I’m Sorry….So Sorry. For What??

Have you ever noticed how many times a day you say the words “I’m sorry?” Especially as women, it seems like we are always apologizing for something, even when we’re not at fault, or there isn’t even anything wrong in the first place. What’s up with that? Is it just a habit (and not a good one, I might add), or do we really feel that we are responsible for everything that’s wrong in the world?

There was a time when I believed that everything was my fault, and I took full responsibility for it. Everything from world hunger to human trafficking to PMS and menstrual cramps. My fault. And it really wore me down.

But I didn’t realize what a problem it was, or how often I said it until I was 2 years into my martial arts training and I was testing for my green belt level. My partner was one of the black belt instructors who I had become good friends with, so he graciously offered to let me beat the stuffing out of him during my test. After all, what are friends for?

Every time he attacked me, I took him down. Hard. Fifteen minutes into the test, my Sensei stopped us. He looked at me and said, “If you apologize one more time for doing a technique well, I am going to stop the test.” What do you think I said? Yep, you’re right, I said those dreaded words, “I’m sorry.”

I was horrified. My partner gave me a nervous glance before he looked at Sensei, who was glowering at me and scowling. That’s never a good sign. I hadn’t even realized that every single time I took my partner down I said “I’m sorry” before he even hit the ground.

Sensei didn’t stop the test. But I learned a powerful lesson that day. I stopped apologizing for no apparent reason. I no longer said the words “I’m sorry” unless I sincerely had something to apologize for. And, when I did, magic happened. But I think I’ll save that for another day.

The Power of Grace….

Grace. It’s such a beautiful word. Just the sound of it brings forth a sense of ease, elegance, and peace. Who wouldn’t want to experience grace? Maybe we felt like we had it at some point but lost it along the way. (I don’t know what happened to it….I know I left it around here somewhere). Perhaps we feel like we have been looking for it all of our lives. It’s possible that we don’t even know what we’re looking for, but intuitively know that something is missing. What is grace, anyway?

In my mind, grace is a feeling. It is a sense of confidence and well-being. It is about having a strong sense of self-awareness, and being comfortable in your own skin. You know how to set personal boundaries and how to cultivate healthy relationships. You respect yourself. You have the flexibility to move through life with an effortless flow, even when the going gets tough.

One of my favorite quotes is from a remarkable man named Moshe Feldenkrais. He said, “What I am after is not flexible bodies, but flexible brains. What I am after is to return each person to their human dignity.” Ahh, grace. It is a lovely word, and a powerful one as well. It’s also a wonderful feeling–one that returns you to your strength, power, and human dignity.

It was through life’s trial and tribulations and the most difficult chapters in my life that I discovered the power of grace. I will admit that it hadn’t always been easy. But I did find it, and I sure like the way it feels. And I hope I don’t lose it like I lose my car keys. Because, there is incredible power and grace in each and every one of us. As well as human dignity.

The Invisible Black Belt

A lot of people don’t know this, but I experienced a unique journey into the male-dominated, testosterone-infested world of martial arts at the tender young age of 47. To my surprise (and everyone else’s), I became my teacher’s first female black belt ten years later.

In the twenty-year-long history of the martial arts school, no woman had ever achieved the rank of black belt. I was the first, and I shattered a lot of glass ceilings and belief systems along the way, including my own. I have many funny, inspiring, and heart wrenching stories as my training helped me evolve physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Yes, I said spiritually. Because there is a strong sense of spirituality embedded in a high level and elite  martial art like the one I was studying. You are developing your own spirit (or character) as you learn valuable life skills which help you cope with anything and everything that comes your way, both on the mat and life in general.

In a bizarre twist of fate, I began training in Ninpo Tai Jutsu, an ancient Japanese martial art, in September of 2003. The truth is, I never went looking for the art. Instead, the art came looking for me, and simply would not take “NO” for an answer. I shocked everyone when I began training, including myself, because I just knew I would hate it.

I didn’t hate it. I fell in love with the art, the training, and the sense of empowerment I gained from training. Through my journey into this ancient, mysterious and beautiful martial art, I learned discovered a part of myself that I never knew existed. Ninpo Tai Jutsu helped me realize my personal power and unleash the Invisible Black Belt that had been buried deep inside me all along.

All of the principles that I learned in my training has helped me in every aspect of my life. I share these principles with my many audiences in my speaking engagements, workshops, and classes. I believe that there is an Invisible Black Belt in each and every one of us, just waiting to be unleashed to help us realize our personal power and reclaim our human dignity.

Let me help you discover yours!

Secrets of a Middle-Aged Ninja

Secrets….we all have them. I probably have a few more than most. And many of them are secrets that I learned in my martial arts training. I’d love to share them all with you, but then you’d know too much. Besides, it might get me in deep trouble with the Secret Society of Ninjas. So, if you ever run into one of their members, please don’t let them know I have shared my secrets.

This first secret might be a little disappointing. Ninjas really aren’t fighters. We’re lovers. We love life, our families, our friends, our homes, and our communities. We want nothing more (and nothing less), than to simply live our lives in peace and harmony. Ninjas aren’t about war, or warfare. However, we are warriors. Wait a minute….doesn’t that sound contradictory?

It’s not. Because a true warrior has a heart of compassion. For life, for nature, and even for their enemies or those who wish to cause them harm. A warrior also has a playful spirit, and doesn’t take themselves too seriously, even when they are under attack, so to speak.

Patience is a virtue. Everyone knows that, and everybody gives it lip service, but a true warrior really embodies it, and incorporates it into their daily life. Considering our fast-paced modern world, as well as the “got to have it now” attitude, patience truly is a virtue as rare as hen’s teeth.

Above all, a warrior is honest. At least, they’re supposed to be. I have met a few who proclaim honesty and demand it of others, but not of themselves. Hmm, that hardly seems fair. But, that’s when you know they are not true warriors. And those who are just smile, and walk away. No sense in engaging in a confrontation over such a silly thing. A warrior knows how to avoid confrontation at all costs.

I have a lot more secrets up my sleeve. But, I think I’ll make like a ninja and disappear for now instead. I can always share them another time.

Evade, Deflect, and Redirect: Wisdom From a Warrior Queen

Evade, deflect, and re-direct. I hear those words in my head almost every day, especially if I’m faced with a conflict. In my fourteen years of martial arts training, these words were repeatedly reinforced. You might even say they were beaten into me, so to speak.

The first thing you learn as a new student is how to evade an attack. Just get out of the way. After all, you can’t get hit and you can’t get hurt if you’re not there. It sounds simple enough, but it really isn’t. Because there are several ways you can respond to an attack.

1). You can freeze like a deer in the headlights. This is a typical response, and the outcome is never good.

2). You can fight back, which is a good strategy if you have absolutely no other choice. However, the chances of you being the victor is about fifty-fifty. It’s actually even less than that because the attacker has the element of surprise to his advantage.

3). You can get out of the way. This is a handy-dandy little trick affectionately referred to as a ninja disappearing act.

I was pretty good at evading an attack when I was a white belt. Unfortunately, my strategy was to run screaming off of the mat with my gi over my head. Not exactly the nimble reaction of an accomplished martial artist. But what can I say? I was terrified.

Eventually I overcame my terror when I saw a fist coming at my face, or a kick heading toward my solar plexus. And I learned how to move out of the way and evade an attack. And I made a fascinating discovery.

This nifty little technique can be implemented anytime you are under pressure or in the line of any attack, real or perceived. Attacks and confrontations come in a variety of different ways. They are not just physical. They can be mental, emotional, psychological, verbal, etc.

Once you learn how to use this ninja secret, you won’t get hit, and you can’t get hurt. Even better, once you step out of the way, the attacker will beat himself (or herself) up with their own negative energy. How cool is that?

Think about that the next time something is coming at you. After all, life is full of hits, both literally and figuratively. Learn to get out of the way and you’ll save yourself a world of hurt. But what if you can’t get out of the way, or what do you do once you do avoid an attack? I think I’ll save those pearls of wisdom for another day.

 

 

Sticks and Stones, and Broken Bos

Sticks and stones may break your bones. As a martial artist, I know this to be true, because I personally experienced it first hand. I once broke a bone in martial arts, but it wasn’t my own. It belonged to my partner. It’s a long story, and perhaps I’ll share it someday.

Although I love martial arts, I haven’t been training at all over the past twelve months. At least not in the traditional way, at the dojo and with partners. Between running a business, publishing a book, and keeping up with life, I’ve been pretty busy these days.

However, I have been able to keep up with my ballet training. I am fortunate to study ballet with a remarkable woman who has a strong Tai Chi background, as well as many other incredible accomplishments. The woman is amazing!

Jayne doesn’t teach a traditional ballet class. Instead, she brings everything she has to offer to her dancers, including Tai Chi. I don’t want to give away all of her secrets (or mine), but over the past two years of working with her, I could feel myself getting stronger, and more powerful. Not only in a dance-related way, but in a martial arts way as well.

I asked Jayne if that could even be possible. Her answer was “Of course it is!” She also advised me to be careful when or if I ever returned to the dojo, because I might surprise myself. I decided to put my theory to the test. The dojo was hosting a seminar based on the art of the Rokshoku Bo, which is a 6 foot long staff. In other words, it’s a great big stick. And it can be pretty scary, especially when someone swings it at your head.

However, I like playing with sticks, so I took my Rokshoku Bo and went to the dojo for the seminar. It was awesome twirling my stick and doing imaginary strikes, and it felt great to be on the mat again. We partnered up with other students to practice our strikes, which can be a bit formidable, as you can imagine. After all, one bad move could end up with a trip to the Emergency Room. That would ruin everyone’s day.

I partnered up with the only other female black belt in the school. We’re great friends, and it just happened to be her foot that I accidently broke a few years ago. Ooops. It had been a really long time since we were on the mat together, and we started going at it with great enthusiasm with a series of strikes that culminated in one final overhead strike to the top of the head. Did I mention it was scary?

She came at me with full speed and full intention. I deflected each strike with equal speed and intention. Our energy continued to escalate until she went for the final blow, the kill strike, aimed directly at the top of my head. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but I felt a surge of energy come shooting up from the very core of my existence, and  I blocked the strike with ear-splitting spirit yell and every cell in my body participating.

For a split second time stood still. Then I heard a deafening crack. Suddenly I was holding two sticks instead of one. I blocked her strike with such force I literally broke my Bo in half. I was grateful that her strike didn’t land on my head. And I discovered that Jayne was right about my power. I also realized that I was going to have to buy a new Bo.

The moral of the story is that sticks and stones may break your bones, but a ballet dancer will break your Bos. Or maybe other things if you provoke her enough. It’s nice to find your power, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but it sure makes me feel like a lady!

 

 

Self-Confidence Is the Best Self-Defense

Self-confidence plays a critical role in self-defense. How we stand, walk, and carry ourselves communicates to the world how we feel about ourselves. People pay more attention to our body language than we think they do. And they respond to what they see, and what they think they can get away with.

This really hit home when I was teaching one of my self-defense classes for women. There were several grown women and two petite teenagers in the class. The girls were sisters, and they were adorable. One was very chatty and outgoing, and the other one was extremely quiet and reserved. They were accompanied by their grandmother, who had decided they should all take the class together.

It usually takes some time for women to feel comfortable in a self-defense class, and this group was no exception. However, eventually they began to get into the spirit of the class. They even started to have fun with it, which is always one of my goals.

The quiet teenager hung back and silently watched the rest of us play with a few techniques and walk through several different scenarios. I thought she was just shy, so I made an effort to engage with her and make her part of the group. After a few moments I said, “Now let’s pretend that someone is picking on you at school.” She shot a look at her grandmother. The room got very quiet. Finally her grandmother said, “That’s exactly what’s happening, and why I brought her here.”

Ahh, that explained her demeanor and her body language. I wished I could go to school with her the next day and protect her from her tormentor. But that wasn’t practical. Instead, I continued teaching from a slightly different perspective. And I made sure this girl was front and center.

Pretty soon, something remarkable happened. She began standing taller (all five feet of her), and started looking me in the eye. She paid closer attention to what we were doing and got a lot more talkative, although not nearly as loquacious as her sister. Eventually I slid up beside her and whispered, “You’re getting it now, aren’t you?”

I wish you could have seen the look she gave me. She had a gleam in her eye and a knowing smile on her beautiful face. As a matter of fact, she actually glowed with a wisdom well beyond her years. She nodded her head and replied, “Oh, yeah. I get it.” I could see her self-confidence increase as the class continued. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

Two weeks later I received an email from her grandmother. She informed me her granddaughter told her that one self-defense class changed her life forever. She wasn’t being picked on any longer and was enjoying going to school again. Or at least, as much as any teenager can enjoy school.

I would love to know how the final confrontation went down. I would have given anything to see how she stood her ground. Most of all, I would have loved to see how her tormentor responded. Especially since I know it was done in a non-violent manner. Sometimes all you have to do is walk tall, look people in the eye, and stand your ground. After all, the best offense is a good defense. And self-confidence is the best self-defense.  Wouldn’t you agree?

Feldenkrais, Survival, and Supernovas

I love the connection between martial arts and Feldenkrais. After all, Feldenkrais is based on martial arts, the art of movement, and the art of survival. Moshe Feldenkrais believed that all human beings were intended to not just survive, but to thrive in their environment. He also wanted to return to each person their human dignity. How beautiful is that?

To have human dignity, you must be able to protect yourself and have strong personal boundaries. As a martial artist, I understand that, and I always integrate the principles of martial arts, self-defense, and survival skills into my Feldenkrais sessons. I get so passionate about Feldenkrais and the art of survival that many of my clients wanted to explore this connection at a deeper level, with practical application for daily life. Some of them even talked about trying some martial arts classes, but were worried about getting their heads knocked off by over-enthusiastic training partners. After being on the receiving end of some of those partners myself, I could certainly understand their concerns.

But I also understand how empowering the practice of martial arts can be, and I wanted to be able to offer that sense of empowerment to my clients without having them risk their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I was at a loss, until I finally had a head-smacking moment as a light bulb went off in my head. Why not devote a two hour long class to Feldenkrais and the art of survival?

I chose one of my favorite Feldenkrais lessons titled “The Golden Ball.” It is a deliciously gentle but powerful lesson where you imagine a golden ball placed deep in your abdomen, somewhere between your pubic bone and your belly button. As the lesson progresses, you visualize the ball moving, rolling, sliding, and gliding as you move through the movement patterns.

Before we began the lesson, we started in traditional Feldenkrais-fashion with a body scan. However, instead of lying down and sensing our contact with the floor, we walked around my office and the long hallway outside of it to notice our connection to the floor, our environment, each other, and within ourselves. “How do you feel?” I asked them. “Do you feel confident and powerful? Or do you feel timid and unsure of yourself?”

The response was rather lukewarm until I uttered those magic words, “Go to your mat, and lie on your back….” Ahhh, the rewarding sound of sighs of contentment filled the room as I began guiding them through “The Golden Ball.” Halfway through the lesson, I stopped, had my clients slowly come to standing, and walk around the room and the hallway again. Once more, I repeated my questions: “How do you feel? Do you feel confident and powerful? Or do you feel timid and unsure of yourself?”

This time the response was a bit more introspective as well as enthusiastic. Their comments included a sense of increased awareness, feeling centered, stronger, and grounded. Interesting, to say the least. I was mind-boggled by the changes that I observed in all of the participants as the lesson had unfolded. Of course I kept my comments and my observations to myself as I had them return to their mats to prepare for the grand finale.

When the lesson ended, as I watched my clients transition from the floor to standing, my jaw dropped in amazement. The power in each and everyone of them was electric, and I had to take a step back so their combined energy didn’t knock me over. Before I had the chance to ask my three questions, one of my clients exclaimed, “It’s like a supernova! At first I couldn’t feel the ball, and then I started to feel it a little bit. But after the break, it got bigger, brighter, and stronger–now it’s all around me! It’s a Feldenkrais supernova!”

I ended the class as I always do, with a recap of the lesson and what I lovingly refer to as the “family talk.” But before we did, we had one more walk around the room and the hallway. The light and the wisdom from those golden balls just lit up the room, and it certainly lit up my heart. Because I knew that all of those people now had a few more skills to take home with them….the skills of Feldenkrais, survival, and supernovas. Feldenkrais….turning on the power for people everywhere. You simply have to try it to believe it!

Beware the Ides of March

“Beware the Ides of March” is a phrase and a date in history that will forever be associated with the assassination of Julius Caesar. Apparently Caesar had received a warning from his soothsayer telling him to “beware the Ides of March.” I’m not a huge fan of soothsayers, but obviously this one knew what he was talking about, because he accurately predicted the demise of Caesar on March 15th, otherwise known as the Ides of March. 

Hmmm, perhaps Caesar should have listened to his soothsayer and implemented a few precautions. I’m not suggesting that he would still be alive today, but it does make you wonder what would have happened and how the course of history may have changed if he used his awareness and paid more attention to both his surroundings and who his friends were, just in case. 

“Beware the Ides of March” has forever instilled a sense of foreboding on March 15th. And since tomorrow is March 15th, I decided to pass along a few simple safety tips so we don’t have to beware, but be aware instead. Not only on March 15th, but the rest of the year as well.

1). Heads up.

A distracted person is an easy target. Please, please, please put away your cell phones. They belong in your purse, pocket or backpack, not in your hand stealing your attention from your surroundings. So please, I am begging you….put away your cell phones, especially when you are walking in a parking lot or any public place.

2). Expand your world.

Always notice who (and what) is behind you and on either side of you as well as in front of you at all times, but especially when entering a room or any new environment. If I had a dollar for every woman I have seen stepping onto the elevator in my office building while they were staring down at their phone instead of looking to see who they were getting on an elevator with, I would be a very wealthy woman today. Instead, I am a sad one, because walking into a small enclosed space with no escape route without first seeing who you’re getting on with is not only a bad idea, it’s a dangerous one as well.

While we’re on the subject of enclosed spaces, always make a mental note of where the exits are; you never know when you might need to make a quick escape, for whatever reason.

3). Make eye contact.

Make eye contact and say hello. Yes, even to strangers. As a matter of fact, especially to strangers. Those are the people you want to let know that you are paying attention. Remember, a distracted person is an easy target, and that’s what the bad guys are looking for. So, look everyone in the eye and smile. Not only is it a great safety practice, you might even make a few new friends along the way.

4). Listen to your inner voice.

If something doesn’t feel right to you, listen to your intuition and remove yourself from the situation immediately. Remember tip number two and know where all of the exits or escape routes are ahead of time so you can make a quick and seamless get-away. I call it the ninja disappearing act. After all, you can’t be harmed if you aren’t there. So, make like a ninja and hide.

5). Play with training awareness.

Turn the practice of training awareness into a game to play with your children and grandchildren. It’s a great way to teach them about personal safety in a safe, non-threatening way as you improve your awareness at the same time.

6). Educate yourself.

Knowledge is power, and the more you know about personal safety, the more empowered you become.

I just can’t help but wonder how the course of history may have changed if Caesar had taken a few of these simple precautions (except for the part about the cell phones and the elevator). We can all benefit from taking precautions regarding our personal safety without being afraid or paranoid. We don’t have to beware, we just have to pay attention to ourselves, our surroundings, and our relationships.

So, be aware the Ides of March. Oh, and have a fun, safe and Happy St. Patrick’s Day as well. You might want to use your new-found awareness to be on the lookout for those leprechauns. Be safe, healthy, and aware!

Teaching Bullies Better Manners

I detest bullies. In my humble opinion they are sniveling little cowards with no manners or sense of human decency. They pick on those they perceive as weak, vulnerable, or helpless. If only we could teach bullies better manners, I do believe that the world would be a better place. And I believe we can.

I recently taught a self-defense class for women and girls. There were several grown women as well as two petite and quiet teen-aged girls attending the class. Well, at least one of the girls were quiet. The other one was a lot more verbose and outgoing. They were sisters, and they were adorable. They were in the class accompanied by their grandmother, who thought it would be a beneficial experience for all of them. She was right about that!

Although it usually takes awhile for ladies to get comfortable in a self-defense class, this group quickly got into the spirit of the class, and started to have some fun with it. However, I noticed that the quiet teenager hung back and silently watched the rest of us as we played with a few techniques and walked through several different scenarios. I thought she was just shy, so I decided to engage with her and make her feel more comfortable.

I caught her eye and made an effort to draw her into the class. I usually don’t focus on bullies or anti-bullying in women’s self defense classes, since we focus more on random attacks and “what-if” situations. But, for some reason, I said to her, “Let’s pretend that someone is picking on you at school…” Before I could finish, she shot a look at her grandmother. After a few moments of silence, her grandmother said, “That’s exactly what’s happening.”

I thought blood was going to shoot out of my eyes. Just the thought that a bully (or bullies) were picking on this adorable young girl enraged me. I wished I could go to school with her the next day, stand in front of her, and make them go through me before they could get to her. Instead, I continued teaching from a slightly different perspective, making sure that I kept this girl front and center.

Pretty soon, something remarkable happened. She began standing taller (all five feet of her), and started looking us all in the eye. She paid closer attention to what we were doing and got a lot more talkative, although not nearly as loquacious as her sister. Eventually I slid up beside her and whispered, “You’re getting it now, aren’t you?”

I wish you could have seen the look she gave me. She had a gleam in her eye and a knowing smile on her beautiful face. As a matter of fact, she actually glowed with a wisdom well beyond her years. She nodded her head and replied, “Oh, yeah. I get it.” I wanted to weep with joy.

For the next several days I could not get this girl and the bullies out of my head. I wondered if the lessons she learned that evening had any impact on her and her situation at school. Two weeks later I finally got my answer.

Her grandmother sent me a beautiful email thanking me for teaching the class. She also wanted me to know her grand-daughter told her that one single class changed her life forever. She was no longer having problems with bullies and was enjoying going to school again. Or at least, as much as any teenager enjoys school.

I cried when I read the email. As a matter of fact, to this day I cannot tell the story without crying. It’s a little embarrassing, because as a rule I do not cry in public, although I seem to be getting pretty good at it lately. Especially when I repeat the story of the petite and precious teenager who was being picked on in school, but found her strength and confidence in one two-hour long self-defense class.

The one thing I would love to know, but probably never will, was how the whole thing went down. I would have giving anything to see how she stood her ground. I really would have loved to see how her tormenter responded. Especially since I know it was done in a non-violent manner.

Like I said, bullies are cowards. All you have to do is look them in the eye, stand your ground, and walk tall. Even if you are only five feet tall, you look like a giant. And you get to teach them better manners, which not only changes your life, but changes theirs as well. It’s a beautiful thing, don’t you agree?