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.