Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Month 12: Halfway There

I’ve completed a full year of Ving Tsun Kung Fu training. Me. The chronically ill suburban mother of two whose favorite activities include cupcakes and not running.

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this, notions that have been tumbling around in my head like drunken june bugs for weeks, cheerfully mocking all of my efforts to wrassle them into cohesive narrative for a blog post because I’d rather poke my eyeballs out than go all Buzzfeed and write a damn listicle.

But ya know what?

- Ving Tsun has taught me how to pick my battles. Don’t try to force something to work that’s not supposed to work, whether it be a palmstrike that can’t get through or a blog post. So fine. Fine. Listicle it is, and I’ll just try to find a way to sleep at night.

- They’re not fat rolls, they’re Muscle Bumpers. Kung Fu training has done a lot to deprogram a lifetime of internalized body-shame. I’m a big ol’ gal, always have been, and while my training has added pounds of muscle it hasn’t subtracted much fat. Probably I could lose some of the extra curves if I liked ice cream a little less, but that’s not even an argument worth making because it involves less ice cream. And, also, because who cares? My body is a gloriously mighty machine capable of doing just about anything I ask of it. Which is mind-blowing to someone who, just a year ago, spent more days limping than not.

I’m healthier today than I have ever been. Not just healthier compared to a year ago, but compared to the entirety of my adult life. Speaking as someone with a chronic illness, who will be some kind of sick every day for the rest of forever, that’s pretty freaking awesome.

So if this amazing collection of muscle and bone and blood that I get the privilege of driving around this world has some lumpy bits that aren’t conventionally pleasing to the eye, that’s the viewer’s problem. Not mine.

- I’m tougher than I ever thought I could be. If I look back over the past twelve months and squint a little, I can see the early days when every single class sent me home with sore forearms that would be all the colors of the bruise rainbow by morning. Nowadays, I typically don’t bruise unless I’ve been handing out bruises, too.

But it’s not just the physical. I’m tougher on the inside, too. Everyday crap that used to make my head pop clean off is now more likely to get a raised eyebrow, a deep breath, and Dealt With. Because, honestly, if it’s not trying to hit me, how bad can it be? And if it is trying to hit me, well, probably I can hit it back.

- I’m stronger than I know. Not like in a badass kung fu warrior way, so much as in an oversized puppy way. I’ve had multiple fellow students comment on my strength. Some have asked me to go easier during drills. One even used the word “brutal”, in a breathy-laughing please-stop-hurting-me kind of way. I’d like to take these moments as compliments to my training, but there’s this voice in the back of my head that worries VERY LOUDLY about accidentally hurting people.

I grew up a girl, so I’ve heard it all my life. Don’t play too rough, it’s not ladylike. Don’t show off how strong you are, you’ll scare off all the boys. Don’t be too pushy. Don’t be bossy. Don’t take up so much space. Don’t don’t don’t be anything but small and quiet and non-confrontational. It’s always gone against my nature (my body is built big, my voice is a natural megaphone, and I’m contrary as hell), but it’s what I heard, so it's what I hear. Now, it tells me to go easy during kung fu drills. To not play so rough. I can grind my teeth and ignore it, but the teeth, they are a-grindin’.

Luckily, there’s always some iron-armed sihing available to knock me around and remind me that A) I’m nowhere near the strongest beast in the room, and B) never, not once in the past year, have they ever gone easy on me. They may have taken a drill slow for the sake of getting the technique right, but they always kept their hands solid. There is patience in their strength; I try to remember that.

I’m stronger than I think I am, which means that my thinking needs to catch up with my muscles. Then, hopefully, I’ll develop the sensitivity to be able to trust myself not to accidentally hulk out on some poor unsuspecting sidai.

Just a few of the folks who have to listen to my teeth grind. They're the true heroes of this tale.

- Competence is a fickle mistress. I’m starting to understand the idea of my kung fu, my application of the techniques and how my body translates the movements. I’m developing expectations of my own performance. And getting frustrated when I don’t meet my own arbitrary expectations.

At this point, I’ve learned a lot of the pieces of the kung fu puzzle. Enough to get the notion that I’ll be shuffling them around and finding new ways to fit them together for the rest of forever. When it comes to the basic stuff, the drills that I learned in my first few months of training, I have a half-baked idea of what I’m doing. I’m competent.

Competent enough to have a little bit of pride in it. Competent enough that, on the rare occasions when a training partner looks at me in all my mom-shaped glory and assumes that I don’t know what I’m doing or that I can’t handle a drill, I can feel the sharp edges of my slow-spreading smile and know that I’m about to set somebody’s wrong head on straight. Few things in life give me more joy.

Naturally, it is in these moments that my disease may choose to demonstrate its fine sense of ironic timing. Sometimes, I measure off with Assumey McPreconceivedNotions, fully prepared to hold my own and show them that behind this maternal facade beats the heart of a badass, when that badass heart will skip a beat. Or my lungs will gasp and my hands will shake. Or maybe the lupus fog will ambush me and all I can do is watch (from the bench) as all of my hard-won competence drains away in a whirlpool of sudden fatigue and clumsy limbs and I seriously could chew nails and SPIT BULLETS in those moments.

This is why it’s good to have just a little pride. Makes it easier to swallow.

- Time doesn’t mean what it used to mean. If you had asked me twelve months ago if I’d still be training in Kung Fu right now, not just training but geeking out about it, signing up for seminars, tumbling down rabbitholes of kung fu videos, well … I would’ve tried to distract you with a cookie, because the answer would’ve been “no” and I wasn’t as good at saying that word a year ago as I am now.

Every second of training has the potential to go on for eternity, like cold molasses made of fire ants that march endlessly over you searing skin as your face contorts into a rictus of grim death and let’s just say conditioning is my least favorite part of class, okay? And yet somehow I blinked my sweat-stung eyes and BOOM! A year is behind me. This phenomenon isn’t new to me; I’ve got two kids who are all weird smells and bony knees now, but I swear that just yesterday they were drooling lumps of cuddly screaming biscuit dough. I know from time warps. It’s just that it never occurred to me that they could apply to physical training. Which tells you something about my level of athleticism twelve months ago.

Whether I believe it or not, a year of training has passed. According to the school’s 2-Year Program, I am halfway to being a “basic expert” in Ving Tsun. Which is kinda like saying I’m halfway to the moon because in no way do I feel like my road is half-traveled. I have so much more to learn.