I have been testing for one black stripe for most of this year. It has been a crazy and intense year for me in many ways, and as usual, what I have learned in Cuong Nhu has helped to deal with many of the things that I have been going through.

At the beginning of this year, I found out I have Asperger’s Syndrome, also called “high-functioning autism”. There is no cure for it, but it is a huge thing to finally know what is “wrong” and that there are other people like me. [Next 3 paragraphs stolen from an earlier post I made on that subject.]

I can do a lot of things. Also, I can’t do a lot of things. There are things that seem like they come naturally to other people, that I just can’t do. Simple basic life skills (like paying attention), most organizational skills, and many social skills are things I don’t have, or have only in limited quantity, for limited periods of time, or about limited subject matter.

I hear things delayed. Sometimes the delay is long enough that I have to wait until the whole message comes in before I can process it, understand it, and respond to it. Sometimes this takes a while. Less than a minute, I think, but that can seem long to someone who is waiting for you to respond. It is enough time for a conversation or lesson to move on to the next topic before I can even process the last one. I also forget things very quickly.

I can’t learn things the way most people do. I need to learn them backwards, rather than forwards. I need to see a finished product, take it apart, and learn how it works from the outside in, rather than learning about the parts and how to put them together. I can also learn through constant repetition over long periods of time, until I can do something without thinking about it, like in martial arts.

I never used to think I cared about getting a black belt until I stopped testing. The stress of testing is too much, and some of the requirements seem impossible to me. I am grateful to have an alternative way to test, but it is hard to understand the rules and parameters. Sometimes I think I should just give up trying to be a black belt and just have fun. Other times I feel like I should keep trying even though I may never get one anyway.

I am very lucky to train at a school and in an art that is flexible, and takes people’s individual situations into account for participating and testing. It is part of the Cuong Nhu philosophy. It is the Three O’s. Open mind, open heart, and open arms. My Senseis always welcome me in class even when I am having a hard time thinking, have to leave early, or take forever to learn something. This makes the dojo a safe place for me and makes training there a fun and rewarding experience.

I wouldn’t have been able to come as far as I have in Cuong Nhu without Senseis who have found ways to teach me and communicate with me. They take the 12 “tions” of teaching to heart. They use simplification, explanation, demonstration, repetition and correction to make sure I learn techniques in a way that I can understand. They break each thing down to show every part of every move. They are creative in teaching students individually so that they can understand and take part in the group. If I ever teach, I will use these 12 “tions” as well. There are some I use right now.

Reflection allows me to stop and consider what I have learned from a particular class and experience, to reflect on what has worked and what hasn’t, and to apply these things to future classes. It reminds me where I have come from, and how far I have traveled. Even though I face many challenges, my Senseis help keep me motivated by being patient with me, working with how I learn things, and helping me to evaluate where I need to go next. I see my Senseis’ and my classmates’ dedication to Cuong Nhu and it helps me keep going even when it is very hard and frustrating and hurts my brain.

My experiences during this past year, along with my 9 years of experience in the dojo, have changed my ideas about having a black belt. I would like to teach. I would especially like to teach other autistic people. I would love to be able to give something back to my Senseis, my dojo, and Cuong Nhu. I know I may not have what it takes to be a black belt in Cuong Nhu, and sometimes I consider switching to another martial art with a smaller curriculum to help with the frustration, and make getting a black belt seem more possible. In the end, I keep coming back to my dojo and to Cuong Nhu.

Quicksand or not, this is the road that I am on and the road that I seem to stay on year after year. I don’t know where it will lead or if I will ever get a black belt and be able to teach. I only know that in the past 9 years, my experience in Cuong Nhu has taught me valuable lessons that I use in all parts of my life. They are lessons that help me to function in and give back to the world that I am constantly struggling to remain a part of. Even though the road to black belt seems to be paved with quicksand, the lessons that I am continuously learning help me to keep following it, and stop me from being sucked in. I have come a long way. I will keep following this path and learning the lessons I find along the way. I think that the journey itself is the real prize. But a black belt would be nice too.