Thursday, February 9, 2012

Hair Growth Watch

While Queen Michelle was sitting in the stylist's chair in Scotland, getting a trim on Saturday, we were tweeting back and forth about haircuts, hair growth, and regret.

Queen Michelle's hair had been exceptionally for years, perhaps long enough to reach her jeans waistband. Maybe she'll confirm this. I'm not sure of her reasons, but sometime recently, she cut off two feet of hair. Two feet! It's now somewhere below her collarbones.

My hair was down to my lower back until late 2009. Then I decided it was too long for a woman my age (I was 43), and I got about a foot cut off. Yeah, that was a great idea. Who cares how long your hair is when you're 43?

The cut I got was decidedly lackluster and mumsy, but I lived with it. Soon after that, I went to New York, and as a result of serendipitous and benevolent arrangements made by WendyB, I had my hair cut in her hallway by the lovely and talented Julie Matos, who styles WendyB's hair for special events. I took a picture of my haircut that day, and I can't find it. It was the best haircut I've ever had—Julie took my hair from mumsy to yumsy.

Even as Julie was working her magic, I knew her housecall range wasn't likely to include California. Gulp.

With that grim realization, I returned home to my California stylist, and the cut's direction changed, as it was bound to do with someone else at the shears. I tried to accept the new direction. I kept the same basic style, a just-below-chin-length bob for a few months. But it just wasn't the same. The edge and uniqueness was lost, and with it my interest in the cut. I was ruined for anybody but Julie. Within months, I succumbed to frustration, and I told my stylist I wanted "big change." A bog-standard bob doesn't allow for much change, but he did what he could. He cropped me about as short as is tolerable. He did a great cut (photo, below left), but in retrospect, I realize we took it too far. I had made a mistake. That day I knew I wouldn't cut my hair again until further notice.

Circa March, 2010 (left); Mid 2011 (center); Februrary 2012 (right)

When she was in the chair getting a trim, Queen Michelle Tweeted that cutting her hair had been a mistake, and that she was growing her hair out. I understood that. I didn't think cutting my hair was a mistake when Julie cut it, but I was wishing for longer hair after just a months of not having access to her cutting skills. So after my wacky experiment with the Shortest.Bob.Ever, I am on a mission to grow my hair out. Same with Queen Michelle.

After some commiseration, Queen Michelle and I have agreed to a Hair Growth Watch, wherein we will be each others' support if we are ever tempted to chop our locks. We have chosen a goal of chest-length for our hair. Mine is past my collarbones, but it seems as if it has been the same length forever. I'm forcing myself to be patient, and it's not easy. I want it long now. Maybe I have a case of "grass is greener," and I assume I'll be happy with longer hair. But if I ever get to the point where I can't resist the temptation to get a serious haircut, I'll buy a ticket to New York, and book an appointment with Julie. Then I'll lose my return ticket.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Minimalism as Feedback

Queen Michelle's post on ballet grading prompted me to make some comments about karate and belt gradings (called "testing," in our dojo).

She talked in her post about what it's like to be involved in ballet as an adult. I am enjoying learning about it from her perspective. Queen Michelle strives for continuous improvement, which I admire. Improvement in ballet can be benchmarked through gradings. She mentioned that she can gain access to her grading papers to read the notes written on them by those evaluating her skills. She can then use these notes as cues to how to improve. If I were in her pointe shoes, I would appreciate getting this kind of constructive criticism, too. In my dojo, students don't get that kind of feedback.

Me in my karate suit
I think I can draw some parallels between Queen Michelle's "learning-ballet-as-an-adult" story and my karate narrative. I started Goju-Ryu karate as an adult (I was 42). It's very humbling, and I bet Queen Michelle would admit to humbling moments in her ballet training. I can't imagine that any aspect of ballet is easy for an adult or for a child. Her descriptions of what it's like to move and function with such grace show clearly that there is much work involved, work that is difficult to discern for the untrained eye.

I think that's true in karate, too. There's so much nuance, detail, and invisible stuff going on, it can be dizzying. Sensei's movements and execution look easy, but I know that even a feeble attempt at moving basics or renzoku bunkai takes (sometimes massive) effort. Improvement comes by degrees and inches. One cannot expect to breeze through the training if one hopes to really absorb the material.

Queen Michelle points out that adults move more quickly through ballet grade curriculum than children for various reasons. The same can be said about karate, because generally, adults have better motor control and processing skills than children, but unless one is extremely gifted, the process still takes time. I have been impatient with myself at times, feeling I'm learning more slowly than my grasping mind would prefer. Some say that we are never "done" with karate, that we are always learning, even at Seventh Dan. Karate is a moving goalpost.

In karate, the grades are called "kyus," and are visually represented by colored belts. Some kyus are signified by stripes made of black electrical tape, which are stuck onto the belts. When one begins training in karate, he or she enters as a white belt.

Here's how the Goju-Ryu kyus go:

White Belt (no kyu)
10kyu: add one stripe (What do you say when you get a stripe on your white belt? 10kyu!)
9kyu: add second stripe
8kyu; add third stripe

7kyu: Yellow Belt
6kyu: add one stripe

5kyu: Green Belt
4kyu: add one stripe

3kyu: Brown Belt
2kyu: add one stripe
1kyu: add second stripe

Shodan: Black Belt
(Grades proceed up from here)

One must work through 11 kyus before obtaining a black belt in Goju-Ryu (other karate styles have different belts and gradings). There are several grades, or "dans," of black belt. Dans are not evident on a black belt, as no electrical tape is applied at this level. It's said that once you reach black belt, you are finally a "beginner." So I am an intermediate sub "beginner," at 5kyu. (I recently told someone I had a green belt, and she asked "Isn't that one of the low belts?" groan.) I'm finishing up my third year of training this month. Some move quickly through the kyus, and some don't.

Back to constructive criticism: I wish, in our dojo, we had an opportunity to view our test comments and notes, like Queen Michelle has in her ballet school gradings. If I had that opportunity, maybe I'd be able to pinpoint areas where I need more work, and perhaps it I'd feel a more concrete sense of my own accomplishment. Alas, that kind of control is not in mine to behold. It must stay in Sensei's hands.

Validation of one's progress in karate will come as a surprise when Sensei issues a student an invitation to test/grade. A student is invited to test only when Sensei is confident that the student can satisfactorily meet the test's challenges. The test at this level* consists of performance of basic skills, kata, bunkai, sparring, and perhaps some physical challenges, usually done in a class setting. (Once, I tested in the company of two Senseis and only one other student, who happened to be my husband. I really prefer this to being in a full classroom, performing kata by myself, while everyone looks on.)

After one completes a test, one might receive two or three complimentary remarks, delivered in front of the whole class, but that's it. If you're not invited to test/grade, the implication is that you must keep working at the current level until further notice. Thus no feedback equals feedback. And there's no indication of exactly what you need to improve upon, or how long it'll be until you're invited to test/grade next.

It's a minimalist approach. One must be content to just keep training without input. One must train on a foundation of self-assurance and dedication, and look inward for guidance, rather than outside oneself. Learning without feedback has been a challenge for me. Sometimes I feel I'm completely at sea, with two left feet and an aging body, but it forces me to trust in something I don't fully understand.

*I might add that these feats are mild compared to what is required for a black belt test. And brown belts must begin teaching at some point, and carry on teaching as they progress toward black belt. Additional requirements at these levels include writing a research paper, community service, workout programs, nutrition assessments, etc.