Friday, January 27, 2012

"I Do It Because I Suck and I Hate Sucking"

This is what my friend said to me today on the phone about her painting classes. It's one of the 2,000,000 things I love about her.  She's willing to suck at something, in public, to become good.

I feel her pain on this one.  I started putting on weight in 2010 after dealing with a family member's crisis by eating lots of ice cream.  I swear it made sense at the time.  Then last year I had 2 surgeries & the not-working out and eating train really picked up steam.

That was kind of a disaster, so I've started working out regularly again & started taking Krav classes again, which reminded me why I love this stuff so much in the first place.  

But holy crap do I suck.  And when you go to class you suck in public.  

Last night I went to class completely prepared to suck and was not disappointed, but oh my god it was so much fun!

Matt had us out in the dark choking each other against a storage container with an uneven surface, then choking each other on a table so we couldn't use our feet.  We were on our backs on a table of upturned wooden boxes, the attacker standing in our guard & leaning over us choking us.  Our feet couldn't reach the ground so they couldn't be used to generate power for the defense.  Then we had to run a short distance (suck).  

Then the fun began.  We learned a couple of parkour jumps over the boxes we'd just been choked on.  I have a massive mental block about jumping over things. I can climb a fence & jump over it like an 11 year old taking a regular short cut through the neighbor's yard (which I once was), but jumping over a solid object, even one much shorter than a regular fence is like facing a hungry lion after rolling around in cat food.  I soooo did not want to do it.  My heart was pounding in my throat and it was made worse by the fact that I knew my feelings were ridiculous. 

Everybody else was flying over it like professional stuntmen, but I, um, was not.  I wanted to quit, I just didn't want to quit in front of other people. So I kept heaving myself over.  I wish I could have wailed each time just like Chewbaca, it would truly have completed the picture.

Then came this little exhaustion drill, punching endlessly, defending surprise chokes, running & jumping over the boxes & getting surprise attacked again. By my third round I was getting tired, too tired to be scared.  So I just went up to the box & jumped over it like an 11 year old kid. HA!  

The lesson, of course, is that the problem is all in my head.  It's interesting how knowing that doesn't help at all.  

Me and my super-fly friend who won't suck at painting for long.
I'll go through the same process of sucking again over and over until I reach some sort of internal critical mass where I just begin to jump without fear or hesitation.  How many times will it take?  I have no idea.  I also don't care.  What else am I gonna do, sit around and suck at this stuff?


Thursday, January 26, 2012


While the investigation is ongoing, there is a chance that Esme Barrera's murderer has been found!  The suspect in question was found dead after an apparent suicide.  It seems his DNA has been linked to the crime scene on New Year's Eve as well as to a series of attacks last summer.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Guest Blogger: Miss Carrie

I read a story once about a woman who wrote letters to her future self & sealed them up with a "to be opened" date written on the outside of the envelope. The letters gave her future self advice and reminded her what it was like to be younger and still unaware of all the events that had passed since the sealing of the envelope.

Here one of my morning students, Miss Carrie, gives her younger self some life advice.  

What would you like to tell your younger or older self?

Dear 16 year-old Carrie,
As I am writing this to you, you are 16 years-old. You are 16 years-old, and you hate your body.  You cry endlessly about it, you starve yourself, you think no boy will ever love you and you look in the mirror and hate what you see.  As your 29 year-old self, let me break some stuff down for you and drop some truth bombs all over this mess. 
Look I get it. You’re in ballet and you will never be 5’11’’ and 103 pounds. You’ve always had hips, but that’s bone there, lady, and unless you saw them off, you’ll always have a bit of an hour-glass body, even at your thinnest. Maybe pursuing something that has a physically impossible standard for you to reach might not have been the best idea [you’ll never make the basketball team, either], but you love to dance so I get why you do it. And you’re raised with all the “beautiful” people on TV and their ridiculously thin bodies and they all talk about how it’s natural and takes really no effort. Well it’s not natural or effortless. I can tell you those people have nothing to do but to maintain that thinness, they sometimes use drugs to achieve it and at least half the celebrities you worship will be in rehab by the time you reach 29 with me.  They’re also starving themselves just like you. Just wait until you see what they do to these “perfect” people with Photoshop. You’ll learn what Photoshop is soon enough. Perfection is a joke, there is no such thing. 
And here’s the real truth: that is totally ok. 
Think about all the time you’ve been wasting crying over how fat you are [which I have to say, at 5’4’’ and 110 pounds, is laughable, but teenagers are stupid. Sorry]. Did that do anything? Do you think your tears will shave down your hip bones or lengthen your legs or enlarge your hands? Why are you wasting time on the things you cannot change? Believe me, when you get into the world and you see how messed up some of it is, there is a lot of energy you can spend on trying to fix things you can actually change. 
And those boys you’re so crazy over? Here’s something I know you won’t see coming: they love your butt. I know, that hideous thing at the back of you that no matter how much you starved yourself to get rid of you never could? Yeah, that one.  Every guy you will ever be with will be borderline obsessed with it.  You want to know why? Because it’s full and womanly, and apparently quite fun to play bongos on. So all these boys you think will never love you will actually love you for some of the things you hate about yourself right now. And if they love your body, why can’t you?
The amazing friends you have now will still be your friends in 13 years, so they are just as awesome as you think they are now. They’ll have spread all over the country [and world], but when you get together, it’s like no time has passed at all. You’ll make new amazing friends, too, people you share your soul with and they to you and it’s one of the best things in your life. And as much as you love them, they love you, too. For all the weird and wonderful and annoying things that make up you and I, they love you. I cannot stress enough to you how loved you are. And since you have impeccable taste in friends and trust their opinion, if they love you so much, why can’t you love yourself?
I won’t lie to you, you’re going to go through some shit. Some really bad shit. But you crawl out of the rubble every time. You’re a survivor and you’re stronger than you think. I’m here to tell you that you get stronger than you can ever imagine. You start taking Krav Maga and push yourself and where you used to pray for spaghetti-like arms, you will enjoy the muscles that you develop. Try not to pass out when I tell you that you will become 20 pounds heavier than you are right now. Ten of that is probably fat, you’re a woman and it’s natural [you also have a crippling apple pie addiction], but ten of that is probably muscle. It suits you. And beyond all comprehension, with that scary 20 extra pounds, you will love your body more than you ever had. Because it’s yours, you’ve put the work in and you feel the strength in you. It’s the combination of your inner strength and developing your outer strength. That +20 on the scale? It’s just a number. It means nothing, it is not you. You are strong and smart and funny and capable and you deliver a mean roundhouse kick. You will eventually stand up for yourself, not take crap from anyone and give back to the world around you. What is not beautiful about that? What is not beautiful about you? A number on scale? A dress size? 
In short, just stop worrying about it, you’ve got far bigger fish to fry on this planet in whatever time we wind up getting here. You’re beautiful because you’re you. You may not be thin, but you are strong and that will carry a lot more importance to you as you get older, so try to relax. The world doesn’t end when you hit 120 pounds, or when you hit 130. And you’re actually really looking forward to turning 30, especially since you wasted so much time not enjoying or loving yourself through your teens and 20’s. So stop crying about it, eat a damn sandwich and be with the people you love. Make the world as beautiful as you are.
Oh, and don’t date a guy nicknamed Sleazy. It’s not ironic.
Catch you on the flipside,
29 year-old Carrie

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

One of the first questions we often get from a new student is how to make a proper fist.  Here's me in my backyard talking about it.  

I have no idea why I look so mad in the first frame, or why I'm talking like a robot when my thumb is extended (??).  

The book I reference, The Armored Rose by Tobi Beck is out of print, but you can get it used on Amazon.  Its the only book I've ever read that discusses the inability of some people to make a fist with a flat top, but its not uncommon to have a student facing that situation.  The most common explanation I hear is that the trainee has long fingernails, but I usually look to the bones in the hand for the answer first.

The doctor I talked to about it didn't know if it would damage the hand to hit with a fist made with one or two knuckles sticking up, as if you were frogging someone.  If I can get a definitive answer from a hand specialist, I'll post their answer.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

As Many As It Takes

Not a day has gone by since Esme Barrera's murder that she hasn't been the subject of a conversation, news or blog update, or Facebook post.  

The man who killed Miss Barrera and assaulted at least one other woman New Year's Eve night is still at large.  The following Saturday my free monthly women-only self defense class exploded - I walked out into the lobby of FnF after teaching a small intro class to see the lobby filled with over 50 new women.  It blew my mind.  Several other martial arts schools in Austin are also offering free women's classes, which is wonderful.  The more people who train the better.

However...I read the text version of a KXAN news report a couple of days ago that was really cool, right up until the moment that it made my blood run cold.

There is a kung fu school in town offering 2 free months of free self defense classes to women.  This is no small thing, as they have to pay an instructor, the light bill etc.  The school rep was also giving some good advice and I was very happy reading the story until I read that they teach women you should only ever strike an attacker once and then run away.  Grrr...

His larger point, which I agree with, is that it's not appropriate to increase the danger you're already in by standing there trying to beat the guy up if you have the opportunity to escape.  This is true.  Get the hell out of there and call the cops.  It's the reason I run wildly out of class sometimes during a demonstration after I successfully defend against my "attacker".

What I strongly disagree with is the idea that you should assume that one punch will neutralize an attacker.  Hey, maybe it will take one punch.  That would be awesome.  Maybe it will take 3 punches, 2 elbows to the face, and a strike to the groin.  Maybe you can start shrieking like a banshee, as one of this fugitive's victims did, and he'll split.  What I'm getting at is we have no idea what it will take to neutralize an attacker in some future unforseen attack!  

I'm pretty much never the strongest or fastest person on the mat.  Sad fact.  But I'm certainly willing to keep trying if at first I don't succeed.  So if I seriously wanted to harm someone and had the means and opportunity to do so, I really think it would take it would take more than one punch from most people to stop me.  I'm not saying they couldn't stop me.  Punching me in the face would certainly be a good start.  Think how much more true this would be when trying to defend against someone bigger, stronger, and accustomed to violence.  

Ultimately, I want to say this:  1) You CAN learn to defend yourself, but you must be willing to do whatever the situation requires, whether that's striking once and running, fighting like a demon, screaming, hiding, etc.  

2) Please use your own brain when it comes to people telling you about self defense.  If it doesn't sound right, ask for an explanation.  It's not rude, just ask nicely.  But ASK. And then try it out for yourself.  


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Make A Change

I've been an avid reader my whole life.  Books have always been a means of education as well as escape in my happiest as well as darkest moments.

Right now I'm finishing up a book called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.


It's a fascinating study in how change happens - or doesn't happen - in large organizations, small groups, or individuals.  Some of it you've no doubt heard before:  if you want to make it to Krav class more often but have a crazy schedule, stash some boxing gloves and workout clothes & shoes in the trunk of your car.  That way, if the opportunity to come to the studio pops up in your schedule, you'll be ready to hit the mat.  They call this "shaping the path" or making it easy to do the right thing.  

There's lots of practical advice here, and they make it both entertaining and easy to see how you can really change things for the better in your personal life and at work.

For me, though, the one point I can't get out of my head centers on the issue of identity.   Change happens when you believe you are "the kind of person who..."  

I've seen this over and over again on the mat.  

The biggest roadblock to getting females on the mat centers on their beliefs about their identity (this is true of males as well, of course, but its historically been more a part of the male identity to participate in combat arts).

We spend our whole lives learning to be sugar and spice and everything nice.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

"I could never hurt anybody"  This comes from women who will go after a heavy bag like she's a hungry honey badger, but if a human holds a punch shield she instantly throws little tap-tap-tap "punches".  "They won't like me if I'm 'mean' "So she's completely capable, but unable to make herself strike hard.  Having struggled with this myself in the past, I feel for her.  I was only able to break the habit because my male friends who train kept hitting me hard and yelling HIT ME!  I love them for that.  However it still took years before I'd really hit someone, and if it's been a while, I still involuntarily deliberately miss or pull back the first few strikes.  I'm a nice lady.

So the question becomes:  how do I shorten that time period for other females?   How can I save them years of believing they just can't strike aggressively, that it's not who they are?  Maybe for some of them it's really not who they are, but I doubt that's true for most.  We are a war-like species, and that includes the ladies.  

As Rory Miller says, there is a story we tell ourselves about ourselves.  That story is often what is the most damaged after an attack.  The person who thought it would never happen to them comes to see their whole existence, justice, and humanity differently.  The person who thought they would be brave, and wasn't, can burn with shame over the incident for the rest of their lives.  The person who thought they would be weak, and wasn't, can begin to see opportunities they were completely blind to before.  They begin to see their behavior in that one moment as who they are, even though it was only a moment in time.

How do I shorten the time period for females?  How do I convince her to allow herself to train aggressively without spending the years it took me?  I asked Jeff about this a couple of months ago, and he replied that maybe there are no shortcuts.  Maybe if you want to climb that particular mountain you just have to put in the time.  I really hope he's wrong.  Too many students have quit to go take up a kinder gentler pastime because while they enjoyed class they believe they just aren't the kind of person who can be strong enough to fight.   

I believe we create the person we become.  If you are willing to defend your child - and most women will fight like Hellcats to protect their child - you can learn to be willing to defend yourself as well.  You are worth defending.  You can make the switch.