The Art of Winning Blog

Monday, February 9, 2015

How To-Shin Do Saved My Life

How To-Shin Do Saved My Life

By Zipporah Abraham Paiss

It was an ordinary Thursday. I had woken early, attended school, and was dropped off at gymnastics practice. After a quick warmup, I was sent to the balance beam, warmed up, and performed my beam routine. Next, I was sent to the uneven bars.

My coaches explained the allotted time for warm up we would each be given: 30 seconds a person or two turns on the bars before we had to perform a full routine. I put my grips on quickly, not wanting to waste time and hastily applied chalk to the dampened white leather. The short warm up was unusual, typically we were each given two minutes for warm up, but I didn’t fuss. It was competition season and the coaches knew what was best for us.

The typical eight inch mat was absent from beneath the bars, and I requested one for softer landings. My request was denied with a quick smile and encouraging words of “you can do it” and “it’ll be a nice change.” With a deep breath, I jumped off the floor and caught the low bar.

Everything appeared to be going according to plan. I did a kip, jumped to the high bar, and casted to a handstand. Then, with ingrained muscle memory, I began to swing around the bar (a skill called a “giant”).

My body swung 360 degrees around the bar, each muscle tightened to expected performance and my spine was in alignment. After the second giant I swung down from eight feet above the ground and, attempting to slow my velocity, began to pull up for a third giant.

Suddenly I felt my grips leave the bar. The combined lack of chalk on the equipment and hurried warmup had combined to fuel a disaster. Lost in the air, my initial reaction was panic. For a split second I had no sense of direction and was raising up towards the ceiling, over 10 feet off the ground. Then my ninja training kicked in.

I was unaware of my orientation or how many flips my body completed prior to impact, but I knew my priorities. Protect my neck. Without thinking, I threw my arms back behind my head just like I would for a breakfall milliseconds before my arms and upper back slammed into the floor head first. Years of practiced breakfalls had taught my body to tighten its muscles to avoid pain during impact, and muscle memory kicked in tightening my back muscles. As the impact rickashayed down my spine, the clenched back muscles protected my cervical spine from breaking and the arms I had thrust backwards saved my head and neck from collision.

The fall was not painless. Though my spine was protected, my lower back muscles were sprained as a result and a rib or two popped out of place. The impact itself had an accordion effect on my diaphragm and I layed on the ground in astonished shock unable to breath for an undetermined period
of time. Yet, I am walking and talking. The injuries I endured hurt, but they will heal with proper care. Paralysis and death would not heal had I not taken years of ninja training.

I do not have enough words to describe the gratitude I feel for my years of training at the Boulder Quest Center that have kept me safe in gymnastics and on that day probably kept me from being paralyzed. We train and don’t know the moment when all our training will come to bear in the instant when it literally saves your life. I would probably not be writing this note if I hadn’t trained in To-Shin- Do. I knew just what to do without thinking - the benefit of muscle memory and cultivated courage. Thank you, Mary, and all my teachers who gave me what I needed - a Ninja response ingrained from years on the mat. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wren's Thoughts on Kicking A$$

Introduction to To-Shin Do
By Wren Holden

The first time I heard of To-Shin Do was through my school. I decided to attend a college that was a little experimental, so I was at a particularly open time in my life. I was eager to try new things, and I had resolved to become the person that I had always dreamed of becoming, strong, fast, and absolutely no nonsense. When I looked at the class schedule and saw that a martial arts class was offered, I jumped on the chance without really knowing anything about it. I had wanted to pick up a martial art since I was a little kid, and I envisioned myself doing insane spin kicks in back alleys and doing triple back flips like my heroes did in the action movies. I was very excited to emulate Bruce Lee and the other fighters I admired as I went to my first class. However, I found out that To-Shin Do was something a little different.
For one thing, it was practical. I had not expected to be taught things that I would be able to use in a real setting right away. But after the very first class, I was learning pieces of something that I felt could save my life one day. Coming from an environment where I had been told that I, as a woman, was helpless against men and the world, it was a revelation. I felt like I could survive an attack in a back alley for the first time in my life. I had always been prepared to die rather than have something taken from me with violence, I had always been resolved to fight to the bitter end, but I was given a light of hope that first lesson. I was given the option of walking away instead of fighting fruitlessly until I was either ended or left for dead. I found that the way of fighting and the mindset of the Ninja, while not exactly what I had in mind in terms of grace and honor, aligned really closely to how I had lived my life up until that point.
I threw myself into To-Shin Do wholeheartedly. The fighting style and the thinking in combat were less revelation and more seamless acquisition into my life than anything. However, I found that the camaraderie and balance of the art was helping me with everything from keeping my footing on an icy road to controlling my temper. What I thought would be an engaging hobby became a way to learn about myself. I had always been one to keep inside my head, but I had never really cared about what exactly was in there, and what made me tick as a person. Meditation and the code of mindful action really helped me when I was stressed and to find out why I became angry at certain things. My introduction to To-Shin Do even changed the way I approached certain classes, especially when I learned about the different elements and the ways of thinking that go along with them.

 While I still have those fantasies of being able to high kick my opponents into next week, I understand that in a real fight, I have something real to fall back on. I also feel like I am much less likely to get into a fight, physical or verbal, now that I have the responsibility that comes with knowing how to use my body to the degree of effectiveness that this martial art affords. The kindness and balancing part of To-Shin Do is just as important as the striking and the weapons, and in the end it was the balance of the teachings that impressed me and kept me coming back for more. I am really excited to learn more about To-Shin Do as I continue with my study, and I am also excited to work on myself. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Stop Thinking

I've been contemplating the nature of Mu Shin (no mind) lately trying to figure out how I would articulate the state of extreme awareness that happens when your brain analysis takes a break. It's not a nothingness, rather it's as vast as the multiverses and just as active. In the midst of this contemplation, I received this incredible essay from Hunter. Please enjoy!

Hunter Streit
Ni-Dan Personal Development Essay

Lots of people say that the sign of a good book is that it “makes you think,” but I’ve found the opposite to be the case. In my experience the most helpful and growthful books are the ones that stop the mind dead in its tracks. These books do not send us cascading into some new train of thought, or add to the content of our minds, but instead wake us up to a new level of awareness. This stopping of the mind is not the same as sinking below thought. It is not that we fall into a kind of stupor, like when we watch television or have had too much to drink. It is mindfulness, rather than mindlessness. We begin to experience reality more directly - through a sort of still and alert presence.
The way in which I’ve grown from reading these kinds of books, is in my ability to find this stillness on my own. Sometimes it only lasts for a few seconds and other times it lasts for a few hours. Often I still find myself caught in the ups and downs of the thinking mind and all of the patterns, compulsions and programming that comes with it. However, being free of the conditioned mind even if it is only for a few moments a day is still infinitely better than never finding it.
Whenever I am able to step out of the thinking mind, I begin to realize how repetitive most of my thoughts are. The majority of these thoughts are part of a collection of stories that I tell myself. I have a story at the ready for virtually every area of my life. And most of these stories (as is the case for many people) are negative. I tell myself these stories on a daily basis, but sometimes I am able to stop, take a breath and catch myself in the act. I have come to realize that the stories themselves are not all that important, the problem arises we believe in the stories and invest in them. This creates a vicious cycle, for not only do we believe in the story, but we begin looking for outside indicators to prove that our story is true. We would often much rather believe that we are correct, even if we do not like what it is we are believing. We invest in these stories and over time it begins to warp our perception of reality. We pay more attention to the things that confirm our story than to anything else. We begin to lose track of the distinction between how things are and how we think they are. In Buddhism this is sometimes called the two-fold truth, which consists of relative truth and absolute truth.
Relative truth is all of the self-produced content that we experience in our mind from moment to moment. It is our emotions, beliefs, likes, dislikes, attractions, aversions and so on. All of this feels very real to us and if often absorbs nearly all of our attention. The truth is, that none of this content exists for anyone other than ourselves. Relative truth is the reason why our own internal experience varies from those of everyone else. We can empathize or extrapolate on how someone else thinks or feels, but it will still be heavily biased by how we ourselves view the world. We only ever experience the world from our own perspective, which is filtered by our conditioning. What each of us experiences is therefore only of relative truth, because the world is not experienced the same way by everyone else, and so how can it be completely true? How each of us sees things is very subjective. Knowing this helps us to remember not to take our version of events quite so seriously.
Absolute truth means that reality simply is as it is. Two people may perceive the same situation completely differently from one another, but the situation itself has not changed. Only the individual perception of that situation has changed. Absolute truth is un-biased, it is not good or bad, desirable or undesirable, helpful or harmful. Realizing absolute truth is helpful in so far as it lifts some of the importance we place on how we (as an individual person) see the world around us. We come to realize that the seeing itself is unconditioned. It is how we react to or interpret our experiences that begin to separate us from reality. Recognizing absolute truth is the beginning of a separation between subject and object, between the observer and the observed.
This kind of reading has been helpful to me because it forces me to understand it through a different means than conceptual thinking. When I try and make “absolute truth and relative truth” something to understand or conceptualize, it is meaningless. I can usually tell with this kind of reading when I am in the thinking mind, versus when I am approaching it from a place of deeper attention. When I am in the thinking mind I usually become complacent and bored after a couple of pages. Therefore the act of reading itself is a good indicator of how clear my awareness is.
On a day-to-day basis, my attention can be as fragmented and sporadic as ever, but I am continually cultivating the capacity to notice the gaps and return to a place of centered attention. Even when I only remember to step out of the stream of thinking once a day, I realize that clarity, however infrequent is still clarity. Occasionally, I am able to see something I’ve done or said from an outside perspective, separate from my stories and my conditioning. In doing so I am able to make an unconscious pattern conscious, which is the first step in dissolving it.
I don’t feel the need to separate the different books I’ve read from one other, just as I don’t think my experiences inside and outside of the Dojo need to be entirely separate from one another. I tend to want to compartmentalize different areas of my life, be it: training, my day job, graphic design, music production, socializing, alone-time, family etc. There is something comforting about being able to go into a situation like that. “Ok. I am entering category 4B of my life, so here are the 3 parameters I can expect and the 5 people with whom I am most likely to interact.” This categorization undoubtedly feels safer, but there is a freshness in being able to be in a situation without feeling the need to label, judge, or compare it in any way. Going into a situation just as it is feels very vulnerable. The mind needs to at least believe that it knows what is going to happen. We need a reference point before we can be at ease with what is going on.

I realize reading, like training can only take me so far, but it is a good jumping off point for being more a little more awake and aware in day to day life. Learning to be in the world without superimposing our stories and on it is a daunting task to the mind, but it is perfectly natural for our spirit. I am always in fluctuation between being caught up in thoughts and experiencing the moment, but I know that all I have to do is stop and notice a breath or two and watch the pendulum swing back and forth, from story to reality.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Holiday Insanity: A Ninja Perspective

I'm super aware this Holiday season of all the projections and expectations and disappointments that arise around the holidays. And I'm totally jazzed by it and grateful for it. Sometimes the holidays are when it feels like we all really get real. We let our expectations be known. We strive to create something perfect. The perfect meal. The perfect gift. The perfect night. Each time we strive for perfection, to be perfect, it is because there's a deeper need--love, happiness, enlightenment, joy, etc. I'm so grateful for this craziness at the holidays because there's a vulnerability here. There's a willingness to say "this is what I'm looking for right now." There's a willingness to try and fail spectacularly, to see each other at our most raw, our wits end, our breaking point and to still be there for each other. In the past few years, I've developed an immense gratitude for the witnessing of the shadow side, in myself and others. What a gift when someone is willing to let you see past the veneer and into the heart of what they truly desire. Happy holidays everyone. I see you. 

For a bit of holiday cheer and my inspiration for this post, please watch this awesome video. The DropKick Murphy's capture the spirit of true gratitude for the insanity of reality.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Resiliency, Pigsties, and Choice

So here's something you probably already know about me: I'm brilliantly resilient. I'm the type of girl who could be thrown naked out of plane, land in a pigsty and sing Katy Perry songs on my way to the feeding trough. At the trough, I'd meet the farmer and her husband and they'd give me a shower and some clothes. Then I'd skip away looking for whoever threw me out of the plane. And every single bit of it would be fun because I'd insist on it. 

The thing is, that power has a dark side. It's the side where I don't notice I'm being kidnapped and put on plane, though I was probably enjoying myself up to that moment to. At times, I've allowed my ability to handle whatever comes my way as an excuse not to chose,to let circumstance unfold around me. I like to see what happens and then chose how to deal with it. 

As I was visioning this blog post, it suddenly occurred to me--what if I'd never gotten on the plane? I know I'm suppose to think that I'm grateful for the plane and everything that happened because it's made me who I am today and in truth, I am. I also want to stop getting on the same plane, to chose something different for myself and the people around me. What if I stayed and worked on the farm? What if I hijacked the plane and threw everyone else out? What if I flew First Class to Portugal and spent a month playing on the beach?

I also thought of a bunch of artificial rules I could make up for myself to trick myself into believing I wasn't getting on that plane again. Luckily, that made me so nauseous that I recognized the fallacy. Those rules would ensure I never got thrown out of plane, but off the back of a boat instead, bleeding, in shark infested waters. Though I'm also the girl who would be rescued by dolphins and ride one to safety. There's no rule I can follow. There's only total awareness in every precious moment.

Choice is about more than knowing what the choices are. It's knowing what's in alignment with the energy and space I be, not just what's expeditious or harmonious in any given moment. It's about harmony with myself first and others second.  It's about knowing the fullness of myself, including the dark side of my powers. 

What about you? What powers do you have that you can't even acknowledge because to notice them would encourage you to notice their dark side? Are you willing to step into choice and awareness, even when you don't like it? I choose to write my story, with choice and consciousness and to allow all aspects of my superpowers. I may still jump out of a few planes but I'll do it knowing how I got there. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Falling, Pain, and Getting Up

So last night I fell, hard, fast, and with witnesses which is pretty much the worst combination that doesn't end in maiming or dying. As I've thought about it, I've had two learnings running simultaneously but since I can't write multiple streams at once. Have patience. I'll get it all out eventually.

First was the physical experience. It's been a long time since I fell quite so spectacularly. Usually I can find my balance before I hit the ground and I've pulled off some amazing feats of athleticism simply to avoid falling. In the past, time skips when I fall. I'm standing and I come back to awareness having already fallen. Last night, I got to experience every moment of the fall. As I caught my foot, my body turned and I was heading head-long into the island. I tried to recover but my foot was still caught in the opposite direction of my momentum. So I twisted in the air like a alligator roll to move my head in another direction and slammed (seriously slammed) my lowermost ribs into the island. I kicked my foot free as I impacted and then finished rolling by sitting on the floor and breathing. "Yes I'm OK but it hurts a fuck lot so give me a moment." I wasn't sure I wasn't bleeding but I was sure I didn't break the rib so that was a plus. It took a few minutes before I could touch it to see if it was bleeding then a few more before I was willing to move. And even more before I was willing to talk to anyone. Now 12 hours later, it's in a weird state of swelling but not bruising. It'll develop over the next few days before it totally lets go.

So here's what I learned/remembered.

1. As a martial artist, I train so that I can respond when "bad" things happen. I can't always stop them from happening, though the control freak in me would love to. But we can respond when things happen. We can nudge the outcome. We can take the brunt in our side, not our head. Micro tweaks and awareness make all the difference.

2. As I watch the movie in my brain, I realize how much it parallels all pains. It's just on a different scale. What takes a few days in the body, can take a few years in our soul. I don't need to judge that. It's just the way we heal. Wow.

Have a beautiful day Boulder and if you fall down 7 times, get up 8.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Change, Choice, and Vows

The other day a new friend was asking me about my business and I found myself unusually stuck. Not in talking about the business itself--that's easy. I can wax ad nauseum about To-Shin Do, actualization, choice, and change for hours. Though I'd rather you just got on the mat and saw for yourself. No, this stuckness was around the success of the business because she said it looked like I was pretty successful, and in my heart, I hedged. Whoa! Really? I've spent 9 years building a business that now has 158 students who are all exploring personal transformation and mastery. I've got incredible staff who thrives on sharing this art and our school. When I walk in the space, everyone is happy and eager. It's a blessing and a gift. 

Of course, my first instinct was to ask myself Why but Why is one of the most useless questions on the planet because it depends answers that are, at best, incomplete and at worst, completely wrong. Have you ever gotten attached to answer and spent time investing in that answer only to realize you'd misunderstood all along? That's my issue with Why. 

So I turned to feeling the energy instead. The first thing I noticed was that I felt closed (which is weird for me). As I opened up to all the energies and invited them to be nothing other than themselves, I expanded. I stopped holding. I let myself feel all the beauty and adventure that's been created and still has yet to created. I like this space. It's where I can create from. It makes me want to dance, or paint, or do the books, or tackle my To Do list. There's no hedging, fighting, or resisting. It's allowance. 

More than that, it's my inspiration for blind work. It's the expansion of training in enclosed spaces with the lights off. It's the freedom of doing races blindfolded. It's interacting with my world with all my senses open and available to receive.

So I made myself a promise. It's one I've made before and one I'll probably make again. Each time I renew this vow, it's a little deeper, more knowing then before. I promise to keep making my world bigger, to be the stardust in this vast universe and never confine myself to smallness. I vow to not hedge, to own my successes and my failures as information, not judgments, to explore change and choice. And if I forget, I give you each permission to remind me. 

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