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 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 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 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?