I started learning Martial Arts, Lima Lama to be specific, a Samoan discipline of Martial Arts, this past January. That, in itself, is a funny little story.


A woman who sings with me in the Santa Cruz Chorale had recruited me to copyedit the programs for a while now, and several times she commented that although she had given the program what she thought was a thorough reading, I would always manage to find more. So she proposed a trade. She’s a novelist in need of a copy editor, and she’s a black-belt instructor in Lima Lama.


So, in January, I started going to Westside Aerobics and Martial Arts to learn from her. The first two months were funny, because when I was there, actually in the Dojo learning things, I was happy as a clam. But the moment I stepped out of the Dojo, my brain started coming up with all sorts of reasons for why I shouldn’t be doing it at all. I would come up with reason after reason for why I shouldn’t go to the next session. I had scheduled with my fabulous instructor to go twice a week. And I’d go once and then come up with a reason for why I had to miss the next one, and then I’d see her in choir and she’d cheerfully brow beat me into coming back the next day and then I’d flake again. Or rather, I just didn’t make it a priority, so “things” got scheduled.


And yet, I continued to learn. I would schedule things while I was there in the Dojo, because I knew that the minute I left the Dojo, I would start to “regress.” And I deliberately didn’t carry her cellphone number with me, so that I couldn’t call her on the way to class to “bail.” I had to physically go to the Dojo to tell her if I wanted to get out of going to class.


And then she went out of town and scheduled things so that I would be taught by the Head Dude, as he likes to be called.


For some reason, this made the whole deal more real for me some how. Or something. I’m not quite sure what happened, but the complaints in my head started to quiet down. Then there was the day when it was me and my choir buddy/instructor and the Head Dude and another instructor. Just me and three instructors and they worked and worked with me, and at one point everyone told me how well I was doing. I liked that: hearing that I was doing well.


And all of a sudden it started to feel real and good and I wanted to go each week.


They started talking about testing for my orange belt. They gave me a white belt to wear. You don’t have to earn your white belt. Well, I suppose you do, in that you have to show up, but that’s all you have to do – express an interest in learning.


So, here I am, with my white belt and now I’m testing for my orange belt.


The test is tonight and I’m alternating between calmness and total panic. Well, not total panic, just this low level rumbling of “what the f*ck are you doing?” I’m a middle-aged, plump, grey-haired (under my fabulous dye job) woman. I feel like I look like Professor McGonagall (You know, the one described in the Harry Potter books, not Maggie Smith in the movies) only without the magical abilities of transformation. Hmmm, that’s interesting, because in fact, I do have magical abilities of transformation. Not of other things, like mice to teacups, but of myself, to other versions of myself. I feel like I’m rewriting “me” every day in some small way.


But I digress, as usual. What was I talking about?


Oh right, the Orange Belt. I’m to demonstrate my knowledge of drop punches, rolling punches, hooks, upper cuts, round house kicks, straight kicks, angled kicks, side kicks, some stick work (Heaven Six and High/Low and the first five moves in our 14- move series for sticks) and Level 1B series.


It’s astonishing to me that I’ve learned all these things in the last four months.


Okay, so I just went to my calendar and counted how many times I actually made it to the Dojo and now it doesn’t seem so astonishing. I went 23 times. That’s a lot of “practice” hours. Of course I can do this.


Oh, the mind is so funny. All the different stories it makes up.


I performed the series for one of my walking buddies this morning in front of the Lighthouse on Westcliff. There were other folks around. I don’t know how many of them stopped to watch, but I do know that there was one man, with a small dog who stopped to watch me. I noticed him when I started, but then when I was actually doing the series, I wasn’t looking out. I was looking where my “opponent” would be, so my focus was about two feet out from my body. I do know that he was still there, smiling quietly to himself as I was walking back to my car.


Anyway, it just flowed. I didn’t do everything perfectly, but I also didn’t stop to try to fix things, or even berate myself for the things I missed. I simply noticed them and moved on.


I have no idea what will happen tonight, but I now have, in my body, an experience of quiet confidence doing this series – outside in the clear, crisp air after a rain, with the sound of the surf pounding in the background.


So, I’m going to use that to center myself tonight when I start to wig out. When my heart starts to race, I’ll whisper to myself, “breathe” and “remember” and “slow down.” Everything will be as it should be. Whatever that looks like.