Tag Archives: martial arts

THE DEVIL AT WORK IN THE WORLD

The Devil’s two most powerful tools in this world are vanity and envy.

I’ve written so much about jealousy and envy, I thought I had nothing left to say. But I do.

I know that technically speaking, the terms are not identical. Envy is wanting what someone else has. Jealousy is fear of losing what you have.

But the premise is the same: Your perception is, you fear you have something to lose, and somebody else is responsible for that fear.

Envy has been a powerful thread in my life. No matter how “enlightened” I get, I struggle with it. Either I’m preoccupied with someone else having more skill/good fortune/attention, or someone is giving me crap because they envy me.

Seems like much of the trouble in the world is based on envy, from my own small woes to those of great nations.

If someone copies your work, part of that is because they see you have skill/success/attention/money/whatever. They think if they simply make the same work, they will have that, too.

If someone is envious of your artwork, and they are in a position of power over you (a juror for a show, a standards committee member), they can make life miserable for you in countless small and subtle ways.

If they are a peer or a friend, it’s even worse. Suddenly, everything you say or do draws a sarcastic remark, a biting comment, a moment of ridicule. A once-promising friendship warps into something sad and rueful.

When I allow myself to envy, it’s just as bad. Trust me.

But the real sin in envy is not in the behavior itself, or the misery it causes.

It’s because by giving in to it, we give away our power.

We give away everything beautiful, unique and wonderful that’s in us. We destroy the gifts that are given us–our talent, our perseverance, our joy–and turn them into dust.

Earlier this month, I almost left my dojo for another that seemed more compatible. I thought I would join a school that was less physically demanding, more sympathetic to my aging body.

I talked with my head instructor; he reluctantly agreed my reasons were sound. But he said I had to let the head of my school know.

I have one thing I do well that I’m proud of. I make the hard phone calls. I arranged to meet with Mr. R in person.

What happened then was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

I will make a long story short–this was a complex situation, with a long history, involving many talented, good people. Much of it is personal and not tangent to the story, so I won’t go into it.

But the heart of this story is, Mr. R quoted that opening line to me. He told me when he’d heard it, and why.

Envy was at the root of the long, sad story that had left so many people deeply unhappy, and not at peace with themselves.

That’s when I realized that another, deeper reason for me leaving was not simply the tough work-out. The real reason was, I was envious of others in the class. I felt stupid having to step out when things got hard. Others were moving ahead, and I was not.

That was bad. Because I had lost track of my true reasons for practicing Tae Kwon Do.

I’d forgotten that my practice is always, for myself.

Not to be better than so-and-so, or to get to my next belt, or have my teacher praise me.

I must practice because I love what Tae Kwon Do can teach me.

I must practice because I love the discipline of trying to be my best.

I must practice for the joy of mastering something–sometimes in a horribly pathetic long drawn-out process, to be sure–to get good at something simply because I keep doing it, no matter what.

I, and I alone, am responsible for pacing myself within the class. If I can’t do sets of fifty push-ups anymore, then I must break it down into sets of 25, or 20. Or seven, if that’s all I can squeeze out.

If I can’t run fast laps on the hard floor, then I can run slow laps on the mat. Or walk, if that’s all my body can handle that day.

And there is no need to feel embarrassed when I need to step up or slow down. Because 1) it’s not anyone else’s place to judge me, and 2) I must stop judging myself.

Can you see the implications for our art?

I have quoted Martha Graham’s quote many times, but I’ll do it again. And I see I’ve lost the copy I used to hang prominently on my bulletin board, so I’ll print it out again for me, too:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.

And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.

It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. …

No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

from The Life and Work of Martha Graham[

Everyone always has there own reasons for their behavior. If they are envious of you, it has nothing to do with you. There is nothing you can do to deflect it, or control it, either. Sometimes we have the luxury of removing ourselves from the situation, sometimes we can’t.

Understand that envy is based on fear. Fear that there is not enough love, or not enough attention, or not enough money, or not enough opportunity for all of us. Fear creates a little death. It takes the joy of living away from us.

We can only manage ourselves. The only thing we can change is how we respond. The only thing to do is to keep doing what we’re supposed to do, on the very highest level.

We can only try to make our decisions out of love, and hope, instead of fear.

We can only keep making the unique work, the art, that is in our hearts.

I have had the support of amazing people in my life, who have helped me internalize that. I may need a refresher course from time to time, but I always get back to the same place, the place of inner strength and conviction.

This is my gift to the world, the work of my hands, the work of my words, the work of my heart.

It is all we really have, but it is astonishingly powerful.

And when we truly understand and embrace that, we are astonishing, too.

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Filed under art, copycats, craft, creativity, envy, inspiration, jealousy, life, mastery, Nibble theory, professional jealousy

LOSING MY GREEN BELT

A teensy break from my “TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS” series…maybe.

I was hiking in woods above our home a few weeks ago, and lost my house key. Not too big a deal, under ordinary circumstances–our family seems to lose house keys like a six-year-old loses teeth.

But attached to the key chain was one of my most prized possessions–a little tag made from a section of a belt used to denote rank in the martial arts. In my case, green belt.

When I first took up Tae Kwon Do more than fifteen years ago, it was a struggle for me. I was over forty, I was out of shape, and I was never an athlete to begin with. But I fell in love with my practice and slowly worked my way up through the ranks. I had good instruction, and although I wasn’t fast or especially talented, my techniques were sound.

Green belt level always seemed ideal. It meant you were at that hugely desirable third stage of learning, able to competently demonstrate good technique with some thought. But training is not as rigorous as the next level (red belt). Maybe halfway to black belt–still a long way to go, but with hope it can be achieved.

It’s a good place to be.

Soon after I tested for green belt, I received two presents, one treasured, the other one I wish I could forget.

I was given a key chain with the aforementioned green belt, which I treasured.

And one of my black belt instructors severely damaged my knee while sparring with me.

And no, it wasn’t an accident, it was something a fifth-degree black belt should never have done to anyone outside of a life-or-death situation, let alone a student.

I call it that incident a “present” because my husband calls it “the gift that keeps on giving”. It totally screwed up my leg, and as a consequence, my lower back, my hip and my posture. I’ve had multiple surgeries to repair the damage, including an ACL replacement, months of physical therapy and other complications. I still struggle with compromised range of motion, swelling and discomfort.

The positive outcome? I left the martial arts, for good, I thought. But a decade later, I came back. First to Thai kickboxing and five years later, a new Tae Kwon Do school.

I’m even older, achy, ouchy, and even more out of shape. But I know now that, though my practice will always be a challenge, I will continue until I simply can’t.

I’ve learned to show up, even when I didn’t want to. I’ve learned to work through frustration and self-doubt. I’ve learned not to measure my progress against others, but to simply try to do a little bit better each time. And sometimes, I’ve learned to just stick it out “just five more minutes.” And another five minutes. And another. Until, miracle of miracles, the two hours is over, and I realize I’ve made it through another whole class.

And that has been a gift. Because I have applied these principles of practice to many other areas of my life, including my art.

The school I’m in now has a more aggressive, sparring-oriented approach, and my progress is even slower. I may never see green belt again.

So my little key chain was my constant reminder of how far I was able to go, once upon a time. A time where I could hold a little personal dream that I might at least achieve that level again, someday.

And now it’s gone.

I remember how upset I was when, trying to provide provenance for my past placement at this new school, I was told that “anyone could buy one of those key chains”, it didn’t prove anything. They’re right, I get that. Even now, I could simply buy another one. But anyone who knows me, knows I would never in a million years do something like that. It would feel like cheating.

I wondered why its loss feels so hard. Today I read an article by Lee Eisenberg, author of Shoptimism. (Okay, it was in today’s Parade Magazine and you can read it here.

I realized my little green belt tag represented something of value to me–of a time when it was physically possible for me to dream of being a black belt someday. Not as a goal, but as a culmination of a process, of dedication to my practice.

And now I have no such dream.

What I do have is the realization that black belt would be wonderful (after the training and the testing–it’s a brutal process.) But the dream of black belt is no longer my goal.

My goal is to simply keep going, and to keep on practicing, and to hope for incremental refinement and improvement. And hopefully, to continue my practice far, far, into my life.

So as painful as losing that memento is, maybe it’s just as well. Maybe it was actually holding me back. Keeping me in the past. Maybe it’s just time to let go of the need to remember stronger, younger days.

Or maybe I just don’t need a reminder anymore. Maybe just being me, and being grateful I can practice at all, is all the blessing I need.

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PLAYING IT SAFE: Don’t!!

Martial arts teaches me that playing it safe means no playing at all.

When I decided to quit practicing Tae Kwon Do, it felt like the right decision. The safe decision.

I was keeping myself safe from more debilitating injuries, right? After all, I’d been in physical therapy to strengthen my knee for six weeks already, when I stumbled in class and twisted my knee again.

So I quit. For two months. I was terrified of being injured again. I thought I was making a good decision.

It was a physical therapist during my second round of pt who finally set my head straight. “Luann,” he scolded me. “Professional athletes in peak condition still get hurt. It’s just something that happened.”

He assured me that being active was the best strategy to staying ‘safe’. He pointed out that he gets just as many clients in for therapy who are total couch potatoes, who fall on their way to the kitchen for another bag of chips and injure themselves.

If doing something you love motivates you to work out every day, then do it.

In his mind, “playing it safe” meant continuing to do the strengthening exercises he’d given me, faithfully.

Somehow, I ‘got that’, and decided to return to class.

In fact, I decided to also return to kickboxing as a way to train better for tae kwon do.

I heard a lot of protests from friends and acquaintances. “Are you crazy?! You’ll get hurt again!” they exclaimed. “Don’t you think you should take it easy?” Some suggested swimming–it was much safer.

Play it safe.

But here’s the thing: If you live your life fully, you can’t play it safe.

I like swimming okay, but I don’t love it. I don’t love it enough to show up to do it three to five days a week.

I do love martial arts–tae kwon do, kickboxing, tai chi. And I doshow up to do them, at least five days a week.

I know now that a daily practice may occasionally result in injury. But it will also strengthen me, stretch me, and improve my balance. All things that will serve my body, and my spirit well as I approve my sixties, my seventies, my eighties and beyond.

I’ve been playing it safe in my art, too.

Not just in getting it out into the world, but in doing the work I love. I’ve been holding back, making less expensive work, worried about whether it will sell.

Telling myself to give up on certain dreams and desires. Too unlikely. Can’t see it. It will never happen.

Figuring if what worked the last ten years wasn’t working anymore, then nothing would work.

So give up. Keep my head down. Play it safe.

You know how well that’s worked (NOT!) because I’ve been writing about the pain.

Art needs a different kind of daily exercise.

Normally, that’s simply doing the work. Making art generates wanting to make more art.

But I’ve been ‘injured’ doing my art. So I tried a little “emotional physical therapy” suggested by Martha Beck in her latest book, Steering by Starlight.

I can’t picture my perfect life right now. Too big, too scary, too unlikely. So I’ve been practicing how I’ll feel when I’m living my perfect life.

I imagine feeling joy instead of fear. I imagine feeling anticipation instead of dread. I imagine the world wanting exactly what I’m making, instead of me trying to imagine what I could make that the world wants.

And it’s working.

I see a wall hanging that my brain tells me could never be purchased. It simply wouldn’t fit in anyone’s house I can imagine.

But I imagine feeling my heart leap with joy. And suddenly I saw that piece laid out on a worktable in sections, waiting for me to work on it.

I have an idea for a book I can’t imagine would be published. I can’t imagine how I would find a publisher. I can’t imagine an editor who would be so on board with what I want to write, that she would call me every few days to read what I have and exclaim in delight and encouragement, with excellent suggestions on how to make it even better.

But I imagine what that would feel like, to have an editor like that, working on a book like that. And I feel anticipation instead of dread.

I know I’ll never be young again, ‘thin enough’, good enough to do justice to my martial arts practice. It’s too hard to lose weight, too hard to practice daily.

But I imagine what it would feel like to be light on my feet, to be strong enough to throw a kick perfectly, easily–and my spirit soars.

I’ve been doing this a handful of days. And I cannot express to you how much lighter and happier I feel.

I’m starting to really feel like good things are ahead.

Pulling out of my ‘normal’ routine for the last few years helped clear the decks. Cleaning the studio helped, too (though I’m sorry to tell you, my friends, that you can’t tell I cleaned at all in here anymore.) Following my heart on hospice has cleared a space in my schedule this spring. My dear husband allowing me the space to simply get through this and see what happens, has helped enormously.

For the first time, I am not afraid to simply wait and see what’s next. (While moving ahead all the same.)

And to prove that playing it safe does not necessarily keep you safe….

I did badly twist my knee again yesterday.

But it wasn’t in kickboxing, it wasn’t in tae kwon do. It wasn’t climbing a wall. It wasn’t while I was snowshoeing, yoga-cizing or riding.

I slipped on the ice while chasing a chicken out of my garage.

And when it happened, I laughed at the absurdity of it all.

p.s. I’m okay. Sore–but okay.

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NEW JOURNEY: The Fourth Step

When that “jack-of-all-trades, master at none” becomes all too true, maybe it’s time to give “master of ONE” a try.

When I left Tae Kwon Do a few months ago, after yet another injury, the head instructor asked if I were leaving because my green belt test was coming up. Was I a person who quit when I was challenged too hard?

I was hugely indignant, but I admitted the thought had occurred to me.

Was I a quitter?

I’ve done a lot of thinking about what he said, coupled with reading an interesting article, “Mastery Plan” by Kelly Corrigan in the January 2009 issue of Oprah Magazine.

Corrigan reinvented herself in several disciplines–photography, journalist, author, playwright. She was the ultimate student, reveling in steep learning curves that produced spectacular results. Where learning a new discipline causes most students drop out at level one or two, she made it easily to level six or seven.

But never to levels eight, nine or ten.

She wonders if all the excitement of the reinventions, the ‘look at me, I’m good at this!’ moments, learning in leaps and bounds, avoiding the point where learning comes in tiny increments “… just might be a distraction from (her) greatest fear…”

Fear of failure.

She talks about the people who work more slowly, but create something of that lasts, something with true elegance, something of value. She wants that, too. But she’s not sure she can.

Sound familiar?

I wonder if part of my conflict with my art is fear, too–the fear I’ve already done my best work?

It feels too hard…

…Maybe it’s supposed to?

Thinking it might be time to move on to something else…

…So I can avoid the hard work that’s called for now?

It reminds me of being a parent. How hard it is, but exhilarating, especially when your kids are young. You’re exhausted, but you’re also rewarded every day with some new discovery, some new milestone they achieve.

Til they hit the teen years, and everything slows down. And gets really, really hard.

You learn to let go of expectations, and big successes. Your rewards are tinier–”She said thank you!” “He did the dishes the first time I asked!

But you also dig in–because as hard as it is to parent teens, as thankless as the job is, they actually need you more than ever.

You can’t stop being a parent just because it gets really, really hard. We may never know if we were a ‘great’ parent–but our best efforts will be ‘good enough’”. And it’s certainly worth our while to do our best.

Corrigan ends the decision to write a second book, determined to keep working at it til it truly reflects an indomitable spirit.

Which is, oddly, an attribute of black belt. Indomitable spirit.

Last night I talked with my Tae Kwon Do teachers about returning to practice.

It means much more work on my part. My teacher says he believes I’m capable of so much more than I believe I am. He says attitude is everything. I’m doubting myself, and the only person who can turn that around is….me.

Maybe he’s right.

I’m going to find out if I can turn this around. I want to find out.

Last night, I also decided to keep making my fiber art and jewelry. It feels right. For the first time in ages, I heard no negative voices in the wee hours of the night.

I’m not abandoning my new journey. Maybe the hospice will open up something else, and I look forward to exploring that. Something’s calling me there, and I want to find out what it is.

But just as I can study Tae Kwon Do and be a parent, I can explore this new venture and make my art. The art may change, it may not change. But maybe it will simply get even better.

Being a parent is teaching me, and Ms. Corrigan, how to be a more deeply creative person. How to create something of value that will really last, as an artist and a martial artist.

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Filed under art, choices, creativity, fear of failing, inspiration, life, life with teenagers, martial arts, mental attitude, perseverence

STARTING OVER AGAIN Part Trois

I’ve been responding to the great comments people left when I blogged about leaving the martial arts.

I kept going back to how much I’ve learned from studying Tae Kwon Do and kickboxing. The martial arts helped me be stronger and healthier. It taught me perseverance and focus, and self-discipline.

I’ve been afraid of how far I will fall without it.

Suddenly, I remembered something a friend told me years ago.

I was at another decision crossroads.

I’d been doing a little show, part of a growing arts tour. I never did very well, but each time I did it, I’d sell enough just work to pay for the next thing I needed to do. (I was pretty small potatoes, so we’re not talking much money at all.) I would make a good connection, or learn something new.

On the other hand, my role in that show shrunk more every year. And it really wasn’t a good fit for my work. It took up a lot of time and energy, too.

Should I do it again?

My friend suggested I list the pros and cons of doing the show. When I pointed to how many “intangibles” I’d gotten from the show, she said, “You’ve learned all you can from this situation. You don’t need to keep repeating it to learn the same thing again and again.”

Oh. Yeah. Got it!

Now I’m wondering if the same thing could apply here, too.

Although there could be so much more to learn from these martial arts–Tae Kwon Do, Thai kickboxing–perhaps I don’t need to continue these particular ones. Or to keep learning the same lessons over and over.

A lot to think about….

I’ll keep you posted.

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STARTING OVER AGAIN Part Deux

One door closes, another opens.

I made my decision, and I will leave my Tae Kwon Do practice.

Ironically, I had just submitted a testimonial to the school a few short months ago.

I had an excellent talk with my head instructor. I’ve grown to greatly trust and respect him. He’s seen this coming, though he’d hoped I would find a window of opportunity, a chance to “get ahead of my body” before another injury could set me back.

He said some things about my spirit that made me cry (in a good way.) He urged me to stay until I had my “next step” in place. He reminded me that we all eventually reach this place in our practice, including him, and he will help me figure this next step out.

Less than 24 hours later, I may have found that next step.

It was practically under my nose.

A few months ago, a friend mentioned her brother-in-law is a “world class Tai Chi guy.” I found the contact information she gave me. I took a deep breath and emailed him.

He wrote back a few days later, and agreed to meet with me.

Turns out he “gets” the martial arts aspect of Tai Chi (something that is important to me right now.)

It turns out he is an accomplished martial artist in several disciplines, who did indeed “compete” at an international level for several years.

It turns out he thinks Tai Chi could be a perfect “next step” for me, incorporating strength, balance, focus and safe practice.

It turns out he knows–and respects–my instructor.

And it turns out he lives around the corner from me.

I took a deep breath, screwed up my courage, and asked what was in my heart:

Did he have any interest in teaching?

It turns out he’s been thinking that teaching would be a way to return to a daily practice, something that’s been hard to fit into his schedule the last few years, as he travels extensively back and forth between two cities.

Just thinking about this, and now writing about it, sends shivers down my spine. (In a good way!)

As we dig our way out of our third snow storm here in New Hampshire, I send these good wishes your way:

May your home be warm and may your power stay on.

May you have food on your table and may you have family and good friends to share it with.

May you find you own tiny miracles to astonish you, as often as you need them.

And if you need one today, take a look at this wonderful little movie, Where the hell is Matt?

I can’t watch it without tearing up. It delights me to my very core to see people of all ages, shapes, sizes, colors and beliefs, join this guy in his silly dance.

And it astonishes me that it came of a “silly whim” of his to quit his job, drop everything, and simply go see what was out in the world.

Thank you, everyone, who wrote to encourage me during this very difficult time. My goal is to catch up on my comments section in the next few days.

And Merry Christmas to all, wherever and however you dance!

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STARTING OVER AGAIN

I’ve been slip-sliding away the last few weeks. Low on energy, low on creativity, low, low, low in mood. Didn’t feel like I had much to say so I didn’t say anything.

I thought I could handle the one-day-at-a-time thing, which then segued into can-I-make-it-through-the-next-15 minutes?? thing, and hit bottom with the stay-in-the-moment thing.

Then I twisted my knee again in tae kwon do class Monday night. I fled the class, limped home, and spent the next two days with my knee iced and elevated.

Dang! And I was just getting the hang of dealing with life in 60-second packages!

It’s mostly my fault. I was cajoled to “work a little harder”, and I should have said no. That’s my responsibility.

But practicing tae kwon do has become more and more about saying no, with less and less to say “yes” to.

I’ve tried to go back to the martial arts half a dozen times now. I just can’t figure out how to practice safely. Looks like I need to explore that tai chi thing again.

I’m feeling overwhelmed with sadness about leaving, but also relieved. I’m beginning to realize how much I’m dreading another major injury.

Most people don’t see what the big deal is. They have no idea how much I’ve enjoyed my practice, nor what I’ve gotten from it.

I’ve learned the very definition of “perseverance” from my studies. Leaving feels like giving up on a very profound level.

It’s taught me so much about life, and about myself. That will be difficult to walk away from.

But if I don’t, I’m afraid I’ll be walking “funny” the rest of my life.

I’ll share my thoughts as I work through this, and I’ll know more after I see my doc after Christmas.

If anyone would like to pass on words of wisdom, I could use them now! I know I have much to be grateful for, but it’s still hard.

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