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Archive for May, 2011

Am I a robot?

About a week ago, my cousin, who is getting married this winter called me up to chit chat. A little bit into the conversation he asked me, “So are you coming to the wedding?” I paused. I thought this might be a trick question because he and his girlfriend asked me to be a bridesmaid. I responded, “Uh, yes?” My cousin said, “You know you’re in the wedding, right?” I said, “Well, yeah. So I have to come.” My cousin, ever the wise one, replied, “Well, you know there is such a thing as free will.” Oh, right. Thanks, Coz.

Whether it was his intention or not, my cousin’s endearing remark led me to think incessantly about how often I exercise free will. For example, a couple of weeks ago I did something I hadn’t done in well over a year: I went out with a friend and got drunk. I don’t do this often for a number of reasons that are boring. You’d think that the depressing, stressful nature of grad school would lead me to seek hedonistic activities more often than I do, but for some reason I waited until school was out to have that kind of a night. Anyway, my alarm went off the next morning to remind me to go to judo practice. My waking thought was, “I am too old to do shots.” I felt a little like a shriveled mummy due to dehydration and my head hurt. A coin toss was probably going to decide whether or not I was going to vomit. I said to myself, “I’m not going to practice. I really don’t see how I could make it through.” I resolved to go back to sleep.

In my next conscious moment, I found that I had packed up my gear, slapped on a pair of sunglasses, and was already half way to the train station. Hmmm.

Also, each judo practice, our instructor gives us anywhere from 10-20 minutes to get with a partner and work on our favorite technique.  I take this time to work on tai otoshi. Tai otoshi is “my throw”. When I was a kid, I loved ipon seoi nagi, followed closely by osoto gari, for the smash factor. Because of some recent injuries which makes it painful to execute tai otoshi, I’ve been working more on osoto and  started rekindling my relationship with seoi nage. Now that I’ve stepped away from it, I ask myself, “Is tai otoshi my favorite technique?”

See, I started practicing tai otoshi a year and a half ago. Before I started training regularly with the Philadelphia Judo Club, I spent about two months working with a coach for visually impaired athletes, whom my dad assisted previously. His class was all novices, white and yellow belts, so it was a good place to re-wet my judo feet. At the time, this coach was working with a girl who was about my height and weight. He wanted her to be on the national team for visually impaired athletes. Her main competition was a girl whose go-to throw was tai otoshi. So while he thought the technique would be good for someone my size, he also thought he could teach his student how to defend and counter tai otoshi. So I started learning and practicing tai otoshi. When I started working with the PJC and it came time to work on our favorite techniques, my partner asked, “So, is there anything you’re working on now?” I said, “Well, I’ve been practicing tai otoshi.” My partner replied, “Oh, there are a few black belts here who are really good a tai otoshi so they can help you.” And they have. A lot. But I can’t say with confidence that I love tai otoshi. I think it just might be the technique that I’ve put the most effort into. After a year and half of work, I can’t see turning back now.

So what am I doing with all my free will anyway?

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Categories: Judo, Life, philosophy

This is what it looks like

May 29, 2011 1 comment

For my non-judo buddies, this is what it looks like when I’m competing in judo. This is from the Liberty Bell Developmental Tournament on May 21, 2011. I lost this match, but I lost to a really awesome player so I can’t be mad.

Categories: competition, Judo

When You Assume…

May 29, 2011 7 comments

I was talking to an old high school buddy last night about what she’s been up to, and she was telling me that in addition to working two jobs, she’s going back to school part-time for nursing. She asked me a little about my MSW program and said that in the past, she seriously considered getting a degree in social work, but every person she mentioned it to reacted extremely negatively. In a way, she knew she let them talk her out of it. She heard all the usual arguments against social work: “You’ll burn out!”  “You’ll never make any money!” However, no one seemed concerned about her burning out as an overworked, underpaid nurse.

I’ve worked in social services since 2006, but when I was a “program administrator” or a “grant writer”, no one felt the need to lecture or talk down to me about the social services field. But as soon as I enrolled in a Master’s of Social Work program, suddenly everyone seemed to know more about social work than I did, regardless of their profession. A common belief was that I was going to enable crack mothers to have more crack babies by helping them apply for public assistance. Because, you know, anyone who receives public benefits is obviously lazy and manipulative and taking all our tax dollars away. And clearly, all you need to do is work hard in this country and success will be yours. These people, however,  do not consider that if your parents were poor, you grew up in a poor neighborhood, and attended school in a poor school district, that sure, you can grow up and work  hard. But you will only be able to work hard at Taco Bell, which does not pay enough to earn a self or family-sustaining wage. The counter point to my argument is usually something like, “Well, my great grandfather came to this country from (insert Western European country here) and only spoke (insert Western European language here) and he started his own business and lived happily ever.” Ok, so your great grandfather was white. He was lucky.

When people make the assumption that social workers only work with manipulative homeless drug addicts, I get pretty defensive. A part of that is because a lot of people don’t know that the social work field is quite broad, and social workers are in all kinds of places you might not expect. They are in schools, health care facilities, community organizations, and even for-profit corporations. The role of the social worker is a combination of advocate and problem solver. You’re working with your clients to help them identify their problems, figure out their existing resources, what additional resources they may need, and help them to gain the confidence to follow through with all the big and little steps required to make things better for themselves.

I interned in the trauma unit at one of the city hospitals this past year. While I did have patients at the hospital who were homeless drug addicts who lied to me,  I also worked with sweet, little old ladies from the suburbs who didn’t have any family.  I worked with average middle-class white guys who’d been laid off due to the recession and had no health coverage. And going back to the homeless drug addicts, before you dismiss them as scumbags, you have to consider that a lot of terrible stuff has happened in that person’s past to lead them to their current position, including all kinds of abuse and traumas. There is a real human being in there.

More importantly, I think I get upset when I hear these assumptions (even though I know I shouldn’t) because I immediately think of all the truly amazing, resilient human beings I’ve had the honor to work with over the last year. I feel like those assumptions diminish their struggle. They take away from the strength it takes to actually ask for help in the first place and then have the determination to follow through and improve their situation. For me, it has been truly humbling to have so many people trust me enough to reveal their deeply personal problems, even when they feel ashamed, and ask me what they need to do to make it better. That takes some guts.

I can’t say that I won’t experience some kind of burn out during my career, but I know that the social work field is where I am supposed to be. I’m pursuing a profession where the good days make me excited to return to work the next morning, and on the bad days, I leave work determined to figure out how resolve my mistakes. When you are working so closely with people and see how they grow and change, you can’t help but grow and change a little yourself.

So who cares if I never make any money?

Categories: Life, School, social work

Obviously

May 28, 2011 2 comments

I did not anticipate it at all, but after less than a week of starting this blog, my father has read it. He is not necessarily someone I would think to include in my projected readership, but apparently the internet really isn’t that big after all.

How did I find this out? He called me this morning to let me know he saw my “thing” on the internet and gave me his blessing to take a break.  Thanks, Dad.

Categories: Uncategorized

Taking a Break

May 27, 2011 5 comments

Two questions I often ask myself are, “What am I trying to prove, and who am I trying to prove it to? About a month ago, I finished my first year of grad school. I’ve made an unnecessarily big deal about my first year of grad school. The academic year was definitely my hardest ever, and a pretty rough year in general for other reasons. So I thought finishing was a huge accomplishment, even if in the grand scheme of my life, it might not amount to much. I really could not wait for April 26th to roll around so I get more than five hours of sleep on a weeknight and more than six on the weekend.

When the semester first ended, I was in a coma for about two weeks. I think I was sleeping maybe 10 or 11 hours each night. After I awoke from my coma and was alert enough to enjoy a life free from the spirit-crushing, overwhelming nature of grad school, I spent about another week and half just kicking around, reading, going to judo, seeing friends, returning phone calls, etc., etc., During that week, I did remember that I wanted to make money this summer so I put in an application with a temp agency. Then I decided to relax until the agency placed me. Then I realized, maybe I didn’t want the agency to place me. Maybe I wanted to spend my summer sleeping past 6:00AM, leisurely drinking coffee while perusing the internet and novels, see my friends, work on my conditioning for judo, go to practice a bunch and compete, and not really do much else. I could probably swing that this summer without working. Then I was overwhelmed by guilt:

“Who am I to spend the summer doing whatever I want? Who am I to NOT go to work, NOT feel stressed out and tired, and NOT contribute to the fabric of society?”

Then I tried to talk myself out of feeling guilty:

“Social work is a freaking stressful, often thankless profession. I’m going to be working until I’m at least 65. I went out and got a job the day after I turned 16 and worked pretty much ever since then. After this year, there will be no more summer breaks. I should just enjoy this while I can. ”

And then:

“So what if I don’t work? What will working a summer job prove if it’s not a financial necessity for me? What’s so wrong with taking a break? ”

And I don’t really know the answer to that.  Why do I think it’s sort of terrible if I didn’t really do much this summer? It’s not like I don’t understand the value of hard work; I’ve watched my parents, who came from working class backgrounds, work jobs they hated just so my brother and I could achieve all of our little middle class dreams.  I’ve certainly tried to model myself after them.  But because they’ve worked so hard, they’ve been able to give me little financial cushions here and there. I’m extremely lucky that I’m in this position, so I don’t know why I try so hard to fight that. I used to get annoyed when I was an undergrad when everyone was competing in the “Who’s the Poorest?” game when the kids whose families really did struggle kept their mouths shut, took extra classes so they could graduate sooner, and worked part-time jobs.  I’m lucky, right? So why the need to be productive at all times?

I’m certainly not unique in my love of toil. My closest friends from high school on are all mega overachievers and we all pretend that we know how to take care of ourselves. One of us will overextend ourselves and have some sort of mental/physical break down and we’ll all say to her, “You really need to slow down. Just take it easy for a day or two. Go easy on yourself. Relax.” And we all secretly think, “Hypocrite.” And if you were to ask one of my friends what they’re doing over the summer, they’ll say something like, “Oh, I’m just going to take it easy, you know.  I’m working at a homeless shelter and volunteering at the nature conservation center, and then I’m going to Guatemala to help underprivileged children get vaccines. You know, just taking a break.”

Categories: Life, School Tags:

Learning to Love the Things You Hate

May 26, 2011 5 comments

I think it’s important to force ourselves to do things we don’t want to do.  I don’t mean the little annoying stuff like, “I’m tired and I don’t want to go to the super market after work”, but things that seem maybe a little too hard or a little too scary. If you don’t force yourself to try, I don’t think you can really move forward in life. For me, these are the sort of endeavors that might make me feel nervous/insecure/incompetent and therefore frustrated and angry.

I started thinking about this last night at judo practice (I’m promise this post is not exclusively about judo for my non-judo buddies).  As I watched one of my clubmates work on his uchi mata, all I could think was, “I hate uchi mata.” And I really do hate uchi mata. I hate getting thrown with it. My dad says osoto gari is the worst throw  take a fall for because of the slam factor, but I disagree. Maybe it’s because I’m short and the people that practice uchi mata at my club are much taller than I am, so having someone’s leg jammed between mine as I get flipped through the air is extremely unpleasant. I also hate trying to execute uchi mata. I can’t get the momentum right, my balance sucks, I don’t know really understand the mechanics to finish the throw, etc., etc., etc.  In essence, I hate uchi mata because it’s hard for me. I made a vow the last time one of my instructors reviewed the technique that I was going to learn to love uchi mata. Or at least not hate it.

I have similar feelings towards ground work in judo (the pinning, choking, arm lock stuff). While I’m passable with standing techniques, my mat work sucks. So naturally, I hate mat work. I developed a huge inferiority complex because my clubmates are really good at mat work and a lot of them cross train for Brazilian jiu jitsu. So I started taking BJJ classes, too. I am undoubtedly a remedial student. You practically have to move my hands and legs for me in order for me to understand the techniques. BJJ is like a giant, ever-evolving puzzle to solve. To get the pieces to fit right, you’re constantly switching your position based on your opponent’s reaction. It’s a lot of thinking, which eventually should turn to instinct. I have no useful thoughts when it comes to BJJ, so  good instincts are a long way off for me.  Thankfully, my instructors are mega patient so after many slow repetitions, I sometimes get an idea of what’s going on. I don’t love BJJ yet, but I think we’re at least getting to be friendly acquaintances.

I don’t just force myself to tackle the difficult/unappealing in my judo life. Since I was in my late teens, I’ve been making concerted efforts to try things that require some extra thought, effort, and commitment. It’s either been through exchange programs, collectives, community projects, or just moving really far away from home just to see if I can make it.

When I made the decision to go to grad school for social work, I realized there was something I needed to force myself to do. See, I want to work primarily with women. Women tend to have kids. It made sense that I should get some experience working with kids. But I’m  not really nuts about kids. I like them on a kid to kid basis, but overall, I was never one of those girls who was dying to babysit or be a camp counselor.  I think part of it is that I often don’t know how to communicate with children in a natural way so I avoid interacting with them. But in terms of my professional growth, I really don’t want limit myself. So fearfully and reluctantly, I applied for an Americorps term of service working for an educational afterschool program for low-income kids in North Philly.

Working with those kids was extremely tough for me. Of course, despite requesting to work with any age group EXCEPT middle school, I was a co-leader for a middle school group. I am not physically different enough from a middle schooler to posses a natural presence of authority. Plus, preteens are basically driven by hormones and insecurity, and when you combine that with extremely difficult, unstable home lives, you end up with some pretty hard personalities. A lot of the kids were really smart, really sweet interesting people, but depending on what was going on at home, they could turn into little dragons at the drop of a hat. My co-leader and I had to break up physical fights, which I never pictured myself doing.  I still don’t think I clicked very well with the middle school kids, but I did learn that I work really well with kids younger kids, around age nine and under. Whenever I assisted with one of the younger groups, I had a blast. It’s a pretty big ego boost to have a bunch of little kids running up to you going, “Miss Lori! Miss Lori! Miss Lori!” and wanting you to play with them or give them a hug. It was pretty awesome.

My field placement for school next year is with a transitional, long-term housing program for young homeless mothers and their children. While I will be working primarily with the mothers, I will also be assisting with some of the kids’ programming. Had I not pushed myself to do that Americorps term of service, I probably would be terrified to start my field placement next year. Who knows? I might have even turned it down and asked the school to place me somewhere else. Instead, despite the inevitable challenges that come with social work, I’m really excited for next year.

When Physical Pain Leads to Mental Pain

May 24, 2011 2 comments

Injuries are stupid. For athletes (and I hesitate to refer to myself as an athlete since I can’t run fast, jump high, and I certainly throw like a girl–and not like a girl who plays softball or baseball), sustaining an injury is extremely frustrating. Injuries suck for everyone. But for athletes, regardless of the physical pain they may endure, suddenly their limited strength and mobility denies them from engaging both in their daily routine and their passion. This limitation could be temporary or permanent. It can also be severely depressing.

Obviously, I’m bringing this up because I’m injured right now. My hip flexor is screwed up from overuse. While I’ve had injuries in the past that restricted my training, they weren’t nearly as confining. You use your hips constantly in judo, both for standing and ground work. I’m taking Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes as well, and while BJJ is somewhat easier on the body than judo, you double cannot avoid using your hips. Now, back in October, I injured my shoulder blade pretty badly. The technical diagnosis was a “deep contusion”, which basically just means “badly bruised”. Despite the pain, I did not warrant that as a serious injury because I didn’t need surgery or a metal plate or anything. I think I gave myself about one or two full days off and then went back to practice. I didn’t do that much my first few times back on the mat, but I know now that I jumped back into my regular training routine too quickly. How do I know? Because after eight months, I still have to ice my shoulder blade after every class and most of work outs.

At the time, not going through a full practice seemed like the worst thing in the world. Sitting out of randori (standing sparring) and newaza (ground sparring) was absolute torture. However, for good or for bad, there are always a few people at our club who are injured and have to be careful, so you can work together on the side on the techniques that your body can handle. I was distracted sufficiently from randori and newaza for maybe three weeks and then I lost my patience. I figured the pain wasn’t that bad, and besides, pretty much everyone who practices judo is in pain to some degree all of the time. It’s the nature of the sport.  And as is that nature of the sport, the first time I went back to randori, I dislocated my pinky toe. (Sidenote: My father reset my toe, but maybe didn’t do the best job because it still sticks out a little and I have to keep it taped all the time so it doesn’t catch onto things).

Yet I digress. My hip has me scared. As I mentioned before, you can’t really dance around using your hips in judo. I’m trying to figure out how to continue going to practice while NOT overworking my hip and still make good use of my time. I also have to adjust my conditioning so I can stay in shape…also while not overworking my hip.  More importantly, I have to learn to stop feeling insanely jealous and depressed as I watch my clubmates throw themselves into drills or uchikomi or randori. Really, most of clubmates and my coaches have had serious injuries which severely restricted their practice or kept them off the mat completely for months. There are tons of judoka whose injuries extinguished their competition days forever. So I know I should not complain. I also know that there is an army of judoka who relate wholly to the mental anguish you experience when you have to hold back from your normal routine, just be patient, and heal.

So stretching, ice, and some internet research on good PT exercises for hip flexors are the top items on my judo agenda. There are several competitions in June which I don’t want to skip, nor do I want to go in half-healed and make myself worse. This will be huge test for me. Have I really learned anything about healing in the last eight months? We’ll see.

Categories: Challenges, Injuries, Judo