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.



  1. I hope you enjoy the cross training Felicia! It sounds like a good environment to learn a totally different side of the martial arts. I'm quite envious.

  2. Glad it's going well Felicia. There's nothing like a bit of cross-training to help you see the strengths and weaknesses of your main art and then fill in the gaps. The new perspective is generally very refreshing. Enjoy....