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Today was my first day of improv class. They focused a lot on trying to build an atmosphere of trust, and I totally get why, but...

The hardest thing I have done this month is be a model for the head teacher to demonstrate a control exercise to the tiny ninjas . In this exercise, one punches as close as possible to another person without actually hitting them. I know this woman, she's hit me lots of times and I've been fine afterwords, and I know she has the control to not hit me if she doesn't want to. But it is really hard to drop your guard and just let someone punch at you. My proudest moment this month was doing that exercise with one of the ninjas, and gaining enough of her trust that she dropped her guard hand and let me punch directly at her. you can why, as a trust building exercise, word ball was not really doing it for me. It's not their fault, and I'm not suggesting we start a punching-based improv exercise, but it is hard for me to get invested.
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Insurance cost for martial arts is vastly, vastly lower than that of dance or yoga. I knew that dance was horribly destructive mess, but the yoga thing surprised me. I put it down to a combination of bad teachers and "no one expects to pull something in yoga". You might get injured more often in martial arts, but you're not really in a position to sue if you break a rib when someone kicks you in contact sparring. You knew the risks when you signed up.

Warrior Girls brings up another possible explanation. All of the anti-injury programs focus on the following things: creating a balanced musculature, control, proprioception (knowing where your body is in space), developing the neuromuscular patterns to land softly and move deliberately. And what do you know, martial arts is all about all of those things. It even teaches you to do them at speed. Yoga does have the proprioception and control aspects, and I assume it develops muscles evenly, but it's easy to get lazy when you're moving so slowly.

This makes me feel substantially better for my tiny ninjas. I suspect a nontrivial number of them are, or will be, the highly focused one sport female athletes that are so prone to injuries. But not only are they getting cross training now (via the school's gym class rotation- which, coincidentally, also includes dance and yoga), but the things we're teaching them may be giving them the body and mind they need to prevent injury in the future. So there's another thing you can add to list of things I'm giving to the future.
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When the HPV vaccine came out, a lot of religious nutjobs opposed it because if we don't let God punish sluts with cancer, how will they get their comeuppance? Knowing that not all of us view sex as a capital offense, some of them phrased some of their objections as questions about the medical value of the vaccine. And so another group of people said "fuck you, sex is awesome and even if it wasn't, cancer is bad. we're going to promote this vaccine like woah." Many years later, I heard rumors the manufacturer had suppressed some evidence of adverse effects, which were possibly more frequent than seen in other vaccines. Any attempt to investigate this was drowned out by proponents so used to hearing bullshit criticism come from people who wanted to control women. Now, I don't know if the story of excess adverse effects is true or not (and I got the vaccine myself), but it's certainly a good story illustrating how you can get so used to tuning out the voices of your clearly wrong opponents that you miss legitimate criticisms.

My current book Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women's Sports suggests that the same thing is happening with girls' and women's sports. As Hugo Schwyzer says, any book with the phrase "protecting our daughters" in the title is suspect, but the author, Michael Sokolove, really does seem to care about women's and especially girl's sports for the value it brings the participants, and simply wants to make these incredibly valuable activities not perform the equivalent of bringing down a hammer on the knee of one girl in twenty.

I'm of the opinion that even if there were no environmental effects, the range of men's behavior would differ from that of women's behavior. I'm still opposed to gender essentialism because humans are unbelievably varied and the fact that a trait is highly predictive for a group doesn't mean it's useful for predicting the behavior of an individual. But this fact was brought up mostly by people who didn't want girls to play sports because they thought it was bad for their uteruses, so the pro-sports people got used to tuning it out. Now, my personal opinion is that our training programs for high school athletes are abominable for both genders and aren't based on the slightest bit of research, but it appears to be even worse for girls than for boys, judging by rate of injury**, and this needs to be worked on. And while I think the training programs for male and female athletes, I think our pursuit of a one-size-fits-all approach is really part of the problem, and we need to focus more on how to teach kids to distinguish good pain from bad pain, how to track what exercises are most productive for them, and to respect the limits of their body.***

Meanwhile, there's the sexualization of female high school athletes.**** For years I assumed that the cheerleader bikini car wash was made up by hollywood and/or porn. The first time I saw one for real, I went apoplectic. I'm assuming I don't need to explain to any of you why this is bad, or why it was bad to illustrate the story with a picture of what a sexualized high school athlete might look like*****, so please just join me in being angry.

*while I have to work for every pound of gain. Bastards.

**I'm only a few pages in, the statistics given were for soccer, where girls have 8x the risk of ACL tears. If you count cheerleading as a sport, and you should, the discrepancy is worse, because they get no padding while risking considerably worse impact than football players.

***Which would have all kinds of side benefits too.

****I'm a bigger fan of this Schwyzer's blog than his officially published work- one of the reasons I don't do a lot of editing here, possibly too little, is that I've seen several bloggers I really like get more professional gigs and polish everything interesting out of their work. This article is saying valuable things, so I'm glad it was published, but it doesn't have the same sense of watching someone learn that his blog does.

*****I'm annoyed by the trend of including an on-theme but zero-information picture along with articles and blogs in general, but this one in particular.
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I talked about how shopping is tiring because it uses the Choice Muscle. I just realized that board games do t he same thing to me. I came to this realization after playing the same (awesome) game with a friend three times over a period of seven or eight hours. I love Factory Fun, and it lacks any overly frustrating elements (overreliance on chance, ability to screw other players) that turn me off of other games. But it does engage the compulsive optimizer in me to come out, and it that's fun for the first game but almost physically painful in the third. This may explain why I prefer movie nights to board game nights.

The friend I was playing is not a compulsive optimizer. He believes in heuristics and "good enough." His moves take less time, on average. It's worth noting that I won- with the high score of the night- the first game, but lost the second and third, and in fact attempted to resign from the third before realizing we only had one round left anyway. You can say I should stress out less about being perfect, but it looks like the problem wasn't that I was overly sensitive about making mistakes, it was that I was trying to use a resource that had been depleted. And I'm prepared to believe that this tendency is affecting less pointless aspects of my life as well (see: work, interpersonal problems at).

I'm not prepared to give up on compulsive optimizing for good: I liked that first game. I enjoy optimizing. But I'm clearly wasting large parts of my choice-power pool, and am not recognizing when the well is dry (aka I'm not optimizing my use of it). It would probably be good to swing around to the other side for a while, just to see what it's like. Board games are one good place to do this, but martial arts has frequently been valuable by acting as a laboratory for life in which experiments return data quickly, so it might be good to try it there too.

I'm trying to figure out what that means. Caring less about my technique/being sloppier? I can actually see how that might help; it's entirely possible that being overly precise is tensing me up in ways that aggravate my joints, and that I'll find more natural, lower energy ways to do things if I'm not pushing so hard to do the "correct" way. On the other hand, I might just start sucking, that is an option. It probably means being less hard on myself at sparring. It's not that I expect to win against people who are bigger than me and better trained, but I feel like I could do more than I am.. It definitely means taking more shots in sparring. I'm pretty conservative: I mostly focus on blocking, and only take a shot when I see a specific opening (and I miss a lot of openings I recognize too late). T has compared me to a cat more than once*.

There are a few reasons for my judicious use of attacks. One is that many people are just too tall for me to kick, especially because if they block me the right way it aggravates my hip and that's scary. But also, attacking and failing can really hurt** Getting better at blocking immediately pays off in getting hurt less, getting better at attacking goes through a nasty phase where it hurts more. I'm also dissatisfied with the amount of control I display, and don't want to risk hurting someone. But honestly, as long as I'm aiming for the torso, I don't think I'm strong enough to cause real injuries, so I'm only left with fear of hurting myself, and meh, I'm not using epsom salts and I'm barely touching the arnica. If I end up getting too bruised there are many things to try before I even need to lower sparring frequency. It would also be great if I didn't stand there stupidly while evaluating whether a block worked. That's valuable flanking time whether I got hit or not.

*Fingers crossed this comes up when I get my nickname.

**Did you know there's some weird spot in your foot that, if hit at exactly the right angle by someone's elbow, causes a peculiar kind of nerve pain? I learned that on Saturday
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I went a week without sparring after I started the hydrocortisone, for unrelated reasons. When I came back on Tuesday, the difference was remarkable (as in, several people independently remarked on it). The tiny marginal difference in flexibility and relaxation mean I can throw (something closer to) the truly liquid punches that are more effective with less work. And the flexibility + lessening of inflammation in my hip means the maximum kick height I can achieve without hurting myself is higher. It's only a few inches, but they're a critical few, because they move a number of people from "unkickable" to "kickable." Particularly on the receiving end of that this week was a pair of twin brothers, who moved from "I can maybe kick them this one way if I get an exceptionally good shot" to "I can reliably kick them at speed without fear of injuring either one of us."

All of which is a lead up to saying: don't announce to an all-male-but-for-you class "Now I can kick high enough to get the twins." It makes your classmates nervous.
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I have Issues with Dentists. Most of these stem from the cavity-replacement-with-incomplete-anesthetic, two root canals, wisdom teeth removal, and jaw surgery that arose in three years between breaking my jaw and getting a diagnosis ("that nerve ain't right", or as they put on insurance forms, trigeminal neuralgia) and (good if incomplete) treatment, but there's also all those hygienists who implied the fact that my gums hurt when they stabbed them was due to my moral failings (in failing to floss), and some overlap in the hygienist who heavily implied I had brought on and deserved the pain that would eventually be diagnosed as neuralgia because I didn't floss. There's also just been a number of just generally crappy dentists and hygienists.

Today I saw a(nother) new dentist, this one recommended by my fabulous endodontist. She took 40 minutes to just go over my case history and intertwined anxiety issues. She's not perfect- I "need" to tell her if a hygienist stresses me out, rather than her welcoming it- but I'm putting it down to language issues. Which is probably not true, she has a Westernized first name, no accent, and all her educational credentials are from the US, but it makes me feel better. Ditto for her telling me she's "hesitant" to treat me because she's afraid of being the latest dentist to fail me. I think of hesitant implying you need to be convinced to do something, but she seems to be on board, just requiring a lot of communication from me. Which is fair.

One possibility she brought up was anesthetizing me for cleanings. Originally I rejected this out of hand, because I'm Good With Pain, it's Their Fault They Suck, etc. Now I'm considering it. However good I was with dental pain at age 20, dental visits are one big ball made of stress and control issues and stress aggravated pain disorders now. I'm not ready to pursue medication until I've tried some other things first, and have enough trust in the dentist that I can afford to spend a visit drugged, but if the first doesn't work and the second is true, and a few pills will move me to a better equilibrium, that seems worth it.

All the talking only left 10 minutes for the actual exam, and we didn't even get to the teeth. She started with the outer muscles of the face and jaw (which I did really well on) and then the interior soft tissue. She noticed marks on my cheek that indicate I am constantly sucking on my own mouth (which was not news to me), which apparently can do long term damage (did not know that). I go back next week, hopefully we get to my teeth then, but maybe not, and even then that's just the exam, not the cleaning. This is where I'm really blessed to have money. My insurance only covers half of her new patient exam, and the extra appointments are getting billed as "consults", which insurance doesn't even appear to have a category for. I don't expect them to cover the cleanings 100%, and I may need them more frequently than insurance will cover at all- partially because my teeth are that bad (due to genetics, not neglect), but partially because she's willing to consider giving me less thorough cleanings to avoid stressing me out. It's not cheap. And I'm really lucky that I don't have to add monetary anxiety to the ball o' issues, or weigh the neuralgia anxiety against the cost of a chance of buying my way out of them.

But here's the part that makes up for all of her slightly-anxiety-producing-statements-I-pretend-are-caused-by-language issues. At the end of the session, she thanked me, because she could tell that treating me was going to stretch her as a dentist and make her better with her other patients.

Martial arts aside: we spar with contact. It hurts. Sometimes a lot. I find the pain a lot worse when I don't think the person who inflicted it is controlling it (I'm looking at you, jackass who hit me in the head four times and didn't appear to care). To the extent that we can, the attitude we aspire to is to accept the pain as a gift that shows us where are defenses are weakest, and on a more abstract level, pushes us to examine ourselves. I'm good but not great at this (see: whining over jackass).

One of the real value-adds to my life from martial arts is that it's a font of metaphors. Clearly the above translates to the rest of the world really well, and so does being present and reacting to things as they are, my attitude towards hitting softly in case you miss and hit hard or in the wrong spot. When I'm doing things at work or socially that require having no expectations and moving forward despite an absence of information, I picture chi sau, which I haven't even learned yet but the one really big guy keeps using against me to great result even though he could clearly kick my ass just by swinging his enormous legs.

So when my prospective dentist says that she's scared of treating me because failure seems so likely and so high cost, but is moving forward in part because it's a growth opportunity for her, that touches something in me. It makes me more likely to commit to riding out the stress with this one rather than leaving in pursuit of the perfect dentist who will make up for all the failures before her.
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Me, to kids: okay green belts, you need to figure out a schedule for who's going to lead warm ups today.
Kids: Usually the instructor leads the first class.
Me: Do you guys think you could do it?
*the two green belts look at each other*
Green belts: can we do it together?

How much cuter could they get?
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Got a new batch of tiny ninjas today, some of whom are ninjaing for the first time. Since the last time I taught, three weeks ago, I've gotten halfway through Punished by Rewards, whose premise is that external rewards, up to and including certain kinds of praise, are counterproductive. It has every sign of being a rewarding book, in that it's well researched, well written, and it goes against large portions of my beliefs. I'm not sold on it completely, but it certainly had some points that were worth considering.

One of the biggest challenges in assisting/teaching is knowing how much correction to give the kids. Up till know, my big concerns were not discouraging them and not disrupting the class.* So most of the time I stuck to things that could be explained in one short sentence: "hands up", "wrong leg", wrong technique, etc. In certain situations I might try something that required a longer explanation and/or modeling, like shortening their stance or correcting the motion of a kick. I also try to state things in the form of question ("where should your hands be?") as often as possible, because I want to respect the distinction between "knowing but having difficulty applying" and "not knowing." I also try to recognize their achievements as often as possible, so that me looking at you intently doesn't become a bad thing.

Punished by Rewards has added new things for me to worry about. For one, over praising children is way easier than I thought. Information is good, but praise as reward can demotivate the same way tossing them an M&M after a good kick could.**

Second, any time I correct them, I'm denying them the chance to notice and correct themselves (or in certain circumstances, a chance for their fellow student to notice and help, teaching them both many valuable interpersonal skills. This sounds like the sort of thing educational researchers who never interacted with actual children would say, but I actually saw it and it's really impressive). One of the things the new kids struggle with is translating the instructor's words and demonstration into motion in their own body. When I go up and give them individual instruction, they missing a chance to practice teaching it to themselves.

On the other hand, learning by observing or even listening is basically impossible until you have a certain core skill set. It's like trying to learn a language entirely by observing an emotionless lecture with no visual aids. Once I've, say, shown a kid the difference between extending her leg and flexing her leg, she'll be much quicker to catch that distinction next time. And it's really frustrating to known you're doing things really wrong but lack the skills to know what. I guess what I'm saying is there's an early version of the Dunning Krueger Hump, which is nearly impossible to overcome without enough instruction to orient yourself, and I'm trying to help the kids over that.

But I've given up on getting them to actually punch things instead of softly swinging their hands, or on shouting on impact, rather than after they finish a technique. They'll get that in their own time.

*And also making sure I was telling them the right thing, but to do that I just avoided correcting the upper belts.

**I am not 100% convinced on the extreme version of this advanced by PbR, but I said this was a thing I was worrying about, not a thing I was definitely doing wrong.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
"Stop tickling me"
"I'm trying to do a toe hold"
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Insurance for my martial arts studio costs is essentially a paperwork fee. I have that vague feeling I shouldn't put the exact number on the internet, but when the insurance agent who trains at the dojo told me the number, I thought it was shockingly low. Then he told me that was yearly, not monthly. My source got distracted before he could give me exact numbers, but he assures me that dance and yoga insurance cost way, way more. That makes sense for dance, because as far as I can everyone with any power in dance hates the human body, but yoga? As I sit here with a right shin covered in bruises and typing with a jammed left finger, I sincerely doubt that people get hurt less in martial arts than in yoga, so it must be some combination of tortable *injuries* and a differential propensity towards law suits.

I mention this not just to get sympathy for my poor finger, but because of an incident from my first day teaching. There are several kids who outrank me. I can critique them on stuff like stances, but if they're doing a technique I don't know, I leave them to the instructor. This is why I know with absolute certainty that I did not contribute to the a child breaking her tibia. Not that the instructor did anything wrong either, it was one of those freak things- she was practicing a technique, not sparring, she'd had reasonably good form up till then, she just landed on her foot in exactly the wrong way. At first we thought she'd just jammed, or at worst sprained, it, because she was in such a good mood, but no, it was a break. I was a little worried for the program even when I thought it was a sprain, because honestly, if you're a parent who's only so-so on your little girl taking martial arts, and she gets even a tiny bit injured, you might make some calls.

I probably didn't need to worry anyway, it's a long standing program and we're on very good terms with the school. But apparently I also didn't need to worry because the parents are thrilled with us. The doctor was absolutely raving about our post-injury care, which kept the swelling to an absolute minimum.* I felt like bad luck, but it was probably an excellent day for me to be there, since it meant the instructor could manage the class while I handled things like fetching ice and telling the other kids not to poke her ankle. Seriously, I love that they think like scientists, but stop poking the ankle your friend can't put weight on. Anyways, the kid is on track to be just fine, and it's universally agreed that this was a freak thing that we handled very well. So maybe martial arts also gets lower insurance because we actually treat injuries when they happen.

*Bonus points to me for the Arnica gel in my bag, even though I insisted on asking "an actual grown-up" aka the somewhat older lead instructor, before giving it to her. It was a combination of my lawyer mother's voice telling me not to cover my ass before giving a slightly out of mainstream medical treatment to a minor and the fact that honestly, I can't possibly be in charge of children, even if they're calling me ma'am.
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Reflecting the unanticipated awesomeness of its participants, project "teach middle school girls to punch things" is being upgraded to project "lead tiny ninja army." Oh my g-d, those little girls are awesome. Also, the school seems to have implemented many of my ideas about the organization of gym class, only better.

The girls get three units a year: fitness, martial arts, and boxing-and-dance. That seems like a good mix, especially since I think they're also exposed to traditional sports through something else. There's only one class in each grade, but each gym class is composed of 1/3 of the kids in each grade, so they are seeing slightly different people than usual. It's also a natural way to give kids experience as both followers and leaders, because the classes build cumulative knowledge, which is something I hadn't thought of in the earlier discussion on age banding.

Leadership and followship fall into what I think of as "meta skills." They're useful to learn, but you can't teach them the way you teach math or history, you can just facilitate their development, and the time it takes to do so comes out of the time you could spend learning specific skills. In theory, I'm fine with slowing down reading, writing, and rithmatic to learn these soft skills, because they are extremely useful. In practice, I have no faith in any school's ability to consistently teach them, but I do believe that some school might, theoretically, be good at teaching academics. So when faced with an idea that will trade off academics for social skills, I'm usually against it. But my arguments are invalid in a gym class: the main point is to get them up and moving, any actual skills they learn are extra. So having them learn dance techniques slightly slower, but have solid chances to provide or benefit from peer leadership, is a fantastic trade off. Maybe that's why people always talk about sports as teaching teamwork.

Normally I would be against mixed age gym classes because the last thing you need when children have excuses to hurt each other is a large size differential. This isn't so critical with girls because puberty is significantly less helpful in our ability to beat each other up, but I also think that you maybe head off some of the problems inherit in pitting people of different sizes against each other as equals by explicitly designating the larger one as the leader. Kids like responsibility, and they will often rise to the challenge if they think you respect them. Of course, the kids I'm working with are a highly selected group, this won't be so easy everywhere, but it strikes me as worth trying.
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Accountability for accidents in sparring may be the greatest example of systems thinking I have ever seen. Barring something insanely malicious, if someone gets injured, both people are 100% at fault. The person who threw the attack should have controlled it better, and the person who got hit should have blocked or dodged it. If you can't control a particular attack well enough, given the skill and personality of your partner, you should not to throw it. This means that there will be attacks you can throw against higher belts that you cannot use against lower belts, because those attacks are harder to control, and your partner doesn't have the skill necessary to keep themselves safe. Overall, there may be people who are better or worse at control or dodging, but if you agree to spar with them, you are agreeing to compensate for their lack or cope with the consequences.

Which leads me to believe I should attempt to spar upper belts as much as possible, because if I develop any more bruising* my work team is going to call the cops.** I think I've developed a coping strategy, tentatively named "if you're not going to hit them anyway, you might as well fail to do so at a speed that won't injure you," but it might take some time to see results. In the mean time, I plan on consuming industrial quantities of Arnica, vitamin A, and Epsom Salts

*fun fact: blocking, or getting blocked while attacking, hurts way more than just taking the hit, both at the time and later, because it's bone against bone. Plus your attacker will vary where they are hitting, whereas I was blocked by three different people on the exact same spot on my knee and now the bruise is bad enough that I'm limping. As Tony said when I got my belt "You know you're just perpetually injured from here on out, right?"

**Badly bruising myself by falling down the stairs in a fashion that was as spectacular as it was unlikely? Not helping.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
So what we've learned is don't let the doctor write the list for the MC.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Me: Are you really supposed to spar while getting chemo?
Instructor 1: Probably not. But you can't negotiate with terrorists, and fear and pain are terrorists.
Instructor 2: But at some point go to the doctor.
Instructor 1: yeah
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Sometimes you arrive at the bus stop five minutes early and it's ten minutes late. Sometimes you arrive on time and it was a minute early. Sometimes you can see it from the top of your hill and run like hell but the lights are against you and you still miss the bus. Sometimes, from that same distance away, the lights are for you and you make it to the stop with plenty of time to remember that in your haste to catch the bus, you left your karate uniform at the house and there is no way you will retrieve it and make it to the stop in time and are forced to drive instead. But then you will be the class will consist of you and a black belt and you will get hella attention, so it all evens out.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
... I present this story about why I love my studio.

Quantum goes out of its way to be female- and queer- friendly. Not exactly gay gym level, but at or beyond the level of a welcoming and affirming church. A few weekends I was in a class that consisted of several women (orientations unknown), two gay guys, and one straight guy. The following took place during group stretches, paraphrased:

Gay guy #1: You haven't read Savage's "straight men are stupid" article?
[it is clear from his tone that he does not think straight men are stupid, but does think the humor in the article comes from a place of truth]
Gay guy #2: Nope
#1: I have to send it to you. It's hilarious.
[pause, looks around, turns to lone straight guy]
#1: no offense man. my straight friends found it funny too.

I find it impossible to articulate why I find this so awesome, but everyone I've told has shared the feeling, so I figured I would distribute it widely.


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