Three Year Karateversary

Click here to read about my First Karateversary

Click here to read about my Second Karateversary

Three years of adventure and growth – time flies when you’re having fun!

For the past two “karateversary” blog posts I’ve re-capped how I spent my day.  I’ll get to that.  This has been a year of huge changes for me and there might be more coming in my fourth year.  I want to do some comparing and contrasting first.

My daughter was training alongside me during my first year of training.  However, about a month into my second year, she opted to pursue other things.  I’ve heard this sort of thing is common for parents who pursue a martial art alongside their offspring.

I wrote in my first “karateversary” post…

“I’ve earned rank and medals.  I’m a dojo (karate school) representative on the Board of Directors for fundraising activities and special events.  My body is much stronger.  I’ve learned more about myself than I ever imagined I could…”

All this is still true two years later.  I’ve earned rank and medals.  As of this calendar year I’m an officer on the Board of Directors (the Secretary – perfect considering my professional background).  I’m getting stronger and I’m still learning about myself.

Both years I wrote about other dojos being a part of my Karate education.  During my second “karateversary” post I wrote about the fun I had at “Faraway Dojo.”  I used to visit that dojo bimonthly, but lately that hasn’t been feasible for me.  I have a full training schedule.  In fact, except for College Dojo, I haven’t spent much time at other dojos in recent months.  I’ll touch the surface of why below.

College dojo was featured prominently in both past “karateversary” blog posts.  I’m still helping with the college Karate Physical Education class, at least until the end of the current quarter.  There’s good news and bad news about College Dojo.  For the upcoming Fall Quarter (2017) the class will meet during a much better time slot.  Unfortunately that time slot conflicts with my work schedule.  I have only two more classes.  I will miss being involved with that class, but I’m hoping that a better time slot will lead to more students.  I’d love to see that happen!  Who knows, maybe some day I can be a part of that class again.  But for now, I have to let go and add more self-directed practice time.

For the past three years this blog has been peppered with references to other dojos within the karate organization my “home” dojo belongs to.   My visits to these dojos slowed down during the Fall of 2016.  I stayed close to “Home Dojo” until that dojo was shut down by the host facility near the end of November 2016.  A sister dojo took me and other Old Home Dojo karateka in with open arms.  I’ve sometimes referred to this dojo as “Affiliate YMCA Dojo,” or “Sister Dojo  #1.”   It is my new home.

I haven’t had much time for visiting other dojos because I’m getting a lot of training at my new home dojo.  I get 6+ hours per week of dojo time there.  If you add in the 2 hours per week at College Dojo plus the long drive time to my new home dojo, that’s a pretty big chunk of my life.  I will still see the karateka from the other sister dojos from time to time.  I will still be able to train with them at seminars, gasshuku, godo renshu, etc.  But I think my shoes are finally nailed to the floor.

There have been shifts and changes in where I train, and what it boils down to is I’m actually where I ought to be.  I am an intermediate-level student about to take the next step forward.  I’ve helped out at College Dojo quite a lot since February 2016, when I suddenly found myself in the role of senior student.  At Old Home Dojo I rose to the position of second-highest-ranked student, and therefore I had a responsibility to help new beginners and my other kohai (more junior students) during Old Home Dojo’s last months.  All that teaching and helping has been and will be scaled back considerably.  I do get opportunities to help my kohai at New Home Dojo.  But after Spring Quarter ends, I will go back to spending the vast majority of my karate time either practicing or learning.  This is in keeping with my current rank (4th kyu).  I am content with this.

I am preparing for my next belt test.  I don’t know when I will be told that I need to test.  It’s a big jump because the test will be more difficult.  Frankly I’m not in any hurry.  Don’t get me wrong, if Sensei says I need to make plans to test at the next opportunity, I will say (or squeak) “Osu!” (“Yes, Sir!”) and go take the test.  But I just want some time to fix and refine some things.  I’m enjoying the longer stretches between tests.

Training in how to teach Karate will be emphasized during the next few years (from 3rd kyu until Shodan).  I’m a little ahead of that game due to prior experience as a teenager and from helping at Old Home Dojo and College Dojo.  But there’s so much more I need to learn!

After I earn my next rank I will be eligible to earn certification for judging at tournaments.  I’ve already begun attending as many referee seminars as I can, and I’ve studied the WKF rules off and on.  It’s taking quite awhile for all the new information to sink in, so I’m starting early.

It will be interesting to look back on this post a year from now.

Now, here’s how I spent my “karateversary.”

Usually on Saturday mornings I go to my New Home Dojo.  I’ll maybe catch the last half of Zumba then I’ll work on my arms and abs while the ladies chat for awhile after class.  When the room is empty, I shuck my shoes and get to work on karate stuff.  This morning was different.  I’ve been feeling run down since Tuesday.  I also haven’t slept well as my special needs daughter has been struggling with allergies in the wee hours of the morning.  I decided the weather was perfect for practicing kata in the garage.  Instead of spending time driving (about 20 minutes one way with no traffic), I took a nap.  I woke up refreshed and ready to go.

The weather was cloudy and cool (59 F, 15 C).  Just the way I like it.  I wore shorts and a T-shirt, knowing that I would quickly work up a sweat.  I set my keys, notes, and water bottle down on a table.  I moved aside some bamboo I have drying for craft projects and started right in with the first kata (form) we learn.  I couldn’t kiai (loud shout) because I didn’t know if the neighbors would be disturbed by it.  I finished up the first kata of 18 that I’ve memorized – so far so good.  My heart rate was up and a light sweat was beginning.  A sip of water, some deep breathing, and I started with the second basic kata.  I discovered a bad habit – my blocks were sloppy.  How long have I been practicing this kata?  Three years!  Yike.  I went through it slowly and with better form.  Then full speed.  I’ll have to be mindful of this in the future.

I worked my way through the basic and intermediate kata (plural).  At one point, I heard a hawk twittering.  At the end of the kata I was working on I took a little break and watched it glide and swoop in the breeze.  Back to work.  There are three kata that originated with the style I’m studying (Shindo Jinen-ryu).  I’ve memorized two of them, and am itching to learn the third.  I spent a good bit of time hammering those into my memory.  I saw the neighbor across the street watching me.  It’s OK, he understands this Karate “thing.”

As I worked through an advanced kata I realized my practice wasn’t entirely risk-free.  I caught my left hand on the wire that disengages the garage-door opener.  I have a small sore spot.  As I practiced another advanced kata I was bothered by some weeds that were growing in cracks in the driveway, so I hacked those down.  It occurred me that I could whack weeds in between kata.  So now I have a small blister from the tool I was using, but a lot of obnoxious weeds are cut down to size.  Oh, and I have no idea how my legs will feel in the morning – they’ll probably be sore.  Again.  That’s usual for me these days.  I’m getting stronger.

Thursday night, the Dojo Sensei (the school’s head instructor) told each of us students which kata to work on.  He assigned Seienchin to four 3rd-1st kyu karateka (higher ranking students).  When he came to me, he just asked me out of the blue, “Would you like to learn Seienchin (an advanced kata)?”  Did I ever!  Then he assigned another sensei to be my tutor.  For awhile my senpai (senior students) surrounded me as the sensei taught, so that was very cool!  They eventually drifted off to practice on their own, that’s fine.  I had lots of fun.  Friday, I watched videos online, chose my favorite, and took notes.  Today, I tested out those notes.

I was glad I’d stayed home instead of going to the rec center because I was able to go inside and look at the video when my notes didn’t make sense.  Actually my notes were pretty good, so I only made a couple of changes.  I forgot to note where the kiai are – oops!  I made myself memorize half the kata than stopped.  I prefer to build a kata piecemeal when I’m learning it – memorize each segment before moving on to the next.  I’ve only been learning Seienchin for three days and I love it.

I was about ready to close and lock the garage door when I realized I hadn’t run through the most important kata to me right now – the one I will be tested on at my next belt test.  Oh snap.  I ran through it a couple of times.  I chopped a few more weeds and then I was done.  I’d put in a good solid 90 minutes on a total of 18 kata and even got a little yard work done.

Back to comparing and contrasting!  At the three year mark I have 17 kata memorized and am working on memorizing the 18th.  Last year, I had 13 kata memorized.  The year before that, I had eight kata memorized.  Notice I don’t say I know a kata.  I’m still finding out things about the very first basic kata.  I don’t really know any of my kata all that well.  Kata is a lifetime study, really.  And I’m really looking forward to learning and refining the kata that I memorized in the year to come!

Tournament 5/13/17

Yep, it’s time for another tournament blog post!  In past tournaments I’ve been easily the best, I’ve been definitely the worst, I’ve won or lost by a hair, and I’ve been the dark horse.  Heck, the tournament before this one I was injured and didn’t even compete –I just volunteered.  I’ve learned from every single tournament experience.  What happened this time?  What did I learn?  Read on!

Three days before the tournament (5/13/17) I was crawling around unhooking mats after class.  I hadn’t performed all that well while sparring a few days before, and it was on my mind.  Suddenly it hit me.  Each mat is one square meter.  Opponents start sparring from starting positions that are two meters apart.  Two meters is not a big distance, especially if both opponents move towards each other at the same time.  I realized I’d been treating two meters as if it were a much greater distance, hence my bad habit of moving in with, well… nothing.

It was one of those moments when I felt really foolish, but at the same time I was relieved.  I had identified a problem, and that’s half the battle of fixing it.  I felt even more foolish when I remembered all those drills in covering distance that we’d done in class.  I quickly turned to more positive thinking – at least I had some tools in my toolbox.  Three days before a tournament is not the time to try to fill an empty toolbox!

The tournament was so small we had only two rings and finished in about four hours.  It was so small that all intermediate and advanced women aged 18 and older were in the same division.  I knew my fellow competitors, so I knew I was most definitely the lowest ranked and the only Intermediate-level competitor.  I’m always thrown in with Advanced, so I didn’t mind that.  What threw me for a little bit of a loop was the tournament was so small that we were able to perform kata one competitor at a time instead of two competitors at the same time.  I was grateful I was performing in the second round because I had never practiced making the formal entrance for solo performance – this is usually for advanced and elite divisions.  I paid close attention to how this is done, and I’m pretty sure I did everything correctly even though I’d never entered the ring that way before.

I wish I could say my kata (form) was my best tournament performance to date, but alas, I stumbled.  I never stumble in that particular part of the kata that I was performing, and I do practice on mats periodically.  I didn’t feel particularly rattled by having to enter the ring in a different manner, so I don’t think I can blame it on that.  General nervousness?  I dunno – I’ve been to so many tournaments and belt tests that I’m not sure it bothers me anymore…  Fatigue?  After getting up ridiculously early and driving for three hours, I admit I was tired…  No, I can’t say it was fatigue that made me stumble because my kumite (sparring) was good considering the circumstances and my rank.

Only three of us ladies opted for kumite.  I was most definitely the lowest ranked.  Still, I made a good showing in the first round against the second-highest ranked lady.  I lost 8 to 6.  I recently wrote

There are people who enjoy working on cars so much that they will take a car’s engine out, take it apart, clean it, replace everything that’s worn out, and put it back together again.  That’s what I want to do with my sparring.

I think I’ve made some progress in that regard, but there’s still more work to do.  This tournament, I was in love with the realization that two meters isn’t all that big a distance, so almost every time I came off the line, it was with guns blazing.  Of course my opponent eventually figured out how to deal with me and came out on top.  If I remember correctly all four corner judges were sensei (instructors, plural) from both College and Home dojos.  Yes, feedback was given and bucket-loads of work will commence very soon.  I don’t mind.  Onward and upward!  That said, I got some compliments that I will treasure.

When medals were awarded, I stood by the sidelines cheering until my name was called to receive my third place kumite medal (there were only three of us competing in kumite, LOL).  As I stood in line with my fellow competitors, I was a little bit in awe of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with these ladies, all of whom are more highly ranked than I am.  I train with two and am acquainted with the others, and I felt very privileged indeed to have competed with them.

After changing out of my sweaty, stinky gi (uniform) I sat in the stands to munch snacks and watch the rest of the tournament.  I mostly watched the judging teams working together.  Six days prior to the tournament I’d attended my third refereeing seminar, and one thing that was emphasized was the role of the Kansa (Match Supervisor).  I watched closely, but I really didn’t see that any given kansa had to do anything.  This is a good thing, it means the judging teams were working well together.  I enjoyed watching them.

There is one group of competitors that really stood out for me – the beginner/novice men.  Three guys – one maybe in his early 20’s, two maybe in their early 30’s.  At least one was a daddy.  While these three beginner men were practicing right before their division started, I had to resist the urge to go down to them.  They didn’t need a senpai (senior student) telling them what to fix, they just needed to get warmed up and steady their nerves for what might have been their first tournament.  As I laughed at myself I realized that I wanted these men to succeed.  Adult students are precious to a dojo, and these guys had the guts to try something new at a time of life when most men and women start spending less time on physical fitness.  I remembered some quote I can’t find now – something along the lines of “be the guy that other people want to see succeed, and you will succeed.”  I for one want them to succeed, and something tells me they will.  All they knew were their latest kata – one man performed the very first basic kata we learn.  They were challenging and stretching themselves.  One of my sensei pointed out (privately) to me that I could have challenged myself by performing the latest kata I’ve learned.  I immediately thought of those three beginner men.  Yes, there are things we can learn from our kohai (students who are lower-ranked than oneself).

OK, sure, I have only one third-place medal given to me because there were only three competitors in my division for kumite.  Everyone knows I lost in both kata and kumite.  But I gained a lot. As I jotted notes down and started the draft of this blog post, I realized that I am starting to learn more from each tournament.  The days before and the days after a tournament are a part of the experience too, and those days influence future development.  I also learned I am more capable than I thought even though I still have a lot of things to learn and improve on.  Last but not least, I learned that our kohai can be good examples for us.

I am feeling less intimidated about testing for my next belt.  No, I don’t know when I’m testing – I will test when my Dojo Sensei says I’m ready.  This next test will be significantly harder than any belt test I have previously taken, but this tournament has shown me that I am making progress.  It was a yardstick for me to measure myself with, and I am satisfied with the results.  Now – back to the dojo.  Back to sweat, back to hard work, and back to sore muscles.  I have lots of things to work on!

Spirit

It’s not unusual for me to lead warm-ups at College Dojo (a community college Physical Education class).  At such times, College Sensei (instructor) might take attendance, get equipment out, consult with people who are sick or injured, or do other tasks he needs to do.  If he finishes quickly, he might then quietly go to the back of the class and follow along with us or warm up on his own.  Other times, College Sensei will take the space in line that I just vacated and he’ll do whatever calisthenics I have the rest of the class doing.  Recently when College Sensei took the sempai (most highly-ranked student) position in the lines and I took his place in front of the class, half my brain was involved in choreographing, leading, and doing the warm-ups.  The other half of my brain was engaged in observing and analyzing.  I noticed things I never noticed before.

During the early weeks of each quarter, the vast majority of the college students taking this Karate physical education class are still not used to acknowledging commands with a loud “Osu!” (in this context it’s the equivalent of “Yes, Sir!”) and they don’t quite know how to echo the Japanese counting of each repetition of the warm-up exercises.  New students need second-quarter students and more highly ranked karateka (those who study Karate) to model these behaviors.  Recently, College Sensei was in “my” spot in line and he was doing an admirably spirited job of modeling dojo (Karate school) etiquette.

I have to admit, hearing College Sensei, one of the more highly ranked karateka in our organization, shouting “Osu!” in response to my commands was, to me, both a little jarring and a tiny bit amusing. Given the vast disparities in rank, experience, knowledge, and ability between him and I it’s like a sergeant giving orders to a general!  I hadn’t really noticed my internal response to this situation before.  Maybe I’ve led warm ups so often that I now can devote some brain power towards internal reflection and observation.

As I listened and observed while sweating along with the class, I started feeling grateful for College Sensei’s spirited modeling of behavior.  I noticed the class growing more confident in responding with “Osu!” More students tried counting in Japanese.  I invest quite a lot into my kohai (students who are more junior in rank) and I’m glad to see them learning.  College Sensei was helping my kohai along, and their positive response helped me be a cheerful and spirited leader.  I really appreciated his support.

Knowing that College Sensei was giving the class a boost made my job as warm-up leader pleasant.  I experienced the positive “glow” of doing something together with a whole bunch of other people.  This is a very real phenomenon – I’m sure doctors can tell you all about the endorphins that are generated and the physiological responses such as lowered blood pressure.  All of this is very healthy for one’s mind and body!  I’m not sure I want to know the physical things that lack of spirit does to one’s mind and body.  All I know is it’s not fun.

Within the dojo and outside the dojo I’ve been both a student and a teacher when students (including me) are dragging a bit.  Nobody’s engaged, nobody’s having fun.  New concepts don’t sink into a brain that’s bogged down.  The instructor starts to wonder why he or she bothered to come to class.  Every class has its “off” days, but these can be turned around if someone takes it on him or herself to support the leader.  This is absolutely the job of the senior student(s) but really, everyone should take responsibility.  Even one person with good spirit makes a world of difference.

I find it interesting that there are lessons to be learned even during warm-up exercises.  Certainly as a student I’ve learned lessons during warm-upsWhen I was a teenager I first learned how to lead warm-ups by simply running through our sensei’s usual routine.  Of course I learned leadership skills and self-confidence even when all I did was run the class through a warm-up routine I’d memorized.  Last year I suddenly found myself in the role of senior student at College Dojo and I’ve gone beyond what I’ve learned as a teen.  I’ve been adjusting my leadership style and developing warm-up routines that work for College Dojo.  I have a feeling this will be an ongoing process.  But now there’s something new in me.  I’m starting to think about the psychological things that are going on not just with me but with the whole class.  I have a deeper appreciation for how my sensei (plural) are supporting me in my own development.  I hope I remember these lessons so one day I can help someone else grow into the role of senior student and, eventually, a sensei.

Etiquette


From time to time I need to be reminded that how we conduct ourselves in the dojo (karate school) is utterly foreign to a lot of people.  There are many people who are good-hearted but at the same time tend to struggle with remembering basic manners.  The more martial aspects (like shouting “osu” and having a hierarchy) will be alien to most.  At least three times per year I am reminded of how new students might view dojo etiquette.  In college dojo we get new students every Fall, Winter, and Spring quarter.  College Dojo is a Physical Education class that students take for credit.  Two quarters are offered, and we occasionally have a student or students audit more quarters just for fun.  So assuming on the first day of the quarter we have College Sensei (instructor), me (almost three years into my training), two second-quarter students and one auditing student…  What might we look like to the new people?

Student A speculates, “Is this some sort of cult?”

Student B wonders, “That’s not how we did things at the dojo I was in when I was a kid.  Which dojo is right?  Which one is wrong?”

Student C overdoes it and does some extra bowing.  Just in case.

Student D inwardly scoffs, “What a bunch of baloney!”

Student E nervously thinks, “All this is really strange and I’m feeling a bit intimidated.”

Student F tells himself,  “I’ll just roll with this and cheerfully do the best I can.”

I’ll bet you can spot my least favorite type of student among the five.  Yep (groan) – Student D.  That said, sometimes it’s that student who will often inspire me to explain things the rest need to learn.  Student F is pleasant to deal with, but if everyone were like Student F, would I remember to explain dojo etiquette?  Maybe not.

So why do we need to think about and teach the reasons why we do what we do?  It’s not just to reassure Students A, C, and E or to give Student B a deeper appreciation for the diverse world of Karate.  We could dissect each rule and discuss its origins and benefits (and that’s a fascinating study for some of us), but what it all boils down to is etiquette benefits everyone.  Etiquette provides a framework for building respect.  This includes respect for those who have learned more, for those who haven’t learned as much, for facilities and equipment, and most of all, respect for one’s very self.  Also, etiquette keeps things running smoothly.  Not only that, simple rules like bowing to Sensei (and Sensei bowing back) paves the way for the future – not only the future Karate career of the student, but also the future of the dojo and/or organization.

As I get more and more involved in helping with various things, I run into more etiquette.  Here are a few examples.  Deferring to the dojo’s Sensei on matters that are not mine to deal with.  How to treat VIPs.  The relational dynamics of sub-groups (such as a fundraising group interacting with the yudansha-kai).  Inter-organizational etiquette.  Working with service providers (recreation centers, catering, special event venues, etc.).  Fortunately I have any number of mentors to help me navigate the trickiest situations.  Those mentors have many more years of experience than I do, so I trust them.  And yes, sometimes the etiquette lessons “sting” a little bit because I’ve crossed a line that I shouldn’t have.  But if I learn my etiquette lessons well, my cooperative and respectful involvement will help the organization run smoothly so we can keep on having fun things like tournaments, seminars, and camps.

One More Push Up

Remember these characters?  Id and Super-ego?  Long-time followers of this blog will recognize them from this post and from this post.

Characters made by yurike – yurike_go@hotmail.com Free for both commercial and non-commercial use Credit is not required but it would be greatly appreciated

Sensei (instructor):  Everybody down.  Push-ups.  Hajime (begin).

Id:  Ugh.  Push ups.

 

Super Ego: Let’s rock & roll!  We’re getting stronger!

 

Id:  Aaaaaugh!  Sensei isn’t saying “Yame (stop)!”

 

Super Ego:  Chill.  Get ‘er done.

 

Id:  No more strength!

 

Super Ego:  Modify.  Keep going.  We’ve got this.

 

Id:  Ohhhkaaay, but I don’t know how much longer…

 

Super Ego:  Hey, you know what?  We’ve improved since last week – we’re doing more!

 

Id:  Oh man, seriously – now there’s nothing else left to give!  Ahhhh, sweet floor, how I love you.  Man, it feels good to lie here.

Super Ego:  We’re going to try anyway.  Rrrrrrgh!  Fight it!  Oh, look!  Here comes help.

 

Id:  That’s not HELP – that’s Sensei!  We’re DOOMED!

 

Super Ego:  You be quiet – I’m listening to Sensei.  He’s explaining how to do this.  KIIIIIIIIIIIIIAAAAAAIII!  There, see!  There was one more push-up in those muscles.  Sensei said to stand up now.

The sound that came out of me was unlike anything I’ve ever vocalized before.  It was a cathartic roar that came not from my throat but from the gut.  I’ve learned a little bit about vocal techniques from singing, so I know I could have damaged my vocal cords if they’d been tight.  Of course there wasn’t tension in my throat because the cry came from my gut.  Among other things this exercise was meant to teach us how to kiai properly.  But I gained more.

I was charged full of energy and ready to learn.  I usually am able to lock my problems in the locker along with my street clothes, but that day I was still dragging when I came to class.  With that one yell I shed the weight of those problems right off.  Afterwards I was focused, clear-headed and light-hearted.  My attitude had turned around.  I was full of wonder at what I’d just accomplished.  With a little encouragement from Sensei I won a battle with myself (the Id and the Superego).  I’d pushed beyond what I’d thought was a limit.  I admit I was feeling a little proud.

[sound of a record needle scratching]

I hear you asking, “Wait – you felt good afterwards?  Don’t you think your sensei was being mean by making everyone do all those push ups?”

I see you reaching for your phone to call the funny farm.

Sensei wasn’t making me do anything.  I could have walked out, changed back into my street clothes and driven away never to return.  That was totally an option.  I could’ve flopped around in a half-hearted effort and been scolded for it – that was totally an option too.  But I value my training.  I also respect myself and my Sensei.  So my “Superego” overpowered my “Id” and I listened when I was told how to get one last push up done.  Once again, I learned I am capable of more than I think.  It’s a lesson that I need to keep on learning because I am human.

Sometimes in life we face adverse circumstances.  We might think we’ve hit a limit and we’re helpless to do more.  We might be right – there are some circumstances that are too dire for anyone to overcome.  Or…  There might be enough strength left to fight back.  Sometimes we need someone to remind us of that and to help a little.  Our challenge afterward is to pass on what we’ve learned to someone else who needs to hear it.

After class was over I felt more equipped to face my real life challenges.

Interestingly enough, within two days very positive progress was made with those problems that I’d dragged with me to class.  The progress wasn’t due to anything I did – if anything it was the prayers of good people (yes, including Sensei), the grace of God, and a whole bunch of recruiters who called my husband so often that he couldn’t finish taking notes from one conversation before starting another.  But I could’ve done a lot of damage to myself and to my husband in the day before the phone started ringing off the hook.  The positive experience of getting through a physical challenge helped me find that strength.  It turned out that I just needed strength for one more day, one last push.

Do you still think Sensei is mean?  Well, you’re entitled to your opinion, and my Id actually agrees with you.  But my Superego knows better.  My problems aren’t solved yet, but things are looking better.  Even if my family and I end up putting four boxes and the dog into a car and driving off to another city, we will find the strength and courage to face that.  But I have a feeling things won’t come to that.  I think this could very well be the last push up.  I am roaring my battle cry in victory.