Life Lessons of the Martial Arts: Revisited

This week has been a little on the rough side. I’m not going to divulge the details, other than to say it’s not a week that will be remembered fondly. I’m actually still in the process of recovering from the emotional fall-out, and that generally includes a remedy of three things: chocolate, uplifting music that will bolster my shattered confidence, and remembering the lessons I learned while training in the martial arts. To that end, I’m going to do something unprecedented and re-visit a post I did about this time last year.

There’s a stigma in the martial arts that once you stop physically training, you’re no longer a black belt. While there is some merit to that argument — since, without practice, your self-defense skills rapidly become rusty — I humbly disagree. Those that learn the real lessons of the martial arts never lose them. They might not be able to do the most impressive jump spinning kick anymore, and they might not remember all their forms, but they still practice the things that make them better people, that make them black belts. Instead of an outward display, it’s internalized, crossing over into every aspect of their lives. So even though I’m currently on hiatus from my physical training, I don’t consider myself a former black belt. The intangible gifts I was given through Tang Soo Do are ones I’m grateful for every day, and they will continue to shape my life, my relationships, and how I conduct myself, whether or not I ever return to my training.

Which is why I felt this post needed to surface from the archives again. It’s not just an argument for why everyone should train in the martial arts, it’s a reminder to myself. These are things I strive to embody, and I know with absolute certainty that the situations referenced above would have played out quite differently if it weren’t for a few of these qualities. So thanks, Tang Soo Do. Without you, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

And since I couldn’t say it any better than I did in that original post, I give you:
 

Life Lessons of the Martial Arts

 

by Kisa Whipkey

(Originally posted on 3/1/13)

 
Last week I mentioned how I apply a tenet I learned in the martial arts to my everyday life, and since it’s about time I branched away from writing/publishing to show my other categories some love, I think that’s a topic deserving of elaboration. What I’m about to say won’t be news to any of you that have trained, but to those of you unfamiliar with the martial arts, it may be enlightening.

There are three reasons that automatically come to mind when someone says they want to start training:

  • Discipline
  • Fighting/Self-Defense
  • Exercise

And for the most part, that sums up 90% of anyone’s motivation for enrolling. But there’s a lot more to the martial arts than that. Yes, it will help your unruly child learn to respect their elders and shut their mouth without the aid of duct tape. Yes, you will learn self-defense and how to fight. And yes, you will lose weight and tone muscle from all the exercise. But you’ll also miss the much richer elements of personal growth that society never glorifies if you only focus on those three things.

I learned a long time ago that you can easily spot someone who’s made it to black belt. Partly because all martial artists have a certain way of moving; a certain poise and grounded familiarity with their body that screams “black belt” a mile away. And partly because of the way they conduct themselves. There’s a reason they say martial arts is a way of life. It’s because, by the time you reach black belt, your training has gone beyond the physical techniques and has become an ingrained part of your outlook on the world.

Every style has their own philosophies and tenets, but I think there are several that are universal. Not because they’re part of an unwritten code of martial arts brethren, but because they’re the principles that make someone a better person. Things that should be common sense but that have been lost over the years to the majority of society. What are they? Let’s take a look and find out.

Integrity:

In a world where selfishness reigns, it’s refreshing to find someone that actually understands this word. And I would bet that 9 times out of 10, that person is/was a martial artist. Why? Because this is one of the core principles instilled by training. It’s also one of the first that spills over into everyday life. Integrity can be anything from keeping your word, to doing what’s right even when it’s not easy or for your own benefit, to taking responsibility for your actions. This is an attitude that translates to success in everything from school, to personal relationships, to career. A person with integrity is someone that can be counted on, and that’s a sure-fire way to the top of any pack.

Humility:

The second tell-tale sign of someone who’s spent time in the martial arts is humility. People who have learned this have an easier time connecting with others. Nobody likes a braggart, and arrogance is a one-way ticket to alienating all your potential allies. Martial artists learn the fine line of being confident in their abilities without the need to brag. (Well, most do anyway.) And that translates into things like leadership roles, community involvement, and personal satisfaction. Just like integrity, humility is a trait that instantly earns you respect and appreciation, without having to demand it.

Perseverance:

News-flash: life’s hard. It’s all too easy to throw in the towel and just give up, becoming complacent with whatever hand you’ve been dealt. Getting a black belt isn’t easy, either. It involves dedicating yourself to intense workouts, potential injuries and having to hit the floor hard. A lot. You will get knocked down, and you will get hurt. But you also learn how to get back up, how to roll with the punches, and how to achieve any goal you put your mind to, one step at a time. I think the parallel should be obvious. You can apply that same philosophy to anything in life, be that earning a college degree, starting a successful business, or just being present for your family. With a little perseverance, anything is possible.

Situational Awareness:

Self-defense is becoming more and more important, especially for women and young people. So many horrible acts of violence could have been averted if the victim had been more aware of their surroundings, or had avoided putting themselves in danger in the first place. Yes, the martial arts are about fighting, but more importantly, they’re about learning how not to fight. They teach you the self-control to walk away from situations that are turning ugly, and they teach you not to do so many of the stupid things that get people in trouble, like going places alone in the middle of the night, taking drinks from strangers that you didn’t see mixed, or getting in random cars with people you don’t know. The first act of self-defense is knowing how to assess the risks around you; a lesson I wish we taught in schools.

Altruism:

This one may come as a little bit of a surprise to those outside of the martial arts family, but it’s actually a pretty big element in our training, especially the higher ranks. Most styles promote giving back to the community, whether that be the studio itself or the community at large. Some even use it as a criteria for advancement. Which is why you’ll find a lot of black belts volunteering in their communities. The idea of paying forward the time and effort that was given to you, of showing pride and commitment to the people and places around you, is one that translates well into other aspects of life. You don’t have to join the Red Cross, or Habitats for Humanity, or some other grand organization of do-gooders to make a difference. Simply volunteering in your child’s classroom, helping a coworker with a hefty project, or donating your time at a library/care facility will make the world a better place. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all learned that a few moments of selflessness can make all the difference to someone in need? Maybe we wouldn’t see so much violence then.

Those are just a few of the positive affects I’ve seen the martial arts have. Every student will choose the lessons that resonate most sincerely with their own lives, and may not need every one, but you can guarantee they’ll be given the tools just the same. Whether you’re thinking of enrolling your child in the local studio, or whether you’re considering it for yourself, take a moment to think about what I’ve said here. Remember that it’s not just about learning to punch, kick, yell and break things. It’s about learning to be the best version of yourself. If that doesn’t convince you the martial arts are worthwhile, then I’m not sure what will.

And to my fellow martial artists out there, what lessons have you learned in your training? Share the ones I missed in the comments below. 😉

Featured Animation: Nightwolf Productions Logo

Many of you know that my first creative aspirations were in the realm of animation. But how many of you have actually seen something I’ve animated? Exactly one–my mom, and she doesn’t count. (Sorry, Mom!) I think it’s high time I fixed that, so I’m going to reveal a small piece I did during college. I had something else planned for this week, but if I don’t post this now, I’ll lose my nerve and you’ll never get to see it. What am I afraid of? I’m not sure. I’ve just never really showcased my animation skills, even though, supposedly, I’m pretty good. But, like all things creative, it’s hard to trust the opinions of others when you’re your own worst critic.

Anyway, I’m stalling. The following video is a line drawing (known as a pencil test) of my non-existent animation company’s logo–Nightwolf Productions. If you’ve followed me for a while, you may remember me talking about how I envisioned a living logo, inserting the Nightwolf into the beginning of each film like a seamless part of the story. This is not that. This would be akin to the standardized logos you see–Dreamworks’s moon, or Disney’s castle. It features a basic walk cycle, a howl, and the company name. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

It’s not. Each frame took roughly an hour to draw, and a four-legged walk cycle is notoriously the most difficult thing to capture. So between the hours I spent watching my dog running around, and the hours spent drawing, you’re probably looking at upwards of 100 hours of work. That doesn’t include the time spent mixing the soundtrack and sound effects (because, yes, I did create that music mash-up you hear in the background) nor the time spent inputting/syncing everything in Flash. My point? Animation is hard.

But when it all comes together and you hit play, seeing your drawings come to life for the first time, it’s oh so worth it. Even now, years later, I can’t watch this without a stupid grin of pride plastered to my face. So here’s hoping you enjoy it!
 

 

**This video was created as part of a college assignment. It’s solely for personal use and has never been used for profit or actual business transactions. Nightwolf Productions is a fictitious company name.**

Music Credits: (I mixed the music, but I do not stake any claims to it beyond that. These are the people truly responsible for creating it.)

“Prologue” by Alan Menkin, from the Broadway rendition of Beauty and the Beast. Copyright belongs to Disney Theatrical Productions, LTD.

“Bonus Track” by Guy Whitmore, from the Shivers 2: Harvest of Souls Soundtrack (featuring music from the original Shivers game–i.e. the wolf howl). Copyright belongs to Sierra Entertainment, Inc.

Animation Credits:

Art and animation by Kisa Whipkey. Copyright, 2008. All rights reserved.

What it Takes to be an Editor

Now that I’m becoming more known in the literary community, I’ve had people approach me for advice on how to break into an editing career. They all have this bright-eyed illusion of what being an editor entails, envisioning (as I did) days filled with nothing but reading. Sounds glamorous, doesn’t it? Every book lover’s dream job. But let’s have a candid (and snarky!) discussion about the reality of being an editor. Because that pretty image in your head is nothing like the real thing.

A lot of people falsely believe that writing and editing are parallel careers. They’re not. They’re more like distant cousins than the sibling status everyone thinks. If you enjoy the process of creation, editing is not for you. If you love reading, devouring books like life-saving sustenance, editing is not for you. And if you like entertainment that keeps your brain active and stimulated for hours, editing is not for you. If, however, you love puzzles, methodical routines, and helping others, then maybe you’re fit to be an editor.

The truth is, editing’s hard. It’s monotonous, dull, repetitive, and there is absolutely no glory in it. It’s messy, annoying, and time-consuming. And it uses absolutely none of your creative juices. It’s analytical, more than anything, relying on thought processes normally associated with math and logic, rather than those involved with writing. It requires a completely different skill set, and, contrary to popular belief, good writers do not necessarily make good editors. And vice versa.

The literary world is the only one I know of that doesn’t clearly differentiate between its specialized skills, lumping them into one single category — wordsmith. No one would expect a dentist to be able to perform heart surgery, so why can’t we figure out that editing and writing aren’t the same thing? Yes, they’re both grounded in a love for words. And both do conform to the rules of the English language (most of the time). But that’s pretty much where the similarities stop.

So what does it take to be an editor? Let’s find out.
 

Requirement #1: No Life (Workaholic)

 
You know those nights and weekends, holidays, family and friends? Kiss them all goodbye. If you want to be an editor, you better be a workaholic, because otherwise, you’ll be buried up to your eyeballs before you can blink. And don’t think that’s temporary. Oh no, you will never again have a moment to yourself. Your inbox will be filled to the breaking point every time you log in. Your morning run, every meal you eat, and even long car trips will become reading time. And sleep? Yeah, you’d probably get more of that if you’d popped out that baby your mom’s been nagging you to have.

Every single second of every day from the moment you get your first assignment will be filled with something. And if, God forbid, you take so much as an afternoon off, you’ll spend the next two weeks trying to climb back on top of the mountain.

Editors have one of the highest burn-out rates of any job on the market. If you survive past two years, you’re considered hard-core. Because none of us get to do what everyone somehow assumes we do: sit in our offices, leisurely sipping coffee and reading to our heart’s content. In fact, if we get to read at all during the day, it’s probably at home, or crammed into the fifteen empty minutes between tasks. The majority of an editor’s day actually consists of answering emails, planning out structural edits, line edits, project management, more emails and then more line edits. Reading’s at the bottom of the list, unfortunately.

So if you’re an anti-social, agoraphobic insomniac with a workaholic tendency, editing will be the perfect job for you. The rest of us have to learn how to juggle life and work. And sadly, life almost always loses.
 

Requirement #2: OCD (Detail-Oriented)

 
Editing is highly detail-oriented. It’s slow and tedious, and during the course of a single project, you’ll read each chapter so many times you could nearly recite the thing verbatim by the end. So being slightly OCD helps.

There’s a strange (as in sick) sense of satisfaction to be found in surgically removing and altering the smallest things (things normal humans don’t notice) in a sentence. As an editor, you don’t just gloss over everything, you hone it, until there’s absolutely no better way that statement could be phrased. There’s not an ounce of fluff left in the entire manuscript, and, by George, you made sure that thing sings! How long did it take you to do it? Here’s the kicker: about 6-8 months (that includes the amount of time spent back and forth in revisions with the actual author. Because, you know, editors don’t actually write the books). And how long does it take a reader to read those beautifully honed words? About a week, if you’re lucky. I actually watched someone breeze through a project I’d slaved on for nearly a year in a single afternoon!

The point here is that editors are a strange breed of OCD (ahem, I mean detail-oriented) individuals who hold themselves and their authors to a crazy standard of perfect, and will accept nothing less. If you’re not willing to read a manuscript 52 times, invest upwards of 6 months of your life into someone else’s work, then walk away. You’re not one of us.
 

Requirement #3: Skills (Not Just Grammar, Folks)

 
This should be a no-brainer. Clearly, an editor needs skills, right? But which skills?

There’s an assumption out there that editing consists of one thing — fixing grammar. Editors are all a bunch of pompous English professors who couldn’t sell their own writing, and so, bitterly hand down judgement on everyone’s inability to follow the rules of the English language. In short, we’re grammar Nazis, and that’s it. That assumption is incorrect. And why so many writers get taken advantage of by shoddy editors who do nothing but fix superficial punctuation and spelling mistakes. (**Ducks from the impending barrage of hatred.**)

A real editor does so much more than fix your grammar. They’ll do that too, but more importantly, they’ll fix your story in its entirety. From plot holes, character development, and timeline re-sequencing, to sentence smoothing, and fact/detail cross-referencing, an editor is a master storyteller. Not only do they fully understand the various narrative methods and their uses, but they do all this without compromising the writer’s voice. They’re chameleons, morphing into a version of the author and enhancing that person’s style so that no trace of the editor is visible to the outside world. (I mentioned there was no glory in editing, right? All the applause and accolades go solely to the author — as they should. You don’t exist to the world of readers.)

True editors can hold an entire book in their heads, shifting and reorganizing the narrative threads as needed. And the really good ones can do this with multiple projects at once. It’s a rare skill, and one that will instantly mark a professional from an amateur. This is the thing that the writers-turned-editors can’t compete with. What the grammar Nazis can’t ever hope to provide. This is the true skill of an editor. So the question is, does this sound like you? If yes, then congratulations, you’re an editor. If what I’ve said sounds like mumbo-jumbo or makes you cringe even the tiniest bit, then adios! You’re better off doing something else.
 

Requirement #4: Passion (Passion Trumps the Suckage)

 
This is the last requirement for becoming an editor, but I’d dare say it’s the most important one. Why? Because passion is what makes it all worthwhile; it’s what trumps all the suckage. As you can see, editing is kind of a sucky job. I mean, for some of us, it’s a calling, and we love it through and through. But to the outside world, it looks brutal, horrible, and leaves you wondering why, in God’s name, anyone would ever want to do it. The answer is pretty simple though: passion. Passion for storytelling, for books, and for the people who write them. If you don’t have this, you’ll never make it as an editor. You might survive for a little while. You may even enjoy it at first. But eventually, the incessant schedule will wear you down and you’ll walk away.

How do you know if you have it? The passion? I’m not sure. I don’t think there’s a quantifiable way to tell. But I’ll leave you with this to ponder:

Writers often talk about how writing is the best part of their day. How it’s a cathartic release, a joy. For them, the creation process is the most beautiful thing. But for an editor, a 100% born-to-be editor, it’s not. That joy will come from the part of the process every writer loathes. Where writers find relaxation pouring words onto a page, you’ll find it in rearranging those words. Where they find joy breathing life into new stories, you’ll find it in fixing them. To you, the best part will be feeling all those intricate puzzle pieces click into place, and then watching, like a proud teacher, as your author and their book graduate to take their place in the world of success.

It’s not a job for everyone, but if you have the skills and the passion, (if you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else,) then it just might be for you. I’m definitely 100% editor. Are you?

Featured Image: The Anchor

One of my non-writing resolutions for 2014 is to showcase more of my art. I call myself an artist, (I even paid a boatload of money for a piece of paper certifying me as such) but all anyone’s ever seen from me is a single image.  So we’re going to change that. I realize this blog is primarily known for its writing/publishing advice. But you’ll bear with me if I slip in a few art-related posts, right? Especially if, like this one, they somehow pertain to my writing? I hope so, anyway, because here goes . . .
 

The Anchor

 
Image by Kisa Whipkey
 

Some of you may already be able to guess what this illustration is referencing, but for those who don’t know, let me explain. This is Nameless, from The Bardach.

The inception of the short story was pretty simple; it was written solely to explain how Amyli became Nameless, the lead Storyteller and anchor for the Nightwolf. What’s an anchor? It’s like a link, an access point. She’s essentially an empty vessel, strategically placed so that he can leave his realms and muck around in the human one. Wiped of her identity, Nameless’s mission is to travel around, imparting the messages the Nightwolf wants her to. Once human, she’s now a shifter, able to transform into the Nightwolf at whim.

There’s much more to their story, but that’s pretty much all you learn by reading the short version. This image was created around the time I was trying to figure out exactly what their relationship was. Originally, the Nightwolf didn’t have a companion, but after I realized that he was more than simply my logo (I’ve explained this in much more detail here), Nameless appeared. And once it became clear what her purpose was, The Bardach was born.

The sketch version doesn’t contain the wolf image. I’m actually more proud of that than this version, which was created in Adobe Illustrator after. But I couldn’t get it to translate well, so this version will have to do. Plus, you get to see one of my original interpretations of the bond between Nameless and the Nightwolf. Is this how it actually happens in the story? No. It isn’t. She fully transforms, because halfling werewolves are one of my pet peeves.  But this is meant to be a visual representation of their spirit bond, illustrating the fact that she has a wolf’s soul in place of her own.

If you’d like to learn more about Nameless or the Nightwolf, I suggest checking out their story. There’s an excerpt featured in my Published Works section, and there will be a new version releasing by the end of the year. Thanks for letting me share one of my images. I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief interlude from our normally scheduled program. Next week, I’ll be back with something more standard. What? I’m not sure yet, so if anyone has a request, please let me know! 😉

A Writer’s Resolutions: 2014 Edition

I’m back! Did you miss me? 😉

Last year, I wrote a post about resolutions. This year, I’ve decided to continue that tradition and start an annual feature where I’ll detail my goals for the coming year, and look back on what I accomplished (or didn’t, more likely) from the previous list. I’m not talking about the usual suspects — the “I want to lose weight” (although, that is high on my list this year), “I want to be debt free” (a girl can dream right?), “I want to marry a prince and live on a floating island in the clouds” type of resolutions. No, I’m talking about the specific list that all writers make.

If you write, chances are this one features prominently: “I want to be published”. But like I pointed out in last year’s post, that has about as much chance of success as marrying that prince with the floating island. You need to be more specific than that. When you break a resolution into the individual steps you’ll need to accomplish it, it starts to look more real. To prove a point, I tried my own advice and created these resolutions for 2013:
 

Writing Resolutions 2013

 

  • Finish the rough draft of Unmoving
  • Upload Chapters of Unmoving every two weeks to Wattpad & Authonomy
  • Revise and Re-publish The Bardach, Spinning & Confessions via Createspace/Amazon KDP
  • Compile brief synopses of all plot bunnies
  • Write, Edit & Publish one new short story

 
How did I stack up? Well, I didn’t. According to that list, I accomplished exactly . . . nothing. Unmoving still isn’t finished (in fact, I technically haven’t written on it since July), it’s not featured on Wattpad or Authonomy (yet), my short stories languish somewhere in forgotten-land, and the only new thing I wrote was 1/16th of a novel that’s probably the worst quality ever thanks to Camp Nano. But that doesn’t mean the resolutions themselves were bad. It just means that I suck at following my own advice. 😉

2013 was actually riddled with writing-related achievements, they just weren’t the ones I expected. I’m now the Editorial Director for REUTS Publications; I’ve reviewed so many amazing (and unpublished) manuscripts I’ve lost count; I’ve been involved in numerous writing contests, Twitter events, and saw a couple of the books I helped edit reach publication; I’ve made invaluable connections with others in the industry, many of whom I now view as friends; and most importantly, I created a way to share Unmoving while it’s still being written! So 2013 was by no means a dull year on the creativity front. In fact, I think it was the busiest I’ve ever been. And I loved every minute of it!

Where does that leave me as we head into 2014? Optimistic as always. The new year sparkles with possibility, and I’m nothing if not superb at creating to-do lists. (It’s the finishing them part I’m not so great at.) So, in true New Year’s fashion, here’s my ambitious list for the coming year:
 

Writing Resolutions 2014

 

  • Finish Unmoving (Kind of inevitable now, since I have a bi-weekly deadline to keep my hiney motivated.)
  • Revise and Re-publish The Bardach, Spinning & Confessions via Createspace/Amazon KDP (Yep, I’m recycling, what of it?)
  • Compile brief synopses of all plot bunnies (I really need to get this one done. Some of those little buggers are starting to escape!)
  • Write, Edit & Publish one new short story (Really not sure why I failed at this one. It’s not an insanely difficult thing to do . . .)
  • Quit The Dreaded Day Job so I can focus on editing & writing full time (Probably not likely, but I’m shooting for the stars. They say if you write it down, it’ll happen. So hear that, writing gods? Make it happen!)

 
There’s a plethora of other things I could add to that list, but then I’d start straying from the realistic goals to the ones I know I’ll never complete. 5 seems to be a comfortable level of possible for me, anything beyond that and I may as well crumple the whole thing up and chuck it now. I’d love to say that I’ll finish more than one novel, that I’ll write a new short story every week, or that I’ll manage to do any of the other things full-time writers do. But the reality is that none of that can happen until I achieve resolution #5. Thankfully, I do see that happening in my near future, thanks to the support of my freelance clients (you guys rock!) and my work with REUTS. Will it happen this year, though? That remains to be seen. 😉

Okay, it’s your turn! What feat of writing greatness do you want to accomplish this year? And how did you do with your resolutions from last?

(P.S. Thank you to everyone who entered my 2013 Holiday Giveaway. Your support made it, by far, the most successful giveaway I’ve ever done. Unfortunately, there can only be 3 winners though. So please give a big round of congratulations to those lucky people: Alexandra Perchanidou, Carly Drake, & Rachel Oestreich! You’ll be receiving a paperback copy of Echoes of Balance by Cally Ryanne. To everyone else, don’t worry, there will be more chances to win something awesome coming May 2014. So stick around! I’ll try to make it worth your while. 😉 )