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?