Long Format Self Defense – Day 3

Click here for Day 1

Click here for Day 2

The final three hour session was a bit of a potpourri. Review, elbow strikes, escapes, combinations of techniques, and a little ground work (which also was a bit of a review for me). As with the previous two sessions I was there to learn their techniques, not show off mine. Nonetheless, my muscle memory and my trained mindset decided to take over three times. The instructors were the only ones who knew about my martial arts training, and I’m surprised none of my fellow participants asked after those three little stunts.

The one time I could hide my proficiency was when we were practicing elbow strikes. I absolutely knew my petite teen partner was not used to holding kick bags for someone who is executing a technique with full speed and power. Also, the angle we were to hold the kick bags for the elbow strike to the face was a bit awkward for anyone. I didn’t put much power into it. Some day I’d love to practice elbow strikes with someone who is experienced in holding the kick bag.

Later on, a bit of kata (forms) came out of me. The scenario was a big guy has grabbed both your forearms and is holding them above your head.  You bring your arms down and twist your forearms against the attacker’s thumbs to break free.  The instructor watched me, then said, “OK, now pretend that technique didn’t work on your first attempt.  So what you do is you bring your arms back up and try again.”  So I brought my arms back up and… Without even thinking, I performed the double age uke from Bassai Dai kata. My partner was quite surprised to find her grip broken and her arms flung wide.  I was annoyed because my muscle memory took over when I was supposed to be learning something different.  Some day I would love to try the double age uke on someone who can grip hard.

Later on we were practicing escaping a two-handed grab to the neck (opponent facing you). To finish, we were supposed to turn towards the exit and then run. I turned the full 360 towards my “opponent.” I get it – I’m supposed to run away, and yes, running is entirely appropriate when my life is in danger. But here’s the thing – if this is what automatically comes out of me in a high-pressure situation I have to think about what’s next. In many kata (forms) a turn can mean you’re executing a block and following up with an attack (I’m giving an example of omote bunkai, or literal interpretation of kata). Because I didn’t see any techniques coming at me I paused, holding kamae dachi (the instructors called their variation “defensive stance”). In that pause, I remembered I was supposed to run towards the door. Oops.

Later, we practiced kicking from the ground. This was somewhat familiar territory for me and I distinctly remember the first time I did this. Each participant took turns practicing with one of the instructors. He was pretty good at dancing out of the way, and I found myself caught up in the game of trying to come close without hurting him. This was no problem whenever I targeted his gut, but his knees were a different story. I had to execute quite a lot of control. I was so busy concentrating on not inflicting damage and having so much fun that I didn’t realize I was supposed to end it when he stepped off the mats. The instructor had to remind me to get up and run the other way. Awww, I wanted to keep playing!

At least during the next part of ground work, I didn’t have muscle memory working against me. It was working for me. As I’d learned a couple of years ago, body dynamics are key. Twisting my hips to put more power into what I’m doing is becoming familiar for executing techniques while I’m upright in one of several Karate stances. It felt natural for ground work this time around. I’m starting to think that if I have a chance to do a little cross-training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I’ll do it! So many martial arts, so little time…

Takeaways for my karate:

1) Elbow strikes.  I need to up my game in Empi and Pinan Sandan.

2) I found it really difficult to execute a mae mae gheri (their “snap kick”) when my hips were hanme in kamae dachi (their “defensive stance”).  Since this last class I’ve seen this demonstrated by a sensei in class. I guess I’m just going to have to develop it.

Post script:

My main objective in taking these seminars was to learn how a long-format self defense seminar works. I kept my mouth shut and listened to the other students, noting how they learn. Staying silent meant I maximized my time by listening to questions they had. I wish I could write about that aspect more, but that feels like a breach of privacy. Yes, I’ve written about it before, but… I just can’t bring myself to do it this time around. Some day I will look over my private notes and remember what each woman needed to hear from our instructors. This will help my future students.

If anyone is interested in the organization I trained with, here’s the link to the R. A. D. organization.

Long Format Self Defense – Day 2

Click here for Day 1

Today’s post is a bit of a potpourri. I had a bit of trouble finding a cohesive theme. I’m not sure how I can link my impressions and takeaways. Oh well, this is, after all, a blog. Informal writing is OK for a blog 🙂


Even kicks that are “lousy” by karate standards could hurt someone. If everyone at the second seminar had been taking a 10th kyu test (for the very first rank one earns in karate) I’d have flunked every single person in that room including the instructors AND myself. That said, some of the ladies were able to generate enough force to hurt family jewels. I was surprised at how much force I myself was able to generate with “lousy” kicks. Teaching “proper” karate kick dynamics isn’t necessary for self defense seminars. Attendees are not karateka, they are ladies who want some tools they can easily use. Key word: easily.


I observed that with other techniques some of the women made the very same mistake that a lot of beginning and intermediate karateka make. Heck, I still struggle sometimes after five years. They are trying to “muscle through” a technique. Think about pushing or lifting a heavy object – that feeling is exactly what you don’t want in karate. “Muscling through” just slows you down, which is detrimental to any given technique.

Force equals mass times acceleration. I can’t accelerate my fist if my own tense muscles are holding me back. My fist isn’t massive, but accelerate it, and – ouch. Pressure is force divided by surface area, which is why we hit with the itty bitty first two knuckles of the fist. It’s simple physics. That said, biology might be working against people who are new to the concept of fast is loose/loose is fast. It takes conscious, consistent effort and time to develop fast-twitch muscle fibers. One must learn coordination in order to get the right muscles to tighten and release at the exact right time. The techniques offered in this class did not need this level of coordination.

An Experiment

I’m conducting an experiment in psychology. I have not identified myself as a martial artist to my classmates. The instructors know. One question on the paperwork we filled out on Day 1 asked about martial arts experience. So far the instructors have respected my wishes to keep silent about the fact that I am a karateka. I have been keeping silent so as to observe the class and the instructors better.

I should have anticipated that my skill and spirit influences the class. My sensei(s) have many times remarked on the phenomenon of how even just one person’s good attitude can lift a class. With the self defense instructors’ encouragement I executed the techniques full speed and power, and yeah, it was pretty impressive. Because my classmates don’t know I’m a martial artist, they think, “Well, if that’s how it’s supposed to be done, I’d better up my game,” and “If she can do it, I can too.” The instructors encourage us to be quite loud, so I have no problem being an example of how to kiai (yell) the word “NO!” If the other women find out that I am a karateka, they might think, “Oh, she’s good at that only because she’s in karate.” That’s not what I want to see happen.

The Letter

At the end of the 2nd session of the women’s self defense class, the instructors handed attendees a letter for our Significant Others. This letter asks the Significant Others to please refrain from asking us students for demonstrations of what we’re learning. The idea behind this is the instructors teach us to use full speed and power. They don’t want us to get into the habit of doing anything less because they fear that if us students get used to that via demonstrating what we’ve learned, we’ll be ineffective when push comes to shove.

I get that – I’ve had recurring nightmares of being in a fight for my life and pulling my punches just like I would in sparring. This program is designed for women who don’t want to study a martial art (it even says that in the book), so there’s no need to teach control. But I haven’t had those nightmares since I re-started Karate five years ago. I know my abilities. I know I can spar with children without hurting them, and I know I can send an adult to the hospital. It takes far longer than nine hours to develop both control and power. I could demonstrate what I’m learning to my husband without compromising my abilities.

However, my husband will abide by the letter. He will not ask me to demonstrate what I’m learning in the self defense class. Not because he fears that my abilities will be diminished. Oh no, it’s because he doesn’t want to be treated to a nerdy, lengthy analysis of each technique, how it compares to my training, the philosophies behind karate and the self-defense organization (R. A. D.), the differences in teaching beginning karateka and teaching women you might not ever see again… Yeah, he just wants to avoid my geek fest.

Takeaway for My Karate

I can adapt even if my muscle memory is screaming at me to execute the kicks “properly.” I still have a bad habit of dropping my hands when kicking – ARGH!

Long Format Self Defense – Day 1

Thank you for your patience. I’m not sure when I will get back to regular posting. There are still too many things going on right now. Maybe some day I’ll post about sticking with karate through tough times. But for now, I give you the first of three posts about what I’m up to these days.

Long time readers of this blog will know I’m interested in some day teaching self defense seminars. I’ve attended a few in order to learn what is taught, how it is taught, and about the students themselves. I’m wrapping up my first long-format seminar on Wednesday. I must say I do see a lot of advantages to a total of nine hours of instruction. As always, I have takeaways for my own art.

I’ve long since known about the signs around the police station that encourage people taking classes or attending meetings to park on the streets and at the community center rather than fill up the very small parking lot near the station. As I jogged to class from my car, I thought wryly that remote parking isn’t as safe as parking near the class, particularly during the dark evening hours in late fall, winter, and early spring. Fortunately, we were told in class that parking in the little lot by the station is OK. I’ll leave those spaces to the other women.

Right away, instructors gave participants a thin book chock full of information and pictures. I appreciate the wide margins for taking notes. Included in the RAD book is a form certifying that I have participated and guaranteeing me a spot in any future RAD class nationwide free of cost. That is an interesting offer that I should consider for my own future seminars. I could do a substantial discount – I would still like to get some money. Mainly I want to teach self defense seminars as a fundraiser for karate athletes, coaches, and officials who attend national and international competitions. Also I think I’d very much enjoy enjoy teaching self defense seminars.

One of the things I ask myself when I attend self defense seminars is if I want to someday earn certification with a self defense organization or if I simply want to create my own curriculum. American Women’s Self Defense Association is one organization I’ve heard of, and now I’m getting a look at Rape Aggression Defense Systems. I’m not worrying overmuch about certification yet because first I feel like I need to earn my Shodan (first degree black belt) before I start getting serious about teaching seminars!

I know full well that there are differences between martial arts and self defense seminars. I appreciated Day 1’s introduction to the Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) system. The RAD philosophy is to create openings to get away and to give women options on what to do. I’m sure that has been mentioned in previous self defense seminars I’ve taken, but it’s nice to have that formally acknowledge in print. I’ve heard similar sentiments from my sensei(s) (instructors) on occasion, but I do know we train for prolonged and/or multiple-opponent fights just in case it takes us awhile to break free. It’s there even in our most basic kata (forms).

There’s also a difference in attendees. Karate students are in class because they want to dedicate themselves to a martial art, or their parents made them go, or they couldn’t get into any other college physical education class. Women who go to self defense seminars might be afraid of what could happen or what has happened to them. They want techniques and confidence. The very first tool we were taught to use was our voices.

Having participants introduce themselves was an exercise in speaking up. The instructor encouraged us to project (a theater term) so the whole room could hear. This led into exercises shouting “NO!” and “GET BACK!” Some of the women had trouble raising their voices even while talking about something pleasant. I was surprised at how few could shout “NO!” in a way that would be sure to intimidate an attacker and draw attention from bystanders.

Most of the first seminar was dedicated to paperwork, an introduction to RAD, and some facts and statistics about assault and rape. I very much appreciated the instructors pointing us to actual state laws about self defense (Washington State RCW 9A.16.020) Before we got to learn physical stuff, the instructors established ground rules. Among those ground rules was if we were working with one another, we were to use only 80% power. I made a mental note to use only 10% of my power. I know my capabilities.

We learned three stances very similar to kamae dachi (fighting stance) – and actually the feet were the same but the arms differed. One stance was for just standing alertly, casually observing, and two were for responding to increasing escalation of the situation. We also learned two uke (receivers) and I was pleased to hear the instructors say that “block” is a misleading term. These two uke were pretty much identical to “abbreviated” uke(s) karateka use during kumite (sparring).

Takaway for my Karate: I’m used to lightning-fast straight punches. When the instructor threw a haymaker (padded forearm), I was playing chicken, waiting for the last instant to block. The instructor said that was the fastest haymaker she could throw, and even the fastest haymaker is pretty darned slow, so there was no need for me to play chicken. What she wanted me to do instead of playing chicken was to receive the haymaker – to execute a true uke (receiver) instead of a block.

Three hours seems like a long time, but it just flew by.

Click here for Day 2

Lab Rat

Every quarter, students in the Personal Fitness Trainer program at the college where I work need practical experience for their certificates and degrees. In other words, they need people to train. Usually the email to faculty and staff from the Personal Fitness Trainer program manager comes either in the afternoon, when I’m not at work, or right when I’m in the middle of something and can’t respond. The time slots are usually claimed within the hour. Assuming that I get the email at a time when I can respond immediately, I haven’t had the time to take advantage of the opportunity. Finally, in April, the stars aligned just right. I signed up to be a lab rat.

I was expecting my trainer, Marissa, to be young enough to be my daughter. She is. But what I did not anticipate was the camaraderie we developed and the easy way she and I worked with one another. That said, Marissa pushed me hard and didn’t hesitate to ratchet things up a notch or five if she saw I could handle something more or less easily. But she was so nice and sweet about it. Her encouragement and high-fives made my day and pushed me to the top of my game.

Marissa confided to me that the college’s program has students learn how to design a program while they are developing programs for their “clients.” It’s a learn-as-you go deal. There is something to be said for that approach to learning. From my end, I really wouldn’t have guessed that’s the Personal Fitness Trainer program’s methodology. Marissa did an excellent job creating my program and revising it as I progressed. She has all sorts of numbers written down about my body measurements, the pounds pressed, the miles ran, and I’m sure all her numbers point to one thing – I’m better off for having worked with her.

Certainly I’ve been pushed out of my “comfort zone” a little. One of my sensei (instructors) used to nudge me every now and then to try weight training. I ignored that nudge. Now I see why he enjoys working out in the gym. I spent a couple of seasons training hard with karateka (karate peeps) who were going to Nationals. But I didn’t maintain that level of fitness. I loathed jogging and dropped it altogether. Marissa had me jogging or on the elliptical strider a lot. Now I’m seeing a difference in my performance in the dojo (karate school). My sensei has noticed a difference too. He hasn’t actually said that he’s noticed a difference, but I can tell because he’s been pushing me harder and harder in class.

There are loads of things I’ve gained from the time I’ve spent as a lab rat. I’ve learned that I can make significant gains in a short period of time. Of course I’ve learned a lot of very specific exercises, but I’ve also learned how to structure a workout. I’ve resolved to use this knowledge in my personal workouts outside of the dojo. Now I have a few more fun little things to have my fellow students do whenever I lead warm ups for Karate class. And if I want to go to the college’s gym and track after work, I won’t be completely clueless about what to do. I have a feeling that I’d better invite Marissa to my black belt test, whenever that will be. If she’s still in the area!

Marissa has a dream that I hope will come true. Yes, she wants to open a gym. But not just any old gym. She wants a commercial kitchen tacked on. The idea being that after a personalized workout, Marissa can hand her clients custom-tailored meals to take home. Not only is Marissa studying to be a personal fitness trainer, she is also studying to be a nutritionist. Marissa used to be a cook at a restaurant. She jokes, “I used to make people fat, now I want to make them healthy and fit.” Whenever I tell people of Marissa’s dream, they are enthusiastic, and invariably say, “Sign me up!” I’d like to see a studio added to Marissa’s business so that there’s room for yoga, Pilates, Zumba, and gee, maybe even Karate. Marissa’s future looks bright, and I’m glad to have helped her on her journey as she has helped me on mine.