Sunday, September 26, 2010

On knowing my own strength...

Know your own strength.

That's the line from my gym, Gold's, and it is everywhere in their advertising and the motivation posters throughout the actual gym itself. I've even saved and printed a few for my desk at work.

Looking around, I decided to list a few things that remind me of my own strength and why...some more positive than others, but all are there and all have shaped who I've become and who I will be.

1) My gym membership keychain. The first major step I took to healing after a three-year long relationship ended. I was joined by a friend who was in a similar spot and one who had been there. To this day, that gym is my space. My ex worked out there for a while, but didn't feel right. That's because it really is my space. Now I have a trainer there who pushes me to the brink, and I'm finding out I'm stronger than I ever thought before.

2) My green sash. A year and a half ago, I never thought I'd take up a martial art, much less progress as I have. My sash is proof; everything I've learned is mine. I own it and it cannot ever be taken away.

3) My yoga mat. My sanctuary. It is here that I started finding inner peace through physical measures, and those lessons have only been expanded upon. No matter what else I do, I always return to my yoga; it relaxes, nutures and re-invigorates me.

4) My playlists. I have a few for the gym and one for each race I've run so far...I'm working on one for my next race as well. They all reflect what was going on in my life when they were made and are frozen in time; reminders of my motivation and what makes me tick.

5) My Missoula half-marathon medal and photo set. My first 13.1 mile run, my pain, my glory, my insecurity, my triumph. Nobody will ever be able to take away what I did that day and nobody will ever be able to claim ownership of those 13.1 miles I ran.

6) The memory of those six faint lines on my left upper arm. Memories of an action I'm not very proud of; the time I hurt myself because of someone else. It wasn't anything more deep than a cat's scratch, but they were self-inflicted. A reminder of when I was weak and didn't know better and a warning never to sink that low again.

7) My dog tags. I've had a pair since I was in 9th grade and recently had a replica of that set made to wear daily (I don't want to lose my originals). They remind me of the years I spent in turmoil because of where I was, who I was and who I was attracted to. They remind me of the physical and mental gains I had in those four years of AFJROTC and my transformation into the leader that I am today. Others saw in me what I did not see in myself and they threw me into positions I didn't know I could handle, but I did and that was when I first discovered my strength.

I am a renegade athlete; I train for myself and generally by myself. Yes, I dabble in team sports. The training I do most, my running and martial arts, are individual, and many people cannot fathom that. They can't understand training on your own or having to push yourself to the extreme. They cannot ever know what makes an athlete like me tick because we function on a different level than they do. They enjoy the camaraderie of their sport, knowing their place and playing it well, then celebrating victory with their teammates. I never have that and will not by choice. My victories are entirely my own, my ranking up in martial arts is mine and mine alone. The path I choose is almost spiritual in nature; it really is only me out there when I'm running. The world ceases to exist and I am in my own space, dealing with my own problems and forcing the pain into the back of my mind as I keep going along the path. It isn't weird to me to go for a run at midnight or any other 'strange' time because it is how I deal with things. I don't ever expect that anybody will understand how I tick, and I am okay with that. Still, I offer this fleeting glance into the workings of my mind...when I have next to nothing in my bank account, when I have to borrow from an ex because of problems, when I have nothing else left going for me, I still have my strength and every day I find out how strong I really am.

Monday, September 6, 2010

My identity as a capoeirista part II

Over the past year I've grown in my game and become comfortable with it. My ginga now has its own style which suits me, and there are both Angola and Regional versions as I become better acquainted with both styles.

My kicks are taking on my personality as well as my facial expressions and when/how I time movements now.

Beyond that, I've taken a shining to leading songs while playing the gunga or pandeiro (depending on which I bring to class) or even simply while clapping. My game has taken on a unique flow that only I can create...and I love it!

A few weeks ago, my instructor put me in charge of the class permanently. That's right...I'm now teaching the foundations of capoeira to people from all walks of life, and it has been quite the journey to say the least.

Before he left, my apelido was changed to signify my longer Tourinho (the little bull), I am now Touro (the bull). I am strong, I am smart, I am fast, I am agile and I am creative...these mark my game, my teaching style and what I hope to inspire in others.

For the non-capoeira portion of my life: I am now working with a personal trainer to help bust my plateau and inspire me to greatness! I may have my own drive, but sometimes a push from others is the key.

Interestingly enough, recently in my martial arts training, I reached a level where after my third hour training, rather than being tired, I was absolutely focused and my body performed exactly as I needed it to. It is insane becuase I'd never really hit 'the zone' before, so it was amazing! Knowing that my body is truly capable of that had inspired me to train that much harder to see how far and hard I can push myself...and it is still paying off.

I'm also starting a flag football team for the local league as well as a volleyball team (I am the running back and right/front respectively) and am in the middle of getting my personal trainer certification.

It is a challenging path, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

One interesting thing somebody close to me brought up is that people think I am trying to prove something to everyone else...while that may be partially true (I really do enjoy breaking gay stereotypes), I am mostly proving things to myself. Few may understand this, but that is how it is. Competition drives me to greater self-understanding. Such is the life of an athlete.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My race, my challenge and my strength...

This was originally going to be a status update after my race on Sunday. I've decided that it should be an entire post instead...

To all of my ex-boyfriends, this is for you:

When I entered the race I ran Sunday, and when I made the playlist for that race, I thought this would be about you. I thought I had something to prove to you.

I was wrong...the race was about me, and there were some things I needed to prove to myself.

Mile 10...Collide was the first song that played and the tears flowed behind my sunglasses. That song in particular brings out a lot of pain to me...its the one that one of my ex boyfriends dedicated to me right before he cheated on me and left me; that's why I picked it at that part of the course. It reminds me of what a very particular ex did to me, something incredibly painful that had haunted me since I was 20.

Mile 10 is the toughest physically and it became that emotionally to me as well...that's my way of dealing with things. I ripped my emotional wounds open again and I realized that you all may have thrown me aside thinking I was worthless (and in many cases told me as much)...but I'm not. I finally came to the realization that I may just be too good for you all now...I've grown so much and maybe my inner strength (that I didn't see, but everyone else did) scared you because you all knew I wouldn't 'need' you, so you felt the need to hurt me first. And at that point, I didn't know my own strength, so I let you have control over me and little by little, I became more and more bitter, angry and jaded.

I finally realize why all of this happened...and I cried as I ran that mile. Not because my legs hurt, not because my muscles were locking, because while the wounds I bear were torn open and raw, and this time they're finally starting to heal the way they need to.

What you all did to hurt me stuck with me for so long and made me so bitter; the lies, the cheating, saying you loved me when you didn't mean it, hitting me (yes, I had some boyfriends who hit me...) and the mind games...I may be a little love-jaded still, but I won't let what you hurt me anymore. I can't live life that way. Your actions, your aren't allowed to have that power over me; I'm reclaiming it all.

I am in control now, not you. I am better for all of this, and I'm too good for you now. One day you'll regret it when you see what I become and what opens up for me as time goes on.

Just to be an asshole; what did you do this weekend? Sleep? Read? Maybe work or see a movie? Something 'normal?' Well, I fuckin pushed my limits and body harder than ever before and shattered yet another barrier I thought I had. I proved that yet again, I have no limits except those I impose on myself while you sat on your asses.

It was just me during that 13.1 miles; and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

My first race...

It was exhilarating, exciting and exhausting. And I did it!

I got downtown an hour early and was freezing my ass off. Looking around at all the people, I kinda got nervous, wondering if I could hold my own. To top that off, I ran into emo Steve-o (bitchy ex) and he just glared. Can we say asshat?

So the line started moving and I got to the start line. I made a fist with my right hand, thumped my left pec and took off. I did that at each mile...twice if I was going back to running after a brief walking break to pump myself up. I managed to run most of the course, too...taking a brief break to relieve myself around mile 2, walking part of mile 5 (the hill) and walking part of mile 6 to save up for a strong finish.

The miles flew by and Doomsday hill is truly a bitch. I WILL run the entire hill next time!

I have to admit, as a gay man, I do feel the need to prove myself sometimes. Most guys think that all gay men are flamboyant, sissy-ish and can't do the minute they hear I do any kind of athletics, they assume I play like a girl. Along with proving some things to myself, I just proved yet again that gay dudes are men, too...we can hold our own athletically. I know I can.

At the same time, mile six was very emotional for me. I've dealt with a lot over the past year, and am still dealing with some lingering issues about myself, but during that mile, it became tangible that I would finish this race. Then mile seven came and went, and I saw the finish line. I crossed it and made my way downtown...then it all hit that I had done it. My first 12k in under an hour and a half. On my own. A year ago I wouldn't have made it...there was no way. I was a different person then. Content, yes, but soft. I've grown a lot from the pain and turmoil; it is making me stronger. I'm able to do things I never would've imagined, and I am succeeding at them. This success, this proof that I can do it, these moments of self-worth are something that nobody can ever take away from me. These are my successes...facing the world alone, odds against me, I am making my own way.

Edit: my official stats:

I knew the Nike+ was off (doesn't account for elevation and a few other things; gonna use this to calibrate it), so it figures the pace was off, but for a first-time without any training for it other than walking a few miles at lunch, I think I have respectable results.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Bloomsday playlist

Even though we're not allowed to have iPods or anything on the course, I came up with the following playlist. The first three miles are kind of slower BPMs to keep me pacing well, then I plan to walk mile four. Mile five starts out with a pick-up song to get me ready for Doomsday hill that comes up around then, the rest of the songs have a faster pace than the first three miles, but not by much (I want to keep a fairly good pace throughout the whole thing), then I finish on Paranaue. The two songs after are for when the endorphin rush hits.

Mile 1:
Eye of the Tiger - Survivor
I Got a Feeling - Black Eyed Peas
Empire State of Mind - Jay Z feat. Alicia Keyes

Mile 2:
Ray of Light - Madonna
Mr. Brightside - The Killers

Mile 3:
Blue Light (original ver.) - Jake Benson
Rave Techno - DJ Mangoo
Over You - Daddy DJ

Mile 4 (the rest mile):
Good Girls Go Bad - Cobra Starship
Tik Tok - Ke$ha
Bad Romance - Lady Gaga

Mile 5:
Je Ne Sais Quoi - Hera Björk
Manboy - Eric Saade
Kom - Timoteij

Mile 6:
Still Waiting - Sum41
This is My Life - Eurobandið
Stronger - Britney Spears

Mile 7 (the wall):
Mortal Kombat Theme - The Immortals
Capoeira de Sao Salvador/Quem Vem La - Mestre Suassana
Don't Stop Believin' - Glee Cast

Mile 7.5 (last leg):
Paranaue - Only the Strong OST

Like a Prayer - Glee Cast
All Things (Just Keep Getting Better) - Widelife

This race, like all of my other athletic pursuits, is very cathartic for me. I'm not going into the reasons why, but I'll say this: I need to prove some things to myself. This is one of them.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

My name is Nik and this is my story...

Well, I've been reading/watching some coming out stories lately on Realjock and figured its about time I put my story out there. Never know, it might help someone and it might help you all understand a bit more about me and who I am. Some of this isn't so easy to put out there, so be aware of that to start...but here it is, my story. Its real, its raw and its me.

I always sort of knew that I liked guys, ever since I was a kid. All my friends liked Tori Spelling or the pink Power Ranger, but I didn't...I had a thing for Luke Perry and the green Power Ranger, but never thought much about it. As I grew and realized more and more that I was actually attracted to men, I had a hard time dealing with it. I passively dealt with it throughout middle and high school, knowing that those feelings were there but not really thinking about them or dealing with them.

Then I graduated. Change, change, many things were not the same anymore and well, I couldn't really handle it. I didn't have my old routine anymore because school was over, I didn't have my first choice of school because some mail was lost and I finally had to deal with the fact that I'm gay. I did find one outlet, and it was the only one I had: a messageboard set up by Danny from the Real World season 9. He was probably the only gay man I saw on TV at the time that was 'normal,' so I related. I was able to chat with people on there and finally took that first step to coming out and admitted that I liked guys (I thought I might like ladies at that point, so I did label myself as bi). I dealt with it in a less-than-healthy way other than that by developing a mild eating disorder and exercising to the point of exhaustion and honestly contemplated suicide a few times...not the best choices, honestly, but it is what it is.

Flash forward a few months; I'm starting to be comfortable with myself liking guys, but not with other people knowing. My friends would joke that I was bi and didn't know it, but I would instantly change the subject or deny it. It was around this time I met Zeke, the first guy I really had a thing for. He was bi and we were flirting. Well, one day coming back from playing DDR, a friend did the whole 'you're bi and don't know it' thing and I said 'yeah, I am.' It was my first time admitting it to another person I knew, and it was the start of my journey. The next to find out directly was Zeke, and I slowly started telling my friends. I told one of my closest friends last because I wasn't sure she'd react well, and it tested our friendship at that took another friend of ours to explain to her why I didn't tell her right off and she apologized immediately. Shortly after I broke it off with my first boyfriend, I changed the label to gay, but still didn't like being called gay because I didn't want the stereotypes applied to me. I'll freely admit right now that I still don't like the stereotypes that come with it, but that's a whole different post...

Soon, I was out to my college friends, but still hid it around my Medical Lake friends. For those who don't know, Medical Lake is a smaller town with a very right-leaning, conservative population that isn't very gay-friendly.

Eventually, I started telling my Medical Lake friends, too. Well, some of them. Others are highly religious and believe that homosexuality is an abomination, so I didn't bother telling them at that point because I didn't want to deal with that stress on top of transferring to a different university.

Keep in mind that I was also dating since I started telling my friends, but keeping it as hidden as I could possibly do when at home because I didn't want my mom to know. There was a particular close call where she found a link to mogenic in the history. I lied and said it was sent to me by a friend from the old message board and she left it at that. I suspect that was her first major clue to my sexuality.

So, at this point I'm starting to become comfortable with being gay and I even fell in love twice. I was out to my instructors, my friends and I was okay with that. Some family members found my facebook profile and I had to limit their view so they couldn't see that. I'd also friends-locked my myspace profile as well. After I graduated with my BA, I started working and left my profiles locked because my co-workers are also highly conservative and religious; and I didn't want to deal with it.

Eventually, my boyfriend at the time came out to his family and wanted me to come out to mine as well. I then started figuring out how to bring it up to my mom. By the time he got back, we'd broken it off and he still wanted to support my coming out to family. It was the last major hurdle in my life that would be lasting, and he helped me figure it out. I set a day, replayed every scenario I could think of and quite frankly was freaking the hell out during the drive down. Both Nick and Kate remember that I get to my mom's and Nick drove off to let me do my thing. I spent a good hour or two just trying to time it and eventually just said "there's something I need to tell you."

"It may or may not be news to you,'m not sure how to say this"
"Just say it, then."
"I'm gay."

Yeah, my mom had already figured it out and didn't really care. She'd had gay friends, but I still wasn't sure how she'd react as she'd made comments (similar to my friend when I first started the process) that made me think she wouldn't take it well. I didn't press it much further than that, and let her bring it up in subsequent conversations. The night I came out to her, I decided 'fuck it' and unlocked my facebook to my family and my myspace as well. My facebook is only hidden to people not on my networks because I still don't feel like dealing with it at work (its already stressful enough), but a good portion of my co-workers under 30 figured it out and don't really seem to care about it. There are a few who know for sure, and don't mind talking about it, either. My capoeira group knows about it, but my kung fu studio doesn't (almost all older men who don't seem so comfortable with it given previous conversations...again, a different post).

So that is where I'm at; out except to two small groups of people. It has been a long and life-changing process, to say the least. I'd dare say that the moments like that fateful drive and conversation with my mom are the ones that make us who we are; they're our tests of character and strength. It shouldn't be a big deal that I'm gay or that someone else is straight, but sadly it is. Many of us deal with this in negative ways as I did when I was younger...some never break free of those habits. Others of us try to channel them into something positive, and still others don't deal with it at all. Each person is different and each person has a story to tell. When you hear about them, remember they aren't just words on a page; they are the experiences of someone who has friends and family who care about them just as you all care about me. They are a living, breathing person who is out there, not just a statistic.

I'm not sure one ever finishes coming out, honestly...but I'm happy to say I'm out there and finally able to be who I am without the guilt, without the pain and without the hiding in the shadows. It is nice to know that I can go about my life without having that extra weight holding me down...there's so much that I want to write, but there just aren't words for the feeling you get from coming out and looking back at it all. There's no way to describe it; you just have to live it and listen to the words of those who are living it...

My name is Nik, and this is my story.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Capoeira and the Olympic Games?

So I had a discussion months ago with someone about Capoeira being in the Olympic games at some point in the future. I've been thinking about it more and more (probably because the Winter Olympics are coming up), and I'll probably get some flak for this, but I think they should be included.

I've been looking it up, and there are only a handful of main arguments against it:
1) Capoeira will lose its edge.
2) Capoeira isn't about competition.
3) There shouldn't be winners and losers.
4) There's no way to score it.
5) The culture will be lost (its a way of life, etc).

For each of those, I've found counter-arguments and come up with a few of my own.
1) For those who say Capoeira will lose its edge, I hate to break it to you but it already did when they de-criminalized it back in the day. Do you see scythe ends on a berimbau these days? No? How about the participants holding razor blades and trying to cut each other up (that song Zum Zum Zum...yeah, its about the sound of razor blades swishing through the air and someone killing another in the roda)? No? Well, then, there you go. Capoeira has already been tamed down to where it is ineffective as a fighting style unless you've been practicing it since youth, which most of us haven't. In short, there really is no edge to lose at this point.

2) Now I've heard that Capoeira isn't about competition, and to a degree it isn't. It is about the conversation...but at the same time, you want to make yourself look better in the roda than the other person. That is a form of competition, folks. Like it or not, there is a competitive edge to Capoeira and it is part of the game. Prove me wrong.

3) There shouldn't be winners and losers. Okay, this sounds like the refrain from those who were picked on by the jocks in high school (and yes, I was one of those kids that was picked on and didn't play any sports). So you had a bad experience when you were 14 and don't want to play in a game where there are winners and losers. How will this being an Olympic sport affect your home-town roda if the mindset for winners/losers isn't present? Oh, it won't? Then live and let live; some of us like the competition.

4) There's no way to score it. Bullshit; there are ways to score sparring in any martial art and Capoeira is no different. "But Nick, there is no sparring in Capoeira." Um...yeah there is, it is called playing in the jogo. It may be a little more ritualized (i.e. you try not to hurt the other person for real), but it is still sparring as you are still trading blows and dodging.
Here's an example of a tournament's rules (yes, its for Capoeira):
Now I might lighten up on some of the formalities (apelidos, belonging to a single academy, etc), but I think they're pretty solid.

5) You'd lose the culture behind Capoeira/Capoeira is a way of life. So are other sports and so is Tae Kwon Do (a martial art which made it to the Olympics). You think that you finding balance and meaning in Capoeira excludes the ability to find the same things in volleyball, swimming, the triathlon or anything else? If so, you are sadly mistaken; any sport can become a way of life. Martial arts are by their nature sporting events, and those who practice them are athletes. Just because you think your sport is superior doesn't make it so.
As for culture, so long as they keep the music and malicia (which is a very important part of the game...I don't think a good game can exist without it), I think it'll be fine. Capoeira is already transcending cultures by enriching the capoeirista with knowledge of Brazilian culture. We learn Portuguese, we learn to play the berimbau and we learn about aspects more hidden in the culture like mindsets and whatnot. We learn history and I think that by including Capoeira in the Olympic games, it would be even more of a cultural ambassador for Brazil than it already is.
I fully support bringing Capoeira to the Olympic games, and I will be training as if it was already in the games. My workouts are currently designed to strengthen the areas I need to do some of the more advanced movements later on, and I'm working on larger amounts of cardio to increase my stamina in the game. I'm using my Yoga and other resources to help become more limber and focus on things that will help my game, too. My workouts are all focused on making me a better capoeirista, and should that day come when they do include it in the games, I may try to make it on the team.

This is my dream as an adult-onset athlete: to make it to the Olympic games playing Capoeira. It sounds lofty and it may not happen (its all up to the IOC), but I will still train with that intensity, that feeling and that dedication.

The Olympics hold a very dear place to me (just watching the opening brings tears to my eyes every single time) and yeah...who wouldn't want to train for that?

Um...I'm getting more emotional at this point, so I'm just going to let it go at this point before this turns into rambling.

**Edit: And yes, I know I'm far from being competition material, but having that goal to focus on is half of the battle. By having that, I will know what I'm up against, how I have to train, what training I will need and motivation. Its probably hard to understand, but yeah, that's how it works for me. I start at the end, work backwards to see what it'll take and plan accordingly.

Wow...its been a while

Update time (short and to the point):
Went to another batizado (this one with Senzala) and I think I might be training with them when I was just a really good fit.

Learned some new things, mostly sequences, kicks, ways to use a cabecada and how to do chamadas.

Still improving my game as much as I can, but we all know its tough.

Still not so comfortable with acrobatics, but I'm working very hard on that. I need to get better at them and I'm determined to do so.

I'm teaching music to my grupo now...we have enough songs for a good 10 minute roda now, maybe longer depending how it all goes, ya know? Its pretty awesome.

That's all for now.