Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Internal Dragon Martial Arts Grading in NYC

We hit the road again on Saturday (you probably think we NEVER stay home!), traveling to one of Sensei S.'s instructors - Kyoshi Williams' - promotions in the Bronx. About 25 kids and six adults graded - including two for shodan. It started about 10:30am but didn't end until after 3pm. Minimal injuries (a cut eye and an asthma attack during sparring and a hurt wrist from a successful cinder block break) - but a good time was had by all.

Before their belt presentations, the children waited patiently as Kyoshi and SBN Slader look on.

4-yr-old Destiny gets her Yellow Belt from Oba-san Solomon. Her mom (in the red print shirt) gets Sensei S. to bend down so she can get a picture.

One of the shodan candidates contemplating the cinder slab before his final break.

Here's what his wrist looked like after the cinder broke but before Sensei S. applied Dit Da Jow and White Lotus ointments.

Welcome to yudansha!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cracking The Egg

For almost a full year now, I've been training under two different USA Goju instructors at two different dojos. Although my senseis came through the ranks together, they have such different training philosophies that it would be nearly impossible to tell that their mudansha years were shaped by the same sensei unless someone told you.

This week, I've been forced to face some harsh realities about my home dojo. Even beyond the manner in which my first sensei has insisted the underbelts be taught, how yudansha from other styles training with us are treated and the level of instruction my training partners and I have gotten since we graded for shodan last May, Sensei F. and I are not even looking in the same direction now in reference to how karateka at any level should train - and it's all causing me lots of distress. I'm even having trouble sleeping (and I almost NEVER have trouble sleeping!)...

Two of my first-kyu dojo mates are scheduled to grade for shodan at the spring gathering next month. While one of them is truly my training partner - in that we've traveled to other dojos, attended seminars and done kata and self-defense techniques in my driveway together over the past three years - the other doesn't seem to do much training at all outside of the once a week Saturday class. Unfortunately, her blocks, stances and kata all look like she doesn't as as well - so much so that a few of us were asked by Sensei F. after last spring's grading to work with her on her basics as she wasn't quite up to where he thought she should be. A year later, she looks pretty much the same as she did then, but still she will be tossed into the mix to grade for shodan next month. Sensei F.'s main argument as to why is because she's been a loyal dojo member for almost as long as he's been teaching there.

I'm only a shodan, but it seems to me that the awarding of rank should be based on merit, not merely on how long a person has trained. She's trained for 13 years - but 13 years of schooling did not automatically net me a high school diploma (working hard to excel at the required curriculum did, though). Although it should be the same in the dojo, it doesn't seem as if Sensei F. sees it that way at all.

Since he is my sensei, it stands to reason that I should be able to talk to him about both dojo and life stuff (and usually I can, as I have talked in detail with him about some very difficult karate-related things in the past) - so I didn't think speaking to him about my dojo mate's level of preparation for the upcoming grading would be an issue. Unfortunately, it was. He basically blasted me for questioning him and blew off my concerns in a big way. At first I was upset (read: I cried like a baby); but then I was kinda angry. Now I'm just really, really disappointed...

I've rationalized everything that I've experienced in my home dojo over the past year that didn't jibe with budo as just being sensei's way, but I can't do that anymore. I've decided that it's time to call it a day and move on. I can't even tell you how incredibly sad that makes me, but I think it's the right thing for me to do as well as the right time to do it.

I'll have to sit down with him and have a heart-to-heart about why I am where I am, and that makes me horribly uncomfortable - specifically because I'm not sure how it will be received. Never in a million years did I think I'd ever be here - almost afraid to talk to someone who has been like a third parent to me - but here is exactly where I am. My stomach is in knots and I feel incredibly guilty, for some reason.

But I know in my heart of hearts that moving on is what has to be done. It won't be easy, but what's that saying about the shell having to break before the bird can fly? Perhaps it's time to begin the prep for flying on over to a new nest. Hand me that hammer, please...

A friend of mine said it best, though: "Martial arts is to the dojo like faith is to the church. If you have faith and your pastor is not giving you the food you need, find a new church but keep the faith. If your dojo is not feeding but you still have the martial art desire to learn, find a new dojo that feeds you and allows you to continue growing. It's not about the dojo or rhe sensei, its about the student and the learning." (Thanks, Ty :-)

Monday, April 5, 2010

The "Ground" Game: Is It Necessary to Know How to Defend from Down There?

This morning, as my hubby-to-be and I were doing a little spring cleaning, I playfully hit him with a pillow. Since the laundry basket was in back of me, I thought nothing at all of him walking behind me to toss the pillow cases in it - until he bum-rushed me from behind and pinned me on the bed. Not the position anybody wants to be in at all - especially since he's a 6'3", 215 lbs runner who lifts weights with his athletes (he's a track coach) at least three days a week. Not only is he rock solid, he also studied judo as a kid as well as some practical self-defense stuff while in the military for 20 years.

Keep in mind, we spar from time to time (in the kitchen, LOL), and because he's as long as I am, he's a good person to train with as he keeps me honest - meaning I can't just sit back and punch/kick since he can reach me from where I can reach him. But being pinned was totally different. I tried everything I could to get him off me - thrusting my hips, rolling onto my side, even reaching for his arms to go for a wrist or shoulder lock - all to no avail because he outweighs me by 60 lbs and was Just. Too. Strong. To make matters worse, when he shifted his weight, he made me roll, trapping me on my side with my hands above my head. Everything from my armpit to my hip was exposed. Had he been an evil doer with a knife, I would have been toast.

Although he would never hurt me, that same scenario with someone who would is actually one of my biggest fears. Every now and again in the dojo, someone will remind us that most fights end on the ground, so it seems logical that knowing what to do once you get there is important. But I hardly feel confident on the ground - defending or attacking - and I doubt that I could protect myself from or actually get away from a person who really is trying to do me harm once I'm down there.

At a seminar on inside attacks a few summers back, a woman raised a hand and asked about what a shorter, weaker person would do against an attack from behind where the assailant pushed them forward. She told us about how a friend got off a bus, passed a guy she had a "funny feeling" about but kept going. The next thing she remembers is waking up in a hospital bed about a week later. He'd not only grabbed her from behind and pushed her forward, but he slammed her forehead into the pavement several times, which knocked her out almost instantly. Not sure if she was sexually assaulted, but she was robbed. The friend doesn't remember much of that week she spent in the hospital because she was in a coma.

Although she was not a martial artist and probably would have benefited greatly by trusting her gut about that funny feeling she had (which we women have been socialized to totally ignore, it seems), I wonder how much a good ground game might also have helped her? The only thing the facilitator could think of to alleviate the immediate and most dangerous threat - the trauma to her head - was to placing the arms between her head and the pavement. But had the attacker pinned them to her side when he grabbed her, that would not have been an option, even.

What do you think: should ground work be an ancillary or even a necessary part of traditional karate training? I wasn't always so sure before, but perhaps I need to re-think that...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Guest Blog: Sensei S. Takes the Wheel

Just in case you've grown tired of hearing me blather on endlessly about my karate adventures, I invited Sensei S. to take the reigns and post about our recent experience in Sellinsgrove, Pennsylvania at the Susquehanna Martial Arts Symposium. A sixth dan in USA Goju who's studied martial arts for well over 30 years, he's extremely astute and knowledgeable, but he's also a very private sort of guy - which means it took a lot of begging and pleading to get him to post his thoughts here (seriously - I really made a pest of myself), but I'm sure you'll appreciate his insight as much as his students do...


The Susquehanna Martial Arts Symposium

Senseis Nakamura, S. and Mann

I wasn't sure what to expect upon arrival. The group was smaller than I anticipated. Shortly after our arrival, Jeff Mann Sensei - the symposium organizer - got right into an invigorating warmup. By the time Tetsuji Nakamura Sensei engaged us for kihon, we were warmed up and ready to go. Nakamura Sensei's session on kihon was informative and productive. It was great being a student again.

I guess what stuck out was the explanation for everything we did. Although there were attendees from different styles, we all understood Sensei's demonstration of techniques and their intention. I found myself jotting copious notes on kakie - a variation of "push hands" that was somewhat different than we were used to, but felt so intuitive and natural. We also did mushimi technique with an excellent explanation on sinking the body and generating power. I purposely chose partners from outside the group I came with so I might better experience the flavor of the applications. It was nice to be reminded of and brought back to the basics of Goju-Ryu.

On a particular note, I was tickled by the scheduling of Pekiti Tersia on the program, led by Guro Wes Tasker. The concepts of Pekiti Tersia seem far removed from Goju-Ryu - and yet at our home, Shin Ri Tan Kyu Martial Arts Academy, we also embrace the teachings of Pekiti Tersia taught by Guro Douglas Marcaida of Rochester, NY. It is such an interesting dichotomy. I think the systems actually complement each other.

Which goes to my point: There was an openness about this symposium. While re-enforcing the teachings of the Goju-Kai, the practitioners were also open to the ideas and applications presented by other styles. Since my students have a background in Pekiti, they were all comfortable with the baston - yet every person in the room willingly embraced the techniques shown. It was a learning experience for all.

The "Women, Violence and Self-Defense" forum was particularly enlightening. I have taught common sense self-defense for years to male and female high school students and it was informative to hear from a PA state trooper who sees the extreme cases, although my female students were not in agreement with some of his summations. However bad a personal situation becomes, there's never an excuse to resort to violence, unless in self-defense.

Mann Sensei's "Zanchin: Theory and Practice" seminar took us through techniques that are normally done in a classroom setting - but his techniques developed a follow-through, which forced you to think a situation through and finish. Regular practice with these techniques would be a great way to develop muscle memory for self-defense techniques.

The high point for me was Sunday's exploration into kata and bunkai. It's a given that Peter Urban had a different interpretation of Goju-Ryu techniques. It was nice to explore the root of Goju-Ryu forms from Nakamura Sensei and a comparison of the derivatives of other systems.

It was a great experience and something I'd like to do again and would encourage anyone wishing a deeper understanding and foundation of Goju-Ryu to partake in. Kudos to Mann Sensei on a well put together event.