Cross Training

Recently I decided to do a little cross-training in another martial art.  I Googled martial arts schools in my local area and, well, I’m sure they’re good schools and all that, but I wanted something really different.  So I decided to research all the types of martial arts there are and I found an online school with really good ratings and thousands of successful students worldwide.  I have a very strong preference for learning from a real-life instructor and having classmates to work with but I decided this art was worth my time and effort.  I figured online learning itself would take me out of my comfort zone.  Turns out I was wrong about that.  The art I chose to cross-train in can be practiced in any number of comfortable situations.  While watching TV?  Check.  Lounging in a recliner?  You bet.  Yes, you can practice this art even when you’re in bed, although I think I’m going to draw the line there.

Supposedly this is a painting of the monk Fri To Le, but I dunno – he looks more Indian than Chinese. And I found a very similar picture when I did a Google Image search.

What is this art that captivated me?  It’s called Chi-do (pronounce Chee-doe).  Supposedly it was founded by a monk named Fri To Lei in the 1920’s but there’s no documentation to prove this.  The first historically documented practitioner of Chi-do was an American.  Charles Elmer Dooley opened the first Chi-do school in 1948 in Dallas, Texas.  Because this is a relatively “young” martial art, all Chi-do students easily trace their lineage to Dooley.

The price for Chi-do instruction is much cheaper than most martial arts lessons.  You buy the uniform for ten dollars, pay five dollars a month to view the online videos, and buy a bag or two of cheap snacks every day.  Another requirement is that you have 24-hour access to your choice of a bed, a recliner, a couch, futon, or bean bag chair.  That’s it.

Me on the first day of Chi-do training

The rank system is a little different.  There are no belts – just a uniform.  You’re not supposed to change your uniform or even wash it.  Like I said, Chi-do never takes you out of your comfort zone.  You won’t get sweat, blood, or scungy dust bunnies from someone else’s foot on your uniform.  What will happen is your uniform will get progressively more orange.  The current Big Cheese (Grand Master) even has orange all over the back of his uniform.  I don’t know how he did it.

There are a few practical things that are new to me.  I can’t help but think the uniform is a little bit skimpy but according to the online videos, even Intermediate level Chi-do-ka are able to keep themselves warm even in winter.  In Karate we tie back long hair so that it doesn’t get in our eyes.  That’s not a problem in Chi-do, and actually Chi-do-ka must wear their hair down for maximum comfort while practicing the art.  I’m also not used to being stationary while practicing a martial art.

So how is this art practiced?  There’s a good bit of relaxation and visualization.  Hours of it.  I kinda like that part.

Chi-do-ka must keep one’s snacks close by at all times.   The first step to fending off an attacker is de-escalation.  You offer your enemy a snack.  Most of the time you end up with a new friend.  But if that doesn’t work there are any number of cool Chi-do moves I’ve added to my repertoire.

Most basic strikes involve sticking snacks in between your fingers and striking or raking just like Wolverine in the X-men movies.

One thing you can do is crush your snack into a powder and blow it into your opponent’s eyes.  This technique is said to be an adaptation of a Ninja trick, but I haven’t verified that.

My dog likes it when I practice the following technique because he gets to clean up the living room.  Put a snack in your mouth, puff out your cheeks, and blow the snack into your opponent.  If done right the snack can go right through a person like a bullet.  The Big Cheese himself is like a machine gun with this.  He’s currently in a court battle to determine whether his mouth falls under the ban on automatic weapons in the private sector.

The only trouble with Chi-do is I’ve gained twenty pounds in the last two months.  I guess I’d better work harder at my Karate.

Photo credit – Joley White

Worth More than Gold

Last weekend I drove three hours and stayed overnight Saturday (3/18/17) in order to support the yearly tournament our Karate organization hosts.  I’d pulled my left hamstring earlier in the week (don’t ask – I was totally stupid).  I could still limp around and because it was my left leg I could still drive.  Sitting was murder, which left me with lying down, standing, and limping.  Because I made steady progress in healing I’m fairly certain that being mostly on my feet all weekend helped my injury.

Obviously I didn’t compete.  Yes, I felt a little sad about that.  But really, the whole weekend was very rewarding.  I’m not going to sprinkle this post with references, but I will say that many of the lessons contained in Pixar Studio’s first “Cars” movie applied to this tournament experience.

Upon arrival late Saturday morning I immediately found a task to do.  At least a couple hundred medals passed through my hands as they were removed from plastic wrappers and put into bundles of 2 bronze, 1 silver, and 1 gold.  I was able to chat with other karateka as they drifted in and out to help or to admire the medals.  I was also able to catch glimpses of the seminars.

I observed at least two of our Sensei (instructors) enjoying their chance to be students – and they have decades of study under their belts.  It was a good reminder for me to always pay attention to my own development in the art of Karate.  I must always keep a beginner’s mindset – a willingness to try new things and to discover my capabilities. I also noted many karatekas’ joyful demeanor as they went through the drills that were taught.  Many of those obviously happy folks were wearing black belts.

Yes, folks, this Karate stuff is supposed to be fun.  It’s hard work and tournaments commonly make people nervous, but we must not lose sight of that element of fun.  I’m going to have to keep that in mind if I ever get into coaching.  There’s going to be intense pressure inherent in that position but if I keep that spark of fun maybe it’ll keep me from making some mistakes in how I treat people during tournaments.  I’m grateful to have many excellent examples among my Sensei-s as I learn how to build positive behavior in myself and in others.

Mid-afternoon found me attending another referee seminar.  It’s good to hear information from different  instructors, even better when you’ve attended seminars by two top-notch experts.  This time I was better prepared because I’d actually read the rules before the seminar.  I took lots of notes and truly appreciated drilling the calls again.  I have a better understanding of one of the new rules/calls and how the judging team works together.  During the last part of the tournament I watched not only the athletes but also the judging team.  This helped reinforce what I’d learned during the referee seminar the previous day.  I have some good tips on how I can practice before I am eligible for certification.

Certification.  Wait, aren’t I already certifiable?  I began Karate again at age 44.  That’s insane, right?  Nope.  I have a new friend who assures me that there are 70 year old ladies in Japan who compete in sparring.  Yep – not just kata (forms) but sparring as well.  Rock on, Grandmas!

Saturday night I was tired from the long day and from life in general, and my leg ached a bit.  It was time for my sanity break.  OK, yes, I know, my sanity is already broken – the evidence for that is I acquire bruises for funsies, as Jackie Bradbury puts it.  I took a long, hot bath (a rare luxury for me) to ease the pain in my leg.  Then I spent some time with my Grandpa – in a manner of speaking.  My mother recently put together photos, information from books and websites, and transcripts of interviews with my Grandpa into a small book. I finally have his stories from World War II in chronological order and in context.  There’s no doubt in my mind where my tenacity and fighting spirit come from.

Sunday morning I woke up at my usual time (5:30 AM), got my day started and arrived at the venue at 7:00 AM as I’d promised.  I had some tasks to do that I’d promised to do months ago.  I finished with that well before deadline and before I knew it I was helping with staging the athletes.  Much to my surprise I found I wasn’t limping nearly as badly as I had the day before.  I think the mild exercise helped the healing process.  During the course of my work I exchanged pleasantries with karateka whom I hadn’t seen in awhile and chatted a little with my fellow dojo-mates (many of whom both volunteered and competed).  I made some new acquaintances as well.

One of the highlights for me was having rows of little kids following me from staging to their ring – it was so cute to see them walking along behind me like ducklings.  I’d have loved to have picked up the tiniest among them for a hug, but I think they would have kicked my butt if I’d tried.  Still, they were absolutely precious.

During a time when the rings were backed up and no divisions were being called to staging I started practicing kata without doing the stances.  I heard whispers.  One person identified the kata I was practicing, another wondered why my stances were beyond atrocious (my words, not his).  At one point I forgot what to do next.  Because the lower half of my body was hardly engaged it was difficult for me to remember what to do with my arms.  A Sensei of my acquaintance happened to walk by so I asked for help.  He’d seen me limping around so he simply reminded me of the next couple of movements.  I finished up.  I think I have a better appreciation for how the whole body is involved in even the most basic movements.

I was a bit sad as I led the last division to their ring.  This was my division.  We all know each other, and if we see someone new we immediately make her feel welcome.  I handed over the repechage sheets to the table crew, returned the clipboard to staging, and went back ringside to watch and cheer them on.  There was another division finishing up so “my” division didn’t start right away.  While waiting, I watched everything I could see.

I saw beginner, intermediate, and world-class athletes sparring and I realized something.  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 want to adopt a couple of things I saw and I want to break bad habits.  I want to re-build.  I’m glad I can count on having good instructors and fellow students to help me along.

My division started and I cheered for everyone.  Observing my fellow ladies and the judging team helped me stave off the frustration of being injured and unable to compete.  While I was watching something happened and my attention was drawn elsewhere for a few minutes.  If I hadn’t been injured I wouldn’t have been in the right place at the right time to help for as long as it took until someone more equipped took over.  I was then able to rejoin my comrades and cheer for them until after their medals were awarded.  All too soon it was time for me to make the rounds and say goodbye before my long drive home.

I have my rewards.  I learned some things and I have some things to work on.  I made connections with people and reinforced existing friendships.  I had the satisfaction of helping others have some fun.  The next day I received a bit of recognition which more than made up for the sadness of not being able to compete.  Be that as it may, I still want to compete and I admit a medal or two would be nice.  But medals aren’t everything.  Some things are worth more than gold.

Desiring Depth

Now that I’ve reached a stage (4th kyu) where I can expect to take longer periods of time between belt tests I find myself eager to go deeper into my art.

Mentally

My online acquaintance Kai Morgan recently wrote a brilliant article that sums up a lecture by deep freediver Sara Campbell .  Campbell lectured about seven principles of mental success in free diving, and Kai Morgan related those principles to martial arts.  This article really resonated with me.  There’s so much more that I have yet to discover about challenging myself and improving my performance.  I’m starting to understand the mental work that goes into this.  I’m looking forward to more growth in this area.

Physically

There are so many ways I need to improve.  I’m doing well for my age, but boy howdy I’ve got a long way to go before I’m satisfied.  I want to understand more about the best way to make those gains in strength, endurance, and flexibility while taking into consideration my middle-aged body.  I won’t be as fast or as strong as someone half my age at peak physical condition but by golly I wanna be one bad muddah.

I’m also eager to explore what I am capable of.  I’ve often been surprised.  I’m becoming more willing to try things that seem “impossible” for an “old lady” to do.  Every now and then I outperform or at least keep up with athletes young enough to be my sons and daughters.  That’s a great feeling and I’m thankful for the sensei (instructors) who have been guiding me.

Technically

I see so much that I want for myself when I watch more advanced practitioners.   I’m sharper, faster, and cleaner than the lower ranked students, so that’s a start.  My stances are deeper.  Most of the time I don’t wobble like a newborn fawn or flap around like a spastic duck.  But there’s so much more work I need to do.  There is still tension in my shoulders that needs to be banished.  I need to use my hips more.  When I’m doing the simplest of moving basics alongside the first-quarter students in the college class I concentrate on how I’m executing the techniques.  I think that effort is paying off.  This week I was given homework to help me with appropriate timing of kime (tension) and flowing through movements.  I’m looking forward to improvement!

Academically

I’m starting to learn about refereeing and judging.  I’d like to add coaching as well.  I don’t have sufficient rank yet to take a certification exam.  Quite frankly it’s going to take quite awhile for the information to really sink in, so getting an early start will benefit everyone once I actually get to work in a ring at a tournament.  Tonight, College Sensei emailed me a link to the information I want to know.

Etiquette and culture fascinate me, and I’ve bugged more than one Sensei with questions.  Even on the occasion when I was reprimanded then gently lectured for an inadvertent breach of etiquette the emotional sting was offset by my inner anthropologist gleefully scribbling notes and making comparisons.  I can’t help it – I’m a total nerd.  I will continue to make observations, think about, and ask questions about why we do what we do.   Poor Sensei.

For the future

I already have a fairly good start on how to teach, at least with the college program.  I’ve also had experience teaching child beginners in a dojo setting.  Currently I’m getting opportunities to help a wider variety of ages and ranks.  I want to improve on how I teach groups.

I must admit that I find teaching advanced kata (forms) very challenging, so I need to work on actually knowing the kata well enough to teach it.  I want bunkai  and lots of it!  I can’t ever get enough of bunkai.

Some months ago there was a period of time when I had a little taste of what I’ll most likely need to do once I reach Shodan (first degree black belt) and beyond.  I spent a good bit of time teaching and therefore I  needed to create or find learning opportunities.  I did a lot of work on my own time.  I’m now enjoying a more gradual road to that place.  Because of that period of time, I know I can do a little exploration on my own.  I also learned I will always need other practitioners who know more than I do to help me go deeper into my art.

I hope I’ll always enjoy diving deeper into the art of Karate!

Round Two

I know you.  I’ve fought you before.  I know every way you’re going to attack me.  I’ve been beaten down by you before.  You’ve brought me so low I wanted to quit.  You kept kicking me when I was down.  You showed no mercy.  At long last the fight ended, but you kept hounding me – picking at me in small, petty ways.  I was free of you for awhile then unexpectedly I found myself in Round Two.

This time I will not undermine myself with worry.  Worry crippled me the last time I fought you.  I will remain calm no matter what you throw at me.  Screaming, ranting, and giving in to despair did me no good.  Crying… Yes I will cry, but only as a healthy release not as part of a self-destructive cycle of self pity that leaves me wide open for the worst of your attacks.

I will listen for the voices of my coaches during this fight.  I will listen for my friends cheering me on.  I didn’t listen last time around and you took full advantage.  No more.  There are a few who say to my face that you will win.  There are some who don’t believe that I am capable of fighting you.  I’m not listening to them anymore.  If I happen to hear them in the clamoring voices of the ringside crowd I will listen again for those who are encouraging me to keep fighting.

Every time you throw something at me, I will take action.  I will go on the offensive every opportunity I get.  I am looking for those opportunities so watch out.  I didn’t look for opportunities last time around; I just reacted and my reactions were ineffective.  I acknowledge that maybe my best might still not be good enough.  You almost crushed me utterly the first round and you might win this round.  But if you win, know that I will hound you until the next fight just like you hounded me between rounds.

Most importantly I refuse to do your work for you.  I will not undermine myself.  That stops now.

I will stay positive and look for and hope for better things.  I will be grateful for everything that helps me beat you.  Maybe I will defeat you utterly.  I know I will learn more no matter what happens, and when I am learning more I am gaining strength.  In a way, I will win no matter what – no matter how many times I have to fight you, no matter how many times I fall to the mats I will win.  I will get back up again even if I feel defeated.  I will fight until there’s nothing left in me.

Dear reader, this is not a human opponent.  But I have learned to fight this enemy because of the lessons I’ve learned in Karate.  My husband unexpectedly lost his job.  We’ve been in this place before.  I spent a weekend grieving, then I took up the fight.  Every day I strive to do as many positive things that I can do to help the situation.  My eyes are wide open for creative ways of saving and earning money.  Even if the worst happens I have plans for that too.  We will persevere.

To all who have encouraged me, taught me, and worked with me both in and out of the dojo – thank you.  You mean the world to me.

 

Gambling

“Ladies, you need to perform a second kata this round,” announced the head judge of the tournament ring.

My eyes bugged out and I gulped.  I had not prepared a second kata (form) for this competition.  I had spent most of my kata practice time prior to the tournament polishing my best kata and working a little on the vexing new kata that I need to perform for my next belt test.  I squashed a panic attack.  I realized I had a choice and I made it in an instant.  I decided not to contest the judge’s announcement even though I had every right to raise my hand to signal I wanted to confer with the judge.

There aren’t many ladies my age who compete in Karate, so tournament officials combine the intermediate ladies with the advanced ladies.  There were four of us competing in kata last Sunday (2/12/17).  Two of us ladies were advanced, and another lady and I were intermediate.  I won against the other intermediate lady and went on to the next round to compete against the advanced lady who had won her first round.

When an intermediate karateka (one who studies Karate) is competing in a mixed division against an advanced karateka, the rules for intermediate competition apply.  I was not required to present a second kata.  I could repeat the kata I’d performed in the first round.  I had won my first round with a kata that I’ve been working on for well over a year (its name is Bassai Dai).  I know my performance of that kata just keeps getting better as I refine it and discover more about it.  Obviously the judges thought I performed that kata well.  I might have won the gold medal performing that kata again for the second round.

But in the instant that I had to make the decision something stopped me from raising my hand to confer with the judge.  I realized I was going to earn at least a silver medal even if I tripped over my feet and splatted myself on the mats.  I began to feel almost mischievous.  I decided to throw all caution to the wind and perform a kata that requires one to balance on one leg not once but three times (the kata’s name is Rohai Shodan).  Even a little wobble would count against my technical performance score.  It’s pretty daring for someone my rank to attempt to perform it in tournament.  I was challenging myself.

In a heartbeat the moment of decision was gone.  I was committed to my choice.  I made the formal entrance into the ring, bowed one last time, announced the name of my kata, and began my performance.  To my left, my fellow competitor began her kata.  The judges were watching, the spectators were watching, and the big glassy eye of a camera’s telephoto lens was pointed my way.  All that faded away – it was just me and my imaginary opponents who I was systematically destroying one by one.

Kata is a lot of things.  It’s part moving meditation.  It can be a textbook on how to fight.  Kata contains all sorts of lessons as one puzzles out applications for the movements.  One’s body gets used to moving in new and different ways.  Weather permitting, I like exploring how terrain affects the movements.  And let’s face it, kata is part war dance.  I have a tiny smattering of instruction and experience in the art of acting.  When I am in a tournament or belt test I draw on my acting abilities and capitalize on the war dance aspect of kata.  “And now I shatter your elbow,” I silently snarl to my imaginary opponent, and my face reflects that sentiment.  I was totally in that zone for Bassai Dai and even more so for Rohai Shodan.

For me the hardest part of kata is standing at attention at the end.  I have to control my breathing after a rather vigorous athletic activity.  Sometimes my opponent is performing a longer kata.  I can’t watch – I must remain at attention while she finishes.  It usually takes only a few seconds for the judges to show their votes for who won and for the winner to be announced, but sometimes it feels like an eternity.  I can’t see the judges behind me nor may I turn to look, so I must wait for the head judge’s announcement.  I knew I’d done a good job technically, and I knew I had injected some panache into my performance.  I felt fantastic while I was pretending to block punches and shatter joints.  But my heart raced while I stood at attention.  Which medal would I be taking home?

When the head judge announced I was the winner, I was stunned.  I couldn’t believe I had really pulled it off.  I knew I had been gambling.  Taking the risk had paid off.

The universe has a way of keeping one humble.  After the victory in kata, I got a silver in kumite (sparring).  Um… There were only two of us for kumite, so…  Yeah.  Sheepish grin here.  I think I have a lot of work to do.