Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow Shoveling Safety

Last February, I wrote a post about Snow Shoveling Safety. I wrote the post because my Dad made a visit to the ER with chest pains after a day of snow shovelling. This past summer my Dad had pacemaker surgery and is doing well.

The Northeast has been hit with several snow storms in January. It is just enough snow to create the "bread and milk" panic in the community. The snow started early yesterday and dumped 8"-10" of snow in the area. I called my parents to check on them. My Mom answered the phone slightly out of breath.

Me: "Have you been shoveling?".
Mom: "I don't want your father out there shoveling by himself."
Me: "Kim (my sister) is on her way up to shovel and you told me Johnny (my brother) offered to stop by after work. I am also available to help you shovel.

Dad gets on the phone

Me: "Have you been shoveling?"
Dad: "The heart specialist told me I could do whatever I felt comfortable doing"
Me: "Really?"

Stubborn! He know he has help but wants to shovel on his own.

Please be careful shovelling snow. A few tips from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:


Warm up your muscles. Shoveling can be a vigorous activity. Before you begin, warm up your muscles for 10 minutes with light exercise. Be sure to include your leg muscles—heart attacks and similar injuries are sometimes the result of working the smaller muscles of your arms and back while not using the large muscle groups of the legs.

Pace yourself. Take frequent breaks and replenish fluids to prevent dehydration. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or other signs of a heart attack, seek emergency care, such as by calling 9-1-1.

Use a shovel that is comfortable for your height and strength. Do not use a shovel that is too heavy or too long for you. Consider buying a shovel that is specially designed to prevent too much stooping. Space your hands on the tool grip to increase your leverage.

Push the snow instead of lifting it, as much as you can. If you must lift, take small amounts of snow, and lift it with your legs: Squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift by straightening your legs, without bending at the waist. Then walk to where you want to dump the snow;holding a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine.

Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that stresses your back.

Be safe and enjoy the snow!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Things I Only Understood After Black Belt

The Wednesday night class in our dojo has been mostly black belts. Two of the students (a father and son) are new black belts. They tested for their shodan in Okinawa Kenpo Karate and Kobudu during the summer of 2010. The father told me a story about how he expressed to his wife (a 1st kyu student) how different it was to be a shodan than a 1st kyu.

It reminded me of Sue C's excellent post called The Black Belt Paradox where she makes the following observation:

When I look at who it is that tells me it’s not about the black belt or that we don’t need coloured belts, I realise that they are all (no dis-respect is meant here) – black belts! It seems to me one needs to acquire the wisdom and experience of a black belt to realise that getting the black belt is not important and only really represents the beginning. I can ‘know’ this but it remains precisely that – knowledge, not wisdom. I have to go through the process myself of converting this knowledge into wisdom through practice, learning and experience and to help me do this I need my belts, all of them! I call this the Black Belt Paradox – you need to acquire a black belt in order to truly understand that ‘it’s not about the black belt’.

Sue is right. There are things I only understood after I earned a black belt. Here are a few:

1. Black belt is the beginning. The kyu rank students in our dojo hear this statement a lot. We tell the students how much more there is to learn and study.

2. Black belt kata are those kata that come later in the syllabus. I remember learning a "black belt kata" when I was a new brown belt. I learned the pattern to Passai at a seminar. I thought it was cool that I knew the pattern to a "black belt kata". I didn't realize at the time I didn't really "know" it. I could move through a sequence of movements. Turns out it wasn't so cool because I should have been focused on my current material. We do not try to let students get too far ahead with their material. As a kyu rank it is tempting to want to learn "new" and "more". There is simply too much material that needs to be learned before shodan.

3. The use of the word "Know". After I tested for black belt, I realized how little I actually knew. This feeling hit me the moment I tied my black belt around my waist. We test for shodan at the Federation training camp. The guest instructors are dojo heads, karate federation leaders, war heroes and authors. They are people who have been training 30-40 years. And there I was with a shiny black belt and three years of training. I have been a black belt for almost 15 years (in July 2011) and I still feel the same way. The amount of information to "know" is incredibly overwhelming. There is a lifetime of learning.

4. Black belts are students too. I never gave this much thought as a kyu rank. As a black belt student, I am still learning, exploring and discovering.

5. A black belt brings responsibility. I remember thinking a kyu rank student might ask me a question and expect the correct answer. What if I did not know the answer? I found out it is ok not to know the answer and it is an excellent opportunity to search/learn the answer. The new shodan I wrote about early in the post let me know how he makes sure he is in correct stance during class. He noticed the new white belts watching him and wants to be a good example.

6. Your karate changes as you age. It becomes more about technique, function and conservation of motion.

7. You need to make the kata your own.

8. Basics are awesome!

I am sure there are more. The above list represents a few of the things I only understood after I was a black belt.

And it is still a work in progress....

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Can You Learn Karate from a Video?

One of my 2011 karate goals is to learn a specific kobudo kata. I have attended a few seminar sessions on this kata in the past but it never stuck in my brain. Small portions of the kata are familiar but for the most part I am learning the pattern from square one.

I have never tried to learn a kata from a video. There are many people who excel at learning in this manner. I know several people who have tried using a TV and a large mirror to reverse the directions to ensure they are moving the correct way. I have witnessed students (from other styles), who learned Okinawa Kobudo from the videotape series, compete in tournaments. In addition to moving in the wrong direction, the competitor added a roll fall and did not properly identify the kata. (Not a good idea when the creator of the video (my instructor) was center judge in the division.)

Here are some of the benefits from learning kata from a video.

1. Flexibility - You can learn at your own pace.
2. Time - You can watch the video whenever you want.
3. Focus - You can devote time to a specific kata or technique.

Here are a few of the disadvantages.

1. No instructor to ask questions.
2. No personal correction by an instructor.
3. Depending on how the video is shot...there may be problems following directional changes.
4. Not enough information due to time limits of the video.
5. You have to rewind...a lot.

Have you ever learned kata from a video? What advantages/disadvantages did you encounter? Would you recommend this type of learning?

So how am I doing with my project...I have learned about 1/4 of the pattern from the video. My plan is to learn a portion of the pattern and practice before I move on to the next section.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

One Word

Describe in one word why you write or read martial arts blogs.

My word...


Friday, January 7, 2011

Bring Your Own....

Throwing Knife.

Wednesday night is black belt night. Our first class of the New Year was BYOK. Several dojo members recently purchased throwing knives, stars and darts. Another person brought his personal collection which included a throwing axe. The recent interest in throwing knives was a direct result of trip to Tennessee by two instructors. They stopped at the Smoky Mountain Knife Works. The returned home to PA with a bag full of purchases. It did not take long before other black belt students purchased their own set of throwing knives.

The one wall of the dojo was transformed into our target board. Extra sheets of plywood were added to the wall. Two wooden targets were made as well as several cardboard barriers. For two hours, we took turns throwing. (black belt adults only).

Personal observations from a first time thrower:

It is not easy.
Most of my attempts went splat against the wall.
Knives can bounce back quickly.
The axe makes a cool sound when it flies through the air.
I can only imagine the hours and hours (and hours) of practice to become proficient at knife throwing.
You could hear the knife throwing (in my case knife splatting against the wall) activity from outside the dojo. I wonder what the neighbors thought?

At the end of the night, we packed up the cardboard and targets and removed the extra plywood from the wall. We cleaned up the floor and all the knives were taken home. It was an interesting evening and a different way to start training in 2011.

You can check out this video on Combat Knife Throwing featuring Ralph Thorn and his no spin style of knife throwing.

A quick disclaimer: This activity was supervised in a dojo and the participants were adult black belts. This is my personal weblog which documents my experiences and training.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Returning to Martial Arts Training After A Break

A few months ago, I wrote a post called Managing A Break in Your Martial Arts Training. I was facing a busy work schedule and I made the decision to put my gym membership on hold. I called my Tai Chi instructor and told him that I was taking a break from class until December. It was a hard decision but one I knew I had to make. I struggled but I maintained my training/teaching schedule in Okinawa Kenpo.

I made a list and planned my break from Tai Chi class. Let's see how I did.

1. Keep in contact with your instructor and the other students. I had minimal contact with my instructor and classmates. I made a few phone calls and sent emails.

2. Stop by for a class...even if it is once a month. This would have been great but it didn't happen.

3. Practice on your own so you don't forget the material. Not often but I did practice the form occasionally.

4. Keep reading and studying. Absolutely!

5. Set a date for your return. Don't leave it open ended. Yes. I set a date for December 1st. I started going to the gym but did not make Tai Chi class due to my schedule.

6. Invite your training partners for an informal workout.

7. I invited my tai chi instructor to teach a guest session at our dojo. Yes. We tried several times to arrange for a visit but could not coordinate schedules. :(

How hard is it to walk back into class after a break in training? It is not hard at all! Last night, I walked back in Tai Chi class, briefly caught up with everyone and started training. It is that easy!

As an instructor, I know many students who take a break never return. I have heard many excuses...I don't remember anything, I am behind the class, family members/friends are ahead of me now, I missed a testing or I'll never catch up. The list could go on and on. The longer the break...the harder people find it to return.

So, if you took a break and want to return to martial arts training...Do it!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What Rank Are You?

Stop...don't answer that.

I cannot recall ever asking anyone about their martial arts rank. I did not even like typing the question. When non-practitioners find out I am involved in martial arts, they inevitably ask me if I am a black belt, the style I practice and my rank.

My usual response:

Yes, I am a black belt. I study Okinawa Kenpo and have been training since 1993.

When friends and co-workers find out you practice a martial art, what is their reaction? Do they ask you about your rank? How do you respond to their questions?