Thursday, April 30, 2009


Today is my daughter's Tenth Birthday. Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Brown Belt - An Exciting Time

When I think about my martial arts journey, there are two periods in my training that stand out. The time I spent at brown belt and the year of training prior to my teaching certification. These were times of intense preparation, training and study. As a brown belt, I had amazing training partners. There were four of us testing for Shodan in 1996…three men and one woman. We were from the same dojo and spent a lot of time helping each other.

Let me set the stage….

When I was a brown belt, I was in my twenties and worked full time. It was a few years before my daughter was born. My husband was a black belt and we spent most…ok…all of our free time at the dojo or with dojo friends. It was during this time that my husband decided, with proper permission, to start his own dojo. Most of my time was spent at the Honbu preparing for testing while my husband spent most of his time renovating our house/dojo.

My brown belt training partner and I practiced an extra three hours per week in addition to regular classes. We worked on bunkai, combinations, take downs, kata and kobudo. We worked out before and after each class. We practiced bunkai in my living room after some minor furniture rearranging. I seem to recall an impromptu mini-session or two in the parking lot of a local pizzeria. A little over thirteen years has passed, my time as a brown belt still stands out in my mind as an exciting time.

Let us fast forward to present day….

Whenever there are brown belt students in the dojo, I am truly excited for them. There is much preparation, hours of training and sometimes a touch of nervousness. Most brown belt students know the material they need for Shodan. Since there is no pressure to learn a new kata or weapon pattern, the focus is on taking their knowledge deeper. It is at this time that many brown belt students realize that they have only scratched the surface of available information. They recognize that Shodan is a beginning.

To all the brown belt students preparing for Shodan testing…enjoy this time in your martial arts journey.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Staying Connected...

Last Thursday was my daughter’s class trip to the Camden Aquarium. I was able to go along as a chaperone. My daughter had to ride on the bus while I maneuvered through Philadelphia traffic in my car. The students had several sessions at the aquarium where they would meet up with their assigned group. The best part of the trip was a behind the scenes tour of the largest tank. We saw the tank from the top. Very cool! The tank was huge and included several sea turtles, a hammerhead shark, rays and schools of fish.

When the bus returned to the school, the children departed the bus with a reminder that they were responsible for all their electronic items. My daughter and I got in the car. We drove one block before she announced that she left her MP3 player on the bus. I turned the car around only to see the bus pulling out of the school parking lot. To put it mildly…my daughter was upset. Actually, she was almost inconsolable. After several phone calls to the bus company, her MP3 player was found. The problem was that I had pick up the MP3 player between the hours of 8:00 and 5:00 M-F at the bus terminal (45 minutes away).

Picking up the MP3 player was not an easy task since I work full time. I left early this morning so I would make it to the bus terminal by 8:00. I am listening to the local radio station for traffic updates. The road to the bus terminal is notorious for traffic jams. The road is old, surrounded by farmland, and comprised of a single lane in each direction. During the “morning show”, the radio station was promoting an ATT phone that gives instant access to Facebook, Twitter and the Internet.

It was all about staying connected…at all times. As I am listening to the radio promotion about gadgets, I noticed a sign on the road. It was not the first time I saw the sign. Signs like these are common in certain areas of Pennsylvania.

I did not see an Amish Horse and Buggy this morning. However, I did pass an older Amish woman pulling a wagon full of supplies, a young Amish boy crossing the road and a young Amish girl riding her bicycle.

I wondered what it would be like: no car, no Internet and no cell phone. Social networking would happen at the produce auction I passed on the way rather than on sites such as Facebook, My Space or Twitter.

They would definitely not be driving 45 minutes to pick up their nine year old daughter’s MP3 player.

It is hard to imagine…. I would miss the Internet most of all. Immediate access to information such as phone numbers, maps, my daughter's school and work.

What would you miss?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

One of Those Weeks

Just a quick update. This week has been crazy busy. My daughter is in a play and the practice schedule has been keeping me away from the computer.

Monday - practice after school until 8:00
Tuesday - no practice
Wednesday - performance for Historical Society volunteers until 8:00
Thursday - all day field trip to Camden Aquarium
Friday - rehearsal and performances

Today - performance 1:00 and 3:30
Sunday - performance 2:00

Hopefully, I will be able to respond to the recent comments tonight. :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Appreciate Correction

I was alone in the workout studio at the gym as I waited for the Tai Chi instructor. The other students are usually already there practicing. Class time approached and it was just me. When the instructor arrived, he asked me to perform the first section of the Yang long form so he could correct the postures.

My initial reaction was …Oh, no! This was the first time that I performed part of the Tai Chi form alone as my instructor watched. I took a deep breath and went through the first section. Despite my nerves, the thought that went through my head was gratitude. I was excited and grateful for the opportunity to be corrected because correction leads to improvement.

After I completed the section, my instructor worked with me on hip movement. I tend to lead with my arms instead of my body. My instructor told me to focus on relaxing my shoulders. I appreciate the one-on-one correction and explanation. A few minutes later, another student arrived and class continued.

Let us change perspective. In the above example, I discuss what correction means to me as a beginning student of Tai Chi. Now I want to discuss how I feel about correction as an instructor of Okinawa Kenpo.

No surprise…I feel the same way. I am excited when I can offer the students correction. It is an opportunity to improve. I want to help. I feel it is my obligation as an instructor to guide the students. This is tough because I must remember that there are people who do not feel the same way about correction as I do.

When I was a kyu rank, my class instructor taught a group of students with different feelings about correction. There were students in the class that correction went in one ear and out the other. Some students got visibly upset while others appreciated correction. The class instructor would make general comments “O.K. everyone…check your stance.” Usually the students who were in the correct stance would double check and the students who needed correction did not check. It finally got to the point where he would make a disclaimer before class. He told the students not to get upset, that he was not picking on anyone but if he needed to make a correction, he was going to be specific and name the student.

I recognize the importance of correction. As a student, I am grateful to receive it and as an instructor, I offer it with sincerity.

Any thoughts?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fitness Challege 2009

On February 17th, Rick the author of Cook Ding's Kitchen issued a Lenten Challenge. The challenge was to train every day during Lent...without excuses. So, how did I do?

I did great the first three weeks of the challenge. I started a workout log and entered my data after each session. daughter got a nasty cold. Subsequently, I got sick. The middle weeks of the Lenten Challenge went down the drain. The last two weeks, I got back on track.

My daughter's school participates in the Presidential Physical Fitness Challenge. She asked me to look up the requirements for the half mile. To my surprise, there was an adult section of the website. May 1st begins the 2009 "National President's Challenge: Be Active Your Way In May!" . All you need to do is register and log your activity.

The challenge is to be active five days a week for six of the eight weeks between May 1 and July 24. They allow two weeks for vacations and scheduling conflicts.

I have signed up. May has been observed as the National Physical Fitness and Sports Month.

Anyone want to join me?

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Lesson from Kitty

Did you ever meet someone that made an instant impact? It may be a brief encounter or it could have been the start of a life long friendship.

There was a woman named Kitty in my Tai Chi class this Tuesday. She was already in the room when I arrived. She was talking to the senior student. They appeared to know each other but I found out later they did not. The senior student walked over to where I was stretching and introducted me to Kitty. I said "hello" as the Tai Chi instructor walked in the door.

It was another good Tai Chi class. We worked on the the 108 move Yang long form. I know the pattern to the first section. I am trying to add a few pieces of the second section in every class. Kitty was new to the Tai Chi class but she followed along well. She had good balance and asked some questions. She was especially interested in the kicks. It turns out that she took Tai Chi for a while over twenty years ago.

After class, Kitty came over to talk to me. She was animated and I could tell that she loved to talk. We had a five minute conversation. During this brief exchange, I found out a lot about Kitty: 4 children, lifts weights, plays tennis, had a "terrible triad" over thirty years ago (pretty much completely ripped up her knee), broke an arm, three broken ankles and suffers from tremors. She said that she could not move as well as she used to because her "good" knee was giving her trouble.

She said to me "Well, I am seventy-seven. It is important to keep your body moving. I feel better when I am moving." At this point in the conversation my mouth may have dropped open a little. Kitty did not look or move like she was seventy-seven.

I told Kitty that I was glad to have met her and hoped she would be back in class next week. She taught me a valuable lesson about attitude. Kitty keeps moving and has a great outlook on life. Her ACL surgery was thirty years behind her.

It was just what I needed to hear.

I would have liked to talk to her more but she had to rush off. She had to get up early the next day for her tennis match.

Have you ever met someone in person or through blogging that has made an instant impact? Were someone's words exactly what you needed to hear?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Bob Spar of the Middle Aged Martial Artist blog awarded me with the "When Life Hands You Lemons" award. Bob is a high brown belt in a mixed-martial-arts school in the New York Area. During his black belt testing, he tore his ACL in a grappling match. Bob was the inspiration for me to start my own blog. Receiving this award from Bob means a lot because his blog was the first one I found when I was searching for other martial artists recovering from ACL surgery.

Recipients of the "Lemons" award are asked to:
* Post the logo on your blog.
* Nominate blogs that show great attitude or gratitude
* Link to the nominees within your blog post.
* Notify the recipients of the award by commenting on their blog.
* Share the love and link back to the person from whom you received your award.

I would like to pass on this award to Martial Arts Mom. MAM is a mother and a martial arts student. Her blog is one of my favorites. You can tell by reading her blog that she is a dedicated and enthusiastic karate student. Since the start of 2009, she has been going through a rough time. You can stop by her blog and read her story. In one of her recent posts, Just MAM.., she says:
The way I feel when I'm in class is the way I want to feel all the time...confident, not as self-conscious. I feel like the me before I was part of a twosome. I feel like I am gradually becoming MAM...just MAM

I read her post and her inner strength was shinning through. It is because of her strength that I send the "When Life Gives You Lemons" award to Martial Arts Mom.

Monday, April 13, 2009

This Time…Last Year

I sat down at my computer to write a blog post.



I have no idea what to write. The holiday weekend was nice but busy. I am helping my daughter finish her science project. I attended an excellent training at the Honbu on Saturday. My Mom had a wonderful Easter dinner and it was good being around family. I am having some minor computer problems. I cannot comment on blogs (including my own) from my home computer. I tried to figure it out but no luck (Any ideas?).

Therefore, I wondered. What was I was writing about last year at this time?

I clicked back to April 2008 and read a post called An Uneasy Feeling…Remembering. At the time of that writing, I was approaching one year since my ACL injury. In the post, I am remembering and describing the events surrounding my ACL tear. I discuss my injury, diagnosis and my decision to have the surgery. I sound so sad. I even look sad in the photo.

How do I feel in April 2009?

I do not have an uneasy feeling as I approach the two-year post ACL Reconstruction milestone. In regards to my knee, I feel happy and hopeful. My knee no longer defines me. This is hard to describe but there was a time when it felt like my knee was its own entity. I would talk about “the knee” or I was asked “How’s the knee?” I can honestly report that my knee is good. I am able to practice karate, tai chi and racquetball.

My knee has assimilated itself back to its proper place. It no longer has its own identity.

For those people who are recovering from ACL surgery or have a torn ACL, I wish you good luck and a speedy recovery.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Review: Please Stop Laughing at Me

In previous posts, I discuss the impact of bullying on my nine year old daughter. You can read my Message to mean girls and When is enough...enough?. Over a year ago, I wrote how my daughter was Wiser Than Her Years.

Romilly commented on one of the posts and recommended a book by Jodee Blanco. The book is called Please Stop Laughing at Me. I followed the link to her website and spent at least 45 minutes on her site. The section that grabbed my attention was the Survival Tips For Parents. Jodee answers the question:

Is there a typical profile of a bullied child?

Yes, it is the child best described as “an old soul trapped in a young body.” This is the child who is sensitive and compassionate beyond his/her years, and usually more comfortable in the company of adults than other kids. In most cases, the harder they try to fit in at school, the more they’re singled out for abuse.

I read Jodee's answer and I felt a lump in my throat. I have often commented that my daughter is an "old soul". I bought the book at lunch and finished it before the end of the day.

I was horrified by the abuse that Jodee Blanco experienced during her school days. She was tormented from the fifth grade through high school. The abuse was verbal and physical. I was surprised at the responses by health professionals and school administrations. As I read, I found similarities between my daughter and Jodee, sensitive, only child, compassionate, loves animals, treats others with kindness and respect, creative and stands up for what she believes. I am sure there are thousands of other parents reading this book only to find their child amongst the pages.

Everyone should read this book...parents, educators and health care professionals. Ultimately, it is a story of hope and strength...Jodee Blanco survived the bullying. Jodee Blanco has written a follow up book Please Stop Laughing at Us that documents her quest to prevent school bullying.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ten Things Not to Ask a Traditional Martial Arts Instructor

1. I have been studying martial arts videos for years in my basement. What rank does that make me in your style?

2. Regarding testing. Can I test for black belt in one year? Can I double test? Skip a belt?

3. I learned a technique from a video that will make the heart race then stop. Can I try that on you?

4. Can I add a roll fall in the kata? I want to give it more pizazz.

5. I am not interested in learning kata. Can you just teach me to fight?

6. Regarding traditional weapons: Can I hollow out my bo? Can I add reflective tape? Can I use foam nunchaku for testing?

7. Can you teach my kid karate? I want to make sure that he does not get picked on. I want him to know how to beat the other kids up.

8. You are a girl. Who else is teaching?

9. What is the proper kiai for children in a tournament…yelling “kiai” or “kill”?

10. Can I buy a multi-colored gi with the words "Master Blaster Extraordinaire" embroidered in gold on the back?

This is my list of the Ten Things Not to Ask a Traditional Martial Arts Instructor. So…what do you think? Do you have any others to add to the list?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Year that Karate was a Job

The following post describes my personal experience and opinions regarding my time as a karate instructor at a local dance studio.

In 2003, I was asked to run a karate program at a local dance studio. How I ended up teaching karate at a dance studio is a complicated, unimportant story. This program lasted one long year. I taught at my husband's dojo in addition to the dance studio. I must stress that the kids I taught at the dance studio were great. I liked the parents, too. My problem was with the location, the training space and the goals for the program.

The owner of the dance studio only had one goal. She was in business to make money. There is nothing wrong with that because she was primarily a businessperson. She had a successful dance studio but wanted more students. She wanted to find a way to get the brothers of the little ballerinas in her studio. Karate was her solution. The karate program was ours but we were paid to teach classes. Karate became a job with a set schedule, a boss and a paycheck. It only took a few weeks to figure out that this was not a good situation for me. My feelings about karate did not coincide with her business plan.

The studio was located at the second floor of the local mall. It was right next to the food court. Most parents would bring their child into the classroom then head out shopping especially since there was a Disney Store on the first floor. Some parents would stay and watch (Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!). The training space was an enclosed soundproof room with windows. The few parents that stayed would watch from outside. I am used to an open training environment. I want the parents to know what I am teaching their children. The owner often scolded me because I would leave to door open slightly. When the students left the classroom, the owner would stand at the exit and ask in her sweetest artificial voice “Did you have fun?”

More often than not I was assigned to the fish bowl room. This soundproof room was in the center of the studio and had windows on two sides. People walking the mall could stop and watch. Each wall was a different bright color…purple, yellow, green and red. Inside a small trampoline was set to the front corner. Gymnastic tumbling equipment was spaced throughout the room. The room was fun and fabulous but not for teaching karate. I had to move the equipment out of the way and make a small training area. I was competing for attention with a room that had too many distractions.

The students were young…very young. My husband and I worked on creating a pre-karate program for the 3 – 4 year olds. This program focused on balance, co-ordination drills and the very basics of karate. There was no uniform or belts. The next group of kids were 5 – 6 year olds. We took the requirements for 9th kyu and broke them down into smaller pieces. Uniforms were worn and belts were earned. At the end of this program, the child was the equivalent of a 9th kyu white belt.

I want to say again that the kids were a great group. Many were disappointed when the karate program ended. Several transferred to our dojo to continue training.

The program ended because the owner of the dance studio could not fit karate into the schedule. She added dance classes because they generated more revenue. She wanted to schedule a karate class at 4:00 then 7:00. I had a toddler of my own and did not want to be away from home that long. I was glad that the program ended but with mixed feelings. I missed the students but not the studio.

I learned a lot about myself that year. Teaching young students was challenging. I needed to find unique and creative ways to convey the material. I would make up drills and games that would teach karate basics. I had to change the way I described the moves to make it easier to understand. The kids had fun and I hope they learned something too.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Brushing Off The Dust

I attended an instructor's training session at the Honbu dojo on Saturday. We worked on the open hand (21) and weapon kata (30). There were a few kata that I have not practiced since last Summer. Shocking! How is it possible that over six months have passed and I neglected to practice several kata? Easy!

Most of my dojo time is spent as a class instructor. I teach beginner and advanced students. The highest kyu rank students are 2nd kyu brown. The students are working on Pinan Godan, Seisan, Odo No Tunfa Ni, Suiyoshi Nokun Ichi and Odo No Nunchaku. In addition to kata, we are working on bunkai, drills, and sparring. There never seems to be enough time. Every once in a while I take my kama, eiku or tekkos off the wall and practice.

Finding time for my own practice is challenging. Although I have immediate access to training space, I rarely get a chance for independent practice. The last kata we practiced on Saturday was Gojushiho Ichi. This kata needed more than a light dusting. Gojushiho Ichi is the kata I practice the least. It is a cool kata but it is one of those kata. I learned it at a training camp. I forgot it. I re-learned it. I forgot it...again. I had to know it for testing. I learned it and it went on a shelf to collect dust. We went through the kata a few times before it felt...o.k. Barely o.k.

Inevitably, I left the training session wanting to work harder.

Is their a kata/weapon/drill that you do not practice often? Do you have one of those kata? How do you find time for independent practice?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Pictures on the Wall

I spent all day yesterday at a training session at the Federation Honbu. I left the event exhausted, grateful and feeling incredibly lucky. During a small break, I took the opportunity to look at the posters and pictures on the wall. Inspiring teachers, history, friends, memories and events are depicted throughout the dojo. I have looked at the photos many times over the course of my training. Each time I am at the Honbu, I make sure to walk around the dojo and take everything in.

I have wonderful instructors and I am so glad to be part of the Federation.

I am having some computer issues. I can not leave comments on my own blog (only on my home computer) and have yet to figure out why. Thanks for the recent comments and I will respond soon.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Martial Connections

Tuesday night is my Tai Chi class at the gym. Tuesday is a karate night at the dojo. Last night before I left for Tai Chi, I was popping in and out of the dojo. I was checking our computer and running the latest virus scan due to impending release of the conficker worm. This worm was first seen November 2008 but the payload is scheduled for April 1st.

In karate class, the group was sparring. The focus of the first part of class was sparring footwork. The group kept asking me to join in but I was getting ready to leave for Tai Chi. I told the group that we will work on sparring again tonight. I was about to leave and a drill caught my attention. We usually start sparring with two feet of space between opponents and each person in his or her fighting stance. The class instructor was having the students begin their exchanges in a different way. They were starting close together, two hands up on guard and connected. I can see this drill progressing to grabs and take downs from this position. I wanted to give this a try but I glanced at the clock and it was time for me to leave.

Twenty minutes later...I was at Tai Chi class. There were two new students in class. The instructor reviewed the basics and had us go through the first section of the Yang long form. It was a great class because in the first section, I can focus more on moving from the dantien which is the physical center of gravity. The class has been working on the second and third section of the form. I am happy when I can just follow along in sections two and three. At the end of class, we worked on pushing hands. I watched the instructor and the senior student push hands. As they moved, there was a moment when their body position looked similar to the karate students at the dojo. Their hands were up and connected.

After class, I talked to the Tai Chi instructor about the karate drill. (I am fortunate because the Tai Chi instructor has training in Kenpo and Tai Kwon Do. Every once in a while, he will talk about his martial arts background. I found out that a major influence in his Tai Chi was Grandmaster Jou Tsung Hwa. My instructor attended seminars held at the Tai Chi Farm in Warwick, NY.) I mentioned that I saw similarities in the body position but remarkable differences in the approach. In the karate students, the weight distribution was heavy on the back foot. The students would cut angles and execute their technique. In Tai Chi class, I saw the instructor redirect the force and sink his weight. Both approaches were effective...but different.

Very cool!!! Of course, I had to try this at home. I worked on the technique with my husband. It is nice to be able to walk up to someone and say "Can I borrow your arm?" and they know exactly what I mean.