Tag: ninja

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

Habits, constraints, and neuroplasticity….let the learning begin!

In my martial arts class, we often practice something called “randori”. One student stands in the center of the room while the other students form a circle around them and take turns randomly attacking the person in the middle. It’s kind of like the Ninja version of monkey in the middle. And it scares me to death. It is my least favorite training activity, but my incomparable stubborness won’t let me opt out. And besides, the guys would make fun of me if I refused to play with them.

Last week, after we completed our randori, just as I heaved a sigh of relief, Sensei said, “We’re going again.” He looked at me and said, “And you are not allowed to do the same techniques. I want you to find new ways to react to each attack.” My response to that constraint was not very mature or Ninja-like. I threw a hissy fit.  Apparently my little temper tantrum didn’t phase him. Either he is immune to them or I need to work on my hissy fit skills. Anyway, he wouldn’t budge. Sheesh, I thought I was stubborn!

Before we began, he had me stop, breathe and relax. Not an easy task when you are surrounded by men waiting to attack you. Against my better judgment, I listened to him. Then I took my place in the middle of the circle and let the games begin. The attacks started coming. And something very interesting happened. I felt new movement patterns come forth without even trying. My reactions were more thoughtful, meticulous and less effort. I discovered that I had a lot more techniques under my belt (so to speak) than I knew I had. I was calmer, my breathing was easier, my chest felt softer, my movements were more fluid. I felt myself responding in a visceral, organic way.

By giving me that one small constraint,  my Sensei gave me the opportunity to interrupt my habits explore new movement patterns, and discover new sensory patterns.  He did this in an environment that was safe, supportive and non-judgmental. What ever I did, it was not right or wrong, good or bad, just opportunities to learn. Hmmm….this sounds familiar. Why does this sound like  Feldenkrais? Because it is. The Feldenkrais Method(R) gives us the opportunity to learn new patterns of moving, sensing, thinking and feeling in an environment that is safe, supportive and non-judgmental. What Sensei did that day was absolutely brilliant! But let’s keep that to ourselves, shall we? We won’t tell him I said that. After all, if I encourage him, who knows what devious new methods he will use to help me learn and grow. Hmmm….on second thought, maybe I will tell him!

Ninjas at Play

That’s how the journey began….

Eight years ago I began my training as a martial artist. Full disclosure; I did it on a dare. I honestly thought I would take a few classes and then quit. After a month or two, I realized how much I enjoyed the classes. However, I wasn’t going to continue training. I had proved a point, and now I could quit at any time with my dignity intact. I didn’t know why, or how it happened, but I just kept showing up. As intimidated and terrified as I was, at least twice a week I found myself in the Dojo, wondering what I was doing there.

I knew I wasn’t going to stick with it, and I surely wasn’t ever going to test. I could certainly remain a white belt since I would be quitting soon, anyway. After three months of training, one of the guys badgered me into testing for my yellow belt. I didn’t want to do it, but sometimes all you have to do is say the wrong thing (or in this case, the right thing) to get my blood boiling and have my incomparable stubbornness come rearing up to the forefront. So, I tested for my yellow belt.

Three months later, the same guy taunted me to take the next level test. (Who was that masked man, anyway)? So, I tested. I knew I would probably be quitting soon, but at least I had two yellow belts to show for my efforts. And as proof to any one who may doubt me in the future when I told them about my six month long martial arts career.

In spite of myself and my cavalier attitude, I learned a lot in those six months. I finally learned how to tie my belt properly, even though that skill took a full six months to master. I learned the Dojo etiquette and proper manners. I learned how to suppress my giggles during the meditation and formal bowing in at the beginning of class. I learned that I didn’t have to be badgered into testing, and after my third test I realized that I didn’t have to cry after each test. Not that I would cry in the Dojo; I always waited until I was in the privacy of my own car. But, after that third test,  I discovered that it was far more rewarding to go to the mall and buy something pretty instead. However, the most valuable thing I learned was where the back door was just in case I ever wanted to make a fast exit in the middle of class. After all, I was going to quit soon, so why even wait until class was over? And that’s how my journey began….

Be healthy! Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

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