I’m picking up where I left off a couple of weeks ago by showcasing the places in which I train. Last post was about places where I train with others. This post is about where I train when I am alone. There is a little bit of overlap.
1) Practice time at the rec center
The facility that hosts my “home” dojo (school) is gracious enough to set aside a time and space on Saturdays for us karateka to come in and practice. Sometimes a sensei (instructor) will come in to lead, especially if there is something special coming up like Nationals or if we have candidates testing for Shodan (first degree black belt). Sometimes a sensei will simply take turns working one on one with whoever is there. Quite often, whoever is there simply works on whatever he or she desires, so one karateka might be throwing punches at a bag while another practices kata (forms).
But sometimes I’m alone.
I’ve been going to Saturday practices even before this dojo became my “home” dojo. I love having enough space to perform kata without scootching around after only a move or two. With the nifty pulley system I can hang a heavy punching bag. There are free-weights for arm work and floor mats for ab work. If I’m alone, I can set up “stations” for myself and have a nice little circuit workout.
The room has windows along two walls, so it’s a bit of a “fishbowl.” People walking down two halls can see what I’m doing. That’s OK. I want them to have a look at what karate looks like when there are no cameras, no scripts, no fly-wires, no sound effects, and no editing or computer enhancement. I want people to see that if I can do karate, they can too.
I love it when little girls linger to watch me. I want them to see how powerful women can be. I want them to know that women don’t have to be helpless victims, that it’s OK for women to learn how to defend themselves. I want them to join the beginner’s class and experience karate for themselves.
I cleaned out my craft room when the rec center that hosted my old “home” dojo stopped letting people use studios whenever there were no classes. I wasn’t doing much crafting before I started Karate anyway. One niche of the room still holds a desk and some drawers and includes a closet, so I still have a tiny space for crafts. But most of the small room is empty save for low shelves that hold my hand weights, my timekeeping devices, my notes, and the books I read after working out. My tournament medals and the certificate for my current credentials hang on the wall, as does a copy of our Dojo Kun (school motto) nicely done in Japanese calligraphy. I have a radio to listen to when I’m stretching.
In that partly-empty room I have just enough space to do a section of kata, but not enough for a full kata. Weather permitting I go outside to my driveway or my garage for kata practice. If it’s 55 degrees F (13 C) and dry (I don’t want to slip on concrete) I’m good to go even in shorts and tank top. My detached garage has no electricity, therefore no climate control. I tend to kiai (yell) softly so as not to disturb the neighbors.
During warmer weather I might walk to my favorite outdoor practice spots, especially during my child’s summer break when I don’t have to be at a bus stop twice a day.
3) Abandoned school
Not far from my house is a school building that is not currently in use. Construction started in September, then cold weather set in, so lately I haven’t been able to go to my favorite spot at one end of the building. There is a more or less level concrete area, and yes I wear shoes. I spent many hours there practicing for my san-kyu (“low brown” belt) test. The area is fenced off now, and who knows if that concrete area will still be there when construction is finished. The jogging track is still open, but the large concrete blocks on which I did inclined push-ups and tricep dips are gone.
As it so happens, I went to school there for just a couple of months. Sometimes I wonder what my nine-year-old self would think if she could see herself thirty eight years later practicing kata in a quiet corner of the school yard. When I’m on the jogging track I remember learning to ride a bike there. I struggled with that process but I eventually figured out how to ride that bike. It’s a lot like my karate journey.
There is nothing like being alone in the forest. It scares some people, and for good reason. I do keep a watchful eye on my surroundings. I listen for human sounds. Birds sometimes complain about my presence – the trick is to listen to the more distant birds who can’t see me. If they complain, someone might be near. I choose my spots carefully and don’t draw attention to myself with a kiai. Uneven ground, tree roots, grass, and fist-sized rocks are things I must work around. This adds an extra dimension to my kata, and movements sometimes must be adapted accordingly. I figure if I have a penchant for visiting lonely forests I should learn to fight in such terrain.
I love to go to a beach that is pretty isolated. Fortunately, there are houses at each end that I could run to if I had to. Beachfront property owners are often grumpy about trespassers, so they’ll already be calling the police by the time I reach the door. Again, if I have a penchant for visiting lonely beaches I should learn to fight in such terrain.
Beaches around here are slightly sloped and consist of patches of sand and shingle. Shingle is a little dangerous for kata practice, but I have done it very, very carefully a time or two. I like to find a patch of sand smoothed by the tide. I can definitely see the embusen (floor pattern) of my kata. More than that, I like to see what happens if I start the kata with the “uphill” to my left, to my right, to my front, or to my back. Slope changes my stances and my transitions.
Sand is excellent for learning jumps found in kata. I’ve learned one jump for one kata on a beach, and in the future I’ll be learning another. I know where to go.
As you can see, most of the places where I practice Karate alone are outdoors. They are places I already enjoyed visiting before I started training. I often practice in shoes and clothes that I wear every day. It’s different from doing karate in a gi on mats or a hardwood floor. Stances must be adjusted, I have to be aware of what’s underfoot, and sometimes proper body dynamics are absolutely essential to overcoming the friction of shoes on whatever surface I’m on. By studying how to fight in these environments, I’m now enjoying them more because I can let go of the anxiety that sometimes comes from being a woman in an isolated spot. I’m enjoying the freedom.