 8th I have completed since I started keeping a karate Journal at the start of 2015). I found myself writing not only about the nuts and bolts of what I was learning, and the feedback on things I needed to work on but also about what I was going through and how I was feeling at different points. The last Thursday class (the penultimate class for the year) I got home to discover that I had managed to leave my Journal at the dojo. I felt like part of my soul was missing. I was so relieved when my Senpai was able to collect it for me that night so it wouldn’t go astray. I am not a materialistic person in the main, nor particularly sentimental but my JOURnal is my JOURney.

I am looking forward to 2019. I have no idea what challenges and excitement it will bring, but I just know I am ready to ride that roller-coaster and enjoy every moment, no matter what lies over the next hill or around the next bend. May you all be blessed with the same sense of adventure!

Osu.


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The Woman And the Ox; four years on.

ox herding

Hi there! Kampai! It has been a while between drinks. My apologies if you’ve missed me. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and I have started a lot of blog posts which I have not finished, or finished but not published. I’m not sure what this shift towards internalising things is about, or what I am afraid of exactly. Perhaps it’s a case of once bitten twice shy, (Getting blogged down). There are a lot of things that I would like to comment on, but by doing so may compromise the anonymity of some parties, and so I stay silent.

It occurred to me the other day that I have been on my karate journey for four years last Friday. It passed without much ado. That’s okay. On the night before though, I attended a rather interesting seminar on Zen in the martial arts. (You can purchase it here: (Using Martial Arts Zen & Strategy in Life & Career Success) One of the things that was discussed was the famous ox herding pictures ( See basic information here ) shown above. I often reflect on my own journey and how it relates to the journey of the boy and the ox. I’m not sure if I have followed the exact path in the “correct” order, but I’m sure I will pass through all the stages eventually, one way or another, to arrive back where I started. I know I have reflected on this concept before (going round in circles), but I felt now might be a time to reflect on again, given that it isn’t long now until I officially start my journey. This may sound like a confusing scenario, given that I have just said I started my journey four years ago, but realistically I’ve just been packing my bags to get ready to leave. Hopefully in a couple of months it will really begin.

Given how much is going on in my head at the moment, I’ve decided again, that it’s probably best to limit myself to verse as a means of communicating my thoughts. I feel it is somewhat legitimate given that the original ox herding pictures have accompanying poetry. However, if you are not a fan of my poetry feel free to stop reading now.

The woman and the ox
By Rachel Sag
10/3/2018

When I started on this journey,
I knew not where it would take me,
I knew not it was a journey, if I’m honest with myself.
I had stepped into a world
Quite unknown, and yet familiar,
Though quite why it was familiar, was a mystery on the shelf.

I felt welcome, yet a stranger.
I felt safe, yet in some danger,
And so I blindly fought, just to fit in.
And with every block and punch,
I kind of got the hunch
That “something” I had “found” would soon begin.

When I stopped and looked around,
There was so much to be found,
I just had to go in search of greener grasses.
I hadn’t heard of style,
(And I didn’t for a while),
But my head hurt from the differences in classes.

When one door began to close,
Another home I chose,
Though I took my time to get to know it well.
And though nothing seemed a chore,
Since I first walked in the door,
How quickly I’d progress I could not tell.

I just ploughed on through the years,
Through the blood, the sweat, and tears,
And all my flaws were laid bare on the floor.
Any hang up, doubt, and fear,
Seemed to all just disappear,
I bowed in, and just left them at the door.

Though my skills were more refined,
It was changes in my mind,
That snuck up on me from behind along the way.
And though I’m far from perfection,
I see through my own reflection,
To the person who I will become one day.

GASSHUKU 2017 and beyond: Part 1 – Going troppo (without actually going troppo)*

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Just off the plane back home!!!

*’Going Troppo’ is an exclusively Australian slang term for ‘going crazy’. The  popular understanding about it’s origin is that it comes from stories of the tropical heat in the northern parts of Australia driving people crazy.

This afternoon I returned from Queensland having spent a very intensive 10 days focusing on karate. For the last couple of weeks, my life has been a case of: eat, sleep, train, repeat. Sometimes there has definitely been more of the training, than the eating, or sleeping, but mostly it’s been relatively even.

Hard work; it was. Brain stretching; it was. Although there hasn’t been much blood, there has been plenty of sweat…..OMG……that humidity in the tropics is not something someone from a drier climate like me ever really gets used to, but even with sweat streaming into my eyes, there were no tears. Despite the weather, there was no “going troppo”, even when I was led astray to the occasional post-training glass of Japanese or home-brew cider!!!

During my time away, so many Sensei tachi and Senpai tachi, (my own Kyoshi included), have given of their time, freely, and willingly, to watch me, and guide me, to give me feedback, and just to talk karate with me and answer questions.

Statistics-wise, if I total the “in dojo” and/or “with Sensei” hours (ie not including individual practice or informal training / discussion with others) in the last 11 days, I come up with 32 or thereabouts. That’s way more than I would normally train in about a month. During the last 11 days, I’ve trained in five different dojo, on a beach, in the ocean, predawn camp on the grass, accompanied by birdsong. I’ve also trained with 10 different Sensei tachi (instructors), many different Senpai, and probably over 100 Karate-ka from 11 different dojo in Queensland, SA, and USA.

Everyone has their own teaching style. Some very direct, some tactile, some reflective, but all effective in different ways. It could have been a confusing, and overwhelming, or even downright demoralising experience. I am happy to report that it was anything but that. I was expecting to come home a bit battered and bruised if not on the outside, on the inside, but instead, I feel affirmed of my journey, with renewed resolve and enthusiasm. Apart from giving me a whole lot of ideas about how to improve my own practice, the many instructors have also given me ideas about teaching others.

All the people I had the pleasure of training with, are passionate about their art. I know that I am too, and a lot of people can see that in me, but it hasn’t always been easy to convince everyone that a late, (and relatively new) starter like me, is worthy of the kind of respect, and personal attention, I have been afforded.

Five or six months ago, when I started planning this trip, I was somewhat concerned that it was “too early” in my journey, to even ask for the opportunity to attend classes at the Queensland dojo (s), too much of an imposition on my husband and kids, and even too much of an inconvenience on my kohai here, who are preparing for grading (ie I should be around to help them). I was so distracted by what everyone else’s needs were, and what everyone else would make of a request from a first kyu brown belt, with less than four years training under that belt, asking for an experience beyond what even she thought she could be given, let alone handle.

I’m not the first in our dojo, (nor hopefully will I be the last), to visit our sister dojo(s) in Queensland, or to get feedback from Queensland dojo heads, but my Senpai who went last year, was up there for a shorter time, while staying with family, and was in the throes of preparing for his shodan test not long after he returned. I was in Queensland for a whole week after camp, expecting to rent accommodations and a car in order to be able to live out what I wanted to do with the week. Instead I was welcomed into the homes of 2 members of my karate family and transported by various others.

To all of the people who helped me arrange my trip, those who welcomed me into their dojo (s), who patiently taught me, encouraged me. and showed me knew things, to those who transported me, who adopted me into their families (and not just their dojo families), and showered me with love, and support, when I was away from my own family and my own dojo family, you not only made my stay possible but, also extremely enjoyable and highly productive. To all of you, (you know who you are), I am truly grateful.

 

When Life Begins

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The sun sets on my 30’s (No party, but I spent a rare quiet few days away here with my husband when I actually turned 40)

As a young girl, and in my early adult years, I used to hear the oft used catch phrase: “Life begins at 40.” bandied around a lot. Of course, I dismissed it. How could “life” begin when one was so old? Why wait that long to get to the starting blocks? How, at a time when most people are bogged down with the reality of kids, mortgage, dead-end jobs, and bills to pay, and when there was no time for a “life” could life be beginning? Surely this was just something that “old” people said to make themselves feel better about getting old.

 

If only I knew then what I know now.

 

In my 20s I was naive. I liked to go out, or at least hang with the cool crowd, and fit in. I beat myself up when I struggled to keep up. I was never into drinking, and though outwardly extroverted at the time, I don’t think in hindsight, I was actually as outgoing as I made out to be.

 

By my 30s “I” was “we”. I was (still am) married to the man I met in my mid 20s, we had a house (mortgage), relatively steady employment, and were hoping for (trying for) kids. We were happy. We were self-sufficient, and to a degree, self-centred.

 

We “finally” became parents in our mid 30s. Being responsible for one (and not too much later two) tiny humans changed a lot of things. Suddenly the whole focus of our existence, and the whole reason for our existence, was to nurture these little helpless “bundles of joy” (they were not always joyful, but that’s part of the parenting package I guess).

 

Once I had emerged, from the sleep deprivation, endless nappies, and generally being a slave to routine, that accompanies new motherhood, I had the luxury to explore who I really was, what things were important to me, what I could give to others, what I could learn from others, and what and who I wanted to become. This opportunity came around about the time my son started school, and the year before my daughter started kindergarten. I was working part-time, being a mom full-time, helping out at the school, making music, and fitting in a decent amount of exercise. I needed something more. I wanted to be my own person.

 

The year things changed, and the year I started to get to know myself better, was, ironically, the year I turned 40. I can’t put my finger on what it was exactly, but there were two things that facilitated the change more quickly.

 

One of them was starting Karate training. Whether it was just doing something completely different and new for me, or whether it was something that filled a gap I never knew was there, I don’t really know, but it seemed to give me a clarity of mind to figure things out for myself.

 

Around about the same time, and mostly for health reasons, I decided to try a Vegan lifestyle. That also for some reason improved my clarity of mind. Sure, it made me feel better physically; healthier, and stronger, but it also shifted some of the brain fog, and gave me so much energy to do things, which facilitated me getting fitter and stronger. I seemed to need less sleep (why didn’t I think of going vegan when I had babies?), less sugar, less stimulants, and feel more calm in myself. In time it also got me thinking about why people even eat animals. I could never go back now.

 

It was more than that though. Both Karate, and being vegan, started to open my mind in a general way, and made me a more flexible thinker, more willing to accept and listen to others, and decide what worked for me. It made me determined, and more importantly determined not to let others define me. It helped me learn and get past learning blocks, some of which had been there more than half my life. It made me more confident in myself. It even gave me the confidence to start this blog. It made me confident to be myself, and it put me on a quest to become the best me I could be. It led me to take an attitude of living life without regret.  It gave me, in short, the impetus to stop being content to exist and to start living.

 

So now that my 40th year has well and truly passed and a few since then, I can say to all the non believing 20 and 30 – somethings out there, that it’s true what they say: Life actually DOES begin at 40. Life is what you make of it, so own it and make it count.

 

PS: Just for the record (and the benefit of Gen Y’s and younger ones): NO, I don’t feel old. I feel younger than I did at 30. It may be in part the kilos or the teenage angst I left behind in the last decade, but in reality, it’s probably mostly just an attitude shift. So be assured, although it may not be plain sailing, it certainly isn’t down hill from here!!)

 

PPS: Eventually I will get around to having a 40th birthday party…..but hey…..what’s the rush, right?

Freedom of choice

I’ve been meaning to write something like this for some time, and was personally reminded about it when a previous blog post entry, commemorating a very important choice I made about two years ago, Anniversary of New Beginnings came up on my news feed in Facebook, but, I’ve been very busy, haven’t had time to sit down and think. And then, today’s photo prompt for #fms_pad was “free choice”. That gave me the impetus I needed, and for the sake of brevity, I used verse.

Below I include my photo and entry for today’s FMS PAD.

choice

 

Free choice:

This picture was taken on Wednesday night between two commitments when I had a free choice of activities unencumbered from my “Mum” responsibility. I chose to go on a sunset beach walk.

Because I am less of a photographer and more of a wordsmith, I would like to share some words and poetry about free choice and what this picture is trying to represent; some words of inspiration from others, along my life’s journey so far, and some of my own thoughts. I hope you will hear me out.

Firstly, words from Theodore Seussal:


“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

Secondly, words from an inspirational teacher and friend:


“I like to think that there is no right or wrong path, but the choices we make. Therefore, when stepping forward in life, don’t fear the negative energy you receive and don’t embrace it either, just turn it around and make it a positive pathway to your journey”

Lastly, my own reflections on free choice:

FREEDOM OF CHOICE, Rachel Sag 30/7/17

I have my freedom,
So I get to choose.
I’ve my whole life to live;
I have nothing to lose.

If mole hills become mountains,
I can give up, or climb.
If I can’t do it yet,
I can put in more time.

I can choose to be happy,
Or fight for a new way.
I can learn from the past,
And make each day a new day.

I can listen to others;
Accept and receive,
But I am the one,
To choose what to believe.

When I come to a cross roads,
I can go left or right.
I can choose to stay still;
Stand my ground and fight.

I can choose to plough onward,
Or choose to retreat.
I can ask for assistance,
Or stand on my own feet.

Each choice is different.
No choice is wrong.
So I march to the beat,
Of my own chosen song.

Repetition is the Key….or is it?

oos

Repetition is the key to improvement and development in many things; learning kihon, ido, kata, and anything really in karate, learning a language, changing a behaviour in yourself or someone else.

But what about when repetition is not what is needed? What about when repetition is contraindicated or even leads to a decline? What about when the root cause of your problem is in fact repetition?

Recently I developed RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury), also known as OOS (Occupational Overuse Syndrome). It’s not new to me. I had it a few years ago, which on the plus side, meant I recognised the signs pretty quickly. My job involves a lot of typing (also known as keying). First time around, it developed due to a combination of keying with high repetition for many years, increasing productivity targets and time pressures (given I had family responsibilities and couldn’t stay back late at work even if I wanted or needed to). I started getting sore arms, so repetition was key….but not in a good way in this case.

I tried various things including ergonomic keyboards and mice, adjustable seating and desks, rest breaks and stretches, but in the end the only thing that banished it (at least for a while) was a creature by the name of DRAGON. Dragon (Naturally Speaking) is a voice recognition software programme. My dragon and I both needed training, but we developed a happy (though sometimes hilarious) relationship over the years. My love of words, double meanings and his tendency to misunderstand me at times, led to some classic errors (usually picked up by me when editing) and me having a right old chuckle.

Unfortunately over the years, and as a result of multiple IT updates, my Dragon started to struggle, and due to the fact that I was so busy and didn’t want to spend my entire day on the phone to technology support resulting in a pile up of work, I ended up mousing and keying way more than I should have been…..and thus…..OOS reared its ugly head again.

My boss came to visit me one day and I showed her the issues. She made things happen, booked me some time to get help with Dragon….unfortunately things got worse after that (both with my computer and my arms). I did have to spend most of my working week getting IT issues sorted, (which meant some enforced rest of sorts) and meanwhile try to sort out my arms which weren’t letting up between one work day and the next (despited the rest), and were being exacerbated by many home activities (though, thank my lucky stars NOT karate).

Things are not perfect. I am still waiting for Dragon and appropriate peripherals at home (lucky my husband is in IT too). I am still having training with Dragon, and support to write lots of scripts to get it to function better within the programmes I need to do my job. I am still doing lots of stretches, massage, icing for my arms, and I am trying to avoid using the PC and other devices at home as much as I can (hence the short post and quiet blog). I am trying to be patient with myself and let myself recover. However it is quite a frustrating, chronic, and invisible condition, and I find myself having to explain why I have been quiet or less productive than normal. Fortunately most of my colleagues, friends, and family have been supportive of me.

Thanks for your patience, and hopefully the next blog will be dictated and without any glaring dragon typos (or maybe I can do a “out take” section for your amusement).

Coming of age.

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This Thursday is the 9th of March. It marks the third anniversary of my first entering a dojo, and my entry into the world of karate.

Things are a lot different for me now, it’s true, I have a different instructor, a different style, an abundance of kata (and a love of kata rather than a fear of it), but, there is one one thing hasn’t changed, and that is the absolute completeness I feel when I am doing karate or thinking about it. That instant attraction I felt for karate in those first few classes has not faded, as some others told me would happen with the passing of years. Who knows what the future holds for me but if I am honest the attraction continues to grow rather than diminish as the months pass.

I was chatting with my Senpai today, about how it feels like longer than 3 years….that maybe my karate years are like dog years! This is due to the many opportunities I have been given, which have afforded me the opportunity to accelerate my learning, the passion and patience of my primary and other network instructors, and the camaraderie of the people I train with.

I remember when I decided to try out the club which has become my home away from home (a long way from home it feels like sometimes, but honestly, I have a smile on my face the whole way to and from because I am so happy to travel the distance for something I love). I did my research and looked at the webpage / blog / facebook presence. One of the things I recall seeing (and it is still there) was: (“start training today and….) “Start Living”. I thought it was a bit over the top at the time to say that, but honestly it has become my reality and it is not a stretch at all to make that claim.

So…..Happy third (re)birthday to me! I say rebirth because really Karate has changed who I am, how I define myself, my whole perspective on life, and I have really started living.

Second Blogoversary: A Song without (many) words

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It occurred to me on the anniversary of my broken toe (and a “skelegrow” reference in a past status on Facebook 😛 ), that it’s been 2 years since I started this blog. Happy blogoversary to me…..I am now a toddler blogger.

I haven’t been writing that much lately. It’s partly a function of being busy as ever but it’s more than just that. There is plenty I want to talk about and say but things are getting so busy and complicated in my head sometimes that it’s hard to share things in a concise way.

I came across Plato’s quote (above) a few weeks ago on a chalk board of a cafe somewhere on my way across town. It really resonates with me because it sums up how I have been feeling in my 40s. I don’t see the meaning of “lover” in romantic sense but more of finding your groove so to speak.

Anyway….I think I will celebrate with a poem of my own. Perhaps one day it will be a song too. I really should start composing again sooner or later.

A song without (many) words.

Rachel Sag (24/2/17)

The more I learn, the more I grow,

The more I think, the less I know.

The more I see, the more I do,

The more I find the person who,

I knew was there, but didn’t know,

Or dream how far I’d have to go.

The more I seek, the more find,

The person I have left behind.

A somebody so unaware;

A someone who was barely there.

A ghostly shadow; Can you see

The shell of someone who once was me?

I recognise but don’t repent,

The hours and minutes as misspent.

The journey traversed over time,

Brought her to me and onto mine.

I now lead on with steady stride,

‘Til I can join and walk beside,

The person who will look at me,

And wonder who she used to be.

Looking back and looking forward. (A year in review.)

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Just a little bit excited about our trip to Tokyo (and Japan)!

It’s nearly time to wrap up 2016 and start a brand new year. Joelle over at A beginner’s Journey has reminded me I ought to be doing a year in review post…..because that’s what you do.

Although, as social media feeds keep reminding me, 2016 has been a year of losses (even in the last week), 2016 has been a pretty good year for me personally. A lot of the people who died were from the world of music and arts. One of that number hit much harder than the others, and was way more confronting, because they were a friend and musical colleague of mine, and they were of my generation and it was way too soon for them to leave. In perspective, I see it as a reminder that (1) we don’t live forever and that is part of the beauty of life, and (2) we should make damn sure we do and say everything we need to today and not wait for tomorrow, just in case….

To be honest I don’t know where the year went. Life has been crazy busy. I have had lots of music commitments, I have continued to work in an ever changing and challenging (often to the point of being frustrating) environment, I have been helping my kids learn various life skills, I have been experimenting in the kitchen, and I have been holiday planning and travelling. In addition to being a musician, a professional, a mum and a wife, I have been training (Karate) fairly intensively this year. So I guess the old adage “Time flies when you are having fun.” is probably a reasonable explanation to why this year has felt so short (when actually it had a whole 24 extra hours!!).

MUSIC

Musically speaking, I have been involved in several performances (both choral / vocal and instrumental) with Lumina and Lyrebyrd and also done some singing and playing just for fun. I have not had time to write anything new but I had one of my works performed again in the fringe and to top it off it was voted by the audience poll as the most popular piece in the concert, (which was an absolute honour, especially considering the programme included some absolute gems).

WORK

I am not at liberty to say much about work but despite its frustrations (mostly related to IT issues), I am grateful for my job and my colleagues and continue to be challenged by my clients (in a more positive way than I am challenged by the IT issues!!). And besides working pays for extras like presents and karate lessons!

PARENTHOOD / FAMILY

I have said it before and it bears repeating: Being a mum (or a dad) never really gets easier; it just gets different. I am a fairly practical mum. I feed my kids, I try to teach them right from wrong, I cuddle them, I read them stories, I give them band-aids (if there is blood), I cough up money for teeth, I make their birthday cakes. I help them learn about the world through experiences, by spending time with them, and leading by example. I try not to shelter them and I am honest when they ask questions (even where others may perpetuate a myth).

I am probably not ever going to be one of those mums who sacrifices everything for my kids. If I was, I don’t think they would ever learn that I am important too, that I should (and do) respect myself, and that I deserve respect. If they don’t learn that, I don’t think they will learn to be independent, or confident, or respect themselves. I love my kids to the moon and back, even though I have moments where I would like to send  them to the moon and ask them not to come back for a while.

The more my kids grow up the more their personalities and preferences, strengths and talents shine through, and the more I realise that despite the fact that they have, by and large, been parented in the same way, they are so different from each other.

My big boy is a very academic and almost pedantic individual, who likes to think, at least when it comes to things like information and concepts. He doesn’t think a lot about feelings (other than his own at times). He struggles to control his moods, and he struggles with the world not being all about him, which has found him in all sorts of strife, particularly at school. He is all about pushing boundaries, and saying no, and he is very stubborn, (like his mum), but hasn’t yet learned to channel that stubbornness into drive.

My baby girl is the more empathetic and caring of my kids. She is artistic, musical and often socially adept beyond her years. She can also be stubborn but generally she uses this rather better than her big brother. She is competitive. If her brother has it, she wants it, especially if it is a skill. She just decides what she’s going to do and practises determinedly until she gets it. This was particularly noticeable when she wanted to swim, and when she wanted to ride a bike. I think at least some of this tenacity and confidence has come about through training Karate, which she really enjoys. She struggles with so many things at school, and because her big brother is (and was at the same age) so far ahead of his peers in things like writing, maths, and spelling, it’s hard to accept (for her and sometimes for us), that she’s normal and not really too far behind behind. I think she has now decided it’s really time she could read properly (and I am all for it) so she’s been struggling her way one letter at a time through books with me.

FOOD AND COOKING

My adventures in the kitchen have been more about making good food in large batches quickly (at least in terms of preparation time) than about making lots of fancy things that take forever to make and 5 seconds to eat (or having the small fry take a look and refuse). I would love more time in the kitchen (and the last 2 days I have had the luxury). Usually though, with work and training and all the other stuff, having meals planned and ready to go in 5 minutes is essential. That said, I have been enjoying some more relaxed meal preparation and catering over the Christmas and New year break while we are all home and unhurried. I have made some old favourites and tried some new ideas. I even made vegan Bailey’s tonight for me and my husband, after he suggested it as a way to use the vast and static collection of whiskey that has now moved house with us about 5 times without much disturbance! (It was delicious and way too easy!)

Another thing I have been playing with is the lowest common denominator approach to cooking. I have several friends with food allergies / sensitivities and other dietary preferences. I have enjoyed the opportunity to prepare fodmap friendly, gluten free, nut free, (insert any other requirement) vegan food, insomuch as it presents as a problem solving activity and an art of deception. I made a lovely pesto yesterday which had to be gluten free (ok), vegan (ok), and garlic / onion free…..difficult but succeeded….and it was made primarily from homegrown ingredients picked fresh from the garden!

Apart from these aspects….the other thing I have been trying to  do is make  use of food / by-products and minimise waste. Of course technically we don’t waste any kitchen scraps since we compost them (or at the moment feed them to the chickens next door), but if there is more I can squeeze out of something before it goes that direction, I will. I have even tried to make my own cleaning and “beauty” products, using things like orange peel, coffee grounds and other things one normally just throws away. I have learned how to take advantage of aquafaba (the liquid left after boiling pulses – eg in the tin or the pot), made my own apple cider vinegar and orange vinegar, invented lots of ways of using up almond pulp from almond milk making and am currently in the midst of inventing new ways to hide use zucchini in recipes, as the garden is going nuts.

TRAVEL

Planning a holiday overseas with 2 kids was fun but difficult. When you are a couple, you hop on a plane and play things by ear when you get there. You can’t really do that with kids. Although I didn’t plan our Japan trip down to the last second, all accommodation and internal transport arrangements were confirmed and booked (mostly independently) before we left. This involved lots of late nights because the kids like to interrupt or suggest the same thing a zillion times while you are trying to arrange things. On the plus side, travelling with a mobile router made life easier and allowed us to be somewhat flexible with the itinerary within an area. Overall the holiday was a success and my only complaint is that we didn’t have enough time. There will be a next time though. I am determined.

KARATE

I have written over 1000 words and only mentioned Karate in passing…..OMG….how did that even happen? This year has been a pretty big year for me. I have learned so much, and gained so much. Sure there have been the observable gains in skill acquisition, but the internal changes and the things I have learned about myself and what I can achieve, were the bigger gains as far as I am concerned.

At the end of last year, my instructor helped me to “step up” my training. To be honest I was pretty perplexed about what “stepping up” would look like since I was already training more days in the week than I wasn’t, but, I went along for the ride, because I love Karate, and to be honest, when it comes to Karate I trust his judgement of what I am capable of (even if that occasionally initially surpasses what I think I am capable of)!

The year has been punctuated by various events of significance and interest, some of which I have written about in other posts throughout 2016. (You can catch up here on Karate posts.) The year was punctuated by several network and wider MA community events, which I had the privilege of participating in, including open and invite only workshops, a tournament, the annual gasshuku in Queensland, and my first 2 network panel gradings. Whilst all of these were enjoyable, informative, and fantastic learning experiences, I would have to say that my happiest times were at regular classes in my home dojo, just learning, learning to teach, and helping others learn.

Training has been full on, and I figured out by the middle of the year (if not before) what “stepping up” involved. By half way through the year it became evident that the plan was for me to do a double grading in November. This initially freaked me out somewhat if I am honest. I knew I would “get” all the kata and the physical requirements in time, but I wasn’t sure I could “be” a second kyu, especially not without having dipped my feet into the muddy (ie brown) waters at 3rd kyu for a good six months. It also meant going things alone for sections of the grading (since the rest of my “team” of purples were grading to 3rd kyu). November came and I was prepared. It’s been 6 weeks or so since I passed 2nd kyu and was awarded a Senpai title. With all my other belts, it took little or no time to get used to the new rank. My brown belt with it’s 2 black stripes, not to mention being referred to in social media and email and text and especially in person as “Senpai” has taken until about the last week or two to feel real and intermittently “comfortable”. At least I actually respond to Senpai now.

In terms of the more personal achievements, the stuff that is perhaps harder to see on the outside, I have been able to move on from some of the mental barriers and stereotypes that had been holding back my mind, and grow in confidence. I have had some support in this process, and there were times where it wasn’t easy, but time and reflection have helped a great deal. In a nutshell it has mostly been about extending and melding my personal attitudes into Karate and vice versa. Given that Karate is really a part of me, this has been a natural progression to some extent, but the “growing up” has been made easier by my “big brothers and sisters” having been there before.

After the excitement of our November grading, which saw us undergo a big colour change and my Senpai and 2 other Senpai at the sister dojo I train with, achieve their shodan, I had a great time helping plan and arrange our dojo end of year Celebration. I felt it was particularly important to arrange something to Celebrate our achievements as a club this year, because, as you can see, it has been big and exciting year, and not just for me personally. That said, at the dinner, I received the inaugural MIK (Most Improved Karateka) Award. I know I have improved but it’s hard to see yourself the way others see you. It was a proud moment for me (if not a surprising one), but not as proud as the moments I have had seeing others in the dojo achieve things they never thought possible.

THE END OR THE BEGINNING OR BOTH

So this is the end of looking back, or is it? Whilst we probably shouldn’t dwell on the past, I am sure that I will look back on this in future, as a reference point at the very least. Looking backwards doesn’t necessarily mean going backwards. Looking backwards can be a stepping stone to looking forwards.

2016 has been a blast. I don’t want to forget it, but I am really looking forward to 2017. I don’t really do resolutions anymore, they are too rigid. My aim in karate and in life remains open ended: To be better today than I was yesterday, and better tomorrow than I am today. With hard work and dedication, this is achievable. I’m up for that.

Left to right:

Top: Dragon fly in Kyoto, Temple Gates (Tori) Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto

Middle: Me and Kyoshi after 2nd Kyu / Senpai Award, medals from the 2016 TJKN National Championships, Me and Mini Me at the Championships.

Bottom: Mini Me and her flag sparring medal from the kids tournament at Gasshuku, Selfie at the summit of Mt Misen, Miyajima, Hiroshima, Tofu selection at the supermarket, Kyoto (I think).

 

 

The do of parenthood

(and by “do” I mean “way / path”)

parenting

 

Parenting. There is no right. There is no wrong. There is only different.

Kids are different. Parents are different. No matter how many books or blogs you read, no one is an expert at “parenting”. Kids don’t come with instruction manuals and you just have to wing it! The facts are: There is no one size fits all. There is no recipe for success. There is only going with what works. Eventually and with any luck, you become somewhat proficient at parenting your own child or children (and even then your style will likely vary between children).

We teach our children to grow up, and they also teach us to grow up, even if we thought we were grown up before we decided to bring them into the world. We don’t do a course or have to earn a degree for our new “job”. We are suddenly responsible for this little (and demanding) person 24/7.

Parenting doesn’t get harder or easier from that moment on; it just gets different. From carer and protector, our role also then incorporates:  teacher, law enforcer, referee, counsellor, and don’t forget all the background stuff like: nutritionist, chef, cleaner, laundry operator, personal trainer, assistant Pokémon hunter…….. It’s a multi-skilled job for which you get paid nothing……at least not in terms of compensatory income. Parenting is the most challenging and dynamic role you will ever take on. Parents are all doing the best they can, and hopefully adapting along the way.

Everyone does things differently. That’s perfectly OK, and perfectly natural for the reasons outlined above.  It’s also natural as a parent, to observe people’s parenting. Who knows? You might even pick up something useful!  It’s inevitable to compare your own style of parenting to others’ styles and it’s OK to reflect on that in the privacy of your own brain. However, when you consider presenting an opinion on someone’s parenting style to them directly, it’s probably best not to or at the very least do so with utmost caution.  An observation is an observation. It’s a snapshot of their parenting. You have no idea what happens outside of that context or on a particular day. You don’t know what is going on for the child or the parent.

Drawing conclusions (even inwardly) about someone’s  parenting style is therefore fraught. Firstly, even if your perceptions about someone else’s parenting style or philosophy does not sit well with you, it should not impact on you as a parent, (and doesn’t need to if you don’t let it). Secondly, most (if not all) of us find it uncomfortable  when others tell us how to parent or prescribe what we should  or should not do based on what works for them. We tolerate it sometimes in our parents because they are, after all, still parenting us, still teaching us….and we them. However if others (or even our parents) tell us how to parent our own children or even question our parenting methods, it’s quite unsettling.

A more helpful approach if you are truly concerned about someone’s parenting style, or the well being of a child, or if for some reason, it is affecting you personally, might be to show solidarity and support, by asking if them if they are OK, or if they need a break. Let’s face it. Parenting is a tough job, from which we can’t resign, and we could all use some solidarity.