Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lost In Translation


I hear the words.

I understand the concepts.

My tai chi instructor describes the techniques in detail. He teaches using visualization and analogies. He discusses the physics of the movements and the anatomy of the joints.

We practice and are told to feel the techniques...to understand our movement is to understand the opponent.

I practice.

Somewhere between my mind and my body....it is lost in translation.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I Should Have Paid Attention During High School Physics!


My Tai Chi instructor asked "Do you know what a vector is?"

Blank stare followed by a flashback to AP Physics class in high school. Science was not my strong point in high school. I was in the AP Physics class because it was the only science class that would allow me to take AP English and Literature. I was the only student in the class who was not taking Calculus. It was a lose/lose proposition from the start. Thank goodness the class was graded on a hefty curve. I would say "I am never...ever going to use physics!"

Last night in Tai Chi class, our lesson on push hands was all about physics.

From The Physics Classroom:
A study of motion will involve the introduction of a variety of quantities which are used to describe the physical world. Examples of such quantities include distance, displacement, speed, velocity, acceleration, force, mass, momentum, energy, work, power, etc. All these quantities can be divided into two categories - vectors and scalars. A vector quantity is a quantity which is fully described by both magnitude and direction.

Sound familiar? :)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Responses to Do Black Belts Have To Teach?

Thank you for the excellent comments on the previous post Do Black Belts Have To Teach?

Please check out the following responses/related posts.

Dan from Martial Arts and Modern Life wrote Do Black Belts Have To Start Their Own Class?

Colin discussed Teaching Traditional Taekwondo Techniques

ElizasMom wrote Those Who Can, Teach

Thank you!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Do Black Belts Have To Teach?

A month ago, I wrote a post which asked "Once a black belt...always a black belt?" The comments on this post were thought provoking and insightful. Becky from Fine Martial Fiber wrote:

I don't believe one should be required to teach to maintain his
(her) rank.

Her comment was a source of discussion in the dojo among the black belts. Are black belts required to teach? Does one have to teach to advance? When did you know that you wanted to be a teacher?

My Story

My husband started training three years before I did. He was a brown belt student when I walked on the dojo floor for the first time. He always wanted to teach and knew he wanted his own dojo. He would lead class as a brown belt and many of his peers would come to him to learn material. The fact he would become an instructor was obvious and inevitable.

I was the complete opposite. The thought of becoming a karate instructor never entered my mind. When I tested for Shodan, I was asked if I wanted to teach. I would always respond with....

NO.

I had absolutely no intention of teaching.

How did I become an instructor? I would like be able to pinpoint when it happened but I cannot. I did not wake up one day and decide I wanted to teach. It just happened. I knew I wanted to give back and share the information I was taught. I enjoyed guiding the students.

In regards to Becky's comment, I agree with her. I do not believe a black belt should be required to teach. If I was required to teach as a young black belt, I probably would not be training today. I wonder if the people who kept asking me if I was going to teach saw something that I did not.

Perhaps it was more inevitable than I realized...

Thank you to the readers and to those who comment on my blog.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Well....You Didn't Fall Down"

I returned to Tai Chi class tonight.

At the end of class, the senior student said to me "You did good tonight." I must have gave him a look of uncertainty because he then said "Well...you didn't fall down."

It was a good class. We practiced the Yang long form and the instructor discussed the importance of moving from the hip.

It sounds so simple but I find it difficult to execute.


Some key points from class:

The instructor discussed that if you know your body you will know your opponent.

Relax and punch through your opponent.

The hip is the handle of the whip.

Practice isolating a joint's movement.

Go inside.

So much information.....

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Snow in PA



I took the afternoon off and went to a local park with my Daughter and my Dad. With glue guns in hand, we attended a session to make natural ornaments from items found in the forest. No surprise...my daughter's ornaments were the most creative.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Getting Out The Clipboard

On Wednesday, I was back in the dojo teaching my regularly scheduled classes. The first night we worked on basics and bo techniques. The second night....

I got out the clipboard.

We have a group of 1st kyu brown belts in the dojo training for black belt. They are a good group who have been training together since white belt. I also need to mention...they are family members. The father and son of the group walked into class...saw the clipboard...and just knew. I handed a clipboard to the other class instructor and then sat down in front of the class. Since I was out of the dojo for for few weeks, I wanted to get a handle on the students training. I wanted to determine, as a class instructor, what the focus should be over the next few weeks. The class did all the weapon and open hand kata up to the Shodan requirements.

The students are occasional readers of this blog and I want them to know..."You did a good job!"

Observations and Key Points:

1. After the students demonstrated the required material, the other class instructor and I compared our notes. They were identical. Very cool. We teach separate classes and have different teaching styles but we are consistent. This is good for the students because there is very little "well....X does it this way and Y does it that way...how is it supposed to be?"

2. Make the most of your time in the dojo. You are what you train. If you walk through material, your material will reflect it.

3. Be concerned about your own training. This can be tough for anyone that trains with family or friends. I am not saying that you should not help each other but make sure you stay focused on what you need to do to improve. Have confidence in your friends and family members and expect them to focus on their training too.

4. It is the little things. Small improvements can make big changes in the appearance of your kata.

5. Receive the information. Really listen to what your instructors are saying and how it applies to your material.

I am looking forward to the next few months in the dojo. Brown belt is an exciting time for students and for the class instructors. To the brown belt students in this dojo...remember to enjoy this time in your training journey.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tai Chi Update

My husband picked up the phone and handed it to me. My Tai Chi instructor was on the line. He told me he did not think I would be there but he wanted me to know class was cancelled for the week. My instructor knew I worked for a company specializing in Christmas tree stands, tree drills, balers and tree lot supplies. He did not seem surprised by my absence.

I told him that I was not in class but I was not "gone". I have been part of the small class for a year. Many people have tried an intro class but so few stay.

He replied simply....I know.

I hung up the phone with a sense of relief. Returning to class next week will be no problem...like business as usual. I must admit the thought of returning to class was a little daunting. Did they think I quit? I kept wanting to call but did not get a chance...then I felt bad about not calling.

As a class instructor, I know what it is like to wonder where students have gone and if they will return. This brief phone call eliminated any hesitation about my return.

I will be back in Tai Chi class next week.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

When There Is No Time To Practice

What happens when there is simply no time to practice karate?

Over the last five weeks my life has been work, work and more work. My non-work time is spent with my family. I can only list a few trips to the gym and a handful of nights in the dojo.

The company I work for does 90% of their business in the month of November. All the other months are spent preparing for this time of year. I know the change in work hours is only temporary. Yet each year I want to try to do it all....work, family, martial arts and the gym. This year I realized that trying to maintain my regular schedule would be impossible. I decided it was OK to be in the dojo less and go to the gym less. I knew my schedule was temporary. There was simply no time to practice.

Last night I was back in the dojo. To say it was good to be back on the floor training is an understatement. We worked on open hand kata, bo and kama. Over the next week, I need to catch up on housework and a few weeks of mail piling up on my desk. My regular schedule should return just in time for the holiday season.

How have you handled times when there is no time to practice?

This year I accepted it...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

NYC - Statue of Liberty - Photos


Spiral staircase inside the Statue of Liberty








Great day in NYC! The weather was 58 degrees which is a big difference from last year.

Regular posting to resume in a few weeks. Next week will be my busiest week at work all year. Thanks again to all those who read and comment on my blog.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Long Time - No Post

Wow....it has been a while since I posted. First, I had a computer problem which turned out to be a burned out CPU fan. The other reason for my lack of posting is the long hours I am spending at work. I work for a company that manufactures Christmas Tree lot items. Ninety percent of our sales for the year happen in the month of November.

So what has been going on....


Work...

My daughter and I went to see a Miley Cyrus concert in Philadelphia.

My daughter finished her soccer season. It was a miserable season. More on this topic later.

....and more work. Even though I am exhausted, I am very glad I have a job.

Next week, we are going to NYC for the day. We are going to visit the Statue of Liberty. Even though we booked our trip months ago....we only have tickets for the pedestal museum. I wonder how far in advance we need to book in order to go inside the statue?

Karate practice has been going very well. We are working on kata, bunkai and sparring in the dojo. Sparring is the only activity that makes me worry about my knee. I find this weird because it is not how I hurt my knee.

I have not been to Tai Chi class for several weeks. :(

Thank you to all the readers and to those who leave comments on this blog.

Thanks again,
Michele

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Once A Black Belt...Always A Black Belt?

I have been thinking a lot about the subject of being a black belt. Last week in the dojo, my husband had an excellent discussion with a 1st kyu student about the process of being a black belt. Yes, there is a test, a list of requirements and long hours needed in the dojo. But, there is something more. It is the hard to describe, intangible quality that he referred to as "becoming" a black belt. It is something you know...when you see it.

I think of students who passed through our dojo and earned the rank of black belt. Some students continue to train, learn and teach. They have become my training partners and together we continue to learn and explore.

Other students quit a few weeks or perhaps months after receiving their belt. I imagine their belt hanging on a display like a prized trophy. It was something they wanted to acquire not become.

I believe there is another group. The students trained, earned their black belt but for some reason (family, work, school, injury) can no longer actively train. Even though they do not walk through the dojo door on a weekly basis, I still consider them part of the dojo. They "became" a black belt. The lessons learned in karate class became part of who they are and shaped the person they became. These students could step on the floor at any time and be a black belt. Sure...they may need to re-learn the patterns or the drills but the essence of their training and study is still part of them.

What do you think....once a black belt...always a black belt? If the training stops... should the rank stop with it? Or does it depend on the person and if they actually became a black belt rather than acquire one?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A New Belt - Part II

I first wrote about my obi over a year ago. In May 2009, I decided to buy a new belt. My new obi has arrived but not after a long history. I never knew how hard it was to order a custom made belt. The belt has embroidery on both sides. The belt must be split open, embroidered and then closed back up. Even my engineer husband's detailed drawing indicating the placement of the name, style, patch and stripe was not enough to guarantee a correct belt.

The first belt arrived incorrect. The patch and stripe on the wrong side. The stripe was angled in the wrong direction and the manufacturer's logo was prominently displayed on the front of the belt below the name. It was simply unwearable.

At first I wondered if the new belt was not meant to be. I called the manufacturer and they immediately told me they would correct the belt. I sent back the belt marked up with corrections. After four months, three emails, two phone conversations and a photo sample, the belt was ready to ship.

I received my belt in the mail today. It is correct!

I only have one question. How long will it take to get used to?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The T Word

During the course of my karate training, the T word is not usually discussed. It was something that happened or something that you were told. I have mixed feelings about the T word. You see, I remember anxiously waiting for the word as a kyu rank. The dates were posted on the dojo calender so everyone was aware of the possibility but it was not a topic of conversation. As a young kyu rank, I may have hoped but I never expected.

I earned a black belt and the T word took on a different meaning. As a black belt student, the T word is my reminder of how much there is to learn in comparison to what little I actually know.

I became an instructor and the T word changed completely. The focus of class and training time shifts to preparing others. In our dojo, the head instructor makes the final decision. As a class instructor, my role is to recommend.

There have been brief times in our dojo that I held the responsibility for the T word. My husband's injuries and surgeries sometimes prevented him from being in the dojo. I have witnessed the range of student reactions from happy and proud to disappointed and angry.

I am sure you know the word I am referring to....TESTING.

Even now...I must admit...I am slightly uncomfortable writing about it.

It is meant to be between the instructor and the student.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Remember to Thank Your Training Partners

I had the good fortune to workout with a long time training partner this weekend. We "grew up" together in the martial arts. He is my earliest training partner and I do not get to see him often. We teach at different dojo and both have full personal schedules. It has been at least six months since we saw each other. In a matter of minutes, we are back in sync...as if no time has passed.

It was really good to see him. I am sure he has no idea but our brief conversation helped me feel better about something that was bothering me. The conversation made me pause, take a deep breath and press on.

Being a training partner can be a tough job. We are thrown, punched, kicked and twisted into joint locks. We offer support, encouragement and perspective. We are bunkai partners, sparring partners and offer kata critiques. We push each other to be our very best.

I have newer training partners also. There is a small group of black belts who workout together outside the class structure. We gather to train, explore and encourage. The group started meeting this summer. The setting is relaxed and each of us has something to contribute to the group. They are a good group and I appreciate their friendship.

I want to thank all my training partners...past, present and future. I think they know that I appreciate their help but I want to make sure I remember to tell them.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

5:00 AM is Too Early

I am stuck in a gym rut. I have not made the time to go the the gym. I usually attend the Tuesday night Tai Chi class but that's all. A few months ago, I was going to the gym three times a week. My evenings and weekends are busy with my daughter's school activities and homework.

I know....that is no excuse...make time to go the gym. My brother has been asking me to meet him at the gym 5:00 am.

The Plan

Set alarm for 4:45 am.
Get up and go to the gym for 5:00 am.
Work out until 6:00 am.
Home by 6:20 am.
Get ready for work.


The Reality

Alarm goes off at 4:45 am.
Turn alarm off at 4:46 am.
Reset alarm for 6:15 am.

I did not make it to the gym for 5:00. In order for my plan to work, I need to get to sleep much earlier.

I will have to figure something else out.

5:00 am is way too early. :(

Monday, October 12, 2009

Braver Than I Am

As a child, I may have been described as painfully shy. I was quiet and did not like to be the center of attention. I would no longer consider myself shy but I am a long way from being an extrovert.

....and then there is my daughter. She is a classic extrovert. She engages people in conversation and loves to be the center of attention.

Ocean City, 2009

We approached the ramp to the boardwalk and heard the music. My daughter looked at me and asked if we could find out what is going on. Ocean City celebrated the end of Summer weekend with a block party. About a hundred people circled a small stage where a DJ was leading karaoke. My daughter looked at me in earnest and asked if she could sign up. She has never sang karaoke before so I did not know what to expect. However, she knew exactly what song she wanted to sing.

We waited for her name to be called. We heard some Elvis, Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson songs. Most of the people singing were adults or teenagers. They called her name and she stepped up to the microphone. The DJ kept calling her name and did not realize a ten year old girl was standing there ready to sing. The DJ finally saw her and told the audience she was singing a crowd favorite. She chose the 80's song "Don't Stop Believin" by Journey.

She sang her heart out. When the song ended she put the microphone back on the stand and started walking away. The crowd loved her and gave her a huge applause. The DJ called her name and told her that she "Rocked the House". She exited the stage and at least twenty people gave her a high-5.

She is braver than I am.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Mailbox Surprise

Work is stressful. We have finished Halloween and Christmas has just begun. It is our busiest time of the year.

Each day I to drive to the mailbox to pick up our daily mail. I work in a corporate center and their is a mail hub at one end of the complex. Our mailbox is not a very big slot. When packages are too large to fit in the slot, we will find a key to an auxiliary mailbox.

Yesterday, there was a key in the mailbox. I opened the auxiliary mailbox and looked inside. It was the strangest thing. It was not an envelope, a package or a priority mailbox. The item was brown and irregularly shaped. It looked like burlap. The item was address to me.

I peered inside the mailbox for a while.
I poked the item.
I pulled the item out of the mailbox.

One side was brown....and the other was.....



It was a coconut...in the mailbox.

Check out their site http://www.coconutgreetings.com/

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mothers and Daughters – How Long? – Not Long


My daughter is ten. We had The Talk and she has read The Book.

Last night, the local hospital offered a community program for mothers and daughters. Even though we had The Talk, I thought it would be a good idea for her to hear it again from a doctor. The program was held in a hotel banquet room and the topic was “All Grown Up”. An OB/GYN spoke to the girls aged 9-12 about the changes they could expect over the next few years. The Doctor did a great job explaining, describing and answering questions.

There was a group of five girls from my daughter’s class. They sat in the front row and the speaker called them the giggling girls. The moms sat behind the girls in the second row. I know my daughter very well and knew that her hand would be the first one raised in the question and answer session. It was and she offered more of a commentary than a question. My daughter is growing up.

On the way home from the session it struck me…How long?

How long will it be before she walks ten feet in front of me at the mall?

How long before it is not “cool” to spend time with her family?

How long before her friends become the most important part of her world?

How long before she thinks her parents are “clueless”?

When will the dolls, stuffed animals and Littlest Pet Shop be replaced by cell phones, MySpace and fashion magazines?

I commiserated with my brother who has two adult children. He said that it is…Not Long…and wished me good luck. He told me not to worry because children eventually drift back. In his case, it occurred when his children were out of high school.

I am feeling a little sad….

Not Long

Friday, October 2, 2009

Anti-Bullying Seminar - A Review - Part II - One Minute Miracle

Continued from Part I

One of the concepts presented in the Anti-Bullying Seminar was the "One Minute Miracle". I could not find any references or links in order to learn more about the concept. So...if any teachers or health professions stumble upon this post...I would love to hear more about it.

The premise is that people have tendencies and are either more physical or more cognitive. Bullies tend to be more physical and respond better to physical interaction. Dr. Carter made it clear....it DOES NOT mean people should hit children as a response to bullying. One example of a physical response to a behavior is to remove the individual from the situation. He told stories about how he would handle his own kids fighting. He would have them run around the house a few times. This was not a punishment rather a method to release the physical energy. A cognitive response would be talking to a child about a negative behavior and explaining why something should not be done.

As I understood it from the seminar, the "One Minute Miracle" is taking one minute a day and connecting with someone through the use of words and touch. Once the bullies are identified, my daughter's school intends to use this technique. Teachers and staff have volunteered to mentor the bullies and will attempt to create a connection with the student using the "One Minute Miracle". The teachers may shake the students hand, pat them on the shoulder or just say hello. The belief is that once the connection is made the student will be less likely to bully. The teachers/staff become mentors and the student will model good behavior. Another potential benefit is the bully will realize a teacher is watching and have less opportunity to bully.

What do you think?

The post is my understanding after attending an Anti-Bullying seminar at my daughter's school. I am not dispensing advice nor am I a heath professional. I would welcome more information or recommendations on this subject.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Anti-Bullying Seminar - A Review - Part I

On Monday night there was a lecture on Anti-Bullying at my daughter's school. HighMark High Five gives grants to schools for an Anti-Bullying assembly. The premise is that children who are bullied are more likely to miss school either because they are afraid or they are sick. Dr. Jay Carter is the author of the bestselling book Nasty People. He co-authored the book Taking the Bully by the Horns with Kathy Noll.

I was eager to attend the parents session. I wanted ask what the appropriate use of self-defense is in a bullying situation. Several people cautioned me to be careful about my questions at the seminar so I did not give the wrong impression. My brother told me what he would do. He suggested I approach the parents of the bullies after the seminar.

I pulled into the school parking lot.

There were no cars in the lot. I walked into an auditorium full of empty chairs. The session began in five minutes and there were only three people in the audience. A woman in the second row looked at me and shrugged her shoulders. I said "I am shocked". The principal heard me and nodded. Eventually a group of about thirty people sat down to listen to the talk. Dr. Carter explained the dynamics of the Bully, signs of bullying, statistics of bullying and intervention. The talk focused on the psychology of the bully.

Some highlights:

People have tendencies. We are either more physical or more cognitive.

Executive function is a set of cognitive abilities that control and regulate abilities and behavior. They include the ability to initiate and stop actions, to monitor and change behavior as needed, and to plan future behavior when faced with novel tasks and situations. Executive functions allow us to anticipate outcomes and adapt to changing situations. The ability to form concepts and think abstractly are often considered components of executive function. Read more: http://www.minddisorders.com/Del-Fi/Executive-function.html#ixzz0SUXHQ8SL

Executive function is developed in adolescence.

Bullies usually have physical tendencies and a lack of executive function.

Martial arts are excellent because it provides physical activity and a code of ethics.

It was clearly apparent, from the audience questions, that the parents in the room were NOT the parents of the bullies. The main message of the program was that bullies need to be identified early, nurtured and mentored to make different choices.

Not what I expected.

But....interesting.

More thoughts on the seminar to follow.....

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Saturday at the Shore

Sunrise over the PA Turnpike




Cloudy day at Ocean City









Mom and Dad

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Vanilla

I am going to share with you one of the low points in my karate training. It was during my last Dan rank testing in 2006. I was given five weeks notice to prepare for testing. To say that I did not feel ready was an understatement. It was necessary to split into two groups because there were so many testing candidates. My group was ushered to the first floor to test in front of the Federation President and several members of the Renshi-Kai.

Everyone did a great job and passed the test. The test lasted a few hours and included kata, bunkai and two-person weapon forms. At the conclusion of the test, the testing board congratulated all the candidates and shook our hands. One of the black belts, who I have known for years and consider a friend, pulled me aside and said, "A little vanilla, you need to put more of yourself in the kata."

At first I was confused. Aren't we all supposed to look the same? Isn't that the point of traditional karate...to keep things exactly the same from teacher to student? I was told that I demonstrated the kata technically correct with power and focus. What was I missing? What did I need to do in order to improve? How can I be the same yet look different? How do I take my kata training to the next level?

I thought about the black belt's comment often. I tried to resist the concept at first. But over time, I realized that I needed to make karate more personal. My goal was to perform the techniques within the technical parameters but look like me while doing it. Let me tell you...it is not easy. There is a fine line between making kata "your own" and changing the kata.

Flash foward to 2009....

On a Monday nights, a small group of black belt students gather in the dojo to work on our own material. It is not a class and there is no structured curriculum. We work on kata, drills, bunkai, techniques or self-defense. There is no official start time or defined end time. As a group we discuss concepts and work through our questions.

On one particular night, we worked on the kata Chinto. This is my husband's favorite kata. He uses this kata as his highlight kata during testing and in competition. He moves through the kata with speed and finesse. He asked the group to run through the kata. He spotted a slight...and I mean slight and barely noticeable...variation from the way he performs a technique in the kata. The group examined the technique for a few minutes and discovered the source of the difference. It was in the manner in which we executed a particular inside forearm block.

A block? An inside forearm block was causing the difference?

We each in turn explained our bunkai. The move follows a left foot forward seisan/left downward block. The next sequence is to look over the right shoulder, kosa behind with the right foot (180 degree turn) with a left upward block/right inside block.

My husband was using the block as a post and grab to the outside. He was slipping past the opponent in the kosa stance.

I was using my left hand as the block as my right hand was executing an arm break.

A different black belt was using the left hand as the blocking hand and the right hand served double duty as a parry followed by a strike to the head.

We stood in a circle for a moment. I looked around at all the faces in our group. We were all deep in thought and nodding.

We were technically the same but different.

Each of us put ourselves in the kata.

Definitely not Vanilla.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tai Chi in Daily Life

An excerpt from "The Dao of Taijiquan, Way to Rejuvenation" by Jou, Tsung Hwa.

The ability to attack as one withdraws is known in Daoism as "the yang among the yin".

The teachings of taijiquan can also be incorporated into your daily life. If a person criticizes you or makes an unfair of disparaging remark, you can react in several ways. If you meet resistance with resistance and attack by returning the criticism, conflict naturally develops. You become upset, and nothing is settled. Alternatively, if you retreat from the person's statement, you become fearful and assume the statement must be accepted; you again become upset, frustrated and hurt. However, Daoist philosophy provides an alternative to either total attack or total retreat. The philosophy of "the yang among the yin" teaches you how to become acutely aware of what is said. Consider its meaning, and act accordingly. You will dismiss the statement if it is false and learn from it if it is true. Having this understanding, you realized you are in control of yourself and your own reactions.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Was I Thinking?

Silly me....I actually thought that I would have more time once my daughter went back to school.

I was wrong.

There has been something going on every night since school started. Not to mention the change in my morning routine and the problems with the school bus. My daughter was scheduled to take public school transportation to school each day. The first week of school, the bus arrived twenty minutes late each morning. Being late for school was not acceptable.

I made several phones calls to the transportation office. In the end, we were offered an alternative bus stop two miles down the road on the edge of a busy highway. The transportation director told me that it was our stop that was causing the delay. She made it clear that it was not our fault and it was the district's responsibility to get the kids to school on time. Apparently, the bus was late because it had to wait to make the left turn on to the highway. It is true...the left turn is difficult especially during the A.M. commute.

I decided to drive my daughter to school every day. I figured if I had to drive two miles I might as well drive the whole ten miles.

I forgot how much homework my daughter gets each night. If she would sit down and do her homework, it would only take about forty-five minutes. Instead it takes two hours because she procrastinates. The school has no workbooks for the students because the PA Budget has not been passed. Most of her work is on handouts or in copybooks. At the parent-teacher meeting, they anticipate receiving workbooks in January.

I am adjusting.

Slowly.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tai Chi Update - Grasp Birds Tail

During Tai Chi class last week, the instructor briefly touched on the application to Grasp the Birds Tail. When I arrived home, I entered the door and said, "Hello. Would you mind punching me?" My husband was nice enough to work with me on the technique I learned in class. I worked on this technique throughout the week.

I wanted to see the application again so I browsed You Tube for Tai Chi applications. I found the following video and thought I would share.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

On The Floor

During martial arts discussions, the conversation often turns to the "Why?" questions. Why did you start training and why do you continue? I wrote about this question in previous posts which can be found here and here.

I believe the "Why?" evolves over time. In a recent conversation, I asked the question..."Does it matter why?". If you look at the people in your own dojo, the reason they started training varies. They started on the path for all sorts of reasons such as self-defense, fitness or socialization. Some may have grown up in the 70' s and had the Bruce Lee poster on their bedroom wall. Parents take classes with their kids because it is something they can do together. People may start taking classes with friends and eventually become the last one remaining from the original group.

My reason for starting karate had nothing to do with self-defense or the desire to become a martial artist. I was a newlywed who was home alone several nights a week. I decided to join too. Prior to this, I had absolutely no interest in karate. It never crossed my mind.

Does it matter why I started? Are some reasons better than others? Perhaps the important point is that I continued. My husband will tell you he never thought I would last. I began training with no previous knowledge, expectations or preconceptions. Karate quickly became something I loved to practice. For me, that pretty much sums it up. I enjoy training, practice, teaching and learning.

When I am On the Floor....I am In the Moment. My thoughts and concerns are about the task at hand whether it be teaching, learning or training. It is the part of my day that belongs only to me.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

One of The Hardest Things I Have Ever Done

On more than one occasion I was asked..."What is the hardest thing you ever did?". I had to answer that question during a job interview. My response has nothing to do with martial arts, training or the dojo. It was a life altering moment and happened in a second.

January 2006

I walked out of the house with my daughter and waved to my husband. We got in the car and drove to my parents house for a visit. My husband was working outside in the yard. He was dragging brush and dead tree limbs to the burn pile at the back end of the property.

At my parents house, the phone rang. My mother picked up the phone and the caller ID indicated the call was coming from the local hospital. The phone was for me. It was my husband calling from the ER. He told me that he was accidentally burned and needed to be transferred to a burn unit. I went over to the ER immediately.

My husband was lying on the bed with his leg covered by a wet cloth. His skin was black from the knee to the ankle except for a small band that was protected by his neoprene knee brace. When I walked in my husband told me that he might lose his leg. It was the one time in my life I actually felt like I was going to pass out. The doctor soon arrived and discussed the burn and treatment options. My husband's right leg had third degree burns completely around the leg. He needed to be transferred to a burn unit and they needed to do surgery right away.

My husband spent two weeks in a burn isolation unit. He arrived home with skin grafts and the need for months of bed rest. In order for this burn to heal properly, he could not put any weight on his leg. The elaborate dressings on the burn had to be changed once per day. His graft did not take completely and they had to do another surgery which meant ten more days in the hospital.

So...how is this story about my husband's third degree burns about one of the hardest things I ever did?

The six months following my husband's burn is a blur. I truly do not know how I made it through. My Mom said it was through the Grace of God. My family, friends and the martial arts community offered their support.

The care of my young daughter who was in Kindergarten.
I was employed by an Architect and worked thirty hours per week.
I was responsible for a dojo.
I taught several karate classes per week.
I had to care for a bedridden spouse. He was not allowed to walk, drive or work for months. He could not do anything for himself. The hospital was an hour drive from home.
Financial stress.

Despite the blur, I can still remember with detail my husband's complex bandage change. The process took an hour on a good night. The removal of the bandages had to be done carefully so no damage was done to the skin graft. The wound needed to be washed and dried. Special antiseptic cream was applied to the graft. Layers of Xeroform had to be carefully positioned on the skin. The Xeroform was a sticky, petroleum based pad. The next layer was Kerlix a soft gauze bandage. This layer was followed by Coban. The finishing touch was an Ace bandage wrapped from the ankle up to the knee. It all had to be perfect. If it was wrong...the entire bandage needed to be removed and started again from scratch.

I was exhausted mentally and physically. I witnessed the slow healing process and saw how difficult it was for my husband. He progressed from being bedridden to a wheelchair then crutches and eventually walking. My daughter struggled because my time was so divided and her Daddy was unavailable.

As hard as this time was for all of us, I still consider us lucky. We were lucky that my husband's surgery was a success. There were other patients in the burn unit that were worse off than my husband. My heart breaks thinking of the patients and their family members. The doctors, nurses and staff on the burn floor were completely amazing.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Back To School Eve

Tomorrow is the first day of school. On Saturday, the school published the class assignments on the web page. My daughter and I opened the link to find good news and bad news. The good news is that she got the teacher she wanted. The teacher is new to the school but she happens to be a childhood friend of mine. The teacher and I went to school together for twelve years. The bad news is that none of her friends are in her class.

Insert sobbing here......

My daughter was inconsolable for a good thirty minutes. She wanted to go to another school and even begged to be home schooled. She calmed down when she realized she would have two classes with her friends in addition to lunch and recess.

The weekend was busy with last minute school shopping and preparation. I am hoping she will have a great year.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I Feel Old Today

I feel old today.

Last night I went to the gym after teaching one karate class. Instead of my usual routine of cardio machines and weights, I did a full hour of cardio. I was watching a CNN special on Ted Kennedy and lost track of the time. My legs are killing me today. My foot hurts too.

When I came home from the gym, I watch a program on Food Network about Retro Foods. They were describing old candy and old fashioned recipes. I was familiar with many of the items. My father's Uncle owned a General Store in New Hope. The store was lined with antique farming tools, advertisements and tins. He had glass jars filled with penny candy lined up on his counter. Whenever we visited, we left the store with a small brown bag full of treats.

The Food Network program did a segment on a cool website devoted to hard-to-find food items. It is called Hometown Favorites. Do you remember the Sky Bar? It had four flavors in milk chocolate: vanilla, fudge, peanut butter and caramel. I never ate the vanilla section. I have not seen one of these bars in years. They used to be a staple in vending machines.

My personal favorite candy is the Hershey's Chocolate bar. I loved when they were packaged in the shiny silver paper with the paper Hershey's outer wrapper. Now, the bars come in a one-piece brown plastic wrapper. Do they package Hershey bars in the silver paper anymore?


Sigh...I feel old today.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"You Don't Look Like A Karate Instructor"

Did you ever have a flashback to a conversation that suddenly struck you as odd?

I sat among a group of people...some of them I knew and others I did not. A friend introduced me to one of the people I never met. She said "This is Michele. She is a karate instructor." I am not sure why my friend introduced me that way. I shrugged it off and smiled politely. My friend continued by saying, "She doesn't look like a karate instructor". From her tone and the subsequent conversation, I think my friend intended her statement to be taken as a compliment.

This conversation popped into my head a week later. What an odd thing to say! What does a karate instructor look like? I ran through my list of instructors. Can you tell by simply looking at them that they are karate instructors? I am not referring to when they are on the dojo floor or when they are wearing a gi. I am thinking of them in the grocery store, at the mall or in a restaurant.

In another instance, my husband and I were at an amusement park. My husband happened to be wearing a t-shirt with the name of the dojo screen printed on the front. A worker stopped pointed to his shirt and asked my husband if he takes karate. He said "It is my dojo". The worker seemed surprised and blurted, "Oh". I got the feeling from the worker that my husband did not look the part.

Was my friend serious? What is a karate instructor supposed to look like?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Self-Defense Class - Is Twelve Hours Enough?

This summer, my husband and I taught private self-defense lessons. In previous blog posts, I discussed self-defense topics and how self-defense instruction can be tailored to individuals.

Monday was our last session.

Now...I wonder...was it enough? I ask myself this question at the conclusion of each session. We reviewed a lot of material. We taught six two-hour classes. The students are prepared for each session with questions and scenarios. My husband and I agonize and wonder if we have done enough. In our fifteen years of teaching self-defense, we always leave the sessions knowing we could have taught more.

We practice. We review. We practice. And we review some more.

....Grabs, Chokes (front, rear) , Knife defense, hair pulls, pushes, punches, pinned against the wall, pinned on the ground, choked on the ground, awareness, prevention, common sense, lapel grabs, head locks, bear hugs (front, side, rear), falling (side, front, rear, roll fall), slap, targets (eyes, throat, joints, head, ears, floating ribs, groin, solar plexus), distractions, strikes (elbows, knees, palm heel, four knuckle fist).....and so on....

My husband and I offer a follow-up or refresher class. All they need to do is call. Most never call. Do the students leave class feeling invincible? I hope not.

We want the student to leave with the awareness that they have options.

Self-defense is an ongoing process. It needs to be practiced.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Should They Have Been Allowed to Quit Karate?

I was reading the newspaper and an advertisement caught my eye. A floor covering company was announcing their new Interior Designer. A photo of the designer was included in the advertisement along with her name and company contact information. I did not recognize her from the picture (it has been fifteen years!) but I did remember her name. I immediately thought….

“I know her. She was in my karate class when I was a kyu rank. She had a sister and they both took karate. They hated karate.”

The sisters were young teenagers when they started karate. Their father signed a one-year contract for karate classes. The sisters started out mildly interested in learning karate. It did not take long before they hated karate classes. The sisters told me how they wanted to quit but their father forced them to attend class. Their father was paying for a year of karate and they were going to take a year of karate.

They would complain to my husband and I all the time. They knew the exact day their contract expired. They attended class but they were not “in” class. The sisters would walk through the material but their minds were on other things. I am not sure what they learned during that year. The class instructors knew they were just putting in their time but still tried to encourage them. They were nice kids but they did not want learn karate.

As a parent, I feel strongly about my daughter finishing what she started. Three weeks into a five week play rehearsal schedule she wanted to quit. I told her “Absolutely…NO”. I explained that it was her decision to audition for the play. I reminded her that people were counting on her and it would be difficult for the entire cast if she quit. I told her that she did not have to audition for the next play.

Should it be the same for karate? I am not sure. I think back to the two sisters and I know they were miserable. They hated everything about karate. The class instructors spent extra time working with the girls hoping to generate a spark of enthusiasm.

And…nothing.

The sisters continued to grumble and roll their eyes through class. They quit as soon as they were able.

What do you think…as a parent, as a karate instructor or as a fellow classmate? How do you feel about the sisters being forced to attend class? Do you think they should have been allowed to quit?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Recognizable ACL Brace

It has been over two years since my ACL reconstruction but I can recognize an ACL post-operative brace from yards away. The four straps, a noticeable scar and the small dial on both sides of the brace that adjust the range of motion. During one shopping trip at the local mall, I saw three people wearing ACL braces. All three individuals were female and appeared to be high school students.

When I was wearing the ACL brace, people would stop me and ask about my knee. Most of the people had the surgery and would tell me their story. One person recounted in detail his surgery, hospital stay, staph infection and overall horrible ACL experience. I have not approached people wearing ACL braces but I silently wish them well.

This article from Reuters states:

The numbers on female ACL tears are astounding. Over 1.4 million women have been afflicted in the past 10 years alone -- twice the rate of the previous decade. It is estimated that more than 30,000 high school and college age females will rupture their ACL every year. In the last 15 years, ankle sprains have decreased by 86 percent while knee ligament injuries have increased by 172 percent.

Santa Monica Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Group has developed the PEP Program to prevent ACL injuries.

This prevention program consists of a warm-up, stretching, strengthening, plyometrics, and sport specific agilities to address potential deficits in the strength and coordination of the stabilizing muscles around the knee joint!


My daughter's soccer season starts this week. The team has a new coach. The coach is female, college aged and unable to play soccer again due to knee injuries/surgeries. I wish the new coach and the team all the best!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tai Chi Update - "Be Relentless"


At the end of Tai Chi class, the instructor spoke to the students about movement. He emphasised the importance of moving from the hip. The class was using too much external arm movement. He told us that we need to place our mind inside so the source of our movement is internal. It takes practice and concentration. He discussed that we should ask our body how certain postures feel. We need to connect our mind with our body. The instructor's parting words to the class were....

"Be Relentless"

Photo courtesy of my sister Kim. Thanks! :)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What Is Wrong With People?

I listened to my husband tell the story. I only can imagine the incredulous look on my face. There was only one thing I could say, "What is wrong with people?".

The Setting

We live in a three street town right off the curve in a two lane road. This road has a lot of traffic and the average speed is between 45 to 55 mph. The road curves often and there are segments where passing is prohibited. There are three entrances to our community from this road. One entrance/exit sits exactly in the middle of the curve. Across the street there is a similar road. One side of the road has a No Left Turn sign. At the back of our property, we can see the road in between the neighbor's yard.

It is a dangerous stretch of road. It is a common spot for traffic accidents. I have heard the sound of crunching metal followed by the sirens of the Police, Firemen and Paramedics. There have been several times a Medevac Helicopter has landed less than 100 yards from my house in the Fire Company's parking lot.




The Story

My husband was home cutting the grass while I was out with our daughter back-to-school shopping. We arrived home and my husband walked over and described a terrible automobile accident at the curve. Apparently an SUV turned left despite the No Left Turn sign at the exit. A motorcycle with two passengers, a husband and wife, were approaching the curve and could not stop in time. The motorcycle ran into the back of the SUV and the passengers were thrown off. The traffic stopped in both directions. The Fire Company was the first to respond.

My husband walked through the neighbor's yard to the edge of the road. My husband spoke to the man in the first car in the line of traffic. The man witnessed the accident and said that the motorcycle had nowhere to go. The husband was lying in the middle of the road seriously injured. It took a few minutes for the ambulances to arrive because the traffic had congested the road. As they were waiting, a woman from the line of traffic walked up to find out what was going on. She saw the man lying across one lane of the two lane highway.

She asked "Why can't we just go around him?"

The man in the first car said, "Lady, the man is fighting for his life!"


I read in the newspaper yesterday that the man died shortly after he arrived at the hospital. He was lying in the middle of the road...dying... and the woman's only concern was to find a way to go around him.

What is wrong with people?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Self-Defense....It's Personal

A few weeks ago, I wrote about self-defense topics. My husband and I teach self-defense as part of the dojo curriculum, women's self-defense sessions, organizations (park rangers) and private lessons. Before we begin the sessions, we always ask the students what techniques or situations to cover. The answer to this question gives us insight into their goals for the lesson.

In our experience, the most common response to this question is...an attack or grab from behind. Here are a few of the other requests:

Being pulled into a car
Pinned to the ground - face up and face down
Choked on the ground
Pinned against a wall - hands
Pinned against a wall - choke
One arm choke from behind
How to deal with an attack when your baby/child is with you
Against a knife - multiple scenarios
Being jumped on while sleeping
From heat crazed dogs (park ranger request)
How do you deal with out of control juveniles (park ranger request)
Hair pull
An attacker who dives at your legs to pull you down
Multiple attackers

My husband worked with a local women's crisis prevention organization and was called when women needed transportation to the shelter. He has been attacked with a baseball bat, a wash pole, a broken bottle, a vinyl coated metal wash line and even a Cadillac.

Self-defense is different for each one of us. It depends on our goals and perceptions - to get away, to control, to end the conflict. The techniques and capabilities vary by body type - a person 5' 2" and 110 lbs may use different self-defense than a person 6' and 200 lbs. It depends on personal strengths and weaknesses - I would not use techniques which require shoulder strength when my arms are above shoulder height due to prior shoulder dislocations. It depends on preferences - what techniques are you comfortable with and which ones do you remember.

We planned for the private lessons, but ultimately the student requested the topics. It was our job to present multiple functional techniques. The student would practice. Some techniques worked smoothly and quickly while others were less comfortable. If a technique worked well for a particular student, we practiced the technique and examined variations. If a technique did not work well for a particular student, we dropped it and moved on to the next one. We make sure to discuss the basic self-defense principles of awareness and prevention. It is important to remember that a technique that works well for us may not be the best one for the student. We must offer options.

Our goal in teaching private self-defense lessons is have the student leave class with a group a techniques. The techniques should be easy to remember and coincide with the student's strengths, goals and body type. We hope make the student aware of the dynamics of a conflict from prevention...to avoidance...to the removal of danger.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Pot Holder Story

Do you remember making pot holders as a kid? The pot holders are made from loops of fabric intertwined on a plastic loom. I made pot holders when I was little and my daughter is making them now.

When she first got the loom and the fabric loops, she had trouble weaving the loops. She would weave one loop through and three others would slip off the loom. She was frustrated and it took her a long time to make her first pot holder. The odd shaped woven fabric only slightly resembled a pot holder.


She spent most of her free time making pot holders. Each completed pot holder looked better than the one before. She showed me a beautiful blue and white pot holder and I told her that it looked very professional. She beamed and asked "Did you ever think that I would be able to make pot holders this good?" I said "Of course...I have seen how much you have practiced."


She has a list of family members waiting for pot holders. She succeeded through practice, patience and perseverance.
Pot holders photographed with permission. :)

Trust and Training

Shinzen Nelson, author of The Broken Bokken, wrote a post on Trust. In his article he stated:

Nonin would often talk about our mind being like a jar of water and sand. When the water is stirred it becomes muddy. The mind is confused and cannot see what to do next...but when you trust and stop stirring, allowing the sand/mud to settle, what needs to happen suddenly becomes clear.

Trust is essential. Without it your training becomes mechanical and eventually listless.

A good reminder.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

It's About the Training

I have been in a weird place with my karate practice. I have trained less...instructed less...blogged less. My time in the dojo was limited due to my daughters schedule, family responsibilities and an adjusted teaching schedule.

Is this the natural ebb and flow of practice? It is easy to give in to "less" and fill the time with other things. I adjusted my perspective. I was on my way to class and I did not feel like going. My mind struggled with the knowledge that I should go to class but did not want to. I took a deep breath and thought about why I should go.

"It's about the training."

These were the words that popped into my head as I made my way to class. It was a great class. The last two weeks have been excellent. I have been teaching my regular classes and spending time practicing Tsuken Akachono Eiku Bo. I think for a few weeks I lost the joy of training and practice.

The joy is back!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

This weekend I will be heading to the Poconos to watch the Pennsylvania 500. I cannot say that I am a true NASCAR fan. I don't mind watching the last few laps of a race but I have never watched an entire race.

Why am I going? Well... my daughter is a Jeff Gordon fan and she wants to see him race. Did you roll your eyes? It seems to be the most common reaction when I mention my daughter's favorite driver. Most local NASCAR fans I know cheer for Junior.

All I keep thinking is...what have I gotten myself into? You see, I do not like crowds, traffic or the sitting out in the sun. We are planning on leaving early enough to beat the traffic. As far as crowds, our tickets are for end seats. I am packing a bag with plenty of sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.

A friend of mine who has been to several races suggested earplugs. I never would have thought of bringing earplugs. I realize how unprepared I am for this outing. Have you ever been to a NASCAR race? Any suggestions? Stories?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Responsibility?

Urban Samurai has written an excellent article on Black Belt Responsibilities: Are There Any? His thought provoking article has generated much discussion. Check out his site and join the discussion.

I posted the following comment about Black Belt Responsibility:

My karate background is traditional Okinawa Kenpo. The preservation of the art from teacher to student has always been an important component of my training. When I received my black belt, I wanted to be included in the process.

I have a responsibility to the tradition…to pass on information as my instructor has taught me. I have a responsibility to my instructor…I want him to be proud to call me a student. I have a responsibility to the students…to guide and to encourage. I have a responsibility to myself…to train, to improve and to explore.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Thank You to Non-Martial Artist Family and Friends

A group of us were talking about karate after class in the dojo one night. My ten year old daughter wanted to be included in the conversation. She shared her view of karate... "Karate is time spent away from me".

Ouch.

I know I spend a lot of time with my daughter but it made me pause. From her perspective, it is time that could have been spent playing a game, talking, watching a movie or going shopping. This made me think of all the family and friends of karate practitioners and the sacrifices they make for our art. I was a karate practitioner's girlfriend before I was a karateka. This post is for all the parents, girlfriends, spouses, children and friends of martial artists.


Here is my personal list:
  • Thank you for your acceptance of the time I devote to martial arts.
  • Thank you for spending time and money accompanying us to the dojo, a tournament or an awards banquet.
  • Thank you for washing those heavy uniforms.
  • Thank you for listening as we enthusiastically describe in detail...a technique, a seminar event, a movie, a book or a conversation about martial arts.
  • Thank you for not giving strange looks from across the restaurant table when we use our butter knife to illustrate a bo technique.
  • Thank you for lending us an arm or a leg when we want to "try out" a technique we learned in class.
  • Thank you for understanding that karate practice can happen at unexpected locations...in a restaurant parking lot, at a picnic, at a community walk-a-thon, etc.
  • Thank you for your patience when Mommy or Daddy needs to teach class.
  • Thank you for your flexibility because sometimes diner is at 5:30 and sometimes at 8:30.
  • Thank you for not blinking an eye when we buy yet another custom made martial art weapon. (I have at least five bo.)

Thank you!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lug Nuts and Jesus Bolts


I apologize in advance for yet another car post.

Two week ago, my Mazda was making terrible noises each time I hit the brakes. It sounded like it was time for new brakes and rotors. I stopped by a national chain and had my brakes checked. I did not need rotors but I did need new calipers. The brakes on my car had frozen. The mechanic warned me not to drive because it was not safe. I left my car sit in the shop to wait for the parts to arrive. The following day the car was repaired.

For three days, my car ran perfectly. Then the noise started. The front drive side wheel would be silent when driving on the highway but noisy when driving slowly. The noise was mild at first but then became a horrible sound. It was as if I was driving over rumble strips. My husband suggested taking the wheel off and checking to see if there was anything visually loose. I watched as he used a jack to raise the car. He sat in front of the wheel to remove the lug nuts.

Two of the lug nuts were extremely loose. He tightened the lug nuts and the noise disappeared.

I stopped by the garage and told the Customer Service Representative my story. I mentioned that two lug nuts were not tight. The CSR became very defensive and suggested that “someone” may have loosened the lug nuts on purpose. Seriously! He did not even mention that I should bring my car back in so they could check out the wheel.

Later that day, I drove to my Uncle’s surprise 70th birthday party. On the way to the picnic grove, the noise resumed and was louder than ever. I pulled into the parking lot and asked my brother to look at the wheel. I touched the lug nuts and two came off in my hand. We found the lug wrench in my trunk and tightened the wheel. I drove slowly and carefully home. I called the national chain and spoke to the manager. The manager told me that what I was describing was highly unusual. (Is this the code phrase for "I don't believe you?") He told me to bring my car in as soon as possible.

I have a new appreciation for the tiny pieces of metal that keep my tire connected to my car. In the world of helicopters, the fastener that holds the rotor blade is sometimes referred to as the "Jesus Bolt" because the operator must have faith in it. In the past, I have never given lug nuts much…o.k. any…thought. I am starting to consider lug nuts the "Jesus Bolt" of the automobile. The CSR stated the obvious in our initial conversation “three wheels is not good”.

My car is in the shop today. I am waiting for a phone call to find out what highly unusual problem is wrong with my car.

Ugh!

I should be posting on a regular basis soon. I am caught up on my reading but have not had much time to post or comment. The last five weeks have been busy with my daughter’s play rehearsals.

Thank you for the excellent comments on my previous post. More to come on the topic of self-defense.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Self-Defense Topics

Last week, I took my daughter to the hairdresser. I sat reading magazines while my daughter described the haircut she wanted in detail to the salon owner. My daughter has beautiful thick, shoulder length, wavy, dark brown hair. She usually requests her hair to be chin length, super straight and blond. The salon owner and I have explained on numerous occasions that she is not getting her hair dyed blond at the ripe old age of ten. However, at this appointment she requested side bangs and curls. Thank goodness!

Amid the discussion of hairstyles, the salon owner’s daughter came in and sat down next to me. She asked me if I would be willing to teach private self-defense lessons. I told her that I would and asked her what was going on. The salon owner’s daughter informed me that she would be spending the next college semester abroad. She explained that she would be living with a host family. She knew that she would be traveling and site seeing alone and wanted to learn self-defense.

We set up our first session and I explained that we would start with basic techniques. Whenever I teach private self-defense lessons, I ask the person to make a list of topics or situations that they want to address. Often times the individual requesting has very specific concerns and techniques in mind. I have taught three-hour women’s self-defense sessions, which cover prevention, awareness and basic techniques. I teach self-defense as part of the dojo curriculum. I am preparing for her sessions. I know she has a limited amount of time to learn and practice before she travels abroad.

So…I want to make a list.

What do you think are the most important topics to cover? If you were to request one technique, what would it be? As an instructor, what techniques would you always teach?

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Gumby Analogy

My instructor uses Gumby as an analogy to explain the flexibility, relaxation, whipping motion needed in Okinawa Kenpo Kobudo techniques. In the kata Shima Igiri Bo, the hallmark technique is the large flowing back swings. The Bo is like a whip with the emphasis on the last few inches of the technique. Relaxation, flow, flexibility is imperative and is the source of the Gumby reference. You can find small Gumby figurines holding miniature Okinawa Kenpo Kobudu wooden weapons (a gift from one of the black belts) in the office of the Honbu.

Understanding flexible movement sounds like a relatively simple concept. However, it may take considerable practice to execute the techniques with the correct balance of relaxation, flexibility, rotation and tension. When I hear the word Gumby, I immediately think about flexibility and the kata Shima Igiri Bo. If we take the Gumby analogy further, in addition to flexible movement, it is important to have a flexible mind in regards to martial arts.

What are some of the benefits of a flexible mind in the martial arts?

A flexible mind will be receptive to a broad range of teaching styles.
A flexible mind will accept and apply correction.
A flexible mind will be open to other martial arts styles and look for the similarities.
A flexible mind will embrace the tradition of keeping kata “one way, keep straight, and don’t change” while simultaneously understanding the need to make kata “your own”.
A flexible mind will see many points of view.

In my opinion, the above list offers a few examples of the benefits of a flexible mind. I am sure there are more benefits for martial arts and for daily life.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

1967 Gumby Show Intro

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Bat in the Attic

My house sustained some wind damage that pulled off pieces of siding and trim. A contractor has been working on the house and came across a few bats that made a cozy home in the wood trim. We set up one way netting so the bats would go out but not come back in.


One bat found its way inside the attic. I opened the door to the attic and walked up two steps. A bat swooped by my head. I went back downstairs and closed the door. I was hoping the bat would find his way out.

A few days later, I was feeling brave and went back into the attic. I was not going to let a little bat stop me. I stepped slowly up the stairs and turned to look at the back wall of the stairwell. I heard a squeak and saw movement in a small crevice of the wood.

The bat was still there and it was looking right at me!

Quickly down the stairs...close the attic door...straight to the computer. I researched how to get rid of bats in the house. It looks like we will be sealing up all potential entrances. I am not going to attempt to catch the bat in a net like the article suggests. Here is another good piece of advice from the article:

If bats are roosting outside of your house in a place you'd rather they didn't, then a can of dog/cat repellent is a good thing to pick up. Wait to apply the repellent to the area until all of the bats are out feeding, and spray all of the immediate surfaces generously. Whatever you do, don't spray the bats directly with the repellent. You're better off attending the Running of the Bulls wearing nothing but red--and that should be left to very macho but very stupid young Spaniards.

This is not our first encounter with bats.

When we bought our house in 1995, it had wood siding. We live near a lake and farmland. The bats called our house home before we did. There was a piece or two of wood siding that was pulled away from the wall. Since the building was abandoned for a few years before we bought it, the bats had perfect home. The bats were not inside our home but we did want them to move out. We spoke to a bat expert and were told that we had a bat colony living on our property. Not just one bat...a colony of females and baby bats. The colony was never left unattended so half the population stayed in while the other half went out. We had the bats safely removed by experts. The bats were not harmed.


House before siding


We had our home covered in vinyl siding and the bats did not return. Friends gave us bat houses instead of bird houses.

In all honesty...I do not have a problem with bats...when they are outside. My daughter wants the bat to be rescued and returned to nature. My husband may have mentioned something in passing about Smith & Wesson.

I just want the bat OUT of my attic.

You can click here to read a previous post about the transformation of our house/dojo.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tai Chi Long Form Just Got Shorter

Well...not really.

But....it feeeeeeeeeels shorter.

I have been waiting for the day that the 108 move form did not seem like an impossible task. I knew that eventually the form would seem shorter to me. That is how it has always been when I am learning a new pattern. When the students are learning a new Okinawa Kenpo form I ask "Does it feel shorter?". Pieces of the form seem familiar and patterns are emerging. The patterns were always there...I just did not see them.

Progress!

Since I wrote about my decision to continue Tai Chi, I took a deep breath and relaxed a bit. I am looking forward to discovering where this path will lead me.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Martial Arts: Providing Options to Prevent School Bullying

Several posts on this blog have been focused on the topic of school bullying. I read and reviewed Jodee Blanco's books on her quest to prevent school bullying. I have had discussions online and in the dojo regarding school bullying. I searched the Internet for bully-prevention programs and found few that uttered the word self-defense. I keep asking myself the same question. What role can martial arts play in the prevention of school bullying?

I came to the conclusion that Martial Arts Training provides options.

I am a parent, a karate instructor and co-owner of a traditional dojo. School bullying is a complex topic that affects children, parents, teachers, school administrations and medical professionals. In studying a martial art, we learn control, self-defense and courtesy. Students are taught to be respectful, kind and compassionate. In our dojo, kids who start fights or engage in bullying behavior are asked to leave.

Parents walk through our door searching for help for their child who is a target of school bullying. Here are a few examples.

Student at a Crossroad

A few months after the dojo opened (1995), a parent brought his young (10-11 years old) son to take karate lessons. The parent approached my husband and asked if he would take his son as a student. Before my husband could answer, the man continued his story. His young son was in trouble at school. The young boy was constantly picked on and tormented. One day the young boy took a butter knife to school in his backpack with the intention to use it against the school bully. The teacher found the knife and luckily, no one got hurt. The parent wanted his son to learn self-defense. He gave us a warning that local parents did not want their kids to be around his son.

What did my husband do? He accepted the young boy as a student. Members of the dojo were upset by my husband’s decision. My husband stood firm knowing that this type of kid would benefit the most from the martial arts. He was taught options as an alternative to violence. The young boy loved karate and found a place in the dojo community. He made friends and his confidence and self-esteem improved. He worked hard and eventually received the rank of brown belt.

A few years after he began training, the teenage boy attended a local carnival. He was standing up for his sister and was jumped by five older kids. Our student was badly bruised and suffered a compound fracture. He told us that he kept fighting even though his bone was sticking out of his arm. He did not return to karate due to the injury and subsequent bone infection.


Students that Miss the Point

A parent brings his young son to the dojo. This young man was bullied at school. The father was overly enthusiastic and excited to have his son learn martial arts. After eight months, we were informed that the boy had “learned enough”. The student left the dojo. A few weeks later, we discover that this boy has become the bully. He made his father very proud. We were heartbroken that we did not realize the hidden agenda.


Students that Blossom

Parents bring their shy, intelligent, compassionate children to the dojo. They are hoping that karate will give them confidence and make them self-assured. When these students first arrive at the dojo, they are afraid to demonstrate individually. I watch these students emerge as role models. They lead drills, help beginning students and assist in class.


This blog post has been sitting in the draft folder for over a week. It does not feel complete but I decided to post it as it stands. I did not like the word prevent and struggled to find a suitable alternative. Perhaps the words deter, stop, thwart, foil or avoid could have been used. I will continue to research and discuss the topic of school bullying. The post reflects my current opinions and I realize my beliefs may evolve.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

Can martial arts help prevent school bullying? Is the benefit self-defense, confidence, self-esteem or a combination of all three? Is karate training perceived as violent and aggressive? Should school age children learn self-defense? Does your dojo advertise bully prevention? Have you taught students who became the Bully? What can we do as parents? What can we do as karate instructors? Has your child's school presented a bully prevention program?

So many questions....

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Distraction and Yellow Page Scammers

I consider myself an observant person. I notice things and remember. My husband has called me at work to help him find something at home. Frustrating as this phone call can be, I usually remember where the item can be found. I try to keep myself aware of my surroundings and not be distracted.

This week I failed to be observant and aware because I was distracted. On Tuesday, my Dad had a cardiac catheterization. They were checking his heart to determine if he has a blockage. I was worried about him and waiting to hear the results of his test. The phone rang at work and I was expecting it to be my Mom with the results. On the other end of the phone was a Scammer who happened to call when I was distracted. The phone call went something like this:

Scammer: “This is a courtesy call to update your free online business yellow page listing.”

He read off the company’s name, address and phone number.

Me: “Yes, that is correct.”

Scammer: “Thank you for verifying the information. In order to update the listing in the computer, I need you to answer a few recorded questions to confirm. I will dial the number and help with the prompts.”

He dialed a number and continued.

Scammer: “Please answer the questions loud and clear. I will hit all the prompts.”

Faint Recording: State the name of the Company

I could faintly hear the recording.

Scammer: “Name of company”

I replied.

Faint Recording: State the physical address

Scammer: “They are looking for the address.”

I replied. A few questions were asked requesting basic information. Each time the Scammer would help by stating the question.

Scammer: “The final question verifying that you approve the update.”

Very Faint Recording: “….approve…..$39.95…..months”

Me: HEY! Wait a minute! I heard the recording mention $39.95.

CLICK

The Scammer ended the call.

On a normal day, I would not have answered the questions. I know about the phone frauds for online Yellow Page listings. Why did I answer the questions? There is only one reason I can think of….I was distracted. It can happen so quickly. I let my guard down and gave a Scammer a window of opportunity.

I am irritated at myself and wondered how often I get distracted. Am I easily distracted? I did not think so…but maybe I am…I hope not.

I write this post as a reminder to myself...pay attention.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Summer is Supposed to be Relaxing…Right?

I could not wait until school let out. I imagined free evenings with no homework or after school activities. I thought I would have more time and less stress.

I must have been dreaming…

My daughter loves summer camp. She wants to go full time (M-F 8:15-5:15). I guess I should not have been worried. The original plan was for her to go to camp three days per week and her Nana’s house two days per week. Camp is full of activities, field trips, swimming and many kids. I am happy that she loves camp but the extra two days require more money and more driving.

In addition to camp, my daughter will be rehearsing for a play for the next five weeks. There were over fifty kids who auditioned and only twenty-five speaking parts. She was in the play for the last three summers but was not sure if she wanted to participate this year. She auditioned and was excited when she found out that she got a small speaking role. The rehearsals are Monday - Thursday from 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm. The rehearsals during the last week are every day and last until at least 10:00 pm. Parents are required to volunteer and help with ticket sales, set construction (9 different scenes), raffle items and advertising.

I spend a lot of time in a car. Driving back and forth to camp, to work and to play practice. I did not even mention my full time job, dojo responsibilities, tai chi, the gym, annual karate seminar or housework. I have a few vacation days scheduled near the Fourth of July. During that time, I will be helping replace a roof on the garage. We have a detached three-car garage with office. It is a big roof but not too steep. I helped replace the roof on our house. The best part about this project is that we are getting a dumpster. It will be a great opportunity to clean out the house and throw things away.

Tonight at play practice, the parents will begin construction on a shark skeleton made out of wire, pool noodles and paper mache.

I am tired already.