Monday, October 30, 2006

It's All In How You Do It

For some reason, body language has been a topic of discussion in several different places in my life this week. In the dojo, with my husband, with friends, on-line. It's weird how different people keep bringing up body-language in general, and my body-language in specific in response to different topics, and with different viewpoints. My husband tells me my body-language is authoritative, that I walk and act like someone who knows what she's doing. My sensei is perhaps the only person in my life who calls me "dainty" (I have to suppress a giggle every time he does, it's just such a weird adjective to use about me). He says that I move like someone trying very hard not to hurt the things around me. My college roommate says I have feminine body-language - she qualified it immediately as feminine-dominant.

I have no idea who in this little tableau of discriptives is describing me accurately. Perhaps they all are. The descriptives come up in response to different situations, so that's a possibility. My roommate is trying to explain why she has been mistaken for a guy on several occassions (from the back), despite being short and small, and having uncut, butt-length hair, while I never have, despite being tall, blocky, and frequently having short hair. Her explanation is that I move like a woman, while she doesn't. Which I can buy. Actually L moves like a heron. If you've ever seen a great blue heron stalking frogs in a small pond? - that's how L walks. I'm not sure how a heron walk overrides tiny with butt-length hair, but she doesn't move like most people, let alone most women.

My sensei, on the other hand, is describing how I move in the dojo, and particularly when performing kata. Why I limit my power so stringently in the dojo, I'm not sure, but I know I do. In kumite the unconscious throttling down works well for me. I pull my blows well without having to slow down to think about it. In kata, and working on the bags, though, it's not what I want to be doing. At my current rate of improvement, I have about another decade of being called "Ms. Dainty" in front of me. Interestingly, I had a similar problem learning to play piano. It took almost a decade of steady work for my piano teacher to get me to play a good forte, let alone a fortissimo. I simply seem to be afraid to make too much of an impression on the universe - or something. It's weird.

The first describer, my husband, on the other hand, was trying to explain a phenomenon that has puzzled me my entire life. I don't attract help. Ever. If I'm hauling furniture, wrangling children, or walking somewhere alone in the dark, I'm entirely on my own. In college it was really notable. As a women's college, Wellesley had a strict policy against students walking alone at night after dark. They had an escort service you were supposed to wait for. If the foot patrols (which were ubiquitous) found you walking alone, they would drop their route, and walk you to where you were going. If a patrol car spotted you, they were supposed to give you a lift - though they weren't as good about it as the foot patrols. Every friend I had got stopped and escorted at least a couple of times each year, even though they didn't try to walk alone much.

I never did. Not once in four years. And I walked everywhere after dark. I would walk from the dorms to the Science Center, to the Student Center, to other dorms, even completely around the lake at least once each year. I was seen by foot patrols, patrol cars, even the official escort service. They would give me a nod, and keep on their way - absolutely invariably. It was really weird - even a little spooky.

It's the same in airports. I once traversed the length of the Phoenix Airport, 7 1/2 months pregnant, carrying a 20-month old kid, with three large suitcases and a car seat. I carried the car seat about ten yards, went back, picked up the first suitcase and brought it up, went back, got the next suitcase, and so forth, carrying S the whole while. I went past the entire lineup of skycaps, and untold numbers of other people, (close to a good 1/4 mile) without a single offer of help. Not even to get me a cart. I'm not decrying the rude people of Phoenix, mind you. They simply provided the most extreme example of a lifelong phenomenon.

I don't do anything deliberate with how I move. I have good posture, the legacy of two stringent grandmothers, and I've worked hard on making my walk ergonomically sound because of a history of hip problems that I don't need to be exacerbating. So I'm deeply puzzled as to how I ended up moving so very differently as to provoke such striking behavior (or lack of behavior) in the people around me. I also wonder if the daintyness Sensei complains about isn't an effort to soften the effect of whatever it is - to make me seem less dominant, or threatening, or something.

Whatever it is, I don't necessarily think I want to change it. The same something that prevents people from offering help, also seems to prevent most kinds of casual harassment. But it would be nice to be able to control it, so that the next time I actually need help, I have some ability to turn it off, and possibly get some.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Parent-Teacher Conferences

It's that time - first quarter report cards, and parent-teacher conferences (mandatory for first quarter in elementary school here). Joy of joys, I have laryngitis this week, and no voice, which has rendered me just a wee bit less articulate than usual. It was really good to get to meet both teachers, since we were out of town for the Open House when I would normally have met them.

A's (#2 son) conference came first. His teacher is really, really pleased with him. His SPED evaluator is astounded. We're delighted. A had his SPED evaluation nine months ago. At that time, he was entirely unable to write, or even color for more than a few seconds. He had poor muscle tone in his hands, and poor fine motor control (2-year delay). His academic tests showed below average to low average across the board, except for verbal fluency, which was above average. Except that he also had social speech problems and a speech impediment, so his vocabulary and grammar skills weren't exactly doing him much good.

Today? A has high-average to above-average academics across the board. In some things he's already past the goals for the end of kindergarten. He was the only child in his class to know what a sentence was and be able to create them on demand. He has started playing with other kids than his best friend (Side note: His best friend has been hospitalized for four days now with fever and abdominal pains. No diagnosis yet, exploratory surgery tonight, fingers crossed.) He's writing sentences with awkward, but legible handwriting. Essentially he's progressed almost a full academic year's worth in two months. Plus he's liking kindergarten a lot, so he's not failing to have fun while making all this progress. His teacher says he's "delightful" and "a great kid to work with".

S's conference was today. That also went well, though not as astoundingly good. Academically he's doing great - as always. His teacher told me about twenty times how astoundingly smart he is. I really wish there was a better way to respond to that. "I know." sounds so complacent, or smug. But really, he's been stellar academically since he was a baby, so it isn't a shocker to hear. Behavior has always been S's sticking point, but he does seem to be doing better this year. No tantrums at all, and only a couple of incidents of foot stomping or hiding under his desk. He continues to daydream (with accompanying noise-making) when bored, and he's very intolerant of mistakes by other kids when working in a group setting. His teacher wants him evaluated by one of their autistic-spectrum specialists in the classroom setting, to see if she has any suggestions. Like A (who's official diagnosis is autistic-spectrum disorder), nobody thinks he's actually autistic, but some of his behaviors are similar, so some of the same methods may help. I'm okay with that. I like the SPED system in this state and school district. Among other things, if the child "graduates" from the SPED system, they give you copies of everything, and then destroy the records. That way, all the information still exists, in case something recurrs, but the SPED categories don't follow your child forever.

Both teachers seem really nice, and both seem very fond of my kids. I think this is going to be a good school year.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Well, I didn't exactly run a class on Tuesday. Apparently the word had gotten out that Sensei would be out, and only one boy showed. I think I've mentioned him before - the one who needs a rheostat so we can turn him down a notch or two. We had an interesting private session. He's about halfway through with Seisan, and I worked with him on it intensively for an hour. I was frankly astounded. For a kid his age (12) to work for an hour on a short section of kata, with good concentration, and no complaint at all, is really noteworthy.

Once we got off of Seisan, however, things got less wonderful. He was trying to talk me into teaching sais (which I barely know anything about myself), bo, knife practice, juggling(?)...anything and everything he could think of. He wanted to break boards, he wanted to kumite. He even offered to tell Sensei that he had just "watched me and figured it out" if I would just teach him some more advanced kata.

I found it interesting, but tiring, reining him in. I told him in no uncertain terms that jumping ahead in kata was not permitted, and used myself as an example. He found it completely incomprehensible that I would return to being a white belt after having been a brown. Surely there must have been some way I could have convinced Sensei to let me keep wearing it? When I told him that going back to white was my choice, not Sensei's, he was completely flabbergasted. The idea that I shouldn't be wearing brown if I couldn't live up to what a brown belt implies, seemed to elude him entirely. I could have faked it, couldn't I?

I hope he gets some maturity (and common sense) soon. He's going to be a fabulous karateka when he does, but until then, he's in constant danger of injuring himself by trying stuff he's not ready for, or of getting kicked out for bypassing Sensei to try to con his way into learning said stuff.

In other news, Sensei's surgery went well. He gets the huge club-like forearm protector off in about ten days. Then it's a matter of healing and rehabilitating. The student one senior to me will be teaching the next two classes, and he's cancelling Sunday, but he hopes to be teaching again by Tuesday.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Countdown to the Legacy

The Lennox Legacy tournament that is. I'll be sending in my registration sheet on Wed, the tournament is in Ohio in two weeks. I need more practice on my kumite skills than I'm likely to get, and I need to practice my kata like there's no tomorrow.

The kumite thing is going to be hard. My biggest problem in kumite is that I tend to overanalyze, trying to run the fight with my mind, instead of my body, and it slows me down. I'm not the fastest person going to begin with, and if I start analyzing too, it's just hopeless. Unfortunately the only real way I've found to get around this is to simply fight, and fight, and fight some more, until what I need to do becomes automatic. Tournaments are invariably the worst way for me to show good kumite, because I always start off thinking hard, and loosen up as time goes on. I can't tell you how often I've finally hit my stride - just as I'm about 1 point off of being eliminated - and then can't make it up enough, and out I go. I think it's part of why I did so well at the local place last year. I was in the beginner's division, and the poor woman I was paired up with first was no threat at all. She had no fighting experience, and really had no clue what she was doing. She did, however, serve to get me into "fighting mode", so that when a bout with a more experienced opponent came along, I was ready to go. I wound up by fighting (and winning) against a woman five ranks higher than I was, though I think the skunking I gave her was mostly shock. Once I won the first two points, she just stopped trying to score, and strictly defended.

So the question becomes, with no chance to really stretch myself in kumite between now and then, how do I keep from getting eliminated before I even start? Sensei offered back about six months ago to spar with me before competition starts, but he's having hand surgery on Tuesday, so I don't think that's in the offing (and I'm certainly not going to ask for it). It's a conundrum.

On kata, things are also strange. I should be competing with Wansu - and it's really my only choice if I want to be competitive in this venue. Naihanchi is a lovely kata, but it simply doesn't hold up in competition. On the other hand - I don't know all of Wansu yet. I'm almost there - about 4/5th of the way through, and I'm pretty comfortable that a) I will know it by then, and b) I do what I do thus far well. Still it feels really weird to be prepping a kata for competition that I don't actually know the end of yet.

In other news, I'm teaching my first planned solo class on Tuesday (Sensei's hand surgery as mentioned above). It should be interesting. I had to sit(nearly literally) on one of our Tuesday regulars today for failing to respect a senior belt who happens to be his age. Fortunately, for all the trouble this kid gives most of his seniors, he seems to respect (or is that fear?) me almost as much as he does Sensei. That is to say, enough to do what we tell him to do - when we're looking.

Sensei says he should be back teaching Thursday, but we have a back-up plan in place, just in case. I'm really glad he's getting his hand fixed though. He tore ligaments back in April, and it's taken this long to get him to surgery and have them reattached. For all that time he's been teaching with a left hand that simply can't take any sort of punishment. Learn from Sensei - block with a closed hand, not a loose open one!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Writing & Criticism

I'm not a lover of drama. Actually I generally avoid it at all costs. I'm the sort of over-socialized person who never once screams or swears during labor, and apologizes to the nurses for making quiet moaning sounds. The attraction of creating a scene simply eludes me. Why would anybody want to do that?

I realize that my attitude on the matter is far from universal - and probably not even terribly healthy. Sometimes a little drama is good for the soul. Nonetheless, some people, and writers are often prime examples, seem prone to the kind of passionate responses that make good opera, but poor life.

Writers in particular are very prone to react badly to criticism intended only to help. Even when they say they want it. I'm beginning to understand why so very few professional writers will give any opinion on work from people they don't know very well indeed. It's not just because of the time, or the fact there's no real recompense, though I'm sure those play a role. It's that you can put serious time and effort into giving someone the very best critique you can. You can be specific, honest, thorough, and even tactful - and have their response be to blow up in your face. If you do review things generally, but don't review something specific, they can bemoan your apathy and lack of commitment to their work (Err - it's their work, not mine, right?). The same person who demanded brutal criticism can fall over in despair in reaction to a far from brutal critique.

I'm dealing with this right now with a specific author. Her work is wonderful in some aspects, but has a long way to go in others. Not surprisingly - at least to me - her biggest difficulty seems to be writing a cooly academic character consistently. But her plotting is tight, and her descriptions, when they go right are wonderfully lush.

What do you do when you're committed to trying to help someone's work, and they turn out to be this un-self-aware about how they handle criticism? I really, really want to help - but now I'm clueless as to how. If I simply encourage, I'm not helping the writer develop her craft. But when I critique, there's a sudden outburst of despair that simply leaves me stunned in its intensity. She's got me stumped.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Shhh - Don't Tell!

We've come up with the perfect gift for Sensei. He is eligeable for his go-dan (recieved his notification about two months ago), but the process to get his belt costs a couple of hundred dollars and he can not afford it. Really can not afford it. As poor as we currently are, we're rolling in the dough comparatively speaking, because our problem is the recent excessive outgo, rather than sheer lack of income. Left to himself and his own income, Sensei would never get that next rank, since even if he had the money, he'd undoubtably find a better use for it - something for his family, or something for his students.

So we're all contributing to get together the money to get him his go-dan for Christmas. This involves some serious sneaking around. We have to find out the exact amount (getting ahold of some of the other upper-level black belts to find this out), and contact Master Shimabuku in Okinawa to see if we can do it direct, or if we just have to give Sensei the money and sit on him to make sure he uses it for his promotion.

I feel all conspiratorial :-D

In other news, both of our brown belts have left recently. One joined the Army, the other had just recently returned after a long hiatus, and now has left again for reasons unknown (at least to me). I assume she talked to Sensei about it since a) he seems quite clear that she's not going to around regularly, and b) he's not particularly upset about it, which he definitely was when she quit the first time and didn't talk to him about it. Sensei will forgive about anything except leaving him out of the loop.

As a result of this, Sensei told me straight out the other night, that I will probably be his first black belt. This feels a bit weird. At the moment I'm only a fairly recent green. I still have purple, brown 1, and brown 2 to go through. Plus I'm not the senior student, I'm third in seniority. I have to agree with his assessment, our most senior student is only 12, so isn't eligeable for black for four more years, while the #2 senior student is a practicing physician with three small kids. Her practice time is limited, so her progression through the ranks tends to be slow. She was an orange belt when I joined, now we're both greens, with me about a month behind her in seniority.

Still it feels awkward to be the subject of Sensei's somewhat ambitious regard. He's been teaching for about eight years, he's itching to have a black belt of his own, and would have had several by now but for circumstances. I have no idea what it would be like to be a black belt under him, I'd be breaking in the position, which also means I'd be setting all the precedents. Ground-breaking is not generally my preferred occupation.

On the other hand, I have between 18 months and 2 years at a minimum before I'm ready to test for black. I suppose I shouldn't get ahead of myself.

Most black belt candidates (that I've talked to anyway) feel unready. I guess I just get to feel that way somewhat longer than most.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Testing - but not for me

One of our requirements this summer was to go to one of the TKD belt testing days, and watch how they do it. I was in Boston during the last set of tests, so this Saturday off I went.

It was very different from my sensei's testing. First off, it was huge. Forty people, ranging from second dans testing for third, to tiny tots testing for their first stripe (They get five, and then they graduate to the regular kids' class as a white belt). We were there four hours watching tests.

They started with the black belts. I was mostly not impressed. Of the half-dozen testing, only one (the youngest of them all) had what I would consider good form. The dojo head corrected them as a group at least once - for having their thumbs hanging out during knife hand strikes! Two of them were hardly chambering their kicks at all, and only the one really chambered hard and well.

The two testing for promotion to first dan were worse. I would - personally speaking - have knocked them down a rank or two for their performances, not promoted them. Ironically they both very nearly failed for failing to break the required boards, but each managed after a dozen-plus tries. I would have failed them at the first form. Neither of them could make a decent fist! One had her thumb straight - sticking out past her knuckles. The other had loose hands, and a cocked wrist. Neither of them could have punched anything hard without injuring themselves. Sensei bawls out white belts for form breaks less egregious.

Interestingly the lower belts generally looked better. Why, I'm not sure. But most of the lower belt testees seemed appropriately skilled for the levels they were testing for. Did they change teaching styles recently or something?

At least now I know why facing the TKD black belts in kumite has never particularly fazed me. If I can block their feet (and I have pretty sharp defense), they have nothing up top to threaten me with. Though if we keep sharing classes on the weekend, that may change.