Friday, October 28, 2016

On Throwing And Knowing Where You Land

Practicing karate at my dojo lifts me up to the moon and then reminds me that it's just my head in the moon and I've got to keep working if I ever want to set foot up there.

Sensei showed me how to do hari uke in Seiyunchin. Anatomically and physiologically speaking it makes perfect sense. Certain joints create stability in a closed-pack position, and other joints stay wide open to allow the throw to take place. It was the first time I saw in myself the ability to do a throw without putting myself in the hospital. It all made perfect sense physiologically speaking and for about three days I was King of the World.

A Judoka with EDS is skilled in throws and in being thrown. She prefers to do grappling and groundwork because there is no fall risk, and when she is on the ground she always knows where her bones are in relation to the floor. Knowing where one's body is in space is called proprioception. Proprioception is responsible for helping us stay upright and not bump into things. In EDS, proprioception is impaired.

We can train around impaired proprioception, to learn how to move safely. But it takes training : learn how to stay calm when you can't tell if you're conscious. You haven't been able to feel your legs for two days and now your visual field is gone because you're about to black out. Do you sit down on the floor so you don't fall, or do you bend your knees, keep your eyes open, and breathe gently? Every situation is different, it is not possible to make a hard-and-fast plan. This can lead to hypervigilance, and anxiety about having to be always ready to adapt, which leads to exhaustion.

At my dojo we have many medically trained and military trained karateka, so nobody flips out when I go down. They help me off the floor, check in, ask what I need, and make sure I can get home. That helps me  tremendously to stay calm because I know I will be cared for if anything does happen. Fortunately, after four years, I have not had to go to the hospital once due to karate. I'm sure that's part of the attraction to being in the dojo. Catastrophic things don't happen in the dojo, and if they did, they would be dealt with in rational and productive ways.

Everybody is working hard at something. The debilitating limitations of EDS is something I'm working hard to fight. They get that. I wish I could return the favour, maybe some day I will.

The moon can stay up in the sky, I'm happy with my dojo.

Tiny Hero Takanao Mahiro, Shotokan Karateka

Tiny Hero Takanao Mahiro, Shotokan Karateka

Since I started karate this charming young lady has had me mesmerized. There are videos of her all over the Internet performing perfect kata and bunkai (forms and martial applications) from age four. She is about nine years old now.

Mahiro is a Japanese Shotokan champion, flawless and fearless on the mat. Off the mat she is your average kind, respectful, perfectly cultured Japanese girl, an excellent representation of her country of ambassador caliber. Indeed, she is already raising the profile of Shotokan karate around the world.
If I'm not mistaken she is also featured in a few videos with the world's beloved Usami Rika. The videos take me back to days where it was so cold in the house that my sister and I would wear our winter jackets inside to practice our dancing. My sister gave a lot of herself to me in those formative years, though she didn't even live in the house. Maybe one day we can perform a kata together! The best thing about the ubiquitous availability of karate is that my sister lives in Miami and I in Baltimore, but we can find mighty good trainers anywhere in the world to learn exactly the same thing.

After a Shiai (tournament) bout my opponent and fellow karateka whispered, "you're terrifying!" as we walked off the floor.  She later elaborated on how my entire disposition changes when I'm practicing karate: you're the nicest person in the world, always smiling and happy. Then you get on the floor and it's looking everything changes!" I told her I am fearless in a fight because it's part of my Italian culture, but I recognize Mahiro's transformation of disposition and now wonder what else it could be. 

My opponent won that match. She is a kohai (junior karateka) to me by just a belt or two, so if she was truly afraid, she didn't show it: she performed well and I am still very happy that she won. It means she really used her skills! I must point out that she has many achievements out of the dojo that are far beyond my ken. My karate level is just a reflection of when I started and my belt is just for holding my gi closed. She won the match because she works hard and practices regularly. Perhaps she is more fearless than she feels. I respect her very highly.

I attribute to my culture my disposition change in a fight to my culture because I grew up seeing some of the best and worst of Italian culture.  I've had to be fearless at a moment's notice. It worried me for a while because I never want to scare anybody. I don't like how it feels to be scared. Seeing this transformation in Mahiro puts my mind at ease. Whatever it is that makes the change, it's not bad. It's a response to bad, like a cat whose tail wags erratically to signal that its limits will not be pushed beyond a certain point. Maybe it's the face of a gargoyle to warn demons that they should stay away, even though the gargoyle is made of stone and will not move!  That is, it's a protective disposition to ensure safety, not a malicious one seeking to harm.

I recognize Mahiro's serious face in myself. I recognize her confidence. She knows her stuff, her Sensei taught her well. Her Sensei knows her abilities and won't put her talents in danger where she will fail. Her entire school is behind her. I recognize this in her, in me.

Thanks to those who train us. Thanks to those who have made curricula available across the world so we can all grow, work hard, and learn.