Tag: strength

The Debut Of The FemiNinja

Well, the results are in. After spending most of my summer deeply immersed in a podcasting contest, I finally got the news. I am thrilled and delighted to be one of four winners, and my new show, The FemiNinja has officially launched last week.  Eee-ha! I think that’s pretty good, considering that the reason I entered the contest was simply to have the opportunity to (maybe) meet the woman who was running the contest (someday).

Well, not only did I get my wish, I got a whole lot more than I had bargained for at the same time. As one of the podcasters, I am responsible for providing 2 episodes a week full of bad-ass content on a variety of different topics. The FemiNinja is about personal empowerment, strength, grace, confidence, health, fitness, standing your ground, finding your voice, living large and loving life. Because living well and looking good is the way of The FemiNinaj!.

I wanted to say that living well and looking good is the best revenge, but not everyone got the message. However, a few people did, and I’m thinking those are the ones with their our amazing stories and bad-ass content to share. I’m hoping to get some of them on my show for interviews.

My first official show was the story about how I broke up with my BFF of 30 years. Yeah. It was really awkward, but it just had to be done for my own health and well-being.

Like I said, I certainly got a whole lot more than I bargained for! So far I have talked to her on the phone several times, met her in person, been to her house, and had lunch with her and the rest of the team of The Ladies Chit Chat Club.

Perhaps I need to set my sights a little higher in the future.

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.

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!

 

 

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?

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

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

And the journey continues….

It takes a tremendous amount of courage for a woman to walk into a testosterone infested  Dojo and begin training. It also takes an enormous amount of trust. I had neither. I was scared to death for the first two years. However, the guys were incredibly tolerant, gentle and patient with me. Most of the time I was the only woman in class, and they dutifully took turns working with me. I thought that was awfully magnanimous of them. I soon discovered that it was because I was prettier and smelled better than any of the guys, even on my worst day. They had plenty of opportunities to work with each other, and they seemed to enjoy tossing me around for a change.

Even though I was enjoying the classes, I was still incredibly intimidated. I was a good student, not because I was interested in going up through the ranks, but out of a strong sense of self preservation. In keeping with my good humor and to hide my perpetual state of terror, I hid my fear by setting some ground rules. So, I told the guys that they were permitted to kick me, punch me, throw me and pin me, but for Heaven’s sake, don’t mess up my make up. That would make me mad. After all, we all have our limits, and it’s good to set boundaries.

It’s funny to remember how my friends responded to my sudden interest in martial arts.  I had some impressive bruises during the first year, and many of them encouraged me to quit. My girlfriends just knew I would get hurt, and some had the audacity to suggest that I was too old. That did it. I was determined to stick it out for at least another year. I would quit when I was good and ready to quit, and on my own terms. Have I ever mentioned my incomparable stubbornness?

Some days I would go straight from ballet class to the Dojo. Some people thought I was nuts. Sometimes I thought I was nuts. In reality, it was good cross training. But during this incredible journey something really strange happened. My experience slowly transitioned from the physical training to something deeper. My nervous system was responding to my newly discovered patterns of moving and sensing myself in this new environment. The term is called neuroplasticity and refers to our ability to learn new things by responding to changes in our environment.

So, something inside of me changed. It was slow and subtle, but it was there. My intimidation  turned into awareness. My fear changed into confidence. My incomparable stubbornness developed into Spirit. My humor and acceptance about my gender, size and age led me to the understanding of my limitations as well as the acceptance of my possibilities. My lack of trust transformed into self compassion. And now, with each rank I achieve I experience an overwhelming sense of humility. And respect. For myself, and for my art.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP