Powerful but Vulnerable

I am not always comfortable with sharing my inmost thoughts.  Sure I can blather on about stuff, but when it comes to who I am deep down inside I’d rather hide.  I was going to publish this post at my regularly scheduled time after a few other articles I have written and scheduled for the weeks ahead, but publishing later rather than now feels too much like hiding.  I don’t like opening myself up.  But I’ve “met” enough of you to know that if I do step out of my comfort zone a bit I will come out better for what I’ve learned from you.  One of Sensei Andrea Harkins’ recent blog posts affirms that if I do draw some real, live, actual “hate,” it’s OK.   I’ll survive, learn, and grow.


So… On with the story.

I was sparring with a man who was a match for me in size, strength, skill, and intensity.  In a moment of carelessness, I threw what I thought was going to be a no-contact jab to the face.  Thank God it missed.  Without realizing it, I’d put way too much power into that jab.  Believe me, I heard from a Sensei about it immediately after that match.  No, I’m not going to dissect what was said or how it was said.  Frankly, there is no “best way” to say what he had to say, so I’m not even going to “go there.”

In a nutshell, “You could have killed him.”


I took that warning very seriously.   I don’t blame any of you readers one bit if you want to roast me over coals for that moment of carelessness.  I know in my heart that I have changed, I will grow, and I have learned.  Controlling the use of force will be pounded into my muscle memory more and more as time goes by if I train diligently.   Nothing anyone can say will change the fact that I am turning things around, and that is something I can hold my head up about.

I know Karate isn’t about arranging flowers.  I’ve always been aware that I’m learning how to hurt and kill people.  So why am I making such a big deal out of this?  It could be because of the circumstances.  It would have been much nicer if, for instance, I’d been performing a kata and some Sensei had said, “You did that strike so well it would’ve felled an ox!”  Or if I’d punched a bag and heard a thunderous THUD echoing through the dojo.  Maybe, at only eight months into my training,  I wasn’t expecting to hear that I am capable of killing someone.  And maybe I just plain don’t want to hurt or kill.

[scratching record sound] WHAAAAAAAAAAAT?!?


You read that right.  I’m training my body to become a weapon, but I don’t want to hurt or kill.  I will if I have to – Mama Grizzly Bear will defend her cubs!  It’s just that I remember the things my Grandfather (WWII veteran) said about taking a human life.   And as someone who has given birth twice and nurtured those lives for almost eighteen years now, it’s hard to abruptly adjust to the fact that I can also take life.  That idea had, until the day I was warned, been relegated to the fuzzy realm of “someday.”

I’m processing what being able to kill means to the person I’m becoming.  I’ve figured out a thing or two – otherwise I wouldn’t have written the preceding paragraphs, right?  I know I’m even more diligent than ever in learning how to control myself during drills and kumite, and this is a good step.  But on an emotional level, I’m still processing the concepts.  I have a feeling I’ll be revisiting this issue and working through everything that goes with it throughout my karate career.  Am I correct?

It was tempting for me to just never let anyone know, but this blog is about the experiences of a beginner.  Sometimes us beginners have to deal with hard things.  I’ve bared my heart, so I’m vulnerable.   I won’t ask for anything but honest responses.  If you hurt me in love or if you hurt me because you enjoy inflicting pain, I will learn and grow.  If even just one person can benefit from what I’ve written, it’ll be worth everything.

Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

11 thoughts on “Powerful but Vulnerable”

  1. Being an outsider looking in, I hope I sound like I know what I’m talking about. Right off the bat, no hating here just support and encouragement. When I was in Karate, (Kosho Ryu Kempo) I never done any sparring. It was mostly self defense, escaping etc. So I wouldn’t know what the outcome would have been if I went one on one in a practice sparring. Probably looking like Curly in “Punch Drunks”. Anyway I would consider this as another “chapter” in your journey “log book”. Learn from your “mistakes” and don’t let this clout your good judgement while training. You’ve gotten this far and I have no doubt that you will reach your goals and beyond. As it states when you reach black belt, the journey has just begun. It’s always a big advantage when you enjoy what you do. And it’s obvious that you do love Karate. You’re not the first martial artists to have this happen to and won’t be the last. Let’s just hope we never hear about an unfortunate event happening in any dojo. Good luck with the training and be safe. All the best and full respect.

    1. Thank you so much for your reassurances and well wishes, Steve. You’ll be a great student when you start training. Have a great rest of the weekend!

  2. you know, I don’t think it’s as bad as you think. you missed and you learned something. learning to control the amount of power we use is part of the journey. I am just starting to learn how to really hit hard. I know I can stop a 100 kilo man with my kick and I know I can knock the same man out with my punches and it’s honestly terrifying. I get you.
    still, this is not something I believe you deserve any hate for. yes, losing control is a very serious matter and should never happen. what we do is dangerous. your sensei did the right thing in telling you, but you must also move on, you don’t need to carry that shame, though the fear is probably healthy (as long as there’s not too much of it). had you got the feedback and ignored it, then you would have lost any and all respect I have for you, but you didn’t. you took it seriously and have taken steps to ensure you won’t be doing it again.

    1. Wow, thank you, Maja! Time has smoothed out some of the emotions. Thanks for the encouragement about not deserving hate – a few of my online acquaintances have experienced some pressure from others, so I was applying a little “troll repellant” by stating exactly how I feel 🙂 Yes, I’ve been making my jab into a quick twitch that doesn’t really even extend much. Thanks for your encouragement and kind words.

  3. Sorry for posting this on the wrong thread!

    I found this entry via a link in one of your more recent entries, so I hope you’ll forgive the much-delayed reply.

    I would be very interested to know how you look at this now, a year later.

    There were a few things that wandered into my head as I was reading this.

    First, on the issue of learning to control your use of force. With a friendly sparring match, it is completely appropriate to only put the “agreed upon” level of force into the techniques. I am sure that by now, you have gotten much better at throwing techniques where you’ve “dialed down” the amount of force to whatever that agreed-upon level is.

    Now that you are further along on your journey, please remember also that control does not only refer to restriction. There are times when “controlling the force level in your technique” means to load the technique with absolutely every ounce of force that your entire body can generate. Granted, applying this to another human being is usually reserved for full-contact fights (which I doubt you’ll do much of) or life-and-death situations (which I hope you NEVER have to do!), but continuing to practice them against a bag, a BOB, etc will help you to call on that level if/when it *is* needed.

    A man named Rory Miller said something about 5 years ago that is really one of those “gut-punch” truths:

    “The essence of martial arts is the manufacture of cripples and corpses.”

    Scary thought, isn’t it? All the more so because anyone who’s been in martial arts for any length of time can see what he’s talking about, even if we haven’t quite looked at it in those terms.

    2-3 times a year, I get to train with a man named Chris Thomas. To give you an idea of what kind of teacher he is: one of my goals in this life is to become half as good a teacher as he is. The other thing that went through my mind while reading your post is something that I learned from him.

    I went through something several years ago that I thought was just me, until I heard Chris talking about it, and it relates to this topic – and I saw quite a few of the heads in the room nodding, saying yes, they’d gone through this, too.

    There comes a time when you have to “dance with the Darkness.”

    Most of us are basically good people. We don’t LIKE harming others. And yet, when you boil it all down, that is basically what we train to do.

    Many of us don’t even realize the amount of damage we’re learning to dish out. We may know it intellectually, but that’s not the same as internalizing it and coming to terms with it. For many of us, that realization comes to our subconscious mind first, and will start to show up in dreams – dreams about harming, even killing, other people.

    I’m not talking about the, “I’m the action hero in this movie fight scene” type of dreams. I’m talking about very realistic, even visceral dreams. Dreams where you can feel their body shift and give way under your techniques – a joint being dislocated, a bone breaking, and more. Dreams where you can smell the blood, and other things.

    These dreams can be quite disturbing – and rightly so, in my opinion. The question is, what do you do about them?

    Do you accept them for what they are, learn from them, and go on with your training? Or do you decide that they are too much for you to face, and walk away?

    The only “wrong” answer is the one you think you’re *supposed* to make, instead of the one that actually feels right for you.

    There IS good news.

    First, some people never remember their dreams, so these people never have to go through this phase.

    Second, it seems that even among those who typically remember dreams, not everyone goes through this phase.

    And third, the dreams don’t usually last long. Once you’ve had your dance with your own darkness, they usually fade away again, and let you keep walking down whichever path you decided to take when they came along.

    I don’t know if you’ve had them yet, or if you ever will. If you haven’t already had them and would like someone to talk to if/when they do come, I’m always willing to help.

    1. Ossu and no worries, I’ll delete the extra comment on the other post 🙂

      How I look at this a year later? That sounds like it deserves its own blog post. I’ll have to ruminate on that one. The first thing that pops into my head is that I’ve recently noticed an uptick in being trusted with life and limb. Sure I occasionally merit fouls in the dojo and in tournament, but even then I haven’t used deadly force. Heck, I haven’t made anyone’s nose bleed yet, nor even so much as knocked the wind out of anyone. So I guess I’ve made progress in control.

      Funny you should mention full force. I was recently coached in that by my Sensei in the context of punching. Still need work 🙂 But putting together what I learned that class with what you said about controlling the use of full force if needed or if appropriate, I see now it is very much a control issue. Everything has to work together to deliver that punch. If I don’t use that control and throw wild stuff, the most a bad guy would get would be a black eye or bloody nose – or worse, I might break my hand.

      Rory Miller doesn’t pull his punches – I’m currently reading _Conflict Communication_ for the first time. I like that quote. And yes, even kata is brutal.

      I’ve watched one of Chris Thomas’ videos that you sent me and it has absolutely changed the way I teach kata. I should look up more of his stuff.

      Not surprised the subconscious mind starts processing things without the conscious mind’s awareness. No I haven’t had that type of dream yet. Thanks for the heads-up.

      The only dreams I’ve had about being in a real fight were different. I had these dreams from the time I was a teenager training in Karate until the very first day I was allowed to pound on a big foam shield not quite two years ago. In the dreams, I’d be in a life-or-death fight and I’d throw something, and “dink.” The punch or kick landed with only enough force to score in tournament but zero damage. I’m glad that’s over and done with. Now I have some more dreams to look forward to? Yike. Thanks for the offer of help, I’ll definitely keep that in mind. Good to know that those dreams can be worked through.

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