Sunday, April 19, 2015

Week 1 - Watch that first impression: it's a doozy.

{Prologue, Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4}

I’m not sure what I expected on my first day of training.

Okay, that’s not true. I know exactly what I expected. Hollywood saw to that. There would be regimented rows of students wearing matching gis. Everyone would move and ferociously shout in perfect unison while inspirational powerchords played in the background. I would be the misfit, obviously, because I am the protagonist of my own story, and someone would sweep my leg and I’d end up painting a very nice old man’s fence until I found my inner strength. Then there would be a two minute montage during which all of the hard work happens, and BAM! Kung fu.

Never believe a word Hollywood says. Lies, all lies.

There are no matching gis. There are t-shirts in various colors, and it doesn’t take but a minute to figure out that the colors denote skill level, or at least the amount of time spent training. My shirt is red, and I try not to let Star Trek make me nervous about that. It doesn’t mean I’m first to die on the next new planet we visit, it just means I’m a newbie.

The class is quiet. Like, library quiet. Half a dozen people working out in the room, and I could hear all the little sounds: two instructors having a murmured conversation, soft hum of the fan, the rustling of cotton t-shirts as a dozen arms moved in poetically precise ways, stuff like that. This is a place of study, so shush. There’s even a polite sign on the wall asking for no loud talking, ever.

My daily life is filled with small people who have turned their volume up to eleven and broken the knob off. The quiet of this place was a shock.

It would be nice to say that I adjusted quickly and got right to work, so let’s say that’s what happened. Let’s not say that I stood there awkwardly and stared at everything with too-big eyes while my brain tried to grind the rust off of my Quiet And Focused gear.

Luckily, a very patient Simo scooped me and the other students up and started leading us through the most basic form. I was suddenly too busy to be awkward. Strange to think of standing very still on oddly bent knees while slowly and carefully moving my arms as being busy, but there it is. All of my muscles were doing things, and I was attempting to pay attention to all of them at once. Busy.

It began with Siu Nim Tao, the basic form. I had done it before, as a warm-up during the Women’s Self Defense class. Simo led me through it a few times before she asked me to lead her through it, and boy did I overthink that one. I kept comparing my form to everyone around me (am I moving my arms faster than they are? I totally just turned my wrist in the wrong direction aaaaaand GREAT now I’ve lost count of how many push-wrist-forward thingies I’ve done) and quietly freaking out while my thighs burned and this mysterious liquid appeared all over my skin that turned out later to be something called "sweat".

Simo and the other ladies in the class pushed on, quietly, calmly, and to varying degrees as sweatily as I, and I grokked my first lesson: we’re all in this together.

Everyone in that room is there to learn, whether it be from teaching or being taught or both. We are not there to compete or compare. I was surprised to learn, in talking (quietly) with the other students, that many of us are there for the same reasons: to repair and reclaim our health and our bodies.

There is support and understanding in that school, trusting each other to fling fists without doing harm and murmur encouragement through the smack of hands catching hands, and respecting the cross-arm signal to halt (which I am always the first one to give). While there is no judgement for sick ladies like me who need to sit down from time to time, there is a bottomless well of kind expectation that we’ll get back up and keep training for as long as we’re able.

Once I let that concept soak in, the time flew by. New challenges were presented, and I tried to meet them. Kept on trying even when my legs trembled and my breath rasped and my hands shook. I’ve never tried like that before. Never enjoyed the process of trying for its own sake, without some shiny finish line in sight. 

I won't say call it life-changing, but it was certainly perspective-shifting - now that I've figured out how to try, it's the only way I want to try. If that even makes sense.

(*ahem* Sorry not sorry, if that got a bit sappy. It was kind of an a-ha moment for me.)

Speaking of my hands... I’m a lupus patient, and the primary manifestation of my symptoms has always been pain and swelling in the joints of my hands. There are days when I can’t close a fist around the inflammation. I often lose circulation and feeling in my fingers. My biggest worry about this training was that it would cause all manner of havoc below my wrists.

The exact opposite happened. Every twist of the wrist and curl of the fist seemed to free the flow of blood and energy into my hands. I walked out of that first class fluttering my fingers like a crazed pianist just because I could.

Well. I sort of walked. My knees had a less magical experience than my hands did. Hopefully that will get better with more training.

I staggered to my car, drove home, and fell into the best night’s sleep of my life.

Practical takeaways from this session:

  • If your hands are shaking, it’s already too late to take a break. Sit. Down. Get some water.
  • Take a minute to stretch out your legs before you try to drive a standard transmission vehicle all the way back to Round Rock, you fool.