Tuesday, February 29, 2000

Cait's Black Belt Speech

The path to anything is never as simple as traveling a straight line from point A to point B. Almost four years ago I started training at DCSDKA. Later on the very same day, I came down with a fever, headache, and chills. It turned out I had been bitten by a tick the week before and contracted Lyme Disease, though it would be 2 ½ years before it was finally diagnosed. Over those 2 ½ years, I became increasingly fatigued, began to get severe headaches on a regular basis, and, no matter what my training schedule was, felt like I was getting more and more out of shape. Things that had been easy became harder. Endurance, which had been my strength as a swimmer and biker, faded. Though I was making changes in my diet, my schedule, and the amount of rest I was getting, I was increasingly exhausted. I developed muscle aches and joint pains. When I found out I had Lyme, I was thrilled. There was a reason I was feeling miserable, and even better—it was treatable. Some antibiotics would have me feeling better in no time. Or so I thought. After a year and a half on various treatments, I am still fighting the persistent bacteria that have set up camp in my body. My energy level swings from moderate to completely flattened. Random aches and pains are part of everyday life, and migraines are frequent visitors. I’m better off than I was when I was diagnosed, but am far from being the healthy, energetic person I had hoped to be at this point.

Since my diagnosis, my relationship to karate has been complicated. At times I have contemplated quitting. Exhausted and hurting, I have spent some classes far more focused on dragging myself through than actually getting anything out of the class. On those days, I wonder why I’m doing it. At other times coming to class has reminded me of the things I can still do—that I’m not defeated yet. And so, I’m still here.

Whereas in my past life training for black belt might have been an experiment in overtraining, getting to this point has been an exercise in balance. I set up a training schedule for myself, but gave myself permission to be flexible with it. Some work on my strength and endurance is essential. Running myself into the ground is not. Because I want to be successful, I have had to be very aware of this. As I have never been very good at listening to my body, this has required major changes in my mental, emotional, and physical approaches to the process. Where I might have pushed myself through a workout before, I now have to pull back and evaluate what is in my best interest. While I don’t understand or enjoy the ways that my body is more complicated now, I am forced to pay attention to them, to notice the signals, and to respond. Resting, letting go of what I “should” be able to do, and shifting my view of the situation have allowed me to escape some of the overwhelming frustration. When I look at what I can do instead of getting stuck on what I can’t, or am able to find humor in my challenges, I learn and leave class feeling content. When my frustration is all I can think about, I spiral into a miserable state and get nothing out of being there. Though I am far from perfect, the combination of Lyme Disease and Karate has forced me to ponder the concept of balance, and slowly move closer to that way of life.

One might wonder why I’ve chosen to stick with training, rather than take up activities that are easier on my body. Well, I like Karate. Deeper than that, karate gives me a sense of strength and being powerful in my body that was lacking for much of my life. I enjoy the growing awareness I have of my body and the things it can do. Karate helps me to deal with stress in my life. I can come to class feeling stressed about work, and leave feeling better and more able to deal with it. Karate is also an opportunity to refocus, distract myself, or deal with problems in some other way. Much of my “spare” energy this last year has been focused on trying to become a mother. Jen and I were thrilled last summer when she became pregnant, and were devastated to lose the pregnancy at the end of the third month. In the aftermath of the miscarriage, karate has been a stabilizing force, and has allowed me to work through some of the anger and sadness in a productive way. Our child was due in April. Training for black belt has given me something else to focus on and work toward rather than sitting with the emptiness of what is not happening this spring.

Karate is also about community. My mother is a martial artist, and I trained as a child, and then again as an adult before moving to DC. I still feel connected to the people that I trained with at Mejishi. They are my point of origin in Karate. The community at DCSDKA is also an essential part of karate for me. I have many people to thank both in and out of my martial arts communities.

First of all, I want to thank Jen for her patience and support. Training has left me with little time or energy, and even though it has been hard, you have continued to encourage my training and have believed in me when I’ve had doubts. I want to thank Sensei, Sara, Maggie, and Matthew for your leadership, and for offering honest feedback while still noticing things done well. Thanks also to the many other people who have offered their feedback and support in this process. Thank you to Adilson, Danielle, Gary, Antion, and Laura for keeping me motivated with your energy. Special thanks to Martha for countless hours of practicing, and for keeping me laughing through one steps, two steps, three steps, or whatever form I thought I’d never learn. Thanks to Andrea for helping me through the beginner levels, and to the Beefcake Crew for teaching me what real weight training is about.

Thank you to my Mejishi family: to Jaye Spiro for starting me off when I was five, and for enthusiastically welcoming me back 17 years later, to my mom for outside practice time (how many parents voluntarily let their child punch and kick at them?), and for continuing to ask about my training here, and to all the other Mejishis for their continued support.

Thanks also to my youngest friends: to the kids in my class for reminding me that there’s always more energy to be found, and especially to Simon and Adelaide for keeping me laughing both in school and in Karate. Thank you Gretchen for coming with Jen to pick me up after class and for asking “how was Karate today?” even on non-karate days.

Big thank yous to everyone that went out of their way to be here today, especially my mom, who traveled in from Detroit, my sister who came in from Philly, Sensei Barbara Feldman for coming in from West Virginia, and others who came in from the farther reaches of the DC area.

Without the love and support of everyone in this community, I would not be here today. Thank you.


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