Thursday, November 8, 2012

Reader Question: What if the fear of injury...isn't your own?

Hello blog readers!

I received a kind email from Carolyn and she asked the following question:

"What if the fear of injury...isn't your own?"

I ask because... I've seen students leave martial arts because their parents don't want them to start sparring, or get hurt in some other way. More tragically, these students are usually girls. 

Watching someone be forced away from something they enjoy because of someone else's concerns breaks my heart.

Thanks again for your email and question! 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


This blog is too quiet.

I miss writing.
I miss my blog friends.
I miss the exchange of ideas. 
I miss reading and learning.

I will be in touch soon. 


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Out of Balance

It has been about 8 weeks since I was in the dojo. This was the first time I decided to take a break. In the past, my breaks from training were due to my work schedule or an injury (ACL). Since the dojo is attached to my house, taking a break is significant.

However, I am feeling miserable because my life is out of balance.

These weeks have been extremely busy. I coordinated a raffle, worked a full-time and two part-time jobs. A large portion of time was spent transporting my daughter to camp, play practice, a science institute and soccer practice. I am also dealing with some life stressors which include a family member’s medical issues and extended unemployment.

It has been a difficult two months.

Last night, I decided to stop feeling miserable. My first order of business is to resume karate practice.



I hope I will be feeling a little less miserable tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Question - Total Knee Replacement / Karate

Hello Readers,

A karate friend asked me to post a question on the blog. 

Do you know anyone who had a TKR (total knee replacement) and was able to continue karate training?

Thoughts?  Insights?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Catching Up

I am trying to catch up on everything from paperwork to my Google Reader.    

A blog "To Do" list:

Update the recommended links column.  If you have a martial arts, karate or ACL blog and would like to be included as a recommended link, please leave a comment on this post. 

Write an "About Me" post.  The page has been marked Coming Soon for about a year.

Post on a weekly basis.

Respond to email requests.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Thank You

It has been a busy few months.

In March, I was notified by my instructor that I would be testing on June 29, 2012 at the IKKF Annual Training in Reading, Pennsylvania. I spent a lot of time training over the last few months. There has been little time to write a cohesive blog post. As I reflect over the preparation, seminars and formal testing, the phrase which immediately comes to mind is “Thank You”.

Thank You to my instructors, Hanshi and Kyoshi Heilman for your encouragement, support and confidence in my ability.

Thank You to my training partners for your time and patience.

Thank You to my family for your understanding and assistance.

Thank You to the Dojo and Federation community for your words of support.

Thank You and Congratulations to all fellow testing candidates!

The results: I passed the test and was promoted to 6th Dan Karate, 6th Dan Kobudo.

Monday, June 4, 2012

More and Less

Over the last few months, I have been training more and writing less. 

A few thoughts...

1.  Pay close attention.  Some of the best tips / connections are the brief comments made by instructors.  You need to be ready to listen and apply the concepts.

2.  Open your mind and receive information.

3.  Be grateful for correction.

4.  Accept the help and support of others.

5.  Take a deep breath when you are feeling overwhelmed.

6.  Identify and highlight your strengths.

7.  Identify and minimize your weaknesses.

8.  Persist.

9.  Enjoy!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

ACL Reconstruction - Five Years

May 15, 2012 was the 5 year anniversary of my ACL surgery.  Five years!

The initial purpose of this blog was to interact and document my recovery from surgery and my return path to karate.  The anniversary posts are important to me.  They serve as a reminder of how far I have come and how fragile the human body can be.  I tore my ACL landing a jump during a two person form.  It was not a contact injury rather my body turned against itself.  My foot planted and my knee went in the opposite direction. 

The truth is that I have been thinking a lot about my knee lately.  I have been training hard and pushing my knee with intensity.  After some practice sessions, my knee feels gooey (it is the best word I can use to describe it).  I have been training on several different flooring surfaces - carpet, mat, padded surface. I have a variety of knee braces in my locker which I normally do not use.  Last month, I bought a thin brace at the drugstore after a knee challenging workout. The thin brace provides support without restricting movement.

And then there is jumping...

I have been hesitant to jump in kata since my recovery.  I do the jumps...kind of.  I added a column to my spreadsheet and listed the number of jumping techniques in kata (19) and the number of times you drop to one knee (13),  The numbers are approximate because I keep finding more.   The worst knee moment for me is landing a jump kick on my right (reconstructed ACL) leg.  I hesitate and hesitation is not good.  I am at a point in my training where I need to do the jumps.

Best of luck to all who are going through ACL surgery and recovery!  Thank you for all the emails over the past five years with your questions and comments.  Check out my ACL links page for more information.  If anyone would like to share their ACL success story and write a guest post, feel free to contact me. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Spreadsheet Karate

In my work life, everything has a spreadsheet:  sale forecasts, production plans, customer master lists, inventory, purchase orders, bookings and invoices.  At home,  I use spreadsheets to track my monthly expenses and balance my checkbook.  I even put my Christmas gift purchases on Excel.  Spreadsheets are easily converted into charts and graphs.  The rows, columns and cells help me stay organized.

Over the next two months, my goal is to be organized in my karate training.  I started a personal karate training log.  I considered using this blog as a place to record my training.  I decided against it because the post format would be cumbersome to scroll through.  I decided to create a spreadsheet.   I set up a separate worksheet for karate and kobudo. The far left column lists the name of the form - 19 open hand kata and 27 kobudo kata (8 different weapons).  The rows across the top are separated by week.

I recognize that spreadsheets are not for everyone.  My sister Kim is a creative person with a career in marketing/communications.  She designs websites and makes jewelry in her spare time.  Kim hates spreadsheets and does not use them for work or at home.

I don't know if I will even like or find a karate training spreadsheet useful.  Only time will tell...

Do you have a training journal?   Is it a spreadsheet?  

Saturday, April 28, 2012

ACL Injuries in Women

From Science Daily

For some reason, women tend to have knee motions that make them more susceptible to injury. Among other things, when landing from a jump their knees tend to collapse inward more than that of most men. They suffer significantly more ACL injuries during physical activity. "We're finding differences in nervous system processing that we believe are related to this," Johnson said. "The causes for those differences are unclear, but it may be due either to a biological difference, such as hormones, or a cultural difference such as different exercise and training patterns."

Friday, April 27, 2012


We count a lot in karate class.

In the beginner classes, it is an easy way to keep everyone together and practice safely.  Counting/pausing gives the instructor an opportunity to view the class and offer corrections.  We practice kata to a count, we count during drills and basics and we count turns when working with a partner.   Counting becomes less evident in the advanced classes and almost non-existent in the black belt class.

There is a downside to counting.  It gives the students an unnatural beat or tempo to execute their techniques.

block down...pause...punch...pause...step...pause.

We were working on tempo this week in the dojo.  The goal was to accelerate the beat and break out of the monotone count of a kata.

one,two,,, two, three....
block down, punch, step...pause...knife hand, punch...pause...kosa, step, block down

The class noticed they had preferences and certain kata were easier for them to break free of the standard count.   The dojo will be working on this concept again next week and in the upcoming months.

A big thanks to Kyoshi Baer for the training suggestion at a recent seminar!

Friday, April 20, 2012


Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.  - Aristotle

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Karate Provides Options

I am a parent, karate instructor and co-owner of a traditional dojo. School bullying is a complex topic that affects children, parents, teachers, school administrators and medical professionals. In studying karate, we learn control, self-defense and courtesy. In our dojo, kids who start fights or engage in bullying behavior are asked to leave.

My initial exposure to bullying was from karate students who came to class and shared stories about their day. The students would talk about bullies, the fear of riding the bus and frustration because teachers often did not witness the taunting. The bullies were smart, sneaky and inherently mean.

My daughter was bullied in elementary school. It is agony to watch your happy, smart, kind child begin to hate school. In second grade, my daughter announced, “I am a clique of one.” In third grade, she suffered with stomach problems and told the school nurse, “The kids have been mean for a while.  Now that they are older, they just find new ways to be mean.” In fourth grade, the homeroom teacher explained how my daughter had a larger view of the world and the other kids “will catch up”.

Two examples from our dojo:

Student at a crossroad

A parent brought his 11 year old son to the dojo for karate lessons. The parent asked if we would accept his son as a student. He cautioned us that other parents did not want their kids around his son because he was in trouble at school. The young boy was constantly picked on and tormented by other kids in his class. One day, the boy took a butter knife to school in his backpack with the intention to use it against the school bully. The teacher found the knife and luckily no one was hurt.

A young boy took a knife to school because he felt he had no other choice.

The father wanted his son to learn self-defense. We accepted the young boy as a student despite the protests of other dojo parents. The boy loved karate and found his place in the dojo community. He studied karate for 4 years. He was taught to use his voice, de-escalate or simply walk away. He knew techniques to escape and control. He learned options.

Target turned bully

A father brought his son to the dojo to learn self-defense. The pre-teen was bullied at school and on the bus. The father was excited to watch his son in karate class. After 8 months, the father informed us that his son had “learned enough”. He left the dojo. A few weeks later, we discovered the child became the bully. The father encouraged his behavior. We were heartbroken.

Whenever I research the topic of bullying and the role of a karate program, I inevitably ask more questions than find answers. Dr. Jay Carter, author and lecturer, suggests that traditional martial arts are excellent for the bully because it provides physical activity and a code of ethics. Dr. Carter led a program on anti-bullying at my daughter’s school for the students, educators and parents. His comment made me wonder who would be better served in a karate program – the bully or the target.

I would love karate training to a solution for the anti-bully movement, but there are limits to what a program can offer. Learning karate takes time. The decision when to use the karate training is not up to the instructor. Parents of school aged children need to be involved in the decision as to what is appropriate for their child. We do not use the words “You should” or “You shouldn’t” rather we present multiple options and levels of responses.

I can only speak from the perspective of a parent and a karate instructor. Through the years, I have witnessed shy children blossom into confident teenagers. At a wedding of former student, the father of the bride made a point to stop at our table. He thanked us for the time his daughter spent in the dojo. He believed karate training helped shape the self-assured woman who stood before us.  I watched my own daughter find her voice to stand up to bullies and help others in need.

My conclusion is simple. Karate can be a component in a bully prevention plan because karate training teaches us options. Increased confidence and self-esteem aid in the decision making process. We can decide how to respond – avoid, de-escalate, use your voice, walk away, escape or control. Perhaps a young boy wouldn’t need to hide a butter knife in his backpack because he felt he had no other choice.

Martial Arts Perth

Friday, March 30, 2012

What Would You Do?

Last weekend, I led a small group session on the topic of women’s self-defense. The group was great because they added to the discussion and asked good questions. The exchange prompted me to remember and share an incident which happened years ago.

I have been thinking about it and wonder if/how our reaction to the situation would be different today. It could be a great scenario for John Quinones series Primetime: What Would You Do?  It is a hidden camera show that captures how people react to real-life ethical dilemmas that call for action.  Excellent show.


A few of my family members went on a day trip to Atlantic City. We left early in the morning and were not expected to arrive home until well after midnight. Since we were getting home late, we decided to stay over night at my parent’s house. We woke to a loud banging at the front door. My Aunt thought it was my sister coming home late. My sister was asleep in her bed.

It was a man standing alone on the porch pounding on the front door with his fist. It was 3:00 a.m. He was yelling “Domestic violence! Domestic violence!” Now the whole household was awake - except for my Dad who can sleep through anything. Looking out the window, there was no one else in the street.

What would you do?

I would love to hear your comments!  I will share how the incident played out for us in the next post.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Smorgasbord has been three weeks since I posted!  Once again, I am working too much.

 A few thoughts:

1.  Green Belt Students and Stances:   A 6th kyu green belt in our dojo has approximately 12-15 months of training. Expectations are elevated and weapons training begins. It is no coincidence that this also happens to be the same time frame where students decided to take a break or stop training.  We work on stances (directly and indirectly) in every karate class - drills, kata, explanation, details.   In kobudo, stances change based on the range of the weapon. The green belt students seem to be having a difficult time transitioning from the kobudo stance to the karate stance.

You can read an excellent article on kobudo stances written by IKKF President Hanshi Heilman here and here(Side note - A 13 year younger version of me is in a few of the illustration photos). 

2.  Women's Self-Defense/Awareness/Prevention Classes:  I taught a session last weekend.  It was a nice group.  The only problem - way too short.  Several women want additional training.  Personally, the hardest part about teaching these sessions is the brief length compared to the amount of information.  I hope the prevention/awareness portion of the class will prompt the participants to think further about their own personal prevention and awareness strategies. 

3. Kyu Rank Testing:  We had a scheduled kyu rank testing on March 15th.   The group did well. 

4.  Daughter Update:  My daughter has not missed a karate class.  I do not prompt or remind her to attend.  Karate is her decision.  I will help/guide when asked.

5. Lenten Challenge Update:  I am doing pretty good with the challenge.  There was one week I missed a few days but I am back on track.

6. Congratulations to Ariel and A Journey to Shodan on their recent promotions.

That's all for now....

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Basic / Advanced

These words are used regularly in a dojo setting. We practice basics, drill basics, learn advanced techniques, attend advanced class, basic bunkai, advanced bunkai and so on...

Basic - of, relating to, or forming the base or essence: fundamental

Advanced - far on in time or course, being beyond others in progress or ideas

Do you remember your first karate lesson? During my first class, a black belt was pulled out of class to work with me individually. He showed me how to punch, a few stances, blocks. We walked through the first kata and waza. Mr. Z explained the dojo layout, dojo etiquette and the elements of a typical class. It was an important day in my karate journey.  After 19 years, I am still practicing and refining the lessons learned on the first day.

As a class instructor, I have another perspective. Have you ever told the "advanced" class the focus of the session would be on basics? Did you take notice to the reaction? I have seen green/brown belt students practically deflate at the mention of basics. Some students become so focused on "advanced" or "new" material that basics are neglected.  They can demonstrate the next kata but struggle with first kata. Do the students hear the word basic and think boring and repetitive? 

In a mixed class of beginners and advanced kyu rank students, the students should be practicing at their level.  The beginner who is just learning a technique may be focused on pattern, direction or sequence of movement.  A more experienced practitioner can work on the same technique and focus on breath, intent, timing and visualization.

In my opinion, it is important to utilize practice time to its fullest potential.

Welcome new blog follower Gina from Ginger Snaps and Ryan from Ryukyu Martial arts!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

10kyu x 4 = ?

I handed my 12 year old daughter a crisp new gi and white belt.  If my calculations are correct, this will be her fourth uniform.  The gi have ranged in size from 00 - 2.  She has progressed through 8th kyu twice and almost made it to yellow belt.

We have been down this path before.  

Perhaps she needs a little non-parental encouragement...

If you were given the task of encouraging a potential student to learn karate, what would you say?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

ACL Gender and Geometry

A new study about ACL injuries.

From Science Daily:
Much orthopaedic research has been devoted to determining why women are far more susceptible to knee ligament injuries than men. According to a new study, the answer may lie in geometry -- the length and shape of a patient's knee bone -- more than gender

The study found that most of the women (those who had ACL injuries and those who did not) and only the ACL-injured men shared a common geometry on the outside of their knee joint: The upper part of their shin bone at the joint (tibial plateau) was much shorter and more rounded. This may help to explain why women have an ACL injury rate that is two-to-five times greater than that of men.

Friday, February 24, 2012

General or Specific?

As a kyu rank, I remember being in a class of 15-20 people. The class instructor was leading the group through drills, kata and basics. He would often pause and offer pointers to the class. The instructor would tell the group to “check your stance”, “bend your knees” or “fix your hand position”. After each suggestion, students would check their technique and make corrections as needed. This pattern went on for a few minutes until he stopped the group.

The class instructor announced he would no longer make general comments to the class rather he would make specific comments to individuals.

His explanation...

Not all the students were checking their techniques.
Students in the correct position were making faulty corrections.
Students in the incorrect position were not making corrections.
Blanket statements were taking up a lot of class time.

The reaction from the class was divided. Some students did not like being singled out and felt “picked on”. I was included in the other group of students who appreciated the corrections.

It has been seventeen years but I still remember the class and the lesson learned. As a class instructor, I prefer to offer specific comments to individuals. The suggestions and corrections are offered as an opportunity to help students learn and improve.

What is your experience? General or specific?

A big welcome to the new followers of this blog! 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

You Can't Make Someone...

From the "Draft" folder dated May 2010:


A teacher can present information, give examples, share stories, discuss concerns, make corrections and answer questions. Students can learn by seeing and hearing, reflecting, practicing, repeating, analyzing, visualizing, in pieces or in chunks.

My own experience is from being a student, a parent and a karate instructor. As a student, I feel learning is my responsibility. I need to pay attention, receive the information, ask questions, practice. As a parent, I need to teach by example, listen, correct and guide. As a karate instructor I need to demonstrate, explain and guide.

Take for example my experience learning the kama kata. I struggled with this weapon. I could never flip the kama in my hand the correct way. My movement was slow and deliberate while other practitioners were quick and fluid. My kama would chop through the air rather than slice. I decided the kama were not for me...and that was all there was to it. When we would practice kama in class or at a seminar, it was as if my learning ability shut off like a switch. I wasn't receiving the information or benefiting from the practice because of my decision. A few years later, I made practicing kama a priority. I started to see some improvement.

Have you ever worked with a student or training partner and went over and over a technique? You tried everything: demonstrating, explanation, repetition, application, breaking it down in small parts, referencing and drills. After many attempts, the student did not learn the technique. Time passes and a different instructor successfully teaches the student the same technique.

How does this happen? What made the difference? I believe the student was ready/open to learning the technique.  Thoughts?

Update on kama:  I am still working on it!  :) 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Big Class / Small Class

Our dojo opened in 1995.  The building was a bar/restaurant which we converted into a house/dojo. The very first class had two students. Through the years, class sizes have varied from 1 person to 20+.   When class size reached space capacity, we split up the kyu ranks and added more classes.  If class size was too small, we consolidated the classes.   The student population has varied over the last 16 years due to economics, trends, fads and interest. 

There are advantages and disadvantages to a large class and a small class. 

Large Class - Advantages
1. A lot of energy.
2. Good for certain training drills.
3. Variety of training partners available.

Large Class - Disadvantages
1. Reduced space on training floor.
2. May limit teaching opportunities.  For example, it is difficult to teach long range weapons due to space constraints.
3.  Limited individual instruction.

Small Class - Advantages
1. Opportunity to work on material specific to each student.
2. One-on-one instruction.

Small Class - Disadvantages
1. Limited partner work.
2. Some students prefer a larger class setting.

As a class instructor/student, do you prefer big classes or small classes?  What do you see as the advantages/disadvantages? 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Discussion Topic: Training

Is your training where you want it to be?
I was asked this question by a karate friend during an email exchange.  I responded by talking about the dojo, a black belt student's recent testing and promotion, upcoming training camps and new students in the dojo. 

A few hours after I sent the email, I realized I answered his question without answering the question.
Is your training where you want it to be?
I have fantastic instructors who guide and share their knowledge.
I have a great group of training partners. 
We challenge each other to improve and grow in our practice.
We laugh.
I have good karate friends who ask me tough questions and offer assistance. :)
I believe I am on the right track but I know there is a lot of training/reading/studying/exploring to do.

Enjoy your training!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


The movement of a karate student is tense and stiff. Movement is slow and transitions are difficult. The instructor tells the student that they need to relax. Sound familiar?

Two examples:

My tai chi instructor would take one look at my movement and identify where I was holding stress. It usually manifested in my right shoulder. My movement was stiff and restricted. At work, I notice the tension in my right shoulder when I sit at my desk. I relax my shoulder and step away from my desk for a few minutes.

In the mid 1990’s, a teenage boy was a student at the dojo. I was a new class instructor and I freely admit…he made me nervous. I was concerned he would get hurt. His movement was extremely tense and stiff. I cringed during breakfall practice. His whole body was rigid and he would fall to the mat like a plank of wood. I have never seen anything like it before or since. If I close my eyes, I can still visualize him falling on the mat. I even remember the sound he made as he smashed into the mat. Splat! Despite instruction and guidance from a group of instructors, he never was able to relax and perform a proper breakfall.

Relaxing the body and mind are important components of martial arts training. What advice would you give a new student who is tense and needs to relax their movements? How did you learn to relax?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Discussion Topic: Women's Self-Defense

A co-worker shared a story about advice she was given ten years ago on the topic of women's self-defense. At the time, my co-worker worked as an executive for a large retail department store chain.  She would often travel to store openings and promotional events.  She was given the following advice by a security professional: 
You are a women and at the end of the day it doesn't matter.  A man will overpower you.   You have to are stronger than women.  Regardless of size, a man can take a women down.  It is the way men and women are designed.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Temporary Student

I think teaching a temporary student is challenging for the karate instructor.  In the dojo, there were several occasions when students wanted to learn karate but only had a limited amount of time.  It may be a parent who wants their teenager to learn basic self-defense before heading off to college.  It could be something a person has always wanted to learn but never had the time and are able to give it a few months.  The temporary student is usually forthcoming about their time constraints. "I want to learn karate but I only have X time.  How much can I learn in X?"

Tough question to answer. 

Answer Option 1:  You can learn a lot about karate in six months.  It ultimately depends on how much time you commit to practice and study. 

Answer Option 2:  Karate is a lifetime of learning.  The more you learn the more you recognize how much more there is to learn.  Six months would barely scratch the surface.

Thoughts? How would you answer the question?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Happy New Year!....Ten Days Late...

My plan was to start off 2012 differently than prior years.  My daughter and I were going on a trip over New Year's weekend.  Our initial plan was to drive to Niagara Falls with my sister and her husband.  After many phone calls and Internet searches, our New Year's destination changed to the Grand Canyon.  The Grand Canyon is my sister's favorite place.  We had a busy itinerary:

1. Fly from Philadelphia to Phoenix.
2. 1 night in Phoenix.
3. Visit Sedona/Montezuma's Castle/Tuzegoot
4. Drive to Flagstaff.
5. New Year's Eve in Flagstaff for Pine Cone Drop.
6. Drive to Grand Canyon and stay for 3 days.
7. Take the Red-Eye home on Wednesday.
8. Back to work/school on Thursday.

Our trip actually went something like this:

1. Fly from Philadelphia to Phoenix.
2. 1 night in Phoenix.
3. Visit Sedona/Montezuma's Castle/Tuzegoot
4. My daughter got sick (24 hr virus) on Saturday. Spent all day in our Flagstaff cabin.
5. Drove to Grand Canyon on Sunday.  My daughter was still not feeling well.
6. I got sick on Sunday night.
7. Spent all day Monday in room.
8. Felt a little better Tuesday.  Spent time at the Grand Canyon.
9. Drove back to Flagstaff.
10. Arranged for an earlier flight to Philadelphia on Wednesday.
11.  Still not feeling 100% on Thursday.
12. Back to work/school on Friday.

I am planning on staying home in the near future.  In a few days/weeks/months, I hope to only remember the 2 fabulous days of the trip and the breathtaking view of the Grand Canyon.

Happy New Year to the readers and followers of this blog!