The Teacher is Also a Student

For a little over two years now I’ve been helping out with teaching beginners. Normally this doesn’t happen until one reaches the rank I earned back in August (2017), but circumstances in two dojo(s) called for me to step up to the plate. I’m grateful for the teaching I did when I was a teenager  and the research I did into how people learn  before I started home schooling my children. All that said, I’m still learning about teaching and I’m still learning as I teach.

I studied Karate first as a teenager under a different organization. Some of the sensei(s) broke away to form their own organization – among them my dojo sensei’s assistant. My dojo sensei began to rely very heavily on senior students and she saw my potential. I started teaching “first lesson is free” people and getting new students up to speed so they could join the beginner class. I learned how to adjust my teaching according to each individual’s need. I think the biggest lesson I learned was that everyone in the dojo believed in my ability to teach. For someone who was routinely put down at school learning that I have a talent that people respect was a wonderful and powerful lesson.

As I’ve covered in previous blog posts, I quit Karate for 27 years and during some of those years I home schooled my children. Researching learning preferences and tweaking lessons to meet my daughters’ needs on an hourly basis taught me a lot about my ability to improvise. My daughters are both “out of the box” – one is gifted, the other is autistic. I was very inventive during those years and I tried hard to transmit my passion for learning to my daughters. I became sensitive to things that work and things that don’t work, and moment by moment I adjusted my teaching accordingly. Of course when the time came I brought these skills to my assistant-teaching at the dojo(s) where I now train.

During my teenage and home school years I was teaching very small groups or one-on-one. This continued for awhile starting roughly two years ago. Since then I have been occasionally given opportunities to lead class for groups of roughly ten or twelve people. Often there is a deadline to meet, so certain skills must be built by the end of the class. I’ve had to learn how to back off a little from those individuals who are struggling. Either there will be time after class to address their needs or they will practice on their own. It’s hard for me to do this because I’m so used to making everything work for everyone, and that’s possible with groups of up to four people but not for the larger groups I’m learning to teach.  Teaching larger groups of people who need to be up to speed on specific skills by a certain date is something I’m still learning how to do.

I recently led class for ten beginners.  Something I didn’t think about much before that day is the importance of the role I usually play:  assistant instructor.  Don’t get me wrong, none of my sensei(s) have ever taken me for granted and I know they appreciate me.  It’s just that when I stepped into the role of instructor I got another perspective on the value of an assistant.  My assistant the day I led a beginner’s class was a young man who is five ranks below me. Giving him his chance to help teach was gratifying to me. Also I knew I could count on him to help me demonstrate what I was teaching. I had the class switch partners frequently and I heard him helping his partners if they were struggling. It was nice to know that he would take care of at least one student while I was busy helping others. I came away from that class with a deeper appreciation of my own role.

For that particular class I had to come up with a lesson plan. This in itself is nothing new to me – I learned to do this from home schooling my children. However I never worried much about time in home school. I had fifty minutes for this class. Less – probably 40 minutes of actual teaching. I had to leave time for opening and closing ceremonies, taking attendance, and cushions of time for setting up the room (we ran two minutes over time) and changing equipment. My plan coalesced a few days prior when I saw some definite needs in the students’ jiyu kumite (sparring). I’m glad to say that my lesson plan went well and we had enough time for very nearly everything that I’d come up with (I had planned an extra drill just in case I needed to fill some time). Even though things went well this first time I will most definitely need to further develop my skill in planning out material that fits the time slot and meets the students needs.

I’ve been told over and over that one way to improve skills is to teach them. I’ve seen that with kata (forms) and kihon (basics). Now I’ve seen it with kumite (sparring). At sparring class the next night after teaching I found myself doing exactly what I’d taught the day before. It’s not something I’ve drilled much but it was simple enough for beginners. I had not done many reps myself, but of course I had to break things down for the students and help those who didn’t quite understand right away. I had the students get out of the way of oi tsuki and mae gheri by slicing forward at a 45 degree angle. The next night I was fighting someone who usually keeps me on my toes. I used exactly what I’d taught and I wasn’t sucking air after fighting him like I usually do. It was like magic, and was just what I needed. I haven’t been feeling good about my sparring for a few months now, but now I know I’m back on track – at least when it comes to sparring with that particular fellow student!

Yes, I’ve learned a good deal about teaching but I’ve also learned about how to improve myself through teaching. It’s not just being a better and better teacher and it’s not just building my skills. It’s also building my patience. I’m learning more about communicating. I’m learning about turning students around when they’re not engaged. That’s an ongoing process because students can be very creative in their way of expressing their desires to do anything but what the teacher would like them to do. Sometimes buttons get inadvertently pushed – either the teacher or the student is triggered. As the senior in rank, I have to overcome my own stuff in order to be a good example and to think creatively so that the student and the class can get back on track. Everyone wins, but sometimes I think the teacher gains oh so much more – not because the class is running smoothly but because the teacher has overcome his or her own self in order to make that happen.

It may sound like from this article that I’m mostly “there” already. In some respects, maybe I am. What I bring to the dojo from my life experiences helps.  But there’s a lot I still need to learn about teaching Karate specifically and I’m grateful for my mentors. I am also learning how to work within guidelines set by my dojo sensei and not by myself! There’s always more to learn from my mentors and peers about what works and what doesn’t work. Through seminars and the Internet martial artists can swap creative ideas for teaching others. Every so often I’ll buy a book about martial arts and when I’m teaching I’ll use what I’ve gleaned. Keeping things fresh and sharing experience benefits everyone! And that’s what teaching is all about – making everyone better then they were when they walked in. I was reminded at a recent seminar that teaching a class is not about me making everyone else do what I want in order to raise my status and puff up my ego. The seminar leader reminded us that we’re all learning together.

Spectrum of Engagement

I came to work just a little early on a Friday morning and did some small tasks to get my brain warmed up. Before I’d really started my day we were told to go into lockdown. Two hours later the SWAT team came to evacuate us. No evidence of a gunman was found but the police weren’t taking any chances. As I filed passed one of the SWAT team members I shuddered at the sight of his submachine gun. I do not want to be that close to such a weapon ever again. I fixated on that submachine gun during the adrenaline crash I experienced that evening.

The next day a sensei (karate instructor) told me about a martial artist who worked in airport security. This other martial artist was threatened while on the job. He begged, “Please, sir, don’t do this.” When the aggressor escalated the situation the martial artist defended himself and sent the aggressor to the hospital. He had given the attacker a chance to disengage but the attacker didn’t take it.

While listening to this story I suddenly realized why I didn’t like the SWAT team’s submachine guns. Having the power of near-instant death that is launched from a considerable distance away from your enemy means you can very easily choose not to give the enemy a chance to walk away. In many situations this is a very good thing. But in each of the situations I’ve actually been in if I’d had such a weapon and if I’d discharged it I’d be sitting in prison right now. To me, the submachine gun represents a level of power that I hope I never need. So it’s not so much the cold metal thing itself that bothered me – it’s more that I was disturbed by the fact that I’d been in a serious situation where having such weapons handy was necessary.

I prefer having a spectrum of engagement over needing the power of instantly killing from a distance. Here are five levels that I see along the spectrum:

1) I don’t know about you but I usually can avoid being in a bad situation in the first place. Not always, but usually. For instance it’s very easy for me to choose not to be at a bar in a sketchy part of town at two in the morning.

2) If possible walk or run away

3) Try to talk. “Yeah, having no money isn’t much fun, right?” “Who hurt you? Someone must have hurt you for you to be so full of anger – was it your mother?” Or, if tactically necessary, say something bizarre in order to cause momentary confusion – for instance, “Hey, do you smell ice cream?”

4) Defend and run

5) Maim and run

6) Kill

At levels 2 through 5 the aggressor has the choice to disengage. Call me soft, call me a hippie, call me whatever you like – I don’t think there’s any shame in giving someone a chance to stop walking the wrong path. Of course there’s no time for that in a war or in a mass shooting. But if you’re only at levels 2 or 3 with someone there’s no justification for lethal force.

Here’s a very human paradox I found within myself in the days after the lockdown incident. I definitely have some reservations about killing someone with an instant spray of bullets but I have no problem with disabling or even killing an attacker at close quarters. Most of the bunkai (application of movements from forms) I’ve been taught involves being very up close and personal with your attacker. Close enough to hear and feel exactly how you’re breaking someone’s body. Surely that’s more gruesome than dealing death from a distance? On one level – yes, absolutely it is a horrible, ghastly thing. So why am I not squeamish about close-quarter fighting? It’s more than just my training. If an attacker is that close to me  the attacker has crossed a clear and definite boundary. It’s realistic for me to conclude that my life is in danger. Of course I can also choose to step into my attacker’s space – but I will do so only if that is my best option for saving my life or the life of another.

Taken by a colleague outside our office door

As the grand-daughter of a World War II veteran I do understand there is a time and a place where weapons like submachine guns are appropriate. But I have no desire to own such a weapon nor do I think they’re “cool.” My grandfather talked to me about what it means to take a human life. At first I didn’t understand my revulsion at seeing such a powerful weapon at close quarters – especially when I’m trained in an art that, let’s face it, is designed for levels of violence from mild to lethal at distances from the reach of one’s leg to grappling. I had a lot to think about and analyze after I saw that SWAT team member’s submachine gun. What it boils down to is I don’t like how easy it is to take shortcuts when one is in possession of a submachine gun – to go from harmless to lethal in a split second without stopping to analyze whether or not such force is merited. Again, there’s a time and a place for dealing instant death. But my preference is to be able to stop conflict at any point along my spectrum of engagement.

P. S. – A book that has helped me to understand Level 3 (talking) on my spectrum of engagement is _Conflict Communication: A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication_ by Rory Miller

Another New Role

I’ve been to karate tournaments as a spectator, a competitor, and as a volunteer. When I earned my brown belt last summer I became eligible to try for a judging license. This past weekend was the culmination of over a year of preparation. For the last year I’ve been reading the World Karate Federation rules and auditing referee seminars. I’ve watched officials at tournaments. I tend to be a “whole to part” learner, so it takes awhile for details to settle in. I spent January hammering in as many details as I could and hoped they were the right details. I got my criminal background check and SafeSport certification done in plenty of time for the seminar and subsequent exams to earn my USA National Karate Federation Judge D license. I took practice tests and hoped for the best.

I won’t go into detail about what I did wrong in the first tests on Saturday. But I will say that I am now far more familiar with the format of each test therefore I now know how to study for each of the first tests. There’s more license testing in my future! My poor performance in the preliminary exams called to mind my experience with the SAT (a standardized test for US high school students who are planning to go on to college). My grades were quite high so obviously I knew how to function in the context of high school academia. But when I took the PSAT (Pre-SAT, administered as practice a few months prior to the SAT) I scored poorly. After receiving my scores I bought a book that was full of tips, practice questions, and practical advice. I did much better when it came time for the real test and scored highly enough to get admitted to the colleges I was applying to. I may have done poorly on the first tests for my judging license, but I will do better when I re-certify or try for a higher license.

I redeemed myself during the practical part of the exam. The day after the first tests us candidates were assigned to rings for the actual tournament. For kata (forms) there are five judges who each get a vote, and for kumite (sparring) there are four judges and a referee – in other words, I was part of a team that made decisions. Candidates for licensing were mixed in with more experienced judges and referees so we had a lot of support and feedback. We were evaluated as we worked as parts of the teams we’d been assigned to. Mostly the examiners were discreet as they observed us candidates, although I did laugh silently to myself when one of them took the role of referee and I was, therefore, part of his panel for a few bouts. He absolutely was looking at my judging then – he had to! But this was later in the day so I didn’t think anything of it. By then I’d hit my stride and he’d probably done enough evaluating and most likely was giving someone else a break.

After the last competitor received medals us candidates were called over to receive our patches and certificates. I felt like crying with relief but of course I didn’t. That one moment when I knew I’d earned my license meant just as much to me as winning a gold medal in competition. USA-NKF Judge D is the lowest of the low, but that’s OK. It’s a start, and until I earn my first degree black belt, this is all I’m qualified for. Throughout the tournament I had a generous helping of support and feedback from one of the sensei (instructors) from the karate organization I belong to. He’s leading a workshop on judging and refereeing tomorrow (2/17/18). It’ll be worth the three-hour drive to get there. I’m sure there’s more I need to know about judging and I’d like to practice refereeing even though technically I’m not eligible for that role yet.

Here are some highlights of the weekend.

One part of the exams on Saturday involved us going one by one into a room alone with the three examiners. While we were waiting, someone quipped, “What is your name? What is your quest? What is your favorite color?” Of course several of us also started quoting the movie (“Monty Python and the Holy Grail”) and telling funny stories involving quoting that movie during karate. Being rather silly while waiting our turns was a great way to let off some nervous energy.

Men’s blazers and shirts have all sorts of pockets everywhere. Women’s blazers and shirts don’t. I had to hide my whistle under my tie because I didn’t have a shirt pocket. I have to figure out how to affix my judge patch to my blazer – no problem for the men, they have cute little flippy magnet things that fit in the breast pocket that my blazer lacks! At one point I fumed, “It doesn’t have pockets. When I went to my fitting at Chez Alison, the one thing I forgot to say was ‘Give me pockets!’” Yes, there are more than a few karateka who are Doctor Who fans.

The very first division I had to judge was kobudo (weapons). I’ve had a few classes in bo, a few lessons in Filipino Martial Arts, and zero experience with using a point system to judge. There’s not much in the way of guidance for kobudo judging in the rulebook.  I was able to think on my feet with the point system, but what about judging something that, for all intents and purposes, I have never done myself? And what about judging a division where there were 3 bo, 1 set of canes (“sticks”), 1 set of nunchaku, and 1 eku all competing in the same division? How do you judge different weapons against one another? I already knew that looking at the lower body helps tremendously when judging empty-hand kata. Weapons are no different. Beyond that, I have to thank my online acquaintances and fellow martial-arts bloggers Jackie Bradbury  and Brian Johns. They’ve shown me what good weapons-work looks like. I’m not saying that I have nothing more to learn about judging weapons, it’s just that I wasn’t completely floundering when I was put into that situation.

The last division I judged were elite level athletes. I was assigned to that ring because one of my examiners thought I could handle it (this was a very high complement considering my dismal performance in the preliminaries the day before). I was judging young men in the peak of physical condition all of whom had more years of training than I. I’m sure they’ve been to more than just local tournaments. Total and complete contrast with me, a slightly-lumpy middle-aged matron who’s only been training for four years. And yet, there I was – sitting in a chair and holding flags for signaling my opinion. But yet I wasn’t nervous. By then I’d been judging all day. I reminded myself that I’ve been watching and evaluating kata at tournaments and in the dojo for quite some time. Not to mention I’ve been fixing my own bad habits and polishing the little details of the kata I’ve learned. So I sat back and enjoyed having a front row seat to some really good kata performances. I had to get very nitpicky with these competitors. Winners won by a hair most of the time.

After all was said and done, someone asked me about my weekend. I replied that it was nerve-wracking, exciting, and educational. I was both prepared and unprepared. I have a lot to learn and I know I will have help when I need it. As far as judging is concerned I consider myself to be the equivalent of a new orange belt (10th kyu – the first belt one tests for in our system). Judging at tournaments is another new role I’ve begun playing since I earned my brown belt (“low brown,” 3rd kyu, three more tests before black). The title of my blog site, “A Beginner’s Journey” is still very relevant!

Diverse Locations Part 2

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.

2) Home

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.

4) Forest

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.

5) Beach

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.


Diverse Locations – Part One

I’ve never been to Japan. I’ve never even so much as trained on tatami mats.  This is the type of dojo that is “traditional.”  But I have trained in a lot of other dojo and each training space has added to my Karate education even if I’ve only spent an hour or two.  Each has contributed to a wealth of memories that I have.  Here’s a rundown of where I’ve trained with others. I’ll post about where I do solo practice in a couple of weeks.

1) A former elementary school classroom

I actually started out in a parks & rec Tang Soo Do program for six weeks in 1983. My parents shoved a catalog at me and told me to find something to do.  Read more here.  The very small school building (built sometime in the 1950s) wasn’t designed for exercise classes but it was adequate.  Mirrors were installed to facilitate dance and karate in one room. The building has since been taken over by a theater group. Last time I was there a couple of years ago I looked into the room where I first learned how to make a fist. The room looked the same.  Memories flooded my mind – I draw on those same memories when I’m teaching new beginners.  I want them to feel empowered and eager to learn more, just like I did.

2) Strip mall dojo

I wasn’t thrilled about doing Karate only twice a week and taking three-week breaks between quarters. My Dad looked into other dojo(s), including the Boeing Employees Karate Association. If he’d chosen BEKA for me I could have been training alongside some of the karateka who are now my sensei. But my Dad felt that a dojo close to our home was a better fit for me, especially because it was run by a lady sensei.

I have to admit that I got spoiled having classes available 3 times per day M-F and a Saturday class. But one huge mistake I made was relying too much on class time for my own development. I now seek balance between my own practice time and time spent in the dojo.

The space was more or less adapted to Karate. A punching bag hung in one corner, and other equipment was stored out in the open. The floor was hardwood and roughly the size of a tournament square (but that would be a tight fit).  The dressing rooms were barely adequate, and there was a small office for the sensei. The lobby was tiny, and that was where I taught “first lesson is free” people and brought beginners up to speed so they could join the beginners class.

Today the entire building is a multilingual school for small children. I peeked in the window and the hardwood floor is still there.

3) Major university

OK, it was only for one class, but it still counts as one of the settings in which I’ve done Karate. I needed PE credit. Fencing was full, so I signed up for World Literature and Karate for the semester. Karate was in a small gym with plenty of space. The sensei knew right away I’d had training. I remember we did kihon kata the first day, which is highly unusual for most dojo(s). I wish I could remember what style was taught.

The next day, I went to my first World Literature class and had an unpleasant surprise. The instructor announced that he’d be teaching English Literature instead. I wasn’t too happy with that. A spot in the Fencing class opened up so I dropped Karate for Fencing and took some other class instead of English Literature.

4) Recreation centers

Sharing space with other exercise groups makes for a whole new dynamic. The sensei and/or the sensei’s organization has to work closely with the rec center’s management. Equipment needs to be stored in locked closets. There are often time constraints because other classes are held before and after Karate, which might be offered only two or three times per week. When I finally joined my daughter at the rec center I learned how to practice on my own. I also learned to supplement my learning by attending seminars, visiting sister dojo(s), going to Gasshuku (camp), Godo Renshu (unity training), and competing in tournaments. Now I take it in stride that Karate is offered only 2-3 times per week.  In fact, if there’s an imbalance between time spent working on my own and time spent in a formal class I feel anxious and restless.

5) Community College

The building where the Karate class meets was built sometime in the 1960’s and sits downhill from most of the other buildings on campus. The building houses locker rooms, a couple of small offices, a team conference room, and a multipurpose room that is used for many exercise classes. The floor of the college’s multipurpose room is hard, slippery rubber so we must set out tournament mats before class and take them up again after class. The square room easily accommodates a ten-meter by ten-meter matted square with plenty of room to spare. We have locked storage and spacious locker rooms with showers. I happen to be employed on campus in the building next door, so after work I have only a short walk between buildings.

Two quarters of Karate are offered for Physical Education credit. My daughter dropped a class and was looking for PE credit, so she signed up for Karate. I kept finding excuses to watch her. She took the two quarters offered then went on to the rec center program. Three sensei and my daughter kept on nudging me to get back on the mats, so I eventually did. I later came to the college dojo to supplement my training at the rec center. Much to my surprise, in February 2016 circumstances put me in the role of senior student. Now that I’m at san-kyu (“low brown” belt) my credentials finally match my role as assistant to the dojo sensei.

Almost every time I lead the opening ceremony at the college dojo, I marvel at how far I’ve come.  I sometimes “see” myself as I was four years ago, sitting on the sidelines eating my heart out.

6) A major employer’s club

Boeing used to have a recreational facility that housed its employee clubs and included a gym, weight room, and an aerobics room. This was where the Boeing Employees Karate Association used to meet from 1987 until last summer. The room was a long rectangle with mirrors along one of the long sides. Best of all was the wood aerobics floor – it was delightfully springy. Alas, what with one thing and another the facility was bulldozed last summer.

Now the dojo meets in a racquetball court at Boeing’s indoor tennis facility. The court is very small and a kiai is deafening what with all the hard surfaces. So we pretend to kiai.  No mirrors, obviously. However, it is a place to meet and that’s what counts.

I’ve been visiting BEKA throughout the last three and a half years and I sometimes think about how close I came to being a part of that dojo some 35 years ago.

7) Hombu Dojo

Our Karate organization’s Hombu Dojo (headquarters) is in Oregon just west of Portland. It’s in a strip mall and has ample space for working out, loads of mirrors, a small spectator area, a nice office, two dressing rooms, and a storage loft. Mats are almost always on the floor except when they are needed elsewhere, such as for the local tournament. It takes me four hours to drive there (three hours of actual driving, one hour for breaks). I’m spending more time there because this dojo hosts brown belt training. I consider the Hombu Dojo to be my home away from home.

8) Yoshida Estate

One of my favorite events of the year is Gasshuku, held at Yoshida Gardenview Estate. Doing Karate outside on a huge green lawn – oh yes, it’s wonderful! The beautiful grounds are nestled in a bend of the Sandy River. Tall trees sigh in the breeze. I’ve heard eagles piping. An artificial waterfall soothes me to sleep at night when I’m snugly tucked into my sleeping bag in my tent counting sore muscles as I fall asleep.

If the weather is inclement, there is an indoor space we can use for workouts. The floor is built over a pit that used to be a swimming pool, so the echoes are pretty loud if someone accidentally stomps their foot. Some of us joke about monster spiders below the floor.

9) Tournaments – college gyms & aerospace museum

Tournaments are often in community college gymnasiums. One gym is pretty much like another. The college where I work and play hosts the state qualifier every year. The first time I was inside the gym was in 1974.  I was all of four years old and had attended preschool at the college. My Mom had earned an AA degree and I watched her graduation ceremony. I distinctly remember her walking by in her cap and gown. The next time I was in that gym was for my high school graduation. I had no idea that 25 years later I’d be watching my daughter in her first tournament, and the year after that I’d be competing myself.

Speaking of having no clue – a few months after I quit Karate in 1987 I saw the “Spruce Goose” aircraft for the first time. If someone told me then that years later I’d be competing in a tournament under the tail of that aircraft I’d have laughed.  An aerospace museum is definitely an interesting venue for a Karate tournament!

10) A garage

Yes, I have trained in a garage.  The 3-car garage has mats, mirrors, and weight machines.  The parking space in front of the house and garage offers more training space.  Uphill sprints can be done on the shared driveway and jogging on the quiet street is pleasant.  Some of the lessons which have had tremendous impact on my Karate have been learned there.

11) Other organizations’ dojo(s)

Sometimes dojo(s) of other organizations host seminars that are open to all karateka.  It’s interesting being a visitor.  Sometimes the space was obviously designed for Karate and sometimes there’s a distinct feeling that the dojo adapted a space as best it could. There might be posh locker rooms and showers or there might be a changing room little bigger than a closet. There might be protocols for opening doors to changing rooms. One might see a chart hanging on a bathroom wall with the names of karateka assigned to specific chores on specific days. Offices might be nonexistent, Spartan, or filled with memorabilia.

The spaces we train in are marvelously diverse. They reflect the diversity of the world of Karate itself. I feel fortunate to have experienced so much. I hope someday to visit online acquaintances at their dojo(s). Maybe someday I’ll train at a dojo in Japan on tatami mats. But even if I never get to experience that, I know there’s plenty of interesting places that will, in their own unique way, help shape my Karate journey even if I only spend a couple of hours there.

I will continue this theme in a couple of weeks by writing about where I practice when I am alone.