Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009: A Recap

I admit it - last year this time, I was experiencing a bit of tunnel vision. Six months away from testing for shodan, my focus was on stepping up the intensity of my training without getting inured. I succeeded in totally exhausting myself, but it led to all kinds of introspective examination that forced me to view my training in a new light - all of which I am still able to draw on today. Of course it led to some other epiphanies, realizations and discoveries - all because I had training partners (like Ed pictured with me above) and instructors (thanks, Sensei S.!) who encouraged me to ask questions and not take "That's just how it's always been done" as an acceptable answer. To them I am most grateful.

Although the year ushered in some economic downturns, it has been a rich one in terms of what I've gained from the martial arts. Wasn't sure exactly what I was expecting after spring grading, but I definitely got much more than I bargained for, including:

* my first broken bone (ouch!)
* nostalgia over untying my brown belt for good
* contemplating karate 12-step programs
* new training routines
* seeing amazing karate practitioners earn their red belts
* competing and judging in some great tournaments
* connecting with some great female martial artists via their blogs

Here's to an equally incredible 2010! Happy New Year =)

Monday, December 28, 2009

My Feet Are KILLING Me...

And sparring barefoot in the dojo is only making things worse.

I usta wear the dipped foam kicks to spar in, but they kinda squeeze my toes together and the plastic strap on the bottom make me slide all over the ring. I now wear cloth shin guards that have padding to cover my instep which provide lots of flexibility, but they leave my toes exposed. After a particularly foot-brutalizing round-robin sparring session on Tuesday night, I'm finding that exposed toes hurt when you kick something over and over again. I need a new solution for my feet, I think...

At a tournament I went to a few weeks back, I noticed lots of participants sparring in shoes with padded tops but that tied/fastened like shoes. I saw an ad in a karate magazine for the Ringstar shoes above and think I may have found something that works. They have suede bottoms that cover the entire bottom of the foot (no more sliding!) and they are easier to fasten (no more velcro that either comes undone or cuts off the circulation to my toes!) - heaven! Of course they are new on the market (so I don't know anyone personally who's tried them) and much more expensive than my $25 foam kicks, so I'm soliciting some feedback here.

Have you tried or know anyone who has tried them?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Delicate Balance

Fellow martial artist and blogger Michele posted a question in her "Just a Thought" blog a few days ago about black belts teaching. Should it be required? Is there a responsibility to "give back" to help keep the art alive? What is it about becoming a yundansha (black belt) that makes a karate student magically eligible to teach?

The school I came through the ranks in has no strict rules about teaching. In fact, many of us had led class stretching/warmup/kihon more than a few times by the time we'd become second- or first-kyu brown belts. There's no real instruction on how to lead the class though; your sensei just calls your name and asks you to start the warmup or demonstrate X technique. Let's just say we learned fast that there's a world of difference between being told what to do/how to do it and telling everyone else the same.

Three of us tested for shodan this past May and within a few weeks, we were all leading groups of under belts through kata, self-defense and sparring techniques. Although I love teaching and enjoy helping other karateka, what I found was that once the teaching started, the learning sorta stopped. But if black belt is really the beginning of training, how do you continue on a path that has become a bit obscured by the lessons you now give instead of the ones you get? Understand, I personally have no problems with giving back, but learning more in order to have more to give would be a great, too. Unfortunately, I had to go elsewhere to learn more - which is how I ended up with Sensei S since June.

Think about the instruction you've gotten and it isn't hard to see that some instructors are simply better than others. Just because you know a thing does not necessarily mean you can effectively explain how or why that thing is to others. Sensei S and I had a conversation about why this is the case. He's a very thorough instructor and has a knack for explaining things in logical, practical ways. When I asked him how he got to be such an instructor, he said he was fortunate enough to have instructors who taught him how to teach. Hmmmm...

So, an open letter to my other senseis would probably read like this:

Onegaishiamasu - please teach me - how to teach before you toss me into the lion's den to fend for myself. Baptism by fire might not the best instructor make. And please help me help others by continuing to teach me more about this incredible art. Teaching and learning probably shouldn't be mutually exclusive. Domo arigato goziamasu.

Stepping off my soapbox now...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

History in Harlem

In a junior high school gym in the Bronx last weekend, The Harlem Goju Association held its year-end promotions. Bigger than any they've had in recent years, 105 karateka fell in - at least 18 of whom were fourth-dan or higher. Grand Master Sam McGee - the head of the organization - said that all of the students in the first row had each been training with him for at least 30 years, evident by the white gis they wore to signify their rank.

There were no self-defense techniques, no tamishiwara, no sparring - just individual, group and demonstration kata. There were many highlights of the afternoon, but at one point, Master McGee called his youngest student out for kata. No more than four, she stood there in kioske and looked up at him, waiting for instruction on what to do next. Too humbling.

Being in that gym was like watching a "who's who" of USA Goju. In talking about how important the association has been to the community over the years - especially in providing free karate training to area families - Master Eddie Long spoke of a grand championship kumite match at the Manhattan Center in the 1970s where he was the center judge and Master McGee and Master Ernest Hyman were tied at the end of regulation. Master McGee blasted off the line to score the next "sudden death" point to win the match, but Master Hyman promptly ran off with the trophy! Classic stories like that remind you that although these great karateka have won championships upon championships and have taught more people than I can probably count, they are still mere mortals who put their pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us.

When the last certificate had been given out, Master McGee was in for a surprise of his own: after promoting the son of his late sensei, Major Leon Wallace, to 10th Dan, he was also elevated to the rank of 10th Dan. Never seen anyone get a red belt before, but seeing two folks tie on those belts in one day was pretty amazing.

Very happy I went and got a chance to witness history...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Paradigm Shift

I'm not sure how "normal" is is to have more than one instructor, but I actually have four. The most I've trained with at one time was three, which seems like a lot, really. But there is a story behind it all.

I started Goju at my son's instructor - Sensei F's - invitation to just "try" it. Somehow, I think he knew I'd be hooked. But as my interest in this new thing grew, I felt kind of limited by the fact that Sensei F's class only met once a week. He graciously pointed us to a sister dojo one county over, whose head instructors - Sensei M and Sensei R - came through the ranks with him. Their classes met twice during the week on days that didn't conflict with my home class. Some things were done differently - especially in kata - which made me kind of scratch my head because the two schools were not only part of the same clan, but taught by folks who had been taught together. Hmmm. But my son and I - and later the training partners from our home dojo who eventually joined us for treks across the bridge - just adapted a "When in Rome..." attitude and acted accordingly. Consequently, we learned two different ways to do many of the self-defense techniques and katas we were required to learn. For almost four years we traveled and learned. We also asked questions that weren't always answered, but that's another story.

It's funny how the things you do seem perfectly sane while you're doing them. But now, the thought of doing the same techniques two different ways with both being accepted as "the standard" seems utterly ridiculous. And just when it seemed things couldn't get any weirder, we started traveling to yet another dojo.

Since the Tuesday/Thursday classes across the river kind of dwindle down to a trickle once summer rolls around (meaning that since Sensei M and Sensei R aren't around too much, you never know which guest instructor or shodan will be leading the class) and since the idea of going from three nights a week of class to one was not one I was willing to entertain, we took Sensei S up on his long standing offer to come train with him and his students as a way to supplement what we were already doing. My son, training partner Ed, and I have been traveling an hour each way twice a week since June to get to his class as a result. Although we couldn't continue to travel so far every Tuesday and Thursday once school began again, my son and I still make it at least once a week.

Trouble is that now, some of the information we're getting is starting to conflict with the information we learned way back when. I'm talking polar opposites in the basic, simplest techniques. Direct contradiction is not an overstatement. Again, same style and senseis who at least started with the same instructor - but the differences are astounding.

Last week, after he'd been being ridden by Sensei S like a Kentucky Derby horse over his stances and "floating" kicks, my son said he was upset about how some of the techniques were initially taught to him. Some things - like hand positions during sparring and kata bunkai - seem so ineffective and inefficient now, and even when he asked what the techniques were or why they were done a specific way, he said he got answers suggesting that those reasons had more to do with tradition rather than working what works. He really likes going to Sensei S's class because he gets those explanations - given in practical ways that make sense to him - before he is SHOWN how and why it works. I heard him during our conversation, but last night - when it was MY turn to be that Kentucky Derby filly - I totally FELT what he was talking about.

I've come to realize that much of what I've been taught up to June feels like a watered-down version of karate, which ain't good. And since I'm now teaching a little at my home dojo - and have been asked to teach it how I learned it - I find myself in quite the pickle. If I had to go elsewhere to learn that my techniques weren't effective, I now know that the people I'm teaching those very same techniques to will hafta re-learn them at some point - which they'll have to go elsewhere to do. If they don't, they may get their butts handed to them if they ever needed to rely on those techniques in a real, live situation. In effect, I'm contributing to the watering down by default. I can't be easy with that - which means I've got some decisions to make...

Moving on means I'll be back to one-night a week class at least until summer rolls around again, which is a bad thing. But watered-down is a bad thing, too. Is bad karate better than no karate? That is the question...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tournament Time - Take Two...

Off to another tourney this past weekend. This time it was downstate in NYC - Queens to be exact. Unlike a few weeks ago upstate, I did not compete and only judged kata, self-defense, weapons and kumite competition. But just like a few weeks ago, I learned a ton, met lots of incredible people and had a blast.

Judging an open tournament can be interesting. Because judges might not be familiar with the style or form presented, each competitor's attitude, focus, intent and body position all become uber important. So, no, Virginia, it's not the flashy splits, high kicks or glitter weapons that will make you champion, but do all that with rock-solid technique and it just might.

One of the first groups I graded was 6-9-year-old intermediate kata. There was one little lady who had amazing kicks and really knew how to move across the ring. But everything her kicks were, her punches were not. Each hand technique revealed bent wrists and sloppy form - almost like she was just putting her hands out there to get onto the next kick already. Apparently use to winning, she literally teared up when she finished third. The sifu sitting next to me spoke with her after she competed to suggest working on her hand techniques to improve her kata. She was polite and listened, but I'm not sure she heard him at all.

Next up was the 6-9 year old beginner boys weapon forms division. The only competitors were two brothers who each did a basic bo kata. The second brother was doing well until he dropped his bo about half-way through his form. He looked devastated, but he picked up his weapon and continued. When his brother was awarded the mondo winner's trophy (no joke, it was six feet tall) brother number two could only watch as his brother hoisted it up as best he could, threw and arm in the air and cheered.

Later in the day, my ring hosted the 18-34-year-old men's intermediate sparring division. Green and green-belt equivalents all, one competitor felt it necessary to speak to the center judge after his match. He said that, because he was hit in the head twice (competition rules allowed for absolutely no head or face contact in the underbelt divisions - but the contact had to be witnessed by two of the three ring judges), he should have been awarded the win over his opponent.

Although all of the competitors above were relatively new to martial arts, humility is a huge chunk of what being a martial artist is about. Budo dictates modesty and temperate attitudes at all times - even in sport karate. But perhaps, like everything else we do on the mat and in the dojo, humility, modesty and temperance all take work and time to develop. How to compete, win and lose with grace must be learned, just like an effective round-house kick or a reverse punch. They also have to be honed. Perhaps they should all be taught right along with those roundhouses and reverse punches.

But I also saw some stellar examples of temperance in action - like the 9-year-old whose glasses flew off in the middle of his form but who continued without missing a step. Or the 5-year-old who got kicked hard in the gut during a sparring match but got up, wiped his tears and finished fighting. Or the blind green belt in the intermediate women's 35+ division who had to be escorted into and out of the ring before and after she presented Empi Ha kata - a USA Goju brown belt form. Or the only two 35+ female black belt competitors who each gave lessons on presenting kata with Super Empi and Seiuchin. Or the many masters there with 20-30+ years of martial arts training under their belts who spent 10-12 hours judging forms and sparring yesterday, sharing their knowledge and taking a relatively new shodan like me under their wings.

Yep. I had a blast...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Six Months and Counting...

Saturday marked six months since my shodan test. I made it memorable it by traveling to a karate tournament upstate with Sensei S. and some of my training partners.

The good thing about the tourney was that all black belt competitors were asked to judge the underbelt kata and sparring competitions, which concluded before the black belt competition began. I'd been a corner judge for point sparring matches before, but never for kata. With Sensei S. guiding me (he stepped out of a ring so I could jump in and get my feet wet) and some great experienced judges setting the tone, it went well - and I learned a great deal.

Karate competitions are one of the few places where people over 35 are considered "seniors." As any female senior who competes can tell you, there often are not loads of people to compete against. But, thanks to a tournament record turnout of black belts Saturday, there were seven female seniors presenting kata. One of only two non-Tae Kwon Do practitioners on the mat, I ended up finishing second to the woman who went on to win grand kata champion. My knees were literally shaking as I walked into the ring and my legs felt like they would just give out, I was so nervous! But I got through it - my first competition as a yudansha or dan (as opposed to a mudansha or kyu) - without any major flubs or rushing it, as I tend to do when I'm nervous.

Sparring went well, too. As is also usually the case, there weren't as many senior women who wanted to spar (only four), but, because competition kumite is really just a game of tag, my plan to be aggressive and "tag" first worked pretty well. I also got to work on my blitzing and moving off my adversary's center line.

I don't compete a lot - usually three times a year, tops - but each time I do, I enjoy it. I know it isn't really what karate is all about, but for me, the idea of going toe to toe with someone of unknown ability in a controlled environment forces me to think and strategize in a way that no other training does. With five judges watching every corner of the ring, I know there is only so much pain that can possibly be inflicted. Competing is about as close to a real life "dukes up" situation as I've ever experienced. I'm hopeful that through it, the idea of having to put my dukes up in a real situation won't be so totally foreign. I've only had one other fight in my life (in second grade with a girl named Terry Daniels; she pulled my hair, I pulled hers and it was over), so the only experience I'm getting at making this a little more innate is on the mat. In short, competition sparring makes me face my fear, which is anything but comfortable for certain.

And it's truly a blast, too! Never in a million years did I ever think I'd enjoy fighting, but I do. How strange is that?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bruises and Boo-Boos and Breaks - Oh My!

Last night, we got to do lots of round-robin sparring. Between rounds, I stood with one foot in front of the other, watching my dojo brothers and sisters. When I shifted to even my weight, I literally saw stars. Seems that somehow during the rounds, I'd broken the baby toe on my right foot. That's the injured and swollen digit above, tapped to the one next to it.

Of course karate is a contact sport and I know injury is often part of the game. Actually, my lip is a bit swollen today and my left knee is still a bit battered from stance work we did last week. Par for the course in the life of a martial artists, I suspect.

While we were taking off our gear, one of my training partners grimaced when she bent down. She'd gotten a bruise on her foot a while back and was quickly reminded of it when she reached for her bag. "Will we ever be whole again?" she joked.

Par for the martial arts course, I guess...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Afternoon with the Masters

Sensei S. had a brilliant idea some months back: getting teachers who've influenced him over the last 30+ years together in one room to present seminars on martial arts. Last weekend, we got to soak up the fruits of his vision at the "Afternoon With the Masters" seminar at SUNY Purchase.

The five masters - S. Henry Cho Tae Kwon Do Sa Bom Nim Vernon Slader, American Karate Systems Master Kevin Thompson, Hapkido and Jee Do Kwon Tae Kwon Do Sa Bom Nim Walter Eddie, Zen-Do Kai founder Master Michael Campos and Chinese and Nisei Goju/Isshanryu Karate Master Khalef (Pete) Williams - have each studied their respective arts for at least 40 years - so, yep, they brought lots of knowledge to the table, for sure. Hard not to be immediately humbled when in the presence of such an amazing array of dedicated martial artists.

We worked lots of stuff in those four hours - including seemingly small things like stances, flexibility improvement and learning to kiai from the tanden. Between sessions, I scrambled to my notebook to jot as much info down as I could so I could work on it later in hopes of being better able to retain it. I'd had the distinct pleasure of working at other seminars with three of the masters my group was paired with - and was amazed at their knowledge and willingness to share it each time - but I have to admit that I'm still a little star-struck about actually meeting and working with SBN Walter Eddie. I mean THE Walter Eddie - O.M.G.!

Can you find me in the group photo above? I'm the wide-eyed karateka on the bottom right. My son is holding my shoulders to keep me from floating away :-)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Question of Etiquette

At the end of every class - right before rei - the sensei or the seipai always remind us of the three rules of every USA Goju dojo on the planet: everyone works, nothing is free and all start at the bottom - which brings me to the etiquette question burning in my mind today: If you are a black belt in say, Shotokan or TKD, what should you do with your obi if you decide to step on the mat in a Goju or Wado-Ryu class? It was my understanding that the practitioner should either:

1. wear his/her current rank but line up in the back of the class.
2. turn his/her obi knot to the back and line up in the back of the class.
3. ditch the obi altogether and line up in the back of the class or
4. don a white belt and line up accordingly.

Notice the trend?

Last night, a young woman who is about to test for nidan in Shorin-Ryu - but who has been coming to the college class gi-less for about a month or so - showed up in her Shorin-Ryu gi and black belt. She was allowed to line up directly behind the class shodans, which put her in front of some second and first kyus who have been training with Sensei F for four to five years or more. I got there just as we were falling in, so I'm not sure if she just arrived in gi and Sensei, out of respect for her rank, told her to fall in up front or what, but I'm pretty sure reishiki dictates that she should have deferred and respectfully lined up near the rear.

I really couldn't care less who lines up in front, but since Sensei F. always reminds the newbies in the back to look to the front row for guidance on how certain techniques are done, it seems like the front row should have folks in it who know what they are dong. Sure a front snap kick is a front snap kick, but kata is a whole 'nother ball of wax. And during the second half of class, any color belt in the room could have lead her through the kata she was working on/learning because it was a white belt kata not done in her style.

As summer was approaching last year, I toyed with the idea of studying a style like TKD to improve my kicking skills. I went so far as to sign up for the four free classes the dojang offered (although I later canceled due to some scheduling conflicts), but the idea of walking in to train in a new style wearing my black belt from my current style was never even a thought. I wouldn't wear my current rank to a Judo or Jujitsu class either, simply because I'm not a black belt in either of those styles.

At the summer dojo I finally settled in, a similar thing happened a while back: two students showed up to train who had black belts in other styles (Brazilian Jujitsu and Kung Fu), but lined up in back without even having to be asked. After about a month, the seipai pulled them aside and asked them to please start wearing their white belts to class. They've done so ever since...

Last night, I was the seipai - although I earned my shodan rank only five months ago. What do you think: is it time to channel my summer dojo's seipai and speak to our "new" black belt?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kiai!: My First Time

I’ve always been very physically active. In grade school it was kickball, tag and later, the middle school’s softball team (I played first base). As a freshman in high school, a few months after watching my uncle in the NYC marathon, I decided to give the track team a try. I ran and jumped my way right into an athletic scholarship, seeing the US and earning a B.A. without any school loans hanging over my head in the process.

Through career shifts, marriage, pregnancy and divorce, I kept competing (OK - I did take a year off when my son was born). In July 2004, I retired from the sport so I could work on my Master's and still keep up with my then 11-yr-old son. A few days after I started graduate school, I found a pea-sized lump in my right breast.

Thanksgiving break was spent recovering from a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction (which isn't quite so immediate, it turns out). In January, after watching my son do kata from the balcony of the dojo while trying to read my school assignments, I decided to take his sensei up on the offer to join the class. Since track had ended, I hadn’t even run to the refridgerator. I missed being active. I missed sweating.

And sweat, we did – thanks to the generous helpings of pushups, jumping jacks and ab work Sensei F. dished out. At least that was familiar – unlike the stances, katas and punching/kicking drills. I felt like the world’s least coordinated person for quite a while (which Sensei F assured me was totally normal), but it felt really good to hit something. Plus we were encouraged to scream loudly while punching and kicking. Physically yelling while pummeling a pad (or even a person :-) proved to be pretty darn therapeutic - and a whole lot cheaper than psychotherapy.

Three weeks before my last radiation treatment, I entered my first competition, (I wore a foam chest protector to keep the radiated skin from getting hit too much). A few days after - a Thursday - I remember getting really excited because Saturday - which had become "karate day" - was right around the corner. My passion for this new mind/body/spirit thing was ignited.

A few days ago (October 4), I celebrated my five year “cancerversary.” Through all the physical changes breast cancer brought, karate was the one constant, proving that I may have had cancer, but cancer didn’t really have me because I could do stuff that I’d never even tried before my diagnosis (seriously - how many of you had ever sunk into a cat, long or horse stance before karate?), so for me, breast cancer and karate will always be connected. I’m so glad I took off my shoes and lined up in the back of the class that day. If I hadn't, my bare feet probably wouldn't be on the path they're on now. And I probably would have never really appreciated how great a good, loud kiai is for the soul.

Since it is Breast Cancer Awareness, I'd be remiss if I didn't remind you about the importance of self-exams, clinical breast exams and mammograms. But before you go and schedule your appointment, tell me about your intro to MA. What was your first training session like?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Epiphany: "Distance" Karate

Tuesday night at the dojo, we worked on ippon kumite self-defense technique "add ons." See, coming through the ranks, the 13 ippons we were required to know were taught to us one at a time - as in only one being done at a time. In the dojo this week, we worked on doing two and even three at a time - adding on, if you will.

"Remember," Sensei S. told us, "ippon kumite techniques are only ONE POINT techniques that are designed to defend from one thing: a straight punch to the face. So, after you've countered that, you've really only disarmed ONE of your adversary's weapons (limbs)." The idea, he continued, is to learn to keep attacking and finish until the adversary is neutralized.

OK - so this made sense to me. I jumped in and got to work with those extra empis, sternum strikes and shoulder locks - only to realize that I stopped the techniques just before my uke tapped out. So I started thinking and fell upon this epiphany: I ALWAYS stop before the person I'm doing the technique on can tap. Even when instructed to "stay the course" and keep the shoulder lock or arm bar on until the tap, I stopped just short. Always. What the heck is that about?!?

I know it makes no sense, but I think the idea of stepping into a technique to grab someone and take them down intimidates the snot out of me. Like every other little girl on the planet, I grew up on fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White where the heroine was kind, gentle, giving and nurturing. Sure their gentle nature almost did them in, but in the end, it all worked out, right? I think that's my hope as far as self-defense goes. Perhaps I may even be a little afraid of hurting my adversary, which really makes no sense at all - so I talked to Sensei S about it.

He said that most likely, if I found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time or to protect my child, I'd do what I needed to do to save me/us, not the other person. My concern, of course, is that how I train will be exactly how I actually respond in the face of confrontation. But I'm not sure if that's even the real reason.

So here it is: truth be told, I don't want to be that close to someone trying to do me harm - and shoulder locks and empis to the gut, neck or jaw require intimately close contact. I'm 6'2" with a 41" inseam, so a hook kick to the head or any other wide, sweeping technique will net the same incapacitation that will allow me and mine enough time to get away - and is what I prefer. But Sensei S countered with the idea that an attacker won't really allow me the distance to pull such a technique off as he or she will insist on the closeness as a way to restrict and control.

The something new I learned this week is that I need much work on finishing what is started by an adversary. The learning curve here is huge - but at least the learning continues. Where I'll go from here with it is anyone's guess.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The "Art" of My Martial Art

Before I ever stepped bare foot onto the mat, I watched my son train in karate for almost a whole year. Because I sat in the balcony of the gym while I watched, I got to see patterns of the katas the class worked on from a very unique perspective. Since I was also a graduate student with a ton of reading to do at the time, one of my eyes was always in a textbook - but when I finally did take Sensei up on his offer to give the class a try, I knew mostly all of the first form. It's amazing how much can actually be retained by watching something being done over and over again.

The first seven forms in our style have the same basic foot pattern - just different stances and/or hand positions - so once you learn the first, the next six come in short order. Although the bunkai was explained to me as I learned them, I think I was pretty much just going through the movements and placing my hands and feet where I was told they were supposed to be so I could get through this kata and onto learning the next. Then I saw one of my training partners present Geki-Sai dai Ichi and everything changed. As she moved through the stance and block changes, I could almost see her adversary - and I got it: Sensei F's adage about kata being "motion plus emotion" rang in my ear. The fluidity was fascinating! I didn't know how to make my body do that, but I knew I wanted to learn. Back to the beginning to tighten and refine.

Lately, kata work has been highly specialized. Of course the bunkai is emphasized, but so much more attention is paid to the seemingly subtle things like hand placement, staying "in the dance" and especially breathing timed with the movements. I'm finding that where I used to be thinking about the next move, I'm now thinking about how effective and efficient the move needs to be and what I need to do with my arms, my hands, my legs, my feet and my torso to make it happen. Once more, I'm finding a new need to take them all apart, refine, tighten and clean them up again. It sometimes seems like an impossibly large undertaking, but very necessary. There is always something new to learn for sure.

Each day, it seems that the adage about kata being the art of the martial arts makes more sense to me - and like any artistic endeavor, it takes time, energy and work to make it shine. A musician friend of mine refers to the honing of the skills for his craft as "shedding" - as in taking it apart, doing it and doing it again and learning how to do it better, all in the woodshed behind the house, which is how it used to be done back in the day.

Heading to the shed!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Proud to Fight Like a Girl

Anyone who has ever received any electronic correspondence from me knows that the above is part of my email signature. I put it there in an attempt to flatten some of the negativity associated with doing things "like a girl" - which usually is not meant as a compliment. When I was a kid, it seemed that doing something "like a girl" meant the effort was weak or that the person throwing, hitting, screaming or running wasn't quite up to snuff. Doing something "like a girl" - even if you WERE a girl - was the ultimate insult.

Haven't been a kid for quite some time, but there is still an interesting parallel to "coming of age" in my life these days, thanks to training in the martial arts. Every now and again, one of my female training partners and I have vivid email exchanges about what it means to be a woman training in a testosterone-soaked environment of her home/my sister dojo. Although we disagree with whether our common experiences in the dojo are actually inherently sexist, we both have recognized that, either by design or by happenstance, we are sometimes treated differently than male karateka. Sometimes it's blatant, sometimes it's subtle, but we've both seen it most often when it comes time to pad up and prepare to spar. While the guys often get to round-robin spar for at least four rounds, we women only get to spar that many times if there happen to be four other women on the mat that evening. One night, a third dan who's trained longer than most of us in the dojo, only fought once because I was the only other woman there for her to fight. The seemingly unwritten assumption that women are weak (not weakER) that makes it OK to - well - treat her like a girl is one of the main reasons I have dreamed about training in an all female environment...

So, I often have to get inspiration from outside of the dojo. Sometimes it comes from reading about women like Hangaku Gozen (pictured above), who raised an army in response to an attempt to overthrow the Japanese Kamakura Shogunate way back in 1201. Sometimes it comes from talking to real, live women in the dojos I've visited, who've been there, done that and "bought the t-shirt" so to speak. It also comes from reading the experiences of others I've never even met before - fellow female martial artists who are following their own paths while fearlessly blogging about it. Kudos to Krista de Castella for her "Memoirs of a Grasshopper" blog, Cheri Arbuckle for her "On My Own Two Feet" blog, Michelle for "Just a Thought", Sue C for "Kick Ass SueC" as well as to Martial Arts Mom, The Perpetual Beginner and Black Belt Mama. Thank you for taking the time to share a bit about your journey down the path with others walking nearby. Thank you for posing the difficult questions and tackling tough and such sometimes politically incorrect topics as domestic violence, training abroad and returning to the mat after ACL surgeries.

Thanks for continuing to make me proud to to fight like a girl.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Summer Learning Almost Over (Sniff, Sniff!)

Admittedly, this has been one of the most educational and fun summers I've had - and I do mean EVER. In addition to the cookouts, concerts, the beach runs and other outdoor stuff that the warmest three months of the year are famous for, my summer karate home provided even more excitement - wrapped, of course, in enough drills, sparring techniques and useful information to make my head spin. It truly was a blast - and I'm really sad that it has to come to an end...

Unlike the twice weekly training there we did over the past three months, my son, one of my training partners and I will only be heading down now about once a week - and I know I'll be wondering what I've missed on that evening that I'm away. Really wish we could still travel there two days a week, but it's a bit of a hike and would make for too late a mid-week evening for my son who will have more than enough school stuff to concentrate on. He'll need his sleep for that, which traveling two counties over for class will not get us back home in time to provide enough of.

We will start again at the local college next week, which will fill at least the Tuesday night void. The only problem is that it's mostly a beginners' class and we'll end up doing less learning and more cardio/kihon as we get started. None of us really mind that, but in the last few months, we've all gotten kind of used to being challenged in different ways. The three of us have already made a pact to push each other a bit more than usual when we're there so as not to stagnate...

So long summer! We'll miss you...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Healthy Obsession?

Yesterday, I spent a wonderful afternoon with three of my relatives at a concert in Central Park. Since the concert was free, there were just as many people waiting outside the gates to get in as there were inside ready for the music to begin. And while I was packed in line with them, I kept looking around and going through self-defense scenarios in my head. What's wrong with THAT picture?

It seems that there is hardly a time when I'm NOT thinking about karate: be it kata or tai sabaki techniques to try during sparring, but self-defense techniques at a concert?!? Good Lord - I think I'm becoming obsessed. Are there 12-step programs for this type of thing?

Hello, my name is Felicia and I'm a karate addict.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Back to the Drill Again...

My summer host dojo is an amazing place to be. You'd think traveling an hour each way for some serious out-of-the-box training would get tedious, but it isn't. Sure, it makes for some late nights and dinner sometimes ends up being catch as catch can, but that everything is stepped up a notch and that my brain is working as hard as my body is incredible. I feel like I've tapped into some sixth karate sense or something and am more in-tune with my body movements and hand/leg positions.

Being the non-natural athlete I am, everything new that I'm introduced to takes time - usually a lot of time - for me to learn. Consequently, I spend many, many moments looking and feeling like a complete spaz when I try to emulate the gracefully fluid example Sensei S. or his regular students have just given. Truthfully, there are times when I think I'm going to chip a tooth or something. It's hardly pretty.

But drilling it - doing the kicks, slides or hand combinations over and over and over again - totally help. Sensei S. calls it "homework." I call it necessary...

Last weekend this time, 11 of my training partners and instructors were at Super Summer Seminars, a martial arts camp held in Upstate, NY that hosts MA enthusiasts from all over the place - and has for the last 27 years. I learned lots of new drills, exercises and techniques as I do every year. Loved, loved, LOVED the idea of trying something completely new (this year it was Capoiera and "Falls for TV/Film Stunt Fighting) or learning new spins on familiar ideas (like this year's White Crane Okinawan Karate, Women's Competition Sparring and "Improving Your Kicks" seminars). Got a chance to pass a little of the knowledge on today as well, as it was my turn to lead drills in this morning's class. I'm having a blast, can you tell?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Truth and Consequences

Since the part of the dojo that meets in the dance studio of a local college closes down during the summer months, my son, my training partners and I usually hit the road at least once a week to train with fellow karateka at area sister schools when the weather heats up. The good thing about traveling is the different flavors we get to sample and enjoy. The bad thing about traveling is all the different flavors we get to sample and enjoy...

Inevitably, wherever we go, at least one class focuses on kata - as in how the form is actually done as well as bunkai - and inevitably, there is a kata or two done by our hosts that's presented a little differently than how we do it. Would make sense I guess if we were from different lineages, but that isn't the case. Each school in the circle seems to add a little somethin'-somethin' to the mix or take a bit away, it seems.

This morning, I popped in to see one of my training partners for a quick visit. He was doing some work on a room in his home with a relative (who is also a student of Goju at a school in NYC). Right in the middle of cutting sheetrock, my training partner asked his help mate to show us how he's progressed with Saifa. I was warned before-hand that although the stances and techniques were basically the same, the version of Saifa that I was about to see had a few subtle differences from how I was used to doing it, namely the direction in which the practitioner looks (forward instead of backwards) and a step back instead of forward at one of the transitions. The head direction made sense to me, but before long, we were all in my training partner's garage trying to figure out the effectiveness of the step back. Once I did it a few times and compared it to the way I'd learned it, I saw that the "other" way was much more practical as it made the front snap kick that comes after easier to throw. Hmmm...

So which way is the "right" way? Which way is the more "traditional" way? If the sensei who taught me the kata and the sensei who taught my training partner's cousin learned from the same master, how did the differences sneak in?

I remember my sensei once comparing the passing down of karate knowledge from one person to another to a game of telephone. Passed through so many folks, the message is bound to change a bit by the time it gets to the end of the line. Any sensei I've ever had the honor of training with has pretty much said the same thing about that: Do it the way your sensei wants you to do it, understand that there are different ways to skin a cat and use what truth works for you when presenting the kata or when faced with a real situation where you may actually have to put the theory into action. But which truth is the truth anyway?

Just my two cents. What's yours?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Back to the Beginning

Do you ever just wish you didn't have to wear your obi when training?

Of course I'm happy with my new belt, but there are times that I really wish I could ditch it and train sort of anonymously. Not sure if that makes sense or not, but having everyone in the dojo line up and fall in wherever they are without having rank determine where one stands seems like a great idea to me sometimes. The reason? Higher rank seems to not only net a certain expectation of responsibility and accountability, but of understanding, too. Of course, those "in the know" don't expect brand spanking new shodans to know everything, but it sure feels like everyone else does.

My reality is that I don't really care too much about the belt - I just want to learn all I can about this incredible art. When I'm in the dojo - especially when I'm being taught by someone I've never worked with before - I feel like the proverbial sponge, anxious to soak up as much as possible before the training session is over and it is time to exit the karate world and re-enter the other one. Onegai shimasu -"Please teach me/Please let me train with you!" in Japanese - has become my mantra.

That applies not just to forms or techniques and combinations but to humility and graciousness as well. I'm learning my "something new" each day I train, be it working with new weapons, making new combinations flow or getting bumped and bruised in the process, simply realizing that there is an awful lot left to still learn. I'm loving it, though!

That's my two cents. What's yours?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

On Women and Self Defense

According to the US Department of Justice, almost 2.25 million women were victims of violent crimes like robbery, sexual assault and rape in 2005. The DOJ also says that about 100 American women per hour are assaulted by someone they know.

Because there are too many women being victimized, I've been toying with the idea of becoming certified to teach women's self-defense for quite a while. But believe it or not, there aren't as many straight self-defense programs as you may think that actually: 1. inform participants of the very real numbers about women and violent crime 2. don't make participants whack the heck out of a man in a big, padded suit and 3. are taught by women.

For the record, self-defense for women is not just learning physical ways to protect oneself against attack. A good program should also include assault statistics, address confidence and self-esteem building as well as ways to de-escalate a conflict if at all possible. Attacks aren't always about the unknown assailant jumping out from behind the bushes as again, many women are assaulted by people they know. And when the attack is a surprise, women - who generally have less muscle mass than a man the same height - may not be able to effectively use the strength techniques many programs teach. Call me cynical, but I want to see a woman my size - not a burley, martial arts master who's studied for 20 years and was also an Army drill sergeant - take down a big guy who has grabbed her by wrists or throat before I'll believe a technique is do-able for the average Jane.

Unlike men, women don't learn through play how to defend ourselves when we are young. Boys are encouraged to wrestle and rough-house while girls are encouraged to stay clean, avoid the fray, observe or even cheer the boys on. I read a quote a few days ago about what would happen if this were allowed in the world of dog breeding. Imagine separating a litter of puppies by sex and letting the males practice "hunting" by play fighting and chasing toys while discouraging the females from doing the same. Crazy, right? But it seems that's exactly what we do to young humans.

Picture a threatened, cornered animal. The growling and baring of teeth is a warning that said animal will fight with everything they have to protect life, limb and/or babies. Girls who do the same are often called unfeminine tomboys. And we wonder why so many women have no idea how to even try to defend themselves when push comes to shove. How often is the myth about not fighting back so as not to anger an attacker still perpetuated?

You don't have to have years of martial arts training under your belt to know how to use your voice (62% of women who screamed, according to a 1998 FBI criminal victimization survey, escaped from their attackers), run (81% of women who tried to run away escaped) or not be a passive victim (68% of women who used some type of physical force were also able to escape). You also don't need a black belt to listen to that voice in your head telling you that a certain situation just doesn't feel right.

We need to be encouraging women and girls of all ages to not be victims by default. Why we aren't is simply appalling.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Shodan Grading: Oh, What A Night!

Thursday night was THE night: Spring Grading. For my son and I this year, it meant testing for our shodan ranking. The whole night I kept thinking "I can't believe I'm testing for black belt!!" - but I really tried to stay "in the moment."

The warmup was hard - 45 minutes long and lots of cardio with kihon (basic hand and foot techniques) thrown in. They wanted to "empty our cups" and they did. By my son's accounting, we did 183 pushups...

Next came self defense techniques. They matched us up with someone from our school, so I was with my 47-yr-old training partner who was also testing for shodan. The senior dans kept taunting us, saying stuff like "You're testing for Black Belt, right? Well, you better start acting like it!" - just trying to get us to step it up a notch and show some grit. Soon, they switched us around and I was working with someone from another school who did the techniques a little differently than how we do them, so I guess the theory was that we really had to do them properly - as we would with a real attacker - because the new partner had no idea what was coming. That part went well...

Next was tamishiwara. Sensei F. threw me for a loop when he told me not to break as many boards as I had planned (nine total using six different hand and foot strikes; I ended up trying to break six boards). My first break was a wash - my hand just sort of bounced off the pine. Just as I was about to try again, I noticed a piece of my skin clinging to the board, which told me my hand was probably bleeding. Thankfully, the other techniques went like clockwork, including the back kick I'd been worrying about because I'd never broken a board with it before. I got my only injuries of the night with those daggone boards: both knuckles at the first and second fingers are cut and swollen today. Battle scars! My son's boards, however, snapped like twigs! I was soooooo very proud of him!

On to kata. One senior dan sits in front of you with a 4"X6" card judging how you execute your forms, although the katas are done in a group (you bow out when they get to a kata you do not know). Hard to make everyone of them sharp when you are exhausted, but they know that, which is why they do it. By then, my quads were screaming and I'm sure my stances weren't as solid as they normally are/can be, but I was pleased with how I worked them. I really left everything on the dojo floor and did the best I could - even during shime (they hit, push, kick and break boards over your arms and legs during two breathing katas to make sure your body is appropriately tense). Last year, I got two wicked kicks to the gut during those katas; trust me, the boards were MUCH easier to deal with, believe it or not...

Last but not least was sparring. We fought round-robin, first with other kyus (under belts) who were testing for higher rank, then with nice, fresh senior dans who had been sitting on their bottoms for most of the night. They tried their best to tear our heads off (I wear padded head gear with a face shield but still had my "bell rung" a few times). They hit hard! And most of them are fast as lightening! But I held my own and got quite a few good techniques to the head, too. The only other difficulty was that they all expected us to keep charging them, which is exhausting - mainly because you have no idea what's around the next bend/who you will have to battle next and you want to have something left in the tank to be able to face that next opponent. I think I had about 12 fights total. My son, who is very light (maybe 110 lbs on a 5'6" frame) really got shoved around; someone even hit him in the face and made his head gear move so much that his mouth got bumped. But he held his own, too...

When it was all over, they had us sit in rank on the floor while they got the belts, stripes and certificates ready for presentation. I did something I've never done before at a grading: cried like a baby! I kept thinking of my mom who died of breast cancer a year before my son was born and how she didn't live to see his presentation. Then I started thinking about my own journey and how it all started during radiation for BC and I just couldn't stop bawling. A few dans thought I was hurt, but someone did at least bring me a tissue. They called the underbelts up in groups to get their certificates and new belts or stripes, but called the five shodan candidates up one by one, which was really cool. Once a name is called, everyone hoots and hollers and the room erupts with applause while the karateka goes down the black belt line shaking hands, giving hugs and thanking them for their congratulations. I'd finally stopped crying until I got to Sensei F., who took off my brown belt and tied the new, crisp BLACK BELT around my waist - then I completely lost it. Thought the man was going to drown...

Then I showered and changed and headed to the area diner to get a bite with everyone else. Best daggone spinach and feta cheese omelet I've ever eaten, LOL...

So, it's over (or should I say it's just beginning?!?). I do miss my brown belt, but I'm liking this new black one a whole lot, too. Whoo-Hoo!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ode to My Brown Belt

I’ve been thinking a lot about my obi, lately. My brown belt was first tied around my waist in May 2007. In many ways, it seems like a lifetime ago. In many more ways, it seems like yesterday.

I remember moving my surgical reconstruction date from March to June so I wouldn’t miss the Spring grading that year. I remember handing my new belt to the surgeon before I was wheeled into the operating room. He promised he’d keep it nearby during the entire 11-hour surgery and I remember finding it in a plastic bag under my pillow when I woke up. I remember walking very slow laps around the hospital floor holding onto my belt for inspiration. And I remember mourning with my belt the inability to be able to simply get up and do Gesaku Dai kata because my body simply couldn’t bend that way for a while.

This belt is the one I’ve had longer than any other. There’s nothing particularly special about the way it looks and I know it doesn’t hold any magical powers or anything, but for this karateka, it’s more about what it represents.

As I started this journey in the middle of cancer treatment, training in the hard/soft style of USA Goju Karate – including doing very physical things that I'd never even attempted before – was the one constant throughout treatment and reconstruction. Whether I had two expanders or even one implant and a prosthesis, I was always able to do something in the dojo to keep my feet moving forward on the path. I may have had cancer, but because I could throw a reverse punch or a jodan uke and do pushups until my pecs were screaming, cancer didn’t have me. Having my brown belt for as long as I have has made me really appreciate all that I’ve gotten from karate - and all there still is to learn.

I’m think I’m really going to miss my brown belt.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Killing Flies with Sledgehammers

As the regular Tuesday night dojo is closed this week for Spring Break, last night, three of us packed up the van and headed across the bridge to one of our sister dojos. The night didn’t go well at all as one of my training partners was put on the spot by a sensei who yelled and hollered at her endlessly in front of the entire class, not in private, constructive corner of the room. And each time he barked at her, this karateka felt like he was yelling at me.

A remarkable practitioner, the sensei so reminds me of the very first oncologist I had shortly after my BC diagnosis: while the other doctors on my treatment team raved about her knowledge and skills, I was quite surprised to find when I finally met her that she had an extremely harsh personality. Gruff with a "my way or the highway" demeanor, she never returned my phone calls with the questions she assured me I could ask and seemed a little too comfortable referring to me as the patient number on my chart. She definitely knew her stuff, but how she shared information with me left me feeling like somehow I was doing something wrong. She finally did find time to call me back when I requested all my records be transferred to my new oncologist. No plans on coming back to her office because the vibe was just too...OFF...which I felt might actually hinder my treatment and recovery. I needed her to help me learn how to fight cancer; it didn't seem right to have to fight her, too.

I may not have instructed much karate, but from my time in front of the lectern, I've learned a bit about offering criticism in a way that makes the folks you're instructing WANT to do their absolute best. Barking orders and demeaning students’ efforts net nothing but frustration and animosity from the very people you are trying to assist. Not that anyone should expect only compliments, but there is a way to offer criticism and his way doesn’t seem to be the most effective. Why he acted in such a way is beyond me, but I’m not sure what budo dictates that we should do about it. I understand the reasoning behind it – his desire to help us become the best karate practitioners we can be – but I don’t understand how debasing anyone really fits into that. It is possible to can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, after all.

My training partner showed the restraint of Job last night, however. Although upset, she told me later that she always manages to take at least one piece of info home with her when this sensei teaches – and that last night was no exception, which is a very good thing. But something just didn’t feel right about the way it all went down. And just like my old oncologist, it feels like continuing to train with him might actually hinder our growth in the art instead of helping it. What the heck to do with that, though, is the real question.

That's my two cents. What's yours?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My Time in the Ring

This weekend, I competed in a local karate tournament. Four years ago, it was the very first tournament I'd ever been to. New to martial arts, I promptly got disqualified for contact to the head. I felt like an utter idiot.

Flash forward to Sunday. I sparred against a young man who thoroughly kicked my butt in about 20 seconds. Again, I felt like an idiot - not because I got beaten so badly, but because of how I fought. I actually didn't really fight at all - just stood there flat-footed and out of my element, reduced to the human equivalent of a Wave Master. Tough to get any points in JuKumite if you don't actually throw any techniques.

But not only didn't I fight, I did the "deer in the headlights" thing, standing there like I had never been in a ring before and had no idea what I was supposed to do. The reality is, had I met my opponent in the street instead of a sports environment, I might not be typing this right now. Yeah, it really was that bad.

I was so pissed off that I wanted to scream. Instead, I cried, which made everyone within a 10-mile radius assume I was really hurt physically, prompting them to ask over and over if I was OK. That, of course, made me even more upset, which made me cry harder. Stupid vicious cycle! I even get teary now thinking about what I didn't do in that ring.

We train to react to "situations" with real, live, evasion, kicks and punches. Blocking/throwing techniques is supposed to replace paralyzing fear enough so you can do what you gotta do: fight or flee. But for some reason, not only did instinct abandon me, but my training did as well, as I didn't fight or even move the heck out of the way to keep from getting hit. Doing nothing hardly seems like the appropriate response in such a situation, but that's exactly what I did. What the heck is up with that?

The tears came from the realization that perhaps I really don't at all know how to apply the techniques I train to grasp. If when confronted by something new or something unexpected, I freeze, am I training for naught? What is it I'm doing if I only use what I know in the controlled environment of the dojo? Will I be able to apply it when I really need to? And I'm supposed to be testing for my black belt in a few months. Yeah - I feel totally ready for that (insert eye roll here)...

Even two days later, I want to hide under the covers when I remember my time in the ring. GAWD...

Anything like this ever happen to you?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Training with Shihan Gotay

Sensei F requires all the brown belts to train regularly with Shihan Al Gotay. I've only been to his John Jay College dojo four times, but I'm amazed each time at how incredible Shihan Gotay is. Rumored to be Master Peter Urban's ichi-ban (first student), Shihan Gotay teaches boxing, karate and judo classes back-to-back each Tuesday and Thursday. I can't speak about the boxing class and have only watched the judo class, but I can say the karate class is non-stop for almost two hours. While we are preparing to end the class, he's getting into his judogi and readying for the next class. Did I mention he is 70 and had a knee replaced this past summer?

Watching him move through drills and kata is like watching the Russian Ballet perform "Swan Lake" - amazing and not something you really believe you're watching while you're watching. All the grace, precision and beauty is there, too, which makes it even more amazing. Did I mention the man is studying for his Ph.D. and also teaches SCUBA diving and skiing?

I wanna be like him when I grow up...

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Shodan Test...

At least that's what I've been dreaming about lately. The test is scheduled for this spring, but I've had dreams for close to a month or so about arriving in where I think I'm supposed to be and not being able to find the testing room. It's not like I'm simply in the wrong part of the building, the hustle and kinetically energetic environment that is the testing site on the night of promotions was just not there. The place is totally empty in my dreams - which is weird because I know I arrived with my son and a few of our training partners. They hopped out of the car to get dressed while I fiddled around in the back getting my gear bag. But when I went into the door they'd disappeared behind, there was nobody there.

In the dream, I spend a few minutes walking from one room to another expecting to see someone - anyone - in a karategi, but no one is around. Strangely I don't start to panic until I realize that I'm totally about to miss my presentation. I feel completely panicked, but I keep moving and searching...

There's another version of the dream where I am in the room with everyone else ready to get dressed. I open my gear bag only to find - nothing. I've forgotten to pack my gi! What the heck...?

Actually, for the test in December (I was only an uke cheering my training partners on), I really did forget my gi. I realized it on the hour-long drive to the gym. But fortunately, someone happened to have an extra uniform on hand. Crisis averted! But it really bothered me that I was so unprepared, even if I was just there to help and not to present.

Now, I've only been training in the martial arts for about four years, so of course I don't know everything. Actually, my knowledge of this art probably wouldn't even fill a thimble. I emailed one of the senior dans in our clan to get some insight on why I've been feeling like a slug lately in the gym and ended up telling him about my dreams. He asked me flat out what I thought the dreams were trying to tell me. Could it be I'm feeling that I may not be prepared for the test, I wondered? Those feelings were exactly why I've stepped up my off-dojo (read: lifting and running) days and tossed an extra day of weights into the mix. Perhaps, Sensei S. surmised, there was something about my training that wasn't sitting well with me. Hmmm...

One of the things I absolutely love most about karate is that there is always something new to learn. In addition to that keeping you on your toes so you don't get injured unnecessarily, it also keeps you humble, which is an incredible thing. I've been told that earning your black belt means only that you are ready to begin training and that all the work done to that point is only preparation for what's ahead in much the same way that grade school prepares you for high school, high school prepares you for college and college prepares you in some way for what you'll be doing after. But sometimes, I feel like there's no syllabus or script and that the information is sort of catch as catch can - gleaning, if you will...

With my other discipline (track and field, LOL), I trained six days a week for a lot of years through everything from early pregnancy to surgery and divorce court proceedings. Course I was a bit younger then and without the achy knee, lower back, elbow and ankle aches I have now that only seem to serve as reminders that I'm not taking this part of the journey as a 24-year-old "kid" but as a 42-year old woman. That nagging little voice of doubt is always there, it seems. I want to step it up a bit with the training but my body is rebelling while that voice is starting to scream. Yeah, I'd say something with my training isn't sitting well with me, alright. It's nobody's fault, it just is.

So this week, I stayed completely away from the weights and ran only two days. I felt so relaxed when I went to class Tuesday night and as I worked kata and kihon this morning in the dance studio. Last night I also visited our sister dojo where a sensei I hadn't worked with in a few months taught. The man is amazingly knowledgeable, but I always leave his class feeling like I do almost no techniques correctly, have no hopes of ever learning anything correctly and have spent a lot of time just sort of scratching at the surface. As we climbed into the car to go home, my son said "I always feel so stupid when he teaches." I had to laugh because obviously, I knew exactly what he was talking about.

There's always something new to learn, it seems...