Sunday, January 12, 2014

Some Days Are For Rest

There are days when no matter what I do I can't use my legs or escape a cervical collar. Some days I just can't get my blood pressure above 80/50. On those days, as my physiotherapist puts it, "when you're lying in that bed, you'll want to have those memories."  So much of my training involves the cultural aspects of practicing our Japanese-style customs, infused with the loving and supportive spirit of my dojo family. On those days when I've got my cane holding me up I'm thinking about who has hobbled beside me out of the dojo. When my muscles spasm all night long I'm thinking about how good it will feel to show up to karate the next morning and warm up a best I can among people who will be glad I made it through another night. I feel powerful love toward my dojo, a place where I will be guaranteed to connect with a sense of life, humanity, and every reason to keep doing my best.

A place that makes us want to become better as people must be appreciated and preserved. At the base of that work is appreciation for the relationships among the people who gather in that space, including the self.

My body will catch up. It just needs a little tenderness and careful management for a while. Or forever.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Zebro Warrior Challenge Day 4: Sick As A Dog

Weak. I did whatever exercises I could do supine or seated and took a walk. My body aches. I think my quads are ready to burst away from the bones. Flank steaks.
I'm super hydrated though. Plenty of fluids. My guts are burbling, working on Lipton noodle soup.
Tomorrow's a new day.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Zebro Warrior Challenge: Day 3

The first two days were a cakewalk. It was easy to get all my steps in, practice my kata, do my physiotherapy, mokuso, set and meet an intention, and so on. It was easy because I didn't have to work. Just medical appointments all day and evenings at the dojo. Then today hit.

My intention for today was to keep eating small amounts of foods, leading with carbohydrates in order to keep the body in a constant state of peristalsis (active digestion). It seems to have gone well. Nothing came up and I did have sustained energy. I'll tell you, though, I am tired of eating. It's stressful stuff.

Today was a very full day of work. I didn't do as much on my checklist today. But I had an incredibly stressful day and I think this is a day when my body needs new to mind it gently, as I am also getting sick.

I'm trying to stay focused on the future. I really am. But my feelings for the past are coming up on me with a vengeance. I'm determined to hand them over to heaven without delivering myself there as well. But it's brutal.

My muscles feel fine. I don't have the stamina I had a day ago, so I must be fatigued. The stress of work isn't helping that, either. I would like to find ways to modulate my work day so that I take breaks more evenly and take better care of my stress levels while I'm there. I think that will help my body.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Zebro Warrior Challenge: Checklist Prototype

Today marks Day One of my Zebro Warrior Challenge!  I'm trying to build for myself a checklist of what I'd like to accomplish each day, to keep track.  How does this look?  It's far from optimized, hopefully some of you logic-type folks can help me fancy it up.  For more info on my challenge:

I'm really excited about this and I expect to put my full effort forth.  This starts today and ends 31 March.

Active Exercise
Exercise 5 min
Exercise 5 min
Exercise 5 min
Exercise 5 min
Exercise 5 min
Geki Sai Dai Ichi - Controlled
Geki Sai Dai Ichi - Controlled
Geki Sai Dai Ichi - Controlled
Geki Sai Dai Ichi - Full Speed and Power
Geki Sai Dai Ichi - Full Speed and Power
Geki Sai Dai Ni - Controlled
Geki Sai Dai Ni - Controlled
Geki Sai Dai Ni - Controlled
Geki Sai Dai Ni - Full Speed and Power
Geki Sai Dai Ni - Full Speed and Power
Saifa - Controlled
Saifa - Controlled
Saifa - Controlled
Saifa - Full Speed and Power
Saifa - Full Speed and Power
Sanchin - Controlled
Sanchin - Controlled
Pelvic Tilts 2 sets 8 reps
Isometrics: Legs 2 sets 8 reps
Isometrics: Arms 2 sets 8 reps with 1lb
Glutes - Leg extensions: 2 sets 8 reps
Bridge - 2 x 15 sec
Plank - 2 x 10 sec
Wall push-ups - 25 regular
Wall push-ups - 25 special
Leg lifts - 25
Mokuso (Meditation)
Set Morning Intention
Workout Mokuso
Dojokun / Prayer
Choose/eat one low-barf-index food
Choose/eat one low-barf-index food
Choose/eat one low-barf-index food
Enjoy (really enjoy!) a piece of fruit
Drink >20floz. Water
IV 2L daily
Meds 1
Meds 2
Meds 3
Do one good thing for myself
Do one beautiful thing for someone else today
One beautiful thing I see today

Internalizing Karateka Tools

Karate doesn't feel right in anything other than my gi.  It also feels weird not being in the dojo.  That's where I am most happy.  Today I will think about how to make my home its own dojo, and how to think about my gi as an external manifestation of a simplified mental state.

Karate, which (more or less) means "Empty hand," does not rely on things--neither weapons nor tools, books or other people.  I wish to become internally satisfied with who I am, and to become less interested in what I have.  With the loss of my wife, our dog, both cats, and our plans for a child, I am learning the very painful lesson that things can and will change in the blink of an eye, even if I am no longer that abused child who would have to move out of the house at 3am when my parents fought and things got raw.  I will need to rely on my adaptive skills and learn to better receive and roll with change.

Preparing a dojo-style space for myself at home will mean letting go of a lot of other hobbies.  (A *lot* of other hobbies....)  I will whittle down my painting and art supplies and donate the rest.  I will carve out some time to complete projects for which I have the materials so that I can get rid of the scraps.  I will identify people who might like my extra supplies, and share what I have.  I'm off work today, so that can be one of my intentions.  My other intention is to finish some coursework because I've got new (continuing ed) classes starting already.

Even without so many belongings I will still have the skills, and I can get the supplies again if I need to.  It will make me happier overall to double the good I can do -- give someone something, and give myself some nothing (i.e., some empty space to practice karate).

As for the gi, I have a lot of tactile defensiveness because my skin is extremely loose and painfully sensitive (Thanks, EDS).  My gi moves with me, whereas regular clothes don't.  I try to only wear my gi to the dojo because I always want them to be clean. I tried wearing sleeveless shirts and workout shorts but my skin is too loose to be exposed to air, especially since it breaks down when I sweat if I don't wipe it down right away.  It's like taking care of bad leather.  But it's my leather, and it's the only suit I got for my birthday. ;)  You can see how the simplified mental state thing is a real challenge.

I ultimately want to buy some better gi (the ones I have are very light and were 20 bucks a piece) but right now is a time to reduce what I own, not increase. I am Catholic and today is Epiphany, the day the Three Wise Men supposedly reached the manger and gave their gifts to the baby Jesus.  I will see about reflecting on what gifts I bring to this world, and maximizing the ones I do the best.  Even milk knows to let its cream float to the top.

Today's theme: Less is More.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Special Guest: Hai-O-Judo

The Hai-O-Judo Club visited our dojo on Saturday morning and gave a demonstration of "Nage No Kata," one of seven primary kata in the Kodokan style.

To see this kata through my EDS eyes it was very overwhelming, but also inspirational.  Is there anything in this kata that looks safe for a medical zebra?  I don't know the answer, but we may all be safer if we learn to fall and tumble properly since it's a daily occurrence.  Those of us in wheelchairs are not excused from needing to learn how to fall, as curb cuts become more prominent they become less ADA-compliant. Years of technique are on display in this wonderfully polished demonstration.

How can I translate this generous display into something I can use as a zebra and a karateka?  Here are some ideas to get started:

  1. I may fall often.  I will get hurt less and recover faster if I fall properly.
  2. I rely heavily on my vision for information about what's going on around me.  If I standardize the ways in which I move I can keep better track of my body's location in space (the word for this is proprioception, which plays nicely with range of motion education from a good physiotherapist).
  3. Some places on my body are weaker than others.  Learning to shift my weight translates to better overall balance.
  4. Practice on a soft mat is no match for real life, so I need to learn as best I can from both environments and their many opportunities for experience.
  5. I must know my environment, my surroundings, my functions and my limits, and learn to work within them.
Sensei ni arigatou gozaimashita.

Zebro Warrior Challenge!

Tomorrow morning marks Day One of my Zebro Warrior Challenge!  This is my own EDS-mitigating wellness challenge based on the concepts set by the Defensive Arts Dojo Warrior Fitness Challenge.  I live in Baltimore and Defensive Arts Dojo is in Buffalo, but it's where I got my start, so I want to show my gratitude by being involved.  I also want to show gratitude to the dojo that has taken me all the way to my green belt, Warriors of Grace Karate, by taking responsibility for my best possible health and effort, in and out of the dojo.

The main concepts with which I am working are:

  • Strength
  • Endurance
  • Stamina


  • Strength
    • Work up to and sustain physiotherapy, 3 reps of 8, 3x/wk, with 1lb. weights
  • Endurance
    • 5 of each kata I know, two at full speed and power, 2x/wk outside of karate class
  • Stamina
    • Identify 3 easy energy, low/easy vomit foods that can sustain me when I am too sick to prepare meals
    • Eat dinner every night before 7:30pm

Strategies (ahem, strategem)

  • When well
    • 5x5 exercise plan: 5 min 5x/day
    • Mokuso (meditation)
    • Bed at 10:30pm
  • When unwell
    • Stay hydrated
    • Stay up and at 'em as much as necessary, but allow time to heal
    • Stay connected with my support network
    • Mokuso (meditation) and reflection during rest, positive thinking
    • Keep blood pressure above 100/55 with salt, broth and saline

I am sure to over-complicate this, so I'm posting it publicly with the hopes that various individuals (yeah, you) will check in and walk beside me to my goals, because then I will be in the best company.

Be well.

I love karate

I love karate. The more I learn about it the more it helps me develop my ever-nascent perspectives on character, society, culture and property. I like who I am becoming as a karateka. Another way to say that is, I like how karate helps me better live as my true self.

Martial Arts and Philosophy

Ever has there been an argument on being intelligent versus being well rounded.

Growing up the way I did, I am only intelligent because library books are free. Libraries had heat and clean, running water, while I didn't always live in a place that had one or the other. It took survival skills: learning where those resources were, and getting those needs met, in order to access the font of free information. Libraries were also open until 9 p.m., which was about the time that my mother could pick me up after her third job. I don't mean this as a sob story, but it's important to share my background. If the library had not been an option, I might have hung out at a deli (though I wouldn't have been able to have bought anything) or another place that met my needs, but which may not have been a safe or developmental environment.

The library where I spent my time was right across the street from my school, which made it easy to access. The front entrance of the library is where all of the kids hung out to smoke, doing their drinking and drugging right in the saddle of priceless opportunities to become better as people. Twenty years later I am certain that those who are not dead are mostly working dead-end jobs to feed the suffering life of addiction. I could have easily been among them had it not been for the fact that they regularly picked on me and followed me to beat me up. At the time I had no idea how to fight, but I had fingernails as sharp as claws that rendered it simple to sustain a grip on flesh that planned to hurt me. As an adult I regret those fights.

I was the kid who dashed into corner stores and hid all afternoon from the pack outside, until I could call somebody to come and get me, or some merciful adult offered me a ride home. In hindsight it was a very bad idea to accept rides from strangers, but it was a tough place and time, which required faith. I still have that faith.

Why did it seem I made enemies wherever I went? Well, I was overweight and they were bullies. I moved constantly, so I was chronically the new kid. I never had time or energy to establish myself as no-easy-target, to make friends, or to identify safe spaces.

This book, "Martial Arts and Philosophy," explores character development in relation to self-defense. As we continue to grow the mechanisms that may have worked for us at one time might now be in the way, useless or ineffective in an adult world with adult rules. Learning about technos, pathos, ego, and a bunch of other fancy Greek or Latin words changes the look of the battle. I'm enjoying the book but thoughts of my past come up when I'd rather be thinking about the present moment or the future.

The key is balance. Learn from the past, accept now, and choose wisely for the future. I think.

Why The Goju Ryu Karate Style Works For Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

Read the warning!

I practice Goju Ryu karate. It's close-up work (no hyperextension) that focuses more on personal development than on combat. However, both components exist and the discipline is not naive to the fact that everyone on earth has limitations.

As karate is a tool for self-defense I started studying it because I appear an easy target with a cane, crutches or my wheelchair, especially since all of those can be taken away and used against me. However, a kick with an aluminum unloader leg brace on or a rake across the face with silver ring splints makes me feel much more empowered.


Always act with the least amount of effort required to neutralize the situation and end the conflict. The best way to win is not to get into a fight at all!

That said, my dojo works tirelessly with me until we have adapted moves that maximize my strengths and protect my weaknesses. It's the most satisfying interaction I have ever had with my body, which is much more powerful and amazing than I ever thought it could be. I am no longer quite so easy a target.

Well beyond that higher sense of self-efficacy (but not too high!) is the growing sense of intellectual and emotional stability I gain from practicing Goju Ryu Karate. As long as I continue to live within the precepts of humility and self-awareness, as defined by my dojo, IOGKF, my personal belief systems, my education and my medical team, I conquer my daily perceptions of what a limit looks like, which matters more overall than a hypothetical fight with an unknown assailant.

If I've ever agreed with the axiom, "you are your own worst enemy," it has been in the times when I have felt most hopeless about what my life might be worth as my health cycles from manageable to intolerable. The consistency of Goju Ryu practice is not within my body because my health is inconsistent in all ways. Rather, the consistency of Goju Ryu  practice is in my mind, my resolution to be aware of the very moment I am in, for every movement to be saturated with effort. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome requires the same dedication, a best effort no matter how corrupt and unfair the fight. How blessed I am, to have this fusion, amid all the other fusions I can expect to have in a lifetime....

Don't get me wrong: EDS is hell in the dojo.  It's bloody, vomity, sweaty, clammy, fragile, slimy, oozy, and other disgusting, undesirable things.  I throw up almost every time I practice, or at least walk around refluxing for the rest of the night after practice. But I have only been practicing for a year. I am still discovering what limits are real and must be respected, as well as what limits are perceptual and wanting for care. 

There are times when I go all out, feeling like I should at least get to have a little fun if my body is a sinking ship. Sometimes it works, sometimes I'm on the couch for the next four days. But that's a conscious decision I make, and I pay for an hour of freedom by giving my body the rest it demands in-kind. Those "couch days" happen anyway, but at least I get something out of it this way.