Every year the facility that hosts my “home” dojo shuts down for a week for maintenance and deep cleaning. That is a smart idea and there is always a visible difference throughout the facility when it re-opens. I don’t mind that I have to find an alternative to going to my Karate class. I simply visit a sister dojo. A couple of weeks ago while the host facility was shut down I visited a sister dojo.

Whenever I visit that dojo I always think back to how I almost started my first journey there, way back in late 1983. After six weeks in a little Parks & Rec Tang Soo Do program, I was hooked. I was completely dissatisfied with meeting only twice per week and with the long, 2-3 week breaks in between sessions. My father did some research that included the club that I now visit when I can. Ultimately he decided that a storefront dojo closer to our house and headed by a lady sensei (instructor) was a better fit for me. It gives me an odd feeling whenever I think that if I’d started at what is now my sister dojo and if I’d kept up with Karate all these years, by now I’d probably be senior to quite a few karateka in our organization.

But then I wouldn’t be having the adventures I’m having now. Worse, maybe I wouldn’t be studying Karate at all. Maybe I’d have sustained a more severe injury than any I’ve had so far. Or perhaps I’d be burned out from juggling too many responsibilities while raising babies and, later, helping my mother care for my grandparents. Of course it’s equally possible that I’d be sitting among the highest ranked karateka of our organization today. I don’t mourn for that lost possibility because I am content with my journey.

I hope the love I have for my art pervades this blog. I’m tickled pink that I, a slightly-lumpy middle-aged matron, who “should be” doing more passive things am enjoying this “strange little hobby of acquiring bruises for funsies” (as fellow blogger Jackie Bradbury puts it).  Every once in awhile I get a little sad when I think, “I don’t have enough decades left in my life to accomplish [fill in the blank] like so-and-so has.” Maybe so. But is that so important?

No. It isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I respect and treasure everyone who has achieved more in Karate than I have. I admire their accomplishments and I emulate my mentors and heroes as best I can. It’s just that there’s an immensely important thing that absolutely everyone, martial artist or not, can achieve starting right now. It’s called making the world a better place. And that, dear readers, is something I can do every single time I enter the dojo. I am touching lives. I am helping to bring about those “Aha!” moments that light up people’s faces. I help sweep the floor before class. I treat a child with respect, and that respect could be like water in the desert for that child’s life. Simple things, yes, but the results are magic.

That is the secret to my contentment. I still push myself to the top of my game. I still try for those tournament medals. I still train for my next belt test. I still do conditioning exercises early in the morning. I don’t mourn for the decades that were lost, the things that never happened, the honors I might never earn. I focus on the here and now. I can make the world a better place one small act of love at a time. It’s a fun benefit to training 🙂


Metacognition is the process of analyzing what goes on in one’s own mind. A few weeks ago I realized I was nearing the fourth anniversary of this blog, and the word “metablognition” popped into my head. Yep – blogging about one’s own blog. At the time, I was in a motel room journaling that day’s experience at Nationals, so I simply jotted the word down and let it percolate throughout the weeks that followed.  I knew by the time I reached my fourth “blogiversary” (yesterday, 9/6/18) I’d have a blog post.

Four years ago when I started this blog I’d been reading and commenting on three other blogs: “Karate by Jesse (The Karate Nerd),” Andrea Harkins’ “The Martial Arts Woman,” and “Happy Life Martial Arts” by Ando Mierzwa. I have to admit my comments were long and autobiographical. Accordingly, Andrea and Ando encouraged me to start my own blog (yes, go ahead and laugh, it is funny). I’d just finished reading an autobiography of a martial artist who had begun her journey as an adult. It was a good read, but it was clear the author was missing details from her early years. She was writing from the perspective of a seasoned yudansha (black belt). I wanted to chronicle my experiences right from the start, with an eye towards writing an autobiography later. I want to see how my perspective shifts over time.

It turns out my blog is a potpourri. I set a breakneck pace at first and explored a number of topics. Then I saw the wisdom of slowing down and settled into biweekly posting.  From time to time I’ve taken inspiration from other martial arts bloggers. At one time I was active in a martial arts forum and saw how people argued, so I wrote a little series on logical fallacies  based on a book I’d used to teach my children. Sometimes I tackle broader topics such as gender and inclusion. I’ve always kept the autobiographical theme running.

The trouble with my original idea of writing an autobiography is that some things are better left unsaid. I must respect the privacy of other people. I absolutely must not blog about things that karateka have told me in confidence! Also, I admit that sometimes my perspective is erroneously skewed towards the extreme end of negative. New to me this year is my responsibility as a judge to remain neutral about the athletes who enter the ring where I’m working. As a sensei-in-training I have to maintain good relationships with everyone from the host facility’s janitor to the highest-ranked yudansha of any organization, not just my own. In this blog, I can’t just spout off about stuff I don’t like. That said, every once in awhile I’ll play with fire and address the broader concepts that are related to whatever negative situation I’m in.  Sometimes I’m scared when I hit the “Schedule” button.

Putting myself “out there” is actually a little scary to me, believe it or not. For about three years I was really shy about sharing my blog with people I actually know in real life. Considering this blog has been up for four years now… Yeah, I was “somewhere between bed-wetting and a near-death experience” (as Rizzo in “Muppet Treasure Island” puts it). I don’t remember clearly, but I think very shortly after I joined Facebook someone quite highly placed in the Karate organization I belong to  discovered my blog. I do remember receiving a commendation and a jump in readership for my post about Gasshuku 2017. Ever since then I’ve been both more confident about my writing and more aware of my responsibilities.

So what’s the future of this blog? Honestly, I don’t think much will change. I’ve settled into a groove. I’ve slowed my initial pace, and have been comfortable with biweekly posts for quite some time now. That said, sometimes I hit writer’s block and slip a post in just under my deadline!  Judicious autobiography seems to be working so I’ll keep that up. I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to cover broader topics without repeating myself – I’m already starting to search my own blog to see if I’ve already written about something. I’d like to figure out how to get people to look to the right of the PC screen (or the bottom of the phone screen) and buy something I’ve created on Zazzle 🙂 But one thing I know – I won’t stop this blog (“A Beginner’s Journey”) if I earn Shodan (first degree black belt). I’m watching karateka make the transition from i-kyu (rank just before black) to Shodan, and I’ve talked to more seasoned yudansha, so I can say confidently that Shodan is not the end of the journey. It is the beginning.

Gasshuku 2018

My little hatchback car seemed to explode once we arrived at the Yoshida Gardenview Estate for Gasshuku (Karate camp).  Somehow I had jammed the little car full with three people (including myself), two tents, three sleeping bags, two bo (long staffs), assorted other camping and karate stuff, and cleaning supplies for the bathrooms.  One of my senpai (higher ranked student) had hitched a ride with me and  my younger daughter.  As he claimed his favorite tent site, my daughter and I made a little boundary with our bo(s) (long staffs)  to mark our home for the weekend.  Our tents were set up in short order and we threw ourselves into a weekend filled with training, chores, and fellowship.

Our retreat was “home grown” this year, in that our own yudansha (black belts) led the training (as opposed to bringing in a guest instructor).  For us students it was almost like visiting classes at sister dojo (schools) without having to travel to each individual school.   As always, everyone got to be a student at least most of the time.  Each sensei (instructor) has a different teaching style so it’s good for us students to make the little adjustments students need to make when someone other than one’s own teacher is teaching.  Having a variety of sensei(s) teaching meant that we got a lot of different perspectives.  We all were exposed to things we’d never done before, and all of us took things away that we can use for ourselves and for our kohai (students who are lower-ranked than oneself).

I had a lot of fun and gained some knowledge.  Bo (staff) work is coming more naturally to me now, which is good because it’s not part of our curriculum back home.  I learned a few footwork drills that I can use for myself and for when I lead warmups.  And I fell in love.  No, not with a person – with a kata (form).  Tomari Bassai. I’m already quite familiar with Bassai Dai, so it was easy to follow along with Tomari Bassai.  New for me this year is that I knew enough about kata to recognize that I personally would have an easier time learning Tomari Bassai rather than Sochin.  In general, I noticed I’ve improved in working around my directional dyslexia.  I wasn’t the only one who had things to work around.

Not only is my daughter a brand new beginner, she is also autistic.  There were a few little incidents, she often needed prompting, but on the whole she did quite well.  Even in regular classes my daughter has fun imitating what she sees around her, so she wasn’t at all fazed that the material at Gasshuku was well beyond what she’s done so far in the four or five weeks she’s been training.  The karate community at Gasshuku supported her, and everyone was kind – but also firm whenever a boundary needed to be drawn.  I really appreciated that – it’s one thing when Mom says something, quite another when a total stranger says the exact same thing!  As the mother of an autistic adult, I am constantly balancing her increasing need for independence against her disability.  I’m grateful that Gasshuku was a safe place for me to let go of her a little (but only a little because I’m still also her senpai).  Having my younger daughter along was one of a few things that were different for me this year.

Looking back on my post about last year’s Gasshuku I can see some changes in myself.  I am definitely established in my role as a brown belt.  I earned 3rd brown last Gasshuku and, in fact,  I had  already earned 2nd brown before coming to this year’s Gasshuku (the ranks are numbered in reverse order, so 1 is high and 3 is low).  I am much more accustomed to how children and adults relate to me as their senpai.  I did better this year about remembering to work with kohai, as opposed to always seeking out someone of a higher rank for partner drills.  During bo training I did better than in previous years because I concentrated on my body movement and trusted my weapon and gravity to do the rest.  I’m thinking I’ve grown in my art since last year.

I wonder how much I’ll grow between now and next Gasshuku (2019)?

Judging at Nationals

It’s no secret that I’m the lowest of the low in the world of Karate judging. I got my USA-NKF Judge D license just a few months ago. I would never have dared volunteer to judge at Nationals (2018) if it hadn’t been for one of my sensei(s) who, after coming home from judging the US Open, said, “It was the best judging experience ever!” I figured if I wasn’t wanted or needed at Nationals someone would let me know. I should’ve known I’m not the first rube to volunteer to judge at Nationals.

There was a lot of mentoring going on for anyone who needed it. I was very grateful for that. The more I learn, the better I become. I’ve heard stories about ring controllers who are mean, who chew officials out and deride them. I’m sure someday that will happen to me too, and I hope I’ll have the right attitude about it. I have been told that I can ask to be assigned to a different ring. I hope that will never be necessary. I feel badly enough when I make a mistake, and I feel a lot more confident if someone calmly teaches me how to perform better. If I’m treated with respect I’m a lot more willing to push myself out of my comfort zone.

The first day was incredible – the experience was so valuable that if I’d had to turn around and go home that night – missing out on competing, mind you – I’d have been happy to have had just that one day at Nationals. I was already somewhat familiar with judging kobudo (weapons) thanks to my online acquaintance, “The Stick Chick” Jackie Bradbury and a little prior “sink or swim” experience my first tournament judging. I spent most of the morning judging weapons and received a lot of valuable tips on what to look for. I must confess, though, that I abandoned ship rather than judge iado (sword).

I changed rings with someone who was familiar with iado, and lo and behold, I got to judge the very division I’d been hoping to judge: mentally disabled 18-34 year olds. My daughter’s division,  if she ever wants to compete at Nationals. I had to hold back tears as I watched these incredible people who have come so far and overcome so much. After judging them and the visually impaired adults, I was back in my “home” ring again. I was delighted to judge team kata, and found that came just as naturally to me as judging individual kata. With the exception of a little kobudo, I’ve never had the experience of judging these specialized divisions back home!

I skipped two days of judging because I knew I’d make a lousy judge on my competition days.  I didn’t judge for the Oregon state qualifier because I needed that competition in order to go to Nationals, and I was nervous. I can get away with both judging and competing in the fun tournaments. But facing a high-pressure competition later in the day is another thing altogether. While waiting for my division to be called to staging, I still worked on my judging skills by watching the elite divisions. I remembered how I’d prepared to earn my judging license by watching the judges and referees work together. This is still a valuable thing for me to do when I get the luxury. There’s still plenty more for me to learn!

Judging kumite (sparring) doesn’t come naturally for me. I approached the final day of Nationals with some trepidation. It took me awhile and some respectful feedback before I hit my stride. I also got a bit of a morale boost.

Officials are forbidden to work in the ring when there is a competitor from their home state. For one match I was swapped out with someone who had such a conflict of interest. The score ended up tied and the first-point advantage had been taken away due to a minor foul, so the referee signaled for us judges to vote on who should win. I threw the only flag for Red (competitors wear red or blue belts and judges have red and blue flags). I admit I had a little black storm cloud hovering over my head as I went back to my “home” ring, but I heard someone from my own organization call out a commendation for my call. The little black storm cloud evaporated and the sun came out.

I felt more confident. Good thing, too because next thing I knew, I was judging Advanced teenagers. GULP! The cream of that crop will be 2019’s elites. 2019’s elites will be representing the United States in 2020, when Karate will make its Olympic debut. I had to shove that pressure aside in order to focus on the other officials and the athletes. I was grateful that most communication among the officials is nonverbal because it was LOUD in that convention center. I was relieved whenever I got to sit in Judge 1 and Judge 4 positions because, while most coaches were wonderful, there were some who, uh, got a little excited. I don’t blame them, though – we all were well aware of what was at stake for these athletes.

Because there is so much at stake for the athletes, there are strict rules of etiquette that must be followed. I’ve already mentioned that one must not officiate when a competitor in your ring is from your own organization, state, or country. There’s more, and sometimes it’s hard. Many athletes and I are used to the nice little tradition of shaking hands after the division is finished. We had to stop that tradition in the name of objectivity. I recognize this helps prevent accusations of favoritism, but it made me a little sad to turn those kids away. When I was in a gi (karate uniform) for my competition, I couldn’t fraternize with the officials I’d worked with the day before (ironically, my kumite division ended up in the same ring I’d worked). When I was in an official’s uniform, I couldn’t chat with friends who were wearing gi(s) or track suits (which is what coaches wear). Even when I was just in shorts and T-shirt practicing kata in the areas set aside for that purpose, I had to be careful not to spend too much time chatting. It’s hard, because I truly do love networking, but I understand the need for judges to be beyond reproach in their objectivity.

During the gold/silver rounds for the elite groups on the last night, my fellow officials and I were rewarded for our hard work. The highest among us got to referee and judge these amazing athletes, and the rest of us officials got the best seats in the house to watch the action. I had a blast watching some excellent karate, and I was sad when it was all over. I said goodbye to old friends and new, and left knowing that I was a better judge than I was when I turned in my passbook at the pre-tournament officials’ meeting.

P. S. Most people ask me if I get paid for judging, so I’ll go ahead and address that. The answer is officials get free lunch and, usually, a small stipend. Since earning my credentials I’ve made back my license fee and what I paid for my uniform (mostly assembled from thrift stores and Black Friday sales). Local non-profit booster clubs often help officials with the costs of food and lodging for national and international events.  But we pay the vast majority of our expenses ourselves.  We’re not exactly the National Football League!

The Right Time

Three years ago I was invited to train with those who were going to compete at the USA Karate Nationals. “Come find out what you’re made of,” the yudansha (black belt) challenged me. I did indeed find out what I was made of, but I didn’t make it to Nationals until this year (2018). I had fun training during two summers (2015 and 2016).  During those summers I was one of a few karateka who couldn’t go or didn’t want to go to Nationals but who enjoyed training hard and supporting those who were competing. Last year and this year it was not possible for our group to have that specific training.

In an ideal world, all four summers I would have had both the financial resources to travel and a good bit of tough training outside of normal class time with a close-knit group of mentors and comrades. I really don’t want to go into why these things never happened in combination for me. I have moved on from the angst I felt about that. This year I decided to heck with it, I would go to Nationals anyway.

Whenever I caught myself moping about “the good old days,” I reminded myself that I spent two summers learning how to train for a big competition. The advantage to being mostly alone this summer was that I could customize my workout. I used a spreadsheet to create a circuit workout – arms, legs, abs, kata, and drills. Three times I did have help with sparring outside of class, but for the most part I had to rely on regular class. For kata I simply worked on things that my sensei(s) pointed out during regular class. I buckled down and got ‘er done. I also sought help with my angst and was encouraged to simply have fun and to learn from the experiences of preparing and competing.

I did learn and I did have fun.

At this point in my story, it would be grand if I could say I won medals at Nationals. Oh what a great thing it is to be the underdog who triumphs! Well, that might have happened if I had registered as Intermediate. Karateka who have trained for four years can register either as Intermediate or Advanced. I didn’t feel right about the prospect of creaming someone who has only been training for two years, so I registered as Advanced. Besides, I’m used to testing myself against those who are better than I am (that’s a polite way of saying I’m used to getting my butt kicked in competition). Intermediate and Advanced for my gender and age have always been combined in all the local tournaments I’ve competed in, so that’s three seasons I’ve been competing with ladies who have trained longer than I have. I’m on the low end of Advanced, so – yeah, no medals for me at Nationals.

It’s not about the medals. I’ve blogged about that over and over again.  I got what I came for. I was there for the experience. I was there to pressure-test myself. My performance of Bassai Dai kata (form) was my personal best performance ever. I need to raise the bar for myself now when it comes to kata – and not just Bassai Dai, but all the kata I’ve memorized. My kumite isn’t as bad as I thought, and when I watch the video I do see improvement. I acquitted myself well and, for once, didn’t get any warnings. A national competition held in a big, noisy convention center was a very high-pressure setting but I dealt with it calmly. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, and anytime that happens there is growth.

So was 2018 really the worst year for me to go to Nationals? No. It was the worst year for me to stay home. I darn well knew how to prepare for the competition. I don’t think I could have looked at myself in the mirror if I’d stayed home moping about the circumstances not being perfect. I honestly don’t know if all the stars will ever line up exactly right. I hope they will someday. But let’s say that my financial situation had allowed me to go to Nationals in 2016. There’s one thing I have now that I didn’t have then, and that’s a USA-NKF Judge D license. In my opinion competing in Nationals was simply icing on the cake. I’ll write about my judging experiences in my next blog post!