Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mental self defense: Worry

Do I worry? As a mom of 7 children, the answer is "yes". Most of my worry is well founded on reality, and situations. However, I also have a bad habit of worrying for things that are out of my control, unfounded, even just imaginary. This kind of negative worrying isn't good for me mentally, or even physically. The stress of it sets off my skin condition. I needed to look into finding some sort of self defense against worrying.

I stumbled across an article on the internet written by Dr. Edward Hallowell, author of the book "Worry", and I quote:

"So how to combat the potentially toxic effects of worry? Hallowell offered some advice.

The 5 steps

1. Never worry alone
By far the most important step, Hallowell said it's fine to worry, just don't get isolated and become the passive victim. When you're connected and brainstorming with someone else, you tend to come up with solutions.

2. Get the facts
"Toxic worry is usually based on either lack of information or wrong information," Hallowell said. Don't worry about what if , as Dr. Shapiro noted, worry about what is .

3. Make a plan
Once you have the facts, make a plan and take action. Don't worry about whether the plan works or not, Hallowell said that life is about revising plans. You're much better to be active, he said, noting that toxic worry loves a passive victim. Stay in the active mode.

4. Take care of your brain
"If you're not in good shape brain-wise, you're going to be prone to getting rattled and worried," he said. "What do I mean by take care of your brain? Obvious steps. Get enough sleep. Physical of the best anti-anxiety agents ever."

Also, maintain a proper diet. Don't self-medicate with a lot of carbs, junk food, alcohol, drugs, etc. He also mentioned that prayer and meditation , although often skipped over in medicine, can really play an important role in focusing the mind and reducing toxic worry.

And finally, regular doses of positive human contact. It's good to get a smile, a hug or a warm pat on the back.

5. Let it go
This is the hard one for toxic worriers.

"At least you can practice letting it go," Hallowell said. "Head in that direction. A lot of toxic worriers do just the opposite. They gather their worries unto them. They say ‘Where are my worries, come back,' almost as if they feel unsafe without them." "

Ah.. I will have to do babysteps in the direction of controlling my worries, and reactions to worries. Most of these suggestions make sense to me, but in the same breath, when you have a bad habit, it tends to be challenging to find new ways of acting/reacting to the problem. One good thing that will happen is that once I can place all of the above suggestions into action in my own life, I will be able to be a good role model for my own children when they start to "worry" in a negative way.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Awesome Martial arts poem!!

Poem by Marc Gatien


The bells ring and I detect incenses,
butterflies in my stomach have cooled their senses.

Enter the armoury as a mere man,
leave as warriors of the same clan.

Spread to four corners on the hard floor,
contorting our bodies to melt our core.

The time is close at hand, let us prepare,
place your cloth on the ground and wipe the floor bare.

All in a row, we are stakes in the ground,
we do not move, do not make a sound.

The teacher comes forth and our journey begins,
we bow our bodies, but raise our chins.

The doors are flung open for all to know,
we're in his world now with no place to go.

Working long and hard without much break,
for those who quit quick this was a mistake.

I've tried my best and my muscles all ache,
even ones I didn't know that I could awake.

Pushing the limit as far as we can,
reaching our goals with a guiding hand.

But its over now and we must go,
what wills me to stay I do not know.

I am reminded that the test isn't done,
because life is a game that cannot be won.

Though, if I take time to practice my skills,
I'll be scaling more mountains than hills.

 -- Marc Gatien -- June 2002

I found this wonderful poem at this site:

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Been Thinkin': "Humility"

“We will follow our religious principles, and never forget the true virtue of Humility.” Sosai Masutatsu Oyama

Each time I train at the Kyokushin dojo, we recite the Dojo Kun. So many times I have said this sentence without really looking at the challenge contained within the concepts. The words just came out of my mouth without any deep meaning. I felt that if I was going to make a promise to myself of never forgetting this virtue in my life.. I really needed to look at what that virtue means to me.

The word “humility” contains the same Latin root word “Humus” which means “earth” or in other words, “The brown or black organic substance consisting of partially or wholly decayed vegetable or animal matter that provides nutrients for plants and increases the ability of soil to retain water. “

I learned alot about humus when I took Physical biology in University. I learned that land without humus will not sustain life... it is like sand. “ Without humus, we have poor sandy soil that won’t hold water or nutrients for plant roots. Without humus, plants starve unless fed a steady diet of chemical fertilizers.”

Therefore the existence of humus is essential for life on this planet to exist. Just as the virtue of humility is essential for us to have achieve the goal of living a happy life, and being a successful Martial artist.

But what is humility? I looked at all the various major religious belief systems, and noticed that they have a very similar way of thinking about that virtue. I took out just little quotes from each site, knowing that these will not show forth the fullness of their philosophies, but only will act as a small taste of the deep thoughts available for contemplation. I included the links to the various sites in case anyone is interested in looking it up for themselves.

Catholic Christian:

St. Thomas explains (Contra Gent., bk, III, 135): "The spontaneous embracing of humiliations is a practice of humility not in any and every case but when it is done for a needful purpose: for humility being a virtue, does nothing indiscreetly. It is then not humility but folly to embrace any and every humiliation: but when virtue calls for a thing to be done it belongs to humility not to shrink from doing it, for instance not to refuse some mean service where charity calls upon you to help your neighbours. . . .Sometimes too, even where our own duty does not require us to embrace humiliations, it is an act of virtue to take them up in order to encourage others by our example more easily to bear what is incumbent on them: for a general will sometimes do the office of a common soldier to encourage the rest. Sometimes again we may make a virtuous use of humiliations as a medicine. Thus if anyone's mind is prone to undue self-exaltation, he may with advantage make a moderate use of humiliations, either self-imposed, or imposed by others, so as to check the elation of his spirit by putting himself on a level with the lowest class of the community in the doing of mean offices."

The vices opposed to humility are,

a) pride: by reason of defect, and

b) a too great obsequiousness or abjection of oneself, which would be an excess of humility. This might easily be derogatory to a man's office or holy character; or it might serve only to pamper pride in others, by unworthy flattery, which would occasion their sins of tyranny, arbitrariness, and arrogance.

The virtue of humility may not be practised in any external way which would occasion such vices or acts in others. "

Wow! What a challenge! To choose to humble myself as a way of encourageing others to choose a better path, but being careful not to lessen my value, and encourage negative attitudes in others. A person would have to be very wise to know when to be humble, and when to live up to Justice.

Protestant Christian:

“Writer Madeline L’Engle once said, “Integrity, like humility, is a quality which vanishes the moment we are conscious of it ourselves.” Thomas Merton said, “the humble [one] receives praise the way a clean window takes the light of the sun. The truer and more intense the light is, the less you see of the glass. True humility excludes self-consciousness, but false humility intensifies our awareness of ourselves to such a point that we are crippled, and can no longer make any movement or perform any action without putting to work a whole mechanism of apologies and formulas of self-accusation.”

Again, I can see how just thinking lowly of one’s own self is not really what humility is all about. It’s about not thinking of yourself, but of others. Putting the welfare of others as a priority due to your own compassion, and worthiness. I realize that this little quote does not covered the vast amount of information available of the various protestant views of humility.


"The quintessence of humility is manifested in a practitioner's realization that he is nobody or nothing. This state of enlightenment comes when he transcends all worldly desires, illusions and mental constructs and labels associated with the ego. Buddhism refers to this as "emptiness" - empty of the contents of an illusory ego. On an in-depth psychological level, when one realizes that one is nothing, one is also everything. That means that through unconditioned love and compassion, one is now connected with all things and all beings. There is no more "I" and "mine." We are all one.

Some Buddhist practitioners place so great an emphasis on humility that they are prepared to yield to others in any situation that involves a dispute or contention. A Buddhist master writes that he always considers himself to be the least knowledgeable and capable as compared with other people. This approach is seen as a way to "humble" the ego so that spiritual liberation can be facilitated. Whether this is the right way of practice is open to questions.

Although humility is important to Buddhism, ultimately spiritual attainments are associated with such personal qualities as the "middle way," a balanced personality that is neither arrogant nor "humble" in the sense of self-abasement. Thus a semantic question may be raised as to exactly what we mean by humility. Does it necessarily imply an under-evaluation of one's own worth and merits that led the Tibetan lama to reject humility as a virtue for practitioners? From a true Buddhist perspective, the answer is "No." And we may add the following criteria to define genuine humility:

a) Behave without arrogance, self-conceit and other egoist tendencies such as jealousy and an impulse to show off.

b) Respect others and show a genuine human interest in them without a desire to please or to impress.

c) Come up with an objective and honest understanding of our own strengths and weaknesses, with a realization that we are far from perfect and have a lot more to learn, to improve and to accomplish.

While we do not recognize self-depreciation or self-effacement as part of humility, we must recognize that our biological self is fraught with frailties and ignorance and that a true self characterized by such divine qualities as love, compassion, joy and wisdom is innate in everyone of us.

With the above understanding, it is safe for Buddhists to speak of humility as a norm of personal conduct and a mark of supreme attainments that is consistent with the Buddhist "middle way." "

Fantastic! Again we see that humility is based on being sensitive to the fact that all people deserve respect, and dignity.


"Now what on earth do grapes have to do with humility? It is certainly difficult to find a connection, don't you agree? But in Hebrew, the word for grape is "Ah-nav" and the word for a humble person is also "ah-nav." True, there is a slight difference in the spelling, so it's not the same word, but we are going to see that there is a relationship between them.

However, if we understand that the Hebrew language is the language that G-d used to create the world, and every word and every letter has a divine meaning, then the relationship between words can be established. According to Jewish tradition, the letters themselves descended from upper spiritual worlds and these letters solidified, creating the present physical world. Now the Hebrew word is not just a audio symbol for an object, but rather its' root and stem, from which the object is created. The letters have mystical powers and the words create worlds. Now we can understand that Hebrew words by definition, have mutual relationships.

So what is the relationship between the grape and a humble person? Simply this:

A grape is something that by itself has no importance. No one buys one grape. Grapes are bought in bunches. A humble person is a person that sees no intricate self importance to himself. His role in life is an entity of importance only when he is together in a social structure. Together, with his society, he shares his life with others.

A grape is also something that improves when it is squeezed....... Only when the grape is squashed does it reveal it's true excellence. The same is true of a humble person. Only under pressure can we see the true worth of a person. How many people stumble and sway due to pressures. A truly humble person is able to come out of a difficult situation unscathed. "

The fact that a humble person reveals the strength of their inner self when placed in a difficult situation is so true. You can see that in the dojo when the hard training sets in: The humble karate ka has the strength of accepting themselves "as is"; their strengths, and weaknesses, and trying to seek to improve both aspects of themselves using the discipline of karate as a tool to make this possible.

I would say that, in the dojo, the 10th kyu is as important as the 10th Dan. Yes it is good to recognize, and be grateful for, the value of the experience of those who have trained before us, and that they are willing to share the knowledge that they have amassed with others. It is also good for the higher level belts to remember that they are no more than “walkers of the path” that have had a head start, and that they once relied on others to share with them. There is that mutual “going back to the basics, and going back to nature” moment within us when we realize that we all rely on the simplicity of humble black earth to support the plants that bring us food, oxygen, and life. Our world is based on the circle of mutual cooperation. The microbes in the dirt that turn dead vegetation into humus are just as important to our world as the men and women who train in karate on the grass above. The next time that you train outside, and start doing push ups, and your face is a couple of inches over the earth, you can remember your own simple beginnings, and dependence of survival on the simple creatures of the earth.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

My view of the Martial Way.

Survival. This is the quest of all life on earth. The grass strives to grow, and survive, and it will encroach on the vegtables of the garden who also contest for the space to live. A person is needed to limit the grass and say "For you, grass, it is good for your existance in the lawn, but the garden is for the vegtables." Therefore the person will do what is necessary to stop the grass from entering the garden, even to the point of killing the grass that managed to enter by pulling it out by the roots. Nature has no evil. Sheep will kill the grass to be able to eat to survive, and cougars will kill the sheep to be able to live another day. All of this is within their nature to perform. Humankind has begun to understand the delicate balance, and when too many herbivores exist, and become a danger to themselves, we allow their numbers to be thinned.

However, humankind is capable of evil. Unlike animals, we are able to take what is natural and warp it. We can choose to be selfish, cruel, deceitful, abusive, and murderous to others. In a perfect world, we would not have to learn the path of martial arts. However, we can see this from the antiquities of our history when the first caveman killed the other with a club, or in a biblical sense, when Adam and Eve's first son Cain murdered Abel out of jealousy. Evil exists, and can affect us in many varied ways. The best protection is to train for war in the time of peace... sometimes this action in itself can prevent the war from happening in the first place.

Survival is the martial way, or in other words, the art of war. We have to learn to protect, and seek for what brings us good, and to defend against what would harm us. The techniques that we learn in our martial art is totally centered on finding THE most effective way of stopping, injuring, maiming, even killing the attacker who seeks to harm us. The ART of the Martial way is to find the quickest, most efficient manner to do this type of defense. We cannot fool ourselves, karate is not a new style of dance, or just impressive board breaking demonstrations. Karate is constantly being aware, and alert to the environment around us, and protecting ourselves through our own efforts.

Yet, in our efforts to learn the art of war, we must be careful not to become that which we are defending against. We have to accept that violence exists in our world, learn how to defend against it, use violence as a tool if necessary, but in the same breath we have to remove violence from within us. Our inner heart/ spirit needs to become self-controlled, humble, peaceful, respectful, valueing life even within the smallest creature.

As Martial artists we have to support our bodies that rely on our daily positive choices to keep them as healthy as possible. We are in more danger from our poor eating habits, and lack of daily exercise than from some random attack on the street. Training in Martial arts protects us by improving our flexibility, strength, conditioning, stamina, and cardio-vascular ability. Our training helps burn off the stress that we place within us, and bring our bodies into calm rest.

This is my view of the Martial Way.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Women in disguise

Women in Martial Art History in disguise

One of my favorite Disney animated films is “Mulan” film is based on a Chinese poem called “The Ballad of Mulan”. You can find the full poem here: which was written in 5 A.D. It is the story of a young girl who finds out that her father has been called to go to war, and she takes his place disguized as his eldest son. This poem ends with the words “Two hares running side by side close to the ground, How can they tell if I am he or she?" “

That is the basis of why so many women successfully entered the armies of war, and fought side by side with men as soldiers, and were not discovered until they were injured: The fact that when someone is aiming to strike you with a weapon, you really do not worry about whether it’s a girl, or a boy under the soldier’s clothing.

Most recently in history we see an very big example of close to 500 known women being discovered as participating the American Civil war. These numbers are of known women who managed to belong to the armies, far more are assumed to have fought in that war.

A very interesting website is dedicated to that history. I’ll include some quotes here, but I encourage anyone interested to visit the website, because it has pictures of the women, of a deposition of one of the soldiers who fought beside a lady without ever becoming aware of her gender, and of one of the discharge papers for "sexual incompatibility".

“Both the Union and Confederate armies forbade the enlistment of women. Women soldiers of the Civil War therefore assumed masculine names, disguised themselves as men, and hid the fact they were female. ...

It is perhaps hard to imagine how the women soldiers maintained their necessary deception or even how they successfully managed to enlist. It was probably very easy. In assuming the male disguise, women soldiers picked male names. Army recruiters, both Northern and Southern, did not ask for proof of identity. Soldier-women bound their breasts when necessary, padded the waists of their trousers, and cut their hair short. Loreta Velazquez wore a false mustache, developed a masculine gait, learned to smoke cigars, and padded her uniform coat to make herself look more muscular.

Once in the ranks, successful soldier-women probably learned to act and talk like men. With their uniforms loose and ill-fitting and with so many underage boys in the ranks, women, especially due to their lack of facial hair, could pass as young men. Also, Victorian men, by and large, were modest by today's standards. Soldiers slept in their clothes, bathed in their underwear, and went as long as six weeks without changing their underclothes. Many refused to use the odorous and disgusting long, open-trenched latrines of camp. Thus, a woman soldier would not call undue attention to herself if she acted modestly, trekked to the woods to answer the call of nature and attend to other personal matters, or left camp before dawn to privately bathe in a nearby stream.

The women soldiers of the Civil War engaged in combat, were wounded and taken prisoner, and were killed in action. They went to war strictly by choice, knowing the risks involved. Their reasons for doing so varied greatly. Some, like Budwin and Hook, wished to be by the sides of their loved ones. Perhaps others viewed war as excitement and travel. Working class and poor women were probably enticed by the bounties and the promise of a regular paycheck. And of course, patriotism was a primary motive. Sarah Edmonds wrote in 1865, "I could only thank God that I was free and could go forward and work, and I was not obliged to stay at home and weep." Obviously, other soldier-women did not wish to stay at home weeping, either. “

I personally believe that women disguising themselves as men, and joining into battle happened very frequently for a variety of reasons throughout history. This was far greater an act of risk since revelation of their gender could cause very serious repercussions on them.

My next exploration will be of women who fought openly as Women Warriors, and developed a name for themselves on the battle field.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Daniel wants to do karate

Officially, my 7 year old son has announced that he wants to do karate. He came to class last night.

He was strong for the first half hour, but by the second one, he was showing real signs of tiredness. What could I do? Not much, but encourage him to just relax, enjoy himself, and continue trying. I explained to him that his body just has to get used to it, and that it was a good thing that he was feeling tired, it means that he was doing his best.

Friday, May 12, 2006

My first tournament as a corner judge

Last Saturday I participated in my very first tournament as a corner judge. This was a small tournament with most of the compeditors being under the age of 14 years old, and low kyu belt ranks.

What a learning experience! It is so different to be sitting on a chair for hours, and keeping alert to wave after wave of students coming up and performing their kata, or doing Ippon kumite. It seems to be SUCH a mental stress rather than a physical one. You find yourself having to assess so many things at the same time, and remembering what you just witnessed from the other contestants, and then making a comparitive decision. The hardest part is choosing the decision in the brief time it takes for the whistle to blow. Sure.. there were moments when the choice was obvious to me from the very first movement made by the white side. I'd see a lack of this or that in one person that revealed to me whom to choose. The worst moments of decision happened when the compeditors were so equally balanced in skill, power, and speed. At one point, there was a real tough choice placed before us, and the 6 judges kept choosing the "tie" option of flags. Those compeditors had to continue fighting for 3 times in a row. It was a tough decision. One person had a different strength than the other, but all in all they were so equal.

One thing that I learned about myself is that I had certain expectations of what I valued as important, and these were not exactly the same as the other judges. I also learned that I would stand by my decisions because they were the most honest ones I could make at that time with the knowledge that I had.

It is difficult to avoid going up to the compeditors after the event, and saying to them "You know.. You would have NAILED that event if only you had done this.." I found myself biting my tongue, and walking away.

There was such a feeling of investing into the training of these young karate-ka. To watch them struggle to calm their nerves, get up and perform their karate, to watch their eyes flipping from crowd, to the judges, to the floor, to the ceiling, as their minds struggled to handle the pressure. I realized how important it is for their development of concentration to have moments when they have to perform in an intensely stressful situation. Each performer walked away the the experience of applying themselves, and the benefits attached to that experience regardless of which medal was handed out.

All in all, it was a learning experience for me, and I enjoyed the whole event.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Results of an informal survey on women martial artists

The results of my informal survey comparing Women to Men in the Martial arts.

I received information from approximately 30 dojo, from 3 continents, North America ( U.S. and Canada), Europe ( England, Ireland, Scotland), and Australia.

Many martial arts styles were represented in this survey:

Shotokan made up about 1/ 4 of the responses. The next largest response came from Tae Kwon do, and then I placed all the other martial arts into a united category. I did not receive many responses from the grappling arts styles such as Judo/ Aikido... so I was unable to make a comparison in hard/ soft styles.

First question:

1. How many women train in your dojo of Kyu rank compared to men?

The overall results from this survey shows that an average dojo will have close to 45% of women compared to men. The New York City-based research firm Simmons Market Research did a survey in America which received a result that 48% women train in martial arts compared to men. Therefore my little survey results are quite close to the official one. Simmons Market Research also found out that “ for the most part, participants are young. Sixty-three percent are between 18 and 34, compared with 25 percent who are between 35 and 49 and 11 percent who are 50 or older. “ **

I did learn something interesting when I looked at the various Martial arts styles:

Overall 45% which translates to about 1 woman to 2 men.

Shotokan 77% which translates to about 3 women to 4 men.

Tae Kwon Do 48% very much meeting the overall average.

Other arts 26% which translates to about 1 woman to 4 men.

Women in North America participate at 51%, while European women are at 37%, and Australian women at 34%.

2. How many women in your dojo are of Dan level?

Overall only 26% of women training in martial arts will achieve Black belt.

A lady has a higher chance to achieve Shodan in Shotokan:

Overall 26%
Shotokan 46%
Other 27%
Tae Kwon Do 4%

According to the numbers that came in the European women ( 34%) achieve Black belt more than North American (30%) or Australian ( 5%).

3. How many Black Belt women are Instructors?

Overall 22%
Shotokan 40%
Other 17%
Tae Kwon Do 0.5%

Again, European women become Instructiors at a higher ratio ( 43%) than North America ( 22%) or Australia ( 10%)

So, according to the above results, the best place for a woman to be if she wants to become a Sensei is training in Shotokan in Europe, and the worst place would be training in Australia in Tae Kwon Do..

I’ve had various Sensei estimate from their experiences that out of 100 new white belts only 1 will achieve Shodan rank level. If I applied the information that I’ve unearthed through this survey, that would mean that (overall) out of 400 new white belt women, only 1 will achieve Black belt.

This informal survey did not have a large data base to draw from, so I would caution anyone from quoting the information contained within it. It was just a fun project. This information is being cross-posted onto a couple of forums by myself.

** quote from

What "Shotokan" means to me.....


Shoto means "The sound the wind makes whispering through the pine trees", it is the nickname that Sensei Gichin Funakoshi used each time that he did caligraphy. Sensei Gichin never wanted to "name" the style of karate that he, and his students trained in... so whenever someone would ask his students where they trained they would say "at Shoto Kan" (Gichin's place) the same way that I could say "at Sam's house".

Shoto also is the word used to describe one of the swords that the Samurai of Japan would carry around with them always. The Samurai carried two swords.. a long Katana, and a short Shoto. The shoto sword was ALWAYS on the Samurai's person. He would leave his Katana by the door, but would wear his Shoto, even he went to bed.

What does Shotokan mean to me? That I need to bring myself back to nature, and realize the powerful potential within me. Just like a wind will wear down a mountain through erosion, I can reach my goals through my persistance. Like the pine tree I have to be strong against the force of the wind, but also I need to bend with it. I need to value, and be faithful to the teachings of the founder of my art, Sensei Gichin Funakoshi. Like the Shoto sword, I need to carry my karate with me everyday, and never put it down.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Another interest

Aha.. as if I'm not busy enough. I decided to put an online survey out there in 4 different forums asking questions to gather up the results and see what the percentage is of women training in martial arts compared to men. I also wanted to see if there was any difference by how many women achieve black belt compared to men.

I think that it should be interesting to see the numbers of this informal survey. It will not be totally accurate, but it will give me some sort of view of what is happening out there in the world. I'll be sure to update this blog with my results.