Monday, October 31, 2005

Kaleidoscope: Sensei

Each one of us become a kaleidoscope picture of the influence, and effects that those we meet in life have on our developement. From the day we are born when our formation relies on the community around us to help us understand what is good, and what is bad, all the way until the present where we react, and perceive, we are influenced by all the people around us. Although a black belt had to put forth the time, energy, and effort individually to get to the place where they are at, since no one can do the work for you. Whether the black belt likes it or not, their formation was affected by the people they met along the path up the mountain.

I would say that the main person who affects your formation as a karate student is your Sensei. At this point in my path towards Shodan, I would like to remember fondly the various Sensei who have affected my path. When you consider how young I am in the arts, it is amazing how many Sensei have invested themselves into my training. I have been blessed to meet so many Sensei who have lived up to the same tremendously positive standards. They have shown patience when there was true reason for frustration. They have shown an ability to have a sense of humour without losing the seriousness that one needs for training. They have revealed to me that karate is about challenging, and uplifting the character of a person through the tools of developing the physical. They have shown me that respect is something that goes both ways. They have made each student feel unique, important, and capable of meeting the expectations of their development.

In this addition to my blog, I will list my Sensei by order that I met them. My deepest respect, and gratitude goes to each, and every one of them for the gift of their instructions to me. I cannot place any one of them above the other, the same way that I cannot say that I love one of my children more than the other six. Love, gratitude, and respect multiplies with the addition of more people in our lives. These Sensei have taught me so many things that I could not list everything, however, I will attempt to list a few of the lessons that I have learned, and that I will carry with me when I stand in front of everyone on my testing day.

My first Sensei: Sensei Crockford. In one word, he taught me “dedication”. He lives what he believes, and stands for what is right. There is no halfway effort, but to put forth your best in all you do. His influence changed the life of thousands of difficult high school teenagers, and encouraged them to seek forth for a better life. He brought forth strength out of weakness, sometimes the student responding only to the fact that Sensei believed in them. He won the hearts of his students.

My first Internet Sensei: Sensei Danelutti. In one word, he taught me “wisdom”. He opened all the doors, and windows of what is possible, what is probable, and what is fantasy in the world of martial arts. He met me on an internet forum when I was still freshly breaking in my new 9th kyu yellow belt, and he treated me like I was his equal. He started revealing to me bits and pieces of all the knowledge that he had accumulated through his 40 plus years of training in the arts. He has shared my joys, sorrows, challenges, frustrations, and humour throughout my WHOLE karate path, walking by my side in spirit.

Sensei Ingrilli: She taught me “Persistence”. Her guidance in coping with the struggles of being a mature student and fighting through the limitations of one’s body through various exercises and stretches was extremely important to my continuing in karate. She shared her experiences, and her courage with me. I learned about the various demands, and challenges of training in karate as a woman, as someone over 40, and as a mother.

My first Japanese Master: Sensei Yaguchi. He taught me “authority”. He showed me how authority does not need to be defended, or forced upon others.. it just exists of itself. Friendly, open, willing to share his time, energy, knowledge, and effort he makes each student feel comfortable, and capable. Quick to bring you to the realization that you have to make it “your karate”, to own, and take responsibility for your progress.. in a way to become your own authority... and yet, to respect the authority of those who have travelled the path ahead of you.

Sensei Carrasco: He taught me “Reality”. He showed me that being honest with oneself helps one to bring themselves to their real goal, which is to be happy. Encouraging us to be real with our training, and to apply ourselves fully. Revealing that our bodies are in more danger from our simple daily habits, and diet than from a random self defense encounter on the street. Looking for the Ultimate Truth in our lives so that we can realize how much we are worth, and to develop true humility.

Sensei Thomas, and Sensei Hinds: They taught me “Unity”. This Sensei husband, and wife team showed me how one can find balance in their training with their lives. They encourage, and expect “team work” wherein all members are as valued regardless of their skill level. No one is left aside, or behind in the goals of the group. Their efforts to build community among the karate ka of my city are so admirable. As hosts of events wherein bridges are built instead of walls, they have inspired me.

Sensei Porath: He taught me “Trust”. There is a story to explain this... It was my first seminar. I was a white belt, and I was lost as to how to do the combination. There were plenty of Sensei walking around helping, but I was too timid, and afraid to ask them for help. However, this one kind gentleman black belt placed himself next to me to train. I thought that it was because there was no room up there with the higher belts. I looked his way all the time, his movements were slower than everyone elses.. I could follow him. As I noticed that he was encourageing me to follow his guidance, I gained in confidence in this fellow student. His smiles encouraged me even more. At one point, I felt so much trust in him, that I sent him a look confusion at the terms being called out, and he answered me instantly. It wasn’t until one of his students called him “Sensei” that I realized that all along he had been helping me, and not training beside me. Over and over again, Sensei Porath has taught me about the meaning of trust.

Sensei Marr: He taught me “Understanding”. Through his teaching, all of a sudden, I understood what my body was doing... I could feel where my balance was going off, and where my hand should be. He showed me that it would take more time, and effort to gain the right movement, and that I would have to adapt to my limitations. He revealed more than one way to do the same thing, and offered me hope that I could manage to find an answer to any problem that faces me.

Sanbohnim Wee: He taught me “Flexibility”. Reaching across the miles from Australia, Sanbohnim Wee pried open my eyes to the similarities, and differences inherent in all martial arts forming within me a karate ka that embraces so much more than just what she experiences in her dojo. He challenged me to look beyond what I see, and to lift my eyes above the edge of the walls with which I’ve surrounded myself. He enticed the warrior within me to rise to the demands of my art.

Sensei Keeling: He taught me “Growth” He showed me that one is never finished learning. no matter how much they have already learnt. Each time I read his articles on the internet at I find something that I didn’t see before. That is the depth of his words.. they challenge you at each stage of your ability to grasp the concepts that he presents to you, and to run with them. I really treasure the gift that he has given the world wide karate community through his website.

I am grateful to the gifts that these Sensei have placed into my path. I will bring forth all of the various teachings that they gave to me when I stand in front of everyone on my belt test. May I bring my Sensei much pride, and satisfaction through my performance.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Kata.. the central motivation of my karate path

At this point of my walk, I ask myself "why do I study karate?" The only answer that I can find within me is that I enjoy training in karate. Kata was what entranced me in the first place, and powered me through the harshness of the lower belt levels. Even now, kata is a focal point to my training. I just ADORE doing kata. The physical expression of mathematical concepts. The way that time stands still and you become one with your kata. I put full effort in basics, and sparring, but the main reason is that I want to be able to understand, and perform my kata with more knowledge. I do not feel like the only karate ka with this attitude. I have read that many a modern master saw Sensei Gichin Funakoshi's students performing kata on the University grounds, and that this example is what motivated them to want to learn karate. In my opinion, there is room in the karate world for people like me who love kata more than anything.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Just a month away... tick, tick....

Just a month away.. oh yes, the time is ticking. You can almost cut the pressure in the dojo from the anticipation of the upcoming test. Like most human beings, I swing around in various moods. There are moments when I feel confidence, and security in my skills, and then there are moments when I feel like a little girl trying to live up to the expectations of the big kids. I usually end up reminding myself that 3 years ago I wouldn't have considered karate at all.. and now look at me facing a Dan test. COOL!!!!!!!!!!! Yes.. there is also the thrill seeking teenager in me that is looking forwards to the challenge. All rolled into one person who faces changing her belt color to black. Shucks.. no more color changes after passing Shodan.. it was rather enjoyable to show up to the dojo in a new color, and have the rest of the students comment on how nice your new stiff obi looked on you. I've got 3 black belts sitting on the shelf waiting to be placed around my waist.. Wow! 2 of them were given to me by my wonderful Internet Sensei friend Paul. The other one handed to me by my first Sensei, Sensei Walter. Which one will be the first one to go around my waist? They all are important to me. I might have to rely on the "Eenie, Meenie, Minee, Mo" method. Look at me.. already planning which dress to wear before the party starts. After my belt test, I'll be released from all the pre-test stress, and I'll just have to face the music of the happening. Hmmm.. I do expect that I will be hearing alot of positive music then... regardless of the outcome, because I'm going to be doing my best that day.. and there just isn't any more than that to give. I've been training extra these past 5 months for the test, and I've seen alot of improvement in my skills. Since I'll be doing my best.. I can't help but be proud of myself.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Kids do the darndest things

Kids do the most interesting things... I have to say! Helping Sensei with the beginner kids class, this little 6 year old boy stands before me as my perspective opponent for kumite exercises. We are all looking at Sensei who is giving instructions as to what is expected: Jodan tsuki, Age Uke.. Then Sensei states "The person in front of you will be your partner through this class.." I turn to face my little opponent to find him standing there with a wide friendly grin on his face, and his right index finger up to the knuckle in his nose casually searching out any offending boogers... EEEEEeeeeewwwww!! Oh gosh.. that was going to be his punching hand! Shudder! YUCK! I've never had to handle this situation before now.. so I kindly asked him to put his finger out of his nose, and to bow respectfully in response to mine. Controlling my inner "Mom".. I had to bring out the Sempai instead, and focus on karate. My husband was having his own issues with his little kumite partner. When Sensei made his statement that this was going to be our opponent. My husband's partner started shaking his head back and forth negatively, his eyes wide open in terror at the size and breath of my husband's shoulders. Meanwhile, my little guy just couldn't get the whole idea of a front stance.. his little forwards foot would turn, and slide directly under my advancing foot. I felt something soft under the ball of my foot, and I stopped my forward momentum. It didn't help that his eyes roamed all around the room as I was heading forwards at him so that I had to move his limbs into the proper position to help him get something in the semblence of a block (IF you squinted sideways, and pretended really really hard.) "Wow!" I thought to myself.. "He's just not mentally with the whole thing.. I've had a variety of partners up until now.. but this little guy is a first." The behaviour of this little boy made me wonder if he was doing everything improperly on purpose as a form of passive resistance to learning the skills. I have to say that if this little guy does well in our dojo, I'll be the first person to tip my hat to him in respect... because he sure is starting his first days on the wrong left foot, or should I say on both feet.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The wisdom of Sensei Victor Smithus

"Over the years while I came to adopt a 3 dan structure, it's more in my mind than my students. In the dojo nobody really ever refers to rank, ever. They frequently suggest doing away with all of it because where you train everyone knows who they are, who you are, etc. and it has no meaning. But what I've observed is first the leveling process of the sho-dan, the first two years adapting to a different level of awareness, working to begin harnessing the skills they've started to acquire. After that it's not an issue of rank or knowledge, it's more an issue about self definition.  I find most long term practitioners are really most interested in their studies for their own purposes, say physical training or personal self defense skills. I refer to that as the ni-dan. A smaller set of long term practitioners are more interested in more than just their own needs. They'll work to remember more, push themselves further, etc. solely to understand a greater portion of their art's depth. I refere to that as the san-dan. Some out of that latter category (but not everyone) choose to pick up the responsibility to bind their knowledge to a new generation and in time become instructors. I tried to share much, much more. But their interests were never in what my interest lie. Which is ok, they are doing what was their path. The fallacy too many hold is everyone must do everything. You can't do everything, and every choice you make means other valuable things aren't being addressed. My course of study here is aggressive and IMO rather extensive. That I'm driven to try and know and do more doesn't mean others must do so. And having had to face the reality of human focus, you learn this is the way after all. If one just holds short term goals, you can push and drive a student to any short term level they choose, providing its within their basic capability with training. But to do it year after year after year after year, requires a pacing that is much longer, and a shift in focus. When you've worked with someone non-stop on one kata over 20 years, you see how human perception and ablity can be crafted in many ways. The arts are a totally infinite experience. Anytime you find someone saying this is right and that is wrong, I can guarantee you their vision is too narrow. So you peck a way a little. You sift through students to find those who are willing to study. You sift through them to find those who are willing to go further. You sift through them to find an instructor, and perhaps if you sift long enough, work hard enough, you find just yourself at the end. Ones skill and knowledge grows. One's body deterioates in time for many reasons. In the end we are nothing, not even wind. Subsequent generations will hardly know where our feet have trod. And perhaps we can leave our empty hand, our infinite hand in anothers." Published with Sensei Victor Smithus permission Oct 21. 2005 Thank you Sensei, I cherish this investment into my progress.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The wonderful feeling of support from fellow students

I officially have to state that one of the most difficult things that I've had to face these past days is the constant reminders from various people that my Shodan test is less than 5 weeks away. Sure.. I'm anxiously awaiting the culmination of all of my efforts into that short moment of performing in front of the Master. I'm trying to keep my nervousness down by focusing on working on my training, and not to count the days until the BIG day. Oh it's nice to see that they care.. fellow students saying "Oh, your test is coming up soon.. you'll do fine.." Other students asking "What date is that test again?" These moments remind me of when I was pregnant, and I would receive phone calls from well-meaning people asking me about my due date.. and if I have had the child already. It just seemed that as soon as I finally let go of the stress that I felt about the upcoming event, someone would remind me that this event was coming up. Ah.. but isn't that just part of the whole scene? A build up of anticipation, nervousness, and pressure. I overheard some football players talking about how they feel awfully stressed during pre-game moments. I smile with the knowledge that there are so many people who care whether or not I will pass my Shodan test. It is obvious that I will not be alone on the dojo floor when I face that BIG day.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Looking "cool"

My daughter had her friend over for lunch yesterday. Noticing my gi, the friend queried about it. "Mom!" my daughter called "show my friend some moves.." I instantly thought.. How do you quickly "show some moves" to impress a young teenager? I'm not attached to any wires to do those fancy gymnastic spinning 360 degree back kicks like on the movies? I decided to ask my daughter to be part of the "showing cool moves" knowing that she isn't fond of being my partner in the first place.. and thinking that this was my way out of putting on an imprompt demonstration. But no... My daughter was all up for being placed into the event. I asked her to grab my wrist, and then proceeded to do self-defense with a nice loud kiai to accent it. This had the desired effect on the friend, who later on told my daughter that she thought that I was a really awesome Mom. Is this going to be a trend for the future? If so, I'd better think up of some "cool" looking karate moves for these types of occasions, because no matter how difficult some of the karate techniques are.. they don't all match in the "coolness" of appearance department. I wonder how often a black belt is asked to "show something"?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Why do people do this to themselves?

Why do people do that? After reading some martial art postings on a forum, I have had to ask myself: Why do people try to compare themselves with others? This question has been rolling around in my brain since the first day that I started training in karate. What are the other people looking for? Are they thinking "Wow.. my punch is faster than hers?" BUT how do they know whether the other one is doing full speed or not. The other person could be holding back that day because they had injured their wrist earlier. How do they know whether or not their technique is proper as they throw this "fast" punch. It astounds me that people try to compare themselves with others. The fruits of this comparisson are only lies. One could be led to believe that they are extremely good at kata, but they may be feeling the "Big fish in a small pond" syndrome wherein all the other students are at a lower level than them. Once they get to train with a group of higher belts all of a sudden these people would feel like they are imbeciles, and incompetent at kata. Then we are walking on a strange path that makes us surge to the tops of mountains of negative self- pride feeling superior to others, and then fall down the cliffs of the reverse action which is putting oneself down with anger, and derision. Not good to our goal of training in karate, and not healthy for our mental selves. The only comparison we should be making is to look at ourselves and ask "Have I improved on those things that I'm working on?" If the answer is 'no" then we need to make a plan to improve exactly those things. If the answer is "yes" then we can make a plan to use this upward effort to improve something else. The fruits of this kind of comparison would be to gain in positive self-pride wherein we feel that we have accomplished something good in our lives.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Overtraining.. I didn't think that I would do that to myself.. but in my eagerness to excel, I've managed to push my body to the point where it started to weaken. It's funny that the very thing that strengthens you can end up weakening you if you do it too much. All of a sudden my body struggled to do what it was able to sail through just a few days ago. I decided to take 2 full days of rest for my body to recuperate. Rest? Well.. I guess one could call it resting. I still had all of the household duties to do. This household doesn't stop creating laundry, floors to mop, dishes to wash.. etc. But I rested from the extra weight-lifting, and karate training that I was doing at home. If you asked me I'd trade the housework for karate training anyday! So Today! Refreshed, renewed, and ready to start asking my body to rise up to the demands of extra training before my test. I've been using my dining room table to teach my leg muscles to keep the knee up during my roundhouse kicks. One of the kids caught me working out, and with the most dumbfounded look she asked timidly "Mom? Are you supposed to clean the table with your leg like that?" HA ha ha ha ha My poor kids are going to need some serious therapy when they grow up!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Teaching kids.. number 1

Teaching kids.. Ah.. what a challenge! Helping my sempai with the new 6-8 year old white belts was quite an experience. It's not the first time that I've helped little karate-ka learn... but usually I'm the one teaching them, so I can stop, adjust the rhythm, even back-pedal and review things that I notice that the kids are struggling with. However, this time, I was just in the background helping the sempai. This one little girl had injured her foot the day before when she was playing at school. So, she couldn't do any of the moving exercises. I could see that she was feeling left out. I searched my mind for some way to keep her included in the class without having her actually move. I pulled her to the side, and stood in kiba dachi in front of her telling her to punch Jodan at me for each count instead of moving forwards, and I would block. It was a REALLY low kiba dachi.. the tips of my belt were touching the floor. I could feel my legs shaking with the amount of time that I stayed down there. However, the smile of delight, and of accomplishment that I received from her at the end of that exercise was worth all of the discomfort I felt in my legs It is a wonder to me how children respond to training. I noticed how as soon as you present the information in a "teaching" attitude.. their eyes seem to glaze over. What is this phenomena? Why does the light of curiousity, and energy dissipate from their eyes when an adult starts "teaching"? I've managed to recapture their interest, and focus.. but I've had to use some rather unorthodox methods that have had more than one Sensei turn and look at me with a questioning look. It astounds me that the kids tune out considering how many children are awestruck by the whole culture of Sensei/student which is being sold by such entertainment as "Shaolin Showdown", "Teen titans", "Samurai Jack", "Naruto", "Pokemon", "Yu Gi Oh" etc. etc. I've caught the children playing a pretend Ninja type of game.. wherein they talk about training hard, and present various goals to each other.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Dedication, and effort paves the way.

Woot! Good day for this little lady! For the first time in all of my efforts of stretching, I lowered my head down to my knee while in the splits, and my forehead TOUCHED my knee. Now.. that might not be a big thing for many people.. but for me, it's a milestone! When your warm up and stretching starts off with such a wonderful surprise, you just KNOW that the rest of the class is gonna go great. It did too.. :-D Although, I'm having a dilly of a time adjusting my targeting. I've only lately realized that punching with the first two knuckles involved not bending the wrist... oh oh.. I haven't been keeping my wrist straight? Oh geez! Gotta fix that! So.. now I'm keeping it straight.. but what is happening is my targeting got affected and I'm punching lower than I should. It takes a strong mental effort to almost punch above what I'm aiming at to be able to keep my wrist straight, and end up where I want to be in the first place. When the pressure is on, and I'm thinking of speed, or my feet, or something else.. my fist will pop down below target again. YEESH! So many aspects to try to pull together at once. Feet, ankles, knees, hips, weight distribution, tension, relaxation, kiai, kime, target, head, eyes, breathing.. but it doesn't end there.. because I'm not supposed to be thinking about it.. It's supposed to happen automatically with a calm mind. AARGH! But then.. I touched my forehead to my knee today.. and I wasn't able to do that since I started karate. WOOT! I can have the hope that one day I'll get all the rest of the expectations happening smooth, and easy. Dedication, and effort will get me there.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

What does black belt mean to me?

What does black belt mean to me? I'm sure that the answer to this question will evolve in time to be totally different. When I was asked what kind of mother I would be when I was expecting my first child, I had SUCH a set of ideas of what I would do, and how I'd do it. Today, I look back and I think" Well, I've lived up to my expectations, made them realistic, and surpassed them." I feel that it's going to be very similar with the whole idea of becoming a black belt. When I was a white belt, only a few weeks old, I saw black as THE goal... the ultimate place to be. I saw the black belts walking by with their heads held up.. Like lead dogs in a dog sled team. I had a healthy admiration for their abilities. I saw them as near "perfect", and I dreamed of being so perfect in my art that I would have no fear, or mistakes, or awkwardness anymore. Then the "analyzer" part of me kicked in, and I watched the reality play out before me. Black belts are even more aware of their mistakes, and weaknesses than a white belt. They know what they want from themselves, and they have a better knowledge of what karate is supposed to be. White belts throw out whatever arm movement, and assume that they did this or that quite well. Meanwhile, black belts are aware of this or that little nuance that was missing. They can even feel when a technique is missing something, and when it was done properly. So then I had to reassess what "being a black belt" means.. because it definitely does not mean being at a point of total knowledge. In fact, learning how to do the basics properly is a life-long education. I remember my original first Shotokan Sensei telling us that sometimes a person will pass the Shodan test, not because of how much they know in technique but more because they have the right desire/attitude within them. If such is the case, then a black belt is a symbol of someone who has chosen to walk the WAY of karate. Therefore, receiving a black belt is the manner of a Sensei telling the person that they recognize in this person the attitudes, and inner desires which reveal that they have started travelling on the same path that the Sensei has been walking for so many years. What does black belt mean to me? It means that I physically, verbally, and mentally express the attitudes of seeking, learning, being open to correction, humility, patience, perserverence, courage, obedience, justice, respect, courtesy, faithfulness, self-control, aggressiveness tempered with peacefulness, self-respect, respect for others, greatefulness, honesty, responsibility, willingness to teach, and share knowledge, and calmness when needed not only when one does karate in the dojo, but also when they live outside of the dojo. Attaining a black belt means that my Sensei sees that kind of quality in me. I've met alot of black belts who do not live up to what I have seen in my First Shotokan Sensei, and what I believe a black belt represents.. but that is not important.. because the meaning of black belt has become what it is for me.. and THAT is what counts.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The potential black belt

I just realized that standing in front of a panel of black belts and testing for Shodan is NOT the hardest step of my karate life. No.. the most difficult time was when I first decided to start training in karate. THAT was the greatest hurdle because I was starting from nothing, and jumping into the unknown. When I stand in front of the Master, I will be revealing that which is already in me. So, I can only reveal that which I have gathered.. If I do not have the skills necessary to become a shodan, then it is not a shame to be told to go and get them. If I do have the skills, then it is not a problem to use them. Either way, all will be revealed, and the truth of who I am as a martial artist will surface. I have been told that a Black belt has a certain mind set, and that you can spot one even from the white belt stage. I remember Sensei Walter asking me to lead the class in warm up, when I was as low as the orange belt level (8th kyu) Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him with one of those happy "I know something you don't know" looks in my direction. He just keep looking at me with that.. I was filled with puzzlement at the time.. but now I wonder if he saw the potential black belt in me. Out of all of the former students of my first karate club, my husband and I are the only ones still training.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Looking at the present

What a wonderful feeling I got yesterday! After class I was practicing my kicks. I was doing the front, side, back kicks while balancing on one leg. Those kicks have been a thorn in my side for months now, but yesterday I could feel that my balance had improved. I had less problems keeping together... and doing the exercise. I have been doing 30 kicks on each side after class so far.. I think that I will double that for the next 6 weeks now that my muscles have strengthened.