There’s a Warrior in All of Us

I began my journey into the world of martial arts twelve years ago at the tender young age of 47. I guess this means I am admitting how old I am, even though I know that a lady never tells her age. However, no one has ever accused me of being a lady. Actually, someone once did a long time ago, but that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, it takes a tremendous amount of courage for a woman to walk into a testosterone-infested, male-dominated dojo and give strange men permission to attack them. It also requires an enormous amount of trust. I had neither, and there are still times when I have issues with both. However, what I lack in courage and trust, I have always been able to compensate with humor and false bravado.

When I began training, there wasn’t a high ranking female student at the dojo that could show me the ropes, be my role model, and teach me how to deal with a room full of Neanderthals. Even though all of the guys were very respectful and supportive, it didn’t keep me from being terrified and feeling like I was in a room full of Fred Flintstone and his bowling buddies.

They would take turns teaching me the secrets of the art of the Ninja, and there were even days when they actually argued over who would “get” to work with me. I thought they were just trying to impress me while they taught me the basic skills of a white belt. It didn’t take long for me to recognize that even on my worst day, I looked prettier and smelled better than any of the men they were used to rolling around with on the mat. Besides, I washed my gi after every class.

Since I didn’t have an upper ranking female student to emulate, I had to fend for myself and make up the rules as I went along. I told the guys that they were permitted to grab me, punch me, kick me, sweep me, throw me, and pin me to the ground. But under no circumstances were they allowed to mess up my make-up or chip my nail polish. After all, a girl’s got to set some boundaries, and that would just make me mad. Besides, it would be uncivilized.

Eventually, they got used to having me around the dojo, and I seemed to take on a role that was a combination of mascot, little sister, wise woman and awesome sex goddess. However, I still wasn’t in it for the long haul. I figured I would take a few classes, learn a few techniques and move on with my life.

But, something funny happened along the way. I fell in love with the art and I fell in love with the training. And I really, really fell in love with the sense of strength, grace, and confidence that I developed from training. With every milestone I achieved, there was another one waiting to be accomplished. Every time I felt I had reached my limit and wanted to quit, something kept drawing me back.

Every so often I have a test of faith, even at this point in my training. I’ll hear a voice in my head saying “Quit. Just quit.” But the truth is I can’t quit, and I won’t. Because martial arts isn’t just something I do; it’s something I am. So, I tell that little voice to shut up and mind its own business. It’s not that I have anything to prove, except for a point. And that point is, there is a Warrior in all of us.

 

The Delicate Dojo: The stories begin….

I got a fantastic text message from one of my Delicate Dojo students a few days ago. If you’ve been following me, you already know that I am a black belt in the ancient Japanese martial art of Ninpo Tai Jutsu, and I recently began teaching self defense classes for women only. I knew that eventually I would hear stories about how the classes came in handy in a real life situation, but I didn’t expect them so soon. Here is her story.

She and her 3 children (two girls aged 7 and 9 and a son aged 5) were sitting together outside an ice cream store enjoying their treats when a strange man suddenly approached them. He came right up to them, and without a word began picking lint off of her son’s shirt. She was in a corner with her son sitting on her lap and her daughters on each side. He literally had them backed into a corner. Instead of panicking, she looked him directly in the eye. Calmly but firmly, she said, “Don’t touch him.”

Incredibly, the stranger began to argue with her, and the situation became more threatening. Without taking her eyes off of his, she said, “Give him his space.” She continued to look directly at him and kept her focus on his eyes. He immediately changed his demeanor, backed off,  then turned and walked away.

How creepy. And what a creep! My student referred to him as “deranged.” I’d have to agree with her, because I can think of no situation where it would be appropriate for a perfect stranger to approach a woman with her children and starting touching one of them. I don’t know what his intention was, but I’m guessing it wasn’t good. However, she was able to clearly communicate that she was the one in charge and in control of the situation.

My student is very petite and looks like a kid herself. Maybe he figured she would be an easy target. She wasn’t. She told me that during the encounter she was as calm as could be, and admitted that she would have gone into full blown panic mode prior to taking the classes. By the way, she’s only taken two classes. So far. My petite student was able to react calmly from a position of power and strength. She also taught her children a valuable lesson. If she had responded with fear, they would have as well. The entire family would have been traumatized. She would have lost her power, and the “deranged man” may have become emboldened. Instead, she effectively defused the situation and empowered herself.

I love stories like this. I love hearing about positive outcomes. Most of all, I love hearing about women being able to find their power, strength, grace and confidence. I especially love it when the bullies lose. And that is why I started The Delicate Dojo, and began teaching women the art of self defense.

Be healthy! Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

A strictly forbidden learning experience….

My journey into the world of martial arts has been interesting, as well as educational, to say the least. I have often been the lone female in a testosterone filled environment, but I’ve gotten used to it. I’ve even learned to enjoy it, but that’s probably because I’m a natural born flirt.

However, I love training with other women, and I am fortunate to be in a school where there are several other women who train. Women seem to have a natural ability and spirit, which is something my Sensei told me during the three years that it took him to get me on the mat. I didn’t believe him then, but I certainly do now. I just wish more women would train in some form of martial art, but I know how intimidating it is to walk into a male dominated Dojo. .

Which is why I began teaching self defense classes for women only. It’s a lot less intimidating for women to enter a safe and fun environment, learn from another woman who’s been around the block a few times, and also knows her way around the mat. It’s an idea that came to me early in my training, and something that developed through the years.

During the course of my training, I became acquainted with a group of men that practice an art that is different from mine but has similar roots. I’ve been invited to their seminars and workshops and have attended several of them. Even though I was from another discipline, I was always invited, and they continue to update me on upcoming events.

Since they always keep me in their circle I sent them my information regarding my women’s self defense classes. I thought they might be interested in what I was doing, and I’m sure they know plenty of ladies who would like to learn a few things to protect themselves. I received a terse response from one of their instructors.

He told me, “Well, we don’t have any women students, and I do teach men and women.” I giggled. If they have no women in their school, how could he possibly teach them? And, if they did have women in their school, why would those women need of a basic self defense class? That’s just silly. Then I wondered why they didn’t have any women in their school.

He informed me that the lineage of our arts are different. Of course, I’ve always known that. So has he. He concluded by telling me that while he has the utmost respect for my art, he must follow directives which strictly forbid cross training between us. Yikes! I wish I had known that before I took their training seminars. If I had known I was engaging in an activity that was strictly forbidden, I would have enjoyed it more. It would have been even more fun, and I would have felt a little naughty.

I guess the flow of information is a one way street. How disappointing. Even more disappointing is the women who may have benefited from just a few classes who will now never receive this information. I understand that he was trying to protect his territory. But, he doesn’t understand is that I am trying to protect women. Or at least teach them how to protect themselves.

The ability to learn how to defend yourself should be easily and appropriately available to everyone, regardless of their age, gender, level of ability and personal belief system. We should be encouraging those who are vulnerable to find their power and strength, not holding them back because some one’s ego got in the way.  Hmmm, maybe that’s the reason there aren’t any women in their school.

    Opportunities to learn are everywhere. Each one should be supported and celebrated rather than discouraged or tossed aside. No learning opportunity should never be strictly forbidden, for anyone, but especially to those who can benefit the most.     

The Debut of The Delicate Dojo….

I began my martial arts training ten years ago under the instruction of Sensei Marc Hanson of Kusa Dojo. My goal was to take a few classes, learn a few techniques, and then move on with my life. After all, I’m kind of prissy, and I couldn’t see myself hanging out in a Dojo with a bunch of sweaty men for very long. Besides, I’m a dancer, and I certainly didn’t want anything to interfere with my ballet classes. And, I was terrified of getting hurt.

I met my Sensei three years before I started my journey into the world of martial arts. He was my acupuncturist, and for three years he tried to get me into his classes and onto the mat. For three years I refused. I finally capitulated, thinking I would take a few classes, and he would see how much I hated it. Then I could say, “I told you so,” I could quit, and he would stop nagging me.

But, something funny happened. I fell in love with training, and I fell in love with the art. However, I understand how hard it is for a woman to walk into a testosterone infested Dojo. Even though I already knew my teacher and some of his students, it was terrifying. I don’t know why I kept going to class. It may have been my love of the art, my incomparable stubbornness, or the fact that I didn’t know any better. Obviously, I was getting something out of it.

It was early in my training that I had the inspiration for The Delicate Dojo. In my imagination, this would be a place where women could learn basic self defense skills, instructed by a woman, in a fun, safe and comfortable environment. Of course, in my fantasy world, these classes would be taught by someone who had a lot of spirit, who loved teaching, and who absolutely loved helping women tap into their Warrior spirit. I had no idea that woman would be me.

The time has come. Who knew that my fantasy would become a reality, and I would be the teacher. It’s funny how things work out, once you stop resisting the inevitable and let nature take it’s course. Welcome to The Delicate Dojo, and discover that it is possible to look like a woman, act like a lady, move like a Ninja, and think like a Warrior. See you on the mat!

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Sword cuts, patience, and a powerful teacher.

I bought a sword last weekend. I hadn’t planned on buying one, and I certainly hadn’t been looking for one. We have been working a lot more with sword cuts in my martial arts class, and I have a nice white oak wooden sword. It’s light weight, it’s really pretty, and it serves it’s purpose.

But last weekend my husband and I took a drive up to the mountains just to get out of town, even if it was only for a few hours. I was in the mood to go exploring, so we drove up to one of the popular mountain towns just to walk around and check out the shops.

We walked past a store front, and I said to my husband, “I have to go in here”.  He looked at me like I was crazy, but he followed me in the store anyway. It was a knife shop, exactly the type of store I would never enter. But when I walked in, I saw what had drawn me inside. Behind the counter were several swords on display. After handling a few of them, I knew which one was for me. It just felt right. And it was pretty.

I didn’t even take it out of the case for three days. Cautious and careful by nature, I waited until I was at the Dojo and Sensei could help me and teach me a few things. Handling a sword was a lot different from handling a wooden one. He did tell me that the blade was a little too sharp for training purposes and I needed to file it down. I thought he was being just a wee bit melodramatic, but I said okay. I knew I’d get around to it, eventually.

Two days later we had sword class. There were a lot of students, it was a bit chaotic, and we were moving a quickly through complicated patterns. Losing my focus for a split second, I was trying to sheath my sword in a hurry to catch up with the group and felt a sudden sharp burning pain in my wrist. Uh-oh. Sensei was right. The blade was too sharp. So much for care and caution.

That was at the beginning of class. I stopped long enough to wash the cut and put a big band aid on it. In the process of cleaning my wound I almost got stuck in the bathroom, because my sword was still in my belt at an awkward angle so my hands could be free. Thank goodness nobody witnessed that fiasco. I did have to ask one of the guys to help me with my band aid, which was demoralizing enough. If I needed help out of the bathroom, I never would have lived that down.

For the next hour and fifteen minutes, I practiced my sword cuts while the blood from my wrist saturated the band aid. I patiently listened to several of the guys giving me corrections all at the same time. I’m pretty good at taking directions, but only from two or three people at once. Any more than that and I go into sensory overload. But I smiled, bowed, nodded and thanked everyone for their help. Finally class was over. I put my sword away, took my notes and my throbbing wrist to my car, put my head on the steering wheel and burst out laughing.

I just couldn’t help myself. And I couldn’t stop laughing. The entire situation was simply too funny. The truth is, the reason why I love sword work is because the sword is a powerful teacher. It is honest; it always tells the truth and it never lies. I believe that I did not find the sword in the mountains that Saturday afternoon. The sword found me. It will continue to teach me patience, humility, honesty, integrity, truth, and humor. But I think I’m already good to go on that last one, don’t you?

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Teach your children well

It’s so important to teach your children well so you can prepare them for the great big world out there. However, out of all the things you teach your children, the one subject that often gets overlooked is how to defend and protect themselves when you aren’t around to do it for them. I still get the shivers when I think of the following story.

Last night I watched the news with a combination of horror, admiration and even pride when I saw the disturbing video of an attempted abduction. The would be kidnapper got a huge surprise when his ten year old victim fought back, kicked and bit him while her two year old brother screamed like a banshee. My emotions ran high and I was moved to tears as I watched the video.

I was furious that she was attacked in broad daylight while she was walking down the sidewalk with her baby brother. I was relieved that she was able to protect herself. I admired her tenacity. Most of all, I was proud of her that she knew exactly what to do under such terrible circumstances. And I was proud of her little brother for screaming his head off.

How did this girl know what to do? Her father taught her. Good for him. Apparently, the girl’s father had repeatedly instructed her how to react under such circumstances, just in case. They had even role played such a terrifying scene, in the remote chance that she ever was attacked. As a result, she responded immediately and correctly. She fought like a tigress. She got away and he got arrested.

I like the ending to what could have been a tragic story and another statistic. I don’t know about you, but I would rather see more stories like this than one where another innocent life is lost. Remember, perpetrators are looking for an  easy target. If you can’t teach your children how to protect themselves, or feel ill equipped to do so, you have options. Look into a self defense program for kids, or consider enrolling them into a martial arts school to receive proper training. The point is not to scare them, but to “aware” them. Awareness is the greatest defense a child can have.

So please, teach your children well. The life they save may be their own.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Focus, focus, focus….

Good grief, I’m exhausted. Every free moment of every day over the past several months have been devoted to my martial arts training. That is my focus right now, like a second job, except without a paycheck. I have eliminated everything else in my life except work and training. I have stopped going to ballet class, stopped socializing with friends, and put projects on hold. I’m not even going shopping. I’m trying to focus.

I have been organizing notes, reviewing techniques, taking extra classes, and meeting my number one training partner for additional time on the mat. I am memorizing Japanese words and phrases. I am diving into the historical, philosophical and cultural roots of the art I study. I am teaching some classes, helping other students, and collaborating with my fellow student instructors. I am really trying to focus.

There isn’t a lot of extra room in my head for mundane things. I must focus on what is important. Deflect, evade, escape; throw, pin, lock, strike. Hand weapons, heart weapons, spirit and intention is far more critical to remember then where I parked my car. I am testing today for my next belt. This level is a comprehensive review of everything I have learned since my first day of  training. I was told to be prepared to spend three hours on the mat for the test. That seems like a long time, but I’m sure I’ll be fine. I just need to focus.

I’m training and I’m studying. I’m training so hard that I can barely get out of bed in the morning. Every bone in my body aches and my muscles are begging for mercy. I’m studying so much that my head is full of Japanese words and phrases that keep bumping into each other, something that they particularly enjoy doing at three o’clock in the morning. The smell of tiger balm follows me wherever I go, but I guess it’s better than the smell of the sweaty guys I’ve been working out with. The good news is, I’m learning how to focus.

I am so focused that two days ago I lost my checkbook. No worries, I found it in the ficus tree at my office. Yesterday I misplaced my cell phone. Not a problem; it was in the dog food, right where I left it. I accidentally locked one of my dogs outside, but fortunately heard him barking before I left the house. I got mad at my husband because he wouldn’t talk to me before dinner a few nights ago. Then I remembered he was out of town. Focus, focus.

Every day I train. Every day I study my notes. Every day I wear my little gold earrings that have the Chinese symbol for “courage” on them, even though the art I study is Japanese. I think it’s probably okay. Most of all, every day I wonder why I am doing this to myself. I don’t have to, and I’m not even sure that I want to. I just want to be normal again. Then I focus at the task at hand.

I say that I have been working toward this for the past few months. The truth is, I have been working toward this for the past eight years, but I didn’t realize it then. Had I been able to look in the future and see where this journey would take me, I would have run screaming into the woods, never to be heard from again. Actually, that almost did happen two years ago, but that’s another story.

I might not get through this test. I might succeed, or I might fail. But that’s not the point. The truth is, this test and this level is not about me, or the belt, or the honor of achievement. It’s about the journey. It’s about the art. The art I didn’t choose, but chose me instead. It’s about patience and perseverence. It’s about humility, and learning how to embrace and accept something that is so much bigger than myself. It’s also a way to discover more about myself than I ever knew existed. And it taught me how to focus.

Well, I’d better be on my way. I have a test to take. If only I can find my car keys. I know they’re around here somewhere….focus, focus, focus!

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

The gift…. of three little words.

I’ll never forget the first time I looked into the eyes of a man I barely knew and heard three little words that helped change my life. It wasn’t what I was expecting, especially from a man I had just met. We were brought together by a strange twist of fate. I remember standing close to him while he murmured those words in a soft, silky voice that nobody else could possibly hear. But I heard them. I still remember them. And it’s not what you think.

It was in the early days of my martial arts training. That means I was in the first  six months and still not sure what I was doing there and wondering how soon I would quit. But, I was learning a few things, so I kept going to class. Somehow, I was talked into attending a seminar. I was assured that it was great fun, low key, no pressure, and I would have a marvelous time. I was more gullible back then than I am now.

During the seminar, I found myself paired up with a huge bull of a man. I am good spirited by nature and a natural born flirt, so I was okay with it. At first. Everything changed when I suddenly found myself in the middle of a huge circle surrounded by all of the other students, instructors, and Sensei walking straight toward us. I was the only woman there, I was the center of attention, and everyone was staring at me.

I froze, like a deer in the headlights. I looked towards the back door to see if I could make a quick get away. Unfortunately, there was a wall of black belts blocking my path. They were lined up next to each other like the ninja version of Red Rover. “Red Rover, Red Rover, we dare Cheryl over!” I was fairly certain I couldn’t break through that line. I glanced around for my teacher to bail me out. No help there. I had no way out. Honestly, I was just a heartbeat away from a serious and very public major melt down.

Terrified, I looked up at my partner. Very softly and quietly he whispered those three magic words, “Don’t be intimidated.” Easy for him to say. He outweighed me by at least 150 pounds. And he was quite comfortable in this testosterone infested environment.  The circle was closing in tighter and I looked at the back door again. Maybe I could break that line. My partner shook his head slightly and said it again, “Don’t be intimidated.” All of a sudden, the circle that was closing around me opened up. I got out of my immobilized state and found the courage to start moving again.

That was eight years ago. The rest, as they say, is history. That man gave me a gift beyond anything he could have imagined, and the support I needed without embarrassing me. It was our little secret.  I can’t help but wonder what the outcome would have been if he hadn’t been so supportive. Maybe that would have been the end of my martial arts training.

A few years later I ran into him again at another seminar. He looked at me in surprise and said, “You’re still here!” Then he looked down at my belt and burst out laughing. “And you outrank me now!” Later that day we were paired up again. In that same soft voice, he taunted me this time. “Look at you, girl, you’re not scared any more. Look at how strong you are.” Of course, strong is a relative term. I can’t overpower a cat. But I have developed a strength of spirit and courage that I never knew I had before, thanks to my training.

Words can have a powerful effect. It’s important to choose your words carefully. Speak softly, honestly and gently. You may be giving someone a powerful gift that keeps on giving. After all, you never know when you may be in need of some encouragement. Recycle the gift.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov. PT, GCFP

Live and learn….

What a wonderful weekend I’m having! It started last night with a fantastic instructor training class at Kusa Dojo. Okay, so it was a bit difficult to get to the dojo on a gloriously beautiful spring evening, especially being Friday evening and everything. To make matters worse, I had to maneuver around all the revelers getting an early start on their St. Patrick’s Day celebrations at the local pub. But it certainly was worth the effort. It’s amazing how much you can learn about how you move when you really slow things down, listen to the quality of your movement, and go back to the basics. Oh, and it also helps to have two highly skilled teachers coaching you.

I was able to find where I was making my mistakes and now have the opportunity to work on them, on my own, without judgment, but in the spirit of interest and curiosity. When I practice on my own, I can slow down my movement patterns even more so I can interrupt the habits I have developed that are holding me back. In the context of learning, slowing down and doing less helps you feel more. I could feel new synaptic connections developing in my head. You’d think I’d be exhausted after that, but I was strangely energized as I picked my way around the party goers from the pub after class. Hmmm….this sounds really familiar, like something else I know.

I didn’t think my weekend could get any better after last night. Until this morning, when I taught a two hour Feldenkrais workshop at my office. Watching my students discover new movement patterns as they moved slowly through the lessons was fascinating. And extremely rewarding. Listening to their experiences of the movement lessons was incredibly enlightening as I felt more synaptic connections making contact in myself. And I could once again appreciate the close relationship between  martial arts and The Feldenkrais Method. What fun!

So, it begs the question, both from the perspective as a student and as a teacher….am I teaching to learn or learning to teach? I think they go hand in hand, and are reversible, just like one of the principles of learning in the Feldenkrais way. Recently I was explaining the principles of Feldenkrais to a friend of mine. I explained how it was based on the science of neuroplasticity, that we are always able to learn new things during our entire lifetime. She responded by saying she was too old to learn new things, and she meant it. I felt sorry for her, because that is part of her belief system and her self image. Not only is that sad, but just think of all the fun she’s missing out on!

Anyway, it’s been a great weekend, full of wonderful experiences and discovery! And just think….it’s only Saturday afternoon. Who knows what the rest of the weekend has in store!

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

The Reluctant Ninja….

    Here I am, hard at work transcribing, editing and compiling eight years of notes from three different notebooks, several different legal pads, and a multitude of sticky notes gathered over countless hours of martial arts training, classes and seminars. This daunting project is in anticipation of  testing for my next belt level. Some day. This next level is a comprehensive test which includes everything I have learned (or supposed to have learned) since the first day I entered the dojo and began training. Reluctantly, of course. You may recall that I was going to take a few classes, learn a few things, and then quit. I thought it was a form of recreation.

Then I discovered how serious these people were about their training. I mean, they had notebooks, for Heaven’s sake! “What were those for?” I wondered. Then I found out. I was given a few sheets of paper which listed the techniques I had to learn to test for my first level, my yellow belt. I giggled. I wasn’t ever going to test, I was probably going to quit soon, so why did I need that list? In spite of myself, I put the papers in a thin binder so as not to look out-of-place, or to appear disrespectful.

Then I took my first seminar. My teacher brought his Sensei out from LA to help us train. My teacher talked me into attending, telling me that it was a lot of fun and Sensei was just a great big teddy bear. So, I did. The first day the big teddy bear screamed and yelled. About everything. All day. Just when I thought he had surely run out of things to yell about, he bellowed and lectured us for not taking notes. All of the upper belts whipped out their notebooks and began frantically writing. I sighed to myself, pulled out a piece of paper, picked up a pen, and stared down at the sheet of paper. My mind was as blank and empty as the paper. I had no idea what I was supposed to take notes on. I tried to sneak a peek at the paper of the brown belt sitting next to me, but as far as I was concerned, he may have been writing in Japanese. Then I realized he was.

I noticed Sensei scowling and looking in my direction. Nervously, I began to write. After all, I didn’t want to be the only one staring off into space, especially after that lecture, so I wrote some notes. Bread, eggs, milk. I figured no one would notice that I started my grocery list because my handwriting is so bad no one could possibly read it. I hopefully looked up from my list. Everyone was still writing. I sighed again and started planning my menu for the following week. Since I was already working on my grocery list it was a natural segue. Finally, the note taking period was over and we started practicing our techniques again. Still, every now and then, one of the guys would step away, pick up his notebook, and jot down a few notes. Not wanting to be out done, I walked over to my notebook and wrote down a few other items that I needed from the grocery store.

That was eight years ago. I now have several different well organized notebooks including my original manual, my current manual, my instructor’s manual, and my testing manual to name just a few. It’s funny how things change. The last time Sensei came into town for a seminar, I was frantically writing notes when one of the newer students hunkered down next to me. She wanted to know what I was writing. She told me she didn’t have a clue what to write. She chatted a bit more until I finally told her to write her grocery list. She stared at me for a moment and said,  “You’re kidding!” I looked across the room and noticed Sensei scowling at me. I smiled back at him, turned to my fellow student and replied, “You’ve got to start somewhere!”

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP