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.

Onward...