News, articles, and discussion of martial arts topics written by our instructors. Follow individual instructors by clicking on their name in the right column.
The waiting is the hardest part - Tom Petty
I've been finding that lately a recurring theme in my life has to do with having to wait and needing to find patience. Specifically there are a few items testing my patience. First of all, after all this very concentrated treatment that I've had, I find that I have to wait about three months to know pretty much definitively if the cancer is gone. This waiting is trying my patience because I would like to know now if the past couple months have done the trick!
Also in the past week we've brought home a dog. As adorable as he is, he is also very much like a toddler - he wants things his way and when we want him to do something he doesn't want to, such as go outside and go potty, he will dig his heels in (literally and figuratively). I'm finding that training a dog (I've had cats most my adult life so this is new for me) is another thing that tries my patience.
The thing that tries my patience the most is how much my kung fu abilities have taken a hit since my hiatus. I had my first class back last Thursday and I was amazed at how hard everything was. Even things that were relatively easy in the past, really took a lot out of me.
I had started Kung Fu when I was 23. I'm not a natural athlete and actually I haven't been in great physical condition, save for a few times in my life. Generally I carry too much bodyweight for my frame, my cardio isn't fantastic, and I should stretch more. However, prior to being diagnosed I could at least get through a regular class without stopping, even if my stances were high and my kicks low.
But whether it was the inactivity, the actual treatments affecting my body or probably a combination of the two, I couldn't get through last Thursday's class without stopping and not doing all the exercises. I thought to myself as I was struggling, "even when was first starting to study Kung Fu, I at least could get through a class without stopping." But then I thought about it - I'm 16 years older and yes, I weigh more now then when I first started at 23. Oh and yeah, I just got done with cancer treatments. Those whom know me best know that I sometimes (ok a lot of times) tend to be hard on myself. So maybe this time I give myself a break. Maybe this time I become patient with myself. This does not mean I will be complacent. I will not accept this current state as "good enough" indefinitely. But maybe while I build myself back up I'll be patient with my lack of abilities. Each class I take I'll get a little better.
Actually that's what any martial artist should be striving for, whether they just started or are a high level student with an abundance of talent and well honed skill. Every class try to improve a little bit more. And be patient with yourself while you learn a new skill. Very few people have so much natural talent that they can watch something a few times and then replicate it exactly. Most of us have to practice - a lot - and need to be patient until the skill develops.
So I'll be back there tonight. Trying just a little harder. Improving just a little more. And trying to be patient with myself while my body returns (and hopefully surpasses) to what it used to be able to do.
Maybe it's dealing with cancer, maybe it's the deaths of some of my friends parents, or perhaps it's my own upcoming milestone birthday (I'm turning 40) but I've been thinking a lot lately about my life, what I've done so far, and especially about what I want to do yet before I leave this earth. What should I put on my bucket list? I've already thought of a few things:
1. Step foot on all the Continents. Maybe Antarctica is optional, but if I can take a ship over from South America or Africa (whichever is closest) just to say I set foot on there, that might be good enough.
2. Earn all the levels of Instructor. Become a Shifu, even if I only ever teach out of my own basement.
3. Get in good enough shape to look nice in a bikini, even if I never wear one (I have some significant scars that I'm self-conscious about and radiation has only darkened them).
4. Visit Sweden, Switzerland and Germany - countries my family emigrated to America from.
5. Give blood. Yes I've never done this. No I don't have a good reason why I haven't.
6. Learn to play guitar. I don't have to get good at it, but just good enough to play a simple tune. Learn to read notes is critical.
7. Visit Ireland. Tour the Guinness Brewery.
8. Ride on a motorcycle. With someone I trust.
9. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
10. See the Pacific Ocean (the farthest west I've set foot in is Phoenix)
11. Visit New York City. Eat some of their pizza.
12. See Niagara Falls
13. Have Maine Lobster. In Maine.
14. Have Jambalaya. In New Orleans.
15. Visit the Rocky Mountains.
16. Take my step-daughter to Disney World (that one's actually in the works)
17. Maybe compete. Just one more time.
18. Learn to dance. Type right now is being debated.
19. Go to a football game in Lambeau again.
20. Visit Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mainland China.
That's the list I've came up with so far in no particular order. What's on your bucket list?
Wu Song Beats a Tiger (武松打虎)
I realize it has been a really long time since I last blogged. Really reading my older posts makes me long for the days when my biggest worries involved the size of my waistline and the length of my drive to get to kung fu class.
I never expected to be diagnosed at 39 with cervical cancer. Cancer in my mind was reserved for two camps, those poor unfortunate children in the commercials for St Judes (which are heartbreaking) and old people. Like my mom who got breast cancer at 72. Not middle aged women with careers, husbands and mortgages. Not me.
I was told about my cancer Just over a month ago. I was on my way to pick up my step-daughter from daycare. It was a Friday. My doctor had called me in the car but I didn't pick up because I was driving. However I pulled over into a parking lot to call her back. I thought maybe it would be some good news about a cyst I had removed. It wasn't.
So now I'm sitting here, hooked up to the chemo (which I refer as "being plugged into the Borg Collective" fellow Star Trek fans will get that). My first week went rather swimmingly, but I'm too much of a realist to think the remaining 6 weeks of treatment will be that easy.
However this detour in the road has made me more aware of some truths in life:
1. Sickness can affect anyone and everyone should listen to their bodies. If you have a nagging pain or anything else that seems odd, don't ignore it, hoping it will go away. Tell a doctor. Have it checked out. If I hadn't saw the doctor and insisted upon a physical exam because of suspicious bleeding, I wouldn't have been diagnosed at stage I2B and treatments would have been worse and the prognosis more grim. So listen up because your body will tell you when something is amiss if you let it.
2. Explaining unpleasant things in life to children is hard, but do it anyways. Recently my step-daughter, Rhianna, came out and asked my husband, "what exactly IS wrong with Rachel?" This conversation was prompted by a locket that my sister sent her to wear as a sign of support for me in my battle. Mark explained as best as possible and with the least amount of trauma, that I have cervical cancer and because it was caught in time that I will survive. The last thing we wanted was to mention the word cancer and have one of her school friends, whom perhaps had a grandparent or other relative not win their battle tell Rhianna "Oh your step-mom is going to die" In fact we don't even entertain the thought that I won't make a full recovery in our household.
3. Being optimistic doesn't make you a Pollyanna or in denial. It may even save your life. I'm not deluding myself. My cancer at the stage it was caught at has a 70-80% cure rate, depending on who you ask. Some might interpret that as 20-30% chance of death. I choose to see that as greater than 50/50 chance that I'll recover fully. If someone told you that you had a 70-80% chance of winning the Powerball Lottery, you'd be pretty psyched right? I also have some things in my favor, not the least thing being my age. Statistics are averages and statistically cancer tends to strike older folks, and my relative youth and vigor means I can take a tougher course of therapy. But studies have shown having a positive outlook helps with prognosis. Besides it's more fun to laugh than cry.
4. Being optimistic can be learned. I'm not a born optimist. I spent most of the early 1990's like many people my age, listening to "grunge" and being an "angsty" young person. I didn't really start being more optimistic until I met Mark. His optimism was contagious and after spending so many years being "glass half-empty" I decided I'd simply "practice" being more optimistic. Funny thing is the more I practiced, the more good things started happening which made me more optimistic. So just today, even if just for practice, try to find one good thing about the day and focus on that. Today it rained and I won't need to water my plants, yay!
5. I miss Kung fu badly, but focusing on one thing at a time is ok. Our culture idolizes multitasking, but how many things do you really want to juggle at once? I haven't been to class in over a month. I miss it, but for now, my battle with cancer needs my full attention. Kung fu will be there waiting for my return when I've slayed this dragon. I'm already planning for the next goal I want to tackle after I kick Cancer's butt: I'm thinking Senior Instructor Rachel Chapman would sound good.... So I'm a lousy multi-tasker. That's cool. One thing at a time.
I wonder what other lessons I'll have to learn (or in some cases re-learn) in future weeks.
I'm not one for editorials, or long thought out... well anything. I think a lot. I contemplate the universe and all it's...... aaaaanyway.
I think as this as my first blog post I'll start off with a little advice. "It's not a race".
As an instructor, I get to see the wonderful diversity that is our school. We have so many students from different backgrounds. We have so many students with different abilities. Each and everyone of us is different (... except for me... I'm just the same - Life of Brian joke for you in the know).
Sometimes I see some students longing to do a set that a more advanced student is working on. Their mentality becomes "If I do the set I'm working on FASTER... I'll get to THAT set quicker!" Nope... that's not how it works. Actually, it can be counter productive. Ask any instructor. Diligent practice (that means careful, thoughtful practice to any of my younger students) gets you to your destination faster than racing through your set. Understanding what you're doing (in kung fu AND in life) will get you further (farther? - I never know which to use when). If you fly through the set just to get to the next set, you'll miss all the great things about the set you're working on. The longer you practice your sets... and think about them, the more and more you'll appreciate them. It was years after I learned Tan Twei that I learned to appreciate how awesome it was.
Take your time... see the sites (sets)... otherwise you'll miss something amazing.
With Chinese New Year almost upon us, it is Lion Dance season! I have started making it to some Lion Dance practices. I'm quite amazed at how much improvement I've seen in all facets of the dance. We seem so much more like a well-oiled machine this year!
On a personal note, although my weight loss has stalled somewhat (thanks to my love of sweets) I do feel like I'm in better shape this year overall than I was last year at this time. Lion dancing is never easy but my leg muscles and cardio capacity are more robust than last year. I credit my more frequent at-home practice and my Zumba class for that.
I do wish I've been able to make it to more Thursday classes. I have found life getting in the way - most of Rhianna's school based activities seem to be scheduled on a Thursday evening. And where that hasn't kept me near home, lack of gas money has. With my old vehicle I can count on 1/4 of a tank of gas for each trip into Madison and back. So I take each week as it comes. This Thursday I'll be there. Next Thursday I already know about a parent-teacher conference so Kung fu will have to take a back seat.
I'm hoping that if I sign up for enough Lion Dances the extra boost in exercise will translate to a few more pounds gone on the scale!
This weekend life through me for a little loop. I have to be honest and say I didn't deal with it well. Instead of channeling my feelings into practicing, or even practicing in order to distract myself from life, I pretty much threw a little bit of a pity party. It involved fattening goodness, sloth, crying on my husband's shoulder and allowing myself to get off track.
Now that my personal issues are resolved (at least partly, at least for now) I can refocus on my training and trying to fuel my body better.
I'm excited about the upcoming International Festival Lion Dance. It's this upcoming Sunday - the 27th, at the Overture Center. Come on down and participate or even just watch. I'm hoping this year will be even more impressive than in years past. I've attended a few Lion Dance practices - everyone is working so hard to improve our dancing and/or musicianship skills!
I found myself hitting some snags last week.
First of all I had been doing really well eating healthy and exercising - I lost 3 lbs. But then last weekend happened with all the eating out and Packer game beer enjoyment. Back up a pound and a 1/2. I also was reminded why I need to keep eating properly and getting proper hydration. Let's just call it "digestive distress" and leave it at that. Ugh.
Also I was so busy over the weekend my commitment to practicing my sets was tested. Saturday I pulled through. Sunday, not so much.
But Monday I've starting back again eating healthy and drinking water and regular practice of my Tao Lu. Already I feel a little better.
Moral of the story - you can go for what is pleasant now (eating tasty crap, enjoying some sloth) but you will pay for it later. Or keep your focus on the bigger prize (more kung fu knowledge, smaller waistline) and reap the benefits.
Something for me to remember next time I have a get together with my friends.
I have come upon my first brain-fart in my exercise of adding a set a day. Wow, that was fast!
However this is the point of my practicing sets at home - to discover which ones I've committed to memory completely and which require more practice to solidify them. Someday I may be called upon to teach these more Intermediate/Advanced sets to others - so I need to be sure that I know them completely.
So, you pesky Straight Sword, I will commit you to memory yet!
But for now I have to get back to my day job.
I'm deciding to use my blog space for something blatantly self-serving (sorry). You see, I have not only allowed myself to gain an embarrassingly large amount of weight, but my kung fu studies have also been really slacking as of late. I do also hope this will be something that may help a student or two out there either just get to know me better or understand my life philosophy that success doesn't mean never failing but to keep trying after failure. Or it may just be entertaining.
A little background: During my adult life I have lost weight two times, only to gain it back again. This is just counting the times I've gotten down to or close to my goal weight of around 120-125. Several other times I've tried and failed other "fitness plans."
So I've started anew. Or sort of anew - I got back into this after my wedding when I was at my all time high weight, which I won't disclose, but let's just say I need to lose about a 2nd grader (based on my step-daughters current weight). So far I've lost a large infant. It's a start!
Also for reasons that are also probably the reason for my weight gain, I have been slacking in my practice of Kung Fu. Sure I'm usually there on a Monday evening teaching beginners, but I haven't been practicing at home and I haven't been making it into town much to take class myself. Granted I did just get married, and anyone whom has ever done that knows how much planning is involved and how it can suck your time away. Also I live in Jefferson - about a 45 minute drive on a good day. Those are my excuses, and they are just that. Excuses.
So I am endeavoring to do the following to help change my life and become a better Rachel
1. I will keep a food journal to help me track my nutrition and caloric intake. You cannot out-train a poor diet - I know this to be true. I am not following any specific diet program however. Not that there aren't some things that work for some people, but for me simply eating a range of food, focusing on healthier fare and writing it all down so I'm accountable has worked for me. When I failed was when I stopped journaling and stopped being accountable. I have to acknowledge that I will have to do this for the rest of my life. Does it stink a little that I can't be like normal folks and just eat what I want when I feel like it? You bet, but being obese stinks a whole lot more.
2. I will continue with my Zumba class on Tuesday night. I gave it a try starting in October and I absolutely love it! I work out so hard, leave a pile of sweat and it's right here in Jefferson. Convenience for the win!
3. I will endeavor to practice Kung Fu on Thursdays. This will be starting next Thursday 1/10 as today (1/3) I have prior plans
4. I will start showing up to practice on Saturdays as well - starting this week
5. Challenges - I am now continuing with a squat challenge I started in December, doing a push up challenge this month and on our message board I started a tao lu challenge - in an effort to get myself used to practicing at home. Those sets I know well will soon be even better, those I know not so well will be relearned, brushed up, made more firm in my mind.
6. Blog semi-regularly to keep myself on track.
Other things may be added (I'm toying with a plan to eliminate soda, but I'll be honest, I'm just not ready yet)
Stay tuned for my updates of my progress and feel free to join in the Tao Lu challenge on the message board.
There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to weight loss, and these misconceptions can lead to a lot of frustration for those trying to lose weight. As a trainer, I came across many such misconceptions, but these three were by far the most common.
Myth 1: With the right combination of diet and exercise, I can look just like [insert actor/model/whatever here]. We like to think that we are in total control of our bodies (this particular logical fallacy is known as attribution bias for those keeping score at home), but in reality, there are significant and permanent limitations on that control.
First, your basic shape (skeletal structure) is determined by genetics. Some people have thin frames, others have heavier frames. In addition, we all tend, regardless of diet or exercise, to carry a certain amount of weight on those frames (exercise physiologists divide people into three categories: ectomorphs, mesomorphs, and endomorphs). This cannot be changed. A lot of people who want to be "thin" simply can't be. (Similarly, many "99-pound weaklings" want to have large muscles, but no amount of training will achieve this.) This is NOT to say that diet and exercise cannot achieve weight loss and muscle development or even, within limits, change the shape of your body. However, the effects of diet and exercise are determined to a large extent by genetics and physiology. Realistic goals are important for weight loss; if you want something that's physiologically impossible, you will only set yourself up for failure.
Secondly, the effects of diet and exercise are not exclusively, nor even primarily in most cases, reflected in changes to structural shape/appearance. In other words, the functional effects may be far more substantial than the structural ones. For example, marathon runners have highly developed but not large muscles, while power lifters often appear fat and out of shape, but they can lift immense loads. Both groups of athletes have highly conditioned muscles, but have them switch roles, and the results would not be very impressive, regardless of their diets and exercise regimens. Training is crucially important, but it doesn't trump genetics.
Lastly, some people gain/lose weight easily, others do not. This is not particularly well understood but likely comes down to genetics as well. The bottom line is that you must learn to embrace the fact that you have only so much control over your body; reasonable weight loss is a very achievable goal, but remember that a healthful diet and routine exercise are intrinsically important for health regardless of how much they affect your weight.
Myth 2: To lose weight, just do lots of repetitions with light weights. This seems to make intuitive sense, but it's quite wrong. Much of the confusion stems from the unfortunate concept of "burning fat". Most people seem to think that when they do more, they "burn" more calories, which will come from fat. Not really. A strenuous, one-hour long workout will probably burn, at most, about 300 calories; that's the equivalent of an apple and a small granola bar. To make things worse, most of those calories will not come from fat. Although fat has a lot more energy per gram than carbohydrates (9 kcal/g vs. 4 kcal/g, respectively), it's a much less readily accessible energy source (i.e., it's a much slower process to release energy from fat than from carbohydrates). So, the bulk of those 300 calories will come from muscle glycogen, not fat.
How, then, do you use fat? You will not burn much fat during a workout, but you will for less pressing energy demands, namely those associated with staying alive. The average adult has a basal metabolic rate of 1200-1400 kcal/day; that's the energy you expend to keep your heart pumping, your organs functioning, and your core temperature stabile. In other words, just being alive for a day takes about 4 times the energy that a strenuous one-hour workout requires. What exercise does is increase (slightly) your metabolic rate and create energy deficits (by depleting glycogen levels, creating minor tissue damage that must be repaired, etc.). Since fat is a slow but rich energy source, it is ideal for these kinds of processes. Therefore, you do burn fat as a result of exercise, but mostly in the 24 hours or so after your workout has ended. Furthermore, this effect has little to do with the kind of workout you do (this isn't strictly true, but I am simplifying a bit for the sake of clarity); generally speaking, the effect is roughly proportional to the intensity of the workout, not the kind of workout. There are a few things you should keep in mind, however.
First, if you are eating more calories than the combination of your basal metabolic rate and your exercise deficit (in this example, 1500-1700 kcal/day), you will likely not see any significant weight loss, as any fat you burn will quickly be replaced. Weight and weight loss are not exclusively determined by the balance between intake and expenditure of calories, but it is a significant component.
Secondly, because fat is such a rich energy source, it goes a long way. No matter what the amount of carbohydrates you burn through in a workout, it take less than half that amount of fat to replace that energy.
Lastly, people tend to burn fat according to the "last stored, first used" principle. Your body will use its most recent fat deposits first, working backward to its earliest deposits. Where your body stores fat (and in what order) is largely determined by genetics.
Myth 3: If I do enough crunches, I'll lose the last of my tummy fat. By now, you probably have a sense for why this is wrong. Muscle glycogen is site specific, fat is not. In other words, crunches will definitely deplete the glycogen in your abdominal muscles, but not necessarily the fat in your abdomen; there is no connection between the location of an exercise and the location from which fat is utilized. Think about those power lifters again; they all have exceptionally strong muscles, but most of them also have a fairly large amount of fat on them as well, even in places where their muscles are most heavily worked.
What should you take from all this? Here are a few general guidelines for losing weight:
(1) Set realistic goals. It is unhealthy to lose more than 2 lbs. per week, but it is also unrealistic to expect major physical changes in a short time. Accept your shape and basic physiological body type, and work with what you've got.
(2) Use yourself as a model, not, well, a model. It's much better to think "I'd like to look like I did when I was 30" than to think "I'd like to look like Brangelina".
(3) Even better, forget how you look--how do you feel? Focusing on how you feel, especially after you've been on a new regimen for at least a few weeks, will often be a better guage of success than a mirror or a scale. For example, are you sleeping better? Do you have more energy? Are you stronger? Has your mood changed? etc.
(4) Input < output. If you eat more than you use, you will probably not lose weight. However, don't starve yourself. You will not only fail to achieve sustained weight loss, but you will also do considerable harm to your body (and mind). Start with small dietary changes and gradually modify your habits until your diet is in line with your needs.
(5) Your diet should be composed of as much natural food (i.e., unprocessed or minimally processed foods) as possible. Fresh meat, eggs, nuts, legumes, vegetables, and fruits and minimally processed foods, such as yogurt or juice, are generally better for you than heavily processed foods like chips, granola bars, or breakfast cereal.
(6) Combine regular, strenuous exercise (3-6 days/week) with everyday exercise (e.g., use stairs instead of escalators/elevators, use a push mower instead of an electric/gas mower, rake instead of using a leaf blower, walk/bike instead of driving when feasible, play with your dogs/kids/whatever, etc.).