Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: The Year in Review

Seems like we were just toasting in 2010 and it's almost gone. Where does the time go?

But what a year it was. Between the old-to-new school chaos and broken bones, there were lessons gleaned about learning techniques on the fly, getting them to flow, ground fighting, avoiding confrontation and appropriate resistance. I had some pretty good discussions with myself here about violence against women, facing an adversary in "girl" shoes and refining the reflexes, as well. Thanks to all of you who posted responses for stopping by!

I've also waxed poetic about my loyal dog, K, tackling a new art, the find of the century :-), my favorite martial arts quotes and my reasons for stepping on the mat in the first place. Hope I haven't bored you to tears with my ramblings...

Saw some neat things, too, including a shodan grading in NYC, Bill "Superfoot" Wallace in Atlantic City a fellow blogger grade for her black belt in Japan (whoo-hoo!).

2010 was spectacular - and here's to an even better 2011! Happy New Year :-)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Up in the Club

Unlike in the picture, clubs tend to be kinda dark spots. Because they also serve alcohol, the potential for bad stuff to go down is there, for sure.

Perhaps sick of hearing me harp about learning to kick in shoes or throw other techniques in "regular clothes," Sensei S told us to not even change into our gis for class a few weeks ago. He lined up some chairs from the hallway, turned off all but the disco ball/strobe light in the studio used during kickboxing class and had us sit down. "What would you do if you were here and someone made unwanted advances?" he asked. When trapped between the wall and the "offender" (which was Sensei S - and the only way "out" was through him), we all had different solutions for getting away safely - from using very dramatic physical force to the more subtle "Could you please remove your hand from my thigh?" non-confrontational approach. It was very enlightening and had us all talking about appropriate resistance for the rest of the evening.

What would YOU do to ward off unwanted advances in a dark bar or dance hall?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rolling With the Punches: Blending With Aikido

With so much going on in my non-karate world (final exams and papers to grade, college applications for my son, a very sick grandmother, the holidays, finances resulting from the pending holidays - you get the drift), I decided to take a little time away from the dojo to just clear my head and re-vamp. I've literally been on the mat almost non-stop since November of 2004 - save for six weeks in 2007 after breast reconstructive surgery - and I think both my mind and body needed a bit of a break. Karate was on the fast-track to becoming SOMETHING ELSE that had to get done in a day and my ancillary training away from the dojo was looking more and more like "going through the motions" which wasn't good. I told my sensei that I think I needed to miss it for a little bit in order to step back into it with the intensity it deserved.

To save the dojo fee for December, my last class was on November 29. That was also the day I found out I would not be grading for nidan in the spring with my training partners. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed, but I wasn't surprised at all. Still playing catch-up from my years spent gleaning elsewhere. My arsenal is still missing a few things, for sure. As a result, I've been thinking about training in another art - like aikido, MMA or even Krav Maga for a minute. Which one, though, is the issue...

Anyway, in trying to avoid the pile of papers I know I need to grade, I stopped by training partner Ed's place yesterday afternoon. He has begun taking aikido classes and told me that he'd already talked to his sensei about a two-week free trial for me. Ed knows where my head is regarding training and thought the "something new" might be good for me. (His real motive, I found out, is getting me to fall and roll a bit better so he can toss me around the dojo when we train together, but that's another story.) This morning's 10AM class was my first formal non-USA Goju martial arts class ever, save for a few Kung Fu and Judo training sessions during summer martial arts seminars.

Since all my regular gis are black, Ed lent me one of his white ones to wear, complete with all his school patches. I strapped on my white belt and was promptly questioned by the senseis when I stepped out of the changing room and they saw the patches their regular students had to earn the right to sew on their gis (via grading). Here I was trying NOT to be disrespectful and I end up being disrespectful anyway by default. Sigh...

After a brief warm-up, Ed was sent to work with his classmates and I got to work with Sensei W., whom Ed had warned me was a talented instructor but a stickler for detail. Since falling comes with the territory in aikido, I couldn't really do anything until I learned how to fall and roll properly. We worked front, rear and side falls and front rolls for almost a hour. Always, my feet were too close together, my hands were too far apart or I just didn't keep my body rigid enough after landing. My quads and triceps were literally shaking from squatting down to fall or roll, pushing up to a standing position then repeating over and over. It wasn't too physically challenging - meaning I wasn't out of breath or sweating buckets - but it was very different from my norm.

Next we moved to wrist and jacket grab escapes. After about 10 tries with me being the uke/attacker, my wrists were begging for mercy. In fact, I don't think I ever tapped out so fast or so hard before. Funny thing was that everyone - even the brown belts tossing each other - and yellow belt Ed - around the room were hollering as they slapped the mat when a wrist lock just got to be a little too painful. It was kind of melodic, actually...

Finally, Sensei W. took me back through a review of everything we'd covered. My front fall actually improved a tad while my front roll deteriorated. Guess I have some homework to do.

There is something about being a white belt again that is both intriguing and intimidating. Because the belt tells the world that you are a newbie, expectations aren't really high for your ability to do a specific technique right out of the box. You are expected to stumble, struggle a little and make mistakes, which is kind of neat in a way. But it can be intimidating, too, if you're used to being able to control your body and have it do what you tell it to do. It's like being able to do the latest hip-hop dance to the nines and going to a ballroom dancing competition to show it off. The music is different and you're out of your element.

It's also easy to forget that the instructor showing you the techniques with such grace and fluidity has been practicing them for ages, which is why they look so smooth and effortless. Plus some of my karate footwork kept creeping in. Sensei W. had to keep reminding me to keep both feet pointing forward, not towards each other like in sanchin - a simple concept that was really hard to do. More homework, it seems...

But save for a few rug burns on my knees, elbows and shoulders, I'm none the worse for wear. I had a blast and learned a lot, which was the point, really. I'm probably going to give it another whirl Friday morning - right after my grades are posted. Wish me luck with both!

Friday, December 3, 2010

My Heels and I

I recently got the following email:

"This might sound serious, but I have been sent a slightly silly question and want to do my best to answer it. The question is: If you were wearing high-heeled, pointy-toe boots, would they be a help or hinderance in defending yourself?"

I've struggled with this question lots. As a matter of fact, since the cold weather has once again hit the northeastern U.S., it has become my dilemma each time I am about to step out the door for my journalism classes and have to decide what to put on my feet. My running shoes would work best, of course, but that doesn't really speak "professionalism" in the land of academia. So I zip up those ankle or to-the-knee boots and question that decision all the way from my car as my boots click-click-click across the campus cobblestones. Since the first rule of self-defense is awareness, I'm aware of how difficult a time I might have moving around in those boots if a "situation" went down or if I actually had to run away. And with the second rule of self-defense being avoidance, that I've spent a whole lot more years running around an oval than learning self-defense combinations would probably make trying to get the heck out of Dodge quickly my first inclination. Any kind of heel - for clumsy me, anyway - would most likely prevent me from doing that very effectively.

So, yeah, my first impulse was to answer the email question with hinderance - with a capital "H."

With that being said though, I do know that being aware and trying to avoid won't necessarily keep you out of harm's way. Crazy happens to good people all the time, whether by happenstance, poor planning or missed warning signals. Maybe the question the emailer really wanted an answer to was "How could you use those boots if you're already aware that trouble is eminent and avoidance isn't a real possibility?"

In that case, those shoes might totally help you do whatever it is you'd have to do.

Every self-defense seminar I've ever sat in on has been consistent with one message: much of the stuff you already do/have at the ready can be your best weapons if you need them to be - like your house and car keys carried in your hand instead of in the bottom of your pocket or purse, or the little voice in your head insisting that something isn't quite right, or even the knowledge that the pointy parts of your elbows (or boots!) shoved into any soft spot on an attacker (inner thigh, calf, gonads - you get the point - and the pun is most certainly intended) could net enough incapacitation for you to get away. Just remember to make some noise while you're doing your thing, as doing what you have to do is not the time to be dainty and lady-like. If you have to take off that boot and pound someone with it, well...

The reality is that when the crazy begins, there are no rules.