The Tree

The tree
The tree in front is much taller than the building now

1974.  I was in preschool then.  Outside the library I passed a little Douglas Fir tree growing in the small plaza outside the library.  I inhaled the scent of books and library paste as Mom and I walked towards the doors.  Once inside the doors I ran several steps straight to the window of a courtyard and watched water trickle down an abstract metal sculpture fountain.  I lingered for a few minutes, fascinated.  After awhile, Mom and I turned right and walked through another set of doors and into the library proper.  On the right were books, books, and more books.  I ran to pick out my favorites from the shelves under the window you see in the picture behind the tree.

2014.  I passed the trunk of the fifty foot (15.24 meters) high tree growing in the little plaza outside the community center that once was the library.  I knew the scent of books and library paste was long gone, but I smelled the air anyway.  Once inside the doors I took three strides to the window of the courtyard to see what had replaced the old fountain.  I turned away after a quick look then turned right and walked through the other set of doors, noting the button that would open them if needed.  On the right was a wall and a door – a closed off space with no shelves, no books.  Behind the door was a big empty room waiting to be filled with people, food, and good memories.  It was time for me and my new friends to set up the room for the annual Christmas party for the organization of dojos we belong to.


I worked hard with friends – most of whom outrank me, two who have taught me and my daughter.  As the time for starting the party approached, more people helped to set up and I found myself coordinating one part of the efforts – people who outranked me had asked how they could help, then they cheerfully fulfilled my requests.  After helping a family with three toddlers get food I went through the buffet line myself and sat down at a table with a new acquaintance and his family.  I ached for the company of my daughter, home sick with the flu.

We were given a chance to eat and fellowship, then awards were presented.  Right in the spot where some of my favorite picture books had once awaited me under the window by the tree, my Senseis honored me and gave me an award.  I about cried – the recognition meant so much to me.  I accepted another award on behalf of my sick daughter, remembering how she had picked out books from the same spot, remembering the Empty Bowls charity event she and I attended a few years later in the same room I was standing in now.  So many happy memories rooted in one spot just a few yards from a tree that has grown up with me.


All too soon the Christmas party was over.  Many hands were available to help clean up and most of the work was done in the space of half an hour.  Those of us who had been there from the first stayed on until the work was done to the satisfaction of the community center’s manager.

As I helped clean the floor, I took a moment to look out the window at the trunk of the tree.  I imagined my four-year-old self standing in the exact same spot.  That little girl could never have imagined her grown up self – a student of karate mopping a floor alongside two mop-wielding instructors.  A mother wishing her nearly grown child had been healthy enough to be there to hear the affirmations and the challenge for the new year, and to receive the award herself.  A woman striving for personal growth, physical health, and the means to defend herself and others if need be.


At last the work was done and the manager signed us out, remarking that we were remarkably quick and thorough workers.  She made it clear we were more than welcome to hold future events there anytime.  Outside, I took a moment to look up into the night-darkened branches of the tall Douglas Fir tree.  Fog obscured the night sky.  The tree was enchantingly beautiful in that moment.  I started to think about how I’ve changed and how that tree has changed.  My thoughts were interrupted by the welcome voice of one of my Senseis.

“Is that the tree?”

“Yes it is, Sensei.”


I guess at some point I had told Sensei about how small the tree used to be.  I was flattered he remembered.  I took one last look up into the branches high above me and wondered what changes the tree would see in the years to come.  Then I fell in step behind the people I’ve trained under and worked with so I could participate in the lingering chatter and wish them well on their journeys home.

On the way home I passed by the storefront that had once been the dojo I trained in when I was a teen.  I wished my parents and I could remember my old Sensei’s last name.  The dojo was part of a different organization.  Last Spring at a tournament I took the opportunity to talk to the head of that organization.  He doesn’t know where my old Sensei is now.  I wish I could find her and talk with her again.  I wish she could meet my daughter.  I wish I could thank her.

Merry Christmas, Sensei, wherever you are.

P.S. – I actually wrote this article several days ago.  Since then, while visiting a sister dojo I met another student of my old Sensei who had started after I left.   He remembered her last name.  What a great pre-Christmas present!  Hopefully I’ll find her soon!!!

Trash Talk Tuesday: Straw Man

Time once again for us martial arts bloggers to learn:
1) How NOT to make a case for or against someone or something
2) Why certain comments set our teeth on edge
3) How to stay focused when discussing our arts

It’s Trash Talk Tuesday!

Sempai Susan:  I think the tournament organizers should be more flexible when it comes to team kata divisions.  Our dojo is small, so we don’t have three gals the same age or three guys the same age.  Even if we mixed gals and guys, the most we’d have is two people roughly the same age.  The rules really ought to be revised to allow smaller dojos to have a better chance of competing in team kata.

Sempai Sally: I can’t believe you’re trashing the way tournaments are run!  Obviously you think having divisions is bunk.  I’ll bet you want beginning middle-aged women to have a chance to fight 16-18 year old advanced men!

Uh oh – ten pushups for Sempai Sally!  She’s building a straw man – a fake argument that is easy to knock down.  It’s easy to argue against the opinion that having divisions in tournaments is a bad idea.  It’s much harder to build an effective case against Sempai Susan’s actual opinion about team kata divisions.  Sempai Sally is blowing things out of proportion in order to divert the argument and make Sempai Susan look bad.  Politicians use Straw Man a lot.

Here’s one of many responses Sempai Susan could give…

Sempai Susan:  I’m not saying that at all.  I’m just saying it’d be fun if we could put together  a team kata or two and actually compete.  You know, you do Bassai Dai pretty well – whaddaya say we grab Sempai Steven over there and try synchronizing even if we can’t compete?

If you’d like to learn more, you can follow along in the book The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn.

Caring for your Weapons


Some of us pursue training in bo, sai, etc.  But all of us karate-ka train to use four very important weapons.  I’m talking about our hands and feet.  Many of you dear readers probably already know good methods of caring for your weapons.  If that is the case, you might want to pass along this article to some of your students.   I know I didn’t just figure these things out on my own – many people shared tips with me (including my  Mom, one of the Senseis at a sister dojo, and a few people in a Google+ Martial Arts community).  If this article can help someone, I’ll be happy.

Finger Nails and Toe Nails: This is a no-brainer, right?  Wrong.  Every once in a blue moon, a student will have to be reminded to cut fingernails and toenails.   My nails grow pretty fast, so I have to keep after them about once a week.  My nails are a bit tough, so I use big toenail clippers on my fingernails and big toes, then little fingernail clippers on the rest of my toes.   I leave just the tiniest rim of the white part of my nails.   If you’re having problems with your nails, ask your doctor for help – sometimes you just have to eat more carrots (Jesse Enkamp would probably say to eat more carrot cake).

Appealing Feet:  When I was a teenager, the other kids and I would peel our feet and Sensei would make us clean it up and do pushups…  Ah, the memories!  Fascinating as it was to peel our feet, the newly exposed areas were tender and painful.  When I resumed training, I knew better than to peel my feet, but my left big toe would slough skin from time to time anyway.  That was fixed mostly by correcting foot position while moving in fighting stance.  I achieve further prevention on my big toes and heels by the use of a Ped Egg, which is basically a small cheese grater for feet.   It beats pumice stones hollow.  I use the Ped Egg once a week after I trim my nails.


Dry Skin:  Lotion, of course.  But it’s not so simple if your skin gets severely dry in the winter, like mine does.  This recommendation comes originally from some fishermen:  Gold Bond Ultimate Intensive Healing Hand Cream.   The fragrance is not too bad – definitely not flowery, so guys, you can use this stuff.  I tend to be allergic to perfumes and fragrances, but this lotion doesn’t bother me.  Every winter night right before bedtime I use this on my hands.   If I skip a night, I’m usually sorry the next day.  Hydration of the body helps, a humidifier helps, but nothing beats this lotion for healing and prevention.

Shoes:  If your shoes hurt your feet, spend loads of time to find the best deal on shoes that fit you properly.  You should be able to run, stop quickly, and change direction instantly in any pair of shoes you wear.  Ladies, ditch the heels.  If you’re not convinced, go to a nursing home sometime – spines and feet get misshapen and crippled from decades of wearing heels.  Replace shoes as needed – my sneakers wear out every three months.  I know it’s time to replace them when there’s either a structural failure or my feet start hurting.

That’s it for basic weapon care.  Check with your doctor if you have more severe problems, and take good care of your body as a whole.

Trash Talk Tuesday: Appeal to the People

Time once again for us martial arts bloggers to learn:
1) How NOT to make a case for or against someone or something
2) Why certain comments set our teeth on edge
3) How to stay focused when discussing our arts


It’s Trash Talk Tuesday!

This week’s lesson was co-written with my daughter!

White Belt:  Hey, Sensei!  All the other white belts think I should’ve been testing at the last promotion.  Why didn’t you have me test?

Just because a lot of people think something doesn’t mean any of them have any authority on the subject. This fallacy is very similar to the faulty appeal to authority fallacy  and can even be considered an exaggerated version. It’s a mistake to quote one person who has no expertise on the subject, so it’s an even bigger mistake to quote many people who have no expertise on the subject.

Wannabe:  Sensei Rockum Sockum has fifteen thousand followers on YouTube, therefore he must be awesome!

White Belt:  Did you check the comments on some of his videos?  It looks like at least three quarters of his subscribers are picking apart his techniques and his credentials.  Therefore, Sensei Rockum Sockum is a fraud.

Hmmm, look over that dialogue again…  Yes, both “Wannabe” and “White Belt” are guilty of the Appeal to the People fallacy!  “White Belt” needs to do some independent research and come up with solid evidence that Sensei Rockum Sockum isn’t what he claims to be.

If you’d like to learn more, you can follow along in the book The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn.


2014 in Review

The following is in response to Jesse Enkamp’s article, “2014, My Karate Year in Review,” in which he invited readers to share their year in the comments section.  As usual, I have tons to say, so I figured I’d be better off posting this on my blog!  This comes at a good time as our state’s branch of our organization is going to have its  annual Christmas party this weekend.  So here goes!

December 2013 – Annual Christmas party

My daughter just got through with her first quarter at the local community college and had earned her first belt in Karate.  None of the other students from the community college were there, so the only people I knew at the party were my daughter and her Sensei.  Some other Karate moms (not students themselves) found me and my daughter sitting alone at a table and joined us.

February 2014 – Grandpa Watching My Daughter’s First Tournament from Heaven

This was bittersweet for us.  My grandfather had passed away only a couple of days before the tournament.  He never quite understood the attraction of Karate for me and my daughter, but he always believed in physical fitness and supported us.  Grandpa was born prematurely and fought for his life.  In high school, he played football and baseball.  In World War II he was one tough cookie – the Battle of the Bulge was an incredible test of his will to live.  Grandpa enjoyed bowling until he wasn’t able to throw the ball.  He walked in the neighborhood until he fell one day.  He worked hard in physical therapy until he couldn’t move.  He ended life as he began it – fighting death.  I think he was hanging on so he could listen to the radio broadcast of the Superbowl, when his beloved Seahawks finally won.   Grandpa knew my daughter was going to the tournament, I guess he just decided he wanted to watch from above.

March 2014 – Behind the Scenes

I traveled with my daughter out of state for seminars and The Big Tournament our organization puts on every year.  I volunteered for a few “behind the scenes” jobs while my daughter attended seminars and sat around waiting for her division to be called.  I found out the black belts do most of the work, so as I was sweating alongside them one day and serving in the VIP break room the next, I got acquainted with a few.  Great people!

April 2014 – A New Dojo

My daughter was just about done with the only Karate classes her community college offers.  She decided to continue her training at the local YMCA.  Now I had two more Senseis urging me to get back into training!

May 2014 – The Decision

I’ve lost count of how many tournaments my daughter went to during the Spring of 2014.  Enough to where I had plenty of contact with her Senseis beyond the normal chats parents usually have with kids’ instructors.  On the last day of this month was a casual tournament (not a qualifier for anything) and a pizza party.  As we were walking out the door of the pizza party (and yes, the Senseis had been gently prodding me to get back on the mats) my daughter pointed out I could help her with kata and she could help me with kumite.  That did it.  My daughter’s birthday was right before the next class, so I didn’t tell her about my decision.

June 2014 – Action

I ran right out and bought myself a gi.  The day after my daughter’s birthday was the first class in June.  I dropped her off at the door of the Y as usual, then parked the car, dashed into the locker room, and changed clothes.  The smile on my daughter’s face when I bowed into the dojo was priceless.

I about died the first fifteen minutes of class.  When I came home, I stank so badly the dog started gagging.

But I loved every minute of it.

To my surprise, my Senseis tapped me for promotion  23 days later.  I guess I remembered enough from training for about 4 years as a teenager more than a quarter century ago.

July 2014 – Not much to tell

Somehow I managed to hold my end of a banner with an injured elbow in a 4th of July parade (I wrapped the elbow in a red ace bandage for the holiday).  I’d thrown sloppy technique during sparring and something in my elbow didn’t like it.  I recovered just fine in a couple of days.

August 2014 – Gasshuku

My daughter and I called a tiny tent “home” for the weekend, and I’d forgotten how much fun it can be.  All of us worked out in a beautiful green field surrounded by trees under the open sky.  I learned I have far more endurance than I ever imagined.  We also got to play with bos for an hour!  During mealtimes, we’d sit and ask the Senseis questions.  Everyone’s nice white gis were multicolored by the end of the weekend, everyone was dog tired and stinky, but we all had a great time of fellowship and training.

The seminars were fantastic and all the black belts were ever so patient with us when we needed help learning something new during the seminars.  They didn’t want anyone feeling frustrated or discouraged, so as long as we gave it our best shot, they worked with us one on one until we could follow the main instructor on our own.  Our main instructor was actually a Sensei from a different style, so all of us were learning new ways of moving, a new kata, etc.

During Gasshuku there was a promotion, and my Senseis told me to test again.  I passed my promotion test in the open air, sun shining down, barefoot on cool grass.  Right before I entered the “ring” for kumite, I heard a bald eagle calling.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget this promotion, and I’m going to try to remember the sound of that eagle piping every time I start kumite from now on – it really set off an explosion of fierce joy that carried me through.

September and October 2014 – Blogging and Visiting Sister Dojos

At the urging of Sensei Andrea Harkins and Sensei Ando Mierzwa I started this blog.  Thank you, friends!!!

Visiting sister dojos started with the week that our local YMCA closes down for maintenance.  My daughter and I visited another YMCA and a major employer’s Karate club.  We’d gotten acquainted with the Senseis throughout the year and our own Senseis gave us their blessings.  We continued visiting the other YMCA regularly during these months because my daughter has seasonal volunteer work near that dojo.  We also dropped in on the Karate club a couple more times just for grins.  My daughter and I made many friends and ended up taking classes under many Senseis.   I feel honored to have had so much input!

November 2014 – AGAIN?!?

Sometime in late October, one of my Senseis took me aside before class and asked how confident I was with my newest kata.  He asked if I could travel out of state to the Hombu Dojo’s promotion test or if I would prefer to wait until January and test locally.  He informed me there would also be a black belt test I could stay and watch.  With that incentive, I told Sensei I didn’t want to wait until January for promotion!  What I didn’t tell him is how hard I’d have to work before I’d feel comfortable testing.  That was OK, and I took the time to work on my own.  I had butterflies in my stomach before I left, but I felt very calm and confident during the testing on November 22.

You know the funny thing is when I think back on that day, the first thing I think of is seeing all the higher ranks promoting, the second is cheering on friends from other dojos, the third is getting acquainted with two more-or-less local lady Senseis, the fourth is one of my Senseis and I carrying out a tradition of serving one another at the buffet during the after-party, and only after that do I think of my new rank.

December 2014 – Seminar and Anticipating the Christmas Party

Last Saturday, I attended a seminar.  Two hours on kumite drills and two hours on kata.  I fell in love.  Whoa, whoa, whoa – I’m not about to run away from my husband!  I fell in love with Bassai Dai kata.  Much to my delight, Sensei ran the class through it last night!  We didn’t get much bunkai at the seminar (the acoustics in the big gym were very bad) but Sensei gave us some interpretations last night.   WOW!!!

I am looking forward to seeing many, many friends of all ranks this Saturday at the Christmas party!  I will be helping to set up, so there will be a good bit of camaraderie to be had during that time.  I won’t find myself awkwardly sitting at a table with just my daughter for company.  I have a cute outfit to wear in a much smaller size than what I wore last year – I’ve lost seventeen and a half pounds (7.94 kilograms)!  Best of all, I have so much to look forward to in 2015!