I am so open.
I am endless like the ocean,
with the emptiness of the sky.
I am so open.
You cannot fold me over,
nor can you tether in the front yard,
or crush me like an empty soda can.
I am so open.
I let me arms stay wide,
and hold my gaze forward
as I expand with the horizon.
I am so open.
I relish in the weightlessness of joy,
and the only force keeping me held to the earth
is the heaviness of possibility.
I am so open.
I can run and run,
and I love the air and sky,
but I miss the mat.
Less than three weeks until my first haiku collection comes out!
Cooks got promoted.
Judo shapes our family,
and helps us to grow.
My first haiku collection, The Art of Service, will be released May 2nd!
March 2015 marked five years since I stepped back onto a judo mat as an adult. Five years. I couldn’t believe I was there already, but at the same time, judo felt like it never left my life despite my seventeen year gap in practice. When I started training with the Philadelphia Judo Club in March 2010, I knew this was it. I knew I was back for good. No doubt, no hesitation. I was not going to be the hot-headed quitter I was in childhood. I was going to love all of judo–the big throws, the breakthroughs, how good it feels to win, and I was also going to learn to love taking falls, working through plateaus, and the growth that comes with losing. No quitting this time. No quitting.
Of course, making a commitment is one thing; carrying out that commitment is another. About a year after I got my brown belt, I started to feel stuck. Looking back, I think my learning got held up because I was overprotecting an injury and I also started comparing my progress to others. While I believe that a little bit of insecurity can sometimes motivate you to do better, I think it can also stop you from taking the risks you need to learn and grow. My solution at the time was to shift my focus from judo to jiu jitsu, where I could enjoy the freedom of being a white belt again. I still went to judo, but with less frequency and less focus. Last year, I was fortunate to have six months with a great training partner who pushed me in judo and made me remember how much I love it. Since she left, our judo program has gained a lot of athletic, enthusiastic, driven judoka who challenge me and create a fun, competitive atmosphere at practice. With this new energy, I felt myself making progress– I was taking risks again, I was using more commitment in throws, and my instincts were getting better. I decided that for my five year judo anniversary, I would compete in the Liberty Bell Judo Classic during the last weekend in March. I hadn’t competed at Liberty Bell since 2012, and since then, only fought in two judo tournaments. It was time to get back out there. I was excited. This was going to be a good day.
But it wasn’t a good day. Maybe judo really wanted to see if I still cared. Maybe judo needed to know if I really loved him or not. Maybe judo was just reminding me that this sport is really hard. I lost. I lost bad. It wasn’t because of my conditioning or my technique. It’s because of my mind. I lost focus and started to have doubts, and you don’t have a chance to win unless you believe that you will win. Leading up to the tournament, I felt overwhelmed by pressure at work. Two weeks before the tournament, my younger cousin died and his funeral was a few days before the competition. The Liberty Bell falls during the the anniversary of my mom’s suicide. I realized my hurt shoulder was, like, actually injured. I grew more distracted and more and more vulnerable about fighting. My main source of comfort was that my club was bringing nine people to compete, and I felt relieved to be surrounded by my team.
As I write about the all the things on my mind leading up to the tournament, I realize they sound like excuses for why I lost my matches. But I do not view those circumstances as permission for me to lose. I discuss them because I truly believe that I can take those circumstances and turn them into driving forces of empowerment. Our struggles can be challenges to overcome, not weights which bury us. During the opening ceremony at the Liberty Bell, I stood with members of my judo family whom I’ve known for over 25 years. We stood together to hand out the memorial award for my brother. As I looked at all the judoka lined up on the mat, I felt so mixed up. I was happy for the young man receiving the award, I was proud of my brother, and I was proud to be a part of judo. However, I also felt exposed for people to hear my name, see my face, and hear about the loss my family experienced all those years ago. I’ve tried so hard to move past that. I tried to ease my mind and tell myself that most people were probably lost in their own heads, trying to focus on their upcoming matches. But I let doubt set in, and I missed an opportunity to hold on to that sense of pride, of being a part of something honorable and important. I got scared.
So I lost my matches. I don’t need to go into details. All you need to know is that I lost my matches because I didn’t believe in myself like everyone believes in me. I have not been that disappointed in a long time. I went into an empty room after I was done fighting and cried like a child. Later when I home, I cried so hard my stomach hurt. I didn’t know I cared like that. I didn’t know it meant that much to me. But it did. And it sucked.
I still had a good judo anniversary though. My team freaking dominated at the Liberty Bell. We had a bunch of medals and five of them were golds. I loved seeing my team’s hard work come through for them. That was awesome. Then the following day, a few of us went to the New York Athletic Club to see the New York Open, and international judo team tournament. The US, France, Germany, Poland, and for the first time, Cuba, were all there to compete. There were world champions, Olympians, and Olympic medalists. The US, France, and Cuba had women’s teams. Seeing those elite athletes fight was electrifying, especially the women. It was the most dynamic judo I’ve ever seen, and it changed the way I see the sport. The passion, the poise, the skill–it was breath-taking. I was in awe for six hours straight. It’s a day I will keep with me for a long time, since it was just what I needed to see after feeling so crushed. Judo can be brutal, but it can also be beautiful. We saw numerous gorgeous techniques, but one of my favorite moments was during Kayla Harrison’s first match with the French team. Her opponent got injured at the end of the match and had difficulty standing up. Harrison helped her opponent stand, bow out, and walk off the mat.
I won’t forget last weekend. I still have all that disappointment clinging to me, but I am determined to work through this. I am injured now, but I actually made a doctor’s appointment for this week. I know that I will have to rest it for a while, I’m still going to practice even though my participation is limited. I won’t stay away and let some lost matches and a dumb shoulder turn my back on a sport that gives me so much. I continue to feel gratitude for coaches, teammates, and the friends that I’ve made at my club. I don’t always feel strong, but they give me strength. I’m ready for the next five years.
Now is the moment
to be my own champion,
and forge my own fate.
Please check out my soon-to-be-released haiku collection, coming May 2nd! The e-book is available for pre-order on Amazon.
another punch in the heart.
But we get back up.
Sometimes, things just work out. Sometimes, life gives you these neatly wrapped, wonderful little packages to open up and enjoy. It’s a unique feeling when you feel both completely content and excited by possibility at the same time.
A had an unremarkable chain of events over the last few days which led to this exquisite feeling. Late in the week, I got banged up at judo, so I decided not to train Friday or Saturday. On Saturday morning, I used the time I would have spent getting ready for jiu jitsu and training to clean out my refrigerator, go food shopping, and make my lunch and breakfast for the work week– all the things I usually do after practice. I went to help out with the kids’ judo class later in the afternoon, came home, and did some more chores. Then, I eased into a chill evening walking around West Philly with my rad step-sister, Krista, happy to be reconnecting face to face.
This morning, I was up unexpectedly early. I hopped out of bed and did my neglected laundry before scampering
off to judo. When I got home from practice, I found myself with no obligations, no little errands, nothing but time. I haven’t had that on a Sunday in months. As I was messing around on the internet, I got a phone call from my teammate and spirit sister, Joy. I was alarmed at first. Since Joy and I usually text, my brain automatically jumped to horrific emergency. Why else would she be calling? Well, it turns out that sometimes people call each other just to hang out. Joy was in my neighborhood and wanted to know if I had time to chill. And I did. We got a snack a tiny Indian restaurant, and once again I found myself strolling through West Philly under the sun and trees with someone important in my life. Joy and I have both been wrapped up in life stress lately and haven’t had any hang out time together. It felt perfect to walk around Clark Park and just talk.
If my week had gone differently, I might not have been so open to relaxing with my friend. I might have felt torn about hanging out with Joy, not fully satisfied with either the choice to tackle dumb chores and errands or spend time with my buddy. But everything was in place for us to share a couple of hours to ground each other. Today is the anniversary of my mom’s death, and while I woke up in a good mood this morning, all the complicated emotions of her death run like lava through my body this time of year. I can feel them, but I don’t know when they will erupt. I am grateful that the volcano stayed dormant today, but I also know that Joy would accept me even if I was an overflowing with disastrous sadness and anger.
I don’t care that this sounds mad cheesy, but Joy is a gift to me. I don’t know where our friendship is headed, but I know that I have felt more loved and cared for in this world since we’ve become friends.
Sometimes, things just work out.