Sunday, May 30, 2010

Think About The Why

Black belt testing is six weeks away. There are two students in the dojo preparing for their shodan testing. Last week, we gave the students a writing assignment. The topic was "What does black belt mean to you?". The students have been training hard and spending many hours in the dojo. I wanted them to take a moment and think about why they are on this journey. It is easy to get caught up in the details of the test, the date, the location, schedules and the requirements.

It has been fourteen years since I tested for shodan. Time has changed my perspective about my own testing and journey. I remember being handed my black belt for the first time and thinking "I am not ready". It was humbling and I knew at that moment I had a lot of work to do. The need to work harder and grow as a martial artist follows you through the black belt ranks. One of my proudest martial arts accomplishments was my promotion to 4th Dan and Instructor Certification. A few days after my promotion came the familiar feeling "I am not ready...I have a lot of work to do".

As a kyu rank student, I never saw shodan as the end of my was only the beginning. For me, the important questions are about the Why? Why do I train? Why do I want to be an instructor? Why do I continue?

It is my hope that the students preparing for shodan will enjoy the next six weeks of their training. I want them to not only think about the test but to remember the Why?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Update 2010: The Fear of Injury - A Question of Trust

The following is a post I wrote in March 2009.

After I was diagnosed with a completely torn ACL, I was given two options…surgery or no surgery. I was told that people live happy, healthy lives without an intact ACL. However, there was one very big problem. The surgeon said four words that filled the room “No ACL….no karate”. My decision to have the surgery was immediate. There was no thought involved because I knew that I needed a healthy, stable knee in order to continue training. There have been people who suggested that I stop training due to my injury.

My ACL tear occurred while working on a two-man bo form. I jumped…my foot planted…my body shifted into position…my knee gave out…I crumbled to the floor… I stood up and finished the bo form. I knew something was wrong as soon as I felt my leg slide out of position. Just writing about that feeling gives me a lump in the pit of my stomach. This was a non-contact injury. My body…my movement…caused this injury.

How did I find my way through the fear of re-injury?

The truth is I did not. It is still with me each time I step on the dojo floor, every racquetball game and each bout of sparring. I try to manage the fear by being proactive. I joined a gym so I could lift weights in order to keep my knee strong. I started Tai Chi in the hopes I will move more fluidly. I play racquetball to see how far I can push my knee.

There was a recent week that I did nothing…no karate, no Tai Chi, no racquetball and no gym. I can tell you with certainty that my knee ached during that week. I kept wondering what I did until I realized it was a direct result of what I was not doing. I know that keeping my knee healthy and strong is a daily pursuit.

I am going to keep moving forward but there is a delicate balance. If I let the fear of injury go completely, I may become reckless in my training. I need just enough fear to keep me cautious and aware.

Update May 2010

I am writing this update as a response to Kicker’s question “How do you learn to trust it (knee) again?” I remember wondering the same thing shortly after my ACL reconstruction. At the time, it was one of my biggest concerns. I walked into the hospital, carrying a knee brace and crutches, with a moderately functioning knee. I left the hospital three hours later wearing a brace and needing to use crutches for six weeks. I barely had the muscle strength to do a straight leg raise. My goal was to return to pre-injury activity. How do you get from point A to point B? How do you learn to trust it again?

For me, I think the answer is simply…Time. It has been three years and I no longer think about my knee or worry about re-injury each time I step on the dojo floor. I still belong to the gym and lift weights to maintain a strong knee. Practicing Tai Chi has improved my balance and I am more aware of the effects of weight distribution on movement. I learned to trust my knee again by being aware of my strengths and limitations. I listen to my body.

When my knee "speaks" to me, I make sure to analyze what I am doing, slow down and be careful. Last week when I was helping with the garage roof, I did not feel comfortable walking on the roof. Due to the angle, I was putting an unnatural torque on my knee. I made an adjustment and was able to continue working.

How did you learn to trust your body again after an injury?

Disclaimer: This blog is my personal weblog regarding my ACL surgery and recovery. Please note that I am not dispensing medical advice rather I am documenting my personal experiences.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tuesday Tip: How Not To Look Like A Tourist In New York City

Last Friday, my sister Kim and I went on our road trip to Madison Square Garden to see Pearl Jam. Kim sent me an email with a link to familiarize myself with the trains. Our plan was to drive to Hoboken and take the train to Manhattan. We both have been to NYC before but this was the first time we would be taking the train late at night. In preparation for our trip, I decided to research how not to look like a tourist.

I found many sites detailing what visitors should and should not do.

What Not to Do as a Tourist in New York City
Ten Things Not to Do in New York City
How To Avoid Looking Like a Tourist in New York City

On the drive to Hoboken, I shared the information I found with my sister. A few points that stuck out were:

1. Do not gawk.
2. Do not stop in the middle of the sidewalk to look at a map.
3. Wear black but do not wear shorts.
4. Know the lingo. The city = Manhattan. The train = the subway.
5. Think of the sidewalk as if you were driving.
6. Walk fast and look like you know where you are going. It is better to take three lefts than to stop and look lost.
7. Do not complain about the prices.
8. Jay walking is expected and necessary.
9. Keep you wallet in your front pocket and don't get money out in public.
10. Maintain your personal space even if you are on a crowded subway. did we do?

Upon arriving in Hoboken, Kim stopped the car and asked about the train to the city. The man looked at her and asked "Do you mean Manhattan?" I wore jeans and a black shirt. My sister opted for shorts. I told her about the no shorts rule and she looked skeptical. Fifteen minutes off the train and she said "You were right about the shorts". Walking fast without stopping on the sidewalk was no problem. We arrived in Manhattan just in time for Friday rush hour. The jay walking was challenging at first. Everyone ignored those flashing signs that told you to walk or don't walk. My biggest faux pas was footwear. I noticed that New Yorkers wear fashionable (yet extremely uncomfortable looking) shoes. I think my sneakers may have screamed "tourist".

The Pearl Jam concert was excellent.

I will leave you with the Pearl Jam video Just Breathe.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Last night was the first Tai Chi class I could attend in May. There is something written on every day of my planner. My daughter’s teachers are loading up on homework and projects. My husband decided to replace the garage roof and volunteered me as his helper. My shoulder hurts from ripping off roofing and pulling out nails. I decided to take time for myself and go to class.

I am glad I did. It was one hour. I did not think about homework, shingles to nail, thank you notes to send, phone calls to return, items to order, groceries to buy, bills to pay, train schedules to review or packages to mail. I did not worry that I was missing the last regular episode of Lost before the finale. (I recorded it!).

I realized quite early in May that I would not have time to practice. I can count on one hand the times I went to the gym. I needed to accept my schedule and not feel guilty about working out or training less. I decided to work on pieces: pieces of kata, pieces of the Yang long form and pieces of bunkai. I could work on these slivers when I had a few minutes. The pieces of the Yang form I chose were embrace the tiger and kicks. By choosing a small segment to work on, I was able to make some improvement despite my busy schedule.

How do you manage your busy schedule and training?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

ACL Reconstruction - Three Years Later

I almost missed writing this post. Wow...Has it been three years?

I started this blog seven months post surgery. I would definitely say that months 6-9 were the toughest time for me. It is the period of time where the mental challenges of this injury out weigh the physical ones. There were many first hand accounts on the Internet that detailed surgery, physical therapy and rehab immediately after the procedure. At the time I started this blog, there was not much written about what happened after the release by the surgeon and physical therapist. Most of the first hand accounts were soccer players, skiers, rugby players and snowboarders.

I wanted to know:

What happens next?
How long until my knee feels normal?
Will I ever fully return to my previous activity?
Will I always fear re-injury?
How has an ACL injury affected other martial arts practitioners?

I receive emails throughout the year from people who are dealing with ACL injuries and surgery. Some have questions and other thank me for sharing my experiences. A major portion of my blog traffic is from people searching, like I did, for ACL information and first hand accounts. When I look at the list of search items, one stands out as my favorite. People find this blog using the search term "ACL success story".

What is the status of my knee three years post ACL reconstruction?

My knee is doing just fine. I feel my knee has returned to 95% pre injury. I do not "think" about my knee on a daily basis. For those of us who have/had knee problems...this is a big deal. I am active in Okinawa Kenpo and Tai Chi. I go to the gym regularly or fairly regularly I should say. I played racquetball last summer. I do not wear a knee brace.

What is the other 5%?

There are a few things that bother my knee. There is one move in the bo kata Chounokun that regularly reminds me that I had knee surgery. A few others...kneeling in seiza for extended periods, embrace the tiger, snake creeps down, running and jumping. I do not like lunges. Damp, cold weather makes my knee ache.

What do I need to work on?

Running and jumping. Before I continue...I must confess that I was not much of a runner or jumper before surgery. However, I should be better at it.

Is there anything activity I did pre-injury that I do not do now?

Roller skating, skiing. I have not gone skiing for years but if I had the opportunity I would decline because of my knee. I was not a good skier...I fell too much. I will probably roller skate again.

Overall, my knee is serving me well.

If anyone finds this blog and wants to share their ACL story as a guest post, please contact me. If you have a blog about ACL surgery and recovery and would like me to add it to my blogroll, feel free to post a comment or email.

If you find this post because you have an ACL of luck on your recovery!

Read my 2 Year Update.
Read my 1 Year Update.

Disclaimer: This blog is my personal weblog regarding my ACL surgery and recovery. Please note that I am not dispensing medical advice rather I am documenting my personal experiences.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lend Me Your Arm

I walked out of the house to find my husband in the backyard. He was mowing the lawn. I motioned for him to stop the lawn tractor. Tom stopped mowing the lawn and walked over to where I was standing.

I made a request, “Lend me your arm”.

For the next fifteen minutes, my husband and I worked on a portion of bunkai that was stuck in my brain. We were in the middle of our backyard. A few cars passed by…slowly. I wonder what they were thinking. We live in an old town. A plaque at the end of the street recognizes the pioneer family who founded the town. We moved there in 1995 but we are still the new people in town. Some residents’ families lived there for generations. I think they are just getting used to our karate school inhabiting the old restaurant/bar.

I walked back to the dojo.

My husband is excellent at bunkai. I tell him he has a “bunkai brain”. I wonder why some people can “see” things so clearly while others, like myself, need to work at it. I think his engineering background and his AutoCAD skills help his bunkai. A short aside: Years ago, as a joke, a class asked Tom to bunkai the Macarena. He did…successfully.

Currently, I am trying to work through a couple pieces of bunkai. It is hard to work through things without a partner. Visualization can only go so far. Some of the bunkai works marvelously in my brain but is simply awful when I try it with a partner.

There is only one way to find out if something works...

My husband will have to “Lend me his arm”.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tuesday Tip: How Much Sleep Do You Need?

I feel like I am not getting enough sleep. Over the past few weeks, I am averaging 5 ½ to 6 hours of sleep a night. I go to bed tired and wake up tired. We have some sleep issues in our household. My husband has insomnia and sleep apnea. My daughter is a night owl and prefers to stay up late. Her sleep patterns were the same when she was an infant. I can fall asleep quickly. My sleep patterns have varied. When I was in college, I worked an early shift so I slept in the afternoon. When my daughter was born, I stayed up late. She would only fall asleep at 11:00 p.m. so my only “free time” was from 11:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m. On the weekends, I work a part time job that requires me to wake up at 2:30 a.m.

So how much sleep do I need? According to, adults need about 7 hours of sleep per night.

What happens if we don’t get enough sleep?

Many of us want to sleep as little as possible. There is so much to do that sleep seems like a waste of time. Yet sleep, an essential time of rest and rejuvenation, benefits our minds and bodies in many ways. When you continuously don’t get the amount of sleep you need, you begin to pay for it in daytime drowsiness, trouble concentrating,
irritability, increased risk of falls and accidents, and lower productivity.

Just for fun - Try the Sheep Dash. You can test your reaction time directly related to sleep. My results - Ambling Armadillo.

If you are like me and are feeling like you are not getting enough sleep...check out Your Guide to Never Feeling Tired Again. This weekend I need to make up some of my sleep debt.

What were your results in the Sheep Dash? Do you need 7 hours of sleep or do you function better with more or less?

Tuesday Tip: How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Road Trip Homework

It has been years since my sister and I went to a concert together. One of our first concerts we saw was in 1991…the original Lollapalooza concert. Lollapalooza is an all day concert event created by Jane’s Addition front man Perry Farrell. In 1992, we headed to Albany NY to see the second concert. It was our first official road trip. This was before cell phones, GPS and CD’s. We drove listening to cassettes, missed our exit and ended up somewhere in NJ.

We arrived in Albany the day before the concert and stayed in the worst motel ever. The bathroom was disgusting and there were old marshmallows under the bed. The hotel managers sat on lawn chairs outside the office. As bad at the accommodations were…it did not matter. The 1992 Lollapalooza concert had an amazing line up. Performing on the main stage were Lush, Pearl Jam, Jesus and the Mary Chain, Soundgarden, Ice Cube, Ministry and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I have been to many concerts ranging from Pink Floyd, Garbage, Depeche Mode, Ozzy Ozbourne, U2, Guns N Roses and Disturbed. After my daughter was born, my concert list changed dramatically - The Wiggles, Cheetah Girls and Miley Cyrus to name a few.

This month, my sister and I are going on a road trip. We are going to see Pearl Jam at Madison Square Garden. My sister has been a fan since our 1992 Pearl Jam concert. She would attend every Pearl Jam show if she could. This will be my first Pearl Jam concert since 1992. I know the old songs but I have 18 years to catch up on. In preparation for the concert, Sis assigned me homework. She handed me CDs and told me to “Learn the words”. She calls or emails me with the first few lines of a song and wants me to finish it.

So far, I failed every pop quiz.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

When There Is Only One....

...student in class.

In my experience, May is a busy month. I missed Tai Chi class last week because my daughter had a mandatory May Procession at school. There are end of school concerts, programs and projects. Baseball season has arrived and some karate students are juggling T-ball schedules and karate classes.

There was a class last week that had only one student. I immediately thought...opportunity. We focused on basics, punching techniques, stances, distance and kata. The young yellow belt worked hard and was focused on his movement.

As a student, would you like to be the only person in class? As an instructor, how do you feel about having one person in class?

My answer is the same for both circumstances...opportunity.

There was one tai chi class that I was the only student. I admit there was a brief moment of "Oh no!" that was quickly replaced by "opportunity". I had to demonstrate a portion of the form individually. The instructor made corrections and offered advice. As an instructor, I ask the student if there is anything they want to work on or if they have questions. I can focus on specific material.

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tuesday Tip: Enthusiasm is Contagious

Have you ever been in a meeting, a martial arts class or a family gathering where one person positively changed the dynamic of the interaction? Meetings become motivating. Conversations change from indifference to interesting. A martial arts class trains with increased fervor.

Enthusiasm is contagious.

A few examples:

In college, I majored in psychology/political science. I attended a school with a strong science program. Since science was not my forte, I waited until senior year to fulfill my requirements. I signed up for Intro to Geology. My only expectation was the credits I needed for graduation. Geology turned out to be one of my favorite college classes. Not only did I enjoy the class, I retained what I learned. The reason is simple. The instructor was passionate about the subject. The geology instructor’s enthusiasm was contagious.

A few weeks ago, I was in the dojo teaching karate class. I do not remember what we were working on or who was in the class. The end of the first class was approaching and students were arriving for the next class. The door opens and a black belt instructor came inside. I should probably rewrite the last line to read…“a black belt instructor made an entrance”. The reality is that he walked inside the door. The difference was that he looked enthused to be arriving at the dojo. I stopped in the middle of class and said, “We should all walk into the door like that and be enthused to be in the dojo”. It changed the dynamic of the class. The black belt’s enthusiasm was contagious.

In the previous examples, the enthusiasm emanated from the class instructors. My final example will show how the newest and youngest karate student inspired me. It was one of those super long days and I was anticipating a long night. My daughter had a full backpack of homework. I was running late for the second class and to be honest I was a bit grumpy. I reached for the handle of the dojo door and took a deep breath in an attempt to leave the stress of the day behind. The youngest white belt in the dojo was in class. In addition to learning like a sponge, he loves karate and not just certain aspects. It does not matter what being taught in class…he loves EVERYTHING. On this particular day, he was excited about tekkos. The class instructor promised to show the group tekkos at the end of the class. His mom shook her head and I told her I appreciated her son’s interest in Okinawa Kobudo. His enthusiasm reminded me why I was an instructor. The young white belt’s enthusiasm was contagious.

We all have the ability to inspire.

Tuesday Tip: Enthusiasm is contagious.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Shadow's Story

It was my daughter’s 11th birthday. Family and friends were arriving in less than an hour to celebrate with cake and ice cream. The new kitten, a birthday present, was curled up on the bed. My husband Tom checked on the kitten and discovered Shadow was barely breathing. The kitten was at the vet the previous day for the mandatory checkup required by the Animal Rescue League. After a quick call to the vet, Tom rushed to the animal hospital with the kitten. Tom returned in time for the party but the kitten remained with the vet.

The kitten was very sick. The vet offered Tom a choice…treat the kitten and hope he gets better or euthanize the kitten. It was my daughter’s birthday. Tom told the vet to start treatment. On Friday night, the kitten had a 30% survival rate. We received an update on Saturday morning. The kitten was eating and appeared to be responding to the medication. The kitten’s survival rate jumped to 50%.

The vet informed us the kitten had to be sick at the time of adoption. I called the Animal Rescue League and told them about our situation including the financial output needed to help the kitten get well. The first thing the staff member at the ARL asked was “Did you buy pet insurance?” Since the first visit at the vet was included in the adoption fee, we did not think there was any rush to buy insurance. The staff member told us we could no longer buy pet insurance because the kitten had a pre-existing condition. To be honest…I doubt that we would have purchased the pet insurance anyway.

A few hours later, the Director of the ARL called with a solution. Euthanize the kitten and pick out a new one at no charge. Cold. This was not a shirt with a torn seam or an electronic game that malfunctioned. A week ago, when the ARL were encouraging an adoption, they wanted my daughter to love and care for an animal and make it part of our family. Now they wanted to dispose of the kitten and exchange it for a new one. According to their website, the organization claims to be the “County’s Largest Shelter in Size and Heart”. I don’t think so. My daughter was attached to this kitten. Shadow was her birthday kitten.

By Sunday morning, the kitten was pouncing around again. Shadow is coming home tonight.