Long time readers of this blog know I love learning about other martial arts. Through one-off introductory workshops I’ve sampled Capoeira, Tai Chi, and Judo. I also attended several self defense workshops led by instructors from varying backgrounds, trained under students earning their personal fitness trainer credentials, and attended an online seminar that wasn’t so much about Kung Fu as it was about body dynamics. So when a friend invited me to the bi-monthly Kendo (Japanese sword) classes he hosts at his dojo I jumped at the chance.

These bi-monthly Kendo classes will be ongoing and I plan on making as many as I can. That said, I honestly don’t think I can get serious about kendo – as in seeking any sort of rank or certification. Bi-monthly Kendo classes mostly fit my schedule. I have a good bit of karate material to keep fresh and I need to fix some foundational things. I don’t have much time to devote to new material. That said, now that my karate belt tests will be few and far between I have the luxury of taking a good long time to learn any given Kendo technique, stance, form, etc. Casual dabbling is not something I’m used to but I’m going to do my best to juggle this new endeavour with my main art. Sometimes I will have schedule conflicts, and that’s OK.

I missed the first Kendo class due to an important karate event. No big deal, this is a casual gathering for the purpose of learning. I had to catch up, but at least I’m used to following along, to being at least few steps behind everyone else. In other words I know how to be a white belt (no rank, new beginner). I know how to learn and I know my own learning style. I know how to manage my practice time. And of course I had a blast learning something completely new. This beginner’s mindset is called “Shoshin” in Japanese. I try to keep my shoshin fresh in karate because, after all, Shodan (1st degree black belt) means “first level.” I’m still a beginner in my primary art (yes, after nearly 10 years).

My primary art is of course empty hand. Weapons aren’t part of the rank tests in the karate organization I belong to. To me dabbling in weapons is a nice little “extracurricular activity,” although I have recently started thinking about the benefits to my empty-hand game. I have started to understand this quote:

”Karate and Kobudo are like brother and sister. They should stay together.”

Nakamoto Mashiro

Studying weapons gives one the chance to compare and contrast, to think about how and why body dynamics change (or don’t change) when one is wielding a weapon. During the pandemic lockdowns I learned bo (Japanese long staff) over Zoom from one of my sensei (instructors). Bo feels natural because it involves push-pull dynamics similar to karate. A bokken (training sword) is another animal altogether. About the only thing I knew going in to my first Kendo class was you use two hands to wield the weapon. The bokken feels very different from my bo, from Filipino Martial Arts canes (in one or both hands) and is totally and completely different from fencing foils. Yes, I took a semester of fencing in college. And yet…

Like many other times when I’ve cross-trained, I heard the late Professor Remy Presas whispering, “It’s all de same…”

 Blogger and Arnisadora Jackie Bradbury explains,

“The meaning of this is that what we do and learn in my style isn’t actually terribly unique in the martial arts world.  Much of what we do can be seen in other seemingly unrelated styles like taekwondo, karate, and kung fu.”

Jackie Bradbury, The Stick Chick Blog

With the bokken I learned angles of attack just like in Filipino Martial Arts. These angles of attack are based on human anatomy in order to cause the most damage and hopefully not catch your weapon on bone and lose your grip on it. This is serious stuff, but so is shattering joints and there’s plenty of that in the empty hand arts. Speaking of the empty hand arts, there is a relationship between Kendo and the style of Karate I study.

Konishi Yasuhiro Sensei founded Shindo Jinen-ryu karate. But before that he was a Kendoka (one who studies Kendo). Konishi Sensei coached the University of Keio’s Kendo club. Just a few months short of 100 years ago (at the time of this writing) Konishi Sensei met two karate luminaries after one of his classes. They asked if they could use the Kendo training hall for their karate classes. The rest was history. A karate exercise I practice frequently, “Te Gatana,” echoes Konishi Sensei’s Kendo and always reminds me of Filipino Martial Arts angles of attack. In 1927 and 1928 Konishi Sensei hosted a guest in his home for ten months: Mabuni Kenwa Sensei who founded the style of karate my friend teaches at his dojo. Talk about echoes of the past!

Kendo and Karate weren’t the end-all-and-be-all of Konishi Sensei’s martial arts life. In addition to Kendo and Karate, Konishi Sensei also studied Jujutsu, Judo, and Aikido. Within the Karate world Konishi Sensei trained with whoever he could. This garnered some criticism but Konishi Sensei held fast to his belief in the value of cross training. I’ve seen its value myself. That and it’s just plain fun to learn something new and different.

In karate I thoroughly enjoy exploring bunkai (interpretation of forms). Imagine my delight when I was taught that Kendo kata (forms) require two people. Instant bunkai! On the other hand, what I like about karate kata bunkai is there can be multiple bunkai for any given movement and/or sequence. Still, there’s something appealing about having obvious and set bunkai. Like anything else, there are advantages and disadvantages either way. I’m stoked I get to explore these modes of learning.

In a way attending a Kendo class felt like coming home. When I was a girl I was fascinated by sword-and-sorcery novels. At Renaissance faires I was more than a little jealous of those who owned real blades. I took fencing in college but the restriction of activity to a narrow lane drove me a little nuts. I was used to having free range due to my study of karate when I was a teenager. Years later I learned the history of the style of karate I now study. Entering the Kendo world just feels like a natural step for me. The cherry on top? A few years ago a co-worker gifted me with a polypropylene bokken at an office Christmas party. He uses his for cosplay. I used mine as a wall decoration. So is this fate? Time will tell. What I do know is this. My first Kendo class was fun and I’m looking forward to the next one.

Squirrel Power!

Image generated by Adobe Firefly

I was near the fireplace insert in my basement office/personal dojo when I heard a startled squeak and scrabbling sounds. “Oh no,” I thought, “Rats.”

Using a jo I thumped the drop-down ceiling and the wall, eliciting more squeaking and scrabbling. The sounds came from the fireplace insert. I looked inside and saw pellets – not wood pellets but squirrel pellets. Not rats. Whew! I heard a growl that I’d never heard before but it sounded similar to other squirrel vocalizations. A quick wiggle of the flue lever confirmed the flue was partway open. That explained the droppings. I opened the flue all the way.

While I was on the phone with a pest control company I noticed a flicker of movement. Squirrel movement. I quickly closed the flue and peered through the glass door of the fireplace insert. In the shadows crouched a soot-covered squirrel. It was scared out of its gourd but it still growled at me and made disapproving “tok tok tok tok” sounds.

Bear with me, I promise I’ll relate this story to karate. Well, OK, specifically self defense.

Pest control folks refused help me until after the weekend. It finally occurred to me that the local wildlife rehabilitator could have a solution. I called and the procedure was simple.

I cut a small hole in what would become the top of a box. I took the additional precaution of covering the hole with waxed paper. It just so happened I have a work light that was perfect for placing on top of the hole, but a flashlight would do the trick too. Using a beach towel and a bath mat I made the rest of the area dark and reasonably secure. Cautiously I opened the fireplace insert door, made final adjustments, and waited to hear the scrabbling sounds of a squirrel checking out the lovely noisy wax-paper packet of peanut butter I’d left in the back of the box.

I waited a long time.

When I came back from a bathroom break I heard scrabbling noises in the box then growling from within the box. Dang, the squirrel was right near the flaps of the box. I would have to take a chance. Slowly I moved the towel and bathmat aside. I could see the critter hunkered down. He was absolutely terrified but he definitely was trash talking me. I took a chance and slowly moved the flaps of the box inward, shoving the squirrel and trapping him inside the box. That squirrel was furious and scolded most vociferously.

Needless to say the squirrel cussed up a storm as I tilted the box (making sure to hold the flaps securely shut), carried the box outside my house, then tilted the box again. When I opened the flaps of the box that squirrel took off like a shot. After the squirrel vanished I found it utterly adorable that this little creature still found the spirit to growl, talk trash, and cuss me out in spite of its obvious terror. My heart melted.

I have a new respect for squirrels. Knowing that a bite from a squirrel is a serious matter is one kind of respect. That’s respect for one’s own safety and the safety of one’s family. Another kind of respect is admiration. A squirrel’s agility, speed, and climbing abilities are indeed remarkable. But there’s another, deeper kind of respect which acknowledges your heart has been touched and you’re better for it. That squirrel’s bravery and knowledge of self defense resonated with me.

The little creature was frozen with fear but it was prepared to fight me to the death. The squirrel thought it was highly likely that I would kill it but by golly it was going to take a piece of me with it. I’ll be honest, the squirrel’s desperate attitude was a bit intimidating. I didn’t know what to expect – would it suddenly leap up and maybe claw my face? Would it bite me? This squares with what I’ve heard in many a self-defense seminar: standing up for yourself gives a potential attacker a reason to look elsewhere. Even if you look like a harmless bit of fluff you can still make someone bigger than you think twice about messing with you.

And yet the poor little thing was scared out of its gourd. That’s natural. Of course if some scary person steps out of the shadows you’re going to have a very visceral reaction. You might even freeze like the squirrel did. A “freeze” reaction isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It might preserve your life. It might give you a moment to assess the situation. A terrified freeze reaction doesn’t necessarily spell instant doom. I have no doubt that if I’d messed with the squirrel or even lingered too long shutting the flaps of the box he would’ve found it in himself to spring out of his tense posture to attack me, run, or both.

Imagine seeing a huge monster looming over you. Imagine being shoved into a room and the room tilts, sways, then tilts again. It’s a scene straight out of a nightmare and would scare anyone. That squirrel very wisely got outta Dodge when I opened the box. Getting away to safety is a valid and, I would argue, best option for self preservation.

So… A stupid rodent who got itself trapped in my fireplace, all talk and no action… A squirrel who was frozen with fear… A squirrel who ran away and didn’t stay to fight… That’s a brave creature? You bet it is. Bravery doesn’t depend on circumstances, on anyone else’s opinion, or your own emotional state. Bravery is finding that spark inside you and making a choice to survive and/or help someone else survive.

Bringing it home to karate. The squirrel had many tools in its self-defense toolbox. That squirrel had strong back legs for jumping, sharp claws for scratching, and a bite from a squirrel is a serious matter indeed. Did the squirrel need to use those tools? No. Would the squirrel have been more brave if it had launched a full-out assault on me? No, it would’ve been a dead stupid squirrel because I’d have killed it. Using “cool karate moves” isn’t always the best course of action. “Knowing” karate puts more self defense tools at your disposal, but your best tools are your instincts and your belief in yourself. In other words… Squirrel power!

A Judo Seminar

Today (11/18/23) a friend hired me to take pictures of the self defense seminar held at his dojo (as in he owns the dojo). He also wanted pictures of the judo seminar held earlier today and was OK with me juggling photography and learning about judo from the guest sensei (instructor). I initially thought, “Good – my camera will be the perfect excuse for me to stay safe and comfortable.”

I was scared.

No, make that terrified. I’d seen judo throws before and no way was I gonna allow that sort of thing to happen to my over-fifty-year-old body. Best leave it to the youngsters, I thought.

My perspective shifted a little when someone walked in with a pad that had to be at least a foot thick. When asked about it, she explained, “It’s for bouldering. Rock climbing. You put it down over things so that if you fall you won’t die.”

I had to laugh. I quipped, “Well now I’m not afraid of Judo anymore. I should be scared of bouldering instead!”

With that shift in perspective I thought perhaps I would give Judo a try. After all, I could still use my camera as an “out” if I thought I couldn’t handle something. I admit I did use my camera as an “out” for somersaults and cartwheels. But not anything else. I gleefully threw myself into shrimping and other basic movements. Ground work wasn’t scary – I’ve done it before (click here and here).

I ended up paired with my friend the dojo sensei. This was perfect because anytime he needed to check on something or do something I’d grab my camera and photograph the guest instructor and/or the seminar participants. I guess I’ve learned to juggle from being a mother. There was one occasion, though, when my friend was taking longer than usual and I’d already taken plenty of photos.

The guest sensei’s assistant came over to me. Participants had just begun the “scary” throws. I knew in that instant that even though I trust my friend I’d feel better about being thrown by someone who’s done it a thousand times. I told the young stranger that I needed to practice being a good uke (receiver of a technique) and requested he throw me.


I got up, looked him in the eyes, and said, “Again.”


“One more time. I just need to face this down, and I’ll be OK.”


“Thank you.”

By this time my friend came back and we went to work. I have to admit that being thrown also helped my fear of injuring my friend. I came to the realization that a modicum of fear was good and healthy. Fear made me mindful of the dangers involved. I tried to make sure I understood what to do and if I overlooked something I appreciated help and feedback. Fear provided fuel for respect – respect for the art of Judo, for the guest instructor, for my friend, and for myself. By shifting from terror to respect I shifted from a closed mind to an open mind.

I learned a lot about leverage and body mechanics. From time to time I drew parallels between kata (karate forms) and Judo. I will be thinking about throws more as I look at possibilities for bunkai (interpretation of forms). That’s all well and good, but more importantly, I learned about myself.

I’ve blogged before about being pushed outside my comfort zone. At least this time I didn’t vomit. I didn’t even feel nausea. Does that mean Judo wasn’t as scary as all those other times? I’ll be honest, I’m pretty sure the prospect of being thrown like a rag doll freaked me out more than anything else to date.

In my series, “More Betterer,” I speculated what being a Shodan (1st degree “black belt”) would mean for me. I listed some of my “inner demons” in Part III. Fear was number 5 on my list. I quoted an online acquaintance:

“The bad news is, you’ll probably be facing those demons for most, if not all, of your time in the martial arts. The good news is, they get smaller (or maybe you get “bigger?”) the further you go.”

Clifton Bullard

    My fear of Judo was a pretty big inner demon, but I’m bigger” now. I’ve had almost eight more years of practice facing down fear. I was pushed so far out of my comfort zone today that I’m certain I grew in many ways. I’ll be discovering those areas of growth for a good long while I’m sure.

    And… I had a lot of fun.

    Wait, what?

    Yes, fun. I had a big grin on my face most of the time. I thoroughly enjoyed solving puzzles with my body. I always enjoy cross training and today was no exception even though initially I was thinking about sitting this one out. My body might not agree with me tomorrow morning, but I had fun. And really, if this stuff isn’t fun, would it make sense to stick with a “strange little hobby of acquiring bruises for funsies” (as Jackie Bradbury puts it)?

    Body Autonomy for Boys

    Disclaimer: Just like “Save the Whales” doesn’t mean other species are expendable, this blog post highlights challenges that some boys face. Of course most of the content of this blog applies to everyone else as well.

    “Boys will be boys.”

    In some contexts that’s true. I remember reading about a mother whose three-year-old twin boys triumphantly carried the lid of the toilet tank through the house, then accidentally dropped it. Using the phrase “Boys will be boys” in this instance is meant as a half-amused, half-annoyed acknowledgement that yes, sometimes boys will break the toilet. But all too often there is a more damaging use of this phrase.

    Many of us have read about the harm caused by using “Boys will be boys” as a way of excusing misconduct towards girls. I’m not going to delve into the ramifications of that in this blog. Others have covered that ground better than I have. But I do want to take one aspect of the issue and apply it to boys. Yes, “Boys will be boys” has been used to dismiss female body autonomy, but the phrase also dismisses a boy’s right to body autonomy too.

    Body autonomy is the right for a person to govern what happens to their body without external influence or coercion. This is an important concept for all children to be taught and to understand.

    Shalon Nienow, MD

    When we hear about body autonomy it’s usually in the context of girls, women, abortion and/or sexual assault. Sometimes boys get a brief mention when sexual assault is addressed. That is a disservice to boys and I very much hope someone has written about the issue. My own focus in this blog is non-consensual rough play and bullying.

    Did you catch the term “non-consensual?”

    Some boys don’t like horseplay. They have the right to stand up for themselves if someone tries to force it on them.

    If you’re having unkind thoughts about that, stop right there. A penchant for or a dislike of rough play has absolutely nothing to do with gender, gender expression, or sexuality. If you think for one instant that anyone who doesn’t fit your idea of “normal” is worthless, is “other,” and deserves to be made fun of, beaten, or even killed… You’re not going to like what I say next.

    All too often, parents, school officials, coaches, etc. attempt to downplay bullying by calling it “horseplay,” and often summarize their views by saying, “Boys will be boys.” This is an egregious denial of the victim’s right to body autonomy. Boys have the right to go about their day without their body being pummelled, shoved, and/or struck with various objects. If you believe all that is harmless, you might as well say to boys, “You have no right to your own body.” Not only that, you’re teaching boys that it’s OK to violate someone else’s rights.

    I have participated in a number of self defense seminars as a supplement to my base art (karate) and so I can learn how to teach such seminars. One of these classes was open to anyone, the rest were for women only. That’s fine, I understand women need a safe space to learn. But I think children, particularly boys, need these seminars too. I’m not dismissing the needs of girls, rather I’m acknowledging that boys are more likely to experience the dismissal of their right to protect themselves. Boys need a place where their rights are supported.

    Everyone knows karate is a system for learning self defense. Most of us karateka (people who study karate) know or have been taught the value of kihon, kata, and kumite as tools for learning self defense. In the dojo some of us teach or have been taught self defense techniques that aren’t part of the dojo’s curriculum. That’s all well and good, but let’s dive a little deeper. Most everyone knows karate builds self confidence, and when bullies see the positive changes they often (but not always) go hunting for easier victims. Deeper still… Karateka learn self control. In a schoolyard situation, self control is key.

    I believe my job as a sensei is to teach not only the techniques, but also the correct application of techniques along with a good helping of self-control on the side. Allow me to illustrate this with an anecdote from my own life…

    I was working in a kitchen when a man put his arm around my waist and pressed in close while reaching for something on a shelf above me. He could have asked for the item or waited for me to complete my task. I gave him a very light elbow to the stomach. I could have doubled him over, but in that context all he needed was a bit of a warning. His wife gave him worse (verbally).

    This kind of self control is incredibly difficult in the context of physical harassment at school. “He threw a rock at me,” is often just one of hundreds of things that the boy has endured up until the point where he finally complained to someone. After all, he’s been taught all his life…

    “Boys will be boys.”

    “Just be more like the other boys.”

    “Turn the other cheek.”

    “You sissy!”

    “Try to be friends with them.”

    “It’s not that bad.”

    “No fighting. Zero tolerance.”

    The underlying message behind all of this, of course, is that the boy has no right to body autonomy and, in the case of zero tolerance, no right to defend himself.

    Do you see how damaging this is?

    Often there comes a breaking point, especially when a child knows the adults either can’t or won’t help him assert his rights. The dojo (karate school) is a safe place to explore those big emotions. Those big emotions will come up in the dojo even when one is in a good place in life. Part of learning self control is learning how to work with and through emotions. More importantly, being able to choose to fight is empowering. If one doesn’t know how to fight, there is no choice to fight or not to fight. There is only fear and anger if one can’t fight. It’s even more empowering when one knows the appropriate degree of violence to employ in any given situation.

    If he’s being bullied, getting your boy into karate classes can be a great move. A good dojo is a community where your boy will be respected. That’s a welcome change for someone whose soul is battered from constant harassment. Sensei(s) usually recognize everyone’s right to body autonomy because fundamentally, karate is self defense. Whether a sensei explicitly teaches it or not, your boy will start to realize his right to body autonomy. He will be more confident in standing up for himself, whether that be verbally with a school principal or physically with someone who tries to force him into rough play.

    In closing, I would like to acknowledge that not all boys can, or even want to join a dojo. Perhaps a self defense seminar geared towards boys would be a good alternative. Of course even a seminar might not be feasible or desirable for some boys. But all boys can benefit from society ridding itself of the systemic dismissal of boys’ rights to body autonomy. I believe my responsibility as a sensei, as a karateka, is to be an ally. That means standing up for victims, even to the point of verbal or physical intervention if appropriate.

    “Karate stands on the side of justice.”

    Gichin Funakoshi


    Years ago during one Gasshuku (weekend camp) I asked every single yudansha (“black belt”) what they’d do differently if time were turned back and they were beginners again. The most common answer was, “I wouldn’t abuse my body like I did.”

    During my first karate journey when I was a teenager, I didn’t know anything about recovery. Before the days of the Internet the most readily available source of information on that topic would have been buried deep within books about jogging and running marathons. Besides, when I was a teenager I could bounce back quite readily. I didn’t have a concept of a recovery day.

    Now that I’m, ahem, over half a century old… I don’t just bounce back. When I started my second karate journey at age 44 I still had no concept of recovery. But over time I’ve accumulated some knowledge here and there. Disclaimer: this blog post is about what works for me. I hope it’ll give you some ideas, but it’s not meant to be a scientific paper. I’m not a sports professional. I’m just a slightly lumpy middle-aged matron with, as blogger Jackie Bradbury puts it, “a strange little hobby of acquiring bruises for funsies.” I have to say this – talk to your doctor, nutritionist, whatever, yada yada.

    Training in karate is hard. It’s meant to be. Go to a McDojo and shell out the dough if you want an easy black belt. Sometimes karate training is harder than usual. Maybe you sparred with eight people in less than an hour for a tournament, for a belt test, or for fun/learning/practice. Perhaps you had multiple training sessions over the course of a weekend. You could be ramping up for a tournament or belt test. Or, like I did, you’re stepping on the mats for the first time in 27 years. Honestly, age doesn’t make a difference in whether or not you need recovery time. It’s just that you feel the need more acutely when you’re older.

    Here’s what I like to do for recovery days following a harder-than-usual event. Again, talk to your doctor, nutritionist, whatever, yada yada.

    For me, recovery begins before the event. I usually have a recovery day (no athletic activity) once per week. It’s usually the same day each week, but I sometimes shift it to two or three days before the special event and one or two days after. Hydration is always crucial, but I keep an extra-close eye on my water intake before, during, and after. Ditto for nutrition and stretching.

    I’ve started to see the value of stretching after each workout, especially after something that’s harder than usual. For multiple training sessions over a weekend, I suggest saving stretching for after the last seminar of each day. This is anecdotal, and it’s just me, but I’ve found that stretching after a harder-than-usual thing cuts my post-event-feeling-like-crap days way down – we’re talking from about a week cut down to maybe three days. During those feeling-like-crap days I sometimes let go of my own practice/workout times and only go to class. I try to take a complete recovery day immediately after a hard event. Sometimes that doesn’t work because I have class the next day (my dojo meets only 2x per week). When that happens I simply take the next day off.

    When I get home, I refuel. A little product endorsement here… What I really like at the end of any workout (1x per day max) is Ultima Replenisher ( ). If it’s not mealtime, I have a snack. Bananas are packed with nutrition. I often throw in a source of protein such as cheese, nuts, or pea-protein snacks. Before bed after any workout, I take a calcium/magnesium/zinc supplement. Muscles use calcium to relax, and magnesium helps prevent “Charlie horses” (cramps) in the middle of the night. Talk to your doctor, nutritionist, whatever, yada yada. There are other ways of getting your muscles to relax.

    Dealing with tense muscles is easy. I can’t say enough good things about a good long soak in a warm bath with Epsom salts before bed. I love it when I don’t have to set a timer and can just soak until the water gets too cool. This is best done right after a tough workout, but if you don’t have access to a tub or the time to just soak, get ‘er done as soon as you can. It’s bliss. If you can afford it, massage is wonderful. If you can’t afford a massage therapist, wait for a sale (Black Friday is coming up!) and get a handheld massager, a foam roller (I like the one with bumps), or both. I don’t use these as often as I should, but believe me, they provide a lot of relief.

    I’m not sure if this is scientifically proven or not, but I believe in “a hair o’ the dog what bit you” when I’m sore the next day. If you’re not familiar with that expression, it means that drinking a little bit of whatever alcoholic beverage you got drunk on will supposedly cure your hangover. When it comes to exercise, it’s more than just an old wives’ tale for me. If I’m sore from holding a stance, I’ll hold that stance for a few seconds the next day. If it’s crunches that made me sore, I do a maximum of 4 reps. It seems to help. Again, you’re recovering, so don’t do a workout – rest, even sleep, is crucial.

    I once saw a meme that read something along the lines of, “Naps, I’m sorry I treated you so badly when I was a child.” If you can find a way to work a nap into your recovery day, do it. I’m refreshed even after 15 minutes, although I prefer 30 to 90 minutes. Set an alarm if you need to.

    As you can see, recovery is an art in and of itself. For us, ahem, older athletes it’s vital. I would argue recovery is vital for young whippersnappers too, it’s just that us old folks run into a brick wall if we neglect it. Building healthy habits now, no matter what your age, will contribute to your longevity in the art of karate.