Saturday, January 28, 2017

Higaonna-Sensei's Time

I dreamt that Higaonna-Sensei visited my dojo on my testing day. He looked so healthy, happy, and energetic that I kept my nervousness about testing in front of him under control because staying calm and collected in times of conflict is his #1 lesson.

In my dream I passed to my 2-kyu, but he had much to say about what improvements I needed to make. He gave me a technical analysis of what to modify so that my disabilities weren't in the way of my efficacy. He a gave me strict feedback about where I was clearly getting in my own way for fear of injury or fainting.

How I wish I could remember anything he'd said! We spoke mostly in Japanese and I was preoccupied with translating, and with not getting overwhelmed by how generous he was in his time with me, when there are so many people who would kill for that kind of time with him. The only way I could focus was to know that the only way to honour those people was for me to focus, work extremely hard, and to do everything I knew to make Higaonna-Sensei happy with his student. I received a glut of his time and attention.

This has got to be, in part, a manifestation of how I felt during MCF2014 in Tampa, Florida, USA. I'd had a number of difficulties and was driven to tears several times from the complications.

On the first morning of training I had accidentally come to black belt training. I arrived late, so I wheeled to the back and parked my chair against the wall, doing gentle juunbi undo (karate warm-ups) and trying not to draw attention as the karateka in the wheelchair with lights on it. Nakamura-Sensei politely informed me that this was the black belt class and I'd read the schedule wrong, but he invited me to sit and watch, which I did, soon finding myself a fish out of water. I was 5-kyu at the time, a blue belt.

The day before I found myself sitting in the dining room of the hotel at the table next to the senior instructors. Higaonna-Sensei and I faced each other from our respective tables and exchanged informal head bows, with smiles throughout our meals. I knew who he was and now I knew he was curious about who I was. At the time the only other wheelchair user I'd ever heard of was John Marrable-Sensei in New Zealand. I'd only seen Marrable-Sensei in pictures, but I knew he was out there in the big world, and from his representation I gained infinite gusto about representing myself in my wheelchair to break barriers and stigma.

Within seconds of Nakamura-Sensei's invitation Higaonna-Sensei walked up to me, cutting right through the lines, all the way from the front of the class. He did not rush, and his face was neutral. He did not look at other students as he walked, but came straight to me. We bowed. With no delay he held out his hands. They were covered in scars, knobs of arthritic and glycated tissue, and dry patches where I presume blood and water could no longer compete with the chronic assaults on the capillaries that carry nutrients to the surfaces of his hands.

"Whatever you do, do it a hundred times," he said, as he rapidly opened and closed his massive paws into fists. "every day. Then you will be strong. Just one hundred times. Okay, good."

Just as quickly as he came he was gone, back to teaching the black belts.

Later, outside in the Florida sun, we were taking photos with him and with students from our respective countries and I passed out from the heat. A fellow karateka happened to be a paramedic and helped me inside to safety. I collapsed on a patch of floor off to the side of the stairs and he helped me start my IV pump. It became apparent that I had worried Higaonna-Sensei because he came to me when he was through with photos, an entourage behind him, to see if I was recovering okay. When he saw that I was in good hands he gave me two thumbs up and went on with his day.

It isn't easy to be "the one in the wheelchair." It can feel like I'm getting extra attention I don't deserve, and like I'm taking away from other students. Someone's I just have to be humble about it, other times I have to fight for it to get my own needs met. It's important for the instructor to be aware of your needs, especially in matters of safety, but also in matters of equally access.

Higaonna-Sensei teaches so many people that he can't possibly get to know all of us. And yet, he took much time to meet with me, to talk with me, and he even asked Nakamura-Sensei to take a picture of us so I would have one. "You look like you are having fun, I see you smiling when you practice," he said.

How I wish I could see him again. I wish he could see how much stronger I am. I wish he could know all that my Sensei has done for me, how Goju Ryu has changed my life, thanks to his proliferation of the practice.

We only get so much time on this earth. May we all use it to change and improve lives.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Taking Risks

Because my Sensei taught me how to do knuckle push-ups correctly I can use that skill to get up from the floor without dislocating my fingers, hands, and wrists. This is why it's important to let vulnerable people try new things and take risks that directly affect them. Instead of getting hurt, I got better, and I solved a very big problem in the process.

A month will have passed since I last attended karate class because I'm moving to a new place, a car load at a time, each day. The ridiculously slow pace of moving has worked out well for my body and kept me able to work the next day. The help has made all the difference, as I am not required to risk lifting or stair climbing with my hands full.

I am trying hard to keep this blog about karate but other elements leak into it. Let's see where this goes. I promise to bring it back around.

If I get hurt in karate I can afford medical care to respond and recover. This enables me to take risks and learn new skills that improve my life. I fall less, bump into doors less, dislocate less, exercise more, and I am more compliant with meds, physical therapy, and splinting. I manage my fatigue more efficiently, participate in social activities, and have a greater overall sense of wellness, all thanks to karate.

Without ACA I am worried about my health. More accurately, I am worried I won't be able to afford my health. It cost me $28/day for saline infusions before ACA, not including my other meds and care. ACA has helped me stay alive, get healthier, and live more independently than ever in my life. I know changes will help some people, but I'm afraid for myself.

People say "[Trump] will probably leave the disability part alone" but if he's repealing maternity care stipulations I'm not so optimistic. It's not even possible to plan for how catastrophic it will be if I lose Medicaid. Before ACA I had to liquidate my retirement to pay medical expenses. I was considering the guaranteed poverty of SSDI and retiring on disability because it was cheaper than working full-time as a tax-paying contributor.

We'll see what happens. I'm trying not to panic, worry has never done me a lick of good. But planning has, and I have no way to plan for what will be financially irreconcilable, based not on fear-mongering about how bad a President Trump will be, but on past experience of how bad things can truly get.

It's bound to have an impact on my karate. I feel like I've got one more year to try everything I want to try, and then I'll have to practice like I'm made of porcelain. Therefore, I'd better hurry up and finish moving so I can get back to the dojo.

In life I've learned not to avoid fear, but karate has honed my skill to also not be unrealistic about what fear is trying to show me. Fear is trying to show me that something may change, that if I can prepare, I should. But if I cannot prepare, I can at least be ready to respond. There is always good work to do, there is always a positive way to respond--even when I'm not happy about it, which is when it matters the most.

Change is a given. It is said to be the thing people fear most. Therefore, as a veteran of change on all levels of life, I am not afraid of much. But I am afraid of the ACA repeal. So what can I do? I can practice zanshin, residual awareness. I can be ready to respond, even if I'm not sure to what, or how to do it just yet.

Trump is taking a gigantic risk, and he's gambling with other people's money, health, lives. In karate I take risks with my own health, not on others'. But my risks are good risks, carefully considered and closely monitored by outsiders with more experience. Even then, I still consider how others will be affected if I get hurt while working with a partner, or on a team. They may feel sad for me, or worry that they hurt me, and that can cut deeply for people with high sensitivity.

There is no silver bullet to fixing health care in America, no matter what side you're on. We have to work through it together. Seeing things get worse will only strengthen our resolve to make things better, but there will be many casualties in the process and I hope I will not become not one of them.

It will be okay. But first, and perhaps for a long time, it will be not okay. How to get through will be a matter of trial and error, like the thousands of kicks it takes to get one great blow, and even that one can be improved.