What Is Courage?

Out of all of the characters in the Wizard of Oz, my absolute favorite is the Cowardly Lion. Except for Toto, of course. Okay, that makes Lion my absolute second favorite. But, it’s funny how the big, strong Lion was always running away from danger and little Toto was always running towards it. So, which one had courage? In my ninja-driven way of thinking, I have the perfect answer. They both did.

How is that possible? Because, what is the definition of courage? Most people would say it is the absence of fear. But, in reality, it is action in the presence of fear.

We’ve all experienced fear. There are several ways we can respond to it. We can run (flight) like the Lion did by removing himself from the threat to keep himself safe. It’s actually a really smart choice, even though it hardly seems appropriate fro the King of the Forest. Or, we can fight like the fierce warrior Toto did, to defeat his opponents and bring them to their knees. It’s an option for those who truly embody the spirit of a warrior. But when you consider that your chances of being the victor are about 50-50 (at best), it might not be the best choice unless you are cornered.

There is a third option. You can freeze like a deer in the headlights. Absolutely THE worst possible choice you can make. But, it’s not your fault, because it really isn’t a conscious choice. Our brain automatically shifts into our sympathetic nervous system when we are threatened, which is part of our built-in survival mechanism. Unfortunately, when we freeze we haven’t got even a slim chance of surviving an attack.

Taking some self-defense classes, sharpening our awareness and observation skills, practicing avoiding and evading a threatening situation is a great start to prevent against freezing, and learning how to take action in the presence of fear. And that, my friends, is the definition of courage.

Sharing ninja secrets: Shhhhhh……

As a card carrying ninja, I sure know a lot of ninja secrets. I spent many long, hard hours of training for 14 years in a smelly martial arts dojo with a lot of sweaty men to learn these secrets. I also spent a tremendous amount of time, money, and effort along the way as well. But, every minute and every penny was well worth it and well spent.

It is my heartfelt desire to share some of these secrets with you without violating the code of the Super Secret Society of Ninjas, so here are just a few simple tips that will help you stand, walk, and move like a ninja to help keep you safe every time you step out into the world.

After all, our body language communicates to the world what kind of day we’re having, and even how we feel about ourselves. And people pay attention to it more than you think they do. It makes an immediate (and lasting) first impression. So, we want to make a great impression each and every time we meet someone. Whether it is at a party, a business event, a networking group, or a stranger on the street.

Especially a stranger on the street. Because we don’t want to look like an easy target if he happens to be one of the bad guys. Here are a few simple tips:

1). Stand up straight with your head up. Yes, this means putting your cell phone away.

2). Look people in the eye, including strangers. Especially strangers! No, it’s not rude.

3). Have your hands free at all times, just in case you need them to sweep a flying object or an unwanted and uninvited hand out of the way. Yes, it does happen.

4). Stand with your knees slightly relaxed and one foot slightly in front of the other, just in case you need to make a fast exit.

5). Speaking of exits, always know where the closest exits are every single time you enter a building or enclosed area. Exits aren’t just important in airplanes.

Most of all, stand, walk, and move with confidence. Because that is the way of the ninja!

Trick-or-Treat and Ninja Tips

I love Halloween. I always have and I always will. But, the world has changed a lot since I was a kid. Maybe it’s just the ninja in me, or being a grown up that makes me more aware of the potential dangers around us, especially when we are in a festive mood and celebrating a holiday.

Here’s wishing you and your family a very fun filled and Happy Halloween, as well as a few ninja safety tips to keep in mind. I know you already know them and practice them, but just putting it out there does make me feel better.

1). Carry a sturdy and high powered flashlight. Not only will this help light your way, you can shine it in the eyes of any undesirable goblin that comes your way. This will temporarily blind them, giving you the chance to get away.

2). Leave the masks at home. No matter how adorable, scary, irresistible, and tempting they may be, they limit your visual field. They are also very distracting to the wearer, and a distracted person makes for an easy target.

3). Make sure you go through your child’s stash of candy at the end of the night of tick-or-treating. I am not suggesting that any of the homes they visit would engage in nefarious activities or hand out candy or other treats that have been tampered with, but you never know where those treats were before they entered your little goblin’s Halloween bag. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Besides, you might use it as an excuse to help yourself to a few treats as well.

Halloween is about having fun and making memories. It’s also about being safe and practicing good safety practices and establishing patterns that will teach your children well and that they can use during their entire lifetime. Boo!

The Debut Of The FemiNinja

Well, the results are in. After spending most of my summer deeply immersed in a podcasting contest, I finally got the news. I am thrilled and delighted to be one of four winners, and my new show, The FemiNinja has officially launched last week.  Eee-ha! I think that’s pretty good, considering that the reason I entered the contest was simply to have the opportunity to (maybe) meet the woman who was running the contest (someday).

Well, not only did I get my wish, I got a whole lot more than I had bargained for at the same time. As one of the podcasters, I am responsible for providing 2 episodes a week full of bad-ass content on a variety of different topics. The FemiNinja is about personal empowerment, strength, grace, confidence, health, fitness, standing your ground, finding your voice, living large and loving life. Because living well and looking good is the way of The FemiNinaj!.

I wanted to say that living well and looking good is the best revenge, but not everyone got the message. However, a few people did, and I’m thinking those are the ones with their our amazing stories and bad-ass content to share. I’m hoping to get some of them on my show for interviews.

My first official show was the story about how I broke up with my BFF of 30 years. Yeah. It was really awkward, but it just had to be done for my own health and well-being.

Like I said, I certainly got a whole lot more than I bargained for! So far I have talked to her on the phone several times, met her in person, been to her house, and had lunch with her and the rest of the team of The Ladies Chit Chat Club.

Perhaps I need to set my sights a little higher in the future.

Secrets of a Middle-Aged Ninja

Secrets….we all have them. I probably have a few more than most. And many of them are secrets that I learned in my martial arts training. I’d love to share them all with you, but then you’d know too much. Besides, it might get me in deep trouble with the Secret Society of Ninjas. So, if you ever run into one of their members, please don’t let them know I have shared my secrets.

This first secret might be a little disappointing. Ninjas really aren’t fighters. We’re lovers. We love life, our families, our friends, our homes, and our communities. We want nothing more (and nothing less), than to simply live our lives in peace and harmony. Ninjas aren’t about war, or warfare. However, we are warriors. Wait a minute….doesn’t that sound contradictory?

It’s not. Because a true warrior has a heart of compassion. For life, for nature, and even for their enemies or those who wish to cause them harm. A warrior also has a playful spirit, and doesn’t take themselves too seriously, even when they are under attack, so to speak.

Patience is a virtue. Everyone knows that, and everybody gives it lip service, but a true warrior really embodies it, and incorporates it into their daily life. Considering our fast-paced modern world, as well as the “got to have it now” attitude, patience truly is a virtue as rare as hen’s teeth.

Above all, a warrior is honest. At least, they’re supposed to be. I have met a few who proclaim honesty and demand it of others, but not of themselves. Hmm, that hardly seems fair. But, that’s when you know they are not true warriors. And those who are just smile, and walk away. No sense in engaging in a confrontation over such a silly thing. A warrior knows how to avoid confrontation at all costs.

I have a lot more secrets up my sleeve. But, I think I’ll make like a ninja and disappear for now instead. I can always share them another time.

Evade, Deflect, and Redirect: Wisdom From a Warrior Queen

Evade, deflect, and re-direct. I hear those words in my head almost every day, especially if I’m faced with a conflict. In my fourteen years of martial arts training, these words were repeatedly reinforced. You might even say they were beaten into me, so to speak.

The first thing you learn as a new student is how to evade an attack. Just get out of the way. After all, you can’t get hit and you can’t get hurt if you’re not there. It sounds simple enough, but it really isn’t. Because there are several ways you can respond to an attack.

1). You can freeze like a deer in the headlights. This is a typical response, and the outcome is never good.

2). You can fight back, which is a good strategy if you have absolutely no other choice. However, the chances of you being the victor is about fifty-fifty. It’s actually even less than that because the attacker has the element of surprise to his advantage.

3). You can get out of the way. This is a handy-dandy little trick affectionately referred to as a ninja disappearing act.

I was pretty good at evading an attack when I was a white belt. Unfortunately, my strategy was to run screaming off of the mat with my gi over my head. Not exactly the nimble reaction of an accomplished martial artist. But what can I say? I was terrified.

Eventually I overcame my terror when I saw a fist coming at my face, or a kick heading toward my solar plexus. And I learned how to move out of the way and evade an attack. And I made a fascinating discovery.

This nifty little technique can be implemented anytime you are under pressure or in the line of any attack, real or perceived. Attacks and confrontations come in a variety of different ways. They are not just physical. They can be mental, emotional, psychological, verbal, etc.

Once you learn how to use this ninja secret, you won’t get hit, and you can’t get hurt. Even better, once you step out of the way, the attacker will beat himself (or herself) up with their own negative energy. How cool is that?

Think about that the next time something is coming at you. After all, life is full of hits, both literally and figuratively. Learn to get out of the way and you’ll save yourself a world of hurt. But what if you can’t get out of the way, or what do you do once you do avoid an attack? I think I’ll save those pearls of wisdom for another day.

 

 

Sticks and Stones, and Broken Bos

Sticks and stones may break your bones. As a martial artist, I know this to be true, because I personally experienced it first hand. I once broke a bone in martial arts, but it wasn’t my own. It belonged to my partner. It’s a long story, and perhaps I’ll share it someday.

Although I love martial arts, I haven’t been training at all over the past twelve months. At least not in the traditional way, at the dojo and with partners. Between running a business, publishing a book, and keeping up with life, I’ve been pretty busy these days.

However, I have been able to keep up with my ballet training. I am fortunate to study ballet with a remarkable woman who has a strong Tai Chi background, as well as many other incredible accomplishments. The woman is amazing!

Jayne doesn’t teach a traditional ballet class. Instead, she brings everything she has to offer to her dancers, including Tai Chi. I don’t want to give away all of her secrets (or mine), but over the past two years of working with her, I could feel myself getting stronger, and more powerful. Not only in a dance-related way, but in a martial arts way as well.

I asked Jayne if that could even be possible. Her answer was “Of course it is!” She also advised me to be careful when or if I ever returned to the dojo, because I might surprise myself. I decided to put my theory to the test. The dojo was hosting a seminar based on the art of the Rokshoku Bo, which is a 6 foot long staff. In other words, it’s a great big stick. And it can be pretty scary, especially when someone swings it at your head.

However, I like playing with sticks, so I took my Rokshoku Bo and went to the dojo for the seminar. It was awesome twirling my stick and doing imaginary strikes, and it felt great to be on the mat again. We partnered up with other students to practice our strikes, which can be a bit formidable, as you can imagine. After all, one bad move could end up with a trip to the Emergency Room. That would ruin everyone’s day.

I partnered up with the only other female black belt in the school. We’re great friends, and it just happened to be her foot that I accidently broke a few years ago. Ooops. It had been a really long time since we were on the mat together, and we started going at it with great enthusiasm with a series of strikes that culminated in one final overhead strike to the top of the head. Did I mention it was scary?

She came at me with full speed and full intention. I deflected each strike with equal speed and intention. Our energy continued to escalate until she went for the final blow, the kill strike, aimed directly at the top of my head. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but I felt a surge of energy come shooting up from the very core of my existence, and  I blocked the strike with ear-splitting spirit yell and every cell in my body participating.

For a split second time stood still. Then I heard a deafening crack. Suddenly I was holding two sticks instead of one. I blocked her strike with such force I literally broke my Bo in half. I was grateful that her strike didn’t land on my head. And I discovered that Jayne was right about my power. I also realized that I was going to have to buy a new Bo.

The moral of the story is that sticks and stones may break your bones, but a ballet dancer will break your Bos. Or maybe other things if you provoke her enough. It’s nice to find your power, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but it sure makes me feel like a lady!

 

 

Self-Confidence Is the Best Self-Defense

Self-confidence plays a critical role in self-defense. How we stand, walk, and carry ourselves communicates to the world how we feel about ourselves. People pay more attention to our body language than we think they do. And they respond to what they see, and what they think they can get away with.

This really hit home when I was teaching one of my self-defense classes for women. There were several grown women and two petite teenagers in the class. The girls were sisters, and they were adorable. One was very chatty and outgoing, and the other one was extremely quiet and reserved. They were accompanied by their grandmother, who had decided they should all take the class together.

It usually takes some time for women to feel comfortable in a self-defense class, and this group was no exception. However, eventually they began to get into the spirit of the class. They even started to have fun with it, which is always one of my goals.

The quiet teenager hung back and silently watched the rest of us play with a few techniques and walk through several different scenarios. I thought she was just shy, so I made an effort to engage with her and make her part of the group. After a few moments I said, “Now let’s pretend that someone is picking on you at school.” She shot a look at her grandmother. The room got very quiet. Finally her grandmother said, “That’s exactly what’s happening, and why I brought her here.”

Ahh, that explained her demeanor and her body language. I wished I could go to school with her the next day and protect her from her tormentor. But that wasn’t practical. Instead, I continued teaching from a slightly different perspective. And I made sure this girl was front and center.

Pretty soon, something remarkable happened. She began standing taller (all five feet of her), and started looking me in the eye. She paid closer attention to what we were doing and got a lot more talkative, although not nearly as loquacious as her sister. Eventually I slid up beside her and whispered, “You’re getting it now, aren’t you?”

I wish you could have seen the look she gave me. She had a gleam in her eye and a knowing smile on her beautiful face. As a matter of fact, she actually glowed with a wisdom well beyond her years. She nodded her head and replied, “Oh, yeah. I get it.” I could see her self-confidence increase as the class continued. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

Two weeks later I received an email from her grandmother. She informed me her granddaughter told her that one self-defense class changed her life forever. She wasn’t being picked on any longer and was enjoying going to school again. Or at least, as much as any teenager can enjoy school.

I would love to know how the final confrontation went down. I would have given anything to see how she stood her ground. Most of all, I would have loved to see how her tormentor responded. Especially since I know it was done in a non-violent manner. Sometimes all you have to do is walk tall, look people in the eye, and stand your ground. After all, the best offense is a good defense. And self-confidence is the best self-defense.  Wouldn’t you agree?

Teach your children well

It’s so important to teach your children well so you can prepare them for the great big world out there. However, out of all the things you teach your children, the one subject that often gets overlooked is how to defend and protect themselves when you aren’t around to do it for them. I still get the shivers when I think of the following story.

Last night I watched the news with a combination of horror, admiration and even pride when I saw the disturbing video of an attempted abduction. The would be kidnapper got a huge surprise when his ten year old victim fought back, kicked and bit him while her two year old brother screamed like a banshee. My emotions ran high and I was moved to tears as I watched the video.

I was furious that she was attacked in broad daylight while she was walking down the sidewalk with her baby brother. I was relieved that she was able to protect herself. I admired her tenacity. Most of all, I was proud of her that she knew exactly what to do under such terrible circumstances. And I was proud of her little brother for screaming his head off.

How did this girl know what to do? Her father taught her. Good for him. Apparently, the girl’s father had repeatedly instructed her how to react under such circumstances, just in case. They had even role played such a terrifying scene, in the remote chance that she ever was attacked. As a result, she responded immediately and correctly. She fought like a tigress. She got away and he got arrested.

I like the ending to what could have been a tragic story and another statistic. I don’t know about you, but I would rather see more stories like this than one where another innocent life is lost. Remember, perpetrators are looking for an  easy target. If you can’t teach your children how to protect themselves, or feel ill equipped to do so, you have options. Look into a self defense program for kids, or consider enrolling them into a martial arts school to receive proper training. The point is not to scare them, but to “aware” them. Awareness is the greatest defense a child can have. 

So please, teach your children well. The life they save may be their own.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP