Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A New Year's Wish

Wishing a happy and healthy budo-filled 2014 to you and yours!

"Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors and let each New Year find you a better [person]."
 - Benjamin Franklin

Monday, December 30, 2013

Think Like a Cockroach

cockroach photo:  roach.jpgThe week between Christmas and New Year's Day is generally a slow one in karate land with not much in the way of regular classes happening. But one of our friends in NYC was holding class in his basement dojo and invited Training Partner Ed, myself and a a few students down tonight. And of course, we jumped at the chance.

Master Dave takes his karate very seriously, teaching in three different locations in the Bronx at least six nights a week. Because we travel over an hour to get to him, he likes to make the time we spend with him "special" in an "I don't think I can do another roundhouse kick" sort of way that makes your hair drip sweat. In addition to being a walking Goju and Shotokan kata encyclopedia, he is also famous for his "two minute drills" - where he fills the last few moments of every class with karate-related aerobic stuff designed to make you see what you're made of (or puke trying to find out). I aways leave his dojo wondering how I am able to even walk out - because not everyone does.

Tonight, after a invigorating warmup and some kihon, Master Dave had us work some lead leg kicking/lead hand punching speed drills. Speed was the operative word because fights on the street and in the ring happen fast. No one wants to get caught thinking of a confrontation-killing combination instead of moving to avoid, block or lay a hand or foot on an adversary. Openings, he said, don't come along all that often, and when they do, they don't tend to stick around very long. Good fighters look for openings and move in before they disappear. Great fighters find ways to create them.

"You have to think like a cockroach," he said "- because a cockroach will always find a way to get in."

Even the best fighters on the planet make mistakes from time to time by leaving something open while trying to block or counter - even if it is only for a fraction of a second. Finding that crack in the armor and moving in before it gets plugged up is the key to holding your own, he said. Then we spent the next hour following up defensive/blitz-stopping side and front kicks with lead-hand/rear-hand combos designed to help us think like a cockroach and get in - by any means necessary.

Next we worked more upper-body kihon with a makiwara, checking each other on form breaks and hitches that could telegraph intentions to an adversary. "Remember, the person in front of you can be a cockroach, too. He's trying to find a way inside," Master Dave said, reminding us that each shoulder dip before a reverse punch or slight drop in the lead hand before a jab is not much different than a gap under the pantry door: an entryway to the goodies on the other side.

Yeah, cockroaches are creepy, dirty little buggers that freak most of us out, but thinking like on when your dukes go up isn't a bad idea at all.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

So Long and Farewell...

Today, a training partner tested for Nidan while many of the instructors I've trained with over the years came to watch. It was followed by our annual Holiday Party (called such because not everyone who trains with us celebrates Christmas) and gift exchange. A bittersweet day for all of us - and not just because it was the last class of the year. It also marked the last class at our current location.

Training Partner Ed on Opening Day
We started at the Salvation Army three-and-a-half years ago. Since the first six students walked in that day, we've grown to close to 50. We've trained hard in our tiny space, sweating through kihon and kata and prepping for tournaments and gradings. We've laughed as much as we've cried - over birthday cakes, farewell parties and even a few funerals.

It's been a beautiful almost-four years, it really has. But we've outgrown our space - both physically and emotionally - and will be moving to a new location in January. It's sad, but it's time to move forward.

The last Friday class at the SA :-(
We've truly had some great times in the Salvation Army and seen some incredible growth from our amazing students, some of whom have trained with us since the beginning. We even started an adult class that focuses more on self-defense after a parent of one of our teens suggested it because he'd always wanted to train as a kid but his family couldn't afford it and he felt sort of odd starting next to his 12-hr-old son whom he'd have to call "sir." Unfortunately, he passed away suddenly before we could get the class up and running, but I think of him every time the adults bow in.

Karate isn't something Training Partner Ed and I do a few nights a week - it's truly a way of life. Out mission always has been to pass that ideology onto others. We understand that all of them won't be training for the rest of their lives, but the hope is that a few will. Someone has to be around for us to hand the reigns of the dojo over to!

Our group after the grading. 

I wish we could stay - because that space has become a second home to so many - but we can't. The environment has changed as have the number of folks who are interested in what we do there each week, so we have to move along to bigger and hopefully better things. It's just time.

We'll miss you, Salvation Army. We really will.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Get to the Karate Already!

Since I'm still on post-nasal surgery restrictions that limit my physical activity, I've only visited my teaching dojo a few times to say hello to my students/training partners and "walk the mat" (meaning not participating, just giving instruction and correction during the class when I am in gi or sitting and observing silently when I'm in my civvies) in the last few weeks. I popped into the adult class one night last week and was a little disturbed by what I saw.

Class begins at 6:30PM. Our senpai - a barely 20-yr-old who's been a shodan for about five months or so - was leading the warmup. Spirited and agile, he was taking our 30 and 40+ "executives" through burpees and minute-long running-in-place high-knee drills. Not in gi (because I actually had to return to work), I said hello to a few folks watching and chatted with training partner Ed for a while before looking at my watch. At 7PM when I was about to head back out the door, they were still jumping around and hadn't even begun stretching yet. The class ends at 8PM.

None of the adult students are sedentary - even if they can only get to the dojo once a week. Ancillary training - from boxing to weight-lifting and running - is done by most all off them on their off-dojo days (heck, one student, a 38-hr-old green belt, does CrossFit in the morning on karate nights). In other words, there were no couch potatoes who only sweat 90 minutes a week on the mat. And although a good "Let's get those muscles nice and warm/loose before we start hitting and kicking things" warmup is a very good thing, too much of a good thing just ain't good for you, IMHO. Personally, when I only have 90 minutes to get some karate training in, I want to spend as much of that time actually doing karate as possible - and I've gotten pretty annoyed in class when instructors didn't see it the same way, which made for less than pleasurable karate experiences.

When I was a kyu, my then sensei used to lengthen the class warmup as we got closer to grading - so much so that it wasn't unusual to have a 40-minute jog/jumping jack/push-up marathon the week before testing. His theory was that the "cup-emptying" workout we were going to be put through at the grading should feel a bit familiar. I understood where he was coming from, but didn't agree - mainly because I was getting my cardio and weights in during the rest of the week and kinda figured my dojo sisters and brothers were doing something similar as well. Plus my other discipline (track and field) had engrained in me that there are strong, strong benefits to tapering your training before upcoming big, arduous contests. My sensei's plan was totally contradictory to that, it seemed.

The next sensei I trained under had spurts where he would try to work us into puddles of sweat before we actually began the karate portion of class. There were quite a few classes where we warmed up with lots and lots of burpees and squat thrusts followed by minute-long planks and "scoop" pushups that made me wonder if I'd somehow stumbled into the aerobic kick-boxing class. Again, I got what he was trying to get us to do, but I just wanted to get to the karate already.

I've also been to classes where students were expected to warmup on their own before class actually started. That meant you needed to get there early enough to do whatever it is you needed to do so you were ready for whatever kata, makawari or other drills Sensei dished out. It developed out of necessity (the sensei taught a boxing class before karate and one started and the other ended at the same time, which made it necessary to be efficient with the little time we did have to do martial stuff), but it made sense to me, as the 19-yr-old college students who trained on one side of me had different physical needs than the 40 and 50-hr-old executives who trained on the other side. Not that there weren't smattering of conditioning exercises/drills during class (like, say, 20 pushups after a kata or 20 round house kicks between bunkai drills), but the business of the day was about karate, not preparing to do karate.

When I teach, of course there is a bit of time reserved for getting the blood flowing and stretching before we start drills or whatever else is on the agenda, but it is not the entire focus of the class and it never usually takes more than 15 minutes or so. Yes, it's necessary to warmup, but I just don't get the "go hard or go home" calisthenics that seem designed to show little more than the fitness level of the person leading the class.

Get to the karate already, please...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Itching to Train!

11 days ago, I had surgery to remove some nasal polyps and to fix my crooked septum. I hemmed and hawed an awful lot before even deciding to do it - mostly because the polyps, I was told, could grow back - but the polyps were pressing against some olfactory nerves and I wasn't able to smell at all. Decided it might be prudent to at least give removing them a shot after almost burning my house down (couldn't smell something left in the oven that ignited when I turned on the oven to prep for dinner), in hopes of being able to one day smell the roses again if nothing else.

What I learned from it all was this: "same-day surgery" and "simple" are not necessarily the same thing. The polyps were pretty dense and the hour-long surgery ended up taking a whole lot longer. My head was foggy for a good three days and I was a bit dizzy for three more after that. And, because the sinus cavity was not stitched or cauterized to control bleeding, restrictions - including not bending over to tie shoes, not lifting anything heavier than a few pounds and even on sneezing (open-mouth sneezes were strongly suggested) - abounded. Worst of all, I found out AFTER surgery that I could be away from the gym and dojo for up to six weeks. Six! Freaking! Weeks!

Today, I had my second follow-up and he said the sinuses look really good. Still some swelling, but better than last week. So much better that I don't have to see him for two weeks and I can return to light cardio (short elliptical, slow kata) today :-). No lifting weights, pushups or running yet, but my doc said that if the healing keeps going as it is, I'll may be allowed back on the mat after the next appointment.

My ortho said the time off will help my knee as well (slight medial meniscus tear that can't be treated surgically - did I mention that before?), so I supposed the forced respite is a good thing for all my achy body parts. Sill, time away is time away.

The last time I was required to sit on the sidelines for so long was after my BC reconstruction. Six weeks really isn't that long, but it seems like an eternity when you can only watch instructional karate videos and review kata in your head. But I survived back then and I'm pretty sure I will now.

I do miss my students, though :-( Planning on doing a "drive by" (in gi but only walking the mat) this week to let them know I'm thinking about them :-). I gotta move around at least a little least I forget the stuff I'm supposed to remember.

Plus my backside hurts from all the sitting down!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


It's a kata I'm working to understand. And it's BEAUTIFUL! But don't just take my word for it - see for yourself:

According to an excerpt from fellow blogger Dan Djurdjevic's The Academy for Traditional Fighting Arts page:
The standard kanji of Shisochin mean “four directional battle.”  This is said to be an Okinawan attempt to pronounce the Hokkien/Amoy reading of the characters (pronounced "xi xiang zhan" in Mandarin).  Shi/si means "4"so/xiang means "direction" and chin/zhan means "battle."
That makes sense to me. It is very symmetrical form, as you can see that moves pretty evenly in all directions. Not sure if you can tell, but so much of the action in this form is precipitated and finished with/by the hips. Trust me when I tell you that bones are being broken on that imaginary adversary.

My sensei is currently in Okinawa training with Taira Sensei (whom you just watched in the video above). I just thought that was pretty cool and wanted to share :-)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Kareem Syndrome: Knowing When to Say When

Everyone who has ever competed has lost on occasion. But they'd all probably be lying if they said losing was fun.

I don't always win the three or four times a year I actually compete on the mat. I didn't always in track and field throughout high school and college and I didn't in grade-school baseball or math team, either. I also didn't in all the card and board games played with my family when I was a kid (my dad hardly ever "let" me win), so I should be used to it by now. But, honestly, on the mat when I spar, I've done pretty well. And on the occasions where I've gotten beaten - especially when I've gotten beaten badly - I learned so much about how to think on my feet, how to better use my 41" inseam to my advantage, etc. etc. Because I always learn more from the loses than the wins, I can't really say I have a problem losing.

But I can say that how badly I feel about the loss and how much I learn from it depend on how I lose. As horrible as I feel about being out-classed/out-gunned (as in not-really-in-the-same-league-as-my opponents), I feel even worse when I don't do the best I can on that particular day or when I let my head get in the way, y'know? For me, it usually plays out a little something like this: work for months on particulars ---> map out a specific game plan ----> have said game plan fly out of the window as soon as I bow in ----> get my hiney handed to me ----> spend the next week or so berating myself/wondering why I even compete at all. It's exhausting.

That was my reality after a tourney last month. My kata went horribly wrong and I actually forgot that I had legs when it was time to spar (because I never used them). It. Was. Awful. So much so that whenever a sliver of memory from a piece of my last fight or the kata presentation ran through the grey matter, I let out a grunt and a face/palm (if there were people around) or a little scream (if I was alone or at home). Sometimes it was while on my computer at work, which made my office mates poke their head into my space to see if I was OK. Sometimes it was while I was brushing my teeth or making dinner which made my housemates wonder if I was still sane. Each time I flashed back, it felt like I was right back in the thick of it, stinking up the joint. That was my reality for a solid two weeks. And it sucked. A whole, whole lot.

I lost, and that's fine, but the real me - at her best without the deer in the headlights fear - wishes competitor me would have at least competed better. And I'm most upset that I didn't. (I just screamed again, dang it!)

The benefit of hindsight is knowing now what you should have known then, making it easier to see how you coulda/woulda/shoulda done this, that or the other differently. The craptacular part about it is knowing that you can't change the outcome one freakin' iota.

Yes, every trite but inspirational phrase you could ever think would apply in this case has already been thought about and meditated on: It didn't kill me, so I'll be stronger, I hope. It was a pretty dark place emotionally, so the dawn can't be far behind. I didn't succeed, so I will be trying again at some point, I know. But it still stings and I still feel crappy about it.

But in my introspective month since the tourney, a tiny nugget of truth has been trying to poke through: my competition confidence is really, really shaky, often getting derailed with even the slightest breeze.  It sucks - mostly because I haven't quite figured out how to change that reality. I get so nervous about how I'll possibly be perceived - a relatively new-to-karate, former track person who, at 46, probably should not be out there trying to bounce around on a tricky knee against people who are young enough to be my offspring. It sounds lame as all get out, but there it is. I'm afraid I'll end up looking like Kareem before he retired.

The legendary Sky-Hook
OK, so Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was an NBA phenom long before he dueled Bruce Lee in "The Game of Death." A 7'2" mass of wiry arms and legs, he was best known for his incredible offensive style of play complete with his amazing sky hook. He is the all-time leading NBA scorer who also has six championships and six regular-season MVP awards under his belt - but I can't get the image of his 1989 season out of my mind - because in the last few months of his 20-yr professional career, Kareem looked like time had finally caught up with him. His offense was much weaker than usual and his beloved sky hook just wouldn't fall most times. I remember watching a Lakers game mid-season and thinking "He probably should have retired last year." It was kinda hard to watch and very sad in a way.

Although I might never be as great in the ring as Kareem was on the court, I still don't want to look like my best days are behind me. My biggest confidence shaker and derailer is that I possibly could each time I step into the blue lines that are the ring. It sounds totally stupid, I'm sure, but it's true. But, like I said, what to do about that is the $64,000 question.

Wow. Guess I've licked those wounds to a nice shinny glow, huh? Onward...

Monday, September 30, 2013

Misty, Water-Colored Memories

I remember the first woman I saw in the dojo. She was a green belt, I think - and I was still in sweats and a T-shirt (hadn't even gotten my gi yet). Back then, I was so busy trying to figure out these hand, foot and body movements that I didn't realize I was one of only two adult females in a class of 30 people.

I also remember the first female black belt I ever saw. She was fierce in the dojo but really nice and humble out of it - and I still train with her to this day. Shortly after that, I met another female black belt - a sixth-dan who no longer really trained (although stories about how she had to sneak into the YMCA in a baseball cap to train with the men back in the 70s and how she once knocked out a guy she was sparring with a ball-of-the-foot roundhouse kick to his temple were legendary). So yeah, three women in the span of about four years.

I also remember every time I was made to feel like less than in the dojo because of my sex including:

  • How everyone thought it was a cute that the female first black belt I ever met knocked some hardened Marine on his butt his first night on the mat (when she was a teen) after he volunteered to be her uke for a self-defense technique. He was apparently so embarrassed that got up, walked out the door and never came back. 
  • Crawling on the floor after class looking for that same black belt's contact lens after some thug of an instructor sent it flying during sparring because she'd taken him to the ground during another training session a few days earlier. His payback was because he was also embarrassed about  being "shown up" by a woman whom he out-ranked.
  •  Being shown techniques by an instructor that would, as he put it, keep women from damaging their "freshly manicured" fingernails. 
  • Training as a brown belt and having every guy in the room wanting to turn up the dial when it was time to spar because no one wanted to get beaten by a "girl." 
  • Hearing a not-so-energetically done technique being described not as weak or inefficient, but as "girly" to the very young woman who had just done it.
  •  Witnessing a student with amazing potential be told that she was going to be a great female martial artist someday. 
Frankly, I'm tired of letting it go, ignoring it or assuming the person who said it didn't really mean it "that way." What other way is any of that supposed to be taken, I wonder? - because whether meant as an insult, said as a joke or uttered without ill intent doesn't matter; the result is still the same.

When I meet other female karateka at tournaments or seminars, I feel like we are kindred souls somehow - and they seem to feel the same. We almost always start out by asking and answering the same questions to/from each other: What do you study? How long have you been studying it? How old were you when you started? Is it easy to fit training into your busy life? To me they are students of their respective arts. It still shocks me to realize that in some places, we are thought of as FEMALE students, as if the distinction is a very necessary one. I don't quite get that, truthfully.

We've managed to show that phrases like "Stop acting like a retard!" or "That is so gay!" are so ridiculously insensitive. We've also managed to weed them out of our everyday vernacular as well. Here's hoping we can do the same for anything that ends with "...like a girl!"

Saturday, September 14, 2013

10 Rules for Large Tournament Competition

For weeks I'd been prepared for a rather large tournament - and between the anticipation of stepping into the sparring ring again after a six-month absence from competing, working out some kinks in a kata I'd never presented before and figuring out whether to stay overnight between competition days or drive the two hours home, those weeks before were kind of a blur. But before the memory of the one emotional high (getting into my sparring gear not once but THREE times!) and that awfully ugly low (missing the women's kata grand championships because I could not hear the announcer call it even though I was standing smack dab in front of the speaker. I know, I know...) totally fades into the outer recesses of the gray matter, I thought it prudent to jot a few things down so I won't forget them when the next rather large tournament comes around.

Without further ado, I present "Large Tournament Rules for a Successful Competition"
  1. Pick a spot to stash your gear so you can go elsewhere to warmup (or just move around a bit) without having to tote all your stuff along. Consider this your home base for the day.
  2. Locate the bathrooms early and try to keep home base as close to one as possible. It is inevitable that your efforts to stay hydrated will conclude with a mad dash to the restroom just as your event is announced. If you start near one, it will be easier to get to it, finish quickly and get where you need to be without working yourself into a panic.
  3. Find out if the event is run on a time table without assigned rings or on a flat "Women's 40 -49-yr-old kata in Ring 3 sometime after all the other events assigned in Ring 3 are done" schedule. It matters - especially when it comes to deciding when to warmup and when to eat.
  4. Bring food - especially if you are an adult black belt - because you will not compete until near the end of the entire tourney. The bagel and OJ you had for breakfast will be long gone by the time you need to warm-up for your competition.
  5. Know how to find the announcer in case the noise from the event makes him/her start sounding like Charlie Brown's teacher, because you will need to know if and when your event has been called.
  6. Do not stand up/walk around for the entire day as it drains your energy and can really zap your legs (which you won't realize until you are standing on said zapped legs trying to present your kata). Find a chair or a quiet spot near your home base and use it.
  7. As...umm...different as the glitter bos and kamas may look in musical and extreme form competitions, do try to keep your mouth closed while you are watching. You can learn something from the precision of their footwork and timing.
  8. People can and do warm up with their 6' bos almost anywhere - so be careful when you get near what looks to be a non-live ring so you don't get whacked in the shins or poked in the gut.
  9. Keep your phone or paper and a pen handy. You will run into at least a handful of folks your age who are out there doing what you do. Trust and believe you will strike up or get pulled into a conversation with at least one of them and you might even want to exchange cell numbers or look each other up on FaceBook. You might also forget their names as soon as you pack you gear bag into your car, so writing it down helps.
  10. Have fun. Easier said than done - especially when the butterflies start to flutter or the kumite gets a little heated, but worth it in the end. Think about it: if it isn't fun, what's the point?
These rules can apply to smaller tourney competition as well, I suppose. They all become important at different times during the course of the competition day, but the last one is my favorite. Feel free to add some if you'd like :-)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The White Gi Blues

After wearing black gis for eight years for my USA Goju training, I've been wearing a white gi for Goju-ryu for the last five months or so. Where I liked training in a lighter-weight black gi (about 8.5 ounces), the light-weight white ones kinda suck, so the training gi I use now is about 12 ounces.  The one I compete in is even heavier - about 16 ounces - because I like the crisp, kinda stiff look and feel. That is until it comes out of the wash.

What is it about heavyweight white gis that make them ball up like a crumpled sheet of paper after washing? I've tried line drying, drying them totally flat and even tossing them into the regular dryer for a few minutes - only to have very wrinkled mess on my hands when they finally do dry, rendering them totally unwearable until ironing. My 16 oz competition black gi almost never needed ironing, so why do my white ones?

My household iron is barely a pound when it is filled to capacity with water. It is no match for my white gis, which seem to just laugh at my lame efforts. After sweating and straining with my trusty iron for 30 minutes or so, my gi still looks like I slept in it for a few hours (instead of all night, like it did before I ironed). Not cute at all.

A few weeks ago, I finally broke down and took it to my local dry cleaner just to have it pressed. The owner literally sighed when she felt the material. "Wow," she said. "So heavy!" I'm not kidding.

It looked great when she was done, but because it is usually sweat-soaked and stained (because some bit of dirt always, always, ALWAYS finds me when I have it on) after training, I cannot go more than one class without needing to have it washed, which necessitates a trip back to the cleaners, which is getting expensive. I swear, keeping my white gi cleaned and pressed is going to send me straight to the poor house.

Anyone have any ideas for keeping it at least a bit more wrinkle free after washing?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Warriors and Princesses

Came across this great post on FaceBook today - which reminded me of sitting in the audience of my niece's dance recital a month or so ago. She'd done karate for about a year - about the same amount of time she'd been dancing - but dance was starting to become her main focus, which is cool because she really seemed to have a passion for it. "She liked karate, but didn't like karate," her mom told me after she stopped coming to the dojo. Since dancing doesn't require punching, blocking and kicking while learning new footwork and movements, I totally understood. Truth was, she didn't really want to be on the mat all that much anyway.

But during the recital, there was one young girl who didn't seem to want to be on stage at all. About a full foot taller than the rest of the dancers in her group, she was a little thicker than the other girls as well. It's not that she didn't have any grace at all, but her body moved and her face looked as if she wanted to be anywhere but in a glittery pink costume and ballet shoes.

My cousin leaned over and told me that the girl's parents made her participate as a way to stay active and lose weight. I felt so very badly for her! But sadly, I've seen similar movements and that very same look in the dojo as well.

We had a student once who was also taller than everyone else in her age/ability group, including the boys. Her guardian grandparents thought it a good idea to put her in karate to "burn some calories." She had one of the absolute heaviest reverse punches I've ever been hit with (seriously!) as well as a natural affinity for stances, but she never seemed to be into karate all that much. Once she turned 12, nail polish, secret crushes and sleep overs with her besties moved to the top of her priority list which forced karate to take a back seat. She was training only because her grandparents wanted her to.

I can't really fault anyone for starting karate for the great workout (it is the reason I initially stepped onto the mat, truthfully), but it can be an issue, I think, if that's the ONLY reason you're there. Let's face it - not every class will have push-ups/sit-ups/jumping-jacks that make you sweat buckets. If your goal is to get the ol' heart-rate up and keep it there for two hours, kihon and kata may prove to be the things that force you right out of a gi and right into the spinning class down the street.

But maybe the real issue when it comes to the younger set being in gi (or soccer cleats or gymnastic tights or running shoes) has to do with the reason they suit up to begin with. Perhaps some of them are there because something is wrong with their bodies. Or because they or someone close to them thinks there is something wrong with their bodies Those feelings aren't innate - they are learned.

Maybe, instead of telling the girls they are "pretty," "cute" or "hot" we should be telling them they are "kind," "courageous" and "brilliant." Maybe compliments to the women in our lives should be no more about what they look like than they would be to the men in our lives. Maybe everything - even physical stuff done in the dojo - doesn't need a gender role or identifier attached to it.

Last weekend during class, one of my training partners told a 12-year-old greenbelt that the self-defense technique she was working on wasn't really working. What he meant was "I don't see any fire or umph in it." What he said was "It looks too 'girly'." And, yes, I interrupted, telling her the technique, as she'd just completed it, had no GRRRRR. Then I told everyone within earshot (read: the rest of the class) that "girly" was condescending to women because it just isn't possible to degrade something by calling it overly feminine without attacking all that is feminine in the room, which simply ain't fair.

The words we use are important, whether we are critiquing a kata, a child's toy or the color of a vehicle, so it's important to use them in ways that are conducive to all who hear them, IMHO. Even when the bite isn't intentional, it doesn't hurt any less.

Stepping off my soapbox now...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Self-Defense: The Death of Trayvon Martin

The verdict is in: George Zimmerman was found not guilty last night for the death of Trayvon Martin, a  Black teen who Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman,  admitted he shot one rainy February 2012 night in a gated Florida community as Trayvon walked from a local 7-11 back to the townhome he was staying in with his father. Trayvon had turned 17 only three weeks before. Even though Zimmerman got out of his vehicle to find Trayvon after he took off running through the complex, his defense centered around self-defense, claiming that Trayvon confronted then sucker-punched him, broke his nose and slammed his head onto the concrete, causing him to fear for his life and shoot Trayvon through the heart.

For the record, I think it's a shame that a young man is dead and his shooter will not be held responsible for that. But, as thinking about how poorly the case was tried from an evidence perspective makes me horribly upset (really, the prosecution did a pathetically piss-poor job), I'm doing my best to understand this tragedy from a self-defense perspective.

When I teach self-defense workshops, I take my students through the basic tenants for staying out of the fray - awareness, avoidance, de-escalation and a noisy escape - each based on the assumption that the tenant before it was ineffective or simply not enough. When detailing and describing them to my female students, I always remember an adage I leaned from one of my senseis when I was just a white belt:
Avoid before block.
Block before injure.
Injure before maim.
Maim before kill.
Kill before die.
For all life is precious. 

In other words, there are steps you must take to not only keep from ending up needing to defend yourself, but also to stay out of the nonsense for as long as possible - and that is exactly how I explain those four tenants to my workshop participants.

Based on the reports Zimmerman gave Sanford police during his initial interviews, he was certainly aware that Trayvon was in his neighborhood, looking "suspicious" by walking slowly, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and actually turning to look toward Zimmerman when he seemingly became aware that he was being followed by a strange man in an SUV. But because Zimmerman said he got out of the car to find the "suspect" when Trayvon ran and disappeared, there isn't much in the way to suggest that Zimmerman's goal was avoidance. 

Zimmerman also told police that he thought Trayvon doubled back to confront him (according to Trayvon's friend, Rachel Jeantel, with whom he was on the phone with while walking, she heard Trayvon say "Get off!" moments before the phone went dead). Zimmerman did not tell Trayvon he was a community watchman, nor did he ask Trayvon if he was lost or needed assistance. If he made any other attempts to verbally de-escalate the situation, he did not mention them to the police. Zimmerman claims he was unable to escape because Trayvon knocked him to the ground, straddled him and slammed his head on the sidewalk concrete repeatedly (although Trayvon's body was found in the grass at least 20-ft. away from the sidewalk and at least one eye-witness reported seeing  Zimmerman on top of Trayvon shortly after the shooting - but I digress). Folks living nearby who called 911 to report the disturbance said they heard someone screaming for help and in one recorded call, screams that stop immediately after the single gunshot rang out can be heard in the background. Forensic experts and family members of Trayvon and Zimmerman all disagreed on which of the two could be heard screaming. 

As far as Trayvon goes, he apparently was aware that he was being followed because his friend, Rachel, testified that he told her that he was. She said she told him to run and he did. Whether Trayvon came to Zimmerman or Zimmerman approached him is not clear (Zimmerman's account via videotaped interview from the scene two days after the shooting was inconsistent to say the least), but Zimmerman said that Trayvon asked him why he was following him. A physical confrontation followed and although forensic evidence showed no blood or other DNA of Zimmerman's on Trayvon's hands or clothing at all, Trayvon was shot at virtually point-blank range.

So what went wrong? Many say Trayvon should have just run home after he initially got away from Zimmerman. I don't happen to be totally sure that he didn't try as the evidence doesn't (or can't, since the only person who could have told about that part is unable to share it) show that he could have gotten turned around in the dark or decided to just lay low until the threat disappeared. 

But for me, the real question is this: If Trayvon had an obligation to get away, why didn't Zimmerman as well? How come he wasn't expected to "just go home"? Making Trayvon the one at fault because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time strikes me as so wrong on so many levels. That any Black teen should be thought suspicious for simply walking home is the real tragedy. Or at least, it should be.

Of course a guilty verdict yesterday would not have brought Trayvon back. It would not have ended his parents' pain, stopped Black moms like me from sudden urges to give our sons safety instructions for walking down neighborhood streets, and it certainly wouldn't have washed away comparisons of this tragedy to those of Emmett Till, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Rodney King, Eleanor Bumpurs and so many others, but it might have demonstrated to the world that you can't just shoot an unarmed Black kid through the heart and walk away scott-free. 

I hope there won't ever be a next time, but because I remember that it was 46 days after Trayvon's death before Zimmerman was even arrested, I'm of the mindset that there unfortunately may be. 

And when there is, I'll pray that it won't take so long to try to hold the person who pulled the trigger accountable. I'll pray that insane laws suggesting that being able to legally meet perceived threats with deadly force is forever banned in every US state and territory.

Until then, I'll pray that people start to "get it" and understand that deciding whether or not someone is a threat should not simply default to prejudices and erroneous assumptions about skin color. 

What are your feelings about the shooting, the trial and the verdict? Do they leave you with the same feelings of sadness and disgust as they do me? Please feel free to disagree with what I've outlined - just be aware of how you express that disagreement as I reserve the right to refuse to delete any comments that are blatantly disrespectful or argumentative. 

This is a very sensitive subject for me. Thanks for your understanding...

Sunday, June 30, 2013

...And A Fun Time Was Had By All

Remember that joy I touched on in the last post? I just realized that I spent so much time detailing the ugliness that happened at the end of the grading that I totally forgot to tell you about all the wonderful things that happened up until that point - namely that our school promoted its first student to shodan :-)
Training partner Ed ties on Andrew's new belt

Meet Andrew. He'll be 20 in a few months and began karate about five years ago. We met at my old, old school (two senseis ago). He followed training partner Ed and me to our new locale about six months or so after we began. He's a wonderful young man - hard-working, dedicated and in love with all things martial, despite the slight mental challenge he has. He is, by far, one of the hardest working and most resilient folks I've ever met - often arriving early and staying as late as possible - even when he has to leave early from class to get to work (although it exasperates his mom - who, I'm sure, often wondered how she would drive from the dojo to his job site in the five minutes he'd given her because he wanted to get just one more kata or self-defense technique in before he bowed out and changed clothes).

Andrew is one of the only folks in the dojo who is as tall as I am (he's actually a little taller - about 6'3"). When we spar, I try to encourage him to use his length, the one thing that seems to be hard for folks with long limbs to realize is a true advantage. Like me, he tends to want to fight "small," choking his kicks and punches in order to blend in and look like everyone else. Been trying to have him extend and do what those long limbs of his are totally capable of: reaching someone who thinks they are "safe" and out of striking distance. We've been saying this for a while now: when that young man learns how to reach out and really touch people, not too many folks will want to stand in front of him for kumite, that's for sure.

Last Saturday, he worked his butt off during his three hour grading. By the time sparring was to begin, he'd been through a thoroughly cup-emptying warm-up, bunches self-defense techniques, every kata in the syllabus and tameshiwara against three boards that snapped like twigs and a cinder block that did not even wiggle when he tried to go through it. Suffice to say he was pretty exhausted - so much so that his gi was so wet from his sweat that it was dripping.

Still, he had 18 30-second to one-minute fights to get through. At one point, I had to pull him aside and remind him to conserve and reserve, because he still had quite a few folks left to spar and he was going at everyone like it was the last round. The black belts on deck were literally salivating...

Quite a defensive fighter who normally waits for the attack then counters, he was so tired near the end he could barely keep his hands up. But then a wonderful thing happened: he stopped thinking and began re-acting. Here is fight #16 - against a 9th-Dan - where he simply did what his instincts told him to do, resulting in a near joint lock of Hanshi McGrath's ankle. It was so very cool to watch because a fresh Andrew never would have seized that opportunity (and yes, that's my big mouth you hear during the round; I always forget that cameras record sound, too!).

So, yeah, foolishness at day's end aside, A good time really was had by all - including Andrew and the 27 other students who graded that day. Congratulations to them and welcome to yudansha, Andrew!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lessons From An Asshat

This post should be subtitled "Don't Let Anyone Steal Your Joy" - a reminder to me of how very necessary it is establish boundaries. Let me explain...

Yesterday was the spring grading at my teaching dojo. A young man with a minor mental challenge -  who started in my old dojo and came to join us about two and a half years ago at the school training partner Ed and I started - graded for Shodan - our first. It was a very big deal - and as a result, we invited all of the amazing martial artists we've trained with and under over the past decade to come and see him test. Most of them accepted - including the instructor I parted ways with last October. It was an amazing time - with 27 other students grading as well, and we ran almost completely on schedule and without a hitch - at least until it was all over and everyone had said their goodbyes.

I had personally thanked everyone of the black belts who ventured north to be a part of the day's events, but once the chairs and mats were put away and the place was cleaned up, I followed up with a few (individual) texts to everyone saying the same. My former instructor didn't just respond with "You're welcome - and thanks for inviting me/I was honored to attend!" as most everyone else did; he had to toss in his take on why he thought our karate affiliation ended. Totally ego-driven, erroneous and unnecessary, his words made me see red and slide right into "fight or flight" tunnel vision mode. I. Was. FURIOUS.

My very first impulse was to call him up and rip him a new one, but I knew there was no way to do that without a profanity-ridden tirade which would cause me to not be heard at all. So I decided to ignore his ignorance and keep it moving. Unfortunately, I ended up thinking about it for the rest of the damn day before the real reason I was so upset finally hit me: ignoring his foolishness was ALWAYS the way I'd handled similar nonsense - and it only seemed to net more of the same nonsense. When someone else called him on his crap (usually training partner Ed), he would quickly and profusely apologize - before repeating the nastiness again, catching us all in a wash/rinse/repeat vicious cycle of "I treat ya badly --> apologize --> start the crazy all over again." And you know why? Because we allowed him to.

After my divorce, my son and my ex went through a very rocky period that lasted for years. When my son got a little older - mid-teens or so - and the "Why does my dad treat me like this?" questions started to intensify, I finally had a heart-to-heart sit-down chat with him. We talked for hours, and this is what I finally said: People will treat you as badly as you let them. Really, the point I was trying to hammer home to him was that although he could not control his father's actions one iota, he most certainly had control over how he reacted to them - as well as the ability to check the madness and call his dad on it so it was understood that it simply wasn't going to be tolerated anymore.

So yesterday, my now almost 20 year old son quoted that very same advice I'd given him right back to me (he's an amazing young man!). As a result, I took my time and responded to my former instructor via text - as respectfully as I could (ummm...without the profanity, basically) - with what loosely amounted to a "Look, I cannot allow you to act like an asshole to me anymore. Let's just call it a day and lose each other's contact info, OK?" What he does from here is not my concern or my problem. This conversation was one that most certainly should have happened face-to-face, but I wasn't capable of it yesterday, and I won't be tomorrow, or next week or even the week after that - and I felt this had to be addressed post haste. Writing it out gave me a chance to calm down and organize my thoughts without being too reactionary or explosive. Truthfully, I'm kinda proud of myself for saying what I felt and not letting this one go.

I'm sure we will eventually have that face-to-face conversation, and when we do, I'm pretty sure I will be as calm as I am now, because I learned a valuable lesson in all this: confronting an asshat is a lot like confronting a bully: it is hard as hell, but necessary if you want the asshat-ery to stop.

People will treat you as badly as you let them - so don't let them treat you badly.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Queen Cadence

Cadence is queen. In kata, that is. Because every kata has one.

We were talking about this earlier this week in class. Sensei Mark began speaking about - then demonstrating - how a nice, clean cadence - along with appropriate pauses that aren't too long or too abrupt - can add loads of umph to a competition kata presentation. To illustrate his point, he started talking about a video clip someone had sent him recently of a Japanese National Women's team doing Kururunfa kata together during an international tournament. Not only did they kick some serious booty with their kata presentation, they were amazing with their bunkai demonstration as well, really - I mean really - showing how the techniques in the kata are designed to knock the stuffings out of an adversary unfortunate enough to start some nonsense.

Here it is:

Even if you don't know the kata, it isn't hard to understand that the rhythm is solid and that those dramatic pauses are just as important as the kicks, blocks and punches were. These women are Not. Playing. Around.

 This clip of same team going through a warmup for kata Seipai emphasizes exactly why that rhythm is important. Do the cadence changes add drama and dimension to the group presentation? Of course they do, but watch how smoothly they transition from one technique to another in this short clip:

I'll be prepping for an upcoming tourney and you better believe I will be thinking of their presentation while training/readying for mine. Cadence truly is Queen :-)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fight Club: Becoming "Tigger"

Yesterday, I hopped in my trusty ride and drove two hours to spar session in Brooklyn. It's an amazing session - one I've been to a few times before - but yesterday I finally caught part of the conditioning and drills that precede the sparring and it moved the amazing factor up a notch. And of course I'm a bit sore today, but, well...it is what it is.

Battle in the Ring: Tournament Kumite
That lone scuffle I had back in second grade may be the only street altercation I've ever had, but if  time in the ring counts, I've actually been in quite a few "put up your dukes" situations. I've learned a little something from every one of them, too - but much more from the tight battles and losses than from the wins. But what I also learned is that I like to fight. I mean I REALLY like to fight (I know, right?!?).

Understand that I'm not waltzing into bars and sizing folks up for a beat down in the parking lot, but I do like the thrill of going toe-to-toe with someone in the controlled environment that is tournament kumite. It's like a game of tag where both folks are "it" - in that one person is trying to get you while you are trying to do the same. It's a battle of timing and technique as well as creating and exploiting openings and weaknesses. It's a vertical and sweaty intensity that's fun! And through these sessions in Brooklyn, I'm learning that my game looks a lot like checkers while the seasoned veterans across from me are strategically planning chess moves.

No one there is trying to hurt anyone, but they do move with purpose. Each time I've been to the sessions, I've had at least 10 three-minute rounds but I've only gotten one boo-boo - a self-inflicted injury to my wrist when I collapsed it trying to land a reverse punch. No real harm - just a little stinging - no foul. It's karate, not knitting, so I expect to get a few owwies.

Improvements are coming slowly, but steadily. Here's what I gleaned from fight club "commander in chief"/kumite champion Gamal B. and crew yesterday:
  1. Switching lead sides during the heat of battle is a very bad thing. "When a person switches sides, something probably made them feel uncomfortable in their original stance," he said. "Make them pay for it by attacking as soon as the change."
  2. But a fake technique can be a very good thing because it helps you test to see what response will come from your adversary (a defensive side kick? off-the-line movement?). "If a fake is greeted by a side kick, that foot has got to return to the ground eventually," he added. "And when it does, attack for real."
  3. Keep moving. It's hard to be explosive when your feet are planted. That's where the bounce comes in, because it makes getting off your adversary's centerline or blitzing in any direction that much easier.
  4. Create as much space as you can when avoiding or defending against a technique coming to you - because things like leaning back a bit (instead of standing straight up) when throwing blitz-stopping side kick can make it that much harder for that oncoming lunge or reverse punch to find you. 
  5. Fight everyone in a similar manner. In other words, don't open your arms when kicking someone shorter or taller and don't fight with your hands down just because your adversary has less experience. Just like in any other part of karate, how you train to do it will probably be how you will actually do it when you really need to.
  6. See a target, hit a target. That "s/he who hesitates is lost" thing? Totally spot on.
At the end of the two hours, my pants, t-shirt and even my hair are all literally dripping with sweat. But it ain't really learning if you don't look like an exhausted drowned rat after, IMHO.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Full Disclosure

Saturday night while I was getting dressed to go to my son's last college dance performance of the semester, my phone rang. I let it go to voicemail only to find out later that it was one of my adult students who wanted to talk to me about something. The performance ended late and we went out to eat after, so by the time I got her message, it was well past midnight and too late to call back. Sunday was a family function that bled right into hours of grading papers for my college students. I didn't end up contacting my student until Monday morning.

As it turns out, she wanted to chat about was her 10-year-old daughter who is also one of my students. On Saturday after karate, she'd told her mom that she had been sexually assaulted by a young male relative about a week before.

Reading her message literally made me freeze. I thought maybe I had misread her text (we were both at work and unable to physically chat) but I hadn't. The tiny silver lining to this very dark cloud is that my student actually told her mother about what had happened to her. I know that I didn't tell mine.

My abuser was also a relative. It started when I was six. About 10 years back, I wrote a story about it that I have since lost (that was two computers ago). I don't think I even told my mom until I was in my late teens or early 20s. Since she passed away 21 years ago, there were only four folks still on the planet who know about what happened to me - including my attacker and myself (the others are my beloved and my best friend, who was also sexually abused by a family memeber when she was a child). Unfortunately, me, my best friend and my student are not alone.

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), one in six American women will be victims of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime - about 17.7 million folks (about 2.78 milion men have also been victms). Fifteen percent of those almost 18 million women are under the age of 12 when they were assaulted. In the US, a woman is sexually assaulted every two minutes and this year, the total tally will reach somewhere around 207,754 - most of whom will be assaulted by someone that they know. To me, those stats are absolutely insane.

Emotionally, things have run the gamut for me since I heard about my student. At first I was horrified, then very sad for my young student when I thought about what she'd experienced. Next I got very angry, thinking selfishly that some of the tools I helped her sharpen on the mat could possibly have saved her somehow (of course that ain't necessarily the case). After that, I became six-year-old me again - the same confused and scared person who thought that what happened was somehow my fault, which was the biggest reason I think I didn't tell anyone until I was an adult. Telling her mom about the abuse I suffered felt like the right thing to do when we talked. I also told training partner, Ed later in the day. Now I'm telling you.

The legal end of this is now in full swing as the police and Child Protective Services are involved and a connection has been made to SATU - the county's Sexual Abuse Treatment Unit - to help all concerned deal with the trauma via counseling and other things. Add physical exams and interviews with police and it has been very stressful week for the family. It will probably be stressful for a while.  

My adult student and I spoke a little while ago. She says she's just doing what needs to be done to protect her child - a sort of "auto-pilot" if you will. My concern is that once the immediate "Just. Get. It. Done." thinking has worn off, she will feel some sort of guilt for not being able to keep her child safe. Although it wasn't her fault at all, I can understand that thinking - because being an instructor she sees for four hours a week as well as a sexual abuse survivor, I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel some guilt as well. Misguided, perhaps, but it is what it is.

So my question is this: while there are lots of MA programs that touch on bullying, I haven't heard much about things like "good touch/bad touch"-type programs after pre-school or kindergarten, much less that are designed to be used in a martial arts setting. Do such programs exist? Can anyone point me to a curriculum? I'd really like to find out more.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Randori Blues

For the record, I freaking HATE randori. Whenever it's announced in class, my palms start sweating, my mouth gets dry and I sneak a quick glance at the clock to see just how long this torture could possibly go on. I detest it so much that if it were a choice between eating beets (the absolute nastiest food on the planet, IMHO) and stepping on the mat as the randori nage, I'd gobble down those beets, flash a peace sign and call it a day.

Why do things that work so well in my head look like a tangled heap of crap when I give it a go? Why do I think so much when it's my turn? Why is writing about it now even making my heart race?

Sure, the athlete in me knows that because I hate it so much, it is probably the weakest part of my karate repertoire, which means I should be working on it much more than I do. But that OMG - here it comes ---> rapid breathing ---> butterflies in my belly ---> adrenaline dump thing that happens in the few moments between the "OK - let's do some random attacks next!" declaration and the "You're up!" nod is just too exhausting.

Here's the problem: the mandate given is that the technique isn't over until the uke is ON THE GROUND. Since I really can't clothesline or give the uke a haito to the temple, the only options are sweeps, reaps and techniques involving unbalancing to put him/her down - and that is only after whatever technique is called for (a punch to the face or empi to the floating rib for example) is complete. What I constantly hear is: you might not want to try that on him/her because of the weight/height difference. But that's what you called! So I pause mid-way - the equivalent of a verbal stammer - and the technique bumps and bounces to the finish line. I end up feeling quite stupid - over and over again.

The solution? Go back to the two-person techniques I polished in prep for my nidan test and do them over and over again. The problem with that is that most of my training - outside of class each week - is usually done solo in the comfort of my roomy kitchen. And while my imaginary uke falls so fluidly each time, my real flesh and bones ones in the dojo don't. Yes, it's frustrating as hell.

To top off the frustration even more, one of my techniques ended up making the group tangent into a discussion on the legality of continuing with a defense when your adversary has walked away. There were no answers, just lots of opinions that had us go around and around. Seems that the law also agrees with the idea that the attacked person can become the attacker if/when he continues to pummel after the threat has backed off. Unfortunately, no one in the class did. Sigh...

Let's hear it for another frustrating night of training!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

One Tired Karateka

Not physically - but emotionally, which can be just as draining.

I've been training in the martial arts for a little over eight years now - which admittedly is not a long time. But in my study of USA Goju, I trained in sister schools who had their own way of doing things.  As a result, I can do almost every kata in my repertoire at least three different ways. Mind you, each head of each of those USA Goju schools descended from the same tree (as in all of them directly trained with/under or trained with instructors who learned directly from O'Sensei Peter Urban), but there are differences just the same. I've never understood that (because even when I asked I never got a satisfactory answer) - and I still don't understand it.

To add to the confusion, I recently began training in traditional Okinawan Goju Ryu, which is where Master Urban began. Yep, you guessed it - there are even more differences. But unlike USA Goju, my new school's association and all of its sister schools do things exactly the same way, which is the same as it is done in Okinawa.

In working with my Goju Ryu instructor (who trains every year in Okinawa for some period of time), it's clear that knowing so many versions of kata is kinda silly. Really, what it mostly does is lead to confusion - in that I have to remember where I am when I start presenting because that will dictate how the kata will be done - in everything from how it opens, to specific techniques in the dance, to whether I will step forward (USA Goju) or backward (Goju Ryu) when the kata concludes. Ridiculous, right?

My Goju Ryu instructor told me Tuesday that it might be time to let all the other ways - but the ONE way I want to always do the kata - go. And although I know he's right, it's a little more complicated than that because I still teach USA Goju. Understand that I really love USA Goju - but as what I know to date did not come in a very linear way (because of the school hopping), it feels like my adventures on the mat have been a constant exercise in re-learning a "better" way over and over again. Truthfully, much of what I gleaned early on was ineffective - which is why I had to make so many corrections - so to say I hate the fact that I'm now teaching stuff that is just as potentially ineffective is quite an understatement. Teaching is beginning to frustrate me to no end, and that ain't good - particularly because I have no real idea of how to fix it. The questions I keep coming back to is this: Can you teach something you don't totally believe in? Should you even try? I'm not sure...

Me thinks it's time for a teaching hiatus, perhaps...

Monday, March 11, 2013

No Respect

Rodney Dangerfield virtually made an entire career from the jokes he wrote and told about being disrespected. If he were alive to compete in last weekend's Philadelphia Pro Am tournament, he certainly would have gotten gobs of material for his stand-up routine.

The tourney was scheduled to start at 10AM. Philly is where I went to college (Go Owls!) and I love that wonderful town with all my heart, but it is still three hours away - which made me think it was a good idea to go down the night before so I'd have some fresh legs on which to compete. Saturday morning, I headed out of the hotel around 8:30AM, finished eating breakfast  at exactly 9AM at a spot that was supposed to be five minutes from the venue (according to my GPS) but didn't arrive to register until a little after 9:30AM (because the address listed on the tournament flyer was wrong. I know!). As it was my first NASKA-rated tourney, I was a little nervous, but felt comfortably relaxed as I changed into my gi and started to warm up, watching a little of the kata, weapons and self-defense competitions while trying to stay lose and alert so I wouldn't miss my ring call. I noticed that the age divisions were kind of strange - with a hybrid "45+" category (the norm is usually 10-year division blocks after the 18-29 group, specifically 30-39, 40-49 and 50+) - and the black belt kata for the old folks was after all the other black belt divisions has completed kata, weapons, self-defense AND both point and continuous sparring, but as I had spoken to the event director earlier in the week and was assured that the meet had always ended by 3PM in the previous 10 years they'd hosted it, I wasn't even the slightest bit concerned.

Guess what time this "executive" entered the ring to start competing? 3:35PM - and I had to drag the tourney director away from watching (not judging, mind you) the point sparring competitions to get him to consider rounding up a few judges and moving us to one of the three empty rings.

The ring he set us up with was in the corner of the facility - right next to a group of young kids tossing tennis balls against the wall. Every now and again while we were warming up - and even after our competition finally started - we were interrupted by a ball bouncing through the ring, followed closely by a pair of little legs following blindly after, totally oblivious to idea that the ring was "live." The center judge tried to find the tourney director again to ask him to corral the kids, but because he had one again disappeared into the crowd to watch the point sparring matches in our old ring, the competitors - those waiting on deck and those warming up - had the honor of keeping the kids and tennis balls at bay while their parents sat and watched us.

The three judges assigned to the ring kinda looked like they'd rather be anywhere but where they were seated. The center judge even answered a phone call between competitors and was still on it when I was called up to begin my kata. I politely waited for him to finish - but he didn't until one of the other judges nudged him in the ribs and said "She wants your undivided attention." Ya think?

I approached them, stopped at a respectable distance so as not to have to shout my intro (name, style and kata) before asking for permission to begin. That's when the nudging judge held up his hand and asked me who my instructor was - like THAT was the most important piece of information he could possibly need from me at that moment. It took a lot for me not to just throw up my hands at that point, grab my gear bag and call it a day. But I got through it.

I ended up finishing third in the division. When shaking the hands of the judges, the nudger admonished me for leaving the "My sensei is..." part out of my introduction. "He should be acknowledged for his hard work," he said to me. Mr. Center judge added that my score actually would have been higher, but he noticed a slight slip and had to deduct for it. I almost asked him if that was before or after he hung up his phone.

Tired, emotionally drained and hungry, I had already decided that I would not do kumite. My division, of course, had no other competitors at all and my first fight of the day would have been in the grand championship, against young women who had had at least two fights each already and who had probably eaten and digested lunch. Ready to get out of the place already, I went to pick up my award and was told they had run out. "Sorry - but we'll mail it to you if you just leave your address," the woman at the awards table said.

The three 20-something training partners I went to the tourney with would tell you it was a good one because they were in the ring competing at 10:15AM and their competitions ran relatively smoothly, but not one of the 45+ competitors would probably say the same. I don't understand how part of the tourney's population - 10 of us total - were treated kinda of like after-thoughts although we paid the same entry fee as everyone else. For us, it was a waste of a lot of time, effort, energy (and money!) to attend (the 45+ traditional kata winner chose not to even enter the grand championship) - and most of the "executives" I talked to said they wouldn't even be thinking about attending next year. If the promoters and judges would have spent half as much of time, effort or energy making sure the tournament was as good a spot to compete for the over 35 crowd as they did was for the under belts and the younger black belts and grand champions, I might be writing this post now - or totally re-thinking this whole "sports karate" thing.

Feeling a little Rodney Dangerfield-ish at present - but a good laugh is a good thing, so I'll leave you with a little of his hilarity:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My Name's Not Tigger

Because Tigger's bounce. And I don't.

I'm talking about all that jumping up and down during kumite. I hate that stuff - not because I CAN'T do it but because I don't WANT TO do it. It's got nothing to do with my knees (they are old, but they can still move when I need them to) or my asthmatic lungs (which are well-medicated and controlled, thank you very much) - but because bouncing is NOT fighting, it's bouncing - plus it seems to waste lots of energy (a direct violation of my former sensei's "six calorie rule" - about how much effort I want to use to end the fight while hoping my adversary uses much more) - but that is the name of the game in sports karate kumite, it seems.

Because I don't bounce, I got my head (and my butt and a few other body parts, LOL) handed to me in the opening round of kumite Grand Championships in my first KRANE circuit tournament yesterday. Don't misunderstand, I'm mobile - just not all "Bouncy Tag" and stuff. Considering it was my WORST FIGHT EVER (and that includes my very first kumite competition eight years ago where I promptly got DQ'ed for excessive head contact), I might hafta re-think my "No Bounce" rule - especially if I want to give this sports karate circuit thing a shot. Not having sparred since my last local tournament in October, I felt out of my element anyway, which was terrible - just like it was in that first team sparring tournament all those years ago. It. Was. AWFUL.

Trouble is, I'm a bit of a traditionalist in that I like techniques to at least sort of look the same during point fighting (kumite) and presentation (kata) as they do in the dojo. No extreme embelishments and no kiai-like sounds on every. single. technique; No glitter weapons and no musical kata (which are cool - just not my thing), either. But I also understand that I need to do something different if I want to net different results. Sigh...

Although I didn't begin karate to compete, competing IS sorta in my blood. For 24 years, I trained 5 to 6 days a week, concluding said week with a meet from November through July. Of course track and field and karate are totally different animals, but I hafta admit that the idea of competing against others my age (and usually younger, as was the case yesterday) intrigues me - so much so that I have decided to go a NASKA tournament in a few weeks, which means I gotta figure out a way around or through this thing if I'm going to step in the ring in sparring gear and a helmet.

Ironically, my kata went pretty well yesterday - which usually isn't the case (because I tend to get very nervous and rush through my form when presenting to the judges). I was the only 40-49-year-old female black belt in the traditional forms division, but I presented anyway. I would have won without presenting it, but I figured doing the "no contest" round would help set the butterflies free before the Grand Championship got underway. I finished 6th out of 7 competitors (black belt winners from other age divisions) but I think I did the best I could for that day. The only thing I'm bummed about with kata was that I didn't follow my game plan and presented a different form than I originally intended because, well, I got nervous and ended up settling for my "back pocket" kata (the one I know I can smooth out and compete with no matter what). The other kata - a Shotokan form with a whole lot of back stances (mine still need work because there aren't any in Goju or Goju-Ryu) and some spinning one-legged stuff - had me doubting whether I could get through it without a major bobble or even a slip. Yeah, I was a bit of a mental mess yesterday for sure.

But now that I've done it - and no fire and brimstone fell from the sky when I got my booty kicked and actually lost a fight - I know what to expect next time. I learned some things and took some stuff home to work on.

But to bounce or not to bounce? That is the question....

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Leg Work

Earnestly dipping my toes into Goju-Ryu - the root of USA Goju, the style I've studied now for eight years. The classes are great and we do lots of two-person sparring and bunkai drills and tear apart kata a like you wouldn't believe, working stances and bettering footwork. Then I jump in my car and drive the hour home. No biggie, really (been doing the long travel to get to and from class for over five years now, so I'm used to it), but tonight when I walked up those six stairs that lead to my front door, my legs felt...different. OK, they felt tired as all get out - a lot like they do after a good "leg day" at the gym. Of course I tried to figure out why I felt like I'd squatted when I hadn't and then it hit me: we'd done lots of shiko dachi (horse stances) in class. Seems like all that bending at the knees will tax even the most well-conditioned quad - fancy that!

My old lady knees held up fine, but my quads are shot. I have a feeling I might be a bit sore tomorrow. I know it sounds like I'm whining, but I'm actually kinda liking being sore the day after a good, taxing workout. It's a great reminder of the fun had the day prior - and I really like feeling that as soon as I swing my feet over the side of the bed in the morning.

I love learning this martial stuff! I hope that feeling never, ever goes away...