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.