Saturday, February 23, 2008

Karate in the workplace

My weekdays have been spent working as a temporary worker here and there, helter, skelter. My family needs the money so I have stepped up to the plate and embraced the demand.

Temporary workers seems to be at the bottom of the work ladder.. oh even farther than the bottom. Since we pop into the facility, and then pop out again there is no "bonding" happening. We sit by ourselves, work by ourselves, come and leave by ourselves.

I found myself longing for the chance to train in karate. My heart and soul pining for a good kata, or even standing still and doing 300 punches. Instead, I did monotonous work of placing a piece of tape individually onto a over 16,000 separate pieces of paper, or spending 2 hours sweeping a concrete floor.

I kept reminding myself of Sensei Gichin Funakoshi's precept: "Do not think that karate training is only in the dojo."

So, I started looking for moments to train as I worked ( just as I used to do when I was a stay at home housemaker). Suddenly, I found little ways of incorporating karate into my day.

When placed in a seated position to do repeditive work, I would focus on having proper posture, and deepening my breathing into my hara. I worked on smoothing out my movements so that I no extra wasted movements. As soon as I had the pattern of that sequence imbedded into my body, I would free my mind, and start to review the various requirements of the belt rank levels striving to remember each rank only by strikes, only by blocks, only by kata, etc. I would work towards remembering the various history, and Japanese terms of the various movements. I would be so centered on meditation that people would leave to go on break, and I wouldn't notice. Someone would have to come up to me, and "wake" me up. I found myself always saying "so soon?" in surprise.

When asked to pick up many 10 kilogram ( 20 pound) box of jean pants, open them, remove the pants from their packaging, and then replace them into a different box. I realized that here was a perfect training possibility. I would work towards using proper balance, and posture as I lifted the weight. I'd attempt to hold the box at different distances from my body with my arms close, with my arms extended, with my arms lower, with my arms higher, etc. I'd isolate a certain set of muscles of the arm/shoulder. In this manner I was exercising many of the different arm muscles. I considered it a form of weight lifting. In opening the jean packaging, I worked towards speeding up my hikite hand. I'd grab the packaging with my right hand, and rip towards me into the chambered position. The next package I worked with my left to balance the exercise.

When it was time to package the clothing, I found that each bag that I did required that I put a little piece of plastic into the garbage which was underneath my station. I decided to do a kiba dachi type of squat each time I put a that piece into the refuse. This allowed me to get close enough to the receptacle so that the plastic wouldn't fall onto the floor. By the end of the work day, my legs were sore from all of the squatting work.

Sweeping/mopping allows me to work on my hip rotation, and power. I tend to start the movement of the broom/mop with my hip, and then follow through with the rest of my body. I work towards a circular path. (if possible) If I have to use them in a direct linear way, then I will work towards a front stance position, and keeping my weight balanced. I found that sliding my feet in fighting stance as I worked helped me strengthen my knees, and kumite position. I even experimented with adding some backstance, crossed stance, and side stance as mopping to see if I could effectively continue with the power, and speed regardless to which stance I was using. 6 hours of sweeping/mopping allows for much experimentation, and exploration. I did work on smoothing out how I switch hand positions, working on my Bo manipulation through switching from left hand up to right hand up on the mop in mid movement.

Sure, I still try to do at least one kata during my breaks, but it's difficult to do without people catching a glimpse of it. I don't want to disturb the other people in that workplace, especially since they do not know me. The women's washrooms aren't all large enough for a good kata ( except something more compact like Tekki Shodan). I tried to do Yangtsu, but it didn't fit well in a small area. Sanchin Kata makes too much breathing noise when done well, and I find that the sudden powerful turns frighten people who just happen to be walking into the washroom. With the other kata, I can pretend that I am just stretching out my legs, or my back when someone just appears at the doorway. There is one of my workplaces that I received permission from the supervisor to do kata in an open area, if ever I work there again I have that all set up already, but I haven't had this opportunity at the other workplaces.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Bamboo plant survived!

I was worried about how my Bamboo plant would handle being in such cold temperatures for days since my furnace had broken down.

It did extremely well. See?

What does this have to do with karate, you may ask? I will answer.

This beautiful plant was given to me by my former karate students. It had been thriving in my home, and bringing beauty, good memories, and joy to me everyday.

Here is an interesting, almost prophetic, thing that happened concerning this plant. On the morning that I received the registered letter I was working in a freezing kitchen, and at the same time, I was distracted by the furnace repairman. Suddenly there was a loud crash coming in the area of the Bamboo plant. It seems that one of the pots/pans hanging from the shelf above the plant had been knocked off of it's hook, and it had fallen straight down cutting off the leaves of the third bamboo stalk. Thankfully the plant was fine. It was just missing it's third set of leaves on the shortest stalk. ( You can see that in the picture.)

I felt a pang of dismay because in Japanese tradition, I knew that 3 meant "fullness", and "happiness". Here I was with what would constitute the equivalent of 2 1/2. I would have to wait until the 3rd stalk regrows it's leaves to bring it back to it's balance.

Then, I opened the registered letter, and suddenly the symbolizm of the bamboo plant's misfortune echoed in my mind. I could see that I had been cut off from the old, and now the challenge was to grow into the new. However, it's not like the old will disappear. It is a big part of what I have become, and who I will be. I have learned what I want, how I think, and what I value in Martial arts, and I can see these values in the simple bamboo plant. Bamboo are immensely strong, and yet flexible. They thrive on as little as water for their home. They can be useful in SO many ways: you can make musical instruments, cloths, food, weapons, tools, buildings, etc. etc. out of them. From my latest experience, it also looks like Bamboo can take a beating, be thrown into a freezer for days, and still be strong, and grow. I want to be like my bamboo stalks.

That plant has now become such a potent symbol to me of all of my experiences in Martial arts, and if ever I need to choose an image to represent me I would chose a stylized image of 3 bamboo stalks with two filled with leaves, and one barren but ready to grow.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The karate lessons found in a cold house

Two days of no heat from my furnace.. ah.. it truly brings out the creative side of my karate training. As Sensei Gichin Funakoshi states "Always be ready to release your mind."

Well.. I had to do this to figure out how to keep my family warm in the intense cold weather that we have been experiencing until a new furnace could be installed.

It was no easy task as we live in a large home. Space heaters barely take the chill out of the air. I looked at all possibilities, and said to myself "One candle in the dark.. is worth much.." I used a plethora of emergency heat sources, lit votive candles, the oven, the dryer, I boiled soup for meals, and baked cookies. We walked around in parkas, and drank hot chocolate. Every little thing that could contribute some heat to the house was used.

I had the children place their mattresses on the floor of the family room, and the group of them, including me, sleeped there together with a space heater warming up just that space. It was fine until one child stole my cover, and the other child, dreaming that she was defending herself, started punching my back.

It was so cold in the house that the cat was scratching that the family room door to be let in, then she'd want to be let out, then let in again, then let out. AArgh..

Yet, the children are thrilled, and all of them are walking around saying "Mom.. this is going to be one of those memories where we all sit together in the future saying "Do you remember when the furnace broke down?"

And that is where the karate lesson struck me the most, I needed to release my mind of the assumptions, and concerns that were plaguing me, and see this moment from a different perspective. I had to see the issues from it's true vantage point to understand it, know it, embrace it, and be victorious over it. It's just like when I'm sparring. I cannot stand there thinking "If my opponent sends a front kick, I will do this, then I'm going to do that.." because I'll be so focused on him sending a front kick that I'll miss the other action. I have to release my mind, and see the potentials, and react to the moment. Now I understand a little deeper the lesson of how a karate ka needs to learn how to 'dance' with their opponent. It is by releasing the mind, and responding to what is happening.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Techical details of my belt rank in Shotokan

I was informed by my former Shotokan Instructor through a registered letter that my Shodan status has been revoked.

My Shodan was revoked for the following reasons:

a) The dojo that I was teaching at has been dissolved by circumstances of which I am unaware. I do not know the details as I have not interacted with anyone since last August when I announced my resignation.

b) When I left, I knew that there was going to be renovations of the facility so the Shotokan dojo had no location to train in until Spring of 2008. I offered my students a list of a selection of various choices of temporary training places telling them about other Shotokan dojo in walking distance that they could train at, or even other martial art clubs that were also available that they may be interested in training at.

I accept this decision of revoking my Shodan rank in this specific organization as I am no longer actively participating, nor training within that influence.

So be alerted that I do not have Shodan black belt status there.

However, I state that my Shodan status is still intact as I have received a Shodan Rank Certificate from Sensei Paul Danelutti (6th Dan Rokudan in Shotokan) last August 17th, 2007. Sensei Paul Danelutti has been intimately involved in my formation, and training since I started learning karate as a white belt under Sensei Walter Crockford. Therefore I am a valid Shodan in his organization.

In addition to this, Sifu Tim White (8th Dan)of Molum Combat Arts Association has honored, and officially recognized my rank of Shodan since my training before him in Dallas, Texas, U.S. in 2006. According to Sifu White standards, and instructions, I can promote myself as:

Mireille Clark
Shodan, MLCAA

I might have to add an addition to this as Shihan Colin Wee has recognized my Shodan on my own merit. I am an Associate Black Belt Member of HRGB ( Hikaru Ryu Gendai Budo) Dojo.

Also, Sensei Charley Porter (4th Dan Shotokan) Independence, Missouri/ Kansas City would like it known that he validates my Shodan Black belt. I have trained with him on more than one occasion. The Fall Karate camp of 2007 was my recent event.


"Mireille, as I know of you through Hanshi Tim White and Shihan Wee I would like to offer the support of the Makumasuta Ryu Dojo, and the Academy of Combative Arts in the United Kingdom & Crete to ratify and support your Yudansha rank of Shodan in Shotokan Karate in the UK.

This done under my authority as Shihan of the Makumasuta Ryu, Chief Instructor of the ACMA, UK Director of MLCAA, member in good standing of the Senior Instructors Guild, IAOMAS Instructor & examiner and soon to be Chairman of the International Association of Combative Martial Arts. I would also point out that whilst the initial investiture of a Shodan comes from a higher rank, the true authority of the grade comes from the person holding the rank.

You need no one's authority or permission to be that which you already are."