Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tuesday Tip: Go Outside

From the National Wildlife Federation's Be Out There campaign:

Why Be Out There

The nature of childhood has changed: there’s not much nature in it.

American childhood has moved indoors during the last two decades, taking a mental and physical toll on today’s kids. The negative impact of decreased time outdoors includes a doubling of the childhood obesity rate -- accompanied by an incremental hundred billion dollar cost to our health care system -- as well as declining creativity, concentration and social skills.

Some say it takes a village to raise a child. We say: it takes a backyard, a playground, a park. Studies show outdoor time helps children grow lean and strong, enhances imaginations and attention spans, decreases aggression, and boosts classroom performance. In addition, children who spend time in nature regularly are shown to become better stewards of the environment.


Children are spending half as much time outdoors as they did 20 years ago. (Juster et al 2004); (Burdette & Whitaker 2005); (Kuo & Sullivan 2001)

Today’s kids spend 6.5 hours plugged into electronic media. (Juster et al 2004); (Burdette & Whitaker 2005); (Kuo & Sullivan 2001)

In a typical week, only 6% of children ages 9-13 play outside on their own. (Children & Nature Network, 2008)

Children who play outside are more physically active, more creative in their play, less aggressive and show better concentration. (Burdette and Whitaker, 2005; Ginsburg et al., 2007)

Sixty minutes of daily unstructured free play is essential to children’s physical and mental health. (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2008)

The most direct route to caring for the environment as an adult is participating in “wild nature activities” before the age of 11. (Wells and Lekies, 2006)

You may want to check out a similar post I wrote in May 2009 entitled Go Outside and Play. This post is a review of a lecture given by Richard Louv author of the National Bestseller Last Child in the Woods Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder.

Tuesday Tip: Go Outside

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Fast Track To Black Belt

In our dojo, I return the phone calls from prospective students. The calls vary greatly. There are some callers that are only interested in price. Some people are looking for a specific style of karate. Others are just looking for self-defense. Lately a common theme in the phone calls has been time. How long does it take to get a black belt? Is there a fast track to black belt?

This question comes from our society. We eat fast food and drive fast cars. We have replaced phone conversations with instant messaging, email and texting. We abbreviate the English language. There are accelerated degree programs to speed up our education. In business, we want our products shipped faster and immediate answers to our questions. The Internet provides instant access to news, personal accounts, shopping and friends.

Should there be an accelerated black belt program? I think not. I am sure we could speed up the physical requirements. There have been many brown belts who knew the required material for black since 3rd kyu. I have witnessed children learning kata after practicing only a handful of times. On the flip side, I have seen people struggle to remember patterns. Everyone is different.

There is more to karate than the patterns and the physical requirements. An important element is the fundamental understanding of movement. It takes time and study to make the connections. Kata is the beginning and there is much to discover.

On a personal note...I was a three year black belt. I was in the dojo a lot and knew the physical requirements. I understood base level bunkai. But if I must confess...it took me another year to feel comfortable wearing the belt. Plain and simple...it took time. It would not have mattered if I logged more training time or learned more kata.

The phone calls will be made and the question will be asked. Is there an accelerated black belt program? If the person is looking for a fast black belt it makes me wonder why they want lessons.

I simply respond...."No".

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tuesday Tip: It's Like Riding A Bike

It took my daughter a long time to learn how to ride a bike. She was afraid she would fall and get hurt. She wore a helmet, wrist guards, elbow pads and knee pads. She did not want us to let go of the bike. We would exhaust ourselves running next to the bike. We would encourage but she did not believe she could do it.

I sat on the porch step and told her to try. I reminded her that she could always put her feet on the ground to prevent herself from falling. I told her the story of when I learned to ride a bike. I would get on the bike and try, fall, get up and try again. It did not help. My daughter was too focused on the "falling" and not on the "riding".

She began to pedal one time, then two and eventually more. I told her to look forward and not worry about her feet because they would find the petal. She tried and as she succeeded her confidence grew. She practiced and pedalled. Within minutes of her first successful solo run, she was soaring through the parking lot. You would have never known that twenty minutes prior she did not know how to ride a bike. The look on her face was pure joy. She told me she liked the feeling of the wind on her face as she floated across the lot. She rode her bike for hours that day.

It was all about confidence. I must have told her 100 times that she could do it. But it did not matter what I thought.

She had to realize she could do it.

Tuesday Tip: It's Like Riding a Bike

Saturday, March 20, 2010

When What You Say Is Not What They Hear

Have you seen the confusion....a puzzled grin, a sideways glance or a look of shock? This was a tough week for me. It is allergy time. My throat is scratchy, my nose is sore and my ears are itchy. I sound much worse than I feel.

Sometimes what is said in class...is not what the students hear. A few examples:

We were working on kama. In one sequence, the kama crosses in front of you in a gathering motion. Imagine a fishing net being cast over you. You gather the net together, turn the kama blade side out and cut through the net. I was explaining the kata pattern one move at a time. We reached the point in the kata when we were gathering the net. I said "cut the net". One student looked at me with a horrified expression each time I said net. She later explained that she thought I was saying "cut the neck" and did not appreciate the visual.

A green belt student asked if we could review a "breathing" kata. The new student looked worried. We began the kata Sanchin and we focused on our breathing. At the end of the kata the new student was relieved. She explained that she thought the green belt wanted to practice a "breeding" kata.

A young white belt was working on kata and kicks. He wanted to see a roundhouse, a hook kick and a crescent kick. After we practiced Nai Hanchi Shodan a few times, I asked him if he would like to try an "ax kick". He was so excited. He ran over to me and was jumping up and down. He could barely contain his enthusiasm. He asked me "What kind of kick is an Ass Kick?" It was my turn to have the look of shock. "No......I said A-X kick." He was very disappointed.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Remembering What's Important

From Thomas

I appreciate my wife allowing me access to her blog to post a thought that I hold dear. I would like to share a story.

In March 2000 our dojo was running very successfully and we had many great kids in our school. Among them were a brother/sister pair that had been taking karate for 4 1/2 years. The young boy Vince was 9 and his sister Julia had just turned 8. Yes, she was such a wonder she was able to perform Nai Hanchi katas before she was 4 years old. Julia was the once in a lifetime protege, the only student that I have had that learned kata by watching them. Vince was the intelligent, quiet type. He didn't have the technique of his sister but he was gifted in the understanding of what was done. I was very close to them as I had literally watched them grow up. It was like family.

We had spent every night for a week preparing for a tournament that Sunday. The mother and father were going through tough times. She had a PFA against the father for threatening to kill the children and make her watch. There was a hearing on Thursday and the father showed up for court with the most expensive defense lawyer in town to show what a horrible mother was there keeping this father from his children. The judge dismissed the PFA and sent the kids home with unsupervised visitation. Saturday night he kept having the kids call the mom pleading with her to get back together with the dad. She held her ground. That night he killed them both in their sleep. It wasn't a fast death but a slow one. When he was sure they were gone he took his own life.

March 19 2000 Vince and Julia Marasco didn't show up for the tournament. They were dead. Dead because there is no law that says if you threaten to kill your children you should have therapy before unsupervised visitation. The judge says she is sorry - it was a mistake.

This single event was the most painful thing I ever imagined...the funeral of two children.

Tonight, kiss your kids, tell them you love them. And pause for a moment to think about all the children that die at the hands of relatives.

Just one simple law would have given the father a chance to mellow out and not had a chance to go unchecked. No unsupervised visitation within 90 days of a decision on a PFA.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Don't Forget - You Were A White Belt Once

Do you remember what it was like to be a white belt? Do you recall how you felt the first time you stepped on the dojo floor? Were you nervous, intimidated, anxious, excited or happy?

I walked on the dojo floor with a slight advantage. My husband was a brown belt at the time. I was used to going to tournaments and watching demonstrations. I was familiar with some of the kata simply from watching Tom practice. The week before I signed up for classes, I asked Tom to review the pattern of the first kata. I did not want to feel completely lost. It didn't matter too much...I still felt lost.

It has been a while since I was a white belt in karate. As an instructor, I think it is important to remember how it felt at the beginning. New students come in the dojo and the black belts seem to make everything look so easy. The first kata, waza and ten step blocking drill felt like Mt. Everest as a white belt. As a black belts, we could probably demonstrate them in our sleep.

Remember what it is like:

To have your hands going all directions
To focus on your feet only to forget what your hands are doing and then...
To focus on your hands and forget your feet
To feel awkward and stiff
To be uncomfortable in your uniform
To have a timid kiai
To have to figure out how to tie your belt
To try to practice at home only to realize you skipped a few moves
To spar for the first time
To test for 9th kyu

As a beginner student of Tai Chi, I am regularly reminded of how challenging the early stages of learning can be. Every once in a while think back and remember how it felt...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesday Tip: Change Direction

I attend Tai Chi classes at a health club. The rooms/studios available on a Tuesday night change every few months. Last week we changed rooms again. It took a few minutes to get reoriented because the direction of the new room was different than the previous one.

There are benefits and disadvantages to training in a room with mirrors. As an instructor, it is a great tool to observe the students. As a student, I can use the mirror to observe and refine my movement. The biggest disadvantage I found was the reliance of the mirror as a visual cue in kata.

I can remember two instances where "the mirror as a visual cue" caused me trouble. The first instance was during a tournament. I was in a black belt kata division and I was demonstrating Chinto. This kata is known for its quick directional changes. I was practicing in the dojo for weeks. I stepped in the ring and began the kata. I completely lost orientation and did a kata that sort of looked like Chinto. The second example was during formal testing. Testing was held in a restaurant banquet hall. The hall was lavishly decorated with bold wallpaper. Ever wall looked exactly the same.

I learned a few lessons...

Kata needs to come from the inside. It is important to know your kata well enough to be able to demonstrate in any venue. It doesn't matter what the people are doing next to you or what noise is in the background.

Practice kata in different directions. We regularly practice kata away from the mirrors. After we know a kata pattern, we try to break the visual cues by facing multiple directions. We even practice kata blindfolded.

Tuesday Tip: Change Direction...practice your kata in many different directions.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Do Something Else - Revisited

I wrote a post in January 2008 called Do Something Else. It was sometime after my ACL surgery and my sister suggested that I quit karate and do something else.

It has been over two years....today she said it again. I am sure if I stopped practicing and teaching I could find "something else". I wonder if it would be easy to pack away my equipment. How long would it take before I did not miss it anymore? Karate would be just a memory.

It makes me sad to even think about it. I would miss training, friendships, conversations, students, questions and the joy of discovery.

I guess it is good for my sister to tell me to "do something else" every once in a while. It makes me think about why I continue practicing.

It is a reminder to appreciate the WHY....

Friday, March 12, 2010

Can/Should a Man Teach Women's Self-Defense Classes?

This question was posed by Zara in the comment section of my previous post. The following post is my husband's reply to the question.

My name is Thomas and I am Michele's husband. She asked me to respond to your comment because I have very strong feelings about domestic violence, teaching self defense, what’s appropriate and what is it to be successful. Besides teaching self defense classes for more than a decade I have been sought out by schools, womens groups, girl scouts to teach the way I teach. Any karate person can teach the physical movements of a womens self defense class but what makes it special and successful is knowledge and experience in what is real life dynamics and what is just "Womens self defense 101", the status quo.

Let’s start at the beginning, your heart is in the right place and I commend you. You know someone that was attacked, let your understanding and sympathy, your embarrassment by what our gender can do to drive you to make a change. For me it was a very close friend getting raped. Since then it has been the scores of women that I met that had been assaulted. I volunteered at a womens crisis center and became a certified counselor in domestic violence and sexual assault. Every man should have to do that.

Question #1 - to successfully teach a true womens self defense class you want them to walk out feeling like that there are things they can do besides becoming a victim, you build confidence, you let them know that they are worth fighting for, keep to the basics (if they can't remember it when they walk out then it’s not effective. I start each session off with a little about my background, why I have an interest in helping them, and although I obviously can't relate to what they have been through or what things they have to deal with I can reassure them that I will listen and we will grow together through it.

Let me sidetrack for a second. What we are dealing with is subtle and I could write a volume about. There are many trips and nuances. Ultimately, it’s for them and not for you so make sure they feel and know you are there for them. When I said you need to build confidence, I meant an awareness that there are things that will work and that they are not defenseless. Anyone being attacked should psychologically be prepared for some injury. The commercialized glam courses that I won't name make women feel like if a guy grabs them they will whip them just like the guy wearing all the body armor. Very Bad

Question #2
Do a lot of reading and understanding of what is real. There are different attack scenarios based on age. A quick example would be teaching younger kids stranger awareness, mindful of abductions and molestations. Teenage/college girls are more likely to be attacked by a "friend" or boyfriend, relative, rather than a complete stranger. Adult women need to worry about spouse/partner, co-workers etc.. So when you really look at it, the types of self defense moves that cause major damage are statistically ineffective because most of the time the person knows the attacker and is not going to fire off a primary strike. 90% of self defense is awareness, not putting themselves in high risk situations. The times that are physical are usually grabs, being pushed down and held down. I always ask the women what situations are they worried about. It’s all fine and good to teach what I have seen and understand but it doesn't help the woman that has something on her mind that we didn't cover because we didn't ask. Asking also opens up trust. I will teach a general womens self defense class with students around but if I am covering specifically sexual assaults all kids and men are out. Another major thing to consider is you will likely have someone there that has already been assaulted so don't force people into uncomfortable situations that could cause flashbacks. If you are doing something and you need to demonstrate and you are asking a woman/girl to help, before I go near them or touch I ask if they are ok with me touching them.

You raise a very valid point about getting them to have the internal spark to do what they have to in a moment of crisis. They will, most likely, in the 3 hrs say you have with them, always be shy about doing power techniques - it’s ok. Sit them down let them know that they can be the nicest, most gentle person in the world but when someone crosses the line you need to change your focus and go to some other place and it’s ok to do that. Let them know that it’s ok to be angry if they are abused.

You also mention the worry about if you don't press them they won't be ready for the (sudden, shocking and ruthless). Perfect - well stated point. But without years of physical training they can't get that way, you need to tell them that it is sudden, shocking and ruthless. Don't let them leave your building thinking if they get attacked they will get away uninjured. If they do get hurt the shock will shut their bodies down. It is a very well known tactic for men to just walk up and BAM crack their target hard so that there is instant compliance.

Every time I witness physical or verbal abuse of a woman, child, the elderly or even an animal I have stopped it. Every time I do it I expect to get hurt so then if I take a shot it’s not a surprise.

Traditional side note - been doing traditional 30 years and love kata, some people argue kata is useless. If you don't know how or why then it is but there must have been some reason all those great masters did it. For me the yoi position is my internal switch. I'm calm, casual but when I do kata and I hit that yoi nothing else exists but the defeat of my attacker. I have hard, powerful kata.

For me how that translates is when I did crisis intervention work and have been attacked its throwing that internal switch that saved me.

I don't care if it’s a gun, knife, mace, karate or whatever your weapon of choice is, if when the moment comes in crisis for you to act if you hesitate you lose.

I would be more than happy to share as much info that you want or answer any other questions.

If you don't mind me sharing some personal ethical perspectives.

I never charge for womens self defense classes because I feel hypocritical that money takes precedent over a woman’s safety.

I always allow anyone to come back for free follow ups or questions.

One day society needs to understand that there should be no need for womens self defense. They should have a given right to a safe, happy life. We need to teach all children in early health classes the rules of a healthy relationship dynamic. Tell boys it’s wrong to abuse. Its garbage making it a woman's responsibility to recognize an abusive relationship or learn how to defend themselves.

Tom is a Renshi with a 5th Dan in karate and 5th Dan kobudo. In 1995, with permission from his instructor, he started his own dojo. (see before and after pictures).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

My First Self-Defense Class


A few months after I started taking karate lessons, I attended a women’s self-defense seminar taught by Sensei Bobbi Snyder. I am not going to deny that I was nervous. I had never been to a self-defense seminar and I did not know what to expect. I was familiar with karate classes but somehow I knew this seminar would be nothing like the dojo.

The class was held off-site at a local university. There were approximately ten participants with various levels of karate experience. The session was in three parts…lecture, self-defense techniques and a discussion. If I would have to describe the class in one word, it would be INTENSE. I do not remember which techniques were taught. I am not certain about what was covered in the lecture. However, I remember almost every detail of the discussion.

You see this discussion forever change my worldview. I walked into the seminar a shy, slightly naive and somewhat sheltered young adult. I walked out of this seminar shocked and more aware. During the discussion, the women recounted stories of rape, abuse, incest, violence and victimization. I sat silently and my heart broke for these women.

I need to share something important. Despite the horrible experiences…these women were brave, strong and resilient. They sat among a circle of strangers and bared their souls. They were regaining control of their lives. These women were not victims...they are survivors.

I left the self-defense session emotionally drained. I remember calling my parents to thank them. I thanked my Dad for being one of the “good guys”. I thanked my Mom for being a strong woman and a role model.

It was a while before I attended another self-defense session. Through the years, I have attended my fair share of women’s self-defense seminars. I can even say that I taught a few.


No other session affected me as much as this first one.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tuesday Tip: Name Tags Do or Don't

When my daughter was born, I never bought her clothes or accessories with her name on it. For me...it was a safety issue. I was even more careful when she was a toddler. I did not want strangers to know her name. Young children may think that people who know their name are not strangers.

It is easy to remember to be cautious about children and name tags...but how about name tags for adults? How often are we required to wear name tags for employment, trade shows or conferences. I worked at a Friendly's restaurant during high school and college. One of my original name tags had my first and last name on it. My husband worked at a home improvement store and they changed their name tags to only include first names.

At trade shows, our badge includes our full name and company. I make sure to remove the badge before leaving the trade show location. This would be especially important when travelling alone on business. Could a stranger use that information to gain your confidence? Could someone pose as a hotel worker or conference attendee? How quickly could a stranger Google you or look you up on Facebook? How much information about family, employment, location and your children is readily accessible with a click of a mouse?

How do you feel about name tags for adults? Do you wear a name tag? Do you remove your name tag before leaving work or the conference? In the age of the Internet...does it matter anymore or does it matter more now than ever before?

Tuesday Tip: Name Tags Do or Don't

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Why Sometimes It Is Easy to Forget She Is a Kid....

When my daughter approached the age of two...I was concerned. She did not talk much. She was able to communicate by pointing or by uttering a few words. I remember calling my sister-in-law and expressing my concern. Shouldn't my daughter be talking more? There were not many kids in my extended family. The few nieces and nephews I did have were older and I was not around them much when they were little. I researched developmental milestones. I was told not to worry. She would talk when she was ready. My daughter was almost two and it was like a switch turned on. She began to talk using complete ideas.

At three years old, my daughter was having foot pain (she has flat feet). We were referred to a specialist. Within five minutes of meeting my daughter, the orthopedic specialist stopped discussing her feet. He was struck by her ability to communicated and suggested I encourage her learning ability. In Kindergarten, one mother would periodically ask me...Has she always talked like that? My daughter's ability to communicate has been noticed by doctors, school nurses, dental assistants, coaches, etc.

To me...it is how she always spoke. She talks from the moment she wakes up until she falls asleep. It is constant. I am surprised she does not get in trouble at school for talking. There have been times I decreed the car as a "no talk zone" so I could focus on my driving not a conversation. She can be engaging and discusses many subjects.

Despite her ability to communicate, my daughter has trouble pronouncing some consonant combinations such as 'sh' and 'th'. My husband wanted to know if she need speech therapy to improve those sounds. She was tested at school by a speech therapist. The test included pronunciation, syntax and language. Many children who have speech problems also have difficulty with language and vocabulary. If they cannot say the word...the often do not understand it. She has some mispronunciations but her speech is readily understandable. She will need to be re-evaluated or we can choose a private speech therapist to correct the sounds.

In the language/vocabulary section, my ten year old daughter tested similar to an eighteen year old at 96%. It is no wonder why it is sometimes easy to forget that you are talking to a ten year old kid.

If her use of language stands out to adults...it makes me wonder what she sounds like to other kids. Maybe the teacher's comment "They'll Catch Up" makes more sense now.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sunday Training

On Sunday afternoon, we had an impromptu training session in the dojo. After a few instant messages, a Facebook wall post and a phone call, the workout turned into a large gathering. We reviewed kata and kobudo requirements. There were black belts and a group of 1st kyu students. The 1st kyu students are preparing for their shodan and are doing a great job.

Two hours of training.

People gave up their Sunday afternoon to spend time in the dojo. I really enjoyed the workout, the conversation and the community spirit. It was reminiscent of my earlier training when I was a brown belt. A group of us would meet in the dojo every Saturday night for a workout, conversation and dinner. The group was diverse in age and rank. One member called our sessions....Saturday Night Dead...which described our sad night life. I was in my mid-twenties and where was I on a Saturday night...in the dojo.

I look forward to more excellent training this week!

On a sad note, my 17 year old cat Bagheera was not doing well this weekend. He had a seizure and was taken to the vet today. A blood test was taken and there was nothing that could be done. Bagheera was put to sleep today. So very difficult.