Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What's In YOUR Gear Bag?

My gear bag weighs about 15 lbs. My training partners call it the McGyver Bag - because it's got so much seemingly obscure/useless stuff. But you know what? When they need a band-aid, nail clipper, hair tie or Tiger Balm, guess who they ask?

Here's what's in mine:
gi & obi
sparring helmet, gloves & kicks
cloth shin guards
2 mouth guards
extra sports tank and bike shorts (what I wear under my gi)
my white belt :-)
a ziplock bag of hair ties, scrunchies and barettes
a tiny first-aid kit (mostly band-aids and neosporin)
a notebook and a few pens
a few business cards
lip balm
a small plastic bottle of apple cider vinegar (it does wonders for cramps/spasms)
a tube of vaseline
nail clippers and a nail file
a one-use cold pack
tape (electrical and athletic)
various knee, hamstring, ankle and wrist braces
two Ace bandages
Tiger Balm
whatever MA book I happen to be thumbing through (currently: "Women in the Martial Arts")
a hand towel (for sparring-induced sweat)
a few bandanas
a pair of slides (for bathroom runs before and after class)
a pair of wrestling shoes (been training in them lately)
hand wraps
a bottle each of water and PowerAide
a few Slim Jims for protein replacement :-)

I think that's it - but you can see why it weighs so much...

What's in your gear bag?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Nidan Grading: The Hazing That Wasn't

The grading was yesterday. It was easier than I thought it would be in spots and tougher than I expected in others, of course. My ribs and the intercostal muscles between them are sore from a few "taps" I received during sparring, but besides that, a small egg on my left leg (someone's bony shin went through BOTH of our shin guards) and a slightly sore great toe on my right foot, I feel great physically.

The format was almost identical to any other grading I've been a part of or witnessed: kata --> self-defense --> tamishiwara --> kumite. In total, it took four hours, but I was not moving around for all that time. Actually, after the invigorating (read: CUP EMPTYING) warm-up, I sat for almost an hour watching kata and self-defense presentations for all 20+ kyu graders and the two shodan candidates, which sucked, as I like to stay warm once I've warmed up/stretched. My back got super stiff and by the time I stood up, I was really tight.

Self-defense was the trickiest part as being attacked by a line of folks (one at a time) - as opposed to doing the techniques with just one uke - was a new grading experience for me. It was definitely "think on your feet time" and it went much better than I expected. I guess all the obsessing over it really helped, LOL.

The higlight of the day was breaking a board with an axe kick - something I've never tried before. When Obasan asked to hold the board for my kick, I was nervous for a split second about missing and actually clocking him in the head, but I forced it out of my mind, concentrated on a tiny speck on the board and let it rip. It was only one board, but it snapped like a twig. One of the other breaks - the same one I've done since my 6th kyu green belt grading: a reverse empi - didn't go so well as the first attempt sent my elbow skidding off the side of the board. Truth is, I was so pumped for the axe kick that I forgot there were other boards to break. Duh! - but the second effort netted a better result. It was pretty cool.

Like all the other black belts in attendance and in gi, I had to line-spar the kyus. Although it wasn't too taxing until we got to the under-belt teen boys (who all seemed to think it was a fight to the death, LOL), I still had about 12 or so 30-second fights before it was my turn to go head-to-head with the senior dans, so I was a little taxed. Each of my seniors started gently but turned up the dial quickly - although they all did acknowledge good techniques that landed, which was great. They were super encouraging, but a minute is a long time to tangle with a seventh-dan who outweighs you by a grip - and I had to do that five times before stepping into the ring with Obasan. Twenty-something and lightening fast, I just knew he was going to chew me up and spit me out in front of the family, friends, spectators and students that were watching. He kept setting me up for hight hook kicks (as in to my head) followed by the most amazing ridge-hand I've ever been hit by, LOL. Suffice to say I saw it coming but could do nothing to evade it at all. Not sure it was going to be my last fight, I was kind of leary about attacking him all out - and he made me pay for that with several strong reverse punches to my ribs near the end that made me pause for a second before I could put my hands back up. You know the technique you just got hit with was a good one when everyone in the room covers their mouth, grimmaces and says "Oooooooh!" all at once. But then the time was up, he hugged me and announced to the room that I was one strong, tough karateka. :-)

And then it was done. The same seniors who were beating me senseless a half-hour before were hugging and congratulating me. It was great to hear the word "Nidan" after my name for the first time, it really was.

One of my instructors was unable to make it to the grading. He texted me last evening to congratulate and ask how I felt. "Legitimate" is what I texted back. Because he was there when I began at the school as a brand new shodan, he knew that I had had a lot of correcting and "re-learning" to do when I arrived. He saw that there were things I should have known then but didn't, and he knew how I'd had to work to alter my path and get to where I needed to be. In other words, he knew exactly what I meant.

"You should," he replied. "Nothing was given. You earned it." That made me tear up a little. OK - it made me tear up a lot :-)

Off to place my new certificate in a frame :-)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Babes: Images of Female MAs

A recent post on the Martial Talk forum asked female martial artists to give their thoughts on how we are portrayed in the media via photos in marketing materials, websites, catalogues and the like. For a while, women were really getting into it and giving their thoughts and opinions on how they think the type of images seen the most are good or bad for the art.

Then a female member posted the above picture of Kyra Gracie and the conversation shifted to the sexualization of female MAs. And again, the comments from the ladies were well-thought out head nods in agreement or equally as well-thought arguments to the contrary. Not everyone thought alike, but how they expressed it was civil.

Then a few male MAs chimed in and my head almost exploded.

For the record, although BJJ is not particularly my cup of tea, I have mad respect for any woman who suits up and trains in anything martial - be it boxing, karate, Krav or Jujitsu. From what I understand, Ms. Gracie is quite the powerhouse with a reputation for being one of the best in her art. Note that I am tossing confetti and cheering loudly for her accomplishments - but I'd be lying if I told you that the above pic doesn't totally rub my feminist sensibilities the wrong way.

One guy in particular - a BJJ practioner - argued that Ms. Gracie has inspired many women to begin training AND that she is really a role model because she is beautiful, skilled, beautiful, feminine, beautiful and very good at what she does. Did I mention he thinks she's beautiful? To further illustrate his point, he later posted at least three pics of women in booty shorts, full makeup, low-cut sports bras in psudeo-sexual poses. All the pics, he said, were excellent examples of women in martial arts because they show beauty and health. When I argued that the main problem with the depiction of female MAs is the sexualization, objectification and the lack of diversity (where are the brown women? The over 40 women? the non-size 2's?), he told me that my disdain smacked of jealousy and was, in fact, degrading to women.

So there is no ambiguity here, this is what I tried to say on the thread in a nutshell: I have no problem with beautiful women who train (afterall, I AM a beautiful woman who trains! Not to toot my own horn, but I think every woman is beautiful). What I do have a problem with is the idea that the photographic representation of female martial artists is always petite, white, 20-somethings in sports bras and exposed bellies or in skin-tight dresses and heels holding exotic weapons in their manicured hands. When someone's ideal of a female martial artist reduces us all to eye-candy, realism goes out the window, IMHO. I don't care if said MA has gotten the whole world excited about the art she studies, if you push pics of her in a push-up sports bra that dips to her navel and gi bottoms below her hips, her "role model" factor will always take a back seat to how she looks. Period.

Since forever, beautiful women have been used to sell everything from floor cleaners to anti-depressants, using some advertising executive's idea of feminine/sexy to convince the world that the product or service they're hawking is necessary. But what it really ends up doing is making us all feel inadequate because we don't look like that (heck, NOBODY does these days as even leggy supermodels are Photoshopped to death). Statistics show that the self-esteem of adult women drops significantly after they spend just 10 minutes thumbing through a fashion/pop/celebrity magazine and too many girls as young as eight have considered dieting to loose weight. Perhaps there is a connection? I'm just sayin'...

I don't know personally anyone who trains in a pink gi, much less a skimpy sports bra and leggings, no matter what art they study - not that there is anything wrong with that, but to me, being a woman is more about draping myself in pink or wearing anything form-fittingly unpractical when I TRAIN. On the mat, I wear a gi - just like my male training partners and my sensei. In the gym, I wear bike shorts and a sports tank top, not to show off curves but to get my run/lift/crossfit on without dehydrating. Is it too much to ask folks looking for images for their karate equipment websites, catalogues and karate websites to aim for a little realism? Gheesh...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Meltdown: Path Full of Weeds

This picture is of my favorite flower, the Tiger Lily. Around these parts, it can be found almost anywhere there's dirt between July and mid-August. I guess that would kind of classify it as a weed, but because it is so colorful and hearty - and it won't grow in my yard, for some strange reason - to me it is has the same WOW factor as an Orchid or a Chrysanthemum.

Sometimes I see my martial arts training the same way. To me what looks all bright and beautiful is really nothing more than a weed. Right now, my pending nidan grading is starting to feel a lot like the weedy end of the spectrum.

The grading is only 11 days away. It seems like there is so much to explore/examine/tighten still that it can't all be done in 11 days. Just last night in class, we worked on tamishiwari - board breaking. We hadn't had the re-breakable boards or the makawari pads out in a while, but I was informed that I should have been conditioning my hands in preparation for the breaking my grading would contain all along. I had no idea there would be breaking because I've never been to a grading at my "new" school, although I always had to break boards at other promotions. So, in addition to the running, lifting, kata, self-defense and weapons training I'm somehow managing to do every day, I'm supposed to condition with the makawai X number of times a day per hand as well. Great.

I specifically asked weeks ago if there was anything I should work on to prep for the grading and makawari conditioning was not mentioned. It really isn't a big deal, but it really is if that makes sense. Eleven days is not a lot of time to condition at all, much less to plan board breaks that are fluid and "logical." I almost feel like I'm being set up to come up short, which isn't cool. Every day there seems to be a new surprise about what will be part of the grading. Last week it was the long line of senior dans that will be lined up for kumite near the end of the test. Honestly, it was beginning to feel more like a hazing instead of a grading. Isn't preparing for a new level supposed to be something that is enjoyed and looked forward to, not something that is dreaded?

I've heard all the arguments about how I wouldn't have been invited to test if my instructors did not feel I was ready, but today, I just don't feel ready. And I don't want to go into the test feeling like I could have used another month or two to refine and prepare. I've trained in some way, shape or form every day for the last seven weeks and frankly, I'm nearing exhaustion. I'm about ready to pick a spot on a map, drive to it and take a vacation from all things martial for a minute. Seriously - I'm THIS.CLOSE to bowing out completely.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012


That's for Ippon Kumite waza ku, which, for a looooong time, was the bane of my existance.

Our ippons are simple one-step defenses from a straight punch. Number nine involves stepping back into a long stance with a high block before stepping in, "shearing" the carotid arteries and clasping the hands behind the uke's neck to squeeze said arteries. Next comes pulling the uke's head into your shoulder to both disorient and set up for a knee or two to the thighs or mid-section (whatever is available). Once your adversary is nice and woozie (remember, those carotids are still being squeezed), there is a release that is more like a slight push followed immediately by a double palm strike to the crook of the shoulders. It is quite beautiful in a violent sort of way when done correctly. When I did it, however, it looked like a sad, sad mess. Let's just say it more resembled the karate by the numbers that fellow blogger Michele discussed than it should have...

Part of the problem was that I learned it as an underbelt was totally different than the way I described above. It always seemed really awkward and ineffective in a "I would never do this technique in a million years" kind of way - because it was really awkward and ineffective. Always off balance when setting up for the knee strikes, I had to rely on physical strength, which meant it probably wouldn't have work for me on someone even slightly bigger/stronger. Because I hated it so, I worked it only in preparation for gradings when I'd need to show that I had a basic understanding of it, which I guess I faked very well. As soon as the grading was done, I stuffed it waaaay to the back of my toolbox and forgot it was there until the next grading was coming up. I know, I know...

But in the last few weeks, we've worked all the Ippons quite a bit in class as Sensei has helped us prep for our grading later this month by getting us to tweak and refine them so they are both sharp and effective. We all know they are just simple defenses/set-ups for other techniques from just one type of punch, but that set-up is where the good stuff begins. I see that now and it makes complete sense in a way it didn't use to before.

I always use to wonder why I needed to learn a lousey technique like number nine just for show. If I couldn't use it effectively, then what was the point? Trust me, I asked those questions when I was learning this technique at my old school way back when, but they were never really answered. Instead, it was communicated that the technique wasn't what was ineffective, but that the way I was doing it was. Back then, it WAS ineffective FOR ME. The adjustments that were made to make it a whole lot less of a strength-based technique helped me understand and actually learn to like it. Yep, the light bulb finally illuminated.

In these last few weeks, I think I've done this technique about 300 times. It is flowing much, much better, but I had to break it apart and slow it way down to make that happen - and I mean r-e-a-l-l-y slow. Last night in class, I had an "a-ha!" moment doing Ippon #9, which lead to doing it as close to smooth as I've ever done before - finally! - although that "OMG! I'm doing it!" feeling left as quickly as it came. One out of 300 is a pretty jacked-up average, I admit, but it is a start. That little glimmer of light gives me hope - and confidence to keep trying to work and eventually perfect it.

"Excellence isn't an accident, but a habit," educator Marva Collins said. "The thing you do most will be the thing you do best." Back to the shed to make number nine that habit I go.