Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mean Girls Strike Again - 2011 Version

I spoke too soon.

I recently commented that my daughter’s 6th grade year was better in regards to bullying. The moment the words came out of my mouth I wondered why I dared say it out loud.

The voice on the other end of the receiver asked if I could pick her up “right now” at school. My daughter was scheduled to attend Girl Scouts and softball practice. A group of girls deliberately excluded her from the group, called her names and hid her books and pencil case. The assistant softball coach saw the group hiding the items in the locker room. The girl’s said it was just a game.

It is not a game…it is bullying.

The assistant softball coach, who witnessed the behavior of the group, informed the other assistant coach who happens to be the father of the lead “mean girl”.

So what happened?

I received a phone call from the girl’s parents. I appreciate the call because I am sure it was not an easy one to make. We had a long discussion and I informed them of the duration and extent of the bullying. They had a talk with their daughter and want me to tell them if the bullying continues.

Hopefully things will get better but I am concerned it could get worse.

For excellent articles on bullying prevention check out John Zimmer's My Self-Defense Blog and Sensei Matt Klein's article Bullying: A Parents Guide to Prevention.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


A little less than a year ago, I wrote the post Get Uncomfortable. During an excellent training seminar, Kyoshi Hayes, author of “My Journey With The Grandmaster”, told us to embrace discomfort.

Today…I am feeling uncomfortable. It has everything to do with a project we are working on in the dojo tonight. It involves a deck of index cards with the 51 open hand and weapon kata written on the back, a similar deck with the names of the black belts and a timer.

I am trying to embrace my discomfort. I’ll keep you posted.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Returning To Karate Training After A Long Break

It has been years since you were inside a dojo. Your gear is packed in a gym bag stored in the attic. Your karate uniform is long gone. Your bo is propped up in a corner of the garage. Every once in a while you reminisce about the time you spent training. You stopped practicing karate for various reasons....moved away, college, married, kids, sports, employment. You want to return and your mind is filled with "What if's".

What if I don't remember anything?
What if it is harder now that I am a older?
What if people are there who I trained with before and now they outrank me?
What if I have to start at white belt again?

After a few weeks of pondering the "What if's", you make the decision to train again.

Here are a few of my recommendations when you return to karate training after a long break.

Welcome back!
Contact your instructor and inform him/her of your wish to return.
Discuss your concerns and ask questions.
Your instructor should inform you of the protocol.
Dust off your gear and inventory.
Determine what you will need for class.
Attend as many classes as your schedule and the dojo allows.
You may want to start off with a few private lessons for a jump start on your return.
Don't be so hard on yourself. It takes a few months to remember what you learned in the past.
Find a training partner who will work with you before or after regular class.

As with all physical activity, you may want to check with your doctor before your return.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Dojo Door

New students begin their journey.
They come to class each week.
Students learn, question, drill, improve and enjoy.
They become part of the dojo community.
Parents sit and watch their children.
They too become part of the dojo community.
Instructors share and encourage.
Students continue to improve.
Instructors see the potential.


Students take a break from training.

Sometimes they return...often they do not.

I understand how difficult schedules can be. I struggle with my, family, dojo, house, tai chi, part time job and my daughter's softball, soccer, choir, Girl Scouts, living Stations and Play. Despite being able to is still hard to hear.

How do I respond?

The dojo door is always open. We look forward to your return.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Love What You Are Doing

Two weeks ago, I picked my daughter up from the extended care program at her school. The moment she saw me she came running over…“Can I play softball?”

The request was a complete surprise. There was an open gym practice at school. Instead of sitting around in study hall waiting for me to pick her up, she decided to hang out in the gym. Sign ups for softball were weeks ago and I immediately dismissed the email because she was signed up for spring soccer. Not to mention the fact she never, ever expressed any interest in softball. In fact, I believe the first time she picked up a real bat and a real softball was two weeks ago.

I needed more information about the team. I asked my daughter to find out when practices are and when the games are played. She talked about softball the entire drive home. It sounded like this…

Do you think I can play softball? Do you think I can still sign up? What day do you think the games are? If the games are on Sunday, can I play? Maybe I can miss some of the soccer games? Do you think Daddy (aka the soccer coach) will be mad? I only need to buy shoes because there are softball gloves in the garage. The practices are in the afternoon before soccer. I can make the practices. I really like softball. And on…and on…and on…

All the info was gathered and the schedules were checked. We determined she could fit in softball in addition to spring soccer, play, Girl Scouts, flute and choir. When she started soccer, it took her a few seasons to learn the fundamentals. I know for certain she is only playing basketball to be around her friends. She told me she did not even like basketball.

Softball seemed different.

On our first round of catch, she was throwing the softball with accuracy. A few times, the ball was thrown so hard it stung my hand. The timid girl, who ducks when a soccer ball comes anywhere near her head, was fielding ground balls. She picked up a bat to show me how to swing. Her swings are smooth and level and she consistently hits the softball.

The assistant softball coach, who is the head basketball coach, stopped me while I was waiting to pick up my daughter from practice. He was pleasantly surprised by her softball ability and joked “Who is this girl? Where did she come from?” Her effort and enthusiasm at softball practice was remarkably different from basketball practice.

The moral of the story: Love what you are doing.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Would They Pose A Risk of Violence?

There was a message on my home answering machine requesting a return call. A former co-worker gave my name as a reference for a job. The company requesting a reference is a national retail chain. The message had a sense of urgency.

Please return my call regarding X. I need you to answer 3 questions before X can be considered as an applicant for a job.

I did not want to hold up my former co-worker's job application. I called the human resource person and was quickly asked 3 questions. The questions were not what I anticipated. I was expecting basic employment information.

The Questions:
Question 1: In your opinion, would the applicant pose a risk of violence?
Question 2: Similar to question 1 but I cannot recall the wording
Question 3: Do you know of anything that would prohibit the applicant from doing the job?

The human resource person thanked me and ended the call. This is not the first time I was a job reference but it was the first time I was asked about the potential risk of violence.

OSHA defines workplace violence:

Workplace violence is violence or the threat of violence against workers. It can occur at or outside the workplace and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide, one of the leading causes of job-related deaths. However it manifests itself, workplace violence is a growing concern for employers and employees nationwide.
I answered the questions about my former co-worker. Then I began to over-analyze the phone call. I am responsible for interviewing applicants for seasonal positions at my employer. I am not a human resourse professional but I do know there are questions you cannot ask during the interview process.

Should businesses ask opinion questions about violence during the application process? Should I have answered the question? Is the workplace being cautious? Are they protecting themselves against a negligent hiring lawsuit?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Take Up More Space

The black belt group in the dojo meets on Wednesday night. The group has been working on kata, 2 person weapon forms, tegumi drills and kobudo. At the end of the session, each person demonstrated Chinto kata for the group. We analyzed our individual kata, observed the kata of others and made general comments. My overall comment to the group was "Take up more space".

I looked over at the newest black belt in the group. His hand went to his chin and he had the look of wanting to ask a question. His question:

What did I mean by "Take up more space"? I am glad he asked the question because it forced me to break down what I was seeing. It could be one or more of the following.

1. Stance. When moving through a kata, it is important to maintain stance. There are times when stances become shorter as a practitioner moves through kata.

2. Incomplete techniques. This happens more often with beginners. Students who are trying to keep up may shortcut a technique and rush to the next one. A full punch may only make it half way to the finish point before the next technique is started. It shortens up the movement and makes the technique smaller.

3. Arm movements close to body. Arm movements that collapse and move close to the body. I see this in Nai Hanchi punches. The arm practically rests on the mid section rather than being in the punch position. It is important to maintain your frame and keep arm positions in a functional position.

4. Presence. This is the hardest one. Have you ever seen someone demonstrate kata and seem larger than life regardless of their physical size? They take up space with their presence.

In regards to this particular night and the specific kata Chinto, I was referring to stance... moving on a diagonal, shifting from kosa to seisan and back again, 360 degree turns, scooting and shifting.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Repost: Go Outside and Play

I am reposting an article from March 2009. Last night in the dojo, the parents were talking about how things were when they grew up. They spoke of going outside and playing until dark. They rode their bikes, played games, invented games and learned how to interact with each other.

The parents all mentioned how things are different for their children.

My daughter and I volunteered at the local Conservancy sponsored book signing and lecture with Richard Louv. Richard Louv is the recipient of the 2008 Audubon Medal and author of the National Bestseller Last Child in the Woods Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. Louv claims that children are spending less time outdoors in a natural setting. This is the result of structured activity, over scheduling and being plugged in. Children are losing their imaginations due to the lack of unstructured play.

In Louv's lecture, he discussed the differences between children who play in a natural environment to those who play on a flat (concrete, black top) environment. He noted that the leaders that emerge from these play situations are different. The leaders on the flat environment are usually the physically strongest. The leaders in the natural environment tend to be the smartest. The group playing on the flat surface tend to be involved in structured games. The children playing in the natural environment need to make up their own games using their imagination. He was quick to point out that this is not urban versus rural.

Another interesting point Louv made in his lecture was that people have a special place. He told a story about when he was a child. There was a corn field near his home where he made an underground fort. This field/fort was his special place and even though he did not legally own the land...he felt a sense of ownership to that place. He was forever connected to that place.

Hearing Louv talk about his special place reminded me of my father. My father was born in the coal regions of PA in 1930. His family was poor as most were during that time. Dad tells stories of what he used to do when he was a kid. He would talk about the nearby dairy farm, streams, woods and the coal yards. When I was little he took me to where he played when he was young. He had me walk along the same streams, woods, dairy farm and coal yard. As we walked, he would point out where things used to be and how things have changed. At the time, I was just going for a walk. Now, I realize he was showing me his special place.

I think about my daughter and hope that she feels a sense of awe and wonder about the world. I want her to feel connected to nature. I think she does. Often when I drive her home from school she comments on the roadside litter. She asks me how she can start a recycling program. She is the type of kid who captures a slug in the backyard and wants to keep it as a pet. Her science fair topic is on the effect of pollution in rivers and streams.

Louv's lecture gave me a lot to think about. I have his book and I can not wait to read it. Who can argue with his message...Go Outside and Play!

The photo of the tree was taken by my daughter as a submission in a back to nature photo contest. She did not win but her entry was part of the slide show presentation at the Richard Louv event.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mirror, Mirror on the Dojo Wall

The dojo wall mirrors have been a training tool since I started practicing karate. I remember one of my first class instructors stopping the beginner class in the middle of a kata. We would remain in stance while he walked around and correct each student individually. The instructor would reposition our hands and check our stances. We would look in the mirror and hold the corrected position.

And we waited….

until every student was reviewed. The entire process took 10-15 minutes depending on the amount of people in class. I was a beginner and not accustomed to the stances and hand positions. My arms and legs would ache after a few minutes. We learned quickly what the position “looked like” and “felt like”.

Years later when we opened our dojo, the first major equipment purchase was a piece of mirror for the wall. Mirrors are expensive and we only could afford one piece. As the student population increased, we realized that a 6 foot section of mirror was not enough. We invested in mirrors to cover the entire front wall.

Mirrors are not a necessity but I find them to be a valuable training tool. Here are a few of the benefits:

Benefits of Mirrors – As an Instructor
1. You can see the entire class.
2. In a group class, you can gauge if the students are following along or having difficulty.
3. When teaching kids, you can monitor their position. Did you ever notice kids tend to stand only a few inches from the person next to them?

Benefits of Mirrors – As a Student
1. You can see the instructor no matter where you are in the room.
2. You can see what you look like executing a technique.
3. You can learn to identify and correct your mistakes.

What is your experience? Do you use mirrors as a training tool? Advantages? Disadvantages?