A LETTER TO MY INSTRUCTOR, AND FRIEND

My friend and instructor Jim Robinson tested for his 7th Dan in July. The testing was in Memphis, and there was no way I could be there. When our mutual friend Diana Hampo told me she was putting together a celebration party for Jim, I suggested that she compile a book of letters and photos from his friends and students.

There are people in our lives that make a difference. They challenge you, push you, force you outside your comfort zone. We may not realize it at the time, but they are part of the fabric of who we are and who we become. Jim Robinson is one of those people in my life. My challenge to you, dear reader, is to reflect on those people in your life that made a difference, and let them know. A phone call, a letter, an email, it doesn’t matter. Don’t take them for granted,or think that they must know how you feel. Tell them!

This is my letter.

Jim,
It’s not often that we have an opportunity to tell someone how much they mean to us. I’ve been guilty of telling others of your impact on my life, but I never told you.
You were my first instructor. You were the person that challenged me to do that which I thought was impossible. You were stingy with your praise, generous with your criticism. You lit a spark inside me that is still alive 35 years later.
I remember you trying to teach me new techniques. Smiling at my ineptness and shaking your head, walking away. All that did was motivate me to try harder. It never was the trophies that motivated me to compete. It never was the color of the belt that motivated me to test. It was your approval that mattered to me.
You taught me to never, ever quit. You taught me to set an example for lower ranks. To be stronger, tougher, and never stop if anyone else in that room was still going.
Remember that attitude instructors had? Not only did your students believe you could walk on water, you did too. You were so darn arrogant.
I remember the trip to Lansing, Michigan in 1977 or 1978 to compete in Nationals. A group of us borrowed Ron Turchi’s van and made the drive. There is no way to describe the pride we felt when we watched you compete. The fierceness of your techniques, the way you could side kick straight up in the air, and hold it.
You weren’t the biggest guy in the ring when it came to sparring, but by golly your opponents knew they had been in a fight when you got done with them.
I’d never gotten rid of that martial arts spark. I bought the school that you taught me in. Your spirit was all through that school. I found myself using the phrases you had used with me when teaching. “The reason you twist your wrist when you punch is because it takes less effort to twist a screw into wood than hammer a nail.”
We had lost contact, so it was surreal for me that day you walked in the door, the first time I’d seen you in twenty years. Those visits to the school, the phone calls, you working out with us in class, meant so much to me.
My sister Tracey and I sat on the floor and watched you compete a couple of years ago. She looked at me and said “It’s like old times again, isn’t it? Watching him compete. Being proud to be his student.”
I watched you test in Dallas for your 5th. Remember working on yourself defense demonstration? The cowboy hat?
And full circle for me. I tested for my 5th in December of 2009. You were on the panel. What a very special honor for me, to have my friend and instructor still a part of my life. Over thirty years Jim.
The influence I had, the lives I changed, were because of you. The ripple of your influence spread out over and over throughout the years. I’m just one. I wonder how many of your former students are out there, proud of what they accomplished because of your tutelage.
I’m sorry I could not be there to see you test. But know that I was smiling when I saw the pictures. And if I could be there now, there would be a big hug for my instructor and friend. Love you Jim.

Michelle

Competiton and Fear

We went to a tournament in Fayetteville this weekend. The entire Sellers family; John and Jennifer, Sarah, Hannah and Ben competed in the white/yellow belt divisions for their age group. Heidi Mullins also made the trip for her first competition.

Early in the day I was able to give Ben a big hug when he walked out of the ring carrying his two trophies. Because I was judging in another ring, I didn’t have the opportunity to see all of our guys compete. I caught little glimpses in between the action in my ring. But all of the LRMA students came home with two trophies each.

That is not what this is about.

While placing and winning a trophy is great, what impressed me was that these students got out on the floor and competed. I realize that many of our students could not make the trip because of other commitments or finances. But I wonder how many did not even consider competing because of fear.

Fear of failure. Fear of the unknown.

How often do we keep ourselves from experiencing something really great and rewarding because of fear?

I wish you could have seen the huge smiles on our guys’ faces after their events. Yes there was fear, trepidation, nervousness beforehand. But that was overcome. Each of them stepped into the ring. They faced their fear.

Look, you can’t grow if you don’t get out of the house. Yes, you may fail. You might mess up. And horrors! Someone might be better than you. So what? At least you got out there and DID something!

To my students that have had the courage to step out on the mats and learn martial arts, I applaud you. So many want to do what you have done and haven’t the courage.

To my students that have competed, you ROCK!

To those of you that are still sitting on the sidelines, what are you waiting for? Here is an invitation…start right now. Take martial arts with us, or with someone else. Martial arts or ballet, soccer or oil painting, it doesn’t matter. Take this time you were given on this earth and grow in courage and confidence by getting off the couch!

The thing about jumping rope is….

I’ve been getting some feedback from my students about our conditioning warm-up.  Some of the feedback has been non-verbal and consists of groans and rolling of eyes when I tell the class to “grab a jump rope”.   However, a couple of the students have been so enamored of jumping rope that they have written about it!

Richard Schreiber wrote a journal entry today on the LRMA site:

“I am new at jumping rope.  I can play every musical instrument invented except for drums and flute, I got a pilot’s license, manage a multi-million dollar company, owned a restaurant at age 23, fathered children, am a happily dutiful clergy spouse, can cook, and was an usher at the International Barbershop Quartet Convention.  I am terrible at jumping rope.

I am getting better.  I started this new hobby in August when I re-upped at LRMA.  In the days of Mr. Hudson and Mr. Turley real men didn’t jump rope…and then Mrs. Ray came along.  In August I couldn’t get that rope around twice, now I can make it 30 seconds or so before that little timer in my brain says, “Miss it, and miss it”!

Pre-school girls can jump for hours and giggle at the same time.  All of the women in adult class skip over the rope perfectly timed to the thumping music on Mrs. Ray’s iPod. 

And then there’s Mrs. Ray.  She doesn’t jump rope like a girl.  She jumps like a person possessed, in double time, occasionally glancing at the clock wondering if we should go another couple of minutes. 

Someday I hope to be good at jump rope.  Not like “Cinderella dressed in yellow”.  Maybe like, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee“.

 Jennifer Seller on Face book yesterday:

 I can honestly say I HATE JUMPROPES!!! I WILL CONQUER THE JUMPROPE!!!”

So what is the deal with jump ropes?

With the advent of the New Year, I’ve been on a mission to get back on my workout routine.  After my test December 11, I took a few weeks off from training.  (The fact that I couldn’t walk on my right heel for a couple weeks did have something to do with that decision.  Four inches of wood for a board break did more damage to my heel than the boards)

The break was nice, but time to get back to the routine.  If you there on December 11, you probably noticed that cardio and conditioning was a major component of my 5th Dan test.    If you weren’t there, let me just say that I was really glad I had been working hard on cardio and being in shape.  If I hadn’t, I would not have survived the test. 

One of my favorite conditioning warm-ups came from Master Dring.  It includes jumping rope. 

Two years ago I went to Master Dring’s for a workout at noon.  He told us to get the jump ropes out.  Ten minutes later I was a ball of frustration and my toes had welts on them.  I felt awkward and uncoordinated, and I was not a happy camper.  I chalked it up to a frustrating day, and forgot about it.

The next class…same thing.  And I was just as awkward.  Plus I was gasping for air.  In retrospect, I might have been winded because I was holding my breath while trying to concentrate on jumping rope without bruising my feet.

By the third class in a row, it became evident that jumping rope was going to be part of the workouts with Master Dring. 

When I got back to the school I got online and ordered 30 jump ropes.  If I was going to have to jump rope, I was going to learn how to do it.  If I was going to learn how to do it (because it was good for me, right?) then my students were going to jump rope also. 

Here is the thing about jumping rope.  If you are in my classes, you have probably figured out that jumping rope is going to be a part of your future.  It’s a great way to get cardio in, and it works on footwork and coordination.  I don’t think it’s the cardio that is the challenge (although I could be wrong) I think it is the coordination and footwork that is causing the problem.  Yes, I do see the clenched jaws and frowns of frustration on my student’s faces.  I know learning this new skill feels awkward.  Been there myself.

It took a while, but I was eventually able to jump for 30 seconds or so without whacking my feet to shreds.  That is when it started to be fun.  There was the challenge of how long I could go without tripping.  Could I make it all the way through “Right Round” or “Boom, Boom, Pow”?  There are variations with the footwork and rhythm….feet together…two each side then two together…knees up…slow/fast….

So now we put the jump rope together with Master Dring’s’ conditioning workout.

This is the “getting back in shape” version:

1 minute jump rope, then 30 seconds each jumping jacks, shuffles, squats, mountain climbers, pushups, ab work.

We do three rounds.  It takes less than 15 minutes. 

That is going to be the warm up for the next few weeks.   Fair warning!

The “getting into better shape” version:

We will work up to 2 minutes rope, 1 minute each of the rest of the components. 

By our next test in February everyone is going to be in much better shape.  Hang in there with me guys!

Injuries Part 2, And The First Two Years As A School Owner

  (In my previous post, I described the quad injury and resulting muscle spasms that occurred right after I purchased Little Rock Taekwondo in 2000) 

Two years as a school owner, and I could not train.  I couldn’t teach.  I wasn’t sure I was a martial artist anymore.     I admit, right here, that I am a little competitive.  And it just killed me to see people that started after I did pass me up in rank.  Yes, I know that may be shallow, but it did. 

Also during those two years, some other things were going on that created a little stress.  My husband Charles had a heart attack,   five months later a five way by-pass.    We had another business from which I had semi-retired from when I bought Little Rock Taekwondo.   During Charles’ recovery, I was doing double duty.  A typical day began with me at the surety business at 5am, working through lunch.  Then off to the Taekwondo school from 3:30pm to 9:00 or 10:00pm.  Worry about Charles, about our family, and both businesses kept me on edge.  We experienced 9/11 which not only affected us all emotionally, but affected the martial arts school in a very negative way.   We closed our surety business, and Charles retired.  My former instructor and partner in the Taekwondo school left and moved to Dallas.   We adopted our daughter Keely during this time, and experienced all of the sleepless nights and stress of parents of a newborn. 

 And the leg injury was always there.  Twinges, pain, and spasms when I tried to push myself.  I gained weight.  I can remember the shame of sitting on the bleachers and watching camps, seminars, the US Team tryouts at my school.  I wasn’t participating, I was watching. 

For the first time in my life, I could not defeat an obstacle.  Believing in me didn’t get it.  Focus didn’t get it.  Physical strength, mental strength didn’t get it.  It is not easy for me to give up.  But I did.  Two years of hope and disappointment every time I tried to exercise finally defeated me. 

Then, I read an article about acupuncture.  And I thought, “why not”?  I made an appointment, and met Dr. Martin Eisele for the first time.  He wanted to know what was going on, not just physically, but emotionally.  It took at least an hour for me to fill him in on the soap opera of my life.  I started sessions that day.  Three weeks later, no pain in the quad.

Martin said that the pain and emotional stress that I experienced with and after the injury had all settled in my quadracepts.   The acupuncture sessions released the pain and stress from that area.

I don’t know how it worked, I just know it did.  I was able to start training again. 

I was thirty pounds overweight and woefully out of shape.  All of my staff out ranked me, although none of them had even been born when I received my 1st Dan in 1978.  All my friends that I had trained with before the injury were ahead of me.  I was the owner of the school; all eyes were on me every time I stepped out on the floor.  It was time to start over again.

Injuries

In April of 2000 we were working on two on one sparring during the noon class.  I was the target, while two of my friends and fellow students were the attackers.  A low kick hit my knee from the side and within seconds on was lying on the mat with incredible pain in my knee.  Within a week I was recovering from surgery for a torn ACL.

The surgery really wasn’t that bad.  I was up and walking around, ditching the crutches within the first few days.  I started physical therapy immediately, and felt pretty good about my progress.

Then, while I was doing one of the PT exercises at the therapy center, I felt a strong sharp pain in my quadracepts.  A therapist was walking by, and I told him I thought I had torn my quad.  “Nah, you couldn’t have done that” he said.  So I did some more reps of the exercise and finished up my session.

The pain continued, but none of the therapists seemed concerned.  But a few days later, I had the first muscle spasm in my leg.  Wow that hurt.  And then there was another.  And another.  Until I was experiencing debilitating leg was spasms periodically during the day and the night.  The Doc told me that he wasn’t sure what the problem was, but that I could not have torn my quad.   He told me to lay off the exercises, and to do massage and stretching during my sessions instead.  I did.  The spasms continued.

By now, over two months had gone by, and I couldn’t walk, sit, or lay down without muscle spasms in my leg.  I went back to the Doc, and he told me he really didn’t know what to do for me, so he was going to have me try Muscular Dystrophy medicine.

As I left his office, I dropped the prescription in to the trash.

One of my student’s parents was an orthopedic surgeon at University of Arkansas Medical Science.  That evening at the school, I told him what was going on.  He called his office and got me an appointment to see him the next day.  Several tests later, the results were in.  I had indeed torn my quad.  But the tear was in an unusual place, the “mushy” muscle beside the tendon.  Essentially, my quad was unraveling, and we were dealing with a very rare injury.  First move was to put me in a full leg cast from the ankle to the groin to immobilize the leg.  In the month of July.  In Arkansas.  I was not a happy camper.  I slept in the recliner for the entire month, it was just too difficult to try to sleep in bed.  Driving my F-150 truck was a challenge, but I became pretty adept at braking with my left foot.  My right foot stayed by the gas pedal since it was impossible to move my right leg.

A month later, the leg cast came off.  Within a week the spasms were back.  I can’t begin to describe how discouraged I was.

Did I mention that I had just bought the school?  I had so much to do, so much to learn, and I was dealing with constant pain and frustration.  I had been working out at least an hour or two a day, and now it was everything I could do to walk from my car to the house.

My Doc didn’t want to do surgery, he would have to cut open the muscle, and the tear was in the part of the muscle that would not respond well to stitching.  Mushy like the part of the chicken breast next to the tendon was the  way he described it.  So the advice was…do nothing.  Don’t exercise, don’t stretch, try to let it heal.  I asked how long this was going to take, and he said he didn’t know.

It took two years.  No martial arts, no running, no biking.  No exercise at all.  Every time I would venture out on the mats to try to work out, the leg would start aching and hurting in the vulnerable area.  If I pushed it, the spasms started again.

The saga continues …next week.