Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Year in Review

Hard to believe it's almost 2012. Seems like we were just saying "Happy New Year!" and it's almost time to do it again.

This year has been an interesting one for me in the martial arts. Quite a few highs - including our first promotion at the Salvation Army dojo, adventures in cross training, seminars and workshops, tournaments, thoughts on nidan grading - as well as a few lows. But some of the best parts about 2011 were the lessons learned, venturing out and stepping out of my comfort zone.

Sharing it here with all of you has been the bestest part of all. Thanks for your ears and supporting shoulders, fellow artists. All the best to you and yours in 2012 - and here's to another amazing year!

Book Review: "How to Win a Fight"

For all the martial artists out there who have friends, partners, neighbors or significant others who have no desire to train at all, I may have found THE perfect gift for them.

Lawrence Kane and Kris Wilder's "How to Win a Fight" has just about everything you always wanted to tell them but haven't yet. Complete with comic book-esque illustrations by Matt Haley, it is filled with practical information about winning a fight by avoiding it at all costs and knowing what to do, where/how to strike, when to stop if you absolutely have no choice other than to put up your dukes and defend yourself.

The standard martial arts fare is here: awareness, avoidance and de-escalation - but in simple, non-martial terms that are easy to digest and understand. Using their combined 37-years of experience in goju-ryu, judo, tae kwon do and working security, they detail personal stories and scenarios they either observed or experienced. Broken into three sections - "Before Violence Occurs," "During a Violent Encounter" and "Aftermath of Violence" - it is designed for folks who may think they know how a bar or street confrontation would go down (thanks in part to the colorful representations on television and movie theaters, mayhaps), but who have never actually dealt with the speed and ferocity a real, live violent situation might entail.

But just because it's not written specifically for martial artists doesn't mean you, dear blog reader, won't find it useful. You may train to use some potentially lethal techniques, but would you really ever use them to protect a stranger? Against a child with a weapon? Against a family member? The "How Far Am I Willing to Go" quiz in the introduction makes you think about that. The authors suggest it be taken after the last chapter is read to see if and how your answers changed (a few of mine did).

Aside from being an extremely easy read, the thing I found the most interesting about the book is the chapter on dealing with what happens after you survive that violent confrontation. How should you chat with police? When do you call an attorney? How could your claim of self-defense possibly be viewed by the legal system and why? If you've never thought about that part, you should.

"How to Win a Fight" is a good addition to any martial artist's library, too. Glad I have my copy (signed by the authors, I must say :-). Find yours at your favorite brick and mortar bookstore, Amazon and iTunes.

The Sais Have It

<---Look what Santa bought me! My school is on end-of-year break (no classes at all since 12/20), but guess what I've been playing with for the last week?

Sensei introduced us to the sai about a year ago during a session on empty-hand version of kata Saifa's bunkai. We saw how the weapon could be used to rake, pull and impale if the practitioner were to place a pair of sais in those empty hands. Suffice to say that Saifa can be a nasty, nasty kata without weapons, but it's even nastier with a pair of sais. Saifa is a bit advanced to start with, so we're working on much more basic form to learn how the sais are supposed to move and function.

But before we could even get to those basics, learning how to hold and "open" the sai - moving the weapon from a non-offensive hold against the forearm to a ready-to-strike/block/trap position - was the first course of business.

When Sensei handed me his 21.5" long chrome-plated octagonal sais, I was totally scared to touch them. Unlike my bo, they were shiny, pokey and designed to be used with only one hand. They were beautiful, but also looked very heavy and kinda slippery. As Sensei spun them around slowly and demonstrated a few very basic techniques, all I could think about was having one slip out of my hand and either fly across the room or land on a training partner's foot. Nothing interrupts the flow of a great training session like a trip to the emergency room.

Let me back up and give a bit of history about the sai: these Okinawan weapons were originally used as farm tools for planting crops - and they also measured the distance between planted seeds. A multi-pronged rod, the sai was pushed into the ground where it would leave three holes. The farmer would use the third hole as a reference point and push the sai into the ground again so the holes would be evenly spaced. After many crops had been planted this way - with the farmer repetitively thrusting the sai into the ground and flipping it over to plant the seeds - it's not hard to see how he or she could build quite a bit of dexterity, strength and accuracy with these blunt instruments. Later, sais were used to fight against swords, bo staffs and tonfa. The size of your sais should be about the length of your forearm from balled fist to elbow.

Before I ever really examined a sai up close, I thought they were sharp and pointed, but the shaft (monouchi) and the side prongs (yoko) are actually blunt. The shaft can be round, heptagonal or octagonal and the thumb rests on the mid-point between the two side-prongs (moto) and pinkie, ring and middle fingers hold the handle (tsuka - which is usually wrapped in some sort of material - like leather or plastic - for easier gripping). The forefinger is usually extended along the shaft. Each weapon actually has many parts that can hurt you, including the monouchi (used to block or strike), the butt end (tsukagashira - which is used to poke) tips of the yoko (tsume - used for ripping and trapping) and the tip of the monouchi (saki - used for impaling, striking and poking). Here's a very pixelated illustration:

Back in class, after I finally worked up the nerve to hold one, I played around with Sensei's sais for a few moments, thinking the whole time that I would never, ever get used to flinging these monstrous things around. After a few tries, my forearms were killing me and I thought I must look a lot like Popeye - but I had a whole new respect for golfers, tennis and ping-pong players.

Usually when we get new info, Sensei gives us homework and our first official sai lesson was no exception. Our objective was to do 50 "opens" per side per day with strict instructions to only work one sai/hand at a time. He also suggested starting with our non-dominant hand. A natural lefty, he always learns new drills, techniques or weapons on his right side first and wanted us to do the same in reverse so, as he says, our strong side could teach the weak side. It literally took the rest of the class for me to get those first 50 in, but I did it - without any training partners suffering any injuries as a result :-). And believe it or not, this righty was much better on my left side (which was a very odd feeling). Since Santa left me my very own pair under the tree, I've been doing my homework every day and flowing my first form. I must say that manipulating them is getting a little easier every day. OK - they're not so monstrous. I'm actually starting to enjoy my new shiny, pokey and very heavy artillery.

But for the record, my forearms are still killing me.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Customer Service Blues

I run a dojo at a local Salvation Army with my training partner, Ed. I'm the keeper of all things attendance and cirriculum-related and the orderer of gis, sparring gear and equipment.

Since the closest thing resembling a martial arts supply house to our town is about an hour and a half away, 99% of the gis, sparring gear and school equipment I order comes via companies I find online. Usually, all I need is a size and a credit card and the equipment arrives in about a week or so.

I understand that occasionally mistakes happen, but today marks the second time I've had to say goodbye to a company because of their less-than-stellar customer service.

The first company had prices that were managable for the families we service and I happily ordered many, many gis - three and four at a time - from them. But when a large order - one of sparring gear that we needed for an upcoming tournament - took twice as normal to arrive without explanation, I called to find out what the delay was about. The response was that because of the size of our order - an eye-popping five sets of sparring gear - I should have known it would take longer than the eight to 10 days the website said its orders normally arrived within. When I explained the situation - that the gear was needed for the youngsters who would be traveling to their very first tournament ever - they offered to expedite it so it would arrive in time - for an additional $200. And no, the customer service rep who told me that wasn't joking. The very last conversation we had was a request to remove our contact information from their marketing and mailing list because we wouldn't be ordering from them again.

About eight months ago, I stumbled across another martial arts webstore. They offered a wholesale site that enabled karate schools like mine to get even bigger discounts on gear, clothing and equipment. Since our green belts will be starting bo training soon, I ordered their bos and cases via site #2 - and wouldn't you know it - the very first bo order was screwed up (they sent a straight bo instead of the tapered one I ordered for my oldest student). I called the company and the guy who answered was a bit gruff, hinting that the guy who handled the orders worked out of his garage and there was no way he (store guy) could correct it - only the Garage Guy could. So I emailed Garage Guy - who was gracious in apologizing for the mistake made on their end and sent me a new bo without requesting the other back. That, I thought, was customer service. His one attempt to go above and beyond had earned our customer loyalty.

That is until this weekend. Two new, gi-less students' parents ordered uniforms for their children for Christmas. For one parent, I know getting the money together was a struggle, so I made sure I ordered the gi about 30 minutes after she'd proudly pressed those wrinkled bills into my hand. As site #2 had always promised order delivery (and had always made it) within 10 days or less - I felt pretty confident that the order would make it in time for my new guys' parents to have the uniforms under their Christmas trees. A few days before I ordered the gis, I'd ordered 21.5" sais (the newest weapon my sensei is having us tackle) and a heavy-weight gi for myself.

On Saturday, the sais came - but they were only 15" long. I checked the order and saw that the mistake was on the company's end as even the packing slip had the correct size. Today, the gis arrived, but although I ordered two size 3 black student weight uniforms, there were two size 2s in the box. Sigh.

Remembering what happened the last time I called, I went straight to Garage Guy via email. He apologized for sending the wrong size sais but was less than stellar in regards to the gis. He basically said he'd mail out the correct sizes and wanted me to pack up the other gis and the sais and prepare them for pick-up via Fed-Ex tomorrow. Sometime. But I'll be working tomorrow, I wrote back. And since the new stuff wouldn't arrive until after Christmas, coudln't I just schedule the pickup for Tuesday so at least the parents would have some uniform for their kids on Christmas Day, I asked? His reply? "Please have my package ready for pickup tomorrow or I will have to charge you the call tag fees."

The packages were delivered to my home - and I live in a very safe neighborhood - but he didn't know that. Garage Guy had no idea that the address was not our dojo - which is in the middle of an econmically challenged area that I would NOT have felt comfortable leaving a package on the doorstep of AT ALL. You might want to check with your customers about their availability BEFORE you call to schedule a pick-up for an order YOU screwed up next time, dude. I'm just sayin'.

The attitude from Garage Guy was a little too "well - it's your problem" for my tastes. This company - via Garage Guy - made me feel like somehow I had done something wrong, when in fact it was his mistake that caused the need for a re-do - twice in as many orders, I might add. Plus, I've already shelled out money for products I don't yet have. Not cool - which is what I replied to him before I asked him to also remove our contact information from their mailing lists. There are too many other martial arts supply companies out there for me to be feeling like I'm wrong for expceting them to fix their mistake without inconveniencing me too much. They may be able get by with crappy customer service - but it won't be with my student's hard-earned ducats, that's for sure. We'll be taking those ducats elsewhere from now on.

Remember - and other webstores like you: you are only as good as your least satisfied customer, no matter how big or small your company is. That is the only way to keep customers. At least, that's the only way to keep this one.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hair's the Thing...

Warning: This is a particularly female-friendly post. If you've never had to hold your hair back with bobby pins and a headband or you've never dumped out your gear bag in a mad search for a scrunchy before class, you may, of course, still read this, but some of the references may leave you scratching your head.

A few months ago, I read a post on a martial arts message board about what female practitioners do with their do when training.The original poster asked if others always wore their hair up/back or always wore it down and free when training and why. The answers were pretty thoughtful, with most women either cutting their hair short or wearing it back to keep it out of their faces on the mat. A few said they generally kept it down, just like they do during other parts of their day for the sake of "realism" - meaning that if they found themselves in the middle of a confrontation on the street without a hair-tie, they didn't want to have to worry about how they would deal with tangled or grabbed tresses.

Realism for me is that my hair most often behaves during class but becomes an absolute hard-to-manage mess after. That makes converting back to Corporate America Jane the next day that much tougher because my hair always seems to look like I've just been in a fight. Not the look I'm going for at all.

I've got what my dojo family hears me refer to as BGH - Black Girl Hair. It's thick and dry without a consistent curl/wave pattern in its natural state, although I haven't seen that natural state in a while thanks to the chemicals to relax the curl that I've been putting in it since I was about nine years old. It used to behave when I was dressed in anything but my PJs - until I started training on tracks and in weight rooms at age 15. Moisture (that includes sweat) tends to make my want to curl again - which is why washing it is such a major ordeal and something that just can't be done every day (once weekly is the goal).

But it's not just the washing that's the thing; it's the relaxing and the styling. And since I'm getting older, it's also the coloring to cover the grey. Suffice to say that as I've..umm...matured and my training has grown to include more days each week, my hair has become more and more of an expensive, stress-inducing, time-leeching aggravation - and that just ain't cool.

Since college, I've been the one doing all the work on my do as regular visits to the salon - other than to get it trimmed - were not something I could afford (for those guys still reading: a salon trip for a wash/"set" or relaxer/perm and cut costs $50-$80 and can be closer to $100 if you add coloring). I have a few friends who say they couldn't be bothered with all that hair-doing - so they spend hours and hours a pop in the salon. Highlights, braids, extensions and coloring all take major maintenance, which means you sort of get to know your stylist pretty well because you see him/her so often. I simply do not have time for that.

I dyed my hair last weekend. It literally took three days before it stopped looking like a Brillo pad and began to look like it did before I whipped out my box of Dark and Lovely. That's three days of scrunchies, folks. It was just. sad.

This past Thursday was a long, 13-hour day for me - culminating with an evening meeting that pre-empted class. By the time I got home, my hair was flying every which way and looked quite tore up from the floor up. Had I dyed my hair Rihanna Red instead of jet black, I would have seriously looked like a brown Bozo the Clown.

So yesterday, after a few suggestions on where to go for a good cut from some friends, I hit the salon. My goal was to get my coife cut into something that was easy to manage in the mad dash that is my morning (I'm talking finger-fluff and go) but could also hold up under a sparring helmet without looking like a spiky rat's nest after a two-hour class. I found a picture of style I liked in one of my old Essence magazines and was off to meet Christina at Fantastic Cuts.

"So" she said when she picked up the scissors after I'd been shampooed and dried. "Are you sure you want to cut it so short?" And I was. I only second-guessed for a fleeting moment when the hair that used to be attached to my head started piling up on the floor around us.

But the finished product was amazing - if I do say so myself. The back is scalp short, but the sides and top are long and even (no layers that will take forever to style). It dips over one eye so I can look serious and serene in my work uniform (glasses and kitten heels) and ready to roll in my other one (a gi). I didn't really sweat too much in class last night (it was a "thinking" night), but it wasn't flying everywhere and wiry at evenings end. When I got home, I dabbed it with some leave-in overnight product, wrapped it in my trusty scarf and called it a night. This morning when I untied the scarf and fluffed with my fingers, it was good to go!

The tally:
Shampoo, cut and tip: $50.
New teeny-weeny flat iron from the beauty supply shop down the road: $25
Time spent getting my do done: two hours
Having one less thing to stress over each morning: Priceless :-)

I should have done this years ago...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Diamonds in the Rough

Yesterday, our little group from the Salvation Army caravanned up to Herkimer, NY for the Diamond Valley Classic Karate Tournament. Always a good mix of styles and talent, it was the very first tournament most of our students had ever competed in last year. Back then, they were brand new and not quite sure what this karate thing was about, but willing to give the tournament a shot. Although winning was not the focus, I'd be lying if I said it that watching our youngest competitors (all of five years old) leave their ring holding trophies that were almost as big as they were didn't make me smile a little.

This year, all but two of our students had competed before so the venue, format and time schedule were not new to them at all. They were focused and ready to compete - so much so that more than a few folks came up to us during and after the tournament to make a comment or two. They weren't just talking about the katas or sparring. Training partner Ed and I heard time and time again about our students' confidence and poise - and how gracious and humble they were both when they won and when they didn't. For us, that is what it's all about.

In the middle of the meet, the director called us over and asked us to wait with him for a moment in the center of the gym. He then presented us with the Top School award. It was our turn to be humbled - by the very students we instruct.

There was some amazing competition in all divisions (check out this video of weapon's grand champion Sensei Jeff Melander to see for yourself), but that wasn't all there was to see yesterday. Outside of the ring, I saw one of my parents tear up as he watched/filmed his seven-year-old's first ever kata presentation. I watched my sensei and many other high-ranking dans get out of their seats after judging all day, step into the ring to spar/present kata and give clinics on how to do the damn thing. And every Grand Championship given out yesterday - for kata, weapons and men's and women's kumite - was awarded to black belts in the "Executive" (over 35) Division. Score FOUR for the old-heads :-)

Here's what the Grand Champion's plaque looks like (this one happens to be hanging on the wall in my den now :-):

My honey was there with us - filming and helping with the parents to hand out water, fruit and granola bars and to get everyone to their proper rings on time. I watched the video this morning, saw some kata and kumite that I missed while judging and competing and remembered what an amazing learning tool video is. But even for those who haven't seen any video yet, I'm sure they learned as much as I did - including the fact that there is always more to learn. Hats off to you, Shin Ri Tan Kyu Martial Arts Academy students, for doing your best and re-enforcing the idea that a family (ryu) is much more than the people you happen to be related to.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Trouble in Paradise

My home life is usually a pretty cool place to be. Last night, however, I got grief from my significant other for the time I spend away from it. I thought he was talking about my time in the dojo or gym or on my way to the dojo or gym as the class I take is two hours away and I also teach locally two nights a week. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that he was really complaining about the amount of time I spend with my training partner, Ed.

I met Ed about four years ago in the gym. Ironically, I'd happened to wear a t-shirt with a Goju fist on it that day (and that's ironic because I had never worn that shirt before and I haven't worn it since); since he'd just moved to our suburb from NYC and wasn't aware that there was a Goju dojo in the area, he saw my shirt and inquired about where I trained. His wife was on the treadmill next to him so I met her at the same time.

We've trained together ever since. We did forms and Ippons side-by-side every day for six months before our shodan grading. We left our old instructor/school together and have traveled the hour each way to get to class with our (now not-so) new instructor twice a week for the past two-and-a-half-years. We started a karate program for youngsters at the Salvation Army together and we teach side-by-side two days a week. He and his family have eaten at my dinner table and my family has eaten at his. Retired from a career in corrections, he was also my son's barber for quite a while and was one of the many people who helped teach him how to drive. Suffice to say he's very much like a brother to me.

So, yeah, I guess we do spend a lot of time together - karate time. I was the first one to congratulate him when we got the news he would be testing for nidan earlier this year and he was the first to console me when we knew I wouldn't be testing along side him - purely happenstance, as I was in class kneeling next to him when the announcement came. Our relationship is purely plutonic - or as another friend put it, karate-tonic. He's a good egg.

My honey, howeverer doesn't quite get this. Although he studied Judo as a kid and joined our class for a few months this summer, I'm not sure the idea of the never-ending pursuit of learning that is the martial arts makes sense to him. He does have other interests and understands athletic goals (he's a coach of a nationally ranked track team and still competes in the sport himself) but this martial path seems totally foreign to him. And I'm not quite sure what to do about that.

If you have a spouse or partner that is not a martial artist, how do they feel about the amount of time you spend teaching and learning? How do you deal with those feelings?

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Adventures of Bug Girl

Yesterday I was sitting at my desk, minding my business and doing the work that I am paid to do. When I picked up my calendar to shift it to another corner of the desk, a centipede-type of bug crawled from underneath it and headed straight for me. I screamed like I was being attacked, leaped over my desk and sprinted out of the office. Everyone on the floor poked their heads out of their offices to see what the commotion was about. The few who know I teach karate in town, chuckled at the irony of a black belt being freaked out by a bug.

But it had a lot of legs and looked really, really evil. Seriously.

For the record, I am a "green" tree-hugger. I recycle like a woman possessed, drive a hybrid, try my best to conserve paper and don't kill bugs at all - even if they have found their way into my living space (a stink bug fell from the ceiling last week; I scooped it up in a bathroom cup and freed it via the window). Spiders, surprisingly, don't bother me at all. The only things that do give me pause are large groups of bugs (a colony of ants for example) or bugs with lots of limbs (I just got a chill from typing that last part!). But I do know exactly where my phobia comes from, thought.

When I was about 14 or so, my mom asked me to shift an outdoor rug that was on our patio. I walked outside in sandals and lifted up a brick that was holding one of the corners in place. A gang of pincher bugs fell from the bottom of the brick onto my feet. None actually pinched, but I screamed, kicked off my shoes, hurdled the railing and proceeded to scratch my legs and feet for the better part of two hours (even after a long shower). It totally weirded me out (and I just scratched my leg after typing about it). Even after all these years, I still remember what it felt like to have those bugs fall on my feet. Ick.

All day yesterday, my co-workers commented (and chuckled) about my bug adventure. My officemate killed the offending creature (which kind of made me sad) - but he couldn't get over my freak-out session. He promptly branded me "Bug Girl" and said that he might have to re-think his decision to have me as one of the folks he'd walk through the rough section of town with. A former martial artist himself (he studied TKD as a kid), he seemed to be under the impression that once you become a black belt in a martial art, you fear nothing at all - be it mugger in the bushes, knife-wielding bad guy or an army of bugs. Well, I'm here to testify that nothing can be further from the truth.

I may be a karateka, but there are still things that scare me - even though I train on a regular basis to "handle" those things. I might have to face that mugger, bad guy or army of beetles, but that doesn't mean I don't have some fear about having to face them. According to writer/humanitarian James Baldwin, being courageous enough to face fear doesn't mean that you aren't experiencing any. He actually describes courage as a mere weapon with which to keep that fear in check. The two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.

OK - so maybe running screaming from the room wasn't the best way to handle my fear. But truthfully, I'm really happy that I didn't toss everything off my desk trying to shoe the bug away or that I didn't just sit there and stare, frozen by fear. I had a plan - and that plan was all about avoiding that bug at all costs.

Doing something is better than doing nothing, I suppose. Maybe next time I'll just walk briskly out of the room, though (considering that there might even BE a next time made me itch a little!)...

Friday, September 30, 2011

36 Days and Counting

Yep - THE tournament - the Diamond Valley Classic - is only five short weeks away. Seems like an eternity from now, but at the same time, It seems like it is just around the corner, too.

I've been flowing my kata daily and working on my point sparring, but I'm getting nervous - like knees shaky and stomach in knots nervous - every time I think about it. I know everything will be fine once we get up there and get going, but still...

Our students are working hard, too. Prepping for kata presentation - y'know, the name/style/senei/form "speech" - always trips them up a little, especially the shy ones. Only a few are nervous about kumite, though. Not sure if that is good or bad!

The bottom line is this: for each of us - from training partner Ed and me, down through the few who are competing for the first time ever - it will be what it will be. I think you learn a little about yourself each and every time you compete. It takes lots of guts to even step into the ring in the first place - even if it isn't "real" (can't tell you how many times I've heard THAT particular argument).

Our students only compete three times a year max. We go to this particular tournament because it is just the right size (not too small, not too big), fairly well judged, not too far away or expensive and it allows our young karateka to step out of their Goju worlds and see other martial artists present different styles of kata and kumite. But the truth of it is that I'd rather the first punch they see coming at them from an unknown assailant (without first announcing what side it will be coming from and what type of attack they'll need to defend against) be in the nice, controlled setting of a ring with five judges - and while they are decked out in dipped foam gear from head to toe. If they freeze or make a mistake there, the consequences won't be that severe. Can't say the same for an attack on the street. No freezing allowed...

Plus, they genuinely enjoy themselves. Many of them don't get a chance to get out of town much - even to a little town in upstate, NY. We pack the Salvation Army's 12-passenger van and lead a caravan of karate vehicles full of karate enthusiasts, parents and friends up to watch, compete and enjoy the day. "The world is much larger than your view of it" is what they hear us say at the end of most of our classes, but they get to really experience it that first Saturday in November, which is kind of nice. The community cooler will be full of water, sports drinks and healthy snacks and the parents help make sure all the kids get to their rings (and to the bathrooms, LOL) throughout day, so the understanding of our little group as a ryu - a family - comes through without us having to say a word.

We also tell them that the trophies are not what the day's competition is all about, but keeping their chi high and doing their best are. They get it, compete well (especially when they don't even place) and have loads of fun in the process.

Herkimer here we come :-)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The "P" Word

Ummm...that'd be "promotions" folks. Yep - grading was discussed vaguely in class this week. I was simply told to "prepare to look ahead towards the next level."

What that means is this: be ready for anything. Training partner Ed's nidan grading was mentioned then happened without him being told "tomorrow is the day." So sharpening, tightening and refining wasn't really an "OK - I've got to do THIS to prepare" sort of thing as it was for our shodan grading (we knew about that one for a year) - it just happened.

But truthfully, I don't believe there ever really is a date when the info you've learned and the skills you've acquired are "done" like cookies in the oven. A little less time won't make them a totally incohesive mess; neither will a little more time burn them to a crisp.

I had always envisioned my heart thudding like a drum and an overwhelming OMG! pause when I got the word, but none of that happened. I just sort of filed it away to think about later - after the Diamond Valley Classic tournament upstate in early November (six short weeks away!). What actually went through my mind was "That's cool - but I wonder if we're going to have time to spar tonight?" Grand championship on the brain, I guess :-).

So, no date or anything has been announced, just a slight mention that nidan maybe somewhere on the horizon. It was mentioned, we trained and now I can just continue to do the same and not have to really think about it. It is what it is.

In my head, I hear my senseis channeling a wine commercial from back in the day: "We will grade no karateka before it's time."

Or was that its (possessive) time? Ha - time will most certainly tell, that's for sure.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Food for Thought

Maybe it was reading Samurai Girl Sahara's recent post or the book I'm reviewing about fighting, but violence has been on my mind quite a bit lately. I'm in somebody's dojo or gym six days a week and still I feel somewhat unprepared emotionally for a real, live violent confrontation. My belief is that I'll be able to flip that switch I have to, but can you ever truly prepare for that?

This morning, I found this quote on a new FaceBook page I "liked" yesterday:
“Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day: I shall not fear anyone on Earth. I shall fear only God. I shall not bear ill will toward anyone. I shall not submit to injustice from anyone. I shall conquer untruth by truth. And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

I know Gandhi was not about fisticuffs at all so violence is not even mentioned, but I think it fits somehow. It certainly set my train of thought in a new direction, that's for sure.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Triangles, Circles & Crane Stances - Oh My!

My karate sensei talks loads about triangles - specifically about how strong they are. There are so many kata where our hands end up in some kind of modified triangle or other. Whenever he points out another triangle in a kata, ippon kumite or self-defense technique, I always think of the Great Pyramids of Egypt: still standing after centuries.

Circles are referenced a great deal as well in Goju, Aikido and Jujitsu. So many times, the technique isn't complete until your hands, arms, legs and/or feet end up exactly where they started - including blocks/strikes like mawashi uchi (two-hand circular block) and hiraken uchi (rolling back fist), simple movements like the crescent steps (half-circle stance movements) and kicks like ushiro geri (traditional back kick). Both Jujitsu and Aikido often use energy generated by the adversary against him/her by first moving him/her in a circle then abruptly making the person go the other way via a joint lock or strike. Cool stuff :-)

So imagine my surprise when yesterday in Jujitsu, I discovered that one body part might be completing a circle while another is moving in a totally different - and straight - direction. We were working on a self-defense technique that involved first linearly evading a straight punch then trapping the punch hand and guiding the adversary down until his/her face is at knee level by controlling the elbow you just acquired. The two other students I was working with were my height or taller and when Sensei A. - my 6'2" Jujitsu instructor - saw that we were all having some difficulties getting our tall selves out of the way of the attack, he had us drill the movements in what he calls "kata form" - which means slowly, deliberately and very much like the kata flow drill I learned about a year ago. He had us line up and stand with our hands up, feet together and knees bent before instructing us to step back then turn 90 degrees to the right to emulate the movement in the technique. The turn placed us into a perfect Sagi Ashi-Dachi (crane stance) - before we stepped forward with the rear leg, did a 180 degree turn and ended up in another Sagi Ashi-Dachi. "Now pair up and do the technique again," Sensei A. said - and yep, we all nailed it. Seeing the crane stance turn on itself - in a complete circle - was truly an ah-ha! moment for all of us. I felt like doing the happy dance right in the middle of the dojo!

And to think, I actually hated geometry in high school...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


"Nothing limits achievement like small thinking; nothing expands possibilities like unleashed imagination." 
- William Arthur Ward

Monday, August 22, 2011

Marking the Calendar

Got an email today I've been waiting a whole year for: one about an upcoming tournament. It is one of three tournaments I try to compete in each year and it kicks off the competitive season for me. I've circled the date on my the calendar, even --->.

Each year at this tournament, I get a little bit closer to the grand championship in sparring. Two years ago, I won my division but the "Executive Women" (that's the over-40 set, LOL) were not included in the grand championship round robin. Last year we were, but I kind of lost my head in the grand championship round when my opponent - the 18-year-old winner of the black belt women's under-35 division - dropped like a rock when I hit her in the gut. I'm talking fight stopped, me forced to kneel while the medics attended to her, the whole nine. That had never happened to me before - and my fight was pretty much done as a result because once the action resumed I was flat-footed and reactionary instead of staying aggressive and on my toes - my head completely out of it because I'd actually hurt someone young enough to be my daughter. Can't tell you how ticked I was that I allowed the situation to take me off my game. Lesson learned - because that certainly won't happen again...

I've heard it said many times that in order to do a thing, you have to first admit that you want to do it then set a goal in order to make it happen. I think a scene from one of my favorite "feel good" flicks - "Akeelah and the Bee" - best illustrates that. When she begins her training, her coach makes Akeelah admit something she'd probably never said aloud before: that she wants to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee. She whispers a simple "I want to win," at first, but he makes her repeat it over and over again until she is able to scream it at the top of her lungs - and mean it.

So here goes: I want to be the Women's Kumite Grand Champion at the Diamond Valley Classic this November. There - I said it. OK - I'm still whispering right now, but each day I train, I not only get another day closer to the one circled on my calendar, but my whisper gets a little louder, too. It'll be a scream at the top of my lungs real soon :-)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Black Belt Excellence

Found this quote on friend's FaceBook wall today and had to share it:

"Black Belt Excellence comes through consistent training. When things are darkest, toughest, and all seems lost...TRAIN and this too shall does get better.. in fact it is better than you think already...Have an attitude of gratitude! If you think you are done then you are!! Get to class!!!"
- Tom Arcuri

Thanks to a massive sinus headache (courtesy of the lovely humidity), I won't make it to class tonight, but you better believe that once my meds kick in, I'm hitting the heavy bag in the garage and working some kata. Thanks for the gentle nudge, Tom :-)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Politically Incorrect

A few months ago when I was visiting a class I frequent, the instructor referred to one of his adult students as "Fat Man." A few of the other karateka chuckled, but since the student is a good friend, I know weight - and trying to lose some - are big issues for him. OUCH.

In another class, the sensei is big on telling all his students that gender doesn't matter on the mat and that there are only karate students in his class, not males and females - but when demonstrating self-defense techniques, he is quick to jump on the "women are delicate creatures" bandwagon by insisting the females do techniques that involve raking or poking the eyes with our long, "fresh-from-the salon" fingernails (yep - he actually said that) that none of us have (because as martial artist, we can't make a proper fist with them) while having the males work on punches to the face. The reason, he says, is that most women don't want to hurt their hands by punching with their fists. Sexist OUCH.

Although he is now a third kyu, one of the kyus that came over from my old school to the new one still has a bit of difficulty with his some of his rolls, falls and kick placement because his first instructor (who was also my first instructor) didn't place much emphasis on those basics. Today in class, an instructor addressed the group after the kyu demonstrated a front roll to emphasize the importance of having a solid foundation of basics. "The color of your belt is only to show the number of years you've been training, really," he said." It doesn't necessarily tell you how SKILLED a person is." Unintentional OUCH.

Another sensei I've trained with is big on pointing out the errors in technique, which is a good thing. But although I know it's designed to make us all better martial artists, I gotta tell you that it's diffucult to hear "NOPE!" or "That's totally wrong" or "You're doing that like a white belt" over and over without feeling like you can't do anything right. Gut-wrenching OUCH.

I've seen the look on the faces of students when they've been put on blast in class and it is hard to watch. But what's even harder to watch is when the person dishing out the harsh words doesn't realize the effect what they've said has had. To them I say this: you may think it's helping build character/toughening your students up, but in reality, what you're doing is the verbal equivalent of bullying. That might be the way you learned, but perhaps the same is not the best way to train others.

In other words, whether you are a student, student teacher, sempai or head instructor, be careful with how you address folks on the mat. Maybe this anonymous quote sums it up best: "Keep your words sweet. You may have to eat them later."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Salvation Army Grading

Last weekend was a big one for our kyu students at the Salvation Army. After training together for almost a year and a half, 24 of the karateka graded for higher rank. After the certificates, belts and stripes were all handed out, we all enjoyed covered dish yummies made by the parents. A good time was had by all - especially training partner Ed, who earned his nidan :-)

5-yr-old Gary stretching during the warmup

His 7-yr-old sister, Diane, braking her first board ever (w/ Ed holding)

James presenting an ippon

My son, Malcolm, facing Sensei Joe in kumite

Stephanie (l) works an aiki jitsu with uke Diane

Sensei S. (R) and his sensei, Kyoshi K. stretching before kumite

Andrew gets congratulations from Sensei Joe, Kyoshi, Sensei S and SBN Slater...

Before I tied on his shiny, new brown belt :-)

Ed bowing to SBN Slater after earning his nidan

The gang - complete with new promotees - is all here

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cross Training Blues: Confessions of a Work in Progress

For the past five years, I've been going to a weekend martial arts gathering in upstate New York called Super Summer Seminars. The opportunity to learn a little something about Jeet Kun Do, Judo, Kung Fu, BJJ and even traditional Okinawan kata bunkai is something I look forward to each July.

After last year's seminars, I tried to take that concept out of the workshops and apply it to my own martial life, mixing a little Aikido first and now JuJitsu into my training regiment. I have no problem strapping on a white belt at all because it's all about the learning to me. But perhaps there is a point where the "new" art(s) starts to crowd the tried and true. Hmmm...

My example: my "think on your feet" self-defense needs work. Last week, the JuJitsu class added a Thursday night adults only class where they do nothing but work through self-defense techniques strictly off a hook and/or straight punch. They work on opening moves to evade and counter before looking for openings to take the adversary out of the fight - via strikes, wrist locks/arm bars or sweeps. Good stuff I most definitely need - because we never did anything like this in my first school and we only do it a bit at my current school - but getting there means my regular school's Thursday night class gets pre-empted. It's not a problem this month (I'm taking the month of July off from my regular classes specifically to work on some things), but next month, when I return to my regular routine, it might be.

My sensei and I talked about it and although he seemed to understand my need for some time away when we first spoke, the grapevine (every school has one, I'm sure) has indicated that he's not all that thrilled that my primary learning is now coming from outside the school (I'm also taking a Jujitsu class on Mondays and I have been traveling down to NYC on alternate Wednesdays to get my booty kicked cardio-vascularly at Harlem Goju since April or so - and both are days when my school has no scheduled classes). I'm still teaching the little ones on Fridays and Saturdays (and may soon add an "adult newbie" class to the mix on Sundays), and was really only looking for a way to supplement my regular training, not replace it forever. But with the different vibe that is in the dojo as of late, I thought it best to step away for a minute - and I am glad that I did. I'm not leaving the school or even USA Goju for that matter - just taking a moment to re-group and re-charge. Obviously, he and I need to have another chat about it...

And this training is totally new and most unlike anything I've ever done before. Not innate by any means, moving around and under an adversary to secure a lock is - challenging. I still get that little pang of dread when it's my turn to give it a go, but it's dissipating a bit with each class.

Nothing different I guess. I'm still a work in progress.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

In Defense of Self...

I have a confession to make: I didn't begin studying martial arts to learn how to defend myself.

I actually started when I was in graduate school, working full-time, playing taxi-driver to my then 10-year-old son and undergoing radiation to my chest wall as part of my breast cancer treatment. I'd just retired from a 23-year career in track and field to start said grad school/crazy mom path and I really missed sweating. Going from training for three to four hours a day/six days a week to doing nothing more strenuous than walking up a flight of stairs to get to class was a bit disorienting, so when my son's sensei invited me to try the class, I took him up on it.

Of course I'm glad I did, but as we didn't spend much time at all on practical self-defense applications to the techniques we were learning, I'm a little behind on thinking on my feet when a real punch (as opposed to one padded in dipped foam from a friendly uke) comes flying at me. I'm not so much "deer in the headlights" as I used to be, but many times after that block or evasion, I pause to think about what I could/should do next. Sensei S., whom I've trained with now for the past two years, calls it "karate by the numbers" and it is my biggest barrier to testing for nidan in September. Sigh.

Last week, I took my friend, Sensei A, up on his long-standing offer to drop by his dojo to check out the jujitsu class he teaches. As disappointed as he was that I didn't gi up that night (I was supposed to be only watching, after all), he kept talking to me during his instruction, inviting me to get in for a closer look at some techniques, giving me some tips on looking for openings without working too hard to avoid, block and counter. I knew I was coming back, but I don't think he believed me until I showed up in gi last night.

Jujitsu is very different from karate - as was aikido - but also similar in many respects. For example, the blocks, kicks, punches and evasive moves are almost identical, but how we got there (always stepping into the fray - as in AT the oncoming punch or kick) was a little different. We also did lots of techniques off an uke-initiated roundhouse punch to the face which was cool. And both my uke (a 15-year-old yellow belt who is also 6'2" and lanky like me) and Sensei A were tossing them right at my jaw/cheekbone, forcing me to block correctly, get out of the way, or get clocked. Let's just say that pain is a great motivator to step up the learning curve.

My wrists are a little taxed today from some of the locks, but that's a good thing. Better still, I got to work on my break-falls when it was my turn to uke as every technique ended up with the attacker on the ground. No teeth rattles or crazy landings for me - which is also a good thing :-). And I got to work on my sweeps and take-downs in real time (as opposed to the gentle guiding I sometimes do). Suffice to say a good time was had and I'll be heading back again tomorrow night, too.

Just scratching the surface here - as we haven't really even gotten into much of the good stuff that happens once you get to the ground - but I can see how this can be as much of a complement to my training as aikido was (which, sadly, I can't attend anymore due to the distance and class schedule). My sensei is fine with it and actually encourages us to branch out, broaden our horizons and see/learn all we can. "Discard the bad and keep the good" is part of our dojo kun, so it's all about the learning.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Starting SOMEwhere

For a few years now, I've thought about becoming certified to teach women's self-defense. Actually, I've obsessed about it for the better part of the last three years and ended up taking every self-defense seminar and workshop I could just to see just what the actual teaching of one would entail. Mostly, I liked what I saw - except for one thing: the obligatory beating of a man in a padded suit that stemmed from the predication that "stranger danger" - in the form of an evil-doer jumping out from behind the bushes or sneak attacking from behind - is the biggest threat the average Jane faces.

But it isn't. The reality is that the majority of women who are attacked are attacked by people that they know. Here are a few statistics pulled from the National Domestic Violence Hotline website that drives the point home better than I ever could:
*On the average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day.

* One in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.

* One in three teens report knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, slapped, choked or physically hurt by a partner.

*As many as 324,000 women each year experience intimate partner violence during their pregnancy.

*Seventy-four percent of all murder-suicides involved an intimate partner (spouse, common-law spouse, ex-spouse, or boyfriend/girlfriend). Of these, 96 percent were females killed by their intimate partners.
The martial artist-me reasonably believes that if I was assaulted, I'd be able to do whatever I needed to physically to get away. But punching a STRANGER in the nose has got to be different than punching someone that I know - and who knows me. And none of the WSD workshops I went to ever addressed that.

So next weekend, I'm putting together one that does :-). A short (two-hour) workshop that mostly emphasizes awareness, avoidance and de-escalation with a little bit of very basic physical techniques, the curriculum is based on the National Women's Martial Arts Foundation's Self Defense Empowerment Model, which is eventually where I will seek certification. Unlike R.A.D., Fight Like a Girl and S.A.F.E. systems, dealing with acquaintance violence is a huge part of the program. I'm really excited and really nervous about it as well.

I'll let you know how it turns out :-)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Out of Sorts

Ever have one of those classes? Y'know - where nothing goes quite right and you just can't flow for squat?

My last few classes have been just like that. Training sessions like those are the most draining and frustrating things on the planet to me.

Part of the problem is that I'm going through some emotional non karate-related stuff, including the pending high school graduation of my son (tomorrow) and the stress associated with getting everything together for his walk down the aisle to flip his tassel. Another part of it is that my sensei is also going through some emotional non karate-related stuff, including relationship and relocation issues. Sure, shoes, attitudes and personal "laundry" should get left at the dojo door, but suffice to say that - to me, at least - the vibe in the training hall is off a bit, which is starting to make training there something I'm not quite as excited about as I used to be. And I'm not quite sure what to do with that.

So, to get back a little of the fervor before I start to dread going completely, I've been thinking about taking a small break. I'll still be training - both on my own and at perhaps a little in Jujitsu (got an invite several months ago from a local sensei who has visited our class on several occasions) - just not at my school. Who knows - maybe a month or so of training in a different environment will be good for me. Time will tell.

This will really be my first non-injury karate pause since I started almost six-and-a-half years ago. The only other time I stayed away from the dojo for longer than a class or two was for a six-week recoup from reconstruction surgery, and I swear, I thought I was going to tear my hair out without karate - but I survived by watching kata videos and visiting the dojo a few times. This will be a little different, but just as necessary, I think.

Ever taken a break from training? How did you spend your time away from the mat? How easy or difficult was it to return?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How Much is TOO Much?

Is it ever too early to introduce a brand-new martial artist to hard physical contact? I'm not talking about a punch to the arm or a light kick to the gut, but powerful techniques from folks who've not only been training longer and are more experienced but who are bigger, faster and stronger?

There's a bit of a debate going on over at the Women's Forum of Martial about a young woman who has only been training for four months feeling intimidated by how advanced the guys in her training hall are - and how hard they hit. Now, I'm most definitely of the "It's karate, not knitting so expect there to be contact" school of thought, but I still can't get behind the "tough it out, it make you a better martial artist!" refrains in some of the replies.

But really, something about the idea that she's asking for advice on how to get over feeling intimidated by her training partners seems strange to me.

Her original question:
I'm a small 24 y.o. woman, not very strong. I feel it's important to learn to defend myself so I started martial arts. I've been going for four months now but I still feel really intimidated in the class full of men. Some of them are nice but some are quite advanced and are in my opinion quite hostile - and they hit hard. I like my teacher but I am a slow learner it seems, and this may be annoying for the advanced students. Any advice from instructors/other women about feeling initimidated?

If you read through the thread, you'll see that most of the advice she's gotten to date has centered around her speaking up to her training partners and asking them to temper their hits/kicks/blocks and even speaking to her instructor if the "I'm gonna blast you across the room" techniques don't cease - and I agree - but really, should she HAVE to tell more advanced students not to kick her in the face? Shouldn't the idea that folks who have just started on the path not being quite ready for full-power techniques be a given?

I remember being punched in the face THREE TIMES by a fourth dan during a basic jab drill when I was only a seventh kyu. I'd been training for less than a year and had no idea what to do. I know NOW that he should have had the most control/been the safest person in the room, but as a newbie, I wasn't quite sure if getting hit in the nose that much was drill protocol - I just know it made me feel really uncomfortable, whether it was the norm or not.

But who knows what "normal" is when they decide to step on the mat for the first time? After they've been training for a few months? Whether there to learn self-defense, to sweat a bit or simply for the challenge of learning something new, the environment that is martial arts training is a pretty unique one. The rules of what is appropriate and what isn't aren't posted on the wall but rather learned as we go - and usually, they are learned by watching and working with more advanced training partners.

It should come down to the student deciding what is appropriate contact-wise for her/him - regardless of her/his level/rank, but is that what really happens? Like I said in my reply, I think everyone should totally be able to say if/when the contact is too much. I don't think it is ever OK for others - be they fellow students or instructors - to determine what is and isn't "too hard or too much" for anyone else. Insisting that they "tough out" whatever is dished out in order to learn is the fastest way to chase a person right out of the training hall, IMHO.

The reality is that most women have probably never been hit until they kick off their shoes and step onto the mat - and if they have, it probably wasn't by a guy who out-weighs her by 50 lbs or so in an environment that is supposed to be about learning and fun to some extent. I don't really see how facing dudes with absolutely no control or a dimmer switch teaches anyone how to be a better martial artist - just how to "take" a punch. But what does that have to do with becoming a good martial artist? To me, that demonstrates only how easily we bruise and bleed in a "oh look! I almost ruptured my spleen today!" sort of way. That is not quite all the karate I study is about.

There are reasons we wear pads while training - primarily so we don't hurt the person on the receiving end of a kick/punch/block too much. Sure, punch like you mean it, but to me, there is a big difference between a solid technique with intent and one that is meant to blast the uke out of the ring just for ha-ha's. Let the contact be appropriate for the learner's level, that's all I'm sayin'...

OK - rant over. Thanks for indulging me :-)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

For the Girls

Consolidating some files on my 'puter, I found a few photos from gradings and tournaments past. I've been blessed enough to have had the genuine fortune to train along side some truly amazing karateka. For me, the photos are inspirational (hope they are for you as well). Way to fight like girls, ladies :-)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Why Do You Train?" - Take 43

I really love my school - and not just for the physical aspects of karate we learn how to do. Last night's class, for example, was all about the mental.

Sensei Joe - part amazing karateka/instructor, part web-master - brought in his video camera to film us doing self-defense techniques to post on the school's site. There were only four students in attendance, so we all got a chance to demonstrate for the camera some actual "what would I do to neutralize this bad guy?" scenarios. He had asked that our techniques not only stop the attack/attacker, but make sure his/her will and/or ability to fight was obviously stopped, too.

The first technique I demonstrated was a solid front snap kick to the gut of an attacker as he moved forward to punch. My uke - my son, "Squirrel", who is about 5'8" and 120lbs soaking wet - promptly went flying across the room from the kick. But this "Neo" (my nick-name) had a question, of course: would it really be necessary to re-acquire my adversary since I created enough distance to get away? Seriously - I wouldn't WANT to get close enough to him again to be able to throw a kick or punch since I was now far away from the threat. My instinct would have been to turn and run, but all the men in the room - Sensei Joe, Sensei S., training partner Ed and even my 17-year-old son - said that since what I'd done to stop the confrontation would only stop the attacker for a moment (in fact, my kick might only do little more than piss the dude off), he might try to re-engage. Maybe he'd catch me, maybe he wouldn't - but was that really something I wanted to chance?

That simple question lead to a 45-minute discussion about what it might actually take to get away from a crazed (or high, or drunk or extremely determined) evil-doer - and how to stop him/her if you couldn't.

My reality is that, other than scrapping it out in the dojo with my training partners, my fighting experience is pretty limited. I didn't wrestle with my brothers as a kid (I'm an only child), only jostled once on the playground in grade school (in second grade,a classmate pulled my hair, I pulled hers back and it was over) and haven't ever engaged in a bar fight or other "I'm gonna hurt you!" situation. Looking around the room, it hit me that my senseis, Ed and even my son couldn't say the same. Their practical experience with this "stick and move" stuff was much more extensive than mine and training partner K's (a first-kyu in her late 30's who has some difficulty with self-defense "just do something effective" scenarios as she came through the ranks in a school that never did any of that stuff, if you can believe that). Of course it didn't help that I had a mini flash-back to most recent real-life scenario - my time with "Angry Dad" - right in the middle of the discussion that made me an emotional mess and unable to do any more "let me choke you so you can figure out how to get out of it" scenarios for the remainder of class.

Once I made it to my gear bag and found a tissue, Sensei S. again asked us all the infamous "Why do you train?" rhetorical question before we bowed out - and for the first time ever, no answer resonated through my head. I thought I trained because I absolutely love the challenge of it all and so that seeing a punch come flying towards me won't be so foreign if it ever happens outside of the training hall, but now I'm not so sure. If self-defense really means "finish him/her before s/he finishes you" would I be able to do that? Would I even want to? Hmmm...

The art of self-defense is a multi-headed, living, breathing entity, it seems. Back to "the shed" I go...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


A very good friend and training partner told me once that because he was a bit of a bully growing up, his mom wouldn't let him study martial arts as a child. Now 40, he's forging his path by preparing to test for his 6th kyu in USA Goju, training also in Jujitsu and Muay Thai and hitting the mat or gym six days out of each week. He also thinks martial arts would have helped him a lot when he was younger, not turned him into a thug.

Soon after our dojo's last promotion in January, we noticed that one of our 9th-kyus - a seven-yr-old with severe ADHD - hadn't been to class in a while. When I called his mom to see if everything was OK, she told me that she'd decided to stop bringing him to karate because her son was beginning to use his knowledge of strikes, blocks, kicks and kata to terrorize (her words, not mine) his class- and school-mates. She thought it best to give him a little time to mature before returning to the mat.

A few weeks ago, my sensei and two of my training partners visited his instructor's dojo (it was opening night of my son's school play, so we couldn't make it). At the very next class, my dojo-mates were all aflutter about one of the new white belts in the class who was very mouthy to her instructors. She questioned why she had to do certain things instead of just doing them. My dojo-mates were as shocked by her lack of knowledge of how things should be done in the training hall as they were by the fact that not one of her dojo mates pulled her coat to tell her to tone it down or sit down until she could.

Last weekend, I was ALL OVER one of our 12-yr-old 6th kyus because he was blatantly disrespectful to one of the adult students he out-ranks. Although he is one of the highest-ranking kids in the class, he usually acts like he is doing everyone a favor when he falls in at the start of class and gives less than a half-assed effort in kihon, stance work, kata and sometimes kumite. An only child who is used to being coddled by mom (she actually helps him take off his sparring gear when she's in attendance) he just never seems to do much of anything with fervor or enthusiasm at all. The week before, when I found his belt in a tangled heap in the middle of the floor shortly before a demonstration we were about to do at a local community center (he had run off to play basketball), I stuck it in my gear bag. Training partner Ed and I discussed it and decided that he won't get it back until his attitude adjusts - which means he will be forced to line up in the back of the class for a bit. Because we've seen him step it up for grading and competitions, we know what he's capable of when he wants to put forth a little effort. Time will tell if being away from the front line for a bit will be the spark that ignites his enthusiasm.

But back to last weekend: when I called him out for being so ugly to his dojo mate, the room got pin-drop quiet as I'm not a screamer on the mat unless I'm kiai-ing during kata and my usual way to handle protocol breeches would have been to pull him to the side and reprimanded him privately. But because of the level of disrespect (he actually told an adult who reminded him not to show the bottom of his feet while sitting and waiting for his turn to present kata that because he wasn't his father, he didn't have to listen to him), it seemed like a good idea to assist him with pumping his brakes post haste. Recognizing "the look" as I prepared to speak to the 6th kyu, my 17-yr-old son adjusted his posture and stepped back to allow me room to pass. He told me later that he was actually scared for the kid, having been on the receiving end of "the look" so often (perhaps there is something to be said for the "kiai of the eyes" after all :-). And I did let the youngster have it by letting him know that the next time he parted his lips to speak to anyone in the dojo in such a manor, he'd be immediately asked to change his clothes and sit and watch the class until his mother could get there to pick him up. Next came the "But what did I do?" stuff, which I absolutely have no tolerance for at all. His aunt, who'd witnessed the situation at the demonstration, said she'd speak to mom and have her give me a call. Seriously, I'm pretty sure his mom already knows what's going on because if we're seeing that behavior in the dojo, I'm sure his teachers are seeing in school and she's probably witnessing it at home as well...

All the ads for area and distant dojos that I've ever seen talk about how discipline and respect are a few of the main benefits of karate for young people. As my 40-yr-old training partner, my seven-yr-old student's mom and my dojo-mates would probably tell you, it extends well beyond standing in yoi for what seems like an eternity, or addressing your instructor as "sir/m'am" or even rei before, during and at the end of class. They get that budo dictates both must be present not only during training, but outside of the walls of the training hall, too. But what about those you train with who don't?

For those of you who teach or train with different age groups and ranks, how do you handle disrespect in the dojo?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Be the Mosquito: Bobbing and Weaving with a Purpose

Since the blogsphere today is full of stuff about sparring - including posts by Samurai Girl, Ariel at Martial Arts Passion and Mr. James at Okinawan Fighting Arts, I figured I might as well toss my two cents into the mix as well...

Although I love working/improving kata and kihon, I really love to spar. Not that I particularly like the idea of getting hit, but the matching of wits/game of tag that is ju kumite in the dojo or in the competition ring is kinda fun. Let me re-phrase that: HITTING and KICKING are fun - and I can usually do that fairly well. It's my evading and countering that always, always, always need a little work.

Tuesday night, Sensei Joe, a yondan who is an amazing tactician and who is as quick as he is powerful, led class. He challenged us to think (and move and fight) outside of our comfort zones. For me, that meant fighting more like the lightweight I am - staying on my toes for the whole fight to make moving in and out as well as changing my angles of attack possible - instead of bouncing a little before planting my feet, remaining on my adversary's centerline and fighting more like a heavyweight with long limbs when the "battle" gets going. It was harder than I thought it was going to be - mainly because the thinking that is NOT supposed to happen had to creep back in. It was the only way I could remember to stay on my toes, be mobile and let the techniques flow.

But flow, I didn't. I'd land two techniques then.just.stop - and promptly get pummeled by Sensei Joe or Sensei S - who took turns sparring us all. Suffice to say I may have gotten a few good licks in, but the reality is that when all was said and done, I had my butt handed to me over and over again.

Biggest problem? My evasions were too big. In an effort to avoid the technique my senseis threw, I moved too far out of range to counter, which meant I had to re-acquire them continuously. They had no such issues, I noticed because their evasions were much more subtle - a shoulder lean here, a hip shift there - which made their counters to the techniques I tried to hit them with much more effective. And they were doing a little more than tapping, unfortunately. Ouch...

Sensei Joe compared it to games of tag he played as a kid. "You didn't really need to run away when the person who was 'it' came charging," he said. "Sometimes it was a lot more fun to let them get really close then shift to the left so their tag brushed right past you." Then he demonstrated while first I tried then training partner, Peg, tried to simply touch his gi, shoulder or face when he was about a foot in front of us. Not only did we miss every time, he tapped us with something on his way past us - like a backfist or shuto to the head or a reverse punch or a little hook kick to the gut. It felt like we fell into his technique - or better yet: like he set us up to hit him only so we could get hit instead. In other words, not only did his techniques flow from one right into the next without pause, the "fight" wasn't over until he had the last attack - which he landed at will. He even turned away as if to run once and the next thing I felt was his foot - via a well-timed ushiro geri (back kick) in my gut. Ouch - again!

As un-ladylike as it sounds, hitting stuff is a one of the things I absolutely love about karate, but the other is the fact that there is always more to learn. What I learned from playing tag with Sensei Joe is that while bobbing and weaving are nice, throwing a technique on the way "out"/getting the last tag in is even nicer - and much more efficient. He reminded us about one of our former training partners who got so good with this that she earned the nickname "Mosquito" because she was there, attacked you, then was gone before you could even raise your hand to slap her away.

"Be the mosquito," Sensei Joe said.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sport Jujitsu

Like many artist on the martial path, there are loads of things that I don't know about. Sport Jujitsu is definitely one of those things, so I went to a seminar Sunday hosted by former Sport Jujitsu World Heavy Weight champion Linda Ramzy Ranson of the Women's Empowerment Self Defense Academy in the Bronx to find out about what it is and how to judge during tournaments.

According to the International Sport Jujitsu Association, Sport Jujitsu:
...consists of five major elements; Ukemi waza (break falling technique), Nage waza (throwing technique), Katame waza (grappling technique), Atemi waza (striking technique) and Katsu waza (revival technique). Therefore a competition that consists of only strikes without grappling is not true sport jujitsu because it is missing a very important element of jujitsu (grappling) which makes it more like a point karate tournament. Also a tournament which consists of only grappling and no striking cannot legitimately be called sport jujitsu because it too is missing a very important element of jujitsu. Without strikes it is only a grappling tournament or often called submission wrestling. A true sport jujitsu tournament represents the art’s totality and consists of all the physical elements.
- sort of like MMA without the ground and pound or knee/elbow strikes.

Points are awarded as follows:
1 point for a hand or foot strike to the body
2 points for a controlled kick to the head
2 points for a half throw (where one foot leaves the mat)
3 points for a full throw (both feet leave the mat)
2 points for maintaining a controlled mount for three seconds
4 points for a referee intervention submission (under-belt divisions only)
Automatic win by tap out submission (black belt divisions only)
Strikes to the nose, eyes, groin, spine or against a joint are not allowed. Neither are finger locks, head butts or leg kicks.

The competitions begin much like karate kumite where opponents start standing up and facing each other. The difference is that grappling is as much a part of the game as front kicks and reverse punches are. All the action eventually ends up on the ground. 30 seconds of grappling time is allowed once competitors get there. In the two 2-minute rounds of the competition, if the competitors don't make progress (for example, guards are stalled and no submissions seem eminent), the center judge orders them to their feet. The fight, however is constantly live. In other words, there is no reset that allows everyone time to adjust their gis and gear or get back to the center of the ring. They stand where they are and must be on guard for punches, kicks and sweeps even while returning to an upright position. Competitors are allowed a coach and get 30-second rest between each round.

This explains it better than I can:

Interestingly enough, while hand, mouth, foot and groin protection is worn, black belts do not wear head gear. And the under belts that did had their helmets pulled off during the match anyway. It is intense as all get out, but looked fun as anything. I might give it a go, you never know :-)