Sure, it's far. But it's rewarding

Mama in action

Mama in action

This weekend we drove to the other end of the world, aka Windsor. Because karate tournaments do that to us. And man, the fun we had...

Well, that is to say. Before we had all that fun we had to get through some rough spots. Both Catherine and I competed in kata first, and both of us got a mightily disappointing result. I finished fourth out of five, and she didn't place in a very large group - despite doing a really strong, beautiful kata.

She was very disappointed. In fact, she was in tears. She'd given it her all, she really cranked out a superb kata, and yet it wasn't enough to place. To say she felt discouraged would be a spectacular understatement. But, I said to her, she would have to put all that aside and find a way to focus on her point sparring, which was up next. Shake it off, I said. Put it behind you, and go do what you have to do.

She wiped her tears, suited up, and went in there. I coached her (gently) through her first fight and she won it fairly handily. Her second fight would be for gold, against an opponent who was bigger than her, excellent, and very well coached. I found something she could try against that opponent and told her about it. I coached her again and she won her fight pretty handily. First place in sparring, after feeling crushed in kata.

I hugged her very hard and told her what made me most happy - not the first place, although that's cool. No, I said, what makes me super happy and crazy proud is how you found it within yourself to get a grip on your emotions and go from "boohoo poor little me" to "I can win this here fight" in less than ten minutes.

These are lessons that you can't teach your child by talking to them about it. They have to experience the whole thing - the lows, the highs, and everything in between. And if we had to drive to the end of the earth to learn it, well, so be it. That's what the 401 was made for. Right?

p.s. Oh, I forgot to add: I also won first place in sparring after my disappointing result in kata. I get a brownie, yes?

See good things on the inside

Where I run. Isn't it gorgeous?

Where I run. Isn't it gorgeous?

You know how sometimes you get a lesson that stops you in your tracks and sucker punches you?

I had one like that this morning. I was out jogging with the pup as usual, getting back into the spring/summer habit of doing 5ish KM on the farm (the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa; that's a real working farm and research centre - plus museum - right in the middle of the city, and I live right by it lucky me) instead of the 3.5-4ish sidewalk blah business I get by on during the winter. The snow and muck are finally off the farm paths and it's once again pleasant to run there.

Except for the part where I'm still recovering from that flu, and my back, one shoulder and one knee are bugging me. I think in good part due to exercising and competing (and reno work at home) while trying to recover from said flu. The sun is out this morning and it's crisp and cool but not unpleasant, yet here's Brigitte wallowing in self-pity and griping that the pace is too slow and what a loser to think this is a run worthy of the name and yadda blahdeby pfft.

Fortunately for my soul, while this pity party is going on I'm also listening to a great podcast, a conversation between Tim Ferriss and Cory Booker (the politician). At some point Booker describes moving into a poor neighbourhood in New Jersey (at that point he was studying law at Yale) and going to a local person by the name of Victoria Jones and professing that he was there to help her. She took him outside and asked him to describe what he saw. He said something about drugs and poverty and so on, and she told him no thanks buddy, you can't help me. See, what you see on the outside of you is a reflection of what's inside you, she told him, and something something after that I don't remember.

Because I had stopped running, trying to catch my breath. That lady, whose words only came to me through a politician on a radio podcast, reached out through the space-time continuum and hit me square in the gut. But in a good way.

Her words crystallized for me a lot of issues I'd been thinking about these past 2-3 years about my time in politics and why I now think a lot of it was horribly misguided at best (I have a book brewing inside me about that) and suddenly I could see it. There was a big giant hallelujah only I could hear, and I was able to move on with my slow (but now happier) jog.

About 15 minutes later I see this guy with a bike leaned against a tree. He's doing some tai chi or other and then he stares down the path and starts running. Or rather, wobbling. He's not going fast at all, but you can tell for him that's sprinting. He does about 50 feet then walks slowly back to his bike. A minute or two later he's back at the tai chi and when I look at him again before turning on the path that takes me home, he's doing another sprint.

There are a lot of things I could see in that guy. But right there on the spot I make a conscious choice to see hope and beauty. He's doing what he can to make himself better, and that is the best any one of us can do. This guy is doing more with his 12-second wobble to make the world a better place than most righteous-sounding moralizers do in a week. I give him a giant smile he can't possibly see, and move on.

I am going to bet that it's true, what the lady said. That what you see outside of you is a reflection of what is inside you. And I'll take this one step further and bet that if I purposefully decide to see beautiful things on the outside of me, that it will help me have more beautiful things inside of me. It can't be an easy thing to do all the time, but what else am I here for if not try to make myself better?

Love, unfolding as it should

Griffin.JPG

The other day I asked my Facebook world if anyone had good examples of love letters between fictional characters. I'm kind of debating whether I want to try writing something in that genre, and thought I should look around for examples - good inspiration or bad, both are equally useful to the writer.

I had a couple of suggestions that looked promising. But then a friend lent me her copy of the Griffin & Sabine trilogy and boom, search over.

I'm not even through the first volume and already I'm in love, in the easiest, most open-hearted way possible. It's a completely implausible storyline (you'll have to read it for yourself; didn't you know I was a terrible tease?) yet once you decide to suspend disbelief and let the story wash over you, it takes you away to a completely different world.

A world in which love is, without being questioned. A world in which the impossible is no obstacle. A world in which beauty is paramount. A world in which imperfect people find their whole.

I'm almost scared to continue reading, in case it goes funky on me. But so far, the magic is doing its wonderful thing.

A silvery kind of weekend

Today found us in Brossard, just outside Montreal, for the KJS tournament. We brought home some bling: four silver medals in total. Catherine got one in team fighting with her buddy Tabitha, and also one in individual sparring. I got one in kata (with a brand-new kata; I was pretty pleased by that), and one in sparring.

I guess it's a sign of how much better we've become that we both found ourselves griping about what we'd done wrong. But gripe we did. And it's true that we both could have done better. But on the other hand, silver ain't that bad and besides, we learned some valuable lessons again today. Competition is like that, you know. It always teaches you important lessons you didn't particularly want to learn but needed to.

Among the best things today was the number of new people we had competing on our team. It was a treat and a pleasure to help coach these kids in what I am sure was a very scary and intimidating competitive experience. I'm very proud of all our kids, and very grateful to their family members who were loud and proud in their support. Karate is about more than kicks and punches, we always say. Today was a fine example of what we mean by that. Team Douvris rocks.

Provincial qualifiers: done!

Douvris mamas

Douvris mamas

We are in London this weekend for the WKC Provincial qualifiers. This is a step necessary to make it to Nationals in May, where the top competitors from each province compete to earn a spot on the national team representing Canada at the WKC World Championships in Orlando this fall.

For Provincials, you have to make the top eight. At Nationals, the top eight from each province compete and only the top four make it to Worlds.

Catherine is competing in three divisions: hard-style kata, classical kata, and point sparring. She wanted to try a new kata she's just learned in hard-style, against my advice (I think it looks good, but not as good as the other one she's been competing with for a year). Unlike her mother, Catherine is not at all stubborn and new kata it was. She placed fifth with it out of a dozen girls, and qualified. She went back to her usual kata for classical and placed third despite a small (but visible) stumble. I get points for not harping (much). I think she understood. She really likes the new kata and I'm really happy to have her switch, but we need a fair bit more work before she's ready to do it. I have a similar issue: I am competing in two kata divisions (veteran women, 35 years and older as well as 42 years and older). I'm doing the same kata I've been doing for a year, which earned me silver in both divisions. This works well for me, but part of me wants to switch to a different kata I've recently learned... It's not ready for competition, but it should be fairly soon, and I'd like to try it before Nationals in May. We have two tournaments before Nationals - one next week and one at the end of the month. Guess who's working their butts off on their katas this week?

In point sparring, Catherine got third place. So she qualified in all her divisions. I am competing in veteran women, 65kg and under, in both age groups (35+ and 42+). I managed to win all my fights yesterday and earned myself gold in both divisions.

We are pleased with our results from yesterday. Today is a day off. Back to training Monday.

We be zombies fighting

Not bad, for a zombie, right? (Big thanks to Headless Coach in the Douvris sweatshirt behind me.)

Not bad, for a zombie, right? (Big thanks to Headless Coach in the Douvris sweatshirt behind me.)

Holy crimini what a day. It started out with a really terrible night sleep. It was already going to be short (training Friday evening followed by getting up at 4:30 for a quick jog with the pup before driving to Repentigny for a tournament), and it got worse. One child decided to amuse herself sleepwalking into my room asking about wires on the floor (she didn't get a very polite response) while the youngest decided that was a good time to have repeated screaming nightmares. I think overall I got 4.5 hours sleep in 20-minute increments.

That is not enough.

But it's all I was going to get so I would have to make it work. We drove down to Repentigny for the Cobra International tournament. Both Catherine and I did good in kata - she tied for second then lost the tie breaker and ended up with a bronze medal (in a big and tough division; I'm pretty happy), while I got silver in my division. So far so good.

Catherine had more trouble in sparring today - she lost her first fight and didn't place, but she was fighting bigger and stronger girls and I'm very proud of her regardless of what the final score says. There is a difference between winning and being a winner, I told her. I want her to focus on the latter, always.

Then it was up to me to fight. I lost my first fight but thanks to great coaching won my second one pretty handily, which earned me a third place. Considering how tired I was, I gave myself permission to be happy with my result and drive back home with my head high.

Now it's off to bed as soon as the laundry's done, and up again tomorrow morning for some good old-fashioned ass-whopping at the dojo, to prepare for the provincial qualifiers next week.

The new me: ideally smaller than the old me

The newly old me, about to become old again. Yes, I'll explain.

The newly old me, about to become old again. Yes, I'll explain.

Hey there. Welcome to my accountability program, flab loss edition. My name is Brigitte, I'm 46-almost-and-a-half years old, I have three kids aged 10 and younger, and I have a goal.

Or maybe I should say: I have a new goal. Because the goal I'd set myself three years ago, to return to my pre-first-pregnancy weight of 130 lbs, has been achieved.

Yay.

It did take me some time, a whole lot of sweating and cussing, and plenty of hard work. But the scale is back to where it was in 2005 and what's more, it's been there since last summer.

Yep, you bet it feels good. But now I've given myself a new goal. I want to get leaner.

Here's the thing: for some reason Mother Nature decided that aging would make it harder for your metabolism to do its thing. And then it threw in hormones just for fun. Wanna know why so many middle-aged folks struggle with their weight? Because it's ^$^&# hard not to gain any.

I train like a beast. I run 4-5 KM most mornings (not super fast; it's a semi-casual run because I enjoy being out there listening to great podcasts and filling up my happiness tank with glorious sunrises). I do karate, kickboxing, weights, and tournament team training - I spend about 20-25 hours a week training, on top of the jogging, the biking, the swimming and whatever other active stuff I do, like pretending to renovate my house.

I don't think I could train much more than this. Possibly I could train smarter (nobody's so clever that they can't improve), but I do think that what with great teachers and my own understanding of my body, my training is pretty good that way.

That leaves diet. And sleep. I'm guilty of not getting a full eight hours a night, but I try to nap most days and that more or less works out to a decent amount of ZZZ. And I sleep well - like the dead. I can fall asleep pretty much on command and I'm usually gone within five minutes. I also usually feel refreshed when I wake up. Don't tell the Goddess of Hormones yet, but so far (knock wood), perimenopause hasn't given me sleep-quality issues, thank you very much.

So now we're down to food. I eat freakishly clean already, drink lots of water and not too much booze. And that is to be credited for having reached my weight goal and remained there for months. But my new goal involves losing a few bits of extraordinarily stubborn flab (in the usual spots; probably 5-7 pounds worth of the stuff although at this point the scale isn't what worries me) and for that, drastic measures are called for. A few weeks ago I decided to take the plunge and virtually eliminate sugar and grains from my life. I keep a little bit for my tea, but otherwise carbs are the enemy, except on Saturdays when I allow myself to eat a half-baguette with loads of butter for dinner (that's all I eat for dinner, though). Otherwise it's eggs, veggies, cheese, some fish, a few bits of meat, and plenty of my nearly-legendary homemade kombucha.

I was listening recently to a great podcast with Tim Ferriss and this Olympic weightlifter fellow and they were talking about food and how little this amazing athlete eats and holy cow, I hit me square in the head. I eat too much!

This may scare some of you, but here's the skinny (as it were): I don't count calories because it sucks all the joy out of life, but I'd estimate I was eating between 2,000 and 2,500 of them every day. Since listening to that podcast I dropped that to 1,200 to 1,500 and wow.

I mean, wow. Know what's happening to me?

Yes, I'm hungry. That's the hard part. But I feel so awesome it's worth it. I trained especially hard this week and had one late night and despite all this I am NOT (repeat: NOT!!!) in pain like I normally am. My joints don't hurt. My muscles are a little sore, but hey. If they weren't after all I've done since Sunday, I'd have to question my training intensity.

Also? My brain is on fire. I'm getting so many great ideas I have trouble keeping up. But not in a jittery, had-too-much-coffee way. In a crickey-I-feel-like-I'm-20-again kind of way. I highly recommend it.

So that's my new goal. To keep this diet going for as long as it takes until I'm as lean as I want to be, then level off. Will that mean 125 lbs or closer to 120? I have no idea, and don't really care. I want enough energy to train and compete and feel like I'm at my peak, and I want to lose the bits I'm sick of carrying around pointlessly. I'll let you know how it goes.

A good day in Burlington

That's one gold in sparring, and one bronze in kata. And a million-dollar smile.

When the worst thing you can say about a tournament is that the first stretch of the road trip was miserable due to inclement weather, you know you're having the right kind of problem.

Today we were in Burlington for the first ever Impact Nationals, and we did pretty well. Me half-way by default (I had no opponents in my fighting division and therefore won a "free" gold; but I did have to compete for my gold in kata so there's that), but Catherine earned her bling.

There were 15 kids in her kata division (9-10 advanced, boys and girls together), and she came third - and the only girl to medal. Then she was off to fight (9-10 advanced, girls only). There were five girls in her division and she got a by then had to fight one girl against whom she won fairly easily then had to fight again for gold - this time her opponent was much more of a challenge. Catherine won the fight 1-0 with only 5 seconds to spare - it was an excellent fight in which two smart girls of reasonably equal calibre patiently and purposefully worked to create openings while avoiding getting hit.

Many thanks to Master John Douvris for all the training and coaching. It's starting to pay off. Now if we could only deal with those freak snow storms...

Working through weakness

It's the end of a long day, and mama is feeling about as tired as she looks...

Today was tournament day in Quebec City. We did well. Eldest got a second place in kata out of 15 kids, which had me jumping up and down with excitement. It's one thing to medal in a field of four of five competitors. Getting second out of 15 is awesome. I was so proud of her I thought I might burst. Sparring for her didn't go quite as well and she didn't place there, but still, overall we're both happy with her performance today.

Me? Ah well. Now.

As you know, I'm an older kind of gal, by which I mean I'm 46. And us ladies, as you also know, have issues at times with that wretched menopause thing. And this weekend mama got hit pretty hard by it.

Remember during the last Olympics the world fell in love with that Chinese swimmer who was so darned cute talking about how she didn't think she'd done well because she was having her period?

Yeah, well. About that.

Female athletes have to deal with their cycle and that's just one of those things, right? Right. No stranger to that myself, thanks very much. But peri- and full-on menopause are something else - sort of like the cycle on nuclear steroids. (And not in a good way.)

You get the violent mood swings, the violent hot flashes, the violent and unpredictable periods, and the crippling cervix pain that feels like it would be a relief if you could cut your body in half.

I had that today. Well, not the hot flashes, really, but the rest, yes. And cramps, too. Wearing my crisp white (ga!) gi to boot, eating pain killers for breakfast and hoping the, er, equipment wouldn't malfunction.

And then I had to perform. And make it look strong.

Nothing to it, right?

Wrong. I started my kata feeling quite wobbly. I had the shakes and was dizzy as all get out. And I had to make a decision: either I was going to let all this perimenopausal nonsense kick my ass or I wouldn't. I decided I wouldn't. I steeled myself - hard - squeezed every bit of energy I had and threw it all out there on the mat. I finished my kata and took my spot, waiting for the results.

Would you know it: Out of five ladies I came out first! It had worked! Now I'd have to compete in grands, against all the other forms winners!

Crickey. Could I crank this out again?

I did my best, and I think my kata was stronger that second time around but it wasn't enough to get me near first place. Still, I felt I'd done about as well as I could have, especially given the circumstances.

I had a quick break before it was time to spar, so I ate something energetic hoping it would make the dizziness go away. It didn't, really, but it helped a bit.

It would have to do.

I was up fighting against a lady I'd fought once, over a year ago. That time she beat me pretty easily. Today, not so much. I won 10-3. After that I had to fight the 2016 world champion (35 years and older) and that wasn't an easy fight. But! Thanks to excellent coaching I managed to win a very close fight and get gold. YAY!

Which meant, of course, fighting in grands against the gold-medal winners in the 18+ divisions. I was up first against a spectacularly good young fighter who disposed of yours truly pretty quickly but still, I was happy with that fight because I managed to score once, woot.

When I got up this morning I didn't really know what I could do. Usually I'm lucky with the timing and don't have to deal with very powerful peri-menopausal symptoms and I confess I was tempted to throw in the towel before I even got started. But I didn't. Instead I chose to push through the unpleasantness and it worked.

There are all kinds of excuses and reasons not to push ourselves as hard as we can. We shouldn't use those excuses and reasons. Instead we should just grit our teeth and keep pushing anyway.

When criticism feels like victory

We did a whole bunch of sparring at training today - almost an hour, or so it felt. And as frequently happens I'm out there fighting against teenage boys and/or young men who are not only faster than me but also much better at sparring. And that's hard. I mean, against them I stink to high heavens. I'm slow, and I feel it.

But!

Sparring against these fine fellows with the long arms and the fast twitchy muscles improves my sparring like nothing else would. So part of me is very grateful for the opportunity to stink (er, you do get my drift, yes?). And you know, when I get in the ring with ladies my age, I find them slow. So there's that.

Anyway, what made me super happy today is a piece of criticism I got not to try to score all the time, but to relax and occasionally let my opponent make mistakes instead. Your aggressive game is fine, he said. You can score, and you do that well - but you shouldn't do it all the time because that makes you predictable.

OK, got it, will try my best. But at the same time, yay! Because I've been working on being more aggressive and go-getter-y since the provincial qualifiers last April. I remember at that time feeling like I was fighting decent but not being aggressive enough and therefore coming home with silver medals instead of gold ones. And I also remember shouting at myself (inside my head) on the drive back from London to Ottawa (duration: approximately forever) that it was time for me to stop being such a chicken and stop fighting so defensively. That it was time for me to get more aggressive and go get my points.

So yeah, today's criticism indeed felt like a very sweet personal victory. I've managed to fix one problem. It's just that I fixed it too much... I guess now I'll just have to recalibrate all that and see what happens.

We can all do our bit for these eager karate students

Great news! The physical copies of my new karate book, Not Just for Kicks: Dublin, 2016 are in production and are available for pre-order. It will retail for $15 , or $8.99 on Kindle), and I hope to sell a lot of them because...

A portion of the sales ($1 for the Kindle format, $2 for the paper version) will go to the karate program of Maison de la Gare, in Senegal. This program, started by my friends and fine martial artists Sonia LeRoy and her son Robbie Hughes, benefits talibé children in St. Louis. You can read more about the program here.

Karate is about more than just kicks and punches. It's about working to become the best we can be, and sharing this progress with others. I'm pleased and proud to have helped Sonia and Robbie with their project in the past, and I'm delighted to share the proceeds of my book with them. So don't be shy and buy a copy!

Hey, but we like Burlington

  Today was a fun day. Almost, in fact, entirely super positively great day. With one tiny exception, all of us girls (mama bear and her three girl cubs) did excellently at the 41st Ontario Provincial Open Martial Arts Championships in Burlington.

The weekend started wonderfully after not getting much traffic on the 401 Friday afternoon (miracle! we cleared Toronto in 20 minutes flat!) and getting to our fine hotel (Sandman in Oakville, we loved it) early enough that we had time to squeeze in a haircut for Eldest, who was determined to get bangs. Bonus: there is a Lindt chocolate store next door to our hotel. Of course we had to go, because 1) chocolate is a food group and 2) hey, they give you a delicious sample just for walking in...

After securing dessert (and yummy pizza from the grocery store), we went to the hotel pool for 20 minutes of gentle splashing then up to our room for dinner, some brain-sucking TV and early bed.

We got to the venue early enough on Saturday morning to witness the Para division - a truly inspiring display of talent and courage. Then it was the kids' divisions, to be followed in the afternoon by us grownups.

OK, so let's clear the iffy stuff. Youngest was fighting in the 6 and under novice division. Her fight was against a kid who evidently has been sparring a lot more than her. I love my baby to the moon and back, but I'm not blind to her faults and one of them is her temper. She's a feisty little girl. She got kicked in the ribs a few times by her opponent and screamed and cried that it hurt and basically threw a fit right there on the mat.

Now. The other little girl's kicks were good and solid, no doubt about that. But they were absolutely above board; I would not dream of complaining about her kicks one bit. My daughter had a different opinion, and voiced it loudly. The ref talked her into finishing her round and Youngest managed to do it, but let's just say that wasn't her finest moment. We talked about it on the way home; I think she understands a bit better the need to get used to hits if she wants to continue competing, to say nothing of the need to control her temper generally... Let's hope the lesson will sink in.

Meanwhile, Middle Daughter was up fighting in her division (7-8 advanced) while Eldest was doing her kata in her division (9-10 advanced) and Mama was filming one while looking at the other. Not ideal. But I'm delighted and proud to say Middle Daughter fought exceedingly well and earned herself a beautiful silver medal that she wore all the way home.

Eldest finished third in kata, and went on to win her fights to get gold in sparring woohoo. I didn't get to see her fight because her sparring happened at the same time as Youngest's tantrum, but I gather she did well.

After lunch (not that I ate anything) I was up for kata and sparring against two other ladies. I got gold in kata then fought both ladies to win gold in sparring, too. I'd never had double gold before, so yay me.

This was by far our most successful tournament to date (at least measured in medals), and to top if all off we didn't get bad traffic on the way back and were home shortly after 9 pm. Some laundry, some chocolate and wine, and a good night sleep to follow. Coach gave us tomorrow off training so if the weather cooperates Eldest and I (plus pup) will go run 10K in the morning to celebrate.

I mean, wouldn't you?