How to fit martial arts into your life (and stick at it)

The other day my mother noted, surprised, that I’d been doing taekwondo at the Australian Martial Arts Academy in Marrickville for five years and I realised how it’s become a part of my life. With three kids, full-time work and a general disinclination towards exercise, how did I get here? I think it’s a combination of planning, commitment and taking advantage of a few indirect benefits.

I needed to be organised, needed something to push me. Having a sport with a built-in structure of milestones and targets has definitely helped. Why would you stay a white or yellow belt, limited to basic kicks, when you could be blue, or red, or black? Nailing a hard technique is such a buzz. But you don’t need martial arts to set targets. A friend taught herself to run by starting out walking and then running home. She moved the point where she started running further and further back until she left the house running. Now she’s doing 10ks.

My daughter’s aptitude and love for taekwondo was another key driver in keeping me going too. Use your children’s enthusiasm to motivate you.

Logistics can be tricky. I know a few families who all train together, parents and kids, which is a fabulous way to do it. My daughter was introduced to AMA through a friend and I’ve been sharing the driving with her parents from the beginning. I would swing by after work, do an Adults class, then bring the girls home. Find out if any children living locally are interested in coming along. There might be some days you can share pick-ups and drop-offs.

It’s helped that I’ve mostly had some flexibility at work. I negotiated a 10am-6pm day when I went back to work full time years ago. While I now work from home, I still take care of mornings, organising breakfast and school. My husband does afternoons and dinner (he’s a great cook!)

I’m vigilant in keeping Saturday mornings for my sport. Sometimes I know I’m going to be there for a few hours so I pack a towel and use the shower in the changing room. Stretched out on the grassy village green of the Addison Road Community Centre with a good book, or my laptop, it feels like a second backyard.

With trees to climb and plenty of friends, there aren’t any complaints from my daughter either if she has to wait for me.

Sundays we keep for family time and shopping—getting the week’s groceries done in one hit has long been crucial to our household’s collective sanity. Sometimes we give the kids a pass-out, but mostly we do it together. Ok, they might not love it but they don’t complain much either. There’s usually a packet of Tim Tams in it for them.

These are things that worked for us—there isn’t a cookie-cutter answer and everybody will have different routines. The Nike slogan, Just Do It is on the mark. It doesn’t matter what, only that you do. I made the time and then, without really noticing, it became a habit.

And the thing I’ve found about commitment is that it’s bankable. You get to a point where you can draw on it. And I did in the year getting to my black belt. My 6am wakeups to train in the dark and the cold depended on it. And I’d do the afternoon class, drive home, eat quickly, and return for the evening class. Once, I was wondering aloud whether I could manage it that night and my instructor said ‘just come back’. And I knew she was right. All I had to do was pick up my keys and turn around. My training helped me stop thinking how hard it might be, and just set my body to autopilot.

You can too.

 

 

 

 

 

Everybody likes a system

Everybody likes a system. The smooth operation of our civilisation depends on following rules. Sure, some are ill-designed, some are just stupid and others are unfair. We all flout some rules, sometimes with excellent reasons but, in the main, they stand between us and that other law—the jungle.

I was reminded of this today. Volunteering at my daughter’s school at the ‘kiss and drop’, resplendent in my high-viz vest, I set up traffic cones, directed incoming cars into the designated lane, opened doors, helped the kids with their bags and waved the driver on. If more than four cars lined up, we directed those at the end to drive round the block. Although they had to join a queue and might have to go round again, instead of cutting in further down, the parents loved it. They saw a system that  worked for everybody. Everybody played, everybody understood the rules.

And, recently, stuck on one side of the barricades at the Boston Marathon, our guesthouse on the other side, the air was cooling faster than the runners. The road was long. How would we get across?  Dark mutterings were heard in the crowd. But there was a system! We found a crossing point where security checked the oncoming ‘traffic’ then waved us over in groups of two or three. And the crowd of tired onlookers, thinking about home and dinner, formed a line. The mood lifted.  We danced across, happy to be a part of the whole shebang.

Grammar is a set of rules which lets us discern meaning.

Take apostrophes. They only ever show ownership or indicate a contraction.

If the owner is singular, (the club), the apostrophe come before the s: the club’s soccer ball. If the owner is plural (the girls), the apostrophe comes after the s: the girls’ soccer ball.

With the exception of ‘its’. We don’t use an apostrophe when we show ownership by the pronoun ‘it’: the club won the game playing with its best team.

This distinguishes it from the contraction of ‘it is’ (it’s going to be a hot day). In a contraction, you put the apostrophe exactly where the missing letters belong: where they’d (they would) be, if you’d (you had) written the word in full.

Never use them in plurals and you can skip them when talking about a number of years (1970s). The jury’s out on that one but I think it looks better without it.

Rules helped us cross the marathon’s barricades and will help you sort your soccer balls.

 

Boston marathon crossing

 

 

Setting goals, savouring rewards

I’ve never been sure about ‘Mother’s Day’. It wasn’t a thing where I grew up and my own mother was ambivalent (‘every day is a mother’s day’). But I’ve decided that if the world wants to offer you a day, take it. Use it in whatever way you want. Maybe think about what you want to do and how you’re going to get there. Starting martial arts at 41 was a turning point for me in thinking about my goals and setting my sights high.

I was hardly an exercise junkie. The physical and emotional intensity of parenting small children meant that the couch was usually my preferred surface for spending my downtime. And I just didn’t see the importance of making time available. Hey, I walked everywhere, kicked a ball around the yard, pushed swings… But I wasn’t fit and I was constantly tired. My rational brain knew that exercise would give me more energy instead of drawing on my last resources, but I couldn’t make it happen. Gyms bore me, I’m not big on team sports, yoga was either too intense or too benign.  Fitting a schedule into work, home and commuting was too hard and I resented it taking up my family time.

I started training at 41 and this month makes the fifth year since I started taekwondo at the Australian Martial Arts Academy in Marrickville. My daughter, now ten, had taken to Little Dragons like a duck to water. Her enthusiasm was infectious and I realised, in that parent-induced joy at being able to kill two birds with one stone, I could exercise and spend time with her.

It didn’t take much for me to sign up too. With children and adults training together, or in adjacent timeslots, in an environment where my daughter has always felt safe, it wasn’t hard to fit in a few 40 minute classes each week. We talk about the techniques, train at home, take belt tests together and push each other when we’re not quite coping. We understand each other better because of our shared sport.

I am fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been in my life and as slim as my 25-year-old self. I can do push-ups and land a punch properly. Now that’s something that girls don’t learn by themselves! The self-defence component of martial arts is critical to my enthusiasm, for me and my daughter. Being able to confidently block an attack, fight back and get away safely is an integral part of all our training. Another aspect I love is that every move in taekwondo has a purpose. Thinking about how and when to execute a technique distracts me from the burning in my legs.

Working through the ten tests to get to black in June 2015 took a focus and discipline I had shelved for too long.

Don’t think it’s too late.

http://www.australianmartialarts.com.au

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A day at the Boston Marathon

It wasn’t the day we’d envisaged. Arriving at breakfast, too early to check in, we dumped our bags and went for a walk. Boston in the spring was nude—the shutters and lace skirts of the grand old ladies sweeping the boulevards visible through the bare branches of the trees. Taking in the old city, walking the riverfront, eating in style at a restaurant with tablecloths, and perhaps a sommelier, were on my list.

Within a few minutes, at virtually the end of our street, we almost fell over the stations at Mile 21. In that indulgent, touristy way of needing to be nowhere else, we embedded ourselves in a kerbside position, warmed by strengthening sunshine and coffee. It was to be one of the most exhilarating days I’ve experienced. Raw emotion was laid out before us in a tableau of pain, pride, humour, strength and vulnerability. It was a privilege being there.

The first through are the leads in the chair races who are a blur of angled spokes and elbows. They’ve just climbed Heartbreak Hill and glide a few metres down an infinitesimal decline before thrusting forward again. The crowd goes wild.

Then the runners appear. We are standing near a support crew, friends, compatriots of the Ethiopian runners. They wave flags and cheer ecstatically when the male and female leads appear, Ethiopians both.  On our other side is Team Japan waving a poster, friends of a runner who streaks past in an early wave, sweat-slicked, smooth. We cheer them all.

I could have reached out and touched those who hugged the barricades, sticking close to the shade as the sun rose high. Could they could even hear us over their interior machine? Foot over foot over foot. Some people did reach out, holding out for a high five.

It seemed borderline voyeuristic at times but, later, some talked of how grateful they were to the crowds, that it did help them, even expressing astonishment that we could go on for hours! Us? And how, with the slightest encouragement, even a smile, we would get louder! Sometimes a runner would whoop up their arms, revving the crowd, and we responded joyously.

If a runner was in distress, we became anxious, heads turned to the nearest aid station. When a man stumbles towards the barricades near us, cramping badly, he is supported, fed a banana, continues to a chorus of: ‘Yeah! You got this! Nearly home!’ Gestures of shared humanity brought the tears; we were with them.

We can’t get close to the finish line, security is tight, the barricades close. This is where the bombs went off in 2013 which changed the marathon for ever. But you don’t need to see the finish to feel it. The vibe is all around. Runners sit, draped in their space blankets, children and partners nearby. In the subway, we offer seats.

Writing is another endurance sport—unforgiving hours with only one’s thoughts and a manuscript for company. Cheer them all.

Plain English — the search for meaning goes on

I’m old enough now to see convoluted language for what it is—a waste of my time. It took a few decades before the uncertainties of youth were overridden by the weariness of having to make sense of just too many words. Yes, I can do it, but why are you asking me to?

It’s a formidable ego that expects me to read 100 word sentences with multiple clauses, parentheses and ideas (unless written in lyrical prose that soothes and transports.) Sometimes I’ve been so bewildered by sentence constructions, I’ve almost given up, thinking maybe I can ignore that bit—what does that one clause matter anyway? But they do matter. It’s not always the vibe.

If we have to read it, we trudge on, befuddled.  If we don’t need the information, we just turn away.

I know about writing to dominate, to intimidate, or just to keep at bay. I cut my teeth professionally writing letters from executive officials to the public.  We called one template the ‘stuff-off’. That’s a different woe.

But if your material is there to be read, if you want it to do something, give your complex ideas space to let the reader reflect.  With technical, operational, or business writing, banish anything that makes the reader work too hard deciphering your sentences—they need their energy to understand the topic.  Let them see what lies ahead. Don’t trigger anxiety.

Mix in some short sentences, connect your ideas. Let your readers form meaning from your words. It’s not treating them like idiots. It’s not talking down to them. And it doesn’t diminish your expertise.

Here’s a beautifully written article on why clarity matters and jargon is such an impediment.

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/10/complex-academic-writing/412255/

Hyperlinks and other sexy tools

hyplink illustration

I love hyperlinking. Opening up a portal to another world through the simplest tools of highlighting, cutting and pasting has always been a special piece of magic. I am writing and editing suites of technical documents for a legal company and adore playing in the references sections. All those arcane statutes with their Parts, Divisions, Sections and Sub-sections are thrillingly express-posted to Go (collect $200) under my fingers.

I am musing on this because recently came across the term ‘immersive reading’ for the wholesale, complete transportation into the written word, being able to draw the reader into the writer’s world. I like the term for all reading where the goal is to come away with more than you started. Compliance documentation for management of aged care homes? Gotcha. Build my comprehension, give me a process to follow, let me see what to do, and how. Or perhaps it’s your favourite author’s new novel and you feel a pinpricking sense of a character’s inner self or your stomach drops with a plot turn…. Vastly different pursuits for different goals but immersion in the act of reading is required for both.

Be vigilant with hyperlinks. Be alert to their overuse or misuse. Peter Meyers is a builder of digital publications. He says: “Exercise restraint. The challenge can be in what to leave out. The first wave of experimentation was all about adding things, which can mess with the immersive reading experience. Don’t eject the reader from the experience of reading through distracting hyperlinks.” (Morrow 2011).

I feel this. I deplore the scraps of information we are fed, often with a hyperlink attached which says ‘over to you, dear reader. Work it out for yourself.’   Tie them into your text, interpret their best, their juiciest bits for your reader and leave them feeling a warmth towards you, the host, rather than like a refugee.

And hyperlinks are just the beginning of interactive tools. What makes you swoon?

 

 

 

References

P Meyers, blog, http://newkindofbook.com/about/

J Morrow (2011), ‘Going Digital: An Australian editor’s observations of developments in US publishing’, Beatrice Davis Editorial Report 2011-12, https://www.publishers.asn.au/documents/item/110, viewed 18/3/16.

Revise the Style manual!

Style manual Editors don’t rally. We’re not activists. Not in the marching in the streets ‘What do we want?’! More commas! When do we want them? Now!’ kind of way. Apart from the occasional guerrilla warfare on rogue apostrophes (who amongst us hasn’t erased one?), we prefer to do our work quietly.

The Queensland Society of Editors has dipped its toe into collective activism with its petition on change.org. It is asking the Commonwealth Parliament Standing Committee on Publications to approve funding for a new, seventh edition of the Commonwealth Government’s Style manual. Last updated in 2002, this is well overdue.

In 2002, my phone had buttons to make calls, an ipad was either your feminine hygiene product or your city apartment and tablets were found in the recesses of the bathroom cabinet. And paper only takes us so far. The data/information explosion is almost beyond comprehension (The Data Explosion in 2014 Minute by Minute – Infographic).

When everybody can be a publisher, we need some new standards. We need some rules and consistency to let writers write for different ways of reading. When we break them, we want to be noticed for the right reasons. We need a new Style manual and we need it online.

It might not be sexy. It might not stir your conscience but there are 847 supporters so far. Sign the petition to fund an updated Style manual here.

Commonwealth Government of Australia, Style manual for authors, editors and printers, 2002, John Wiley & Sons, Australia, 6th edn.