Charting My Progress

I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of information about my belt tests. I record when and where I earned rank and who presented me with which new belt. Because one can program spreadsheets to calculate, I have it keeping track of how many days total I’d been training when I earned each belt and how many days elapsed between tests. I decided to make a graph with the total days training on the X axis and the days elapsed between tests on the Y axis. Here’s the result:

Lower left corner is Day 1 of training, upper right corner is the day of my 3rd kyu test.

When I was done I suddenly remembered Jackie Bradbury’s article, “Martial Arts Growth is Not Linear.” I felt foolish for trying to capture my progress in a line graph.  I thought wryly that at least I had learned a great deal about how to efficiently draw a line graph in GIMP (an image editing program).  I was about to give up writing a blog based on this graph.  Then I looked at the shape of the line.  It looked familiar.  I had something to write about after all.


This is Mt. Rainier, a 14,411 foot (4,393 meter) tall dormant volcano. Whenever the weather is clear I see it from my living room window. I had to laugh when I observed that my line looks a bit like Little Tahoma, a “bump” on the side of the mountain.

I haven’t “climbed” much of the “mountain” at all. I have a long steep way to go – and in fact, I will never reach the “summit.” Actually, in martial arts, there is no “summit” – there is only learning until you die or quit. Any analogy breaks down somewhere.

I “stood” on the top of “Little Tahoma” between 8th and 7th kyu. It looks like I coasted along until 5th kyu. Then I hit a challenging slope. The graph ends with my test for 3rd kyu. With tests coming far less frequently in my future, the slope of the line might not continue to mimic Mt. Rainier.

But let’s run with this analogy for awhile.

If you look to the left of the box in the picture of Mt. Rainier, you’ll see I had to climb a bit even before I reached the point that represents the start of my Karate journey. I had to wait for better financial footing before I could join my daughter.  That was my best excuse for quite some time. I thought of myself as too old, too fat, too out of shape. I thought I had to be as young and athletic as I was years ago when I trained, and I knew I was a long way from what I once had been. Once the financial issues were gone, I decided to get back on the mats. I had to overcome a lot to even put on a gi and bow into the dojo for the first time in 27 years. I was intimidated by how much work I had to do to even catch up to where I once was. It turned out I handled it and I am now much further up the “mountain” than I used to be all those years ago.

Tracing the journey on the graph is interesting. It turned out that prior experience helped me rocket through the no-rank white-belt days and the first two kyu ranks. The length of time I spent as 8th kyu was about right for that rank, but I distinctly remember something holding me back. I was intimidated by the upcoming test for 7th kyu. At 7th kyu we tie on a purple belt. That was the color of belt I’d last worn as a teenager. For some reason I thought I did not compare favorably to my younger self, thus I might have consequently hindered my progress. No matter. I sailed right through 7th and 6th kyu.

The line tracing my “mountain” dips down through the purple-belt period, meaning I was taking less and less time between tests. I decided to look back at how I trained during that period. Just from scanning blog posts alone, I see that I did quite a lot outside my “home” dojo. Any one of those activities would give anyone of any rank a boost, but the timing was fortuitous for me. I had just enough understanding of the art to incorporate what I learned. Therefore I was very well prepared for those particular tests.

Some of the opportunities I took advantage from 7th to 5th kyu are closed to me now  but most of them aren’t. I will still benefit from wonderful “extras” like seminars, tournaments, and training alongside those competing at USA Karate Nationals. Sure some doors have closed but one new, very significant door has opened. I will, as often as possible, be attending bi-monthly brown belt training at our organization’s Hombu dojo (about 3 hours drive). My first is in December.

I’m very likely to see the line of the graph climb higher because the tests will be progressively harder and I will, as most karateka, take longer and longer periods of time to prepare for those tests. I already see this in the length of time I spent as 4th kyu.  The chart in the future won’t look exactly like Mt. Rainier, but I find it interesting that thus far there’s a resemblance. I’ve climbed “Little Tahoma,” and enjoyed the little downhill slope. Mind you, I’m not complaining about the climb I’ve started now. Yes, it’s hard work, but the view of where I’ve been is spectacular and I can see some interesting things on the slopes above.

Taking the Heat

Usually the thrift store is a pleasant place to shop. Most of us shoppers are in the same boat – we are, to varying degrees, just trying to make ends meet. Sometimes my fellow shoppers and I will even exclaim something like, “Oh my gosh that vest is perfect for you,” if we see someone waffling over an obvious bargain. In all the years I’ve been shopping at a thrift store that is located in a “bad neighborhood,” I’ve never been in any danger until just the other day. But then again, I rather put my foot in it.

A man in line in front of me was in the middle of his purchase when it was revealed that the sale price did not apply to one of his items. The cashier explained the store’s system of labeling, and the man began to argue.  He didn’t have a sound argument, but that didn’t matter to him. Everyone knows that nobody is so stupid as to not understand how that store’s price tags work, or to get angry because a sign “implied that everything in the bin was on sale,” when clearly it was one of many similar signs scattered throughout the store.  I’ve long since known that adult bullies will say anything and it doesn’t matter if they don’t have a leg to stand on. As long as they stay away from certain words they can later say that they didn’t actually say anything threatening.

Any bully’s words are merely a noise – the real communication is in the tone and in the body language.  The threat was there. The guy wanted the sale price, he wasn’t getting it, so he used his voice and size to intimidate the petite young cashier. The counter between them didn’t offer much protection for her. Timidly the cashier asked if she could process my transaction while they waited for the manager. I only had four items so the bully reluctantly agreed. But he used the extra time to harangue the cashier.

Here’s where I put my foot in. I wanted to give this cashier some breathing room. My intent was to deflect the heat from her while she waited for backup to arrive. I chirped pleasantly at the man, “Did you know that the green tag discount is store wide?” It wouldn’t have made one bit of difference to that guy if I’d said exactly what I said or if I’d called him a filthy name or if I’d said, “I smelled fried fish when I drove past the restaurant.” He turned his wrath on me. He knew my game as well as I knew his. He knew I wasn’t going to allow him to bully the girl. I was getting in between him and what he wanted.  At this point he showed his true colors to all the world. As I went through the motions of purchasing my items I kept watch out of the corner of my eye as he vented his rage at me, and not the petite cashier.

It’s said that women are better at multitasking than men. I don’t know if that’s true, but I am thankful for the ability. Part of me was automatically doing a familiar task – paying for a purchase. Part of me was monitoring the gentleman’s position and body language. Part of me was scanning for other threats – perhaps the gentleman had a friend nearby. Part of me was taming my dark desire to lash out verbally and physically. I controlled my breathing, let go of tension in my body, and repeated the mantra, “Always be the better person. Let him dig his own grave.”

As my transaction was processed, any time that man’s attention turned back to the cashier I drew it away again. A sympathetic, “Hmm, yeah, I can see your point,” and letting him rage at me again. A sigh of aggravation when he dug his own grave even deeper. Everyone nearby had his number by the time the cashier handed me my bag and receipt.

I backed out of the door – no way was I going to turn my back on him. The manager arrived as I crossed the threshold, and I presume security was on its way as well. I took precautions to “disappear” once I was out the door – I sidled along the brick facade away from the glass doors. I then took a roundabout route to my car, keeping other vehicles between me and the glass doors. Pickup trucks, vans, and SUVs blocked me from view perfectly. I breathed a sigh of relief as I slid behind the wheel of my car and locked the doors.

Some of you are thinking to yourselves, “Oh I would have totally let him have it,” and I’ll bet you wouldn’t really, but what you mean is that you understand how I felt. Some of you are scared for my safety and don’t want me to ever put myself in the line of fire again, even if it does help someone else. I understand that. But some of you are appalled at my admission that part of me was hoping that gentleman would try something physical. To you I say: until you’ve been in that situation yourself, you will never know what you will feel. If I denied that emotion, that dark hope, I would be denying that I am a human being. I am not a robot or a Vulcan. In my defense, I kept control over that darkness. I didn’t let it determine what happened. I’m not a scumbag for having that feeling but I would be a scumbag if I let that darkness erupt for no good reason.

So what about this dark hope that the gentleman would try something physical? Where does the desire to crush him come from? Could it stem from times in my life when I was powerless? Maybe it’s because my parents spanked me (I’m rolling my eyes at this)? How about all those years that I was verbally abused in school? Does this darkness stem from long ago having to end ongoing physical abuse by fighting back because absolutely no one else helped me? Is it something left over from evolution, or, if you prefer, sin nature? Improper potty training? A frustrated desire to have, um, relations with the gentleman? Apologies to the late Dr. Sigmund Freud, but I’m howling with laughter now. Ahem. To continue. Does that darkness stem from all of the above? None of the above? Does the origin of this darkness really matter?

Yeah, it does matter – at least insofar as I know where NOT to lay the blame. Sadly, some people would lay the blame squarely on my training.

That dark hope doesn’t come from my Karate training. Training in how to mete out violence does not automatically mean a person will turn evil. That dark glee that can arise at the prospect of fighting someone “for real” is not taught by any of my sensei. It’s something deep within all of us. It can surface during the course of training, particularly when one is being pushed hard during kumite (sparring). But here’s the thing – we are taught self control. We have a safe space, a controlled setting where we sometimes come face to face with the darkness within us. We learn how to conquer it without harm coming to anyone. How can we learn self control if we never are pushed so hard that we feel that darkness rising within us?

I guarantee you that darkness will come out to play when you are confronted with a real situation that has the potential to escalate, even if you’re not capable of taking someone down.  If I had no training whatsoever, I’d still want to destroy that person.  If I’d had no training I wouldn’t have had much self control.  I’d have fought back not by manipulating the guy, but by screaming and posturing.  The encounter would not have ended well.  But because I’ve faced my dark side in a safe setting, that dark hope is not unknown. It doesn’t scare me or control me. I know I can choose not to escalate.

Yes I escalated the situation in the thrift store a bit but that was to take the heat away from someone who was not equipped to handle it. Keeping the bully’s interest without making the situation worse was a fine line to walk.  That man was most definitely doing what author Rory Miller refers to as “The Monkey Dance,” so I knew I was playing with fire.  The outcome was good, fortunately.  Even so, I paid the price. I had a doctor appointment shortly after I left the store and the evidence of the encounter was very obvious. I was shaking from the adrenaline and my blood pressure was up a little. Fortunately it went down by the end of the visit. I saw a new doctor who doesn’t know me from Adam, and the clinic didn’t have my records yet, so just to be on the safe side I have to go back another day to have my blood pressure taken yet again.

The darkness whispers that it’d be fun to try out some of those cool joint-shattering techniques, but the aftermath of even the whisper of darkness is anything but fun. I don’t like it. I also had to process some other emotions when I got home. Self doubt. A desire to never go back to that store again. Just plain exhaustion – mental and physical. Yeah, I cried. I didn’t sleep well that night. Could’ve, would’ve, and should’ve haunted me. But it was worth it to help that cashier get a bit of breathing room.

As for the bully… I actually do hope that someday we could sit down over a beer and discuss how peace and harmony is better for one’s health. Go ahead and call me a naïve, starry-eyed dreamer. I can’t even begin to imagine the toll such rage takes on that man’s body and I truly hope that he doesn’t have a heart attack. That’s exactly where he’s headed. I feel sorry for him and for those who care about him (hopefully someone does). I hold nothing against him save that he intimidated that young girl. But I’ll still keep a wary eye out for him around town. Forgiveness, after all, doesn’t mean one should become stupid and blind!

Unwittingly this gentleman furnished me with a blog post at a time when I was facing a bit of “writer’s block.” Ironically, perhaps I owe him one.

For further reading:  Conflict Communication: A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication by Rory Miller.


Gasshuku 2017 – The Beginning of a New Phase

Our annual Gasshuku (“Karate Camp”) at the beautiful Yoshida Gardenview Estate  was, as usual, challenging and very educational. I have a lot to reflect on and a lot to work on. Not just techniques but I also will be growing into a new role. I don’t want to downplay the seminars so I’ll start off with that.

Our guest instructor was Sensei (instructor) Elisa Au Fonseca. Others have done a better job of outlining what she brings to the table, so I’ll just refer you to this website. Ohhhh yes. Not only is she quite accomplished, not only is she training for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, where Karate will be part of the Games for the very first time, but she also is an excellent teacher. The emphasis this weekend was on kumite (sparring). We had loads of drills that everyone thoroughly enjoyed. Those drills will be showing up in dojo-s (Karate schools) in the months and years to come, let me tell you. I appreciated how Sensei Elisa built the skills over time. One of our own sensei and another highly ranked sensei from another organization gave Sensei Elisa a break on Saturday and taught half a session each. They built on her material and, next session, she took it from there so as to maintain a continuity throughout the weekend. We had high caliber instruction, as always 🙂

This year we welcomed guest students and sensei (plural) from other organizations. I had the pleasure of speaking Jaspenglish (Japanese, Spanish, and English) with a student from Mexico. Getting acquainted with a group from Walla Walla was fun. But what really touched my heart was being able to train with students from McMinneville, Oregon. I’ve only ever seen them and competed against them at tournaments, so being able to experience the comradeship of being students together and helping one another learn was wonderful.

I recognized the culture shock when one guest student asked another karateka (one who studies karate) and me about how we in the karate organization I belong to refer to our sensei (plural) and sensei from other organizations. When I studied as a teenager I was in an organization that uses the same titles as the organization that this karateka belongs to. Because of that experience as a youngster I could understand the confusion and, yes, concern. I deal with cultural differences all the time at work so explaining our traditions was no big deal to me.  I hope I set the other karateka’s mind at ease. We mean no disrespect; we simply have traditions that are different.

OK, now back to simply being students together and helping one another learn. I had the pleasure of sometimes being paired up with sensei (plural), some of whom have instructed me at one time or another. I have great memories to look back on with two in particular. The sensei who was in charge of my old home dojo hasn’t worked with me in several months, ever since that dojo was shut down. He and I gleefully pushed each other as hard as we could go during a few drills. On Sunday morning, College Sensei and I worked together for a good while. I’ve been so busy being his student, his assistant, or his uke for demonstrations that we’ve hardly ever drilled together. I’m really glad to have real live examples of karateka who don’t stop learning once they tie on a black belt and who aren’t too proud to work with their kohai (karateka who are lower ranked than oneself).

Speaking of kohai, I think one thing I could’ve done better with at camp was to work more often with them. This was driven home to me on Sunday morning. We were to form groups of six and somehow I ended up with five children. Groups of people did a drill where one person was up front, the rest in line taking turns attacking, then the person up front gets to join the line after everyone has had a turn. That kind of drill really eats up time and our group was the slowest. Whenever I was waiting in line I saw other groups really pushing each other hard and having tons of noisy fun. I reminded myself that sometimes I have to be the senpai (senior in rank). I’m good with kids and it was my turn to be a leader; the one who challenged them to be better. It just so happened that I was the last person to stand up at the front of my line. All the other groups were finished by then so all eyes were on me as the kiddos took their turns coming at me.

Those who know me well felt free to indulge in a little silliness. They cheered me on exactly as they would if I were fighting in a tournament. I did hear a compliment on my control. After everything was over one wag joked, “I dunno, Joelle, it just seems like you weren’t giving that fight everything you’ve got.”  🙂

This kind of camaraderie means the world to me. I come to Gasshuku not just to improve my Karate, but also to hang out with other karateka and build my network of friends and acquaintances. We need one another in order to grow in our art.

Speaking of growth, in the first paragraph of this post I hinted that I have a new role to grow into. Friday evening I took the hardest Karate test I’ve ever taken.  There was a significant change in format this time, and I dealt with it.  My performance and what happened during the course of the test was not at all what I expected. One aspect of my Karate that I thought of as a weak area was quite solid, one part of the test was over way more quickly than I’d anticipated, and my performance was definitely sub-par in the area which is usually my strongest. I barely passed the test because of that weak performance. It’s strange, but I actually find it refreshing that I very nearly was asked to try again at the next opportunity. It means this test was well and truly challenging. Not that the previous tests haven’t been challenging, it’s just that this test was, by design, almost beyond my ability. And I passed that test. I now wear a brown belt.  The Japanese term for that rank is san-kyu, which means I have three more increasingly tougher tests to pass before I tie on a black belt.

A new phase in my training has begun. There are higher expectations. I will be going to brown belt training.  I will be given training in how to be an instructor. I’ve a bit of a jump on this already from training as a teenager and from helping at College Dojo and in my old and new home dojos. But I still have a lot to learn and I’m looking forward to being trained to be the best sensei I can be. I am now eligible to earn credentials to be a referee at tournaments. Tests will be far less frequent and will really kick my butt. I’m looking forward to the longer stretches of time between tests – it means I can go deeper into the kata (forms) I’ve already learned and get a solid start on each new kata. I’ll have loads of time to fix bad habits and develop new bad habits (and fix them in turn, LOL). My new role started immediately Saturday morning at camp.

In just about anyone’s system, brown is at or very near the top of the colored-belt heap, so everyone recognizes that the color Means Something. Children, especially little girls, often looked at me with wide-eyed wonder. Yep, I definitely have a responsibility to be a good role model. I gotta love the kohai – because of the color of my belt the adult and teenage kohai sometimes came at me with zero control over their techniques because they assumed I could handle whatever they bring. It’s OK. I have done and, well, um, sometimes I still accidentally do the same thing. Most of the time I can easily “read” these kohai and get the heck out of their way or block them, so it’s all good. Sensei and brown belts more senior to me have always had high expectations of me, and now they have even higher expectations. Yep, it’s a whole new world.

So am I still a beginner? My belt rank says I’m not a beginner. Or am I? Yes I am – I’m beginning a new phase in my training. I still have a lot to learn. I’m not a black belt yet. But even when I do achieve Shodan (1st degree black belt) I will still be a beginner – it’ll be a new beginning. I will always be a beginner because I will always be open to learning new things. I will begin, and begin again, and again. Karate is a lifetime study, so I will always preserve the mindset of a beginner. The title of this blog, “A Beginner’s Journey,” isn’t going to change.


Here’s some cool drone footage of a sparring drill at camp – half session taught by a guest sensei.

8 Reasons Why Mom Should Practice a Martial Art

I hear you saying, “What, me sign up for martial arts lessons? No way!” I see your never-ending “to do” list and your full calendar. Hey, I know how rough it is to have at least two kids in diapers – been there, done that, got the T-shirt with the spit-up and who-knows-what-else stains. Here’s the thing – you don’t have to be a national champion and you don’t have to burn through all the ranks in one year or even three. That can wait until your kids are older. Your body and your mind can’t wait. They need activity so go ahead and leave the laundry and the running noses. All that will still be there when you get back from class. Just be sure to give Dad his getaway time too. Believe me, your children would rather have you sane than irritable and snappish. And yes, I do know what it’s like to start a martial art as a slightly lumpy, middle aged, and out of shape mother of teenagers. And if your kids are in martial arts class, why not join them instead of sitting there playing with your phone waiting for them to finish?

Here’s 8 reasons why Mom should practice martial arts…

8) Adult students are rare and usually a very welcome addition to the class.  Don’t get me wrong, teaching kids is rewarding.  But speaking as someone who helps out with newbies and lower-ranked students, I enjoy helping a variety of ages.  And it’s kinda hard for an instructor to get experience teaching a variety of ages if all the students are children.  Kids benefit a lot from training alongside adults.  For the most part adults model appropriate behavior and that helps an instructor no end.  Kids who are more senior in rank get a kick out of helping and working with adults.  I had the pleasure of teaching new adult students when I was a teenager and now I treasure the youngsters who outrank me!  An adult who treats a child with respect is a blessing if that child doesn’t fit in well with his or her peer group at school.  You are needed.

7) With a huge variety to choose from, more likely than not there’s a martial art out there that will fit you. It’s not my place to say what the best martial art for you is. Do some research, try a few free lessons. If you find an art and a school that clicks with you, you will learn your lessons better and you’ll be more likely to stick with it. You need to look forward to your lessons. If the classes are a drag try a different school or art.  You should be having fun, and yes, you should feel like whatever martial art you choose is the best in the world 🙂

6) You can practice a martial art with your children. Say what? Yes, it can be done. But during class you have to let the instructor do the parenting, especially in a traditional karate dojo (school) where there is a hierarchy of authority. Starting together means you can practice the same things at home. If you start after your child, let your child help you at home – the role reversal can be delightful for both you and your child. Don’t be surprised, though, if you outlast your child and your child moves on to other things while you continue with your martial art. This is very common and means nothing more than your child is forging his or her own identity.

5) Martial arts are more than just a workout. There’s problems to solve, like how to escape an arm bar or how to string techniques together. You’ll have goals to reach – for instance earning the next belt or refining a form. Not to mention you’ll hang out with a diverse group of some really great people. Every mother needs exercise, mental stimulation, accomplishments of her own, and some time to interact with adults. Martial arts are a time-efficient way of gathering these benefits and more. One hour of Karate class time to me equals three hours of other activities – like, say, reading a book, hanging out with friends, and jogging.

4) Adults reap the same benefits as children! Read any article out there on how martial arts are good for kids and put yourself into the article. Are there areas of your life where you could use a bit more self discipline? Do you want to be a great role model for your children? The discipline of practicing a martial art benefits mind, body and spirit and keeps one from stagnating.

3) You will age more gracefully if you keep up your martial arts studies for as long as possible. Look up some of the more “seasoned” warriors and you’ll see what I mean. Along with the rest of the body martial arts work out your vestibular system (responsible for maintaining your balance) and your core muscles. You will be less prone to falling and most likely your back will stay straight. You can’t stop the inevitable but studies show that you can slow it. Your continued good health puts less of a burden on your children.  I helped my mother with my grandparents, so I know what I’m talking about.

2) Middle-aged lady hormonal changes are the worst and they usually hit at a time when you need to be the best parent you can be. At perimenopause us women turn into freaky wild-eyed hags, our periods are hell, and at the same time… cough, cough… um… To put it delicately I have a lot more sympathy for young men than I‘ve ever had in my life. Exercise helps all that on a physical level, but there’s more. It’s true that karate has been an outlet for my inner harpy but it’s also given me the mental discipline to overcome the emotional/hormonal weirdness when it wafts through my psyche. My husband and nearly-grown children don’t mind my Karate-related absences. They know I’ll be easier to live with in between classes.

1) You are your children’s body guard. Most women know this instinctively. Awareness, instinct, and adrenaline count for a lot, but wouldn’t it be nice to have more tools to use in a crisis situation? Do you know exactly where and how to hit someone who is grabbing your child? Do you really have time to dig around in your diaper bag for the mace and is your child in the line of fire? It’s easy for me to be an armchair quarterback and to say I would do this or do that, but I do know that I’ve had training in shattering joints and a smattering of training fighting off more than one attacker and in cooperating with others to take someone down. I have tools pounded into my muscle memory – and that is what martial arts training gives you. Hours of sweating and drilling turn into something your body can do automatically if needed. I hope I never have to use these tools to save one of my kiddos, but it’s good to know that I have them.

Still not convinced? Read more articles on my blog and see what I’ve gained. I re-started Karate at the age of 44 knowing full well what I’d be getting into because I’d studied as a teen. I wish I’d started sooner. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re too busy, too out of shape, too old, too this, too that. Just join your children in their class or find a martial art that fits you and start. It’s a lot of fun.

This post was inspired by a mix of happenstances.  After a woman in his community was raped, Greg Sommers-Herivel offered a month of free Karate instruction to local women. I knew many women would not take him up on his generous offer because they feel like mothering would get in the way.  Then “Super” Dan Anderson shared this rather good article on Facebook, “7 Reasons Why Your Child Should Practice Martial Arts“by Eric C Stevens.  A mother commented on how much benefit her son was getting from his martial art and I replied, “And now for 7 Reasons Why Mom Should Practice Martial Arts.”  Roseanne Mussar saw the comment I’d left and suggested I write this article.  Thank you, everyone!

To The Beach

After work and lunch on a day when I didn’t have Karate class, I found myself dreading the exercise and practice I needed. It isn’t unusual for me to fight the attractions of computer, couch, and bed, but that day it was hitting me hard. I was still sore from an intensive workout two days prior, even with a recovery day. I decided what I needed was a change of scenery. I got into the car and drove to my favorite local park.

I was dismayed to see so many vehicles, and I almost didn’t get a parking space. However I knew most people wouldn’t opt for the “primitive” trails down the steep bluff to the beach below. Water bottle in hand, I strode confidently down the wooded trail. I saw no one. I broke into a jog, water bottle sloshing and gurgling in my hand, feet drumming the bare earth.

I noticed that I was very confidently placing my feet to avoid tree roots. Years ago when I first discovered this park, I would never have rocketed down the steep primitive trail at a jog. I admit it is hazardous, and a misstep could result in serious injury. There’s vegetation to stop a fall, but… Tree trunks are hard, and underbrush scratches. Rescue would involve a specialized team, lots of rope, and a hand-carried stretcher for at least a quarter mile. I let go of my fear, trusted my eyes and feet, and enjoyed breathing in the rich forest air.

I only encountered two people on my jog down to the beach. They were young women with milk-chocolate brown skin, covered head to foot in brightly colored clothes. I must have looked very strange to them – tank top, shorts, pale as a corpse, middle-aged, muscled and sweating. Nonetheless, as they moved aside and I flew past we greeted one another with smiles and quick pleasantries.

The trail I chose had a short but intense uphill stretch before plunging down the bluff again. I sprinted up this, slowing to a walk near the top. I was disappointed I couldn’t jog the whole slope. I reckoned that last summer (July 2016) I probably could’ve done it. I got control of my breathing and told myself I was still doing well especially compared to most women my age.

Soon I came out to the paved trail and the stairs down to the beach. There’s anywhere from 101 to 105 stairs depending on how much sand is piled at the bottom of the tower. Before I knew it I was at the beach. Immediately I found a driftwood log at the perfect height for some inclined push ups. I did a few, knowing I’d do more arm work in class the next day. Then I scouted out the beach for a spot for kata (forms) practice.

I picked up a fragment of a large barnacle and stowed it in my fanny pack as a reminder to myself that no matter how frustrated I get with my weak areas, I’m not like a barnacle. Barnacles just sit in their shells all day long, never going anywhere. All they do is kick food into their mouths. Too many people are like barnacles, I mused as I jogged towards an empty stretch of sand. I don’t stay in a little shell. I don’t like being out of my comfort zone but I recognize that’s the only way I’ll grow.

After about a quarter mile I was sufficiently far from my fellow human beings so as to be more or less alone. I did a few abdominal exercises in the warm sand, then started practicing kata. I did the six advanced kata I’ve memorized. Up the beach about 50 yards (roughly 50 meters) away, a guy was on his cell phone. Down the beach 50 yards away, a mom, two kids and a dog were enjoying their day. On the water a motorboat idled by. I don’t think anyone really cared much about what I was doing.

Kata is very different when you’re not barefoot on hardwood floor or foam mats. Add a slight slope, sand, and patches of round rocks, and you bet you have to adapt. My balance was tested many times. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to pull off the kata named Rohai Shodan with only one wobble. In that kata, one has to get into sagi ashi dachi (crane stance – yes, on one leg) three times. The advantage of practicing kata on sand is that one gets to see the embusen (floor pattern). For the kata I’ve most recently memorized, I moved to a “virgin” stretch of sand. I was pleased that the marks in the sand matched the embusen I’d envisioned.

I felt good, much better than I had felt before I grabbed my car keys. I used driftwood logs for some stretches, the warm sand for others. I enjoyed the sparkle of the sun on the water, the smell of ocean in the air. Then, yes, I had to get back up those 100+ stairs and then that steep bluff trail.

The colorfully-dressed young women I met earlier were sitting on a log near the stair tower. I grinned at them and remarked, “It’s worth the walk, isn’t it?” They agreed and laughed. They commented they had gotten a little lost on the way down, and I advised them to take the paved trail back up.  I wished them a good day, then started climbing.

I was going at a slower pace and my feet didn’t need much of my attention. I enjoyed the rich green smell of the forest in summer. I listened to the birds and to what they were saying about each other, about me, and about other intruders in their territories. Based on the bird calls, I tried to locate the other intruders with my ears… There! One faint voice – a woman’s. I know the trails well, so I knew approximately where we’d pass each other.

Twenty seconds later, a dog rounded a corner followed closely by a second dog. I cooed to them, then they took off up the trail, no doubt to alert their owner. Shortly thereafter, I could hear her quite clearly, and my suspicions were confirmed when she came into sight – I saw she was indeed talking on her cell phone. Her dogs had assessed me and dismissed me as harmless long before my presence registered with her. She was startled to see me standing quietly by the side of the trail even though we had been in full view of each other for three seconds.

After the lady and her dogs passed me I pushed my pace just a little harder just to get my heart rate up a little so I could practice controlling my breathing. I used the bird sounds as my guide to how hard to push, being careful not to pant and drown out even the slightest rustlings in the underbrush. It paid off. I turned my head at a rustle, stopping to see what creature was there. A squirrel and I stared at each other. He started twitching his tail, trying to decide if silence or scolding would be better. Eventually he concluded I wasn’t a threat, and so began foraging for new leaves. Tiny branches bent under his weight and he nearly slipped. His recovery was funny and noisy. I laughed and continued up the trail.

I was at the top of the bluff when I realized that I felt like the climb had been almost effortless. I was stunned. I remembered years ago I was always absolutely worn out by that climb. I knew three years of Karate had improved my physical fitness, but exactly how huge the change had been didn’t hit me until that moment.

On the way back to the car, I reflected back on my workout. At first blush, I didn’t see that I’d done much Karate. 6 kata practiced once each. Hmm… Doesn’t sound like much. But then again, there’s more to karate than kihon (basics), kumite (sparring) and kata. I worked on footwork during my jog down the trail. I was polite when I met people who were from a culture not my own – politeness is in our dojo kun (school creed) that we recite at the beginning and end of each class. I pushed myself physically and measured my progress. I trained myself in observation and breath control. Most of all, I found and successfully implemented a solution for my initial inertia and angst – in other words, I exercised self discipline. Did I have a Karate workout in the woods and on the sunny beach? You bet I did. I hope to do it again soon.