Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Anti-Bullying Seminar - A Review - Part I

On Monday night there was a lecture on Anti-Bullying at my daughter's school. HighMark High Five gives grants to schools for an Anti-Bullying assembly. The premise is that children who are bullied are more likely to miss school either because they are afraid or they are sick. Dr. Jay Carter is the author of the bestselling book Nasty People. He co-authored the book Taking the Bully by the Horns with Kathy Noll.

I was eager to attend the parents session. I wanted ask what the appropriate use of self-defense is in a bullying situation. Several people cautioned me to be careful about my questions at the seminar so I did not give the wrong impression. My brother told me what he would do. He suggested I approach the parents of the bullies after the seminar.

I pulled into the school parking lot.

There were no cars in the lot. I walked into an auditorium full of empty chairs. The session began in five minutes and there were only three people in the audience. A woman in the second row looked at me and shrugged her shoulders. I said "I am shocked". The principal heard me and nodded. Eventually a group of about thirty people sat down to listen to the talk. Dr. Carter explained the dynamics of the Bully, signs of bullying, statistics of bullying and intervention. The talk focused on the psychology of the bully.

Some highlights:

People have tendencies. We are either more physical or more cognitive.

Executive function is a set of cognitive abilities that control and regulate abilities and behavior. They include the ability to initiate and stop actions, to monitor and change behavior as needed, and to plan future behavior when faced with novel tasks and situations. Executive functions allow us to anticipate outcomes and adapt to changing situations. The ability to form concepts and think abstractly are often considered components of executive function. Read more:

Executive function is developed in adolescence.

Bullies usually have physical tendencies and a lack of executive function.

Martial arts are excellent because it provides physical activity and a code of ethics.

It was clearly apparent, from the audience questions, that the parents in the room were NOT the parents of the bullies. The main message of the program was that bullies need to be identified early, nurtured and mentored to make different choices.

Not what I expected.


More thoughts on the seminar to follow.....

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Saturday at the Shore

Sunrise over the PA Turnpike

Cloudy day at Ocean City

Mom and Dad

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I am going to share with you one of the low points in my karate training. It was during my last Dan rank testing in 2006. I was given five weeks notice to prepare for testing. To say that I did not feel ready was an understatement. It was necessary to split into two groups because there were so many testing candidates. My group was ushered to the first floor to test in front of the Federation President and several members of the Renshi-Kai.

Everyone did a great job and passed the test. The test lasted a few hours and included kata, bunkai and two-person weapon forms. At the conclusion of the test, the testing board congratulated all the candidates and shook our hands. One of the black belts, who I have known for years and consider a friend, pulled me aside and said, "A little vanilla, you need to put more of yourself in the kata."

At first I was confused. Aren't we all supposed to look the same? Isn't that the point of traditional keep things exactly the same from teacher to student? I was told that I demonstrated the kata technically correct with power and focus. What was I missing? What did I need to do in order to improve? How can I be the same yet look different? How do I take my kata training to the next level?

I thought about the black belt's comment often. I tried to resist the concept at first. But over time, I realized that I needed to make karate more personal. My goal was to perform the techniques within the technical parameters but look like me while doing it. Let me tell is not easy. There is a fine line between making kata "your own" and changing the kata.

Flash foward to 2009....

On a Monday nights, a small group of black belt students gather in the dojo to work on our own material. It is not a class and there is no structured curriculum. We work on kata, drills, bunkai, techniques or self-defense. There is no official start time or defined end time. As a group we discuss concepts and work through our questions.

On one particular night, we worked on the kata Chinto. This is my husband's favorite kata. He uses this kata as his highlight kata during testing and in competition. He moves through the kata with speed and finesse. He asked the group to run through the kata. He spotted a slight...and I mean slight and barely noticeable...variation from the way he performs a technique in the kata. The group examined the technique for a few minutes and discovered the source of the difference. It was in the manner in which we executed a particular inside forearm block.

A block? An inside forearm block was causing the difference?

We each in turn explained our bunkai. The move follows a left foot forward seisan/left downward block. The next sequence is to look over the right shoulder, kosa behind with the right foot (180 degree turn) with a left upward block/right inside block.

My husband was using the block as a post and grab to the outside. He was slipping past the opponent in the kosa stance.

I was using my left hand as the block as my right hand was executing an arm break.

A different black belt was using the left hand as the blocking hand and the right hand served double duty as a parry followed by a strike to the head.

We stood in a circle for a moment. I looked around at all the faces in our group. We were all deep in thought and nodding.

We were technically the same but different.

Each of us put ourselves in the kata.

Definitely not Vanilla.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tai Chi in Daily Life

An excerpt from "The Dao of Taijiquan, Way to Rejuvenation" by Jou, Tsung Hwa.

The ability to attack as one withdraws is known in Daoism as "the yang among the yin".

The teachings of taijiquan can also be incorporated into your daily life. If a person criticizes you or makes an unfair of disparaging remark, you can react in several ways. If you meet resistance with resistance and attack by returning the criticism, conflict naturally develops. You become upset, and nothing is settled. Alternatively, if you retreat from the person's statement, you become fearful and assume the statement must be accepted; you again become upset, frustrated and hurt. However, Daoist philosophy provides an alternative to either total attack or total retreat. The philosophy of "the yang among the yin" teaches you how to become acutely aware of what is said. Consider its meaning, and act accordingly. You will dismiss the statement if it is false and learn from it if it is true. Having this understanding, you realized you are in control of yourself and your own reactions.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Was I Thinking?

Silly me....I actually thought that I would have more time once my daughter went back to school.

I was wrong.

There has been something going on every night since school started. Not to mention the change in my morning routine and the problems with the school bus. My daughter was scheduled to take public school transportation to school each day. The first week of school, the bus arrived twenty minutes late each morning. Being late for school was not acceptable.

I made several phones calls to the transportation office. In the end, we were offered an alternative bus stop two miles down the road on the edge of a busy highway. The transportation director told me that it was our stop that was causing the delay. She made it clear that it was not our fault and it was the district's responsibility to get the kids to school on time. Apparently, the bus was late because it had to wait to make the left turn on to the highway. It is true...the left turn is difficult especially during the A.M. commute.

I decided to drive my daughter to school every day. I figured if I had to drive two miles I might as well drive the whole ten miles.

I forgot how much homework my daughter gets each night. If she would sit down and do her homework, it would only take about forty-five minutes. Instead it takes two hours because she procrastinates. The school has no workbooks for the students because the PA Budget has not been passed. Most of her work is on handouts or in copybooks. At the parent-teacher meeting, they anticipate receiving workbooks in January.

I am adjusting.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tai Chi Update - Grasp Birds Tail

During Tai Chi class last week, the instructor briefly touched on the application to Grasp the Birds Tail. When I arrived home, I entered the door and said, "Hello. Would you mind punching me?" My husband was nice enough to work with me on the technique I learned in class. I worked on this technique throughout the week.

I wanted to see the application again so I browsed You Tube for Tai Chi applications. I found the following video and thought I would share.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

On The Floor

During martial arts discussions, the conversation often turns to the "Why?" questions. Why did you start training and why do you continue? I wrote about this question in previous posts which can be found here and here.

I believe the "Why?" evolves over time. In a recent conversation, I asked the question..."Does it matter why?". If you look at the people in your own dojo, the reason they started training varies. They started on the path for all sorts of reasons such as self-defense, fitness or socialization. Some may have grown up in the 70' s and had the Bruce Lee poster on their bedroom wall. Parents take classes with their kids because it is something they can do together. People may start taking classes with friends and eventually become the last one remaining from the original group.

My reason for starting karate had nothing to do with self-defense or the desire to become a martial artist. I was a newlywed who was home alone several nights a week. I decided to join too. Prior to this, I had absolutely no interest in karate. It never crossed my mind.

Does it matter why I started? Are some reasons better than others? Perhaps the important point is that I continued. My husband will tell you he never thought I would last. I began training with no previous knowledge, expectations or preconceptions. Karate quickly became something I loved to practice. For me, that pretty much sums it up. I enjoy training, practice, teaching and learning.

When I am On the Floor....I am In the Moment. My thoughts and concerns are about the task at hand whether it be teaching, learning or training. It is the part of my day that belongs only to me.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

One of The Hardest Things I Have Ever Done

On more than one occasion I was asked..."What is the hardest thing you ever did?". I had to answer that question during a job interview. My response has nothing to do with martial arts, training or the dojo. It was a life altering moment and happened in a second.

January 2006

I walked out of the house with my daughter and waved to my husband. We got in the car and drove to my parents house for a visit. My husband was working outside in the yard. He was dragging brush and dead tree limbs to the burn pile at the back end of the property.

At my parents house, the phone rang. My mother picked up the phone and the caller ID indicated the call was coming from the local hospital. The phone was for me. It was my husband calling from the ER. He told me that he was accidentally burned and needed to be transferred to a burn unit. I went over to the ER immediately.

My husband was lying on the bed with his leg covered by a wet cloth. His skin was black from the knee to the ankle except for a small band that was protected by his neoprene knee brace. When I walked in my husband told me that he might lose his leg. It was the one time in my life I actually felt like I was going to pass out. The doctor soon arrived and discussed the burn and treatment options. My husband's right leg had third degree burns completely around the leg. He needed to be transferred to a burn unit and they needed to do surgery right away.

My husband spent two weeks in a burn isolation unit. He arrived home with skin grafts and the need for months of bed rest. In order for this burn to heal properly, he could not put any weight on his leg. The elaborate dressings on the burn had to be changed once per day. His graft did not take completely and they had to do another surgery which meant ten more days in the hospital. is this story about my husband's third degree burns about one of the hardest things I ever did?

The six months following my husband's burn is a blur. I truly do not know how I made it through. My Mom said it was through the Grace of God. My family, friends and the martial arts community offered their support.

The care of my young daughter who was in Kindergarten.
I was employed by an Architect and worked thirty hours per week.
I was responsible for a dojo.
I taught several karate classes per week.
I had to care for a bedridden spouse. He was not allowed to walk, drive or work for months. He could not do anything for himself. The hospital was an hour drive from home.
Financial stress.

Despite the blur, I can still remember with detail my husband's complex bandage change. The process took an hour on a good night. The removal of the bandages had to be done carefully so no damage was done to the skin graft. The wound needed to be washed and dried. Special antiseptic cream was applied to the graft. Layers of Xeroform had to be carefully positioned on the skin. The Xeroform was a sticky, petroleum based pad. The next layer was Kerlix a soft gauze bandage. This layer was followed by Coban. The finishing touch was an Ace bandage wrapped from the ankle up to the knee. It all had to be perfect. If it was wrong...the entire bandage needed to be removed and started again from scratch.

I was exhausted mentally and physically. I witnessed the slow healing process and saw how difficult it was for my husband. He progressed from being bedridden to a wheelchair then crutches and eventually walking. My daughter struggled because my time was so divided and her Daddy was unavailable.

As hard as this time was for all of us, I still consider us lucky. We were lucky that my husband's surgery was a success. There were other patients in the burn unit that were worse off than my husband. My heart breaks thinking of the patients and their family members. The doctors, nurses and staff on the burn floor were completely amazing.