Thursday, January 31, 2008

What I Gain

I want to respond to a recent comment made on my last post "Do Something Else" and convey what I gain by continuing my involvement with Karate. During my recovery from ACL reconstruction I considered not returning to karate. My injury occurred while I was training. I was practicing a two-person bo form and had to jump over a bo sweep. I was training on a soft, mat-like floor and when I landed my foot planted. Using hip rotation to land my bo technique, my upper body moved but my foot did not. This resulted in my knee twisting completely... like a chicken leg being torn off at the bone.

I have seen many students stop training when they reach black belt. I have seen students stop training at 1st kyu. I realized that I am at a point in my karate where my gain is intrinsically tied into what I can give back. Most of my time spent in the dojo is teaching. Anyone that has stood up in front of a dojo to teach knows that teaching pushes you to become better. During class students of all ranks amaze me with their questions. Sometimes I have an answer; sometimes I need to think about the question for a little; and sometimes I just do not know. The gain is in the search for the answers.

I am thrilled when I see students progressing. I like to work with students on their kata and basics. It is the little things such as a changed hand position, a stance adjustment, and how students improve their weapon handling skills. The gain is how you help a student improve.

I train in a traditional karate system. I feel that I have an obligation to contribute to the preservation of the art. The gain is being part of the process. There is an excellent post by Charles Goodin on this subject.

I still have a lot to learn and a lot to gain.

Monday, January 28, 2008

"Do Something Else"

I hear "do something else" at least twice a month from my sister. She is not involved with karate and never was interested in joining. Karate has been part of my life for sixteen years and I can not imagine giving it up. It is hard to explain to a non-karate person that karate is not something you do but part of who you are.

There have been two breaks in my training. The first was when I was pregnant. I was teaching well into my seventh month. I would have kept going but I knew that I was making the students nervous. I was out a total of four months. The next break was due to my torn ACL. I returned to the dojo in a limited capacity after four months. After my injury I seriously considered not returning to the dojo. At eight weeks post-surgery I probably told people that I was not coming back anytime soon. I was perfectly resigned to hang up my belt for a while and I was OK with it. I even packed up my uniform and tucked away my equipment. Then it happened. Around twelve weeks I started to feel the urge to return to karate. I started to spend time in the dojo - watching and talking with the students. A few weeks later I was back on the dojo floor.

I am glad that I am back in the dojo. I am sure that my sister will keep telling me to "do something else". I am sure that I won't.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Pushing My Knee

Lately I have been too focused on what my knee is unable to do. I decided it was time to push my knee to find out what I am capable of doing.

This week in karate class, I spent time on my movement. Classes were high energy and more physically demanding. We ran through kata at a brisk pace and it felt good. I am able to pivot and transition much better. I find it difficult to hold positions such as a cat stance where my right leg is slightly bent. I have been working hard on my step but I still do not see any major improvement.

I have also been working on bounding. I am able to do jumping jacks, jog, hop and skip. My daughter likes to join in on these activities so we are jumping and hopping around the house and dojo. I have assembled a small exercise trampoline in the garage and I try to jump each day. These are the exercises that I fell behind on due to a hectic work schedule last fall.

Last night I may have pushed my knee too far because it is a little sore today. We have many kata that drop down on one knee, stand up and step forward in seisan. I finally have enough strength to stand up from this position ...slowly. I think I practiced this skill a few too many times.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Karate Memories

Starting a blog has made me reflect on my karate journey. There are a few moments that stand out as having a major impact on my path.


It was the mid 1990's and I just tested for 1st kyu brown belt. The test took most of the afternoon and a group of students and instructors went out to dinner after testing. As we were sitting eating, my instructor turned to me and said "I will see you test for Renshi one day" and then went back to eating his dinner. WHAT? I looked around the table to see if anyone else heard. A Renshi is a 4th degree black belt or higher that has received their teacher license from the Federation. At the time I was looking ahead towards my Shodan testing. Those few words had a great impact on me. My goal had always been Renshi and a Teacher License but knowing that my instructor saw that path for me when I was a brown belt was incredible.

The Best Karate Compliment
It was the mid 1990's and the Grandmaster of our style came to visit the United States from Okinawa. I was a shy green belt at the time. During his visit there were several training sessions and the school put on a demonstration. Before his departure the Grandmaster shook the hands of all the students. When it was my turn he shook my hand and said "Good, strong green belt".

I am sure you are wondering how moving can impact my karate journey. I think this may have had the biggest impact. My husband is about three years older in karate than I am. We have the same teachers but never really trained together for I was a green belt when he earned his black. He is a natural teacher and longed to start his own school. After he received the proper permissions he started looking for a location. What he found was an abandoned inn that would eventually be a house/dojo. Today I am involved with two dojos. The first one is the Federation Honbu which I will forever call home. This is the dojo where my instructors are and where I go to train. The second dojo is the one that my husband started and where I teach.

The Grandmaster
It was usually summertime when the Grandmaster would visit. The Federation would sponsor a training camp and people from all over the US would travel to train with the Grandmaster. After this particular training the participants decided to have a picnic. The picnic ended up being at my house. We had just bought an abandoned old inn and were converting it into a house and a dojo. The house needed work ... a lot of work... but we still had the picnic there anyway. The Grandmaster liked the house/dojo. It was a great honor to have him at the house.

These are some of the moments that jump out immediately. It is interesting that many of them were when I was a kyu rank. I am sure that I will have more to post on this topic.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


The last few weeks we have been focusing on self-defense, bunkai and sparring. Tonight we worked on open hand kata. During the two hour session we ran through the first six kata. I have always loved practicing kata but since my ACL reconstruction I have an even greater appreciation of it. The movement and body mechanics have always fascinated me. It is amazing how a slight deviation in position makes the move functional or not. A slight change in position could open up new possibilities and discussions about bunkai. There have been so many times that a question about one move in a kata would lead to a two hour discussion on bunkai and function. It is important to study kata and dig deep for its meaning.

I used to drive my physical therapist crazy (not really). I would spend time watching myself walk in the dojo mirror. I would then go to my PT appointment and discuss my body movement. I would tell her what I saw in the mirror and ask her to help me fix it. My PT was familiar with the demands of karate, the stances and body movement because I taught her children for a few years. I would ask her to show me exercises that would help with certain karate stances or movements.

Kata still does not feel like it used to. I can feel the difference in my stance between my left and right leg. My center of balance has also changed. The most notable change for me is the way I maneuver through directional changes and transitional movements in kata. This is will require much more practicing. Overall, a great night of karate!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Emotions of My Recovery

I am feeling a little overwhelmed with my knee lately. I am 8 months out of surgery but I feel stuck at the same level of improvement. My insurance only paid for 60 consecutive days of PT for my injury. I was given an exercise plan and have been following it. I was sidetracked a few weeks due to work demands. One day I ran into my PT at a sporting event. She told me that if she did not know that I had surgery she would never be able to tell by the way that I am walking. However, there are still things that I can not do yet and am wondering if I am behind schedule. I began to think back about how felt along the path to recovery.

Fear - This was my first reaction. What have I done to my knee? How bad is it? Will I ever walk again? (In hindsight this was an overreaction but I think I asked the doctor this at least 10 times.)

Denial - I was convinced the injury was not that bad. When my family doctor initially examined my knee I told him that it always moved that way. I was certain that it was only a sprain because I never had knee problems before. I was wrong.

Acceptance - I reached this point when the surgeon said "Get it fixed." Once the word fixed sunk into my brain I realized that my knee would one day be better.

Fear - When I could not do the straight leg lift right after surgery I was afraid. I thought that maybe I would not be able to do what I needed to do to get better.

Acceptance - I circled June 27th on my calander and counted the days until the brace came off.

Depression - This was when I realized that I had to wear a functional brace for a year post surgery.

Frustration - I think this was the most prevalant emotion. I was frustrated that I could not do basic things. I was upset that I could not drive for 6 weeks. Now I am frustrated because I feel I am no longer improving. I even forgot how to skip. My daughter wanted me to skip with her and my legs kind of forgot how. Skipping is not easy with a new ACL.

I have always tried to approach my surgery/recovery with a positive attitude. The weeks before my surgery, I read as many ACL stories as I could find. It seemed that the stories could be divided into two categories - people who said that this was the worst/hardest thing they have ever gone through or people who were at their kids soccer game three days after surgery. I decided that I would be one of the latter. Right now I am having a hard time remaining positive.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Fall Girl

Tonight in karate class I tackled my first roll fall and break fall since my surgery. My last post dealt with my recent back pain so I figure that I must be a glutton for punishment. I watched a few of the students perform their falls for a few minutes before I decided to give it a shot. I was concerned about which leg I would lead with and which side I would land on. I stood at the edge of the mat, took a deep breath and went splat. I was always a pretty good "fall girl". My instructors would often use me as an uke and I would go spinning and falling across the dojo floor. Tonight my first attempt was pretty much a barrel roll. I took a few attempts and eventually I was able to fall better but I still have to practice.

It has been about 16 years since I walked into the dojo and signed up for my first karate class. I knew a little about karate because my husband was a brown belt at the time. I was newly married and decided to join karate rather than staying home alone. Sometimes it is hard to remember what it felt like walking on the dojo floor that first night. The class tonight was a reminder of how it felt. I have been doing/teaching roll falls and break falls for years. I even dabbled with some jujitsu classes when I was a brown belt to augment my bunkai. Tonight I had to relearn this skill. It did not just come back to me naturally. I had to think about it and teach my body how to move and I have a lot more practicing to do.

I have always felt that to be a good instructor it was important to be an active student. A good instructor knows how it feels to not quite "get it", to have questions or to have the wrong foot forward. A good instructor knows that people learn differently and it is important to approach material in different ways. Tonight was an excellent example of what it means to be a student and an instructor.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Back Pain

The first week after surgery I was in pain but it was not in my knee. I had back pain. My lower back hurt enough to make it difficult to get up from a chair. I remember that during my first week of PT I had trouble doing the straight leg raise. I could barely move with the pain in my lower back. On my second session of PT I had an ice treatment on my elevated knee and a heat treatment on my lower back. My PT examined my back and my right side was out of balance. I was told to do some stretching for my back and in about a week the pain was gone. Lately my right hip and right lower back have been bothering me. I have been doing more strengthening exercises and I have just started sparring again. I may be overdoing it a bit.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Womens Self Defense and Gut Instincts

I am a firm believer in gut instincts. Anytime I try to ignore them I end up regretting it. The other night I was locking up the dojo and I felt anxious. It was a windy night and the house and dojo were creaky.

I proceeded to lock all the doors and check the windows but I still had an unsettling feeling. This led me to think about womens self-defense. I have been a participant in many and even taught a few sessions. The first part of the self-defense class deals with awareness. I believe that awareness is a major part of self-defense. At beginning of the class a laundry list of items are read that would seem to be more common sense than anything. A few examples are: lock your doors, keep your car window up, park in well lit areas, don't be distracted when walking alone, don't be overloaded with packages, have your keys ready when you approach a car, vary your routine and in general be alert.

After everything was locked up, I decided to turn on all the exterior lights. I then went back to the dojo and took my favorite pair of kama off the wall and headed back to the house. I thought about a few self-defense scenarios and then fell asleep.

Thankfully, the night was uneventful. I am glad that I took the extra precautions before I went to sleep. I found my information on women's self-defense and read over the list just as a reminder that I need to be physically and mentally prepared.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Sparring - Again

I want to spar more.

This is a shocking statement coming from me. When I was a green belt I used to conveniently forget my sparring gear in the car. After I would gear up, I tried to blend into the background. This would only last for a few minutes and inevitably I would get called to a ring. Once I was out on the floor I was fine and even enjoyed the class.

We fought again in class tonight. My movement felt better - slow but better. We started class with a high energy movement drill that prepared us for free sparring. I always was more of a counter-fighter than an offensive fighter. I still favor left foot forward leaving my new ACL in the back. There was one fight where I fought right foot forward (new ACL) the entire time. The interesting thing that I noticed was when my right foot was forward I was closer to my opponent. It was suggested that I may be moving closer because I feel I need to use my hands instead of my feet. I also decided that conservation of movement was key. I am not able to change direction or move too quickly. I need to make my techniques count and I need to focus on angular movement.

Who would have thought that it would take ACL reconstruction to give me a renewed appreciation of sparring?