Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bamboo plants, and karate...

"He who would study Karate-Do must always strive to be inwardly humble and outwardly gentle. However, once he has decided to stand up for the cause of justice, then he must have the courage expressed in the saying, "Even if it must be ten million foes, I go!" Thus, he is like the green bamboo stalk: hollow (kara) inside, straight, and with knots, that is, unselfish, gentle, and moderate." - Gichin Funakoshi

( Quote inspired by Linden Huckle's blog The Karate Way )

Monday, October 29, 2007

Karate resources on the net

One of my favorite haunts on the net is The Martial Arts Curator forum found at:

This resource has a multi Martial art style view of kata applications, bunkai, and history. It looks at how many traditional kata have evolved in the various countries/ Martial arts styles, and works towards unravelling possible interpretations, and stimulating further research into each pattern of movement. It's amazing to see both the similarities, and differences contained within each style's version of the same kata. Filled with respectful interchange of thoughts, this forum shows forth that the future of Martial arts is linked with having an open mind, and a willingness to look beyond the walls that we have placed around us.

I believe that this Kata centered website is a rare find for the serious Taekwondo practioner, and provides them with something extra special to add to their knowledge.

I've been frequenting a Kyokushin website that is filled with interesting information, and resources.

On this site one can find various things of interest to full contact martial artists like articles, a photo/video gallery, international dojo listing of Kyokushin dojo, Kyokushin blogs, etc.

Full contact fighting has it's own challenges, and topics of discussion such as methods of helping bruises heal, for example. There is alot of information that can be helpful to any Martial artist such as which foods can help with hard training, or how much water should one consume per day.

One of the aspects that I love the most about this website is that the founder actively avoids any political martial arts issues showing a deep respect for all organizations, and various Arts.

If you are interested in Kyokushin Karate, or even just in karate related websites, I'd recommend this site.

Two of my favorite Shotokan related sites are:


I have already mentioned how wonderful a resource these two websites are for the serious karate ka regardless to what style is being practiced. Filled with information about training in the art of Karate, one can learn how to make affordable training equipement, or read interviews with inspiring people, or read about medical research being done in karate. I always find myself visiting these sites to read up on the latest information.

If only I could exhaust the amount of information available on the internet through my efforts to read everything that I can find, but this is impossible. Each day more is added, and I only have a few minutes per day to dedicate to study, training, and life. I remember my sensei telling me in a joking manner that "life happens inbetween training" For the longest time, I had no idea what he meant, but now that I hunger for more knowledge, skill, and ability, I think that I am beginning to understand.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Just loving the freedom

There is something to be said in support of cross training. I do not regret the years I spent trying to injest, understand, and survive training in two Martial Arts at one time. I sure did develop a broader perspective on how various movements could be utilized, and also, I gained a deep respect for the positives that are inherent in all of the various martial arts. I also realized that there is no way that I could learn all of the styles adequately, and that sooner or later I would have to narrow my path down to one art.

I'm finding that focusing on one direction has helped my efforts in training immensely. Oh.. there's nothing wrong with dabbling, and appreciating other Arts, but honestly, if one wants to GET somewhere with the energy that they are expending in their training, focusing in one direction is really good for the mind, body, and soul ( Don't forget finances!)

Yes, I appreciate that I was able to achieve the rank of Shodan in Shotokan karate. I value the lessons that I've learned from that art. However, as time lengthens more and more away from training in Shotokan, I'm noticing how my joints are not complaining in pain anymore. I do not feel the screams and cries of my knees, and hips after training. It used to be that 1 1/2 hour of Shotokan training would make it so hard for me to move properly for the next 6 hours as my knees would swell up, or my shoulders would feel sharp pains. I can now train for over 5 hours in Kyokushin. I get tired.. very tired.. ready to lie down, and stare blankly at the ceiling exhausted, but my joints still feel fine after the session. Yes, I get bruises, and "ouchies", but they heal within a few days, and all is back to normal.

Are my stances of any less quality? Nope. I get down in them as usual. The big difference, I have found, is the lack of "surging/ stopping" in Kyokushin. In Shotokan, I would spend so much energy shifting forwards, and backwards as fast as possible. The pain happened in the sudden starts, and stops.. not in the speed. I had to send my body as fast as possible forwards, and use even more power to STOP the forward momentum, and use control. In Kyokushin, it feels like we go forwards, and through the target, so the momentum doesn't stop at the joints.. it continues. The pain only happens when you hit improperly, so you quickly learn where, and how to position your limb for the least amount of pain to happen.

I've heard of other people discussing how they have noticed a positive effect from choosing another art over Shotokan such as Goju Ryu, Tai chi, etc. I do know that the Shotokai Karate style ( which also comes directly from Sensei Gichin Funakoshi) insist that the harsh stopping/ starting was never part of Sensei Funakoshi's instructions. Their philosophy is to move smoothly at all times. They do not even Kiai with any of their techniques as they feel that all should flow softly. Looking at how my body has improved through the past months, I cannot help but wonder.. just wonder.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Should I continue? I can see no other alternative

So many things happening that make home training even more difficult to accomplish.

Things that I want to do are being put to the side:

- Weight lifting exercises for my shoulders
- working on my handstand
- working on my kicks
- working on my sparring combinations
- working on shadow sparring
- 3 series

Other things are being emphasized:

- Belt rank requirements
- self defense combinations
- kata
- Bunkai for kata
- Bo training
- conditioning exercises

There just doesn't seem to be enough time in the day, nor enough energy in my system to meet all of the requirements being put forth.

I'm feeling an inner stress of dis-satisfaction at what is happening. Sure.. I'm meeting the needs of each moment, and I'm keeping my head afloat.. but wow! It feels simiar to that moment in the movie "The Karate Kid" when Daniel tiredly tells Miyagi Sensei that he finished the work. Miyagi Sensei turns, points out the whole yard and says "All of it?"

I do not have the potential, and freedom of youth to lean upon. I've noticed this fact lately.. I've seen people on the various Martial Arts forums saying things like "I've been training in the Arts for over 25 years now. I started when I was 8 years old." This kind of answer will not ever come from my mouth. I started Karate when I was 39 years old. In 25 years, I'll be near 70 years old. I want to still be training at that time, but I can give myself no guarantees. Now is the moment for me.. I'm only 5 years old in experience of karate, and I only have the present moment to train as much as I can.

There is so much to learn, and my body can progress only so fast without overtraining, and weakening. I cannot dedicate all of my energies towards my training, either. I have to balance the family needs, and life demands within my hopes of becoming the best karate ka that I can be. My teenager needs someone to talk to, my young son needs someone to help him with his reading, my daughter needs to go shopping for new clothes, I need to connect with my husband, I want to visit my aging mother.. and my training time is placed to the side so that I can be a Mother first.

But.. I want to compete in a Kyokushin kata competition now.. while I can.. while I have the strength, and meager skill to be able to share my love for kata, and perhaps inspire others to see the beauty contained within each movement. Not through my youth, nor my fantastic flexibility, nor my strength.. I do not see myself as having these things... but all through my spirit.. for that is what my kata offers.

I can see no other alternative than continuing to juggle the various needs, and demands so that there is balance in my life as I work towards my goal of training in karate to the fullness of my ability. I refuse to let go of any of these important things that I cherish.

Friday, October 12, 2007

I've been tagged

I got tagged by Mat.
I have to say 7 random things on me and then tag people.

1. I can recite the Greek alphabet. I learned how to do this when I was homeschooling my kids, and it's such a lovely, sing song type of thing that I haven't forgotten how to do it.

2. I love to eat Subway's Veggie Delight sandwiches. It's one of my favorite "eating out" moments.

3. I prefer wearing Gator shoes over all other shoes. I've even worn them outside in the middle of winter when there is no new snowfall on the ground.

4. I love to be helpful to others. There is just a surge of joy within me when I can do something that makes another's life just a little better.

5. I have no tolerance for rude, violent, taunting, or aggressive behaviour. Zero tolerance. This does not mean that I will attack the person, but more that I personally totally reject what that person is doing, and their attitudes. There is no hope in my home for my kids to argue, and fight. As soon as I hear negative tones, I call out "I'm not hearing a fight, am I?" and my kids all answer "No, Mom.." "Good, then settle the problem in a good way.." I'd suggest to them. Usually we will find a way to meet all of the various needs of the kids while still maintaining respect for each other... ( OR ELSE.. they face Mom's discontent.)

6. I love reading Fantasy books such as the Belgarion Series by Mr. David Eddings. What a fantastic author!! Each character in his book is so rich that they deserve their own novel! This is quite a big series, but each book that you take up is so hard to put down, and when you finish them all, you have that sad feeling of wanting more. .more.. more! I honestly hope that someone will make a fantastic movie of this series one day, and that I live long enough to see it.

7. I sang in a Radio Choir as a Descant in elementary school. It was quite a challenge for me as a young 8 year old to meet the demands of professional singing, but I enjoyed the sounds that we created when we sang together as one. I still have fond memories of those days ( Mixed in with the memories of long hours of training our voices with various singing exercises..)

I would like to tag Frotoe now.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Second day of camp

We started off the morning with a sunrise kata session. It was held by the two little lakes. It was awesome.. even with the rain falling upon us now and then. We'd get a shower of rain, and then it would stop, and then another little shower almost as if the clouds were hesitating interrupting our kata. I was doing Kyokushin kata most of the time because I didn't want to disturb all of the extra training that I've been doing towards my hopeful tournament next year.

After the kata session, we had pancakes by the fire made by the brown belts of the dojo. What a wonderful, joyful, and social moment!

Our first class that morning was by Sensei Charley Porter. One couldn't have asked for better! He brought forth the mathematical concepts of angles, and arcs. We did so many different exercises with our partners to learn about angles, arcs, and how to use them to our advantage when sparring. My partner and I were a great match. I learned so much from him, and I feel that I gave him a solid presence to work with. Magic happens when you can do an exercise with someone that you "click" with. For me, one of the most interesting concepts was when Sensei Charley started sharing about the concept of "It's all Shotokan. It's all Jujitsu." He encouraged us to look at how full training in Martial arts brings one to an understanding that at a high point in training all movements are contained in all of the arts. It was a very enjoyable class, and ended far too soon.

Sensei Miguel Araballo gave forth a class that introduced us to the idea of "tunnel vision", and paralyzation when placed in a stressed moment. He had us working towards recognizing body movement, and responding to it in slow motion. We realized how we tended to speed up when defending. We'd tighten, and move our feet all over the place. Why? Why did we feel so inclined to do so when the attacker was moving in slow motion? That was an eye opening moment. Then, Sensei Miguel brought out some homemade padding which transformed him into a mega monster villian who challenged the student to learn how it feels to be accosted, and to have a feeling of panic, get past the fear, and to defend themselves. I volunteered to be suited up in this body armour, and to be another attacker. It was really difficult to move in that armour because the helmet part weighed close to 40 pounds. I found myself having difficulty to see through the little space offered to me. I think it is because I was shorter than Sensei Miguel. Here are some pictures of me being outfitted:

For your enjoyment, I also have a video of my experiences as the Mega attacker. I can't help but chuckle at how difficult it was for me to get back up once the student had struck me hard enough to unbalance me. They only had 5 seconds to successfully knock me off of my feet.

The camp ended on a wonderful high note. Sensei Bill Thornton, the MYB Representative for the state of Missouri, came and demonstrated to us the solid understanding of directions of defense during an attack. He showed us the weakness of certain movements, and the strength of others. More importantly, he showed us how important just "getting out of the way" is above achieving a good block. After this moment, he talked to us at length about our interior attitudes in training. I feel that this lecture was of equal importance to all of the physical training that we had done in the past two days. Sensei Bill reminded us of what is important, what will continue to inspire us, and what challenges lie before us as we walk the path of Martial arts. His words tied together all of the experiences that we had of building friendships, and trust between each other.

I walked away from this camp a lot more complete, a lot more aware, and a lot more filthy with grass stains, and ground in dirt. Oh my GOSH! I've got to tell you how badly dirty my gi was!!!!! It took 3 washings with bleach to get my gi back to reasonable shape! It was raining off and on during our camp, and we trained in the rain ( no problem for me ) but doing throws onto the grass in the rain just enhances the grass, and mud stains. My kids were in shock when they saw my Gi's condition. They have never ever seen their Mom's white ironed gi look so NASTY before.

Back from the very first experience of teaching at a karate camp

My past 5 days have been astounding! I travelled down to Independence, Missouri to attend, and teach at the Hoyukan Dojo Shotokan in the park Fall karate camp invited by Sensei Charley Porter. ( For those interested in where to find Hoyukan Dojo it's located at 529 us 24 Highway just outside of Kansas City.)

My husband and I were lucky enough to arrive early, and be able to participate in an Aikido class being taught by Sensei Doug Coulas. He revealed to us some basic wrist manipulations with take downs, and then proceeded to show us the more complex possibilities which could happen. It wasn't long that my husband and I were making many different and interesting sounds as we learned which direction our bodies would go to avoid the pain.

Afterwards, Sensei Michell Barnhart included us in his Jujitsu class. ( Yes, Steve, I got some interesting experience in ground work, and the complex strategies of this Art.) To my joy, my Kyokushin Self Defense training has had many similar aspects to what I was doing so I smoothly was able to put my partner into a controlled side mount. Sensei Michell came up to me encouraging me to "finish it off". I was totally confused, my mind was blank as to what he wanted me to do. I centered on thinking.. "hmm.. I wonder which part of her he would like me to strike.. I guess I can elbow strike her jawline..." Although, my solution seemed a little bit out of what was being taught so I decided to ask Sensei for clarification. Good thing that I did so... I was supposed to get her into an arm bar. OOOOOOoooooHH!

The next day, my husband and I were allowed to visit Sensei Howard High's Kobudo class being held in Kansas City. It was great! I met this wonderful lady at the registration desk whose eyes lit up with happiness when she talked. She recognized me from reading this blog. COOL! It is such a joy to meet and greet people who have enjoyed the various things that you write. Meeting her was a real high point on my trip.

I watched the Sword fighting class and took a few pictures. With Sensei High's permission, I can post them here:

It was awesome to watch Sensei High demonstrating, and instructing various swordsmanship. He showed how the opponent can be disarmed by just a small movement. I was honored to be able to meet the person who had founded the Cyberdojo Forum that I had been reading, and posting to for so many years. His teaching style is relaxed, and intricate. He guides his students with a gentle, calm, constant, and reliable hand. His main message throughout that class was to control the eyes, and where they were looking. I was surprised how similar the main ideas were with swordfighting, and with karate kumite. It truly opened up Sensei Gichin Funakoshi's phrase of "Think of your opponent's hands and feet as swords". By watching swordplay, it's amazing how much is revealed.

After those great opportunities to train under, and watch such experienced Sensei, it was now my turn to teach. My first ever moment of teaching at a seminar/ karate camp type of event. I felt those anxious butterflies, and yet there was a solid core of confidence that I would do well because I was prepared, and I would do my best.. How can it go wrong?

I taught the very first class of the camp with so many higher belts watching me as I led the warm up. I knew that I was being assessed as to my teaching skills, and I also knew that I couldn't think about that. I had a job to do, and so I centered on sharing what I had with the students. I focused my lesson on thinking about how our bodies move, and making them do what we want them to do. I geared the warm up to include some confusing, and challenging moments similar to patting your head with one hand, and rubbing your stomach with the other. It awakened the mind into wondering "Why is it that I can do this in this way, but not when I do it in the other way?" By the end of the hour class, I had the students performing reverse blocks to defend themselves. It was challenging, and enjoyable. I walked away feeling very good with what had just happened.

Our next class with Sensei Brian McGuinness was eye opening. He took the information that I had learned from Sensei Doug into a higher level, and helped me to understand how various movements can be used in so many different ways. He took a move from a kata, and revealed three levels of defense that were possible: Nice, not so nice, and nasty. I enjoyed seeing how adding just a little tweak here or there can change the level of a self defense movement.

The last class of Saturday was taught by Master Mike Kaylor from Springfield, Missouri of the Midori Yama Budokai Association of Leavenworth, Kansas. Master Kaylor was amazing. He was both gentle, and hard at the same time. He introduced me to Low Horse stance. I have always heard about this, I have seen pictures of it, but until now I had not been able see it in action. This day, due to the great training that I get under my Kyokushin Sensei, I achieved a low horse stance, and held it for awhile. I was quite satisfied with myself. The exercise wasn't too good on my damaged right hip though, so I kept lifting up for a second, stretching the hip slightly, and then lowering back down. Master Kaylor's lesson focused on the traditional 4 wrist stretches, and their practical applications in Aikido moves. I loved how he united the two so that it was so much easier to remember and bring the information home.

The "lesson" time of the camp was over, and now was the time for fishing, campfires, hiking, and fun. My husband and I went hiking and we took some pictures.. LOOK!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Giving advice

The more that I train in Martial arts the more I question the idea that the higher belt is expected to give unsolicited advice, and correction to the lower belts.

This is a difficult position to place both the higher, and lower belt student. For example, the lower belt student could be struggling with the concepts that were placed before them by their Instructor such as keeping their arms in control during a kick. Then the higher belt comes along and brings attention to other aspects that may need correction. This shifts attention to a different aspect than the one that the Instructor had wanted to see improvement. Instead of benefiting the student, and enhancing understanding on the concept that he/she was working upon, now the student is dividing their energy to try to meet all of the expectations.

It would have been better if the higher belt just allowed the lower belt to work on themselves at the speed, and direction of the Sensei. Usually it will happen that when the mind focuses attention on the arms, then the other parts of the body may look a little awkward for awhile until everything smooths out. To have a higher belt reminding, and reprimanding about those other aspects makes it difficult to focus energy where it is supposed to be focused.

The higher belt also is putting forth energy in the wrong direction. They become more centered on the performance of others than on their own training. Instead of learning the main lesson of the day, they are worried about other things that are happening around them.

Yes, it is good to offer help, especially when the other student is struggling, and becoming frustrated with their efforts. Sometimes, all that it takes, is a little pointer in the right direction, and then the other person has an "aha!" moment. Also, it is good to point out some things that the lower student is doing that could cause injury to themselves. But I have found that it is best to remind myself that I am not the Sensei of this class, and it isn't up to me to teach my fellow students, in fact, it is my centered goal to work on my own skills.

When I was teaching as a Sensei I had a goal for each class. Let's say that I would want to work on the student's speed, and therefore I would overlook any technical mistakes that may happen as the student worked on improving reflexes. I would find it a little frustrating when a higher belt would correct a lower belt at that moment because everything would slow down. I'd have to state out loud "Please not worry about technique, or the placement of your feet, but work on your reaction speed." Also, I found that the noise, and actions of the higher belt/ lower belt was distracting to the flow of the class. There were times where, as a Sensei, I would be explaining something to the class, and I'd have to stop, and wait for the higher belt to finish correcting the other student before I could continue what I was saying. I appreciated the higher belt's concern for his/her fellow student, and of course, the higher belt would notice that he/she was being distracting, and stop what they were doing. However, the effect happened, the flow of the class was affected, and we had to regroup to continue.

As a student, when I would warm up with kata before class, I would find it distracting, and bothersome to have higher belts come up to me to correct my kata. All I wanted was to "do" the kata, enjoy the effort, and warm up my muscles before class. I was not focused on improving the kata, or perfecting it. I wanted to "sing" the kata. There are times when one just sings a song regardless to how good they can sing, and then there are times when one works on improving the singing. During these moments, I truly wanted to tell the higher belt to "keep their advice to themselves." It ended up that I just refused to do kata in front of any higher belts unless I felt inclined to being corrected. Sure, I appreciated that the higher belts wanted to help me. It was nice to see them investing their time, and energy towards helping me improve, but during those "singing" moments, I didn't want to stop, and dissect.

Therefore, I've become less generous on advice now when I train with lower belts. I assess the moment, the goal of the Instructor, the atmosphere, and the look on the face of the person across from me. I ask myself "Does this person look like they would appreciate some help at this moment, or are they intending to figure this out on their own?" If I have any doubt, I will ask the person "Would you like me to give you some help here?" To my joy, I have had more than one white belt say truthfully, and even with a touch of gratitude, to me, "No.. no.. I would like to slow this down, and figure it out by myself right now." It was wonderful to see their honesty, and to be able to respect it. Later on, when that person was ready, they would approach me and say something like "O.K.. I got that part of it, but how do you do this?"

I believe that many higher belts have a "sempai" syndrome where they feel like that have to be a teacher. I do not believe that we have this role in the dojo. The Sensei is the teacher, not us. I would like to believe that we are more like facilitators. We give the lower belt students a good example of what to do, and how to do it. We offer ourselves as supports through encouragement, and even suggestions when needed. We train hard so that we can improve our knowledge, skills, and abilities. However, we need to remind ourselves that each student is paying the Sensei to teach them because they want to learn from him/her. We are the side dishes, not the main course.