Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Officially received the rank of Shodan

I passed! I received my black belt last night.

What a joy to place that new stiff obi around my waist. The ends of it stuck out sideways on my waist like one of those old days bad guy moustaches.

I thought quite seriously about what my first act will be when I attend my next class as a Shodan, because it will set the tone for the rest of my experience.

I decided that I would go get the broom, and sweep the floor as my first act as a black belt.

First of all, it reminds me that I need to remember my roots, and that I am not better or worse than anyone else. (Seek perfection of Character.)

Second, it reminds me that it is only through constant diligence on the simple basic things that I will excel at the higher more difficult things. (Be Faithful.)

Third, it reminds me to be careful to clean the whole floor and not just pieces of it. (Endeavor to excel.)

Fourth, I am reminded that Sensei Gichin Funakoshi worked as a janitor in a school, but was the Sensei of royalty, so therefore I should not judge others, but to treat everyone with the same respect. (Respect others)

Fifth, although a broom can be used as a weapon, it's main function is to bring cleaning, and health to the environment. I wish to focus on the fact that the skills that I have developed through my training is to be used in a positive way. (Refrain from violent behaviour.)

Saturday, November 26, 2005

My Shodan test

My Shodan test
The day is done, the excitement is settled, and now I can sit
down and write about the seminar/ testing.
Yes, I’m tired.
I walked into the gym in the morning, and within a few
stances I noticed that my legs were not doing well. My thighs
were cramping up.  I accepted that fact, and decided to warm
up with stretching rather than kata.
I started greeting people who came into the gym to help them
feel welcomed, and comfortable.  I remembered how
frightened I was going to my first seminar, and so I thought it
would be nice to help them feel “at home”.  Also, I thought
that introducing myself before the seminar to these people
could help them be less frightened of my skin condition if we
ever had to spar together.
The morning class started with basics.  We went through the
various techniques, and stances.  It was quite interesting to
learn how much more I need to work on my side thrust kick. I
enjoyed it alot!
The Master was very kind.  He looked at me with a very
satisfied, and happy look more than once.  There was a
moment when he came up behind me when I was moving
forwards in stance, and suddenly grabbed my hips to place
them lower, and more forwards.  Since I wasn’t expecting the  
movement, I burst out with a squeal at the surprise, and then
with a giggle.  All the Sensei(s) chuckled at my innocent  
My husband was my partner through the whole morning for
every exercise.  At one point, Sensei asked the groups to
stagger the lines by having each second group of two move
forwards.  I was watching the end of the line to see whether
we had to move or not.  When I realized that “yes” we had to
move.  I said “Osu”.. and quickly sent my hands forwards, and
pushed my husband on the chest lightly.  The sudden
movement shocked him and he sent out a squeal of surprise
too.  All the Sensei, and the rest of the students started
laughing. My family seems to be the noisest karate students!
So the morning class went by so fast, it was already time for
lunch, and I was saddened by the fact that the day was half
over already.  Most of the people left the gym to go eat out,
but I chose to stay, sit on the bleachers, and rest my
cramping thighs. I spent a good hour massaging them.
My husband went out for lunch, and bought me a vegetarian
submarine sandwich.  The sweetheart!
I had so many people asking me if I felt nervous about my
upcoming test.  I had to answer that “No, I’m not worried at
all,  I feel ready. I just hope that my legs hold up.”
I  had time during the lunch break to help a green belt learn
that he has to punch with the two knuckles of his fist rather
than the bent wrist that he had be using.  I felt even better
about that! I just helped him understand about the danger of
injury if he kept doing what he was doing. Awesome.
Class started.  We did kata... My favorite!  
The Kata class ended.. and we had a few minutes to gather
ourselves before testing.  I saw my kyokushin Sensei
standing up in the bleachers.  I ran over to where he was
leaning over the rail smiling at me.  I jumped up and down in
happiness and greeted him.  I couldn’t really talk to him
though at that point. It was time to test.
We 4 Shodan testing students got called up.  I just couldn’t
understand what Sensei  was saying...  I heard Sanbon
Tsuki.. O.K... I know what that is!  So
I did it.. but I forgot to listen for how many repetitions I had to
do.  I even forgot to kiai on the last punch.  I went one
technique too far.  My Sensei said to me “
switch legs.. you only need to do 3 of them.”  “Osu!” I
answered switching legs.. but then my arm was wrong.  
Sensei only told me to switch legs.. not arms.. Oh gosh I got
more flustered.  So I just went into yoi for a second, looked at
the person next to me, and then went into the same position
as them.  “Come on! Focus!  Why did you train so hard to let
nerves take it away from you? You made a mistake.. now get
past that..” I said to myself.  From that moment on, I was all
there.  My basics went very smoothly after that.  It was TOO
easy. I calmed down, and all just flowed!
It was the Brown belt’s turn for kata.  We went up in teams of
two.  We 2 ladies were together.  Sensei told us to do
Heian Yondan.  I went through that kata with joy.. but my
thighs were feeling the stress.  I ignored them.. told them that
they have no choice but to keep going because I’m testing
and they can hurt later.  My kata came out at my best.  Sensei
just sent us to sit down.
Then we went around the list of testing students doing their
kata, and it was our turn again. This time we had
to do Bassai Dai.  At one point near the beginning, my left
thigh muscle ( My left leg was in the front on front stance)
gave out on me, and I felt myself slipping.   Quickly, I
demanded performance.. caught myself with that left foot,
and continued on.  The kiai points felt like heaven because I
would open my mouth to kiai, and almost gulp in air to
sustain me until the next kiai point.  
I handled the sparring part with more finesse than I thought I
would.  I was quite happy with my effort.
Well, it is on that note that the testing ended.
I made mistakes.. yes.. but I got past them... and kept going.
I don't know what the results are. They weren't announced
there at the test.  As soon as I know I will tell you.

Countdown! 1!!!!!!!!

I kept busy today. I went to my kid's parent teacher interviews at their elementary school all morning. Then I went grocery shopping in the afternoon to stock up for the weekend. I had to bring all the housework up to a done level. The day went by peacefully, quickly, and without any moments of "Oh my gosh! I'm one day away from my belt test." I didn't even stop to write about the upcoming event in my blog until now. I'm ready now to think about karate.

What a challenge cross training is! I really only joined the Kyokushin karate dojo for the needed exercise. I couldn't afford to join a second Shotokan dojo, or to join a health spa. The Kyokushin classes were free of charge, and they have a big focus on body conditioning.

I expected to remain a white belt in that dojo because of the fact that I was training in Shotokan, and that training was louder in my body than any of the kyokushin that I was doing. What do I mean? Well.. although a rising head block is a rising head block there is a different way of applying it when one compares Shotokan to Kyokushin.

So then started my learning process as to how each and every movement, and stance is used differently in Kyokushin. I could lean on my Shotokan background, and experience a little to get the main idea, but then I had to fine tune the way that I did my techniques. I'd try to imitate what my Kyokushin Sensei wanted, but since I was almost hard wired for a certain straight linear movement, my arms almost refused to go in a circular manner.

I struggled in kyokushin class to get the direct stepping happening in my legs rather than the C stepping which now seemed so natural to me. Months and months of slow training to get my leg to go direct. I'd run up to my Kyokushin Sensei, demonstrate a few steps and say "Do I have it yet?" He'd smile and shake his head to the negative. Nope, my foot always came into the other as I moved forwards. I watched myself in the mirror.. you could even see the hesitant fight in my legs each time that I moved. There seemed to be a war of FORWARDS! IN! FORWARDS! IN! happening with each step.

Kata! Oh gosh kata! Pinan Sono Ichi is the same embusen as Heian Shodan, but you have to move differently. It has a different feel to it, a different timing, really it has a different "music". It's like listening to the song "Three blind mice" played in Jazz style rather than classical style. For the first 6 months I would mish mash the styles. I'd start off in Shotokan, but at the end of the kata, I would turn into a most wonderful Kyokushin backstance. I'd stand there thinking "This is right, but it's not "right".. how come it feels wrong? It's a good stance! OH oh! I'm doing Shotokan!" So then my body would click into a Shotokan backstance like one of those transformer robots.. feet, leg, hip, torso, arms... click, click, click. AH! That's better.

I was totally lost when it came to Kyokushin sparring. The constant movement.. the attitude.. the idea of unbalancing your opponent.. Oh! and you have to get so close to the person you are fighting sometimes! Distance was always difficult for me to figure out when I was only doing 1 type of art... but to do two arts that demand different ways.. OUCH!

I perservered. I kept trying. I found out that now I have to learn double the amount of kata since I'm doing two arts.

In Shotokan I learned the Heian (5), Tekki (2), Bassai (2), Kanku (2), Empi, Jion, Chinte, Jutte, Hangestu, Gankaku, and Wan kan.

In Kyokushin I learned Kihon (3), Shiho Tsuki (3), Taikyoku (3), Sakugi Taikyoku(3), Pinan (2), Yangstu, Sanchin, and a Bo kata.

37 Kata so far.. and I'm not done. 37 Kata in only 3 years of training! *Insert stunned swear word of choice here*

Well... I was warned before I started learning Kyokushin that it is a FAR harder path in martial arts to try to travel in two styles at the same time. I didn't want to lose the Shotokan art that I have come to know, and love. I didn't want to lose the beauty of the Kyokushin art that I was experiencing. Also there were moments when Shotokan revealed to me the hidden answers to what was happening in Kyokushin, and times when Kyokushin revealed to me the practical applications of my Shotokan.

So! I keep cross training. I'm going for Shodan in Shotokan, but I hold a 7th Kyu level in Kyokushin. That's who I am.. and I just accept the positives, and negatives of the whole thing.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Countdown!! 2.....

I have been receiving so much support from people concerning my upcoming black belt test. People that I didn't think would be interested are inquiring as to how I'm coping with the anxiety of the upcoming test. Wow.. Not too many people really worried about me when I was going for the lower kyu ranks.. ha ha ha. I was far less ready for those tests.. especially my white belt test. It's nice to get their emails of encouragement, and to have people stop me to wish me the best. Wow.. the outpouring of concern is wonderful. I feel like a Queen walking amoung the population right now. One of the parents of my dojo found out that I was testing for black, and the look in her eyes just shifted to one of deep awe. Oh gosh.. awe? Sometimes I think that it's just a daydream, really, and that I'll wake up in a couple of days and realize that truth.

Thinking back to those first days of training when I saw brown belt as an impossibility for me to achieve. I remember watching the brown belts go up front of class, and do so many things that I just couldn't see myself accomplishing within my lifetime: Kumite, the more difficult kata like Kanku Dai, and combinations... I was having troubles keeping my front knee bent, and holding stance for longer than 2 seconds. Oooo.. the burning in my thigh muscles just demanded that I pull out of stance, the pain in my ankles, in my knees, in my hips.. they all screamed for me to get out of stance.

I would go home, and start practicing just holding front stance. My husband came into the room, and watch me with a smile as I would go down into stance for about 3 breaths, and then stand right back up breathing hard to cope with the pain. "What's your problem?" he asked me with a grin "You're just standing up.. gee.. what's so hard about that?"

'O.K..." I said, "It's harder than it looks.. here.. you get into front stance, and see how long you last." I placed him in proper stance.. he didn't last any longer than me. His eyes widened in acknowledgement, and realization of just how difficult standing up can become.

As I progressed in the art I learned that Back stance hurts alot more than front stance.. HA HA HA HA Then I learned about the pain that can be achieved by going into Side stance. Phenomenal!

But my kata became stronger, and more stable.. my legs started to strengthen. Now I would turn on one of my favorite CD's, and hold stance through the song. Holding Front stance for 3 minutes, and 23 seconds, Holding Back stance for 2 minutes, and 40 seconds.. The whole time I'd sing along with the song, and focus on my breathing, even harmonizing.. anything to keep my mind off of the pain in my legs.

I build up in ability. I decided that I was ready for the real challenge. I washed the dishes holding side stance the whole time that I stood in front of the sink. Each sink load of dishes took about 5 minutes to wash. I would do a sink load once every hour holding stance each time. In a family the size of ours.. that's alot of dishes!

Then I started doing my ironing standing on one leg to improve my balance.

All of this personal training had an effect.. I was able to hold stance with confidence... but then the cramping started.

By the time I achieved my green belt, my muscles would cramp during class. I looked for reasons, explanations, interventions. My legs, and feet would cease in awful cramps as I tried to do kata... or hold stance. I remember how severe the cramps would be. In fact, my left leg cramped up really tight, and lost all power to hold my weight as I was doing Heian Yondan for my belt test in front of the judging table. I had to stop for a second, and place down my right leg to keep me standing, wait for the cramp to let go, and then continue my kata. I still passed that test in spite of this major mistake.

It wasn't until this September that I realized what it was that I was doing to encourage cramping in my muscles. I would often have a treat of Pepsi, and taco chips. It was my favorite bad habit. During the summer of this year.. I had decided to stop drinking, or eating anything with caffeine in it because of the reading that I had done about the negative effects that caffeine has on your body system. To my joy, I noticed that my muscle cramps had disappeared over the summer. I didn't realize the link to caffeine at that point though. However, when September rolled around, and the stress of my upcoming black belt test loomed over me, I fell back into my comfort food... pepsi, and taco chips. Within a month the cramps came back. AH! After some indepth study I learned that one of the effects of caffeine on your body is to strengthen muscle contractions. That is why the Olympic committee lists caffeine up there with steriods as a drug that isn't allowed in competition.

Now, I have been steering away from caffeine and my cramping has dissipated. I'm back to suffering from stance "normally".. ha ha ha

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Countdown! 3........

The final moments before I face that BIG moment. My thoughts turn back to what I once was before I became infected with the positive effects of living Karate Do. I weighed nearly 200 lbs. I remember getting to the top of one flight of stairs and having to hold the wall because I felt dizzy, and weak. My skin condition covered over 80% of my body making it difficult to do anything. I remember finding blood spots on my pajamas from my hands independently scratching at the itch during the night while I slept. My face was covered which caused many people to react in abhorance when I approached them.

I remember the dread I felt at the thought of doing anything physical. Even the idea of walking to the corner store to get some milk made me think twice, or even three times. My 8 year old daughter wanted to take karate lessons.. oh man.. that meant walking a good 20 minutes each way. I remember moaning about that to my husband... Ha ha ha.. a 20 minute leisurely walk and I would complain about that! HA HA HA Little did I know then that, in less than 3 years, I'd be training hard for more than 2 hours straight with black and brown belts and exhilarating in it.

The first months of training were especially hard on me. I remember coming to a dead stand still while exercising during class. I heard Sensei chuckle and said "I'm not the only star that you are seeing right now.. am I?" I couldn't help but think in astonishment "How does he know that I'm seeing a whole bunch of flashing lights surrounding me?" Oh that was not a smart thing! Just jumping into hard karate training from doing no exercise at all. Looking back in retrospect, it's a good thing that I didn't consult a doctor.. ha ha ha.. He/she would have taken one look at my physical condition, and said "Are you crazy????", and that would have been that.. I would never have been introduced to the world of martial arts.

All I wanted was to learn how to do kata.. I was willing to do all the other things to be able to learn kata. I remember asking Sensei if it was possible to learn karate without learning how to fight. WAH ha ha ha! Little mouse that I was.. all that my partner would have to do is look like they were going to move forwards with a punch, and I'd hide behind my hands, and cringe saying "EEKK!".

Oh did I abhor push ups! Sensei would go down the line asking for the Japanese terms of the various techniques and those who didn't know the term would have to go down and do 10 push ups. I had plenty of motivation to learn my terms, if that is what it took to avoid push ups. Sensei couldn't stump me.. He tried.. oh gosh he tried to find an obscure term that he had taught me that I might have forgotten.. but nope. I fought valiantly against having to do those push ups.

I remember one time that Sensei asked a higher belt for a term.. and the person said in a joking manner "Why don't you ask her? " So Sensei turned to me with a smile and did the movement again. I bowed my head in embarrassment and said "Sensei, I am not familiar with that movement," ( I saw a look of triumph appear on Sensei's face) "but I do know one that is similar from Heian Yondan," I continued, " and that one is called Kaki waki Uke." The look of stunned surprise on the faces of all the other students was precious when Sensei burst out laughing and said "Yes.. it's the same."

I remember my first roundhouse kicks. I looked like I was attempting to imitate a Dutch windmill with my arms, and legs. Nothing worked together, and I'd end up collapse on the ground giggling into my knees with the joy of knowing that one day I was going to DO this kick... but right now, I look like "Goofy does karate".

Oh I'd get lost with every new thing that was introduced..It's like everything was reset back to the start... mentally, and physically. Sensei never stopped supporting, and challenging me to get beyond where I was at.. and I didn't stop giving myself permission to keep trying.

A difficult time arose for me. My father was ill, and dying. I found that training in karate helped me with the stress. I asked Sensei if I could attend both of his dojo so that I could burn off the extra emotions, and energy within me. He allowed me that priviledge, and I started double training. Innercity dojo, and then again at 17th Wing dojo.

My weight went down 30 pounds, my health went up.. Sure, I became sore, and my family would get no end of entertainment listening to my moans and groans from even little things like lifting my cup of tea to my lips.

When Innercity dojo closed down, I went into a deep concern for the fact that I didn't want to lose all of the physical conditioning that I worked so hard to gain. I requested Sensei's permission to attend a free kyokushin karate class that was offered every Friday, and received it.

I entered the kyokushin dojo with apprehension knowing that it was a full contact karate, and what a timid little mouse I felt like inside of me. I spoke with the Sensei there explaining that my main goal was to keep up my physical condition through the extra exercise, but that I would attempt to train Kyokushin while in his dojo...if he would allow me to train there. Thus humbly starts the difficult path of cross training in two arts about 2 years ago.

This little woman who couldn't climb one set of stairs without suffering is now training in karate almost every day of the week, and twice on Saturdays. She does weight lifting at home, and puts in about 22 hours of training per week (if she can steal that time from other things)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Only 5 days away

I'm trying not to get all uptight, and nervous about the upcoming test. Only 5 days away. I'm standing at the sink washing dishes, and finally keeping my mind busy with other thoughts when my little daughter comes in and says "Mommy! Your black belt test is only 5 days away.. Wow!" That number strikes into my mind like an alarm... Sheesh.

Bedtime, and my thoughts go towards.. "I wonder what will happen on that day. I wonder if I'll be able to cope with the nervousness.. I have to take it as "just another class"..but it's not just another class.. It's a black belt test. Oh gosh.. me? me? Yes.. of course me! That's why I've been training so hard all this time. I've got what it takes, I just have to let myself do it.. that's all... it's only 5 days away."

Deep breaths.. calm down. No need to get all uptight like the weeks before Christmas when I was a child, and I couldn't sleep because of all the thoughts of the presents that I'd be getting.. and daydreaming of what I'd find under the tree. I'm an adult now.. I can get beyond the excitement.. I can get past the anticipation. Oh I wonder if I'll see my friends at my belt test.. I wonder what it will be like to train under the new Master. I wonder if my muscles will cramp up that day or not... maybe I should make sure that I eat plenty of bananas on Thursday, and Friday before to make sure that I have enough potassium, and magnesium in my system.... only 5 days away.

This week is going to go by so fast.. and the testing will be over and done with before I know it.. and I'll be back to normal everyday training again. So I guess I should enjoy these final days of being extra energetic.

I've been watching my every step to make sure that I do not injure myself before my test. I've been extra paranoid that I'll catch a cold/flu before my test. I've been keeping track of how many hours of sleep I get.. it's only 5 days away, you know.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Snow, and Pain

It snowed immensely for a few days.. Our city was drowned in snow. Schools closed down, buses became stuck on the streets blocking traffic. The weather became one of the first topics that you would talk about with people.

We arrived at our dojo to find the parking lot unaccessible with wind driven drifts of snow. Driving down the side streets we couldn't find a safe place to park our car without the concern that we wouldn't be able to pull out again after class. Finally we found a safe place which was a good 10 minutes walk away from the dojo.

Against the wind we walked in single file sloughing through knee-high snow with our backpacks perched up on our shoulders.

We asked ourselves if we were the only ones crazy enough to show up to train today, but no.. there were 8 other karate students as nuts as us.

Class started, and within 15 minutes of training, my psoriasis skin condition flared up in pain. It felt like I was covered with boiling oil from my ankles to my neck. It HURT!

Oh I know why I flared up: When you combine the fact that the winter air is very dry, with the extra stress of the past 2 weeks of struggling with my autistic son everyday to do his homework, disciplining my 3 younger children to try to get them to clean their room for the past 2 days, being awakened by one of my daughters all last night due to "nightmares" thereby getting less than 3 hours sleep, and the stress of the oncoming black belt test which has been developing incrementally heavilly upon me for the past month. I'm not surprised that my skin condition flared with intensity.

I was in such pain that my hands were involuntarilly shaking. I wanted to break down in tears, and beg Sensei to allow me to pull out of class. I thought again about that over and over as I trained, but I realized that there is a big chance that I may flare up during seminar and testing. I have to be able to perform even with the pain filling my arms, torso, and legs each time I move.

I would meditate each time that we stopped moving. I'd close my eyes, and focus on my breathing, and tell myself.. "It's just pain from my skin. It won't kill me.. I can breath through it. I can do this.. I just need to focus even more."

We were nearing the end of class, and I was asked to perform my Bassai Dai kata. I mentally told myself.. "Don't focus on the pain.. focus on the movement of the muscles with the techniques.. on your breathing.. not the pain.. the pain isn't important.." I did my kata, and finished with a strong kiai.

Oh I need to rest, calm down, and put some moisturizing cream on me to be able to handle next week's test without as much pain. I'm just glad that through the combination of training in karate, and changing my diet to a healthier food combining method I have already healed over 60% of my skin condition naturally. I remember a time when my skin would have broken open throughout a class like this, and bled all over my gi, and maybe my opponent's gi in sparring. I didn't have to suffer that embarrasment this time.

Monday, November 14, 2005

One of my favorite martial arts humour sites


I haven't read their books.. but if it's as enjoyable as the website, I can't WAIT to get my hands on one of them.

Their website has a martial arts advisor, who will help you choose the right art for you.. the questions are quite humorous!

There is so much to look at on this website: Downloadable origami paper slippers, how to avoid exhaustion through time wasting techniques, a well thought out answer to the whole "does Ki exist?" debate. If you want a good smile, even get to the point of laughing out loud, I would really suggest visiting this site. It's one of my favorite ones on the net.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

I feel ready

Let's see.. we are only 5 classes away from the BIG moment for me, and I feel ready.

I've trained extra since July of this year, building up my skills, working on my balance, focusing on my progress, and last night I felt that inner solidity that told me that I'm mentally, and physically up to the challenge. It's a nice feeling to know that you have done what you could to prepare for something and to recheck it all, and find it adequate.

Now it's time to pamper myself, relax, and allow time to bring me to where I need to be.. In fact, I'm happilly anticipating the moment now. Sure, I realize that there is so much more to learn in my path of training in karate, but I feel secure in the base that I have built in the past years that I will be able to add onto what I have, and continue growing in my art.

I still have that healthy nervousness of anticipation... which is good, because one doesn't want to be apathetic, and over confident about the whole event.

There is something magical about the Shodan test that just cannot be recaptured by any succeeding black belt Dan tests. It's similar to the first time that you walk into that Junior High school. For years you were the senior student of the elementary school with the responsibilities, and priviledges, and now you walk in amoung all of these tall teenagers, and you feel like you are back in kindergarten again.

Bring on the challenge, I'm ready to face what happens, and live with the results.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Karate memories: Falling asleep at my belt test

I was going for my green belt ( 7th kyu). We had a 3 day seminar happening with Testing on Saturday. Our dojo was running a little concession stand to help raise money to support the students. On Friday night, we had sold out of all the homemade baking that was provided.

I went home after training, near 9:30 pm, and started baking. Muffins, cakes, cookies, brownies.. the oven had continual things going in, or coming out of it. Time marched on too quickly, and it was already 4 am when I stood there looking over a table full of baking with satisfaction. Sure.. I realized that this was the night before my belt test, but as a mother of 7 children, I have had more than plenty of "white nights" wherein I didn't sleep all night, and I was still able to cope the next day. How could this be any different?

The next morning I happilly brought in my baking to help supply the table, and then went to the gym to warm up. I didn't feel at all tired, just the excitement of being able to participate in this event. I enjoyed the seminar class with full energy.

It came time for testing. I was pretty happy with how I was coping with my lack of sleep. I forgot that there is a long, quiet time when the students are being lined up in order of their name, and rank. We sat there silent, and not moving.. I fought the sleepy blanket of calmness that took over my mind, and body, but the voices of the various Sensei melded into a warm mutter, and my eyelids drooped, then my head drooped. One of my dojo friends was sitting next to me, she nudged my arm to wake me up with the shocked words "Are you falling asleep????? Now? Ten minutes before you test?" The looks of shock, and awe surrounded me. Almost like their faces were teleprompters, they broadcasted the message "How can she not be nervous at a time like this? How can she fall asleep?"

I still smile at the memory of this moment. I will make sure that I get a good night's sleep before my Shodan test, if I have to have my husband smack me with a 2 by 4 to get that result.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Important enough to repeat it often..

There are as many different kinds of students out there in the martial arts world as there are personalities. Each person is unique, and brings a different flavour into the dojo. I've been thinking about "who" I want to be as I train: What kind of attitude, and performance I hope to achieve at each class.I hope some day to achieve the following

a) To approach every opportunity to train with a positive attitude, seeing within the repetition of movements the seeds of personal growth.

b) To challenge myself to apply my fullest energy to each technique.. as if it was the last one I could defend myself with regardless to how exhausted my body becomes with the effort.

c) To be willing to push myself to the point wherein I have to pull to the side of the dojo during class because I have no more to give.. not reserving strength to be able to last.

d) Having the humility to accept my mistakes, and limitations, and the wisdom to see a chance to improve them.

e) Cherishing the gift I have in a Sensei who has chosen to help guide my path in the martial arts by doing my best during class, and practicing what he has taught me in between classes.

f) Being grateful for the fact that I am able to train in karate.... that I have the health, breath, interest, and energy to do so in the first place.

g) When asked to instruct others, I want to teach them with knowledge, and not with derision. I want to respect the fact that they are relying on me to guide them properly, and to do my utmost to help them improve without making them feel lesser.

h) I want to be a source of support, and encouragement to others in my dojo. Energizing the room by responding to commands sharply, and properly. Kiai'ing with full spirit at the appropriate times. Keeping a focused attitude towards the execution of my techniques regardless of the behaviour of some students around me.

i) I want to be an example of self-control, and respect. Looking towards simple outward signs of having such an attitude like wearing a clean, ironed gi, with a well-tied obi, or placing my coat and shoes in a neat way at the entrance.

j) I want to have the inner flexibility to allow myself to enjoy karate, and yet manage to keep a serious demeanor. I want to respond to the needs of the moment, to be able to smile, and laugh.. and also to be focused, and centered when needed.

k) I want to be an extra emotional support to those women who chose to train in martial arts. Without being sexist, I would like to help women understand the different demands being placed upon them, and how to cope with them, as I struggle to find answers for myself.

L) I want to be open, friendly, and welcoming to new faces of the dojo, always keeping in mind how terrified I was on my first days of training.

m) I want to continue training well into my mature age.. keeping karate-do as part of my life until my last breath. Accepting the changes that time places on my body as a challenge to learn to adapt, and use what I have in the most efficient way possible.

If I can think of anything else that I am hoping to develop.. I will add it later.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Joy of teaching

I believe that I've been born with the love of teaching. One of the most enjoyable games that I played was to place all of my toys in order, and to "teach" them school.

As I attended school myself, I was always the student that everyone turned to for tutoring on their confusion.

I have always felt a joy within me when I was able to help someone learn something that they didn't know before, or when I could help someone succeed at their goals.

So, enter this lady into a karate dojo... It wasn't too long that this little white belt was watching a fellow white belt struggle by themselves with the technique they were learning. So, what did this "brand new to karate" woman do? She took the little bit of skill, and knowledge that she had acquired from listening to Sensei, approached her fellow student and said "I really don't know this any better than you, but maybe together we can figure it out. I remember Sensei saying that we need to do this.."

Well.. by orange belt ( 8th kyu), with only 6 months of experience in the arts, I was allowed to help introduce very simple basic techniques to the brand new students, especially the little ones under the age of 8 years old.

Unorthodox.. That is the start of the description of how I creatively recreated the way to teach the simple basics to little ones whose attention would shift every 10 seconds. At one point, to keep their focus, I said to the kids.. "O.K..! I want you to be like little trains.. Punch, punch.. punch.. punch.. choo.. choo.. choo.. choo..." Sensei happened to be walking past me at the time, and I received one of those LOOKS of "What the heck are you doing?".. and a quizzical "Choo.. choo ?" formation of his lips. Now that I look back at that moment with the knowledge of the arts that I have now, I can't help but laugh. However, back then, I was a Mom who was trying to teach little ones and to reach them on their level. I got results though! The kids responded well, and learned.

As I gained in understanding, and knowledge of the arts, I became more and more efficient as a helper to my fellow students. I do not see myself as a teacher anymore, but more as a support, and guide to helping the other person uncover the information within themselves that will bring them to their goal.

Oh I love this challenge! That look of realization that fills their eyes as they understand what it is that they are doing, and how to do it. The look of satisfaction as they go from awkward movements to confidence. The look of happiness as they come to enjoy karate as much as you.

The words of wisdom from my internet Sensei friend, Paul, fills my mind each time I face the challenge of helping my fellow students: "Teach with knowledge, and not derision." Yes! That is so right! That is the kind of Sempai that I chose to become. Thank you, Paul.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I can't believe that I'm doing this

On the advice of a very wise karate ka that I admire very much, I'm going to cut back on my training schedule before my test. Now.. as the date of my test is looming over my head, I feel so much inner pressure to ADD on more practice to my schedule, not take away practice. But he has warned me that too many Shodans will overtrain before their test, and then perform very weakly and not do well at all.

O.K. let's see.. I would have to remove my weight lifting. Every Tues., Thurs., and Sunday night I would do 45 minutes of upper body weight lifting with 3 pound weights. O.K.. I understand that my muscles are overloaded, and need to repair and heal. Alright.. I'll let that go until after my test. ... and I guess that the 30 minutes of conditioning will have to go on those nights too then. The 100 sit ups, and 50 regular push ups, 20 knuckle push ups, and the tricep lift thingies too. BUT... I can replace it with stretching. can't I? Stretching is supposed to help muscles reconnect, and heal. Perhaps I can do some relaxed stretching during that time that I've slotted for home training.

I guess that my special Sunday night training of kata, and Bo staff is going to have to go, also. Oh no.. no.. I'll half it to an half hour for each, but not gone. I don't want to lose that part. Maybe I can just do the kata in slow speed. It can't be too bad to just do the Bo staff warm up lightly.. just to keep the feel of the Bo in my hands.

I'll bring down my kicking practice to 10 kicks per side. I can't help thinking "Is this a good idea? Aren't I going to lose that which I worked so hard to gain?" but I'm going to trust in the experience, and wisdom of my friend. He's been there, done that more than once. He knows what needs to be done.

I've got to say that I feel a real inner pressure now. AARGH.. this is going against what I want to do. It's like reining in the head of a race horse before the finish line. I'm champing on the bit like crazy with that "Let me RUN!" feeling inside me.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Overdid it again

I went up to Sensei first thing, and told him the bad news that I've overtrained this week by attending seminar classes, regular classes, and training at home. I had exhausted myself. I was feeling so sore! I could even feel the tiny little muscles on the sides of my knees.. that's how bad it was. Any stance made my legs shake. I was always behind everyone during our exercises. I actually made the Sempai chuckle because everyone would be finished the last movement, and kiai.. and then you would hear me a few breaths later like a little tiny terrier barking.

Sensei paired us off.. and we had to do one step sparring. Oh I was sore.. so sore. I stood there in front of my opponent thinking "Hey.. maybe I should just let the punch land.. it will hurt less than blocking, and countering." Ha haha.. but then I
decided to keep trying.. keep training.. facing each one with the attitude "Just one more.. I can do just one more.." and deep breathing in those moments of not moving.

Attacking was difficult enough, but then it was my turn to defend... again I was slower than I should be because of my stiffness, and that feeling of reluctance to move because of the pain. I heard a little voice in my head say "I can't do this", and I grabbed that thought and said instead "No.. no.. don't go there.. What if? What if I could block, and counter again? What if I have it within me to do one more? Surely.. I can do it. Just one more.."

I had to convince myself that I could do one more with each successive partner. Class was just one moment of pain, after another moment. I said to myself "This too shall pass.." and kept going until the end.

I was facing my last opponent, and I pulled down into the depths of me, forcing energy from my innards, forcing my muscles to block and counter.. my knees to bend so that I can reach my target.. my kiai to come out and buoy me through it all. I held my counter attack with a feeling of satisfaction. I felt so good. Although physically I was at my weakest, spiritually I was flying sky high!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Officially feeling it today

Nurturing a sick daughter, getting lunches ready for 3 children, making sure the homeschooled son is doing his work, facing the hills of dishes, and mountains of laundry, finding the peanut butter container stashed behind the couch, sweeping lego, crayons, paper, crumbs off of the floor, realizing that I have yet to iron my gi for the noon karate class, Also becoming aware that it's past 10 am and I haven't eaten yet... I stopped for a few seconds to rest, and recuperate.

I have 7 minutes before I have to leave my home to go join class at seminar with Yaguchi Sensei. I have to walk the one hour trek to, and from the venue. The cost of my black belt test is making finances very very tight in my home. Then I return home, clean up more, make supper, and get ready for karate class tonight. I am One Tired Mommy.

Moments like this make you stop and ask yourself "Do I really want it that bad?"

Since my answer is still "Yes, it's worth it." Then I will stop typing, and start walking.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Innercity memories

My very first dojo was quite different from the average dojo. Situated in a high school, the students were mainly young teenagers that came of their own motivation to learn karate. They couldn't afford to pay for the lessons, in fact most of them couldn't afford to pay for the bus fare to and from the dojo. They would walk to class straight from school. We would do various fundraising activities to support the dojo. From spring cleaning people's yards, running concession stands at events, picking up litter at local street fairs, catering, and serving at functions, the dojo found money to pay for organization fees, tournament fees, testing fees, travel, and even a little bit to show our Sensei our gratitude. ( Not much though.. poor Sensei.. talking about working for peanuts.. there were times when Sensei taught for cupcakes, and rootbeer.)

These kids had heart, and did their best to work together to meet their goals. For example, One weekend, our dojo had traveled to go to a weekend seminar, and tournament. We made an event of it, bringing the kids to a campground a night early. During that evening, through silly play fighting, one of the teens accidently fell on top of another whose wrist bent the wrong way, and a bone broke in her wrist. The adult supervisors rushed her to the hospital, and found out that she needed a cast on her left arm. They didn't return to the campsite until near 2 am. The next morning, the girl insisted that she still wanted to participate in the tournament. She had inquired with the doctor if it would be possible, and he said that "yes, as long as she didn't do any sparring, that her hand didn't swell, and if it didn't hurt too much."

We showed up to the tournament, and informed our Sensei. The girl was begging him with her eyes to please allow her to compete in kata. With cautious permission, she was allowed to enter the event. You should have seen how the rest of the dojo teens supported her! She didn't take a breath in or out without one of the teens asking her if her hand was swelling, and if she felt fine, if she wanted something to eat or drink.

She went up to compete. At the end of her kata, the judges all gathered to discuss something. The discussion went on for a long, long time. Suddenly the girl turned around to face her dojo mates with a look of elated humour on her face. She pointed to her cast, and said conspiratorilly "They don't know how to mark my points...", and then she turned around to face the judges again.

All of us from Innercity dojo muffled our laughter. It ended up that the judges had to base her kata on her GOOD arm movements. This girl won the Bronze medal for her kata at her first tournament. I will always remember her example of courage, and dedication, and the awesome support shown to her by her dojo mates.

Moments like the one above happened often in our dojo. I believe it is because of the way this dojo existed. We didn't have access to our high school location during the summer months, so to train we would have to find a place. As long as we were willing to gather, Sensei was willing to teach us. We trained in the rain in the park, in the heat of the sun, in the artic temperatures of an overly air conditioned gym, in a bingo hall where we had to move over a hundred tables and chairs to the side, and then back into place, in a small church 15 foot by 15 foot room where Sensei had to stack his students.. Training in the local park was always an experience. People would actually come, and set up a picnic to watch us. Cars would drive by shouting something about karate. You'd never know what they said though because the wind would snatch away the words. Although we always did a preliminary sweep of the area for hazards such as glass, sticks, large stones, and dog droppings.. there was the occasional time when we'd miss something, and find it later during training. The funniest memory for me of this is when we were doing an intricate sparring exercise with our partner in Kildonan Park. It had started to rain. Sensei informed us that this is good training.. now we can learn to move so quickly that we can dodge inbetween the raindrops. Funny, but none of his students managed to achieve that feat that day. We all walked away with water dripping from our hair. As we were doing our exercise, one of the teen boys slipped with his right foot, and screamed out. The whole dojo stopped in concern.. "Oh no!" I thought instantly "He pulled a muscle because he slipped on the wet grass!" However, that was not the case. The boy got a look of utter disgust on his face, and he started wiping the heel of his foot on the grass in front of him. We all erupted in laughter. Sensei warned us all not to do our sparring practice in that end of the field from now on.

Sadly, for a variety of reasons this dojo had to close down. Sensei had thousands of students parade in front of him for the 7 years that this dojo existed. Sure, many did well in tournaments, bringing home gold, silver and bronze medals. More importantly, the students learned about themselves, and what they can achieve. In a area that has such a high drop out rate among teens, these students finished their grade 12, continued on in life to get good employment, and raise lovely families. Sensei challenged them to find their inner spirit.. and his students responded. We have all gained in our lives through our experiences in this dojo, and I am grateful for the fact that I was lucky enough to have participated in it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Karate memories: When I became aware of my breath..

I was performing the Heian Yondan Kata at a Tournament. Right after the first kiai point, I turned and did the double block. Putting all effort possible into the two punches.. I noticed that there were puffs of air coming out of me. Delighted, my whole attention turned towards feeling that air come out of me as my techniques happened almost on their own. My thoughts turned to: "Ooooo... how wonderful! Each time I send a strike or block my body is tightening, and the air is puffing out of me on it's own. COOL! I didn't know that I can do that, am I supposed to be doing this? What a sensation!!!!" Since I became preoccupied with my breathing I ended up at the third knife hand totally forgetting which kata I was doing. I stood there in a state of not moving.. almost in pause.... trying to remember which kata I was on... Suddenly reawakening to the fact that I was in the middle of a tournament surrounded by 5 judges who will be giving me a score on my kata... I thought " Oh oh ! " Now my thoughts moved faster "Oh dear.. I'm in backstance.. with my left foot forwards.. which kata has that.. LOTS of them.. What do I do? How will I finish this?" As my mind searched for the next move, I stayed still, and calm. It felt like an eternity as I stood there holding my position. All of a sudden I felt my body suggesting a "feeling" of movement that fit with where I was paused. With the total abandon of the thought "it's better than nothing" I followed the suggestion of my body memory, and finished the kata quite well, with the proper techniques, and stances. To my astonishment, my kata performance won me the silver medal. I guess that I wasn't stuck in pause as long as I thought I had... or I did it with such style that it seemed to fit there? Either way, I became aware of my breathing, and I haven't been the same since.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Silly things to make you smile.. "Boot to the head" skit

Memories... Innercity dojo would travel together to each tournament in the same huge van that seated close to 16 people.. even more if you cheated the seatbelt laws a little.. We called it a "Dojo bus". When we arrived at the event location there was a tradition to listen to two things. First we had to listen to the "Ti Kwan Leap" skit.. and song, and then we listened to "Everybody was Kung fu fighting" song before we went to represent our Dojo. If you haven't ever heard of the "Ti Kwan Leap" skit I will now provide the transcript for your enjoyment:

Ti Kwan Leep

Approach, students. Close the circle at the feet of the master. You have come to me asking that I be your guide along the path of Ti Kwan Leep. But, be warned: To learn its ways, you must learn the ways of your own soul. Let us meditate upon this wisdom now. So: Aaaaaaooooommm......

Student1 (Ed Gruberman):
Uh, sir! Sir! (oo! oo!) Sir!

Who disturbs our meditation, as a pebble disturbs the stillness of the pond?

Me! Ed Gruberman?

E-Ed Gruberman?

Yeah, uh, no disrespect or nothin', but, like, uh, how long is this gonna take?

Ti Kwan Leep is not a path to a door, but a road leading forever towards the horizon.

So like, what, an hour or so?

No, no, we have not even begun upon the path. Ed Gruberman, you must learn patience.

Yeah yeah yeah, patience. How long will that take?

Time has no meaning. To a true student, a year is as a day.

A YEAR??? I wanna beat people up right now! I got the pajamas! Hah woo yah ooomm!

"Beat people up"...?

Yeah! Just show me all those nifty moves so I can start trashing bozos! That's all I came here for! YO ASTA STA STA!!! Pretty good, ey?

The only use of Ti Kwan Leep is self-defense. Do you know who said that? Ki Lo Ni, the great teacher.

Yeah? Well the best defense is a good offense, you know who said that? Mel, the cook on "Alice".

No, um...Ti Kwan Leep is the wine of purity, not the vinegar of hostility. Meditate upon this truth with us. Aaaaoooommm...

Listen, shrimp! All this fag talk is really starting to piss me off. Now, are you gonna show me some fancy moves, or am I gonna start wapin' the walls with you?

Ed Gruberman, you fail to grasp Ti Kwan Leep. Approach me that you might see.

All right! Finally some action!

Observe closely, class. Boot to the Head! (SH-ZOOMP!)

EG (drunkenly):
Owww! You booted me in the head!

You are lucky, Ed Gruberman. Few novices experience so much of Ti Kwan Leep so soon.

EG (quietly, to himself):
Ow, oh, my head!

Now we continue. Aaaaaoooommmm...

Hey! Hey, I wasn't ready! Come and get me now shorty, huh? Come on, are ya chicken?

Boot to the head! (SH-ZOOMP!)

EG (again, drunkenly):
Oww! Okay, now I'm ready, okay, now, come on, try it now.

Boot to the head! (SH-ZOOMP!)

Mind if I just lie down here for a minute?

Now class, we shall return to our...


It is wrong to tip the vessel of knowledge, student.

Many apologies, master. But I feel Ed Gruberman is not wholly wrong.

What do you mean?

I want to boot some head, too.

Have you learned nothing from the lesson of Ed Gruberman?

Yes, master. I have learned two things. First, that anger is a weapon only to one's opponent.

Very good.

And secondly, get in the first shot. Boot to the head. (SH-ZOOMP!)

You missed.

Uh, yeah. Well...

You too shall be honored to learn a lesson...

You don't have to, you know. I-I gotta be going...

Boot to the head! (SH-ZOOMP!)

Student2 :
(agonizing pain) Oyyy oy oyyyy.... Oh....

Can anyone tell us what lesson has been learned here?

Uh, yes, master. Not a single one of us could defeat you.

You gain wisdom, child.

So we'll hafta gang up on ya! Get 'im guys!

(Teacher throws many 'Boot to the head!s' and 'SH-ZOOMP!s'.
There are many people groaning in pain.)

And now class, let us rejoin the mind to the body and gaze into the heart of the candle in meditation.


Very good, class.

If you wish to listen to this skit, or to the accompanying song, you can find it at:


In honor of my old dojo I will be listening to the traditional silly things on the morning of my Shodan test.