Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 in Review

I have come to enjoy sitting in my car, surfing the web on my phone, waiting for my body to calm down so I can drive home safely from karate. I run fluids, drink water, catch my breath, wipe my face, and just sit peacefully for a little while. This is also usually the time I blog, while the feeling is fresh.

Randori is a very slow, controlled spar. The moves we make need to be extremely gentle, and no contact should be audible. Randori is a space to practice technique. It's essential. I am very unfocused during randori because I am primarily thinking about not injuring myself. Moving slowly means more energy, more muscle tone, and quicker fatigue. During a fight I would be dead meat.

Feeling brave, and not wanting to waste the last class of 2013, I practiced break falls with the class. Left, centre, right. I learned pretty quickly that nothing is more important than protecting my head.

Break falls are something that I really plan to master, as every step is a fall risk when you have EDS. Falling safely is the best thing I can train myself to do because it is simply an unavoidable part of life. While it would be nice to not fall at all, such is unrealistic.

We did a few new and challenging drills today. As I struggled to keep up I realized that I was still in fact keeping up. What an epiphany! And how humbling, that I have been supported throughout. I was overcome with grief that my wife has given up on me, and her entire family is gone from my life, my support system. I felt so lost in realizing that, although they have all gone, I am not myself lost. I have followed my Sensei's directions,  listened to his advice, and held the dojo more closely in my heart than any place I have ever loved, including my home town of Buffalo.

Here are some of my biggest successes in 2013:
-Moving from 9-kyu to 7-kyu
-Getting off IV fluids during class
-Getting through almost an entire class without stopping
-Learning to adapt movements according to pain and tolerance, without compromising technique
-Learning Geki Sai Dai Ni, Sanchin and Saifa kata
-Connecting with other karateka online
-Attending outdoor events with my dojo
-Making new and wonderful friends
-Making karate a priority

Something happened between my 8-kyu and 7-kyu belts. I have changed. My body shape has changed dramatically, my self-acceptance has kicked me around a bit and I've learned to cope. Karate has become a much more serious practice. Every decision I make in life is based on how it will affect my performance in karate.

After my wife left I started looking into moving back to Buffalo, where I got my start in karate, as with life. But my Sensei is a father to me, and one of my best friends. What is a real father, but a humble man, aware of what he can and cannot offer to the world, who spends his top efforts on the impact of love on impressionable minds? What, but the impetus behind safe and healthy decisions in the darkest times that help a vulnerable person emerge stronger and better? I hesitate to write this, not because he has not been all of these things, but that my biological father was the bleakest opposite.

What is a Sensei, but the same? Either way, there is plenty of kicking and screaming.

Everyone in my dojo is such a pleasure to work with. I love every last person in my dojo, I feel part of a family. How could I leave? I need to stay here and become what I have set out to be.

Regarding EDS, I'm baffled: how could medical school have been too high a benchmark, but karate so approachable? My only hypothesis is that, at the dojo, I adapt in any way I can, and my karate family works with me. Med school is far more competitive and exclusive, to the detriment of people with disabilities who could really do something fantastic if they had better access. Now that I am no longer planning for a family I often wonder whether, after my first black belt, might I actually become well enough, able to endure enough, to attempt school again? What might the prognosis be for a medicine career if I were to become stronger and healthier? Will the zebra monster still get me? Is there anything worth fighting this hard for if not my dreams?

At the loss of my wife and our plans for a child I have realized that the best person who will always be there for me is my future self. I had better get ready to meet that person. They are much stronger than I am, and I want them to be proud of what I did on the way to meeting them. I did not break my wedding vows, I have not given up on faith, and through the grace of hundreds of people--literally hundreds--I have not given up on myself.

The holidays are killing me. This is my current opponent. It's great to say all those things I just said, but I am still grieving tremendously. My friend accurately described this time in my life as "fucking brutal." It's even so hard to pray that I just stick to my school's Dojokun:

Through discipline, strength and humility, I will strive to bring out the best in myself and others. I will use common sense before self-defense and never be abusive or offensive. I will strive to have patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.

Mokuso yame. (Meditation complete.)

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Path

How ever many years I've got left to live, that's how long I'm going to train in karate. Some part of me is alive which has had no voice of its own for thirty years.

My dojo posted online:
"I can show you the path but I cannot wall it for you."

To which I replied:
It is enough that you walk beside me, and sit with me when I fall, don't let me sit for too long, and help me get back up again, and stay close until I can stand on my own. Getting through those falls is 80% of the work for me and I am grateful for the support of my dojo.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Kicker

Tonight I learned during randori (slow sparring to practice technique with a partner) that if you kick repeatedly the other person has to continuously look down to block, and that's a good chance to strike the head of they aren't protecting. Of course, I learned this because I was the other person who want protecting their head! That's why we go slowly.

I also got a chance to see what it's like to spar while severely nauseous. I guess I have gotten too ambitious about drinking water instead of relying entirely on IV fluids. That was a great thing because I learned my limits. I also barfed up my dinner.  I'm calling it a win because I didn't barf on the floor. Yeah!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Double Take

When you move up in rank you don't have to get up as early to catch the Saturday class, which begins at 9am for the intermediate and advanced level karateka. I remembered this half-way through the 8am class. No harm done, I just stayed for the next one!  I even made it most of the way through.
I can now drink about 36oz. of fluids per day with no reflux. With better nutrition my body has been more stable. As much as I wish I didn't have EDS, I wish my friends who had EDS were as lucky as I am to be getting incrementally better,  albeit incredibly slowly and with painstaking effort. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is really a terrible thing. It can be disheartening when your physiotherapist and occupational therapist throw their hands up and say,  "I don't know what to do, so what do you want to try?" I am thinking about these things during karate because I wonder if they understand what I am really going through--or if I even understand it myself. It is so overwhelming that sometimes I just have to stop worrying about it, lest it snap me in half.

I've been trying a new thing: doing kata while seated, as though I were in my wheelchair. This gives me a great opportunity to practice without fear of falling over. In truth I have only ever fallen over once in karate, an enormous accomplishment, but no reliever of the vigilance it takes to catch myself the million other times I lose my balance or simply don't have the executive control of my legs that I need to have.
When I practice kata seated I still keep timing as though my legs were doing what they should be doing. Usually I am also activating those muscles as I am able, at least by tensing them. A common misconception about wheelchair users is that we are all paraplegic. Society doesn't easily accept that just because some people can walk does not mean that they should, or that it is even safe to do so. I am thinking about this during my kata and trying to wash it from my head with a flood of hyper-focus on what I'm doing at the present moment. Instead of getting into a power struggle between my  frustration and my goals, I choose to be satisfied with the fact that I've shown up,  given it my all, and haven't given in just because my legs have given out. I know that as soon as I can safely use my legs again, I will. Until then, I will learn kata sitting down, because I need to know how to do this stuff from my chair, too.

I want to focus more on keeping my movements fluid, consistent and accurate. Having to worry about only two limbs at a time is helpful, but can also be a hindrance when putting it all together.

The Potluck
After karate my dojo threw a potluck party!  These are always fun, and I always learn something new. The last one I went to there was a kendo demonstration. This time it was haka, a Maori dance from New Zealand!  I am a big fan of New Zealand culture, particularly the Maori. The dancer and his family are from Hawaii, and they taught me a lot of interesting things!  It was great to make new friends, and my jaw hurts from smiling. When an EDSer's jaw hurts from smiling you know you've done something right! The dancer's wife lay over my neck a beautiful Kukui lei, which I had never seen before!  She explained that all people wear a lei in Hawaii, and give them to people they meet. I was very touched, and I thought of the Japanese Tea Ceremony that is so special to me. Maybe I can make matcha for my new friends sometime.
Another family from Puerto Rico brought a traditional dish of banana and chicken,  wrapped and baked in a banana leaf. They also brought a sweet coconut drink, of which I could have drunk a gallon. I got to meet their children, and we chatted casually. I have known them for a while and enjoyed practicing with them, so it was something special to share a meal with them.

So many other great things happened at the potluck, but if you really want to know all the secret wonders of karate you'll have to join a dojo and see for yourself. Who knows?  You might bring something magical of your own to the pot.

Be well.