Thursday, June 29, 2006

The sickly green dragon of fear snatches me in it's jaws

During class, we were asked to do a HANDstand.

I felt the terror threaten within.. boiling inside the bottom of my bowels... but I fought it. I calmed myself with thoughts of "I have gone upside down many times now.. where's the fear? No need to fear. Nothing bad happens. I can do a Handstand! What's the difference between that, and a headstand? I just have to try. It won't hurt to try. I can do this.. sure I can."

I took the fear within me, mentally rolled it into a ball, and SHOVED it as far down into me as possible. I tried to replace it with confidence in all of the weeks of practicing at home to do headstands.

I placed my hands on the ground, kicked up my feet, and achieved a handstand with the help of a partner holding my feet. I held it too. I don't know how long, not very long, but I was there for a short while. Sure.. I felt the fear threatening to rise up, but I said to myself "I'm HERE now! What's being afraid going to do? What is the fear going to protect me from.. it's too late. Just accept that I'm doing this now."

However, when I was ready to come down from the handstand. Things went badly. I felt my weight shift quickly. I felt the distance of my fall, the terror overtook everything. I screamed, and landed in a curled up heap of shaking. I instantly took in deep breaths trying to calm myself. I stood up quickly, and fought the tears that threatened to fall from my eyes. I tried to grab the fear, and shove it back down within me.. but it was stronger than my will power. I knew that I should have been rejoicing in the fact that I managed to do a handstand, but instead I was standing there mentally sparring with the intangible dragon of fear, and it had me in it's jaws. I figured that I HAD to focus on something else, get my mind off of the fear. It was something in my mind that was causing the fear, I didn't know what was triggering it, but I knew that I had to switch the focus somehow. My main problem was finding a distraction, of being able to click my mind into another place again... the fear bubbled, boiled, and tormented me inside. It wasn't gong to let go, neither was it going to quiet down.

I stood there praying that Sensei will not ask for another inversion. I felt so weak within, so unable to defend myself against my own mind.

Class continued from there without anymore inversions.

The next day, I was attempting to practice my headstand at home ( like usual). Just a headstand, I've been doing so many of these, it should be easy. I went into position, and tried to kick my feet up over my head. The panic hit! The same as if I had not spent the past 2 months working on my fear. The panic was so strong that I couldn't kick my feet up anymore.. I could barely get them off of the floor. I knelt there in front of the wall feeling so much disappointment.

My thoughts were rather angry actually, they more like "WHAT! No way! I'm back to the beginning with this, just because of one handstand! (*Insert your choice of swear words here*)"

I remembered how my Sensei had told me about "anchors" and how athletes will bring themselves to a positive frame of mind, and then anchor it with a physical movement. I really didn't know how to do this. I knelt there thinking.. "What "anchors" me?" Then I remembered that song "The voice of truth" that I enjoy so much, and how I always feel strength when I listen to it. So I started singing it to myself. Yep. I knelt there facing the wall in ready position to do a headstand, and I was singing into my knees. I'm so glad that there was no one present to witness this.. ha ha ha.. When I reached the words "Out of all the voices calling out to me, I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of Truth." I felt a calmness go across my mind like a smoothing hand.

I kicked up, and smoothly went into a headstand. I held it for a good 2 minutes, and then just as calmly I descended. No fear, no panic.. none. It worked.. O.K... good.. but I can't stand there singing a song to myself whenever I'm afraid in karate class. Can I ?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Martial arts : physical or mental?

"Many beginners and intermediate belts may think that martial arts equates to pure physical effort. This is a mistaken idea. Once you think MA is about pure effort, you're not far off thinking blind effort is the prime objective of your art. No high performing athlete uses pure fitness. In fact it is generally understood that high level sport or peformance is 99% mental - as in your performance is dictated by mental tenacity and your mental 'game'. In my school we use several exercises to get people out of the 'programming' that may occur whilst working out in a gym, or with weights, or doing aerobics. These exercises prompts a person to think whilst doing drills. No switching off the mind here. My aim is to produce a thinking martial artist from the beginning. If they then want to train further for breaking, or marathon sparring, or cross country kata, well ... hopefully they keep their wits about them and figure out that the mind-body bond is very important. In short, the decision to start something or push yourself hard is extremely important. But your instructor and coach (or yourself) should have the wherewithal to pull yourself back if you're putting too much into it. If you're getting grumpy for not squeezing in that workout or if you're not in the mood to see even good friends, or if your social life is suffering ... chances are you are not balancing your priorities. If you get this kind of tunnel vision, it may affect your survival in a situation where you need as much quick thinking as quick kicking. :-) " Renshi Colin Wee (

Sunday, June 25, 2006

O.K... 2 1/2 minutes upside down achieved.

Yes.. this morning I did it. I was able to get into a headstand position ( by myself with no support except the wall behind me), and hold the upside down-ness for 2 1/2 minutes.

Sure.. I came out of it shaking, shivering, quivering.. terror stricken.. but I DID it!

Sure.. it wasn't long that the tears flowed, and I needed to cry it out... but I DID it!

Sure... It took a loving hug from my daughter, and a good dozen deep breaths to calm myself.... but I DID it!

My first goal? 5 minutes headstand WITHOUT the terror. Achievable. I just have to keep the pressure on myself to continue facing the fear, and going past it.

My second goal? Handstand, even if just for a few seconds.. UGH... my heart quails at that one. ( I think that I'll go back to the first goal.) Just my hands! Just my hands touching the ground? It can't be that different from balancing on my feet, right? Feet aren't that much bigger than hands.. and I'm not afraid of standing on my feet. BUT.. Feet were built to be stood upon!

My third goal? Handstand for 5 minutes. Yeah sure.. sure.. It's possible. I just survived 2 1/2 minutes. If I can get past the whole balancing on my two hands part... oh GOSH!

My fourth goal? Handstand with 10 push ups. Oh Man! Will I EVER be able to do this one?

My fifth goal? Handstand on my knuckles.. oh heavens.. not even a slight daydream within me of reaching this level. But I give myself permission to "go for it".

AARGH... I really dislike fighting phobias.. what an awful place to be!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Positives and Negatives


I was walking down the street with my 15 year old son. We were coming up to a fenced yard that contained within it a large dog. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that the gate of the fence was open, and that the dog was running towards it to come and attack us. My arm calmly, quickly, and exactly reached out, grasped the top of the gate, and had pulled it closed before the dog had moved less than 2 feet. The dog crashed into the closed gate barking, and showing teeth.

I kept walking on calmly. My son looked at me with a face filled with AWE "Mom! That was so COOL! You are so SENSEI - like. You just did that so quickly, so relaxed.. like it was nothing. I didn't even see your arm move. "

I just smiled at him and said "When you are alert to your environment, it's easy to react quickly."

"That's just what a Sensei would say, Mom! You are a real black belt!" He answered. He was still walking with stars in his eyes from that moment all the way to our destination.


Terror. Total heart stopping fear that makes you pace up and down in the room for minutes before you have to face that moment again. Panic.. telling yourself out loud "I can do this.. I can do this.. I must.. it's o.k... I won't get hurt.. Nothing bad will happen.. I WILL do this!" Then you get into position, and.. just stay there.. fear freezing your every breath. Thinking "I have to do this.. I chose to do this.. I'm going to do this.. all I need is to move.. come on.. one foot.. just one more time.. and then you've done it for today.. "

What am I talking about? What has brought me to the point of phobia?

Inverting upside down. Yep.. doing a head stand. No one else in my dojo is brought to tears by this exercise, but each successive time that I do it, the moment is worse for me. I have learned something though. I learned that when you are crying, and you are upside down, your nose feels stuffy like as if you have a cold. I didn't know that before.

It's part of my next belt rank test. I have to be able to hold a handstand for 3 minutes. HANDSTAND! I barely can get into the HEADstand position without panic. My stomach sinks as I watch the others doing it. My heart races.. and then me... me... oh gosh.. not me.

I turned to others asking for advice as to how to progress into inversion.. baby steps.. But I was told that there aren't any.. you just DO it. One minute you are normal, the next you are upside down. That's it. TERROR!

Inversion is actually very good for you, I researched it on the internet. Alot of yoga positions are upside down. Lots of health benefits.. This knowledge did NOT stop the panic though.

I won't fall down, and hurt myself. I'm only a couple of feet away from the ground, I can easilly catch myself, and control the descent. I even have my husband holding my knees so that I can land softly. Did this stop the fear? NOPE.. just as strong.. even building up each time that I practice at home. Blind hidden inner panic that starts as soon as even the suggestion of inverting is introduced.

AARGH! The stupid awful hidden fears within that just show up and make life unbearable for nonsense. Real fears that just control your mind, heart, and body for things that really have no dangerous aspect to them. I can't shake the fear.. I've faced it day after day, week after week, fought it, forced it, and hoped that through constant exposure it would die down and allow me to invert in peace. But NO! It strengthens.

The fear will not win. I have fought my fear of water, and I have won. I have fought my fear of elevators, and I have won. I have fought my fear of dentists, and I have won. I have fought my fear of sparring, and I have won. I will continue fighting this fear of inversion, and it's going down. For some reason it is a stronger opponent than all the other previous ones combined, but that will not stop me.

There is a song that I listen to which helps me in these moments. It is a contemporary Christian song called "The Voice of Truth". Seeing that in Kyokushin, I strive to live up to the "Ultimate Truth", this song really speaks to me. Here are the lyrics for those of you that might be interested:

"Voice of Truth"

Oh what I would do to have The kind of faith it takes To climb out of this boat I'm in on to the crashing waves
To step out of my comfort zone Into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is And He's holding out His hand
But the waves are calling out my name And they laugh at me Reminding me of all the times
I've tried before and failed The waves they keep on telling me Time and time again. "Boy, you'll never win!"
"You'll never win!"

But the Voice of Truth tells me a different story The Voice of Truth says, "Do not be afraid!"
And the Voice of Truth says, "This is for My glory" Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of Truth

Oh what I would do to have The kind of strength it takes to stand before a giant With just a sling and a stone
Surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors Shaking in their armor Wishing they'd have had the strength to stand But the giant's calling out my name And he laughs at me Reminding me of all the times
I've tried before and failed The giant keeps on telling me Time and time again. "Boy you'll never win!"
"You'll never win!"

But the Voice of Truth tells me a different story The Voice of Truth says, "Do not be afraid!"
And the Voice of Truth says, "This is for My glory" Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of Truth

But the stone was just the right size To put the giant on the ground And the waves they don't seem so high
On top of them lookin' down I soar with the wings of eagles When I stop and listen to the sound of Jesus
Singing over me

But the Voice of Truth tells me a different story The Voice of Truth says, "Do not be afraid!"
And the Voice of Truth says, "This is for My glory" Out of all the voices calling out to me (calling out to me)
I will choose to listen and believe- I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of Truth

(Written, and performed by Casting Crowns)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Teaching karate from a wheelchair

I found this wonderful article today about Sensei Clay Johnson. He
describes what the reaction is when people enter his dojo and ask
for the Karate Instructor....

"...... when they walk in, they see a guy in a wheelchair. Then they
ask to speak to the instructor. I reply, "You are speaking to him."
Sometimes people just turn and leave. Most of the time, I get
strange looks and they ask questions about the class. Sometimes,
they don't ask the questions, but the look on their faces asks for

How does this Sensei teach martial arts, stick, and knife fighting
from a wheelchair?

"My teaching style includes breaking down everything to the bare
essentials. I ask my students to try and picture in their minds what
I'm asking them to do, and then do it, and it really works."

He was born with Cerebral Palsy. He has no left ear, very thin legs
that twist to the right, and a right arm that had difficulty moving.   
He had to survive over 30 surgeries on his legs, feet, and jaw.
Teased constantly as a child, he was taunted unmercifully, and
beaten for his lunch money.    He watched the "Kung Fu" series, and
felt a connection with the Caine character. Later, when he was
around 10 years old, he witnessed a disabled man with no legs
demonstrating martial arts, and defeating 5 able-bodied opponents.
Inspired, Sensei Johson went on the search to find an instructor. It
was difficult for Sensei Jonson to find someone willing to teach him.
However, he found Sensei Eddie Thomas who accepted him as a
student.   Within 5 years of training, Sensei Jonson achieved black
belt. At 44 years of age, he has trained in Martial arts for over 20
years, and has his own dojo since 1987.

"Johnson tolerates no laziness. "If you want to trade places, you take
this chair and I'll take your ability and go off," he will tell a slack
student. "

On Friday, Nov. 21st 2003, Sensei Jonson was inducted into the
American Freestyle Karate Organization's Hall of Fame.

For the full articles, please click:

Here is a video showing Sensei Jonson teaching a class:

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The rank rainbow

Many Martial artists have heard the explanation for the different rank colors that are found in Karate. Some people have wondered where the whole idea of changing a student's rank color originated. I have heard people claim that the belt colors were created for the money that a Sensei can get from his/her students for each succeeding test. The "revenue rainbow" is a sarcastic term for it. History is that Sensei Gichin Funakoshi, the Founder of Shotokan karate, was the first Sensei to award Karate Black Belts to his students. He was inspired by Judo Sensei Jigoro Kano. I quote:

"This much we know for certain: On April 12, 1924, Gichin Funakoshi, the "Father of Modern Karate," awarded karate's first black belt dan upon seven men. The recipients included Hironori Ohtsuka, founder of wado-ryu karatedo, Shinken Gima, later of gima-ha shoto-ryu, and Ante Tokuda, Gima's cousin, who received a nidan (second degree) black belt. Like Gima, Tokuda had trained extensively in Okinawa before coming to Japan proper. The others were Kasuya, Akiba, Shimizu and Hirose. This beginning was a highly personal, yet formal ceremony in which Funakoshi is said to have handed out lengths of black belting to his pupils. Still there is no evidence that Funakoshi himself had ranking in any budo under the dan/kyu system.

Actually, Funakoshi was greatly influenced by Jigoro Kano, aristocratic founder of judo, and originator of the dan/kyu system. Kano was a highly respected individual, and Funakoshi prided himself on being an educated and "proper" man who rightly believed that he was acting correctly. Kano's system was not only being applied to judo, but to other budo as well under the aegis of the Butoku-kai and the Japanese Ministry of Education. Funakoshi, then, just adopted the order of the day: a ranking system officially sanctioned by Japan's greatest martial arts entities. Funakoshi's own rank was of no consequence, since it seems that belt ranking was really just something for the students, not for headmasters. "

One of the legends of the color change is that the white belt becomes soiled with the yellow of sweat, the green of grass stains, the red/ orange of blood, and the dark brown of dirt as you progress in the art. This visualization might appeal to some of the men in my aquaintance.. that old "grunt grunt.. Hunh!" macho don't be afraid to get down, and get dirty perspective.

However for me, I have developed a personal impression of the color changes, which I do not mind sharing with others. It is based on energy ( Ki / Chi) ......

White: The fullest potential of all energy, not used yet, but available. Like the bright whiteness of the Sun that we cannot look at directly without harming our eyes. A white belt has all the potential within, they only need to learn how to direct the energy. (Sun)

Yellow/ orange: The student starts to learn how to apply their energy outwards. Just like the color yellow is in the center of a rainbow, you can see that the student is perceiving the various spectrums of the techniques, and stances. (Spectrum/ Rainbow)

Green: The student starts to absorb the energy, make it part of themselves, and use it productively. Like green plants, the techniques start to flow more naturally, with less thinking and more doing. (Grass)

Brown: The creativity, and ability to use the majority of the energy being absorbed, and produced. With a solid connection to the knowledge of who they are, and what they are capable of, the brown belt strives to grow even higher like a tree not letting the earth put a limit to their goals. (Tree)

Black: The fullness of absorbtion of energy... all of it being used effectively, and not wasted. Movement, and stillness at the same time.. like space. Filled with energy, yet no longer is it needed to have the energy visible. Ability just becomes present without fanfare. Then the black belt recognizes another Sun of potential within him/her.. and starts back to white. (Space)

(Can also be found on my good friend's "The Martial Arts Curator" forum: )

I prefer my own spiritual visualization of the color change over the soiled stained version.. but until recently I'm the only one that has seen the rank color system in this way. I share it with you so that you can join me in seeing the joyous inspiring thoughts of the cycle of energy.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Giving yourself permission to "go for it"

"Doctors and scientists said that breaking the four-minute mile was impossible, that one would die in the attempt. Thus, when I got up from the track after collapsing at the finish line, I figured I was dead. "
~ Roger Bannister (After becoming the first person to break the four-minute mile, 1952)

The day that I realized that my autistic son needed to homeschool for him to learn, and cope with life, I felt deep inner terror at the responsibility of not only being his mother, but also becoming a teacher. I had to give myself permission to attempt the impossible, face the challenge, surmount it, and do what needed to be done.

The first time that I stood in the dojo, and realized that I was going to attempt learning karate, I was frozen in fear of failure, of rejection, and of ridicule. I drew on that inner core of strength I had developed through facing the challenges of homeschooling my children to find the strength to get in that line up, and join class in spite of my misgivings. I had learned that I had to be willing to make mistakes, learn from them, and grow.

The first time that I was asked to do a handstand, I felt an inner cringing.. but this time I was familiar with the challenge to get beyond my inner fears, and to allow myself permission to "go for it". I realized that falling down is part of learning to walk, and coloring outside of the lines always happens when you learn how to color. In fact, no one learns without having to get past their barriers, and limitations. The only thing that we are perfect at doing the first time we attempt to do it would be our reflex actions. It does not take any effort on our part to blink when something is heading towards our eyes, but it does take concentration to keep your eyes open when a fist is heading towards your head.

It is our attitude within that helps us take things in a positive way, and bring excellence out of ourselves.

The Dojo Kun exhorts us to "Endeavor to excel." AH... now I can understand how excelling in anything means being willing to strive for what we think is not possible, but we give ourselves permission to "go for it" anyway in spite of errors, fears, and misgivings.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Body language speaks louder than words

My Sensei has always encouraged us to look at what message we are sending by our physical demeanor. Example: Looking like a victim by hunching our shoulders, bowing our head away from someone, and avoiding eye contact.

My curiousity was aroused by his teachings. In Psychology, I had learned that body language such as tone, physical placement of the body parts, and physical distance between people accounts for close to 65 percent of the message. Our spoken word only gives about 35 percent of the content of the ideas.

As a mother of an autistic son, I have had to become more aware of the messages sent by our body language. I had to teach my son even the most basic actions that people take for granted. For example, that avoiding eye contact with another person (in our north american culture) has many negative messages such as "I'm afraid of you", "I'm not talking to you", "I do not wish to speak/listen to you", "I reject you". I had to instruct my son to "look at me" when he was talking to me so that he learned to do this everytime he wanted someone's attention. Although, my son Kenny was innocently avoiding eye contact with people, he was sending negative messages to those who did not know him. After years of correction, Kenny now will constantly give positive social cues to people when he meets them. This has improved his life immensely.

Body language affects our daily interractions. It can help make a potentially violent situation worse, or calm it down. I am thinking of making a separate thread on that topic.. "using body language for self defense" so that we can look at that aspect of our training also.

As we consider Body language, we have to remember that it is taught by culture. For example, avoiding eye contact is considered the deepest sign of respect amoung the Native Canadians. In their traditional culture you do NOT look at an elder directly in the eyes, it is disrespectful, and rude. I have experienced being with some Native Canadian children who continue this tradition. However, this is another topic all on it's own. I'd like to focus on the whole aspect of sending unintended negative messages to others through our silent body language in this thread.

Some of the ways that we can send a negative message to others are:

a) Putting our backs towards a person when sitting or standing so that they feel excluded from a group rather than everyone facing each other in an inclusive way. You can notice this in a group of friends gathering together, they will automatically create a circle so that they can see each other's faces, and read each other's body messages. When you place your body so that you cannot see the other person you are telling them "You are not important, and are unwelcomed."

b) Avoiding eye contact. This is a strong message to the other person that something is going well in the conversation, or is amiss between the two speakers. There are MANY messages sent by the connection of our gaze, by how long the length of contact is, which way our eyes move, and when we break contact. One example is the positive "locking" of the eyes with those to whom we are very attached. If we tried to lock our gaze with a stranger, it would be taken as "staring", and as a challenge. We give away our emotions, our attitudes, our understanding, and even whether or not we are speaking truthfully. It is important to give a person just enough eye contact to build a relationship, but not too much to make them feel uncomfortable. The good news is that each person gives off body language that alerts us to just how much contact is good for them.

[i]"RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. We generally begin an utterance by looking away and end it by looking back at the listener. While speaking, we alternate between gazing at and gazing away (Nielsen 1962, Argyle and Dean 1965, Kendon 1967). 2. There is more direct gaze when people like each other and cooperate (Argyle and Dean 1965). 3. People make less eye contact when they dislike each other or disagree (Argyle and Dean 1965). 4. In primates, the unwavering gaze evolved as a sign of dominance and threat (Blurton Jones 1967, Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1975), while gaze avoidance originated as a submissive cue (Altmann 1967). 5. "The [Bushmen] children often used to stare at each other until finally one gave up, by averting the eyes, lowering the head and pouting" (Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1975:184). 6. "When the subjects gazed at the interviewer's eyes, the hand self-manipulations of the subjects increased, reflecting the upsetting effects of monitoring the interviewer's face during interaction" (Bod and Komai 1976:1276). 7. Direct gaze (along with forward body and smiling) is a trustworthy sign of good feeling between new acquaintances (Palmer and Simmons 1995:156).[/i]

c) Placing physical distance between us and the other person. There are many messages that are sent by how far you stand, sit from someone. You can say "I accept you, and I am comfortable with your presence beside me", " I want to dominate you", or "stay away from me, you frighten me", or "I dislike you.. keep away." all with how much distance you place between you and a person, and how consistent this distance remains when interacting. What is very important is to come into a good distance wherein one is open to interaction, but not enforcing it. The action that really sends out a "stay away" message is when a group of students form a closed circle. There is a big "Do NOT disturb, you are not welcome here.." message being sent by that closed circle even if that is not intentional.

d) Positive/ negative tone of voice. The tone of our voice sends a stronger message than the words that are being said. My children enjoy reading the subtitles of the Japanese anima rather than listening to the dubbed english because they tell me that the tone of the Japanese voice actors cue them into what the real emotions are in that moment of the cartoon. Tone of voice reveals the true message of what is being communicated by that person. Really awesome actors can apply various tones to affect the outcome of a performance. So the words "I like you" can actually mean the opposite just by the tone expressed.

A dojo will receive quite alot of new students that come in to join, and learn karate. The body language of the main regular student group can make the newcomer feel acceptance, or rejection within the first few minutes of interaction. It could be possible that even regular students that train together frequently could be sending messages of rejection, and unacceptance to each other through their body language. Being aware of what our body language is saying, and choosing to help others feel comfortable in the dojo is part of the promise that we make to ourselves when we say that we will " respect others" during our dojo kun.