Thursday, June 21, 2012

Indomitable Spirit


Don't tell anyone..... I'm a ninja.  

I'm in ninja school. It could be said I take karate classes. Allow me to explain. 

My good friend Laura started working at a place called a "dojo" about two years ago. She started having really strange bruises and saying words like cardio kickboxing, punches, sparring, black belts, and senseis. I thought dojo was a special language school. Whatever this dojo and 'carrotie' activity was, it was clear that she loved it and had found a new passion.

The problem with passion is that it spreads. And soon my good friend Laura had signed me up for an orientation class. I have no idea what special skill or mind trick she used on me aside from a text message saying, "Hey, what are you doing tomorrow evening around 7pm? It's bring a friend night at work. You can wear yoga pants." I had driven past the dojo--it's an actual place!-- hundreds of times as it's centrally located on a busy highway but never did the bright red KARATE  sign actually register in my head.

I showed up in yoga pants and a race shirt and felt immediately out of place. There were kids everywhere and everyone was wearing black pants and yelling. Lots of yelling. Laura introduced me a guy named Sensei Dan. If you're wondering, Dan is his first name. Sensei is a title. It was kinda odd at first that so many guys in that place were named Sensei.

I was taken to an office where Sensei Dan described and demonstrated two punches, a 'jab' and a 'cross.' It was fun watching an old guy punch the air. Then, it was my turn. Huh? I have to jab and cross? But...I'm a girl. I'm a runner! I work in an office. I am nice and smile at people. I cannot punch things! Again, I am unsure of the mind tricks and skills used, but I somehow found myself on the mat with a group of adults, who also seemed to work in offices, and more than half were female, who all smiled at me, and proceeded to punch and kick like there was no tomorrow.

Before I knew it, Laura, or Miss Laura in dojo-speak, signed me up for a six-week introduction to the program. I was a 'white belt' and really never planned to go any further. I was so out of my element and out of my comfort zone that I would sometimes cry on the ride home. I was convinced that I had a physical development problem that made me use my right hand instead of my left. All I heard for the first few months was, "No, your other left."  

I told Laura that I hated it and wanted to quit. She told me to hang on for the six weeks. Miss Laura said that no one just stops at a white belt. That would be lame. I should at least stay for the yellow belt. She said it would help with conditioning and strength. She also said we could go out for drinks on Friday nights after class. And we did.

Stress? What stress?

What was once terrifying and awkward has become one of my favorite parts of the week. I don't worry about not being lady like or polite when I'm on the mat. I'm not an  employee, a girlfriend, a neighbor, a friend or anyone besides a sweaty, wannabe ninja. I'm fighting whatever demons, stresses, voices, and emotions are weighing me down. I win most of those fights. 

This is why I call it ninja. Karate is an activity that wimpy middle school kids take if they're being bullied at school. Mixed martial arts is what that muscleheaded douchebag at the gym calls kickboxing. Self-defense classes imply that I need protection and am afraid of the world.

It also had nothing to do with paying too much for cable. Thanks, Direct Tv.

Ninja, however, is a mindset. Ninja is never giving up no matter how sore, how discouraged, how uncomfortable, and how afraid you are. Ninja is pushing through injuries but also respecting your body enough to heal. It's coming to class in a snowstorm. It's letting your kids have frozen yogurt for dinner because they were quiet during class. It's listening to a 17 year old dispense life advice without laughing in his face. It's finding a second home, a community, friends, and a lifestyle that fills a hole you didn't know was there.


At the end of each class, we recite the values of the kenpo teachings, Modesty, Integrity, Self Control, Perseverance, Indomitable Spirit. I chant a little louder on the Indomitable Spirit one. That's where my ninja is. 

Just come for one session, she said. It'll be fun, she said. Nothing bad will  happen, she said. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Things I Did Not Know in January But Now I Do

  • The terms gear, cadence, three-up, saddle-sore, or clip-ins.
  • An itchy nose means improper breathing in the water.
  • Swimsuits are really expensive.
  • Bikes are really expensive.
  • Chlorine is an overwhelming odor at first but eventually you get used to it. Maybe even grow to like it.
  • Putting baby powder in your swim cap will prevent it from sticking together. It's better to add the baby powder after you've swam and before you're dressed in a black sweater.
  • There is nothing quite as good as a good run.
  • You do not have to shave your legs to get into the pool. Honestly, no one notices.
  • The mirrors on the left side of the spin class room are good. The mirrors on the right side of the spin class room are evil.
  • Sitting on a bike in the back row of a spin class means that you can watch muscluar guys to pull ups, heavy machines, and lower ab leg lifts behind you. Always get to class early.
  • Dogs of all sizes are fascinated by bike wheels. Dog owners of all sizes are idiots.
  • It is completely possible to learn how to swim in three months.
  • Learning to cycle is not simply 'riding a bike.'.
  • Triathlons are really expensive.
  • Not rotating enough in the water = back pain
  • Seat too high or low on your bike = back pain
  • Taking spin classes to learn how to bike is like only running on a treadmill before your first race. Eventually, you have to get outside.
  • Bike tires need to be inflated at least once a week.
  • If it feels like your bike weights ten extra pounds no matter how hard you push and it's hard to balance than usual, check your tires.
  • We can pretty much do anything we set our minds to -- no matter how daunting, terrifying, overwhelming, and challenging.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The People of the Pool

I have logged countless hours on the treadmills at the Oxford Valley LA Fitness. Countless. I've watched too many middle-aged white men play too many hours of bad racquetball. (I'm just waiting to watch a volley go past three hits. And to see one of them cry.) I wish, oh how I wish, they would one day learn that those windows are transparent and I can see them.

Moving to the pool has been like moving to a whole new gym. The pool has different quirks and social norms. There are casual swimmers. You can tell them by the tankini's or swim trunks. There are the tweens and teenagers (they usually travel is pairs) who assume any pool is a backward pool for cannonballs and handstand practice. The 'don't judge a book by it's cover' principle is also in full effect in the pool. I've been lapped by people twice my age and size.

The most noticeable difference between the pool and the treadmills is the one that has become the bane of existence. There are at least 30 treadmills, 20 ellipticals, and 20 bikes for those seeking a cardio workout. In the four years I've been a member at that gym, I have never waited a minute for a 'mill. The pool, on the other hand, only has six lanes. This shouldn't be too much of an issue since swimming is not as popular and lanes can be split or shared with 2 people. 6 lanes = 12 swimmers, right?

Wrong. Apparently, people do not like to share. And those people who do not like to share are often those who do not swim! There is a new sport in the making. It's called 'Stand and Stare'. The participant gets into the lane. And stands. They do not walk. They do not do leg lifts. They do carry weights while 'jogging' up and down the lanes. They stand. And stare. This practice continues for about five minutes when it becomes time to move to the other side of the pool. The journey for a Stand-and-Starer is truly exhausting as they will then stand and stare from that angle. This must be a religious practice or mediation strategy that originated in Russia or Eastern Europe. The lane becomes hollowed ground that cannot possibly be shared with another. Even if there is a line. Even if there is a Stand-and-Starer in the next lane.  When a Stand-and-Starer is asked to share a lane by an actual swimmer, they respond with a thick, "NO!" and are forced to exert trace amounts of energy in order to escape the intrusion.

The opposite of the lane-hogging Stand-and-Starer is the "No. No, I'll wait" guy. This guy (or gal) clearly wants to swim. They have squeezed into a speedo and are armed with goggles and a swim cap. The patiently wait against the wall for a lane to open. I empathize because swimming is a chore and lanes can take a while to open up and offer to share.
"Hey, we can share if you want. I'm slow but I'll stay out of your way!"
"No, no. I'll wait." He (or she) responds. Ok. Is it me? Is my stroke that bad and pace that slow that he or she would rather sit against a wall and watch the minutes tick by than risk being seen with such a novice? Are they that good? What the what?  I swim on. And they stare on. And then get annoyed that most people aren't almost done. Ummm....but I asked? The best is when they do get into a lane-that they are simply in it to for a few laps or jogs. Was the wait worth it? Whatever.

The pool is also home to the Silent Stretchers and the Old Man Stew. These guys prove that a creep is a creep by land or by sea. The silent stretchers are not content with the mats and designated stretching areas in the open gym. They don't say a word, they just lay on the cold, chlorine-infused cement floor and 'stretch.' They could be sleeping. I'm not sure, it's weird. Old Man Stew is my term for the spa/hot tub. I have yet to see a person under the age of 45 willingly go into that tub. It's white in the mornings but a 'greenish-yellow' color by the evenings. It looks overs the pool and through the windows to back row of treadmills and elliptical. And just like their equally dumb counterparts in the racquetball courts, they mistakenly assume there is some kind of immunity or magic freakin’ curtain that hides their blatant creepiness. I guess the steam messes with their elderly minds and they fail to realize that even though my head is underwater, I CAN HEAR YOU!

I would not mind the Silent Stretchers or Stand-and-Starers if they would count laps for me. I can swim well enough to not drown in the Hudson but keeping track of my laps and distance has become the the hardest part. If you're going to hog a lane or be creepy, at least be useful. :-)