Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Adventures in Transition: Definitely not Fast as Lightening Edition

Last night I took an aikido class for the first time in three years.

I first started doing aikido about ten years ago, during the summer when I finally started to treat my depression. I stayed for about two years at a very, very tough dojo, then quit for a variety of reasons (including my desire to quit my lousy job and go freelance.) About three years ago I found another dojo in my nabe and was there for maybe seven months, before the instructor moved to California.

The points being a) I'm not a complete beginner and b) all of this took place before my transition.

These are relavant because last night, for the first time ever, I had to leave the mat while class was in session. Twice.

Now, there are some decent reasons for that: it was hot and muggy yesterday. I didn't eat a big lunch (my usual onsite gourmet meal of yogurt and a buttered roll, with a peanut butter granola bar thrown in for good measure.) I've gained a lot of weight recently. And of course, I did have major surgery five months ago.

I think there was more to it than all that. The fact of the matter is, I'm not the same person I used to be.

One of the things that shocked me about starting hormones was just how much muscle mass I lost in a relatively short time. I never needed to worry about binding my breasts (Not that there was a lot to bind. Then, I mean.) because my suits and dress shirts suddenly got huge on me. And I also stopped doing a lot of physical activity after a few months on HRT, so I wasn't really keeping track of how much I was changing. (I dropped my gym membership after about six months because I couldn't stand using the men's locker room anymore, which meant that I stopped biking into work--about a 6.5 mile ride each way; in any case, I wasn't pushing myself anywhere close to what I had done before hormones.)

So I think that a lot of what I learned once before I'm going to have to unlearn, because the strength (and endurance, until I get my wind back) just isn't there anymore; a big part of my "failures" yesterday was trying to do things as if nothing had changed. But it has.

This isn't really a bad thing, because one of the reasons I decided to go back to aikido is that it is the only martial art I know of with a philosophy against domination--and as you may have gleaned, my current project is to find ways to live without dominating other human beings. My first dojo had a definite macho air about it, and I learned to use my strength--not that I was Conan or something--in ways that let me blow past a lot of the deeper philosophical lessons of aikido, like blending with your partner or using her energy against her instead of using your own.

So like everything else related to my transition, this is a learning moment. And I hope I can really learn from it--maybe I'll even be able to survive the whole class tomorrow.

I hope so--I have a peanut butter Twix bar waiting for me when I do.

Blog note: I had wanted to start another new weekly feature, "Evil Willow's Weekly Web Round Up," which will have some snark--er, witty--commentary on the dreck that Google Reader finds for me, but for once there's a paucity of teh stoopid on the nets right now--and a surfeit of actual, horrifying evil. So it can wait til next week.


  1. The slightly left-field association I have in response to this post is how in studying artistic anatomy, I keep running face-first into differences between male and female physiology that have a lot of impact on the daily realities womenz and menz, respectively, inhabit. Like bone mass and the prominence of tuberosities - apparently, in menz those are usually greater because their skeletons are designed to and usually do support a greater muscle mass.

    The other interesting thing is that genetic programming is not definite or indefinite - it is a range. Depending on what a body does with itself, it ends up fulfilling a particular potentiality out of a whole bunch of them.

    I am really tired and don't know where I am going with all this, except I used to be really invested in the point of view that gender is ENTIRELY a social construct, and that any talk about being a woman/being a man and there being differences between the two was talk invested in maintaining an unequal status between the two.

    Now I'm starting to think that the sheer fact of living inside a male vs. a female body produces very different experiences and sets of challenges, and that it's foolish to ignore this fact - even if I haven't quite figured out what to do with it.

    Anyway, aikido sounds like it has a lot to say on the subject of dealing with aggression. But it also sounds as though sheer muscle strength was still giving you an advantage in it.

  2. Oh! That's really good. I used to do aikido a while back (and intend to start again) and there is definitely a difference in training with strong and weak partners. (Strong armed I mean)

    For ikkyo (for any non-aikidokas out there is an arm immobilisation technique), I would never train with a man I did not know because I often had to deal with having my arm wrenched out of its socket and his hurt feelings when I tried to tell him he was doing it wrong (imagine, a 5th kyu saying "ur doin it rong")

    Aikido is a fight against using your own strength (or something more eloquent)

  3. Oh, hey — I used to study aikido, many years ago. What style? (Back at Carleton, they taught Yoshokai, which I think is a relatively small style, headquartered in Ann Arbor, but is closely related to Yoshinkan.)

  4. If you're willing to entertain a possible clueless technical question from a cis person: When you went on HRT, did you just take estrogen? Or did you also take a testosterone suppressant?

    I'm asking in part because my own (cis-male) mate has recently been diagnosed with low testosterone; he's survived both prostate cancer and lymphoma, and it's likely one or the other (or both) whacked his T. I know he's complained about the difficulty of building muscle mass. From other prostate cancer survivors, I know that the meds used to suppress T have a host of nasty side effects, including hot flashes and mood swings. (Ironically, guys with low T are apt to be aggressive, contrary to our cultural myths.)

    Anyway, if I'm asking a question that's too ignorantly 101, say so, and I'll go google my questions. But I'm interested not just in the procedures but in your embodied response to them, and so if you have any stories to share (maybe in a follow-up post, if it's too much for a comment) I'd love to hear them.

  5. @Sungold: I took t-blockers as well--spironolactone and estradiol; I still take a low (2mg/twice a day) dose of e, but obviously (ahem) I don't need to block the t anymore. I actually have mixed feelings about that--I've started to get the occasional zit again. (Spiro shuts down your sebaceous glands, which was hell on my nails and gave me nasty dry skin on my feet, but after spending my entire life with teenage and adult acne, the clear skin was nice.)

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out--and to what degree my endurance has been whacked by the surgery, and what degree it's just trying to push an outsize skeleton around with undersize muscles. More importantly, I need to learn how to do things differently.

    @smadin: it's your basic Akikai style--this is Yamada's dojo, and he was one of the three uchideshi of the founder who came to America in the 1960s. Seems like a good group.

    The true weirdness is that there's somebody there I knew from my first go around. This is weird because a) she's a nidan (second-degree black belt) and I can remember teaching her ikkyo back when I was fresh off my gokyu test; and b) I was, of course, something resembling a guy back then. It may prove interesting to see her...

  6. An update: weather was better today, and I survived the whole class and feel much better! I earned my Twix bar!

  7. ...and then today I pulled an ab muscle about halfway through class. So, I'm one for three in finishing classes :(

  8. I had a similar experience when I tried to box a friend a month ago. I don't have the muscle anymore to put enough speed behind my punches. Even worse, in the past, I never gave a second thought to being punched in the chest, but these days chest hits might as well just be kicks to the nads. With two extra areas to protect, defense was much harder.

    Not that I was ever a decent boxer to begin with, but after a few solid hits, I realized I was in a major mismatch and threw in the towel early.

    Back in the day, I could half-ass it and fight decently. These days, I don't have easy mass and muscle to bail me out.

    --Leah B

  9. Hi - I'm visiting from Shakes... your post is interesting to me because it reminds me of some parallels with yoga, and the general philosophy that one does practice with the body one has that day and not with the body one had yesterday, or might have tomorrow. Some days you're just not as flexible, or you're tired, or whatever, so the point is that you need to learn to understand what your body needs or is capable of in that particular moment.

    I can appreciate your frustration a bit in that I used to do yoga regularly, and thus was very flexible and strong, and now even the simplest beginner moves are tiring and many of my once-favorite poses are simply unsafe for me to attempt. It's not been the physical part of practice that's been hard, but rather learning to accept that although my brain remembers being able to do all sorts of cool things, my body isn't, and I have to adapt.

    On the plus side, it's really forcing me to improve my technique, since I can't count on strength and flexibility to allow me to fake it (much like what Leah B describes).