Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Review: The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker

The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker is a powerful book that examines the intuitive nature in all of us. He systematically explores the details of prediction and survival skills. Gavin De Becker discusses pre-incident indicators (PINs) of violence. It is an amazing book. The words written across the cover are “This book can save your life.” I am sure this book has helped many people and I encourage all to read it.

On a personal note, this book was very difficult for me to read. I had to put it aside a few times before I was able to finish. Our dojo was touched by violence in the most horrific way possible. There are two framed photographs on the dojo wall. The first photo is of an eight-year-old girl (J) wearing a karate gi. She is standing in the back yard of the dojo. The grass is green and the wind is blowing her hair. She is smiling. The second photo is of a ten-year-old boy (V). He is wearing a gi striking his best karate pose. He looks shy and slightly awkward.

V and J loved karate. They never missed a class and trained with us for four years. V and J were brought to class by their parents who would sit and watch each class. One day, V and J’s mother came into the dojo holding a PFA (Protection from Abuse) against her husband. She left her husband and took the kids. She was instructed to show a copy to everyone who routinely saw the children. Within a week of the PFA, the husband took her to court and was granted unsupervised visitation.

We were waiting for V and J to arrive at a local tournament. They never showed up that Sunday morning in March 2000. On his first unsupervised visitation, the husband drugged the children, tucked them into bed and suffocated them. He then killed himself. As I read The Gift of Fear, I could not help thinking of V and J. I think about V and J’s mother and cannot imagine how hard it must be to go on without her children. I do not think I will ever be able to get the image of V and J lying side by side in their joint coffin out of my mind.

The man that killed V and J was the person that was supposed to protect them and keep them from harm. This tragedy haunts the dojo to this day.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Kata and Kumite

In my previous post, I discussed the importance of evaluating kata. I study traditional Okinawa Kenpo and there are fifty-one kata (21 open hand and 30 weapon). BobSpar, the author of the Middle Aged Martial Artist blog, asked the following question.

"When you spar, how close do you think your execution is to the form you strive for in kata?"

Hopefully...very close. The techniques used in kata should be of the same caliber as the ones used in sparring. The techniques should be clean and technically correct. A punch or kick done properly will generate more power and be more accurate. The practice and study of kata develops timing, precision, control of center line, distancing, two foot movement, removal of target, angles and turning. During kata we strive to remain level and connect our body movement. For example, the power of a punch is not created by the arm alone. The body is connected to the floor and the power is generated through the hip and out the arm to the target.

After my initial reaction to the question, I began to think of the best fighters I know. I ran down the list in my mind. Each and every one of them are excellent kata practitioners. I think of the students in this dojo where kumite is part of the curriculum. We practice kumite but the most of the classes focus on kata, kobudo or application. The students love to spar and sometimes compete in tournaments. The students do extremely well in kumite even against fight focused schools. Good basics and good techniques are the key to their success.

When I watch people spar, I look for their kata. I see it in the way they move and how they cut angles. I look at their techniques and often find pieces of kata. Some examples are the parry reverse punch from Wansu, the rolling back fist from Pinan Yondan or a block back fist from Pinan Sandan. A simple inside forearm block becomes a parry strike when using the prep hand as the block so the block becomes the strike. We read our opponents by picking up cues from the body. Movement in the shoulder or hip can telegraph a punch or a kick. Kata practice helps eliminate the extra body movement.

In my opinion, kata training is the core of my kumite.

What do you think the relationship is between kata and kumite?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Kata "Stuff"

Have you ever seen "stuff" creep in to your kata? This happens all the time. It may be a natural process the gives us the opportunity to improve. "Stuff" comes in many forms: extra moves, odd angles, extra body movement (this seems to be the most prevalent), similar techniques from other kata, space constraints, or modifications due to injury that remain after recovery. I am not speaking of major movements or pattern problems. "Stuff" is subtle. I am referring to the refinements that can take your kata to the next level.

Some students may think that I am too picky. On the contrary, it is my obligation as an instructor to guide the students along their karate journey. Teaching and learning the pattern of kata is the easy part. A close examination of the techniques and how they function is when the real studying begins. For example, when I am looking at my own kata, I feel when something is awry long before I see it. There is a punch in Passai that is executed off the left hip. It felt wrong. After closer examination, I realized that I did not chamber the technique properly. A subtle correction can make a huge difference in function.

As students learn kata, they must remember to bring along the kata they already know. New students often seem surprised that rank testing is cumulative. The current material includes all the material you already tested for and passed! The earliest material must grow stronger with each rank. The first kata in Okinawa Kenpo is Nai Hanchi Shodan. A brown belt level student demonstrating Nai Hanchi Shodan should do so with brown belt level ability.

I encourage a close examination of kata. You can ask an instructor, work with a training partner or even self-evaluate.

Enjoy the process!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tai Chi Hip Movement

Tai chi class was excellent. We spent the entire class on brush knee and the hip joint. The instructor broke down the movement and watched/corrected our form. I love the precision and conservation of movement in Tai chi. It is beautifully complex. When I watch the instructor, I know that there is a depth and purpose to the movement. The instructor ended class with an assignment...think about the hip joint.

There is a basic hip movement in Tai chi which I am having trouble. During warm-ups we perform a hip movement exercise - we stand shoulder with apart and turn our torso using our hips. This sounds easy...but it is not. The instructor looks at me and tells me that my knees are going to hurt because of how I am moving. I end up twisting at the knee which puts pressure on the joint. The instructor has explained this movement several times and indicated that this movement is difficult for many people. He demonstrates how the hip moves when you turn one foot out. The movement is in the joint. When I try to turn at the hip, I keep thinking that my hip is not meant to move this way!
My instructor gave a brief anatomy lesson on the hip joint. He reminded us that the hip is a ball and socket joint and is not like the knee or elbow. Here is where I had a "light bulb" moment. The hip is like the shoulder. I know that this may sound like common sense or information that I should have connected. I was not thinking about the hip as a ball and socket joint. In most instances the hip joint moves forward, can lift or extend to the side. At that point I knew that the hip joint can turn this way! The instructor informed me that it was mind over matter. My brain believes I can turn at the hip...now I need my body to follow. Here is an interesting article on the hip and the waist in Tai chi.

I was discussing my hip joint difficulty with a fellow Okinawa Kenpo black belt. I was explaining how difficult I found this fundamental movement in Tai chi. I was describing (to the best of my ability) how the hip joint should move. He tried the move, thought for a moment and told me that it was sort of like a cat stance. He is right! When we sink into a cat stance the hip opens up. Another "light bulb". We discussed how the human body works in specific ways...no matter what martial arts style you practice.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Welcomed Reminder

Tonight I was given the opportunity to sit and talk about women and martial arts. This discussion could not be complete without mentioning Sensei Bobbi Snyder. Sensei Bobbi Sndyer was a pioneer for women in martial arts. Forty years ago, women were not allowed in most dojo. She wanted to learn self-defense and she sought out a dojo. The sign outside the dojo said "No Women" but she proceeded to knock on the door.

In many dojo, women represent approximately fifty percent of the student population. There are women instructors, dojo heads and directors of organizations. I was asked the question "How would you feel if you were the only woman in class?" The discussion was a welcomed reminder of how far women have come in the martial arts over the last forty years.

I attended a women's self-defense seminar taught by Bobbi Snyder when I was a 7th kyu. My encounter with her was brief but she made an impact on my training.

I wonder if I would have knocked on that door.

This is my 100th post. Thanks to all those who have read or commented on my blog.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

NYC In November

Last Saturday we went on a bus trip to NYC. It was cold (24 degrees) and windy(30 mph gusts). Our past trips have included trips to the Natural History Museum, the Statue of Liberty, or a show. This year we decided to go on the NYC Ducks tour. It was a half-boat and half-bus site seeing tour. Despite the cold, the view of Manhattan from the Hudson river was fabulous. The tour guide really knew her NYC history and provided an enjoyable commentary. She took this picture of us on the boat.Do you notice that there are no other passengers on the boat? We are modeling the colorful beak complete with duck sound capabilities given to each person on the tour. Did I mention it was cold?

When we first got off the bus my nine year old daughter was concerned that she looked like a tourist. She wanted to look like a New Yorker. We told her that she looked like more a native than we did as we were unfolding our city and subway maps. Our venture on the subway this year was far better than last year. During our last trip, we got on the wrong subway multiple times. We kept having to get off the train and go across the platform because we were heading in the wrong direction. At one point we really made a mistake and got on an Express train. We ended up miles from where we wanted in Harlem. We got off the train and waited for the next one back into the city. We had just come from a restaurant and my daughter was holding a balloon. All of a sudden the balloon popped. Can you imagine what a popping balloon sounded like in a subway? Let's just say that a few people ducked.

We visited a few shops in Greenwich Village and headed back towards Times Square. We were walking an all of a sudden my daughter starts talking "Oh my! It is even better in person." We start looking around to see what she was talking about. She points to a building marked "Parsons". We were in the Garment District and walked by the building that holds the Fashion department for Parsons The New School for Design. She then informed us that it was the location of Project Runway.

In ten years, I can see my daughter heading off to NYC. She want to be a chef, an actor, designer and own a zoo.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Lot To Unlearn

Tonight was Tai Chi class at the gym. I was looking forward to class because last week I was unable to attend. I had to rush to get to class on time. Luckily I was there before the instructor and had a chance to talk with the other students. There was a new person in class and she was concerned about not having prior martial arts experience. The other student and I told her not to worry because previous experience seems to be a disadvantage. The new student mentioned her concerns to the instructor and he said (as he glanced at me) "Don't worry, we have a lot to unlearn."

I am not sure how to take this. I do not think the instructor said it to be harsh but I felt discouraged by the remark. You see, I do not want to unlearn...I want to learn more. Does unlearn suggest that the movement I study in Okinawa Kenpo is wrong? Different...yes. Wrong...no. I knew from the start that Tai Chi would be difficult. I did not realize that it would be so hard on my knees. I am placing too much stress on the knees because I am not moving from the center. During the form, and in drills, we spend a lot of time with the weight distributed on one leg. My instructor said that in time my knees will feel better.

I am not going to let tonight's class get me down. I am going to practice my Tai Chi movement drills this week. I know that I look like a Okinawa Kenpo practitioner trying to do Tai Chi. Right now that is exactly what I am. I have only been taking classes for two months!

Hopefully a better class next week.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Trees And Toys

I work for a company that distributes Halloween and Christmas merchandise. Christmas season is almost over. There are only two more weeks before Thanksgiving and all of our product needs to ship. I have been working crazy hours and spending less time at the dojo. My family knows that I make no plans during the month of November. The company sells tree stands, wreath making supplies, tree drilling machines, bows, ribbon, balers, twine and netting.

I speak with tree growers and lot owners on a daily basis. They place their order and inevitably talk about the economy. They ask about the volume of sales and wonder how their season will be. Last Saturday a tree grower came into the office to pick up her order. She was discussing how the economy has hit her community. She mentioned the high rate of foreclosures in her town. The tree growers are a tight knit group and she shared a recent discussion. She said "trees and toys". She further elaborated that people will buy only what they need to keep their families happy. Toys for the children and trees for family tradition.

I agree with her.

When I was a child we would go to a tree farm to choose our tree on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The farm is beautiful and was established in 1901. We would grab a saw and head off to find a tree. The process was a long one because we would always find the perfect tree at the furthest corner of the farm. After long discussions and a vote, we would cut it down and drag it back. I was married in late November and I always joke that buying a tree from this particular tree farm was included in our marriage vows.

Currently, the tree decorating process in my household happens over a few days. The tree has to settle in the stand for a day. My husbands job is to cut down the tree and set up the tree in the stand. My daughter and I decorate the tree while Christmas music plays in the background. Each ornaments tells a story about places we visited, family members and special occasions. We take our time unpacking the ornaments and place them at just the right spot on the tree. We talk and laugh at the memories each one brings.

It is one of my favorite traditions. It is going to be a year of "Trees and Toys".

Do you have a favorite Holiday Tradition?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Building A Community

Nathan Teodoro of TDA Training has recently launched the new platform for The Convocation of Combat Arts. It is a gathering of martial arts blogs and their readers. Nathan describes his forum as:
"a place where we could discuss amongst ourselves, and with our reader, the issues of the martial day in a civil, mature way, without gratuitous, and anonymous personal attacks or unjustified opinions."

In addition to the main forums, there are groups specializing in Judo, Taekwondo, Karate, Kobudu, Aikido, Kung Fu, Boxing, BJJ, MMA and much more.

Check it out!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Hack Shaft - ACL Times Two

I just read upsetting news on Hack Shafts blog...he tore his other ACL while executing a tornado kick. I can only imagine how he is feeling. Recovery from ACL is hard work. The surgeon spends two hours rebuilding the knee and the patient spends months in physical therapy. The bottom line is that successful recovery it is up to the patient (as long as there are no complications from surgery). It is all about hard work, attitude and determination. Hack Shaft was one of my first martial artist blogging friends and I admired how he approached his ACL rehab.

Now he has to do it again.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bad Knee Day

I am having a bad knee day. It is so frustrating! I tell myself that I am over my knee injury but what if I am not? Perhaps it is not my knee but the fact that I am missing two hamstring tendons because they were used to rebuild an ACL. I want my knee to do what it is supposed to do!

Tonight was Tai Chi class. There were three students in class and we worked on movement drills. When it comes to karate, I love moving drills. I try to incorporate moving drills in every class because of the huge benefits to the students. Tai Chi movement drills hurt my knee. I keep hoping that it is because the movements are new to me. I am worried that me knee will always hurt during Tai Chi due to the nature of the movement. Maybe it is not my knee but my weak hamstring. Who knows?

The instructor describes the movement in Tai Chi as "emptying". When I empty one leg, all the weight is on the other leg. This is my fundamental problem.

Sorry about the rant.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Expectations In Studio 5

I have been attending Tai Chi Chuan classes at the gym. Each Tuesday night, I head to Studio 5 for class. There are four new students (including myself) and two students with several years experience. The class includes: exercises that open the hips, practicing the first part of the form, pushing hands and hugging the tree.

There is so much to learn. I do not expect to walk out of Studio 5 and feel like I know what I am doing. I leave looking forward to the next time I have the opportunity to attend class. Several people told me that Tai Chi takes a lifetime to learn. I believe it! My partner for push hands was the senior student. He advised me not to get frustrated and to give it time. I told him "that I do not expect to learn it quickly". I sensed that he was relieved to hear me say it. Apparently, students come and go and very few stick with it.

I see a similar phenomenon in the karate dojo. One of the first questions that a new student asks is "How long will it take to get a black belt?" The standard answer is to explain the recommended time requirements set by the Federation. I further explain that it depends on the amount of time they spend in the dojo and whether or not they take extended time away. I can almost hear the pages of the calendar flipping in their mind as they calculate an end date. This is ultimately a problem because they view earning a black belt as the end of their journey.

It is the beginning.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Slow As Molasses

Please indulge my non-karate post.
My daughter has been playing soccer for three seasons. I was not sure that she really wanted to play this year but I signed her up at her request. The first practice was a disaster. She would not run or even kick the ball. I was certain that she would not make it to the first game. She cried on the way home from the first practice exclaiming that the only reason that she joined the team was because she wanted to get a goal. I explained to her that in order to get a goal she needed to practice and she needed to run.

A few weeks into practice, I noticed a change in her. She was no longer the last one finishing her laps around the field. She played more aggressively and tried hard during practice. The girls were starting to grow as a team. Four games into the season, the team had yet to win a game. This was about to change.

Sunday was perfect soccer weather. On the way to the field, I told my daughter that today felt like the day she would get a goal. The girls were on the field and they played their best game of the season. During the second half of the game, my daughter got her first goal. She stood in the middle of the field for a second and quite honestly looked shocked. Then it sunk in....her first goal. Her teammates, parents and coaches cheered. It was a great moment...pure joy.

I asked her to describe in detail her goal. She said "I was in a quarrel (my daughters soccer lingo) with the defender and I kicked the ball. The ball went between her legs and into the goal. I did not think I was going to get a goal. The ball was as slow as molasses but then it went in." I assured her the ball did not move as slow as she thought. Priceless.

Way to go!

Friday, October 24, 2008

ACL Reconstruction...Seventeen Months Later

This is an important post for me to write because this was how my blog started. When I was six months post-op, I was searching to find out what my knee would be like at a year or longer. I could not find many first hand accounts past nine months. I wanted to see the big picture. I wanted to know more. Now that I am approaching the year and a half mark, I finally know why there is not much written. It is because there is not much to say...it is what it is.

There was a time that I felt defined by my injured knee. I longed to forget about it but each morning when I woke up my knee was holding me back. I searched the Internet looking for answers to my questions.

What will my knee be like in one year? Two?

Is karate changed forever? Will I need to stop training...forever?

What is in the incidence of re-injury?

How about the other knee?

What can I do to prevent re-injury?

So, what is my knee like today. Most days my knee is just a part of my leg. For those who experienced ACL reconstruction and recovery, this is a big deal! I have no pain or swelling during daily activities and full ROM. I try to go to the gym three (lately two) times a week to keep my knee healthy and strong. My knee functions pretty well during karate. There are a few movements that remind me that I once had knee surgery such as: kneeling longer than a few moments, jumping after a long workout and one-leg kneeling on my new ACL. I am cautious about flooring surfaces especially soft, mat-like flooring.

My knee has reached its potential and I accept its limitations.

Good luck to all those going through ACL reconstruction and recovery!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Where Do you Stand?

I literally mean ... where do you stand?

If I was to stand in front of the dojo and close my eyes, I could picture where each student stands on the dojo floor. I can visualize a brown belt in the back corner, a green belt directly in front of him, an adult brown belt in the back row center. I could go on. When I think to my own training at the Honbu, I inevitably stand in the back row close to the entrance. If my training partner is on the floor, we gravitate to the back row near the air conditioner.

Does it matter where you stand? I think it does.

One evening, I was reviewing chounokun with a brown belt student. The student was working on the kata for an upcoming test. I made some minor corrections and suggestions and realized that all the comments were directed to one side of the body. It was the side that could not be readily seen from where the student always stood. The moves were hidden from sight. The end position was fine but the moves in between needed some work. I suggested that the student move to the other side of the room to get a different view.

Last Tuesday was my second Tai Chi Chuan class. I wanted to try again even though I felt dopic the first week. I walked into the room and stood to the left. The instructor does not stand in the center of the room, he stands facing the mirror to the right. I could not see the moves and had to use the mirror to follow the pattern. Eventually, I moved to the back corner of the room so that I could see the instructor from a new perspective. What a difference it made!

If possible, vary where you stand in the dojo. If you cannot see the instructor, move to where you can. It is easy to get comfortable and claim "your place" on the floor. It is important to see the instructor from different angles.

Enjoy your training!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Leave It At The Door

I had a really bad day today. I was miserable. I had to deal with one problem after another. I finished working at 5:00 and had one hour before I was needed on the dojo floor. During my drive home I was wishing that I did not have to teach tonight. All I wanted to do was go home, rest and continue to be miserable.

I did not have time to rest or decompress...I had to leave my rotten day at the door. The moment I crossed through the door from the house to the dojo it was instant...my bad day was left behind.

What a wonderful gift of the martial arts!!!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tai Chi Chuan & Okinawa Kenpo

I have been going to the gym to maintain my leg strength and knee health due to an ACL Reconstruction. Although this injury has a six months to one year average recovery period, I realize that maintaining a healthy strong knee will be part of my lifestyle. There have been excellent benefits from my time at the gym. I spend time on the elliptical and lifting weights. I have been inquiring about the Tai chi chuan class offered at the gym since I joined seven months ago. I attempted my first Tai chi chuan class this week.

On the positive side:
The instructor was great...the real deal. He sat down and explained his goal for the class...health and wellness and feeling connected to your body. As an added bonus, he explained that he taught traditional Tai Chi and did not like the "fad" (his words) classes. It was more than I expected to find during an 8:00 p.m. class at the local gym. The instructor gave a brief history of his martial arts background and he answered questions thoroughly. It was interesting to note that he started learning Karate and Taekwondo but ultimately decided Tai chi chuan was the path for him.

On the negative side:
My knee hurts. The movement is so different from Okinawa Kenpo. We were working on a movement drill where the focus is to keep the shoulders and hips moving together from the center while the knees do something else. It was the something else...a slight turning at the knees that I was obviously doing wrong...that cause my knees to hurt. I think it will get better over time.

Then I asked what I consider the big question. How difficult will it be to practice both Tai chi chuan and Okinawa Kenpo? I explained that my purpose in learning Tai chi chuan is for health and wellness. The instructor was honest and told me that it would be difficult and that it might take me longer to "get" the movement. He indicated that he may be telling me things that are contradictory to what I know. He was honest and I respect him for his candor.

I want to continue taking Tai Chi Chuan classes.

What has been your experience learning multiple styles? Can they be kept separate? Do you want them to stay separate? Is it too difficult?

Monday, October 6, 2008

ACL Injuries in Females

My nine year old daughter plays soccer. This is the first year she really seems to be enjoying the game. The first two seasons she was afraid of the ball because she was always getting hit in the face. She prefers to play offense and she holds her own playing defense. The team played their fourth game this past Sunday. I sat on my folding chair and was enjoying the game. My daughter was playing defense and collided with an opposing team member. She was down on the field like a rag doll. I was calm at first but then I saw her sit up and hold her knee. My heart sank. The coach had to carry her off the field. She got kicked on the inside of her knee. Her knee is swollen and a nice shade of purple but she is fine.

A recent article from EmaxHealth indicates:

According to physical therapist and APTA spokesperson Mark Paterno, PT, MS, MBA, SCS, ATC, coordinator of orthopedic and sports physical therapy at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, recent research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that ACL tears occur four times more frequently in females than in males involved in the same amount of sports participation. He says the difference in neuromuscular control, or the way our muscles contract and react, is one of four primary factors contributing to why women are more susceptible to knee injuries than men. Other discrepancies are anatomical (men and women are structurally differently), hormonal (women's hormonal makeup affects the integrity of the ligament, making it more lax), and bio-mechanical (the positions our knees get in during athletic activities).

"Women perform athletic tasks in a more upright position, putting added stress on parts of the knee such as the ACL, resulting in less controlled rotation of the joint," said Paterno. "While men use their hamstring muscles more often, women rely more on their quadriceps, which puts the knee at constant risk.

The article suggests that the PEP program (Prevent Injury, Enhance Performance) developed by the Santa Monica ACL Prevention Project could reduce the risk of ACL injuries. This is an interesting website with injury prevention information for female athletes.

In regards to my daughter and soccer, the article gives me a lot to think (I mean worry) about.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Dojo Tale

Last Thursday night we had a great class. I had the class working on bo bunkai, specifically disarms. There were several black belts and a few advanced students in class. The brown belts were working through the disarms as the black belts were offering suggestions and providing examples. It was a great exchange of ideas. It made me think of how grateful I am to my instructors and the importance of training with a partner. I consider myself very lucky.

Then I remembered the following tale from the early years of the dojo:

Many years ago two potential students walked through the dojo door interested in karate lessons. They were male and in their early twenties. My husband spoke with them about the dojo and Okinawa Kenpo. After a few minutes, one of the men informed my husband that they had been training for years. He knows many of the local instructors and inquired to where they were training and who was their instructor. They proudly explained that they did not have an instructor. They bought a variety of martial arts videos and movies and were practicing for years in their basement. They wanted to know what rank that would make them in Okinawa Kenpo. My husband politely explained (ok, maybe not that politely) that their training would not merit any rank in Okinawa Kenpo.

The two men signed up for introductory lessons. During class, my husband was reviewing self-defense. One of the men wanted to review a technique they learned from a video. He told my husband that this technique would accelerate the heart and make the lungs feel like they are going to explode. They wanted to "try out" this technique and asked if they could test it out on my husband. Needless to say, they did not try their heart accelerating technique and they never came back to the dojo.

I cannot imagine trying to learn martial arts without an instructor.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Thirty Days Until Forty

I am fast approaching my fortieth birthday. This article states "a fortieth birthday is the commencement of middle age". There are also some interesting suggestions on how to celebrate. Each birthday morning, my mom calls me and asks "Does it feel like your birthday?" When she calls me this year, I wonder if I will feel any different.

I used to work for an organization dedicated to preserving Pennsylvania German history. To be considered a PA German, your ancestors came to America from a German speaking land from 1638 until the late 1700's. The visitors to the headquarters were mainly interested in genealogical research. Many of the visitors were over the age of 70. I know this because I would estimate 8 out of 10 visitors would tell me their name and age. The ages ranged from 70 to 90. They would tell wonderful stories. I enjoyed listening to their tales and learned much. They were proud of their age.

How do you/did you feel about turning 40?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sparring Advice Needed

I sparred for the first time without my knee brace. When it was time to pad-up, I put on my gear and did not even think of the brace. I was in the middle of a match when I remembered that I did not put my Breg ACL brace on. The truth is … I do not know where I put it. I have my functional knee brace tucked away nicely in its fancy bag. Where is my soft brace? It must be in a drawer somewhere.

Since my ACL injury, sparring has been tough mentally and physically. I began sparring seven months after my ACL surgery. I wore the functional brace and everything was slow. The brace was restricting and I was not moving as I did before the injury. To my surprise, I preferred kicking with my new ACL. I did not want to use my recovering leg as my support leg. I was afraid to pivot or lose my balance.

Sparring last week was different. My favorite stance is left foot forward, hips angled 45 degrees, and rear leg slightly bent using the ball of the foot to push forward. My right leg has the reconstructed ACL. I had regained enough strength in my right leg to use it as my support leg. I began to kick with my left leg and it felt good. However, when I tried to kick using my right leg it felt like it was moving in slow motion. My sparring partner commented on the difference in speed between my left and right leg.

I need advice.

How can I get my right leg moving again? My ACL is healed and my leg muscles are strong. Why is it so slow? Am I subconsciously “protecting” it? Maybe I do not want to put my leg in harms way. I have a vision of someone’s elbow striking my exposed knee while blocking a kick. Should I pull my Breg ACL brace out of the drawer and wear it when I spar? Do I need to spar more often? Kicking drills? Do I just need more time? A new sparring strategy?

What if this is as good as it gets?

Saturday, September 20, 2008


One of the requirements I needed for shodan was combinations. I need to demonstrate 25 combinations right side, 25 combinations left side, 25 take-downs right side and 25 take-downs left side. My training partner and I were concerned about this part of the test. We decided to practice combinations and take-downs for at least one hour a week during the six months before testing. We would arrive at the dojo before class began and practice. Testing finally arrived and when we got to the combination and take-down portion of the test our instructor told us that he did not need to see them. He further explained that the reason he did not need to see them was because he watched our extra practice during the previous six months. I do not remember if I was disappointed because I was ready for the combinations or elated that I did not have to do that part of the test. A lesson learned...our instructor was always watching.

When I am teaching class, I try to include combinations as part of the basics. We line up facing our partner. The partner steps forward with a lunge punch or push to mid-section or the head. The defender evades the technique and then uses a counter-strike. When students begin this drill they do a great job of evading the technique. They have a difficult time selecting the counter-strike (punches, knees, elbow, palm heel, ridge hand etc.). Over time the students improve their speed and strike selection. The students soon discover their favorite and most effective techniques. As an instructor, it is rewarding to watch the students abilities improve. This drill teaches "live side/dead side" and the importance of "cutting an angle".

We modify the combination drill for more advanced students. We start from a natural stance. The attacker can choose which hand to punch or push, which foot forward and if they want to step forward or not. The punches were faster and the distance was varied. This drill improves timing, target and distance. We took this drill one step farther. After the initial attack and counter-strike by the defender, the original attacker was to grab the defender. The grab would depend on what opportunities were available (wrist, lapel, gi etc.). The defender would have to continue with an escape and counter technique. This drill teaches an important lesson. In a self-defense situation, we must remember to keep going until the threat is neutralized. In the earlier drills, we stopped after the counter-strike.

Don't you just love drills?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Martial Arts Blogging – What has it done for you?

A year ago, I barely knew what a blog was. I started my site in order to document my ACL recovery. I was seven months post-op and I was struggling with my recovery. I began reading the ACL stories of other martial artists and found hope and encouragement. I am now sixteen months post-op and the focus of my blog is changing. I want to write about being a student and an instructor of Okinawa Kenpo.

Blogging has made me think differently about karate. I am referring to the way I process information. I learn and teach by doing and seeing the technique. Now, I have an outlet to express my karate thoughts using the written word. It has not been easy and I have much improving to do. Sometimes a topic comes up in class that I want to discuss on my blog. I turn on the computer and ….nothing. I had an easy time during class but I can not put it on paper. It is frustrating but I am working on it.

Blogging has given me the opportunity to interact with people from various martial arts styles and perspectives. Reading the posts and comments of others allowed me to look for similarities and differences among the arts. I have admired training methods, work ethic, enthusiasm and technical knowledge. I have incorporated drills and ideas found on blogs to the dojo. I have shared information with students in the dojo. It provides a connection to others performing similar training from across the globe.

What has martial arts blogging done for you? Has it improved your training? Has it been a positive or negative experience?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Quick Update

Busy, no, make that overwhelmed.

My daughter is involved with choir, soccer, Girl Scouts and tambourine dance. She came home last week asking if she could run for 4th Grade Class Representative. We are now working on a two day "campaign" that includes flyers and handouts (should I say candy?). I am fortunate that my sister is a graphic designer. Election is on Wednesday.

My job has just started busy season. The company I work for sells Christmas tree stands and lot supplies. We just finished our Halloween season and we are full steam ahead for Christmas.

Two family members will be having surgery within the next week and a half. My husband is having two discs in his neck fused and a metal plate inserted. He described the surgery to me and it physically makes me nauseous. He is supposed to be walking around a few days after surgery. The other surgery is equally upsetting. Two surgeries, two different hospitals, two days apart.

Too much.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Good Uke / Bad Uke

An important lesson for a new student is how to be a good uke. An uke is one who executes the attack. This is important for several reasons but the main reason is safety. It is vital that students have the opportunity to learn techniques in a safe environment.

When I was a brown belt, I took Danzan-ryu jujitsu for a few months along with Okinawa Kenpo. I had to stop due to the time and preparation needed for my black belt testing in Okinawa Kenpo. I remember the instructor telling us that a technique must be performed over 5000 times before you really know it. Now, I am not sure of the number…but it is necessary to repeat techniques enough until it becomes a natural reaction. These classes made me appreciate training with a good uke.

The first time a student performs any type of partner work, we discuss what it means to be a good uke. I will use a basic wrist grab as an example.

- Grab with a firm grip. This does not mean that you should grab until the wrist turns blue. The grip should be strong enough so that the tori (the one who executes the technique) needs to execute the technique properly for a release. The tori should know what it feels like to be grabbed and escape the hold. A weak grip does not allow the tori to learn the technique properly.
- The process of “tapping out” is explained.
- Students need to pay attention to the instructor. They need to know the details of the technique.
- Kids often want to grab each other with an iron grip. They tend to put full force and power in all their techniques. We discuss what control means when working with a partner.
- There is no ego, arrogance or anger.

The meaning of a good uke changes as one achieves more rank and experience. You want your training partner to increase intensity as your skill improves. Attacks should become faster and become increasing realistic. Safety is still of utmost importance. If a student is injured, they cannot train.

A bad uke has no regard for their partner. They have no control and take no responsibility.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Tonight was the first time in two weeks that I was in the dojo. I have been busy with family commitments, work responsibilities and my daughter’s back to school regimen. I have spent the past Tuesday and Thursday evenings taking my daughter to soccer. The practice field is a twenty-minute drive from home in a rural part of the county. There is a beautiful church with a glass steeple across the street from the field. There are cornfields on the left and I can see a mountain range in the distance. The sun sets behind the church and creates an elegant skyline.

I sat on my lawn chair and read. The first week, I pulled out my copies of Bugeisha magazine. This magazine was published in 1997 for the Traditional Martial Artist. The second week, I decided to re-read, “Living the Martial Way” by Forest E. Morgan, Maj USAF. This passage from the book stood out for me:

“Warriors, on the other hand, have very little spare time. They lead goal-oriented lives, and their goals demand dedication. But warriors also know they must balance work and training with rest and play. They do so by choice, as part of their training. Warriors are always under control.”

The balance of work and training with rest and play is at times…difficult. To be in control can ward off being overwhelmed. For the next few weeks, I am going to enjoy studying martial arts while I enjoy taking my daughter to soccer practice.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Gender and the Dojo

When I walk into the dojo, I see people in karate uniforms. It does not matter if the person is male or female. Gender should not play a role in an individual’s karate training. I have been fortunate that I have seen very little gender bias during my training. Most of my training partners have been male. As a current karate student and instructor, it is important to remember that it has not always been this way. There was a time when women were not welcomed in some dojo.

Tales from my personal experience:

When I first started karate, my husband was preparing for black belt testing. There were a few teenage boys in the beginner class when I began. I was taken aside and promoted to yellow belt ahead of them. This upset one of the teenage boys and he began complaining that the reason I was promoted was that I was ***married*** to a black belt. Married was not the word he used but I am sure that you know what I mean.

As a new Shodan, I was in the dojo while my husband was teaching. Some new students, who were friends of a friend of my husband, were in class. My husband was demonstrating a self-defense move against being pinned to the ground. The attacker was kneeling on top of the person while pinning the hands to the ground. My husband was on the ground. He was demonstrating how to move one arm up and the other down which causes the attacker to be off-balance. The new student, who was the uke, pointed to me and wanted me to demonstrate. I agreed and he pushed down on my hands will all his weight. The only way I could move my hands was if I starting using my legs with all my force. Fortunately, my husband ended the demonstration at this point and explained what it meant to be a good uke. I was called out because I was a female black belt. My husband and I learned from this experience and something like this has not happened since.

A few more subtle examples:

When people call the dojo and I answer the phone, they ask to talk to someone about the karate classes. I say “I can help you.” and many times there is a pause. After a few minutes of discussion about karate, I can almost feel the person relax on the other end of the phone.

There are times when I am teaching class and there are male black belts in the room. New students have directed questions to a male black belt on the floor instead of me.

Here is the common thread; the bias was always from people that are new to martial arts. Fellow martial artists know the hard work, dedication and training involved to get to Shodan. The people cited in my examples did not last too long in the dojo.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Competitive Nature

A few years ago, I decided to return to work full time. I applied for a job in the garment industry through a recruiter. We exchanged several emails and the recruiter asked me to fill out questions regarding my job experience. He sent me several questionnaires. I use the term questionnaires lightly...they were more like essay questions. I spent at least ten hours on these email questions. Eventually, I was asked to take a DISC assessment. This is a behavioral analysis that categorizes into a type...Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientious.

I turned out to be a High C.
Persons with High C styles adhere to rules, regulations, and structure. They like to do quality work and do it right the first time. High C people are careful, cautious, exacting, neat, systematic, diplomatic, accurate, tactful. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia I did not get the job because they were looking for a High I. Go figure.

During the session the recruiter spoke with me and interpreted the results. In addition to being a High C, he told me that my answers constantly indicate that I have a competitive nature. I was hard on myself certain enough but was not competitive. Being categorized as a High C made sense because I can be slightly OCD about some things. I can tell you I was shocked at being called competitive.

It is time to call on my competitive nature. I am thinking of competing in a karate tournament. When I went to tournaments in the past, I just went out and did my best. I know how to prepare for testing and I have helped other prepare for competition. Right now I feel stuck regarding my own preparation. The first step will be choosing which bo kata and which open hand kata I will demonstrate. Not sure about sparring yet.

Have you competed in a tournament? Did you spend extra time on tournament material? Is there a need for extra preparation or is the training time in the dojo sufficient?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Self-Defense Against Mean

I am crossing my fingers for a bully-proof year.

My daughter attends a small Catholic grade school. She will be starting the 4th grade on Monday. She is excited because she found out that she got the teacher she wanted. Last year was a rough year. I was glad when the school year ended and I do not think the summer was long enough.

The first quarter of third grade was terrible. I think I received three slips from the nurse each week. My daughter was constantly in the nurses office with a stomach ache or a headache. Finally, she confided to the nurse that the kids were being mean. She said "The kids have been mean since kindergarten but now that they are older, they just find new ways to be mean." We took her to the doctor to make sure that there was nothing wrong with her stomach. The doctor concluded that her upset stomach was a result of stress caused by the mean kids in school. The school acted quickly and things got better. I seriously considered changing schools.

My daughter knows the basic school yard self-defense. She knows how to get out of wrist grabs and knows how to avoid a push. What is the self-defense against mean? The kids that are one day your friend and the next day won't talk to you. I was surprised to learn that cliques start in first grade. When did it start so early? We have practiced how to use assertive words. We discussed when it is appropriate to "tell". I have tried to explain that bullies are looking for a reaction and that her best reaction is ... no reaction.

I send her to school armed with what I call "The Mommy Rules". The first rule is that "I love her ... no matter what". The second rule is "I am proud of her". I think kids need to know their parents are their ally. She refuses to stand up for herself because she is concerned she will get in trouble at school. My daughter is an only child and spends much of her time around adults. She is involved in school activities and gets good grades.

How do you prepare your child against bullying?

Friday, August 22, 2008

PT in the Grocery Store

I may have mentioned that I had a terrific Physical Therapist during my ACL recovery. Her children took karate classes for a few years and were great to have in class. The other night I was bringing my daughter home from soccer practice. We decided to stop at the local grocery store for a treat. I ran into my PT in the frozen food aisle. She asked me how I was doing and I told her that things were great and I finally feel like I have put this injury behind me. She had the surgery over twenty years ago and told me that it took her a year to feel confident again. During my update , I mentioned a "popping" feeling on the side of my knee. I explained that when I work out more than usual or do squats, my knee feels weird. She told me that it sounds like Iliotibial Band Syndrome. Lovely.

The best thing about running into your PT in the grocery store...No co-pay! : )

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Push Ups Anyone?

I was reading the post 100 Push Ups over at Lady's Sparring Night's blog. She refers to a website One Hundred Push Ups that provides a program to achieve 100 push ups in six weeks. I decided to give it a try. I am not very good at push ups. I am hoping to change that!

Push Ups anyone?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Have You Ever Used It?

When people find out that I am involved in the martial arts, the first question out of their mouth is "Are you a black belt?". Immediately after I respond "Yes" the next question is "What rank?". These first two questions are easy to answer and the usual response is "Oh". However, it is the next question in this script that I often do not know how to answer.

Have you ever used it? The first thought that goes through my head is "Of course, I use it everyday. My training and involvement with karate shapes how I move and my approach to life." But, that is not the answer they are looking for. They want to know if I was ever in a fight or did I ever use karate to defend myself.

I was never in a fight. One night in the dojo, the students were predominately female. The subject of fighting came up and after a lengthy discussion I found out that 8 out of the 10 females in the room had been in a fight with other females. The stories were mainly about fights in high school. Girls would send notes to other girls telling them to meet them after school. I had never seen or heard of a fight when I was in high school.

In regards to self-defense, I do believe that I avoided a serious confrontation. I worked as a manager of a wholesale clothing warehouse. My job was located in the middle of the city in an undesirable location. It was an interesting job to say the least. Many of the temporary employees wore ankle bracelets and were on work release. There was one temporary employee that would talk to her "imaginary friend" during work. This woman fell asleep at her examining table and I had to let her go. I was six months pregnant at the time and she left the building threatening to kill me.

One night I was scheduled to come in to work late to help prepare for a warehouse sale. I was to meet a co-worker at midnight so we could finalize the preparations for the opening. My husband went along with me so I did not have to go alone. My co-worker parked his car a half of a block ahead of us. My husband and I parked the car. As we opened the door, a truck went speeding past us. The truck stopped at the corner and the driver opened the door, stood on the edge of the car and started screaming at us. The driver did not see my co-worker who was a half a block ahead. My husband and I stood there. We did not yell or rush back to our car. We stood there and waited. All of a sudden, he hopped back into his truck and drove off. My co-worker was speechless. He was certain there would be a confrontation and amazed at our reaction. My husband and I looked unified, calm and ready.

I do believe that I use my karate training on a daily basis. So, let me rephrase the question: "How have you used your karate training in a non-combative way?" We talked about this briefly in the dojo and here are a few examples:

My sister-in-law works as a child care assistant. She was on a ledge twelve inches off the ground. The children were playing on the floor close by. She lost her balance and was delighted to tell me that she did a karate roll fall to avoid injury.

Removal of target. When walking in a crowd have you ever cut angles or minimized the target?

A student came back from climbing Mt. Rainier. He mentioned how the karate stances of Seisan and Sanchin helped his climb.

When lifting a heavy piece of equipment my husband was losing his balance. He dropped into a Kosa stance and avoided falling.

The no-touch flush. This is the technique of using a slow front thrust kick to flush a public toilet.

I used my experience in karate to help with my ACL recovery. I would spend time analyzing how I walked in an effort to eliminate my limp.

I made a calm, clear decision during my car crisis.

Has martial arts training helped your everyday living? Do you move better? Are your reaction times quicker? Are you more aware of your surroundings?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Car Quest - The Results - Upside Down

I recently wrote about the problems I was having with my car and my attempt to stay calm. This problem resolved itself two weeks ago but it is only now that I am ready to talk about it.

Part 1
I had an appointment to meet with the sales manager to discuss my options. Last November, I bought a Certified Pre-Owned car from a local dealer. During the first seven months my car need numerous, expensive repairs. My brother went to the meeting with me. When we arrived, we were told the sales manager left for the day. WHAT?!!! They called him on his cell phone and we were told that the salesperson X would take care of us. USELESS!!!! He tried to sell me a new Mazda 6.

My brother, who was fabulous throughout this whole process, asked the dealer to show us the service paperwork for the 130 point Pre-Certification. No one in the entire dealership was able to access this report. The salesperson explained that I was upside down. They offered $4000.00 less of a trade in that I owed on the car. They told me that I could just roll-over the difference on a new car loan. We then found out that this dealership has a reputation for sending out cars that they know will break after 30 days. Their BBB report shows 16 complaints in the past 3 years. I checked all the local dealerships and no one came close to the number of complaints this dealership had.

Part 2
We decided that we would check out another dealership. I was told that July was a great time to buy a car because there were many incentives. My brother and I went to another dealership. They were going to help me. They were going to get me in a new car TODAY! I told them that I was not going to rush into buying a new car because it did not work so well last time. They called me and emailed me twice a day. They offered me a deal but it was not good enough. My brother was the negotiator. He is the CFO of a construction company and deals with bids all day long. He went into the meeting prepared and knew exactly how much money the car was worth. The end result ... No Deal.

New strategy .... go back to dealership #1 and get them to fix the car they sold me at a reasonable price. My brother went to the service manager and still could not get the Pre-Certification report. The manager offered me a 10% discount. Seriously! They already charged me two $70.00 diagnostic fees to confirm what I already told them ... a broken window and a broken wheel hub. He tried to explain to them how valuable a gesture of goodwill would be for the dealership. It would be worth every penny of word of mouth advertising. The dealership did not care. I will never do business with them again. I am telling everyone about my bad experience.

I got my car fixed. My brother found me a different mechanic that fixed my car for $250.00 less than the dealership. My car is upside down. It is not worth what I paid for it or owe on it for that matter. I am stuck with it.
Post edited 08.15.08. The following links describe the tricks and scams car dealerships and salespeople use.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Focus on Basics

In the dojo, over the last two months, we were focused on black belt testing material. We worked hard on kata, weapons and bunkai. The kyu rank students had a brief opportunity to work on a more advanced curriculum. Now, it is back to basics. I love to teach basics ...strikes, blocks, movement and drills. Last week we spent thirty minutes on how to move in the first kata. A few years ago, I taught a class that included several teenage brown belts. After warm-ups, we would begin each class with moving drills. They would groan and I told them that they would thank me one day. They had a particularly rough black belt test but passed with no problem. One of the students came up to me after he received his belt and thanked me for the all the moving drills we did in class.

There were several students that attended the 2008 Annual Training. They returned to the dojo inspired and enthused. Several kyu rank students watched black belt testing for the first time. They saw for themselves the level of commitment required to do well. The instructors have explained the process many times but it was not until they saw the testing that they truly understood.

In August, I will focus on the basics but not just in the dojo. There is much work to do at home. I spent the better part of the weekend school shopping with my daughter. I am exhausted from shopping. I am lucky that she wears a uniform to school every day. I can not imagine taking her shopping for back to school clothes. I have enough trouble finding shoes and a backpack. It took us three trips to the mall to find the perfect backpack. This is the first year that she did not get a Disney Princess or Fairie backpack. We bought a backpack with wheels because of the amount of books she is required to bring home each day. She weighs 60 pounds and last year she was carrying 12-15 pounds of books. I actually put the backpack on the scale!

Enjoy the rest of the summer!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

2008 Training Camp

I have been at a loss for words when trying to write about the 2008 Annual Training. It is not because there is nothing to say. It is because I could not find the words that would do it justice. There was something special about this years training. I felt it and I heard others remark on it. I tried to identify what made it special but I could not isolate the source. I soon realized that it was the combination of inspiring instructors, training, friends and accomplishments.

I am fortunate to belong to a Federation that promotes the sharing of information across styles. Hanshi and Kyoshi invite amazing guest instructors; Hanshi Miquel Iberra - Aki-Jujitsu, and Kyoshi William Hayes - Shorin-Ryu Karate and Kobudo. I cannot say enough about these instructors. If you ever have a chance to attend their seminars…take the opportunity. There were many outstanding sessions focused on Okinawa Kenpo taught by Hanshi and Kyoshi Heilman. Several Federation Kyoshi ran excellent sessions on kobudo and bunkai.

I am proud, yet often feel unworthy, to be a member of the Renshi-Kai. This is a Federation advisory board of licensed instructors. The Renshi-Kai comprises the formal Yudansha Testing Board. It is a privilege to be part of the testing board. I see the testing candidate’s hard work, determination and perseverance. There were several triumphs this year at testing. One candidate was victorious over a serious illness and another demonstrated true warrior spirit.

There is a strong sense of camaraderie at the training seminars. I only see these martial artists a few times each year. Even though we do not see each other often, we fall into the natural rhythm of friendship. We are there for the same purpose…to learn… to share… to train. We are in the moment.

It was an amazing weekend.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

ACL Reconstruction – Month 15 – Approaching Closure

It is time. I am ready to put this injury behind me.

It has been fifteen months since my ACL reconstruction surgery. When I began this journey, I had no idea how long recovery would take. I scoured articles and blogs to find information about others working through ACL recovery. Everyone is different due to graft choices, brace and PT protocols and the individual patient. There was an abundance of information about the surgery and the first six to nine months. I found very little written about what to expect after the standard six to nine month recovery period.

This weekend I will be attending a three-day training camp. I will not be wearing a knee brace. The brace will be in my karate bag hidden out of site. Someone told me that I should bring it to training for good luck. An ACL brace as a good luck charm … who knew? I have no intention of thinking about my knee. This is the hardest part because thoughts just creep in my brain. When I am tired, I catch myself ascending stairs one leg at a time. I do not do this intentionally and immediately stop when I realize that I am doing it. I will do my best to enjoy the weekend and train in the moment.

Most people find my site searching for knee related information (knee crunching, knee pain, ACL recovery, functional bracing etc.) At the base of the site, there is a disclaimer, which states that I am not dispensing medical advice. The initial purpose of this site was to document my experience with ACL surgery and recovery. The physical recovery has been over for months. My knee is healed with full ROM, no swelling or pain. The mental/emotional recovery took me fifteen months. I worry about re-injury but it is no longer a daily concern. In addition to karate, I go to the gym three times a week to keep my leg strong. I know that I am doing everything I can to keep my body strong and prevent injury.

To those going through ACL surgery and recovery, please remember it WILL get better. This injury will try your patience but with hard work and determination, you WILL get through it!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Grand Master Seikichi Odo, 10th Dan

I was recently informed (thank you) that there was a DVD available from Yamazato Productions featuring Grand Master Seikichi Odo. It is the complete system of Okinawa Kenpo Karate and Kobudo. If you study Okinawa Kenpo this video is a must have. Master Odo demonstrates all the open hand and weapon kata. It includes weapons kumite. The video was filmed in a dojo and outside on the grass. It appears to be taken from a personal video library. My amazon.com package arrived a few days ago and I could not wait to sit and watch. This video is a gem for anyone practicing Okinawa Kenpo.

I was fortunate to meet Master Odo in 1994. He travelled to the Honbu for a training seminar. What an amazing experience! I was a green belt and a bit overwhelmed. I never had a photo taken with him (kicking self). There was an outside demo that year and Master Odo accompanied the dojo. I remember that I demonstrated a tunfa kata. He told me that I did a good kata and when he left he called me a strong green belt. The next time he was at the Honbu, my husband was starting the dojo. We had a picnic at our house and Master Odo came. Master Odo, Grand Master of Okinawa Kenpo ... in my house! He approved of the house/dojo combination. Master Odo suggested that we train outside behind the dojo. He enjoyed the picnic and even helped at the grill.

I have two sets of Shodan (1996) certificates. One set was issued by my instructor and the Federation President. The second set is signed by Master Seikichi Odo, 10th Dan.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Obi - Under Construction

I mentioned in a previous post that I felt my obi was in a perfect state of wear – worn but not worn out. I commented that I never added the gold stripe to my belt. I recently decided to buy a new Renshi belt and keep my original belt stripe free. I have been so busy; I have yet to place an order.

My plans suddenly have changed.

Last Saturday, I went to the black belt workout at the Honbu. I was asked to stand up front and lead the group through Odo No Tekkos Ichi. At the end of the kata, my instructor came towards me. I thought that he wanted to inspect my weapon. My tekkos were hand made from ebony. He did not want to see the tekkos.

He wanted to see my belt.

My belt will soon be under construction. My instructor told me that he would mail me what I need. Therefore, I am expecting an envelope in the mail any day with the supplies I need to retrofit my obi. I will be adding a stripe and updating the Federation logo. I need to do this before the Federation training camp next weekend.

Did I mention I do not sew?

For those interested, I am including a link to Crane Mountain weapons. They specialize in custom traditional wooden martial arts weapons. I am fortunate to own a pair of steel kama and nunchaku made by Crane Mountain.

Monday, July 21, 2008

From Crisis Comes Opportunity

On Saturday, I went to the Honbu for a workout. I often mention Hanshi, my instructor and President of the Federation. Today, I want to talk about Kyoshi. Kyoshi is one of my instructors and Vice-President of the Federation. She is a pioneer for women in the martial arts and an excellent role model. I have been fortunate in my karate training to be taught by a strong female instructor. She promotes and encourages women in the arts. She wants women to succeed! She has blazed a trail and my path has been made easier because of her.

I was able to talk to Kyoshi for a few minutes before the workout. During our conversation, she asked about my knee. I told her that the injury/recovery was difficult but it has made me stronger. She smiled briefly and said, “from crisis comes opportunity”. This is a saying that I have heard her say many times before but it really stuck with me on Saturday. The claim is that the Chinese character for Crisis is composed of the characters for Danger and Opportunity. There is much debate on the translation as discussed by Victor H. Mair.

I have been thinking about the statement “from crisis comes opportunity”. It was the right time to be reminded that our approach to situations greatly determines the outcome. When I teach karate, I use the word opportunity often. If I am focusing on beginner material, I tell the green/brown belts to use the opportunity to refine their technique. When we practice self-defense and a student cannot get a technique to work, we look for other opportunities that would work for them. When examining bunkai, we examine how different opportunities present themselves when we vary partners, strikes or grabs.

Tonight, I am going to approach my meeting at the car dealership as an opportunity. My conversation with Kyoshi helped to put things in perspective.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Trying To Stay Calm

Take a deep breath in.

Hold for 8 seconds.



I am having an extremely stressful week. My daughter is involved in a local children’s theater. She has been practicing for the last five weeks – four days a week – three hours a night. There is so much work done behind the scenes such as advertising, ticket sales, raffle, costumes and set construction. Parents are recruited to help. Therefore, I have been cutting apples, painting hay bales, moving tables, and working stage left. There are five performances and I will be at the theater all weekend. I am very proud of her because she has worked so hard.

Here comes the stress. On Thursday, I went to the post box to collect the mail. When I shut my car door there was a loud crunching sound. My car window fell into the door. The car was at the mechanic last week and I need a wheel hub sensor. I decided not to get this fixed but rather trade in the vehicle. This was the first used car I ever bought. I only had it six months. I went to a reputable dealer and it was a certified pre-owned car. In the past six months, it needed the following repairs: passenger window regulator ($405.00), right wheel hub sensor ($549.00), directional tires were installed backwards ($75.00), left wheel hub sensor ($549.00), and now driver side window regulator ($405.00). This does not include the molding falling off, the headliner falling down and a piece inside the trunk falling off. I can envision myself driving down the road as my car slowly falls apart leaving behind me a trail of debris.

I made numerous calls to the service manager and sales manager. I explained to them my busy weekend and the need I had for my car. They propped up the window using a wedge and packing material. On Monday, I have a meeting with the original salesperson and the sales manager. When I bought the car, the salesperson told me that the car belonged to his daughter-in-laws father. At the time, I believed him but maybe it was just a sales technique.

What does this post have to do with karate? I need to stay calm and karate will help. I may need to take a few extra deep breaths over the next few days. I am going to make time to visit the Honbu on Saturday for a workout. I will need to stay focused, determined and levelheaded. I am planning to leave the dealership on Monday with a different car.

If the stress gets too bad, I might have to practice Sanchin a few times. Maybe sparring would work better?

Does karate help you manage stress?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Karate Roles

My husband and I are both black belt students of the Federation Honbu dojo. My husband is the chief instructor of his own dojo, which he started in 1995. That is the dojo where I teach. It is also where I live because the dojo and our house are connected. So, let us see, that makes me a student, an instructor and a karate spouse.

My first role in karate will always be student. I learn each time I step in the dojo. The ACL surgery and recovery had me examining my movement and technique with a fine-tooth comb. I finally feel “normal” again. We have been working on bunkai recently. Some people have natural ability when it comes to bunkai. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. I have to work hard at bunkai. The good news is that it has gotten much easier over time.

I take the role of instructor seriously. I study traditional Okinawa Kenpo Karate & Kobudo. It is amazing to be part of a 300-year history. I enjoy seeing students develop a love for martial arts. I hear their enthusiasm when they talk about it or ask questions. Being an instructor is hard sometimes. With all things, students come and go for various reasons. The hardest thing for me to understand are the students that quit right before black belt testing. Many cannot or do not want to make the training commitment needed to prepare for testing. For an instructor, this is heartbreaking.

My husband and I do not train together. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but it is true. When I first started karate, he was a black belt. He was a class instructor at the Honbu. We arranged our schedules so that he would not be my class instructor. He wanted me to find my own path and I am grateful. Do not get me wrong, we talk about karate, work through bunkai problems and discuss techniques. When I was a green belt, we were preparing a self-defense demonstration for a local shopping mall. We practiced for several days. On the day of the demonstration, right before it was our turn; he wanted to change the routine. No way! That was the last time we did a self-defense demo together.

To the spouses and children of karate practitioners, I applaud you. Being a karate wife, mother, husband or child requires a lot of understanding. It is not an easy job. There have been many nights were we ate dinner after nine o’clock. Tournaments, training camps and extra workouts mean time away from home. I often wonder how my daughter views karate.

Sometimes, it is hard for me to juggle.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Black Belt Testing

Federation Black Belt testing is around the corner. The usual testing schedule for black belt candidates is summer and winter. The summer testing occurs at the yearly training camp sponsored by the Federation. It is an intense three day camp with guest instructors. It includes formal testing and a banquet. Testing requirements may vary within dojo or styles. In our dojo, there is a comprehensive in-house test before candidates are presented to the Federation. At the Federation level, the testing candidate demonstrates their material in front of the Federation President and a board of licensed instructors (Renshi-Kai).

How do you prepare for black belt testing? It depends on the individual and the criteria. When I tested for Shodan, my training partner and I practiced combinations, bunkai and take downs two hours a week for six months. This was in addition to attending class three days during the week and group workout on the weekend. I was at the dojo all the time. I must mention that I am married to a black belt and our daughter was not yet born. Our life was work and karate. It was during this time that my husband opened up his own dojo. He would teach at his new dojo and I would go to the Honbu to train.

When students ask me what to expect at Federation Black Belt testing, I tell them to be prepared for everything ... open hand kata, weapons, basics and bunkai. Federation testing is pass or fail. I tell the students that if they do not have good basics such as stances and proper weapon handling ... they will fail. Testing is at least three hours long. Two hours into testing, it is sweaty and humid and your arms feel like they are going to fall off. That is just about the time that the board asks to see the nunchaku kata.

I let the students know that they will make mistakes during testing. The test is how the student handles the mistake. A student should correct the mistake and keep going. I have seen students fall apart after they made a mistake. Being a bit of a perfectionist, when I make mistakes, I am harder on myself than anyone else could be. During one in-house testing, a student that made a mistake walked off the floor, put on their shoes and left. Shocking! As students progress through kyu ranks, they need to constantly be reviewing the earlier material and bring it up to their current level. I have seen students leave behind material once they learned and passed their test. With each subsequent promotion, all the material up to their current rank is tested.

My last test was in 2006. Five weeks before the annual training camp, I was notified by my instructor (head of the Federation) that I was testing. The first thing that came to mind was "I am not ready". Five weeks!!! It was a different training experience for me. I was used to at least six months preparation. A year would even have been better. Five weeks!!! After the shock wore off, I just decided to do my best. I figured that I am "testing" each time I walk in the dojo. I will not be eligible to test again until sometime in the next decade. Thank goodness.

How have you or will you prepare for black belt testing? How much notice are you given? Are there fitness requirements? Sparring? Self-defense?

Friday, July 11, 2008

ACL Surgery Graft Choice

I just came across this article from the Washington Post on ACL grafts. The article states:

Using replacement ligaments from cadavers for reconstruction of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) may have a failure rate as high as 24 percent in active patients under the age of 40.

When I had my initial appointment with the surgeon, graft choices were not discussed. He explained that ACL surgery was performed using a hamstring tendon. End of story.

I did not know that I had options until after my surgery. This surgery has many variables (graft choices, bracing, PT protocols) with similar success. Dr. William Levine challenges the research because the variables were not taken into account.

"My concern is that we may be comparing apples to oranges," said Dr. William Levine, chief of sports medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia in New York City.

Monday, July 7, 2008


My ACL is fine. I think.

Last week my knee felt great. It felt like it did before the surgery. My movement during karate class felt "right" for the first time in 14 months. It was cause for a celebration.

Now, my knee feels weird. When my knee is at 90 degrees and I raise it to extension, along the outside edge of my kneecap there is a popping sensation. My knee is stable, full ROM, no pain or swelling. Who knows? This may have been doing this all along and I never noticed.

Maybe I did too much last week. I think R.I.C.E. is in order.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


If I had one word of advice for karate students, it would be ENJOY. Several other good phrases that came to mind were work hard and be patient.

ENJOY your time in the dojo. Often the dojo community becomes a second family and these people will be there for you when you need them.

ENJOY learning from different instructors within your organization or dojo. If your school has several instructors, take the time to participate in their classes. Each instructor has unique ways of presenting the same material. View it as an opportunity.

ENJOY learning from guest instructors. If available, participate in workshops or training camps that will expose you to different styles and instructors. The purpose is not to change styles rather to augment concepts or ways of thinking.

ENJOY the techniques. During one class, we were working on individual kata. After the student performed, I made a comment on a kick. I told the student to enjoy that part of the kata. Take their time and execute the kick. Enjoy it. The student looked at me and then looked at the other Black Belt in the room. Apparently, in class the night before, he said the exact same thing. Do not rush techniques.

ENJOY the role of student. Absorb as much as you can during class. Learn something everyday whether it is in or outside the dojo. Learning is a gift.

ENJOY the process. I believe that kata is the foundation. First, you must learn the patterns and techniques. Next, take the time to explore the kata and learn what the kata is teaching. Work on bunkai with various partners.

ENJOY sparring. I had a tough time with this one. When I was a kyu rank, I did not like to spar. I had some unpleasant experiences sparring such as a black eye, a broken finger and a dislocated shoulder.

ENJOY how it functions. The bottom line is that the techniques must work. It has to be functional such as a punch executed with proper bone alignment, hip rotation, a self-defense move, a bo disarm, a tunfa swing, a sai strike or a joint lock. We must remember that we are learning a combative art.

What do you enjoy most about practicing a martial art?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Just Random Thoughts

I thought that I would have more time during the summer. I was wrong.

- I bought a used car last November and I hate it. Every single warning light is illuminated on my dashboard. I called the dealer to make an appointment and the moment I made the call ALL the lights went out. I am not kidding. The next time I turned on the ignition ... the lights were back on. I want to trade in this car. I think it might be cursed.

- I registered for a three day karate camp today. Last year I could not participate, I could only watch. It was the only training camp that I missed in 15 years.

- I spend three hours cutting fabric apples tonight. My daughter is involved in community theater and the setting for this play is an apple farm. The practices are Monday - Thursday from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Note to Anonymous #1 - You have to come to the play.

- Tonight at practice a 10 year old boy went running by my daughter and hit her in the arm. He muttered "sorry" as he ran out the door. She stood there crying holding her bruised arm. I think he should have stopped to see if she was o.k.

- I just recently got digital cable. I love Exercise TV. In addition to karate and the gym, I have been selecting two 10 minute workouts to start my day.

- I am looking forward to karate class on Wednesday.

- Knee feels great! There have been a few days that I did not think about it at all.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Cabbage Story

My daughter's 3rd grade class is participating in Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program. In the spring, each child was given a cabbage to plant. Each plant started out looking like the above picture. We have been nurturing the cabbage for weeks. I do not have a green thumb but my brother has a wonderful garden.

He has been taking care of the cabbage and even fenced in the plant to protect it. The cage is three feet high and surrounds the cabbage. No potential diners should have gotten through. My brother called me early this morning with panic in his voice. When he checked on the cabbage this morning, this is what he saw.

Something ATE the entire cabbage leaving only the stump. The cabbage is supposed to grow and weigh THIRTY pounds. The only plants that survive in my house are cactus and fake plants.

Does anyone know where I can buy a thirty pound cabbage?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Why Did You Start Learning Karate?

There are so many reasons to start karate. I have heard several: self-defense, self-esteem, discipline, balance and coordination, health and fitness, inspired by the movies or a life long ambition. When I ask a new student, why they are taking karate the most common answer is self-defense. I am often asked about why I began and my answer is simple…people.

My karate journey started in 1993 when I stepped on the dojo floor for the first time. However, my initial exposure was through my husband. We were married in 1992 and he was a brown belt at the time. I was young, 24 years old, and newly married. So imagine a newlywed sitting at home alone three nights a week while my spouse packed up a gym bag and headed to class. I was a dutiful karate wife and I would attend tournaments and promotions to cheer on my husband.

Then it happened, the trip that would change everything. My husband wanted to travel with his instructors and training partners to New Orleans to attend a large tournament. I decided to go along because I always wanted to see New Orleans. I asked my sister to go with me and we spend the trip site seeing while my husband attended the tournament. During the course of the trip, I met his instructors and other members of the dojo community. They were enthusiastic, empowered, real and simply fantastic people. They suggested that I start taking karate classes. I told them I would think about it but it was less than two weeks later that I stepped through the dojo door and never looked back.

There are times when I wish my “Why” tale could be more elaborate or exciting. I think most people assume, because I am female, that I started karate in order to learn self-defense. Many assume that my husband is my teacher but he is not. We are students of the same instructor. The dojo community is an important part of my life. It is the reason I started and it is the reason I continue.

Why did you start learing karate?

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Gym versus The Dojo

I love going to the gym. I workout at night and arrive at the gym between 8:00 and 8:30. I walk into the gym and hand the attendant my membership card. The attendant might mutter a "thank you" but after that no one talks to me. It is glorious. During the day, I am bombarded with phone calls at work and chatter when I get home. I have an extremely articulate nine year old who talks all the time. You may think I am exaggerating. I am not. I love talking to her and hearing stories about her day, a t.v. program, the song she just made up, her plans for the future (the last I checked it was to be a zookeeper and an iron chef), her wii success, science, or her opinion about anything and everything. She is terrific and I am very lucky. However I must admit, I enjoy the hour of solitude and silence at the gym.

The dojo is different. There is a strong sense of community and belonging. I may have mentioned that I am in a unique dojo situation. I am involved in two dojo. My husband and I are students at the Federation Honbu. I teach at the dojo my husband started thirteen years ago. It it like being part of two families. Class time is full of interaction such as questions or discussions. I greet the students and parents as they arrive and spend a few minutes talking to them. I am connected to the dojo.

If I would have to chose between them, there would be no contest. I would chose the dojo. I am fortunate that I do not have to chose. My time at the gym has improved my strength and endurance. The gym augments my karate training and hopefully will reduce the chance of further injury. My bo strikes feel stronger and my sai work has improved.

I suppose that I should have titled the post: How the Gym improves my time in the Dojo.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Best Wishes

Best wishes to a fellow martial artist undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery today. Wishing you a speedy recovery!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tiger Woods - ACL Reconstruction

I just ran across this article.

Tiger Woods announced that he needs ACL reconstruction and will be unable to participate in the remainder of the 2008 season.