Monday, April 30, 2007

Thank goodness for hard karate classes

Oh yes.. I was thanking my lucky stars that I've had to face hard demanding "train until you drop" type of karate classes when I helped my daughter move out to her new apartment yesterday.

It wasn't the 7 hours of cleaning, and carrying boxes that affected me at all. I have to admit that it was the stairs. My body isn't used to doing alot of stairs.. not for hours at a time carrying weighted boxes. I felt my legs burning with the effort about half way through the move. I just deepened my breathing to help remove waste products, and focused on each challenge as it came. I shifted my mind away from the emotional grief that I was feeling as I thought that this was my little girl moving out from home for the first time, and focused on the task of helping her achieve her goals.

I overheard her friend say to her "Are you tired yet?" My daughter responded confidently "Are you kidding? I have two Karate masters helping me, and we are both Subway employees. We don't know the word "tired". We've just started to get working."

She was right, there was no stopping us from getting everything moved, and set up THAT day.

Today, my legs are SO exhausted.. oh man.. I feel like I've been through another black belt test both physically, and mentally... and I thank my lucky stars that I've been through similar challenges victoriously in the past.

I've got class tonight.. I almost dread the stretching part.. I know that my legs will appreciate it, but sore stiff muscles do not feel very nice during stretching.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sociology, psychology, and Anthropology in Karate

I have noticed some articles available on the internet disparaging the concept of including various Japanese rituals such as bowing, sitting in seiza, mokuso, sempai/kohai relationship, and other such things in a North American Karate club. The main idea that these articles are saying is that since most North Americans are not Japanese we should not try to imitate them, but to show respect in a "Western" manner such as shaking someone's hand, or calling out "yes sir" instead of "Osu".

In my past, before I became a mother, I took some years of University courses in Sociology, Psychology, and Anthropology. From what learning that I have acquired during those years, I would say that Japanese rituals help create a "sub culture" in the dojo. What I see happening within North American Martial arts is a creation of it's own cultural mores, and norms which is based on Japanese traditions, but has become it's own entity.

What are Cultural mores, and norms?

"Organizational culture embraces such
organizational needs as common language, shared concepts, defined
organizational boundaries, methods for selecting members for the
organization, methods of allocating authority, power, status, and
resources, norms for handling intimacy and interpersonal
relationships, criteria for rewards and punishments, and ways of
coping with unpredictable and stressful events (Schein, 1985a).
This shared culture helps to create solidarity and meaning and
inspire commitment and productivity (Deal, 1985).

Culture may operate both consciously and
sub-consciously in the organization (Rousseau, 1990; Schein, 1984,
1985a, 1985b; Wilkins & Patterson, 1985). At the surface level,
culture can be observed through examination of behaviors and
artifacts, including such things as the physical setting, rituals,
languages, and stories. At a slightly deeper, less conscious level,
organizational culture is defined by the unwritten rules and norms
of behavior, often conveyed by stories, rituals, language, and
symbols. At the deepest levels, often totally sub-conscious, lie
such things as the fundamental assumptions and core values of
individuals, groups, and the organization (Connor & Lake,
1988). It is at this deepest level that the organizational culture
can be most tenacious and most powerful (Wilkins & Patterson,

Martial arts has developed this kind of "world" where we all know that you have to do something special if you arrive late to the dojo. We all know that training involves the spirit, and by Kiai-ing with our technique we are showing forth strong spirit. These, and other concepts, are taught to us by our experiences as we train. Following the same norms, and mores helps create unity of purpose, and a feeling of belonging to the group. This is why so many different groups in our society pick a club name, a club crest, a club motto, a club handshake, a club uniform, etc. You need only think about the variety of clubs out there and you can see that each one has it's own culture built by the same interests, words, understandings, etc. A skateboarding club will have it's own actions, terminology, way to dress appropriately, and "inside" jokes.

I would offer that to do something as mentally challenging as practicing such a physical activity as Martial arts we need to create a different culture than the one in which we are comfortable. The rules, and expectations HAVE to change to allow us the freedom to learn how to break an arm, tear out eyeballs, crack ribs, etc. Doing such violent actions (even if we do them only in theory) is not normal in our everyday life. We need to be brought out of the what is "normal", and enter a place where we focus on our techniques with full attention, learn what we need to learn, and still use control so not to cause harm.

As an example, notice how the Military has created such a culture within itself. Standing at attention, shining one's boots, Yelling out "Yes sir!", speaking when spoken to, etc. These special values, and understandings allow the soldier to learn what it takes to be able to fight as a unit such as obedience to command from a superior officer. A Martial arts instructor also needs this kind of authority over the students to be able to stop a potential outbreak of severe physical interaction. In self defense, and fighting practice, aggression can be released too strongly, and the safety of the participants could be in danger.

Walking into a Dojo, and having to adapt to all of the new rules, and expectations helps form a Martial artist into new norms, and mores. Many white belts walk into a Dojo with a previous mental picture of what consists of training in Martial arts which is usually built within them by the various movies, and t.v. shows that they have seen. Suddenly faced with something that is very similar to the Japanese/Chinese/Korean traditions, but is outside of their normal behaviour helps them to transfer, and learn new skills.

In my opinion, adapting to such unique things as responding with "Osu", Kneeling in Seiza, the Sempai/Kohai relationship, and other oriental aspects of our training is very important, and even necessary to help with feeling unity with others in our organization, and with training in warfare.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Stretching before class really won't help at all...

I have been reading a variety of well known health magazines, and online information on the whole topic of stretching. The latest findings have been that the tradition of a pre-class stretching "warm up" will not reduce the risk of injury during training, and if one puts too much emphasis on stretching the ligaments, and tendons can even make muscle tears happen even more frequently. Instead of saying what has already been said in a less specific way, I've decided to cut and paste parts of an article for your reading interest. If you are interested in reading more.. you can find the whole article here:

A look at stretching and warm-ups in the past

If you have been exercising regularly for the past twenty years, you will have seen the relationship of stretching and warming up go through several distinct changes. Stretching used to be the main activity of the warm-up. In fact, the warm-up consisted of nothing else but stretches and isolated joint exercises like ankle circles, neck rolls, etc. The most common stretches then were “ballistic” stretches that were characterized by a bouncing movement. Further along, ballistic stretches were discovered to have a high risk of injury so static stretches, which have a lower risk of injury, were substituted.

Researchers then discovered that forcing a “cold” muscle to stretch could produce a whole new set of injuries. Thus was born the concept of that one needed to do some type of low intensity exercise like marching in place, jogging, cycling, etc. to raise body temperature first before proceeding on to static stretching. And that’s been the warm-up protocol ever since – do full body movements for about five minutes and stretch for another five minutes after.

Warm-up as rehearsal
About ten years ago, some exercise scientists began to question the validity of including static stretching in the warm-up as the concept of “functional fitness” started to take shape. Since a static stretch is held without moving, these scientists felt that it did not specifically prepare the body for movement. The warm- up is supposed to be a ‘rehearsal’ for the main show – the more vigorous part of your workout (whatever that may be). In other words, static stretches did not function efficiently as a rehearsal movement in the warm-up.

Why a warm-up is called a warm-up
TBody temperature needs to be raised by approximately two degrees Fahrenheit from the start of the warm-up to the beginning of the workout or game proper, writes Paula Anderson in her article, “The Active Range Warm-Up” (IDEA Fitness Edge Magazine, April 2000) to make the muscles more pliable, release joint fluid, allow for a gradual rise in blood pressure and heart rate, and quicken nerve transmissions.

Anderson makes a good analogy with breakfast porridge. If the porridge is too cold (not enough of a warm-up) the body will not make a good transition into the more vigorous part of the exercise. If the person is playing golf, he or she won’t really feel in the “groove” until the third or fourth hole. If playing basketball, it won’t be until the second quarter that the athlete will feel truly limbered up and ready for action.

If the porridge is too hot (the warm-up is too intense) the body is “shocked” into moving right away. Heart rate and blood pressure rise too rapidly, early fatigue sets in, and muscles are not given time to gradually adapt to the movement increasing the risk for muscle tears.

If the porridge is just right (a gradual well designed warm-up), performance is enhanced and optimum exercise time is prolonged.

Stretching delays the warm-up process
It appears that it is the increased body temperature that is created by doing large range of motion body movements similar but lower in intensity than the actual exercise that is the most important factor in a good warm-up. Standing still while doing static stretches does not help to increase body temperature and, therefore, is not an appropriate activity for the warm-up.
(big snip)

The right way to warm-up
Based on current research, the “right” way to warm-up is to do low intensity full body movement similar to your desired exercise or sport format for about ten minutes. This satisfies the two requirements for an appropriate warm-up – increasing body temperature gradually and specifically “rehearsing” the body for the more vigorous movement coming.

For sports, intersperse walking or light jogging with low intensity versions of the specific sports movement. For example, for tennis, go through the motions of the different swings without the racket. Don’t forget to also simulate the different leg positions that you will have to do in the game like moving laterally, lunging diagonally, etc.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Death and injury from falls

I just recently learned that I am in far more danger from falling than I am from being assaulted on the street. According to various statistics, physical injury/death from falls compared to violence occurs at a ratio of about 3 to 1. Check out the charts provided by the National Center for Health Statistics:

10 leading causes of Death:

10 leading causes of Non-fatal injuries:

As I age, I also learned that falling has a higher impact on the chance of having a good quality of life.

"During 2001/2, falls accounted for 57% (N = 114,262) of all injury admissions for all ages in Canada and contributed to over 1.4 million days in hospital, with an average length of stay of 13 days for fall-related hospitalizations." Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2004 59% of the fall-related admissions were for people over the age of 65 years. Falls, and the consequences of falling are the leading cause of death for older people. It outdoes health problems, and diseases.

Learning the proper way to break-fall could prevent SO much injury, and death for children, youth, adults, and especially seniors.

I have come to the realization that Break falls should be part of every self-defense/ Martial art training so that people learn to fall safely, and will not injure themselves through their fear of falling.

Now.. how to incorporate this aspect of training into regular classes...

.... think, think, think....

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Hollarin' out the window

Hmm.. I wonder if I spelled "hollarin'" correctly? Either way, let me explain the title of this posting.

I went to my class early, with Bo staff in hand. It was a beautiful spring day, warm, with a slight breeze, and I had anticipated the chance to do some Bo staff training in the great outdoors where I could swing the Bo at full extension without worrying about hitting various furniture. I had it all planned: Go to class an hour early, and enjoy some private training in the parking lot as I awaited the arrival of Sensei, and the other students.

All was working out rather well. Sure.. I was wearing a spring coat whose zippers jingled each time I did a move, and clunked against the Bo staff once in awhile making me cringe inwardly at the extra dings, and dents I was making on the wood. I had done my warm ups, basics, and was working on smoothing out the techniques of my Bo staff kata in moderate speed when I heard a derisive yell coming from the traffic that was driving by about 100 feet away.

A young ( perhaps 25 year old) man had made the effort to bring down his window, hang his head out of it (as he is driving) and yell derisive remarks to me about how pathetically he felt I was at handling my Bo staff. I found it quite amazing how quickly he was able to assess my skill in the few seconds that he had to glimpse me through the trees, buildings, and other cars that were driving by. I also found it amazing how many words of derision he had been able to amass, and send out in less than a breath... he did ALL this while leaning out of a car window, and still driving. Obviously he was quite skilled at insulting people and driving a car. It was quite a nice car actually.. a nice deep water blue. I thought how pretty the car was in contrast to how nasty the driver was acting.. what a contrast!

Now.. of course.. being the contemplative person that I was.. I didn't stop my kata, but continued working on my technique, and focusing on proper stance, placement of hands, exchange of grasp, flow of power.. and deep down inside my mind, and heart started thinking about why this young man had felt the need to insult so strongly.

It could not be that he actually watched my kata, and handling of the staff, because there was no time for him to see that. What he had seen was a greying old woman with a Bo staff in her hands moving slowly.. without seeing what she could do, he instantly assumed that she would be horrible.. I bet that aging people and Martial arts just couldn't fit together in his mind. He feels the need to protect the macho vibrant youthful thin and powerful image of "Black Belt" in his mind from this old lady's presence. If I was practicing something acceptable to "old" people like lawn bowling, I doubt that he would have felt the need to say anything. I just can't picture a young man screaming something like "LAWN BOWLING SUCKS!" out of his car, but then, who knows the mind of a young man concerning Lawn Bowling.

Ah.. thinking with his mindset.. here is this old lady with a Bo staff in her hands.. How dare she even hope to try her hand at martial arts.. it's an insult.. no? It's almost akin to the reaction that I get from my children's friends when they see that I like to play video games with my kids. Their instant response is "But.. but.. Moms don't play video games.." My children always respond with "Mine does.."

Guess what young man in the car who may never read this posting ( but that doesn't matter).. Let me fill you in on some true facts: Moms can, and do play video games when they want to, and old people can, and will do martial arts if they so desire.. there is no age limit to learning the art of Karate-Do. The only thing that stops us is our own will power. You are NEVER too old to do anything you want to do. Sure.. at an advanced age we have to listen to our bodies more, and accept our limitations with the grace and humility that living many years on this earth can help one to develop. Life has taught us that nothing good comes without some sort of hard work, and sacrifice, so we are ready to train in Martial arts with a patient attitude. You can yell out your insults to the wind because it's the only thing that is listening, and I'll still be practicing my kata when I'm three times the age that you are now.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Karate training saved my gi pant leg.

I had travelled to my dojo by bus. It was one of those mucky, cold, wet spring days. As I exited the bus, I noticed a patch of ice covered water, and a patch of what appeared to be sand next to it. I chose to step on the sand so that I wouldn't get my feet wet.

Ah... looks can be deceptive.. That patch of sand was really a VERY deep hole filled with some sort of mixture of rocks, gravel, water, and dirt. It was more the consistency of quick sand to be honest. I walked on that patch, and my foot instantly sunk down. My physical reaction was to shift my weight onto my back leg in an instant back stance. My shoe only sunk down about an inch and a half into the muck rather than up to my knees. The slime entered into my shoe filling my foot with freezing cold mud, guck, and water. I pulled my foot out of there feeling that sucking, pulling sensation, and hearing that awful "slurp" noise. With a groan of frustration, and a wish that someone would have placed some sort of warning near that thing ( I swear it was deep enough to drown a stray dog.) I hobbled over to the dojo building feeling my right foot squish with coldness with each step.

I was wearing my gi under my clothing ( as is my habit ) and I dreaded to look at how dirty, and slimey my right gi pant leg must be after that incident. I went into the change room, and was happy to see that there was just a little unnoticeable 1/4 inch line of mud on the very tip of the bottom of the pant leg.

WOOT! Karate reflexes, and training saved me from injury, and kept my Gi pant leg so clean that I was able to just up and join class. Sure.. my right shoe, and right sock need a good cleaning afterwards, but that's o.k.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Women at War in history: Britain's Roman Army

Too many times I have heard, or read the attitude from some men that women should not be encouraged to train in Martial arts. They argue that women are too emotional, weak, and timid to be able to be good fighters. Yet, History has given us many examples of women warriors who showed that they were quite ready, and willing to fight.

I have just recently found another example of this. So again, I have to state: SURPRISE! Women fought beside men as equals.

Women warriors from Amazon fought for Britain's Roman army

By Lewis Smith

"THE remains of two Amazon warriors serving with the Roman army in Britain have been discovered in a cemetery that has astonished archaeologists.

Women soldiers were previously unknown in the Roman army in Britain and the find at Brougham in Cumbria will force a reappraisal of their role in 3rd-century society.

The women are thought to have come from the Danube region of Eastern Europe, which was where the Ancient Greeks said the fearsome Amazon warriors could be found.

The women, believed to have died some time between AD220 and 300, were burnt on pyres upon which were placed their horses and military equipment. The remains were uncovered in the 1960s but full-scale analysis and identification has been possible only since 2000 with technological advances......

One of the sets of women warrior’s remains were found with the burnt remnants of animals. Bone veneer, used to decorate boxes, was also found alongside evidence of a sword scabbard and red pottery. The possessions suggest that she was of high status and her age has been estimated at between 20 and 40 years old. The other woman, thought to be between 21 and 45, was buried with a silver bowl, a sword scabbard, bone veneer and ivory. "