Get back up.

“It’s not how many times you get knocked down that count, it’s how many times you get back up.”

George A. Custer (1839-1876);
U.S. Military

I’ve been knocked down a bunch. Especially recently.

Last month, I attended a Krav Maga training where I was the only person out of 8 who had any Krav Maga training. As an experienced teacher, I knew as soon as I heard that, it meant I was about to spend a week with a bunch of people who hadn’t yet developed the skill of self control.

I was proven right on the first afternoon, when I was laying on my back on a plywood floor, and got punched in the nose with a bare fist. And then moments later, got solidly elbowed in the temple. By the same person.

Both times, I stood up, wiped blood off with my sleeve, and fist bumped the guy. “Good shot. Let’s go again.” He seemed a bit baffled that, as the smallest person in the room and the only female, I was tolerant of his lack of control. He turned out to be my favorite training partner for the week.

Later that night, I had two conversations…

First, with my girlfriend. She said, “Wow, he hit you that hard? Where’s the pics of the blood?!” And then she continued on with words of encouragement about how it didn’t really matter how tough I was, but that I was willing to be the training partner who could sustain other people’s need for aggression without objecting to their lack of control. (This is a position she and I find ourselves in quite often, even against each other.)

This was in between conversations about what was happening back at the gym, including who was being what kind of asshole and why we would love to scrap it all and start from scratch.

Somewhere in the middle of our conversation, when I wasn’t nursing my broken nose, I sketched a quick note…”get punched and come back ready for more.”

The other conversation I had that night was with my dad. He said “well, give these guys back what they’re dishing out,” and I explained that wasn’t my responsibility here. He said, “wow…you’re better than me.”

Thanks, Dad. Not always.

I’ve had plenty of sparring partners who have tagged me, which has pushed my “kick their f’ing ass” button and I’ve come up from the quick dizzy stagger swinging for the fences. Many coaches and training partners would tell you that I’m a defensive fighter until someone gets that first good shot in. And then I come up growling and putting them on their heels.

And what I sketched in my notebook that night between bloody noses and chats with my girl, was that my experience getting literally punched in the face is not unlike my recent professional experience.

You hit me, either fair and square or cheaply, and I will come at you with a fierceness you may very well have underestimated.

I’ve said this a bunch over the past year…”I don’t need a pat on the back, but I’m tired of getting punched in the gut.”  I took a week away from running my business to advance my own training. And I got blasted in the face a ton. I sat down every night after training, resolved to do better the next day. With each passing day, I realized I was ready to fight the fight for my business when I got back.

I’m done getting figuratively punched in the gut. Somehow it took getting actually punched in the face to figure out what that meant.

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Long, strange trip

Somebody once told me, if you’re going to start a blog, don’t launch it till you’ve got 2 months worth of content already written. Otherwise it goes dead and nobody takes you seriously.

Well, here I am, nearly 4 months since my last post. I’ve got a vacation coming up, and I think I’ll do some writing.

In the mean time, I thought I’d share this. I was asked to write myself a bio for an interview I’ve been asked to give, and I found the experience extremely emotional. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and not realize how far you’ve come or how cool your story might actually sound, till you sit down and put it all in words. And then, when you see all those words together in one place, you think “hey, that just might be a story worth sharing.”

So here goes:

I started my “athletic” life as a 15-year ballet dancer and casual tennis player. In college (as a graphic design major), I got introduced to weightlifting through a phys ed class, and stuck with a standard “globo-gym” routine off and on for several years after that. In 2006, I moved to Columbus, OH and found myself wondering how to make friends as an adult. I also had been bitten by the competitive bug and was looking for a way to start training for triathlons. And, I was nearing 180 lbs and didn’t know how to fix it. I was convinced to try a Krav Maga intro one Saturday morning in early 2007. I said “Krav Ma-what??” and my friend said, “it’ll be fun. I swear.”

I had no idea what I was in for.

I got to punch, elbow, kick and knee some girl I’d never met before, and she returned the favor. Forcefully. I couldn’t believe how exhausting this was! I signed up on the spot for a yearlong membership. Immediately, I started attending classes 5-6 days a week. Soon after I started, one of the Krav Maga instructors started attending a CrossFit gym down the road, and bringing the evil ideas he learned there, back to our gym. He held a once-a-week class called Crazy Fit, because it was only for people crazy enough to try this bizarre type of workout.

By November 2007, I was enrolled to become a Krav Maga instructor. And in August of 2008, I earned my CFL1. There was no turning back.

I still had my full-time graphic design job, and I remember writing in a journal one night, “I love the gym! I wish I could find a way to make fitness my profession and design my hobby, instead of the other way around.”

In May of 2009, I took that leap. I’d been designing flyers and posters for the gym for a while, as well as teaching classes. The owner was going to be semi-retiring out of state, and he was looking for someone to take over his wife’s position of Marketing Director. I left my full-time, very secure job as an Art Director, and accepted a position making $500 a month base salary plus commission for intros and enrollments. Yikes!

I’d lost 30 lbs, gotten a TON stronger, and was more confident and capable than I could ever remember being. A journey of self-discovery had begun. In October of 2009, I earned my Yoga Alliance 200-hour certification, and I was all-in as a fitness professional.

In the mean time…I found that CrossFit was able to satisfy that competitive bug. I volunteered at the 2009 CrossFit Regionals (which, at the time, was held in the Rogue Fitness parking lot on a Saturday morning) and committed to becoming a competitive CrossFit athlete in 2010. I finished in the top 50% of Sectionals athletes in 2010 and advanced to Regionals that same year. And not to forget my progress in Krav Maga, I earned my Black Belt in January of 2011. I was the second female in the United States Krav Maga Association to earn such a rank, and one of only a handful in the world.

Answering phones and signing members up quickly turned into running the day-to-day operations while the boss was down south. In December of 2010, he approached me about fully retiring and asked if I wanted to buy the business. I crunched every number I could, borrowed some money from family, and in July of 2011, I became the owner of Ohio Krav Maga & Fitness.

I continue to compete on a local level (including the not-so-local Heraean Games in 2013), teach, and advance my own studies. On top of owning a 3-location Krav Maga and CrossFit gym, this is a 24/7 commitment to myself and my community. In October of 2013, I earned my 2nd Degree Black Belt in Krav Maga from Foundation Krav Maga, an organization for whom I am one of the lead instructors. We are a national organization of Krav Maga and CrossFit gym owners, dedicated to helping other business owners grow their gyms and build a community of like-minded people.

And lest any reader out there assume that I’m a type-A, buried-in-my-career, miserable single person who’s going to die alone and rich (isn’t that what we silently assume about all successful women??) I can tell you this: what happens when I step on the floor as a coach, makes all the bad days worth it. Owning a business is not fun. It’s hard work. It’s easy to get run down, taken advantage of, lose money, lose hope, lose friends. But for a few hours a day, I get to help make a difference in people’s lives. The same difference that a select few men and women made in my life since that fateful day in January 2007. And when the day is bad, I still get to come home to my awesome supportive girlfriend (who is also a Krav Maga machine!), my adorable pit bull puppy, and the breath of relief that comes only from being surrounded by the people who love you and know first-hand why you get up every morning and try it all again.

Will belt for a dollar

The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively. –Bob Marley

Integrity is a word that gets kicked around quite a bit, especially in the martial arts community. In fact, I think it’s one of the four words embroidered on many TKD black belts I’ve seen in my travels. But embroidering it on your belt and living it are two completely different things.

Recently, I’ve begun to wonder if we all start out on a path of integrity and somehow get swallowed up by a life that demands something less. And I’m just young enough to believe I won’t be swallowed.

When I got my black belt in Krav Maga, I belonged to an organization that had awarded just 8 black belts in 3 years. As it should be, we worked our asses off for that belt. Literal blood, sweat and tears got us there. Plus a few broken bones. And we took pride in the fact that we were part of a small community with integrity. It was hard to get to that level because the bar was set high and remained there. For a while.

In the 3 years since I earned that black belt, that same organization has awarded 9 more black belts and has begun 12-months-or-less-to-black-belt training for at least 20 more. Some of these are people who started Krav Maga 12 months prior to their (scheduled) black belt test date.

Why the shift?

Well, it’s simple: $$$. If you developed a plan where someone who wanted to achieve a certain goal, could do so by attending 3 mandatory trainings (for which they pay $300+ per training) and arrive at that goal in 12 months, regardless of their prior experience or current talent, wouldn’t you put as many people through that plan as possible?

Well, yea. If the greed monster had sucked your integrity out your ass.

This is a beef that many people have with youth martial arts programs, and I think we’re seeing it pervade the adult schools as well. Belt tests are seen as a revenue generator, and the “pay to play” mentality overrides any hint of integrity that once existed in the system. School owners would rather advance someone who is not really ready, than miss out on a belt test fee. What they’re left with is inflated numbers of under-qualified members, and eventually, a severely tarnished reputation for their organization.

So now, I feel obligated to explain that I got one of those first 8 black belts, and not one of the new 30.

I recently distributed black belt invitations to 5 people in my school. I think 3 of them have what it takes to make it this year, and I hope the other two will kick it into high gear and surprise me. Probably next year. Do all of them (and more people in my school) understand the technical curriculum requirements of advancing? Yes. Do they all deserve black belts right this minute? No way in hell.

To me, earning a black belt is about more than demonstrating that you’ve learned some specific curriculum. It’s about your character. It’s about what you bring to the table in my community. It’s about the effort you put in, the attitude you bring to your training, and whether or not I watch what you do (both on and off the mat) and say “s/he gets it!”

Pay to play doesn’t fly here.

When I got my black belt, I was young enough (31) to believe that the people who awarded mine believed that was the case. And jaded as I may now be, I am young enough (34) to believe that will always be the case for my organization.

Some people embroider a word on their belt. That’s not me. Some tattoo it on their skin. Yea, that’s me. And some live the very essence of that word, no matter the cost. Check in with me in 10 years…that’ll still be me.

Get home safe.

Get home safe…that’s the endgame. You can come to a class and learn what look like techniques. But if you’re not walking away with the general idea that is “do whatever the hell it takes to get out of that awful situation alive,” then you might not be hearing the right message.

As Krav Maga instructors, we’ve got lists of curriculum line items we’ll teach you and on which we’ll eventually probably test you. But as proponents of personal safety, we’d be lying if at the end of the day, we didn’t just say, “if it comes out of you, and you get home safe, then you did the right thing.”

The classes my colleagues and I teach include techniques that were designed to inform someone with no fighting experience, and take them from zero to hero in the shortest path possible. If someone comes to those classes with a fighting background, or a lifetime of martial arts experience, their mind and their muscles are already prepared to do something if faced with a threat. I’m not here to re-program that response. I’m here to help you develop a response if you’ve never considered you might need one. Hopefully I’m here to help you do that before you’ve discovered you need one.

In any case, the take-home message is the same: get home safe. I don’t care how you do it. Just do.

I said I’d never have a blog.

My degree is in graphic design. I graduated at a time when it was OK to have stellar skills in that dying thing called “print” and to not understand that evolving thing called “web”… For some time, I survived as a designer, and then I found my true calling: making people safer and healthier. Somehow, the people by whom I was surrounded were also discovering such a calling, and they were all blogging. They blogged about how important they were. How clean their diets were. How amazing they were at shooting. How strong they were. And I told my best friend, “I’ll never have a blog.”

So here I am, 5 years later. Those bloggers are still important, clean-eating, accurate-shooting, strong people. And we’re all still relatively successful business owners. And my best friend, the witness to the “never-a-blog” promise, is a business owner in my back yard.

I’ve learned a lot about myself by reading other people’s blogs. And I’ve learned a lot about myself by imagining what I could say to the world if I had a Facebook alias. I’ve learned a lot about myself by having three absolutely miserable Decembers in a row. One of which was the December when my best friend turned into my competitor.

But here’s the point: until now, my perception of blogs has been that they’re a virtual platform on which self-important people pontificate. Until now, I’ve been content to believe that what I present on the training floor, or in a competition, or in a business meeting, is enough to define who I am in my newfound professional calling. But the fascinating thing about statements that start with “until now” is that they inherently represent something you once believed to be true that you no longer believe as such. And so, here I am. A congregant of the wordpress congregation. A victim of the free template oligarchy. A humble, self-important contributor to the virtual history of the modern world.

I’m a business owner. A martial artist. An athlete. A lesbian. A pitbull parent. A divorcée. A gen-X or gen-Y’er, depending on who you ask. A graphic designer. A gardener. A math geek. A band geek. A cook or a foodie, depending on who you ask. An omnivore. A pragmatist. An autistic who is not young enough to have been diagnosed as such. A dreamer. A worker. And now, a blogger. I’ve got a lot to say, and a whole weird virtual world to whom to say it.

And I’d like to believe, I’ve got a better grasp on grammar than most folks.