The day after my last post (way back in October), I broke my right small toe doing a warm-up exercise in my Tang Soo Do class. That, as it turned out, was the second of a whole bunch of straws about to descend upon my back (the first being my horse's hairline splintbone fracture that had her confined to her stall from mid-September to mid-December and to a healing saga that is still unfolding). Some of the more memorable were my riding instructor (and dear friend) being admitted to the hospital with indications of a significant brain tumor (turned out to be an abscess -- thank heavens), my daughter's unhappiness with her job (and consequent venting phone calls to yours truly), and a truly surprising amount of stress associated with what was really a very nice thing: a complete kitchen remodel and the final work on the master bedroom. Long story short, although I tried to keep training (in a fracture boot -- quite an adventure practicing kata with 3-point turns), and tried to hold things together, I wound up in an honest-to-the-goddess clinical depression.
Fortunately, being an educated sort of person myself, and married to another such, I was able to get help promptly and am now enjoying Better Living Through Modern Chemistry. And, as luck or the goddess would have it, the straws began to decompose one by one over the course of the late fall until, by Christmas, things were definitely looking up. My toe bone healed, although it will still be a while before the last of the soft-tissue damage does the same. My riding instructor was out of the hospital and living with another dear friend, having made a truly miraculous (but not complete, of course) recovery. I was taking Jordan for long walks under tack and her leg seemed to be coming along well. I managed to continue my workouts with my personal trainer and to keep my weight under reasonable control. Finally, once all the holidays were over, I was getting back to the dojo.
I'd had mixed feelings about my injury and its effects on my training. At my first school, injury meant that you still attended class and trusted to the instructor to modify the day's lesson to fit your needs. You might be asked to do something different from the rest of the class, but you were still a part of the class; you were always included. At my new school, things work a bit differently. I was never in any doubt that I was welcome to come in at any time and work out on my own in whatever way I could. I even knew that I wouldn't be expected to pay tuition until I was "learning" again (no dice on that one -- if I'm training, I'm paying . . .). But no one ever suggested that I continue to join my regular classes and let the instructor figure out how best to include me. So, on the one hand, I knew I was welcome and still part of the school; on the other, though, I felt distinctly margianilized and excluded.
Of course, that turned out to be one of those situations that led to much contemplation and consideration, from which I think I managed to learn some good stuff. I wondered if the exclusion I felt was a consequence of a general philosphy of "if you can't keep up with everyone else, don't bother", a manifestation of the traditional macho training ethos. I wasn't sure, given my relatively recent beginning there. Mr. O is certainly a "physical" guy who values athleticism. But his students run as full a gamut as I've ever seen in terms of age, gender, fitness, coordination, and the like. I've never seen him be less than fully supportive of all his students, and he is truly committed to promoting women in the martial arts. So maybe it was just me -- this was an approach I wasn't used to. And looking at it objectively, the invitation to train however and whenever I wanted at no charge suggested anything BUT exclusion. I decided to just keep doing what I was doing and see what happened.
What did happen was a couple of really nice conversations about my long-term training and my potential role in the school. First, as my foot healed to the point that I felt I could participate, at least to a large extent, in regular classes again, I asked Mr. O what he thought my best approach would be. Should I try to take the lower-belt class because it was less strenuous? My regular intermediate class and just be careful? His answer was something else altogether: he suggested that I focus on the jiu jitsu classes rather than the karate classes, and set myself the goal of earning my Gracie blue belt by the end of the year. He pointed out that my karate is fine, and that focusing on the Gracie curriculum intensively for now would let me achieve the best possible balance in my skill set as quickly as possible. D'uh! Although scheduling is a bit problematic, this is a good solution. Jiu Jitsu classes, while strenuous, don't bang up my feet at all, so I'm not going to get in the way of that last 10% of healing that still needs to happen (damn soft tissue injuries!). And I can still go in a couple of days a week to review kata, stretch, practice kicks, and beat up the heavy bag to keep my karate skills sharp. I'm absolutely delighted with the new program, even though it means dragging myself into Norfolk on Saturday mornings.
Second, while we were discussing something else, the question of rank came up, and Mr. O said that he wasn't going to bother worrying about testing me; he was awarding me my green belt. He said that he's watched me work, knows I know the curriculum, and saw no reason to let an injury prevent me from being promoted; he even indicated that he's done the same for black belts. Um, so much for the whole "macho martial arts ethos." That was kind of nice to hear.
So now I'm back on the horse. I'm training myself in karate and working hard at my jiu jitsu -- as my aching muscles can attest. I'm feeling more a part of the school than I ever had before, in no small part because of how welcoming everyone was when I started taking classes again. This is really a good bunch of people and I'm delighted to be training with them again. I'm also renewing my commitment to use this blog as a way to take time to pause and reflect on what I'm learning and what it all might mean. Should be fun . . .