Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Myth of "Not In My Dojo"

I won't say "it doesn't happen in my dojo" because no one thinks it happens in their dojo. But I will say that we go through specialized preventative training, and that, despite my own hypervigilance on the subject, I have never seen it in my dojo. I hadn't realized it surely happens in martial arts because I have never seen it happen there. I have also been sheltered by having only ever practiced in two schools.

The dark side of karate includes "grooming", the act of establishing a relationship with a child to ultimately enroll them in a sexual or otherwise abusive relationship for the gain of a maleficent adult. 

A child has no basis for comparison. They are completely helpless against a predator. An adult predator might spend years conditioning them to believe that the abuse is natural, necessary, out of love, wholesome, or anything other than disgusting. An adult child of sexual abuse may not recognize that they were abused until well after a statute of limitations let alone be stable enough to go back and face their abusers.

In our school, for example, we have specialized training required to work with children. A large TV shows cameras during all classes and parents are encouraged to watch. In training for work with children we are taught to spend no more than a few seconds on a correction, to stay as hands-off as possible, and to have someone of the same sex as the student tie their belt. (This is not to say that same-sex abuse doesn't happen, but that this precaution apparently minimizes the risk.) The school invites all students, parents, and staff to training events on prevention of human trafficking and sexual abuse, taught by qualified representatives of that field.

As a Catholic I am no stranger to the story of grooming by people in positions of power. The news is filled with discoveries of sexual predation from the church that ruins the lives of its victims and their families for generations.

Hamlet says, "do not spread the compost on the weeds/ [t]o make them ranker" (3.4.171-173). Briefly, he means, don't add trouble to an already bad situation. I don't know how to acknowledge or discuss these unspeakable abuses. Given parts of my own history, I have an added sensitivity which often gets in my way. But I'm trying to make sense of what I can do to get a foothold of this problem. 

When I hear about these abuses it messes with parts of my identity. What can I do as an adult, non-parent, Catholic, survivor, martial artist? What comfort, empowerment, or comment can I offer without adding to the Internet's weeds? Not much thus far: there are no excuses or valid reasons for this, anywhere in the world, ever.

I am seldom without words, and I feel strongly compelled to say something, but I have no idea what to say. Here are some preliminary thoughts, which fall egregiously short:

1. If I see what appears to be child abuse, I absolutely will report it.
2. If I come upon an adult child of abuse, I will believe them and behave compassionately toward them.
3. I will refer to every resource I know to help someone in crisis.
4. I will maintain confidentiality for absolutely as long as it is safe to do so.
5. I will take care of my own self separately.
6. I will not participate in grooming.
7. I will not internalize the guilt or the abuse in the Catholic church--or anywhere in the world--as a failure on my part, but I will accept personal responsibility of taking steps to not contribute to the abuse, and to speak up or stop it when I see it.
8. I will take steps ensure that my time with others is as safe and positive as it can be.

Abuse happens everywhere, and it seems particularly rampant in the church and in sports. I will do my part to be informed and aware.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Wheelchair Bunkai

After my teeth are brushed and prayers are all said, lullaby sung to myself in my heart (yeah, really), if'm still awake I review karate bunkai (applications) in my head.

But tonight, I'm thinking about how challenging it is to perform a kata from my power-assist wheelchair, where if you touch the rim you go far, and fast. Different types of chairs need different bunkai, maybe.

Higaonna-Sensei would approve, I'll bet, as long as all the bunkai would work in the street. Karate is for everybody.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The 'F' Word (Family)

If you think I'm amazing, you should meet my siblings. They enable, coach, cajole, and butt-kick me, so I can do a lot of the amazing things I do. Now we are about to go through something very hard.

My mother's loss of her beloved husband, the greatest love story I've ever observed in my own family, is going to change our family dynamic again, among three states. We're going to work together to help her through, while finding our own ways to grieve what John meant to us, too. Because we're all really strong, we're going to butt heads. But we are also going to work together. It's going to be okay.

And that, my friends, is family. Blood, or choice, or dojo, battalion, classroom, that's family. If you need an image to work with so you recognize it later as a focal point, that's the image. Use it well.

Rest in Peace, Papa John. You are dearly loved. I am already feeling the pull of missing you. Thanks for the boxing tips.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Part of me now

My karate is like my faith: it's just a part of me, making me more complete, whether I'm in the dojo or church, or somewhere else. I've just got to make sure I don't dress for the wrong one - ha!

Short post today. Thanks for visiting! Be well.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

How Young is Too Young?

[Video description: YouTube video of very young children in China dribbling basketballs]

Some students at our dojo start at age 3. Instructors work through non-verbal and minimally verbal communication, tantrums, freshly emerging physical development, shyness, hyperactivity, nervous parents, rogue bodily fluids, and more. Instructors receive ongoing training to understand childhood development and the role of martial arts in that process for our students, through adolescence, all the way into adulthood, and beyond. Because they started early we now have a bunch of junior black belts of exceptional ability, and they'll be waiting for several years for their adult Shodan (1st degree black belt) test.

Meanwhile, they continue to develop the maturity and awareness that it takes to have the character of a black belt. Their classmates look up to them as role models for technique and character. Their Senpai (senior karate practitioners) depend on their energy and generational commonality to motivate the adults and to connect with the younger students, respectively. In my humble opinion, too young is not an issue with the trainee, but with the trainer.

Even the Bible tells us that youth is not a barrier (I Tim 4:12*). As the youngest of three I was often excluded from activities because I was too young. It has forever isolated me from my cousins, who are all at least ten years older than I am, which I deeply regret. I missed out on a lot, and I never quite managed to pick up the pace and catch up to wherever I suppose I could have been by now. I've had to learn to let that go, and to manage my pace, because Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome does not allow for controlled burns of energy without at least double the recovery time of an average person. Any less recovery time bears consequences, like depleted energy stores, internal organ dysfunction, or increased dislocations due to fatigue and physical stress on the connective tissues.

It will surprise me if I ever see myself able to pace myself--my body's abilities and limits are moving targets. All I can do is push for early opportunities and early interventions. This does not mean that one should place a child under tremendous pressure to perform a task, whether it's karate, piano, maths, or anything they don't want to do. Encouraging and giving support are okay. Force is not okay. I don't know that "too young" is a thing. Too old isn't a thing in our school. Too disabled isn't a thing in our school. We work with what God gives us.

Thank you for joining me here in my blog today.

 Be well. 

 *1 Timothy 4:12 King James Version (KJV) 12 Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

Monday, February 19, 2018

How To Listen

Similarly to how Inuit (a subset of Eskimo) has ten different words for snow, I've always relied on my enormous vocabulary to communicate with acute precision, because the English lexicon allows me to do that. It gets in the way of everyday conversation in two particular ways:
1. Nobody can understand me, or they tune out.
2. People take offense and think I'm posturing, and then condescending when I clarify.

To get around this, I think in Spanish or Japanese, because my vocabulary is a seedling to the mighty oak of my English command. The problems with this are that I then have to translate back to English, which I can't always do on the fly, or, that a metaphor or cultural reference doesn't make sense across the translation.

To get around that, I shut up. And while this may be my best method when the topic is inconsequential, it's the death of my own voice for that interaction.

My Sensei recently taught me that, if I want to be heard, I need to listen.

Being told to "listen" has always hurt like a punch to the face. Having been unilaterally deaf all my life, and never having had support for it during my developmental years, I still miss out on a LOT of information that is delivered as auditory exchange.

I've adapted like a lion to fill in for some unknown percentage of teachers' lectures, instructions, and incidental learning. I made myself strong in phonics and the faces people make when I'm speech reading. I became a polyglot to understand accents and grammatical sentence structures, which helped me understand my Italian-American family better. I learned sign language.

Deafness has a lot to do with my attraction to books because I can read a page any number of times,  take notes, and review. I can check my work against written instructions, and hand my work to someone else in a non-verbal exchange.

When I am asked to "listen," I have to take a breath because I can feel my body freezing up. I ask myself, "is this person asking me to hear them, to stop interrupting them, or to agree with them?" This has been a good practice overall, but in a discourse it's not a good time to not be able to hear. I have the lower hand and it will often cost me the row.

When you have anything more than mild hearing loss, you can't interpret auditory information in real time while also:
considering the point that has been made to you;
formulating an opinion;
forming an argument to support your opinion
forming and delivering the verbal response, and
getting ready to hear the beginning of the next exchange.

Communication is hard. I've long since taken responsibility for that little sting when I'm asked to "listen." I know it's there, I know why it's there, and it's one of yesterday's feelings that needs care, but is not related to the conversation at hand. I came to this point only after I finally had the hearing supports I needed and learned my own strength.

To listen does not mean to accept as fact, to internalize, or to otherwise acquiesce. It just means to let the other person speak. I am still working on not interrupting, because I don't like being interrupted. But with hearing loss I have to simultaneously work on auditory memory because I can't always stop to take notes (e.g., in karate).

So if you have anything you want to tell me, write it down. ;) Ha!

There are MMA fighters who scream and carry on to intimidate their opponents and to rile up the crowds. Other fighters say nothing and stay focused. Who's to say which is right? Neither carrying on nor staying silent indicates a winner. But, in the words of Audre Lorde, "Your silence will not protect you."

This blog post didn't end up as cohesive as I'd like, but I hope it's given you some thoughts about what it means to listen, and what it means to speak up. Both are important, especially in the case of those who cannot speak for themselves, or who are not heard.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018


Physiotherapy (PT) has its methods. It takes time and commitment. It takes energy and resources. It's for a better overall sense of being. In that sense it is just like karate-do, another way of being. It's hard to walk both paths at once because my energy is limited, so I've been foregoing karate in order to repair my body at PT with that much more focus and efficacy. When I pushed myself to do both I felt like I was working against myself because I was too sore and exhausted, and I was getting weaker from doing too much. (I do not enjoy admitting this.)

After physiotherapy today I had to sit in the parking lot to collect my emotions. My physical therapist is so knowledgeable, so humble, and so unafraid to try to help, that I get overwhelmed by finally having a place to go where I can get relief. (I get even a little more overwhelmed to think of how few EDSers get this far.)

Thanks to my PT's help, I take less medicine for pain. I am getting through more of a day without needing a major rest period. I'm not throwing up every five minutes. I'm passing out less often, and less severely. I'm able to hold my own head up without a brace more often.

Regular access to competent physiotherapy is helping me get ahead of my pain. He not only helps me understand what's happening, but he challenges me to think through why it is happening. Then, he gives me options for what to do about it, and I am 100% included in my own care plan.

My PT meets me where I am in managing my symptoms. By that, I mean that he genuinely listens to my confusion and frustration, which gives me space to work through the emotions that need care on the way back to logic. It's a holistic approach, invaluable to a "PT lifer" like me.

I look forward to physiotherapy because it's where I go to get better. Today I was anxious because I knew I was going to be able to make it, but I didn't know how much I was going to be able to do since I had been dealing with POTS all morning. I had a "painsplosion" last night, too, which was not helpful. What I did know was that I would be okay, and that I would be in less pain after. I would not be judged as weak and I would not be ridiculed for using dramatic terms to describe my pain because it's so complex a feeling to convey. I knew there would be things to laugh about and that I would have some serious work to sink my teeth into. 

I like working with my PT because he is a natural teacher like I am. He lifts up everyone around him because he is constantly educating. Patient education is essential to long-term results. I leave with lots of ideas to look up each week. I wish I could stay and take more notes during or after sessions, but I really need to focus on my body so I can get back to karate. That means I don't get to spend as much time in my head as I'd like, to process it all. With hearing loss it takes extra time to commit verbal exchanges to memory.

Physiotherapy has been a long road for the last several months. It's taken effort, tears, trust, time, and patience. Not once have I left there feeling like I haven't raised the bar; I am always a little better off than I was when I went in, regardless of where I was when we began our work.

Because I'm able to get this care, in able to stay employed. I'm able to earn a living wage, pay my bills, contribute to the economy, and even make a few modest donations here and there. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome costs a fortune to manage, even with Employed Individuals with Disabilities Medicaid buy-in to cover my insurance copays. A significant portion of my wages goes into my care. But at least I'm getting adequate care now, which is especially true with having found a qualified and competent provider.

Last year was a rough year for my health. This year I'm going to keep working on improving myself. I will work to remember that I can only do one thing at a time, and I will try not to work against myself.

I'm so grateful that the trend is upward that my eyes are leaking. You could fill a city with the number of people who are a part of my progress. If we could measure compassion in raindrops I'd need an ark!

The foci of our work this time around in PT has been on shoulder stabilization, stabilizing and integrating the paraspinals, improving vestibular resilience, resisting syncope and recovering sooner, and a few other odds and ends.

I am so eager to get back to karate, I must think about it at least 20 hours a day. But I don't want to overdo it and end up injured again because I'm working hard on PT to come back from a really harsh year. Every day that I don't go to karate I have to resist kicking myself. But I'm trying to be patient with myself because I still study and I still practice at home, which has value. My dojo always welcomes me to try everything I think I can do. But I think I'm doing the right thing to let myself recover. It's so hard to not go.

I'm so very grateful. How I wish I could give this experience to others who desperately need better care and better results. Maybe by writing it up, others will know what to expect, and they will know to aim for a higher level of care.

Be well.