Have fun with it!

In any new thing that we start doing – be it training for your black belt :-), expressing yourself through art or dance – it’s helpful to remember that:

“The force with which we commit ourselves is the same force with which results come back.”

However, we don’t always have the time and resources to commit ourselves as fully as we would like. We can’t always show up. Life happens.
Sometimes we have a hundred reasons to begin, and perhaps a thousand more why we shouldn’t. There are many, many things that can interfere.
But we won’t beat ourselves up. We’ll do our best. Whatever we give our attention to grows.
We will not hold ourselves back with thoughts of limitation. Wherever we are is fine.  What we need to start is a willingness to step into the unknown.
These encouraging words came from Cat Bennett’s book The Confident Creative.

Whatever you do this week: HAVE FUN WITH IT!

So you would think lucid dreaming, style, uncertainty and buried feelings have nothing to do with a story about self-control in the dojo?

I tried out one of Martha Beck’s suggestions on generating ideas. The one about reading a few paragraphs from different books on different subjects and seeing what comes up. She calls it “Throwing in the kitchen sink”.

Started out with a paragraph on lucid dreaming from The 4-hour body by Timothy Ferriss. Reminded me that I dreamt about a great topic for my PhD the other day. I distinctly remembered thinking in the dream that it was a really great topic. Except that I can’t remember it now that I’m awake.

Then read a paragraph on style from The art of editing in the age of convergence by Brooks, Pinson and Sissors. Reminded me of something Justine Musk wrote in a recent post: “Style is the story you tell about yourself to the world”. I like that.

Then read a quote from Embracing Uncertainty by Susan Jeffers:

No man knows whether death, which men in their fear apprehend to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good.

Not sure what to do with this…

And then I read a paragraph in The courage to be yourself by Sue Patton Thoele about how women often seem to feel tired because they suppress their feelings and then carry these unresolved and unspoken feelings around in their subconscious.

Which provides a good background and intro to the possible cause of an emotional explosion in my karate class the other day.


At the inauspicious occasion of realising that I have literally worn through my first gi (karate suit) and now have a gaping hole under my right arm, I was unfortunately also reminded of the fact that I still need to work on one specific aspect or rather lack of this aspect in my life.

After each karate class, we line up and repeat these five maxims of karate: character, etiquette, effort, sincerity, and self-control.

“Character,” says the sensei.
“CHARACTER!” shout the children.
“Etiquette.” “ETIQUETTE!”
“Effort.” “EFFORT!”
“Sincerity.” “SINCERITY!”
(You notice I leave out self-control?)

For beginner adults, training with children has its advantages. They don’t mind if you’re slow. They have patience to show you the sequence of the kata. Again. You can learn at your own pace.
But then, they also want the attention of the sensei even when the sensei is busy with you.
“Sensei! Sensei?!”
Or they’ll fool around and deem it fit to rather neaten up the weights or whatever equipment. Which would be fine, except that if there’s more than one child wanting to do it, each of them wants to do it in his/her own way. Causing loud discussions (who am I fooling?) – arguing and sometimes hitting. In the dojo, for goodness sake!
So. Self-control.
“No hitting in the dojo!” would have sufficed.
But no. I had to go on and on. In a LOUD voice. [Which I now think may be because of unresolved and unspoken issues, you see.]
Just after the incident I did manage to convert my anger into a quite powerful (for me!) kata, though.


Can’t help it, want to end off with a Terry Pratchett reference. In I shall wear midnight, Tiffany Aching tells someone that witches don’t get angry. They do feel anger, but they put it away somewhere until they can do something useful with it.
I suppose my problem is to do something useful with it before it explodes on me, hey?

Karate and taiko: good for turning on the right side of your brain. Not. Good for whole-brain exercise.

In a post about turning on your right brain, one of Martha Beck’s suggestions is to learn new moves. I immediately thought that practitioners of karate and Japanese drum players therefore must have the right sides of their brains permanently turned to on.

However, when learning new moves in karate, say a new kata, I doubt whether it turns on only the right side of my brain. I find that it’s more of a pushing and stretching of both sides of my brain to actually try and work together. Although I must admit that sometimes moves on one side of the body are much easier than doing the same moves on the other side.

It’s the same with taiko (the playing of Japanese drums). Especially in the beginning:
Take the plain and simple don do ko rhythm. Boem boem-boem.
We get taught the “right way”: Right hand, right hand-left hand. So the first Boem is with the right hand, the first boem of the boem-boem is also with the right hand and the second boem of the boem-boem is with the left hand. With me?

We spend like a month or even longer (okay, I may be exaggerating for special effects, here, but bear with me) to perfect our right-handed Boem boem-boem.

Then, surprise-surprise, we get taught another “right way”: now starting with the left hand, which is quite frustrating to left-handed players after having gone through the trouble of learning how to NOT play with their naturally leading left hand first!

After a month (or even longer) of perfecting now both ways of playing Boem boem-boem, we find out that there is still another way of doing it: The Swing. You start with the right hand leading, but then switch to the left hand. [Actually, The Switch might have been a more appropriate name.]

Long story, short: Try to learn some new moves to turn on the right side of your brain. Chances are good, though, that you’ll end up exercising both sides of your brain. A win-win situation, if you ask me.

Create, creation, creative, creativity, creature. Or: How to build your Confidence muscle.

When I went to university, I did some psychometric tests, which resulted in being told that I did not show enough creativity for my intelligence.

I did not really know what to do with this information, but ended up buying some colouring books to colour in. Sad, I know.

Fact of the matter is, though, because of that statement the course of my life had been altered. I suppose I tried harder to incorporate some aspect of creativity, even though it might have been some skewed personal kind of version. Like making a dress of discarded curtains or decorating a beige pinafore dress with old buttons. It went cling when I walked… nobody actually laughed at me, although I don’t know what happened behind my back.

But creativity is not only about what you are able to make with your hands or using interesting or appropriate colours. It is being able to adapt to whatever life throws at you. I think it might have more to do with a positive and courageous attitude to life than being able to draw lifelike pictures in charcoal.

Cat Bennett in The Confident Creative gives some practical ways to make quantum leaps in our creativity:

  • Work big – shed the shyness, be bold.
  • Exaggerate – see what you’re doing, then open your eyes again (*Terry Pratchett reference alert!!*) Consider all things and decide. Focus on one thing in all its detail or focus on relationship of all things. See clearly.
  • Buy pricey paper – this help us be bold and confident.
  • Rip it up – know when you’re going nowhere fast. Rip it up! Stop it! Throw it away!
  • Kiss perfection goodbye – simply explore. It’s ok to be wherever you are, even if you’re uncertain. You need to start somewhere.
  • Let go of control – allow the unknown to emerge…
  • Say farewell to feeling intimidated – don’t compare yourself to anyone! Rather note what turns us on in the work of others and what turns us on in our own work.
  • Breathe deeply – breath is energy. Relax and let go of tension and worry.
  • Be honest – things are as they are; we are as we are; just here, naked, vulnerable, open, a little (or a lot) rough around the edges…
  • Love – if we love ourselves, despite disappointments, it’s easy to keep moving forward.
  • Be foolish – go too far. That’s how you find out where the edge is!
  • Have courage – fear is imagining or expecting a negative outcome and feeling powerless. We can choose to imagine a positive outcome.

Bennett might have compiled this list with drawing and painting in mind, but they sure do apply to life in general (and for that matter, karate!) too. Except maybe the one on buying pricey paper!

Finding your power and getting out of your own way

Have you ever felt sick to the stomach before doing something that scares you? And if you then gave into that fear, how did you feel afterwards? And if you didn’t give in to the fear?

The week before last I experimented with doing scary things. I rode my new bicycle for the first to the beach. I exercised with the senior karate class (most of them black belts and everybody taller than me). I participated in a Skype taebo-karate class with Funakoshi karateka in Belgium. I drove to hubby’s work in the city with its hurried drivers, four lanes going in the same direction and taxi drivers with no regard for the rules of the road. I attended the senior karate class for a second time. I attended an art class conquering my fear of the blank page not to be filled up with words, but with shapes instead.

The great thing about doing things that you’re scared of is the amount of energy you get from having done it – a sense of power.

Danielle LaPorte wrote an interesting piece related to this sense of power. She proposes that instead of focusing on fixing what is assumedly wrong with you, you should rather see the issue as a way of accessing your power.

I learnt something else at the art class: to get out of my own way. Try the following: prepare yourself some sort of still life. You know: a few pieces of fruit, an assortment of glasses or a vase of flowers. [A beginner like me would prefer something simpler, maybe a bottle and a book :-D.] Then proceed to draw only the outer contours without lifting up the pencil and without taking your eyes off the physical objects. Do not look at what you’re drawing.

OK. So I’ll wait for you while you go and do it.

Ag, OK, I know you’re busy. I’ll tell you what happened to me and then when you have nothing better to do, you can test it yourself: The proportions and height and shapes of what I drew were more correct when I didn’t “watch” what I was doing.

When I was trying hard to get it JUST right, my shapes leaned, for some reason I could not explain, slightly to the left. And well, although you would have been able to recognise it as a glass, it did not really represent the glass I saw in the display.

My analytical, judging, overthinking self was in the way. Time for me to get out of my own way: artist coming through!

Can you feel it? Can you FEEL it? CAN YOU FEEL IT?!

Is it only me, or does this title remind you of Jane Fonda and exercise? Anyway, the previous book I read categorised me as a punisher. My latest book categorise me as a “runner”. As in the “running away from feelings by eating” category.

Brooke Castillo has some interesting ideas in If I’m so smart, why can’t I loose weight?.

One of them is that instead of ridding your home of all cakes and sweets and stuff (and instead of never again attending a party in your life), you embrace them. Yes. Embrace. The weight-gaining food stuffs. She didn’t say it exactly like that. But I’m pretty sure that’s what she meant.

It’s like kumite (sparring in karate). Bearing in mind that the category “runner” would also apply to me in this type of situation … Here’s your opponent/training partner in your face, trying to score a point/hit you (this may be hard/soft/full out/half hearted/whatever). You’re trying to block/get out of the way and also score a point/hit back in a way similar to how hard you were hit. In that moment you can’t get away from it. You have to deal with it. And the more you stick with it, the more you trust that you’ll be able to survive even though it still is scary and even though it might hurt.

So here’s the cake and sweets in my face, trying to get me to eat them. Except that they’re not. I’ve been giving them way too much power. Castillo says in that moment when I hear them calling me, at that precise moment, I’m trying to run away from feeling something. I should rather stay in this kumite session, and engage in the “why?” and “what?” of it all.

I had some excellent opportunity to practice these past two days. My 9-year-old stayed at home to participate in a Mathletics challenge. Yip. Maths. Definitely didn’t get it from me. Kids all over the world sit in front of the computer and earn points for each correct answer. If they’re first in their class or on the list, they win something like an iPod and bragging rights: “I’m nr 86 on the list” or whatever. Why did I say it provided me with practice?


I like to work in the mornings. I do my best work then. I like to work systematically. Start at the beginning and work to the end. I work hard, then I take a break. Then I work hard again and I take a break again.

My son doesn’t do things my way.

And there’s just no way that I can impart the emotional baggage of that last sentence in a way that will do it justice. But thanks to Castillo’s feelings list, I can now verbalise how I felt (although I still had some cake): Upset, Mad, Annoyed, Frustrated, Agitated, Hot, Bewildered, Trapped, Troubled, Lost, Alone, Unsure, Puzzled, Bothered, Uncomfortable, Undecided, Perplexed.

Interesting what you can learn about yourself.

I apparently had medium-intensity feelings of an ANGRY nature sprinkled with high- and mild-intensity feelings of the CONFUSED variety. And even though I did have my cake, there was still half a cake left when hubby came back from work. There might be something to this feeling business.

So with this in mind, maybe the best mantra for me would be something like: FEEL IT! or CAN YOU FEEL IT?

I’m feeling cheerful and content right now. So according to Castillo’s feelings list I have medium-intensity feelings of the HAPPY kind. Yeah! No eating necessary! 😀

On torture, bosu and karate. Or: expectations, limitations and freedom, if you will.

I tried a new form of exercise yesterday. It’s called bosu. A bosu is half a ball on a flat base. It is an excellent torture device concocted by superhumans to show everybody else how bad their balance is. And to cause pain to those unfortunate mortals who try and see if they can also make use of named torture device.
I am proud to say that by the end of the class, I could manage standing and a little bit of the walking motion on the bosu without falling of. Unfortunately I could not quite manage the balancing acts… Not even on the floor…

Have you ever driven past a cyclist and admired his calf muscles? If you have no idea what I’m talking about, look it these calf muscles.

Immediately after the bosu session it felt like someone had hammered a stake into the heart of my two calf muscles. Most probably because I tried to cling to the ball with my toes.

The other five woman and the instructor ran (yes, ran!) and jumped on the bosu. Apart from the balancing acts, they also did my personal favourite (NOT!) plank: like when you’re about to do a push up, but you just stay up, for like, hours. They kept their feet on the ball. As if that was not hard enough, they proceeded to do it sideways as well, with the other hand up in the air. I could do if for about five seconds (five counts, more likely). Feet on the ground, of course. [Try it if you dare.]

Bad judgement on my part, though: attempting a bosu session on the same day as karate. Of course our sensei had her own torturing planned out. We started out with the Pyramid and the dreaded plank (on elbows, this time).

What’s the Pyramid, you ask? It is exercises in sets of 15, then 10, then 5, then again 10, and again 15.

We did squats, push ups, and sit ups. When the sensei announced it, I did not think I would be up for it. But I gave it a go. I thank the youngsters who did the whole pyramid in record time. I went up the one side of the pyramid and just halfway down the other side. Which means that I “missed out” on about 20 sit ups. (I’m definitely not complaining!) Our sensei then had the good sense to also include the plank position for only about 30 seconds. But this is not the point.

The point is that we often decide our own limits. We think we can’t do things and then don’t even try. If we try, however, we find that we can go past those imaginary limitations.

Freedom comes from breaking free of the limitations that we put on ourselves.
Freedom comes from releasing yourself of expectation and embracing whatever is right in front of you. – AC Ping in his little book, called Do.

Osu: The moral of the story is morale

You know some days just about anything happening with you can be converted into another lament. And you manage to get yourself deeper into a downward spiral… Well, the good news is that I managed to put on the brakes. How? I forced myself to go to the karate class last night. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have a great sensei, the classes are always varied and fun, and I usually feel better about myself and life afterwards. BUT, sometimes it’s just easier not to go. Because we’ve only just gotten home. Or the food is not ready yet. Or I’m tired. Or what ever.

Even though our bodies have been designed to deal with exercise and hardships (remember the human gene is slow to change), I suspect, we’ve also been designed not to expend unnecessary energy. And sometimes our brains tell us that we would be utilising unnecessary energy if we make the effort to go and exercise. Ag, OK, maybe it’s just my brain. Even so, I’m glad I went.

Nothing about the things that I lamented about, changed. But after the exercise they no longer seem like the last straw on the camel’s back. Now the straw isn’t even a factor. Why is that? I don’t really know.

It might have to do with those endorphin thingies that you get after 40 minutes exercise. This might be one of those things that also only applies to me. I don’t get the same kick out of 30 minutes of exercise even if I do it at a higher intensity.

Or it might be a combination of having to concentrate on executing the same moves with the left and right side of the body; balance in four-way kicking; and focus on remembering the sequences of the grading forms.

Whatever it is, I could really feel the difference in my mood afterwards. What I experienced was a lift of morale.

Morale is a basic sense of satisfaction with yourself, a feeling that there is a place in the world for you and an acceptance of what cannot be changed in your life.
(Raj Persaud in Staying Sane)

Morale is courage, persistance, fighting spirit, selfconfidence. This is what karate teaches me.

Recurring patterns are a recurring pattern

We had an interesting recurring pattern/rhytm in the step class yesterday: STOMP-2-3 STOMP-2-STOMP-4-5. Much harder to explain than I anticipated…
Let’s break it down:
Say you start with the right foot: STOMP means bringing down hard/transferring all your weight to that foot on top of the step (on the left side of the step, so you’re moving on the diagonal).
-2 means giving a step with your left foot on the ground (not on the step).
-3 means giving a step with your right foot on the ground, placing yourself just right for the next movement, which is:

STOMPing now with the left foot on the right side of the step twice, which means that you need to give one step in between on the ground with your right foot, and then 2 steps on the ground again to take you back to the single STOMP-part.

It’s much easier when you see it, hear it and experience it yourself, but I’m sure you get the “sense” of what I mean :-).

In any case. On my way home from step, I had this recurring Taiko rhythm in my head: 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4.
Use both hands and alternate: hit the table/steering wheel/what ever for each number. The bold numbers mean you hit harder.

I realise you’re busy, so let me cut to the chase: The STOMP-2-STOMP part sounds the same as the 1-2-3-4 part.

Noticing this similarity, made me aware of how big a role recurring patterns have in my life at the moment. Karate: consists of programming your body with recurring patterns of blocks and punches and kicks. Obesity: a manifestation of recurring patterns of eating in order to escape. Vocal training warming up exercises: recurring patterns of notes.

Incidently, the research proposal is progressing quite nicely… of course, corpus translation studies is the environment to investigate …. (you guessed it!) …. RECURRING PATTERNS!