Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Common Sense Self-Defense for Women

Some day, I'd like to instruct self-defense classes for women. Eventually, that means certification, I suppose, but between Fight Like a Girl, R.A.D., S.A.F.E. and other systems, there're a lot of different types of programs out there, it seems. I think I know what the type of course I want to teach should contain, but I haven't quite found it yet. So I'm still looking.

In addition to the research, I've decided to check out a few workshops and seminars. Last week, I traveled upstate to the Red Dragon Karate School for Sensei Jeff Melander's seminar in Ballston Spa. I met him at a seminar a few years ago when I took his kicking class on the advice of my sensei. I still do many of the drills I learned from him then when training today.

His Women's Self-Defense seminar was for folks who had no previous martial arts training or experience. Most were mothers of Sensei Jeff's younger karate students or teen daughters of some of his adult students. All were dressed in sweats and t-shirts but I took the opportunity to actually try something I've always wanted to do: throwing techniques in something other than what I'd wear in the dojo - hence jeans, a button-up top and sandals.

Awareness was the key word of the day, as Sensei Jeff discussed ways to be more observant of what's happening around you. He also talked about the importance of walking confidently, keeping your hands free/keys at the ready and parking in well-lit areas. Unlike martial artists who are used to yelling/kiai-ing on a regular, he told the group to get used to using their voices before, during and after an attack. Two of his female black belts helped him as well - meaning he was their uke for wrist grab, rear bear hug and hair-pulling attacks. He used their natural responses - hands open and in front of the body, boxing the ears, elbow and knee strikes to segue into escape tactics the group later worked on individually.

Then he slid into "the suit" - you know, the protective full-body armor that enabled the participants to actually try the techniques with full speed and power without actually hurting the attacker. All of the women had a difficult time warming up to that at first - and several even commented about how much more menacing he looked dressed in a shiny black suit and helmet - but after a few tries, strikes were flying towards his eyes, ears, groin and shins. So used to being "nice" to my uke in the dojo, he actually had to remind me to NOT be so controlled and delicate when it was my turn to keep him at bay/get him off me. I had no problem engaging him, but I found that I pulled every single knee and elbow strike. Gotta work on that!

Any certified self-defense instructors out there? How did you decide on the program you ultimately chose for your certification?

For more information on how to chose a self-defense program, click here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Looking "Pretty" vs. Being Practical

Since the school year has again begun, I dropped by my sister dojo last night after my journalism class. The first night of training - especially for college students who probably took most of the summer off from anything karate-related - can be tough on the ol' cardiovascular system, and after about two hours of kihon, Sensei G mercifully cut his winded karateka a break and moved to Aiki Jitsu techniques, which in our system are escapes from wrist grabs and chokes.

When you're in the thick of training in any Okinawan system, it's sometimes easy to forget that the techniques we study were designed by and for body types that are very different from that of the folks on the mat with you. I'm sure that Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Goju-Ryu, created his hard/soft style with smaller Okinawan male body types in mine. I guess then it would stand to reason that the students in the dojo last night who were over 5'5" tall and/or female might have some difficulty executing the techniques the way they were originally intended to be executed - which of course included my 6'2" self, my 6'3" uke and about 95% of the class.

Of the 12 of us on the mat, six were brand new 6th kyus who were just learning the Aiki techniques Sensei G called. Since he'd matched us up with ukes based on body size, all the pairings were relatively even - which meant that if the tori/nage had issues with the grip, punch or kick based on the uke's body type, their partner had the same issue when it was his or her turn to execute the technique.

In other words, when problems arose - and they did - the nage had a decision to make: do the technique as described/demonstrated or make it work effectively for them with a little modification. My uke and I modified like crazy - enough so that when waza go (technique #5) called for a 45-degree angle step off the centerline to the right followed by a punch to the face then a spinning hook kick to the gut, we ended up having to step 90-degrees in order to not be too close to get the hook kick off. Interestingly enough, two of the shortest students decreased the angle so they could not only reach the face with the punch but reach the body with the kick. If you studied just our angles, neither of us would have looked like the textbook demo of the technique, although each of us was effective as all get out. But I could hear the murmurings of the group: should it be done like it was originally shown or like we'd done it?

The answer, unfortunately, might depend on who you ask. If the technique was to part of a presentation for, say, a grading, my first sensei always said it's best to follow the "letter of the law" and do the technique exactly as it has been demonstrated (he also encouraged "looking pretty" during kata - you know, holding poses and really making sure the techniques LOOK good - but that's another story). Sensei S doesn't encourage what he calls "Kodak moments" (as in pausing to smile for the camera, LOL), but the idea is the same. But do I really just want to LOOK like I'm doing an effective technique or do I actually want to DO a technique that actually is effective for me?

At a grading once, I got chided for making another Aiki technique work more effectively for me. An escape from a front choke, the technique called for reaching across my body and over the choking arms of my uke before grabbing one his/her wrists then using my forearm to pin his/her arm to my chest. Worked like a charm when my uke was my size or smaller, but against my larger training partners who offered even an iota of resistance (which is what a real attacker would most likely do), my skinny little arm didn't even move theirs, much less pin it. Instead, I reached under one of my uke's arms to grab the wrist. I was still able to lock the wrist and finish the rest of the technique, but my grader insisted that I do the technique the "right" way. It looked good, but I'm sure it wouldn't have worked for spit against someone trying to do me harm and who was lots stronger than me. Extremely frustrating to say the least - because the way I see it is this: how I train to do it will most likely be how I will actually do it when I need it to help me get out of a bad situation. I realize the two aren't mutually exclusive, but it seems like sometimes they can be.

Which do you do in training - "pretty" textbook techniques or effective ones that get the job done? How do you rectify it when the two aren't one in the same?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Battered and Bruised

As I type this (my 50th post, BTW - whoo-hoo!), I've got ice on my Achilles (both of them), a neoprene sleeve on my right hamstring, a heat patch on my lower back and Tiger Balm on my achy left hip. Getting up to go to the kitchen or bathroom - both of which are upstairs from where I'm sitting - is an exercise in pain management. Just thinking about it makes me say "Ouch!"

In my life before karate - when my discipline was track and field and I spent many, many hours a day running in circles (OK, the track is oval shaped, but you get the point), doing plyometric drills, lifting ridiculous weights and jumping over things (my event was the high jump) - my body would cry uncle and tap out like this right before the end of the competitive season, which was around the end of July. For years, the only way I could get my body back on pointe for the next season was to take the month of August completely off - as in no running, lifting or jumping at all. My lungs sounded like a Mack truck when I returned, but my lower body injuries had time to heal, which gave me new wheels, so to speak.

Karate training is intense but in a very different way. I still lift weights and run, but not the same way as I used to when training for track. But still, it's training, which can be kinda rough on the body. Even with proper conditioning, break falls, spinning weapons and blocking/striking things with bare forearms and shins can take their toll over time. Resting the achy muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones is the one sure way to help keep things in good working order.

Yesterday, when I was prepping my body to get out of bed (seriously - I had to flex my ankles a few times to keep the Achilles from screaming at me in protest), I realized that the last time I'd taken more than four days off from training was in June - of 2007! - and that was because I had reconstructive surgery that forced me away from the dojo, treadmill, bike and weight room for almost six weeks.

These days, a month seems like an awfully long time to me. Those last six weeks away almost made me lose my mind! Trust me, had I been physically able to bend over, I probably would have waddled into the dojo with my stitches. I actually did go to class around week four, but I sat in a chair in the back - and it was worse than staying home. It's not a "no pain, no gain" thing at all; I just really hate missing the instruction.

But maybe my body is trying to tell me something.

Do you ever take time away to give your body a chance to rest and re-coup? How frequently? For How long at a stretch? Do you find it difficult to get back into the flow of things?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Shout Out to Gai.Ninja!

Join me in sending some "kick some booty and do the damn thing!" vibes to fellow karateka, blogger and Prince fan extraordinaire Gai.Ninja, who will be grading for shodan tomorrow (or in a few hours as she is literally on the other side of the world from me - living and studying in Japan). Can't be there to physically cheer her on, but I figure through the blog and with your help, we could be there in spirit...

All the best, Ms. F! I'm betting you'll look great in black :-)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

If All Else Fails...

My training partner, Ed, says that we martial artists are strange people. We train to learn all we can about our respective arts only to hope that we never, ever have to actually use the techniques we work so hard to understand. We train through sicknesses and most definitely in health. Classes are a given when "richer" is par for the course - you know, when our jobs are secure and finances are sound - but when things get tight (cough* POORER * cough), we do what we can to figure out how the basic necessities - food, clothing, shelter and training fees - can be covered. The masters we train under and with have been studying their respective arts for most of their lives and seem bound and determine to train until their bodies just can't anymore - meaning they are being placed in their coffins or urns. Sounds a lot like a marriage, doesn't it?

And just like any partnership, life on the mat isn't always rainbows and waterfalls; sometimes you give more than you get, do things you don't enjoy or get pushed to - or even past - "the line." In the training hall, that means you may teach more than you learn, tear apart a form you absolutely loathe for a whole class or spar a senior who forces you to step outside of your comfort zone and thoroughly kicks your booty. Hard to look forward to that, huh?

Thursday night in class, Sensei had us pair up, face our partners and slap them in the face. My partner was a 16-yr-old white belt who started training about two months ago. Because my son is also 16, his face is the one I saw every time I reached out to slap my uke. And it most certainly sucked.

But then it was his turn to hit me. In the face. Over and over again. Yeah, temperance was my lesson for the evening as I found out that it's a difficult thing to keep your temper in check when someone is popping you in the face. I'd never been slapped before - and I quickly found that I hated it.

While my cheeks were getting redder and I was trying to ward off the instinct to block the slap, a quote I heard boxer Mike Tyson say once echoed in my mind: "Everyone thinks they can fight - until they get hit."

That, I think, was exactly the point Sensei was trying to make: You have to learn what is it to be hit in order to know what your response will be. A slap in the face doesn't necessarily warrant breaking someone's arm or choking them until they pass out - although it may feel like it while your face is stinging. Sometimes, getting hit, holding your temper and looking like you weren't phased may be all the fighting you need to do.

And trust me when I tell you that, even in the most optimal situation - say, a sparring round or training session where you are on top of your game - you will get hit. As Sensei M used to say, martial arts is not knitting but a live, contact environment. In the controlled setting of the ring or the training hall, your partner isn't trying to knock your lights out - but a "real" situation is a totally different story.

As fellow blogger Charles C. Goodin put it in a recent post, no karate technique is 100% effective 100% of the time. Only avoidance is.

The adage my training partners and I hear at the end of class about it most often is this:
Avoid before block...
Block before injure...
Injure before maim...
Maim before kill...
Kill before die...
For all life is precious.

But notice what it all starts with.

If all else fails, walk (or run!) away - and live to avoid another day.