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!


Trash Talk Tuesday: Faulty Appeal to Authority

It’s Trash Talk Tuesday!

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 debating

Geek One: In my opinion, you simply need to re-boot your computer.

Geek Two: Bruce Lee said, “Take things as they are. Punch when you have to punch. Kick when you have to kick.”  I’m so frustrated I just have to kick this computer.  That’ll fix the problem with it!

Bruce Lee might have been an authority on martial arts, but he died before home computers were even invented.  Geek Two is appealing to someone who is widely respected but has no knowledge of the topic.  This logical fallacy is called, “Faulty Appeal to Authority.”

By the way, pouring water into the computer so the water will become the computer isn’t a good idea either.  The computer will crash, not flow.

Someone who uses Faulty Appeal to Authority is hoping we will be reluctant to challenge the expert’s viewpoint.  We mustn’t give in!

White Belt:  I’m fixing a spinach salad to have with my lunch because the nutritionist I saw last week said if I eat more leafy greens I will have more endurance while training.

Wannabe:  Sensei Rockum Sockum doesn’t touch spinach.  He said on one of his YouTube videos that there’s toxins in spinach that’ll make your legs turn to Jello.

White Belt:  Last I checked, Sensei Rockum Sockum doesn’t have a Master’s degree in Nutrition.

Wannabe: Does your nutritionist have a YouTube following of fifteen thousand subscribers like Sensei Rockum Sockum?

White Belt: No, but she worked hard in college and my doctor highly recommended her.  Here, just try my spinach salad – I put bacon in it!

Sometimes an issue is controversial and not clear cut.  In that case, don’t stick to any one authority.  Present both sides, quote equal authorities and/or support your case with other evidence such as statistics.

Black Belt One:  I love kicks because I can keep my body out of the way of my opponent until I’m ready to follow up with something else – and sometimes that might be another kick!

Black Belt Two: Kicks can be useful, but you run the risk of someone sweeping you, so I favor punches when I’m sparring.

White Belt One:  You hear that?  Sensei One says kicks rule!  I’m SO using kicks against you first chance I get!

White Belt Two:  Um, I heard two equally qualified experts discussing their preferences.  How about we try both kicking and punching next time we spar?

White Belt One:  I have an idea – I’m going to the next tournament and I’ll write down some statistics based on direct observation of points scored by the competitors.  Kicks will come out on top, I guarantee you!

White Belt Two: Have fun with that.  I’m going to ask Sensei Two to show me some leg sweeps.

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

Using Karate On Myself

karate ladies

I’ve found out a lot about myself in the past six months since I began training in Karate again.  I suspect I’m in for more surprises both pleasant and unpleasant.  I’ve had one person ask, “Have you ever had to use Karate on someone?”  I think the answer is, “Yes – I’ve had to use it on myself!”  I say that because so far, I have been my own worst enemy.  That said, I’ve taken some baby steps in the right direction and I’d like to share them with you.

Knocking Out Self doubt

Assuming you’re not suicidal, would you deliberately ingest poison?  An absurd thought, right?  Well, that’s what self doubt does.  It poisons your spirit.  It took months for me to get over self doubt and resume Karate training after some 27 years away from the dojo.  After quite a bit of wheedling and coaxing from three Senseis and my daughter, I decided to give it a try.  Sure I about died during warm up, sure I flapped around like a spastic duck, but after that first class, I stopped drinking the poisons.  I stopped thinking of myself as old and medically unfit.  My performance was laughable, but trying – simply trying – was a triumph.  Over time, I discovered if I start doubting myself, I should try to engage the challenge.  I might fall flat on my face, but then again, I might be pleasantly surprised.  For instance, I found out at Gasshuku (extended training over a weekend) my endurance is way better than I thought.

Leg Sweeping the Bad Attitude

I used to have a bad attitude about sparring.  I’d tense up, throw sloppy technique, get clobbered, be short of breath, and walk away sulking.  Yes, I’m way old enough to know better, LOL.  My daughter and I were visiting a sister dojo a couple months ago.  The Sensei there called for two-against-one sparring.  Sensei gave some guidelines, then my teenage daughter and a new friend gleefully looked at me.

My daughter said, “Let’s get her!”

I didn’t much like sparring, was not all that good at it, and Sensei was asking for two against one sparring.  To top it off, there were two teenage girls grinning mischievously at me!  Suddenly I realized how ridiculous this really was, and I had to laugh.  It was like light was infusing my soul, and something dark was slinking away never to be seen again.  I had tons of fun.  My daughter literally kicked my butt, and she and I still laugh about it.  Best of all, analyzing it later, I figured out gosh, there really is a connection between kata and kumite.  Fighting against two was more like kata, that’s probably one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much!  Since then, I’ve been a lot more willing to work on my kumite skills – which is good because, well, um… I need to build those skills.

Sparring with Circumstances

If I ever have to fight for my life, I’m going to have to learn that circumstances won’t always be in my favor.  The very first workout at Gasshuku, the sun was in my eyes.  I told myself to deal with it because maybe that might happen in a real fight.  During promotion at Gasshuku, I slipped on dewy grass a few times.  I told myself to keep going – I won’t always be able to choose the terrain.  In fact, I’d already practiced kata a few times on sand and shingle, so slipping wasn’t anything new.  At home, I hesitated at the idea of practicing karate in the garage because of the hard concrete.  Then I hit upon the idea of training in what I wear every day – shoes and all because that’s probably the most likely scenario for a fight.  I seriously doubt an attacker would let me pull a gi out of my purse as I run to the nearest telephone booth to change!  Likewise, with each new little owie (including a contact lens going wonky after a tap to the eye), I told myself to just keep on because everything I experienced could happen in a real fight for survival – that and more.  Granted, sometimes we are overcome.  For that situation, I’ll refer you to my article on Success (trust me on this).


Bowing to Leadership Responsibilities

“Hi, is our Water Fitness instructor going to be here?”  I asked the Aquatics Manager as I dripped my way into her poolside office.

“No, she called in sick.  Would you like the list of exercises?”

I thanked the manager as I took the laminated printout from her hand and stepped back to the pool.  My daughter and I started the workout as people started showing up for class.  I explained in simple English the teacher was sick and I had a list of exercises.

“You teach!”  A Hispanic woman who doesn’t speak much English piped up, smiling trustingly at me.

Three or four more ladies who don’t speak much English overheard the first lady’s request.  They all smiled at me, looking at me expectantly.  I drew in a deep breath as I realized all of us had driven or bussed to the Y, changed into swimsuits (with some body types this is a challenge), showered, endured cold air and cold water…  If nothing else, we needed to generate some body heat!  I smiled and said, “OK.”  I proceeded to lead by example and demonstration (often hopping out of the water) while working with the additional challenge of language barriers.  Ever since then, I’ve been the substitute teacher for Water Fitness class.

Just the other day our instructor was sick again, but this time I wasn’t able to get the outline of the workout.  The ladies asked me to lead anyway.  They trusted me more than I trusted myself.  I was surprised to find I remembered almost everything.

Why do they look to me for leadership?  I’m so very different from most of them! I’m one of the younger members, I’m white, comparatively athletic, and I speak only English fluently.  I think I have an inkling thanks to a good article about character qualities that Martial Arts gives us.  You can read Jaro Berce’s article, “Learning Leadership from Martial Arts – II” if you want to learn more.  It seems people are drawn to these characteristics.  This is sometimes difficult for an introvert like me!  I define introvert as someone who expends energy while with others and thus is drained after awhile, as opposed to an extrovert – one who gains energy from everyone around them.

As an introvert, my first inclination was to deny the empathy I felt with these ladies about the situation, to shy away from the responsibility and to not use the gifts I’ve been given to lead the class.  These ladies are struggling with some severe medical issues – weight, pain, surgeries, arthritis…  What kind of person am I if I’m in a position to help and I ignore their needs?  I’d undermine my personal development for sure if I avoided my responsibility.

What’s Next?

I expect I’ve quite a lot ahead of me, and maybe it’s best that I don’t know everything that I will face in the years to come!  I’m sure most of you black belts are chuckling and saying, “Wait until she has to deal with students!” and some of the rest of you black belts are poking the others in the ribs and saying, “No, wait until she has to deal with some of the students’ parents!”  I’m laughing at the thought, and I’m very grateful I have a few years to develop the skills I will need!

Trash Talk Tuesday: Tu Quoque – You do it too!

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 debating

It’s Trash Talk Tuesday!


White Belt One:  I’ve noticed you have a tendency to rise up in your stance when you move.  Maybe you should watch yourself in the mirror and think about keeping your belt the same height as you move.

White Belt Two:  Oh yeah?  Well, Captain Kangaroo, you do it too.  So don’t tell me how to practice.

Do we detect a bit of ad hominem sauce in Two’s response?  Yes, fallacies can be combined!  The trick is to counter the main fallacy – in this case, Tu Quoque.  Tu Quoque is Latin for “You also.”  Two is hoping to shift attention away from his own inadequacies by pointing out that One is also having the same problem with moving in stances.

Stick to your guns with Tu Quoque.

White Belt One:  Yes, I do pop up, and I’m working on it.  Here comes Sensei – I’ll let you ask her about watching yourself in a mirror.

Let’s try another example.

Tom:  I know you really like Sensei Rockum Sockum, but I’m just not sure about his credentials.  I did some checking, and I think he got his black belt from a Cracker Jack box.  I bought fifteen boxes of Cracker Jacks, opened them up, and sure enough!  One of them had a black belt in it that looks just like Sensei Rockum Sockum’s belt.

Sam:  Oh yeah?!?  Well the style of Karate you study was founded by some guy who didn’t have any credentials or even a black belt!  Nobody who practiced Karate used to have any framed certificates on their walls or cute little belts around their middles.  I’m staying with Sensei Rockum Sockum’s Home Study Karate Kourse, thank you very much!

What Sam says about the founders of many of the styles of Karate is true.  However, the real issue is that Tom has some evidence that Sensei Rockum Sockum might be a fraud.  Can Sam prove Tom’s evidence is flimsy?  Sam isn’t even trying – he’s dodging the issue!  Sam is attempting to shift attention away from what is, to him, a very uncomfortable subject.  The tricky thing with Tu Quoque is not to let the discussion degenerate.

A less than ideal response:  Oh yeah?  Well at least my Sensei earned his belt.  You know, you’re really thick if you can’t see through Sensei Rockum Sockum.

A pretty good counter:  It’s true that way back when, nobody had any belts except to hold up their pants.  But let’s talk more about your instructor.  I have more evidence that Sensei Rockum Sockum’s credentials are questionable, to say the least.

The Core of Your Self


Definitions of the word “core” include references to centrality and importance.  If I understand correctly, the core muscles are the muscles in your trunk both front and back but not necessarily the shoulders.  They support your spine.  You exercise those muscles when you do leg lifts, crunches, and (ugh) pushups.  In karate, we punch and kick from the core – our legs and arms snap like whipped towels if we throw the techniques properly from the core.  Just as your body has a core, your spirit has a core as well.  Most of what we do comes from the core.


A good place to see what the core of a person looks like is in a nursing home.  Everything superficial is gone.  Careers are over.  Any fame won is largely forgotten by the general public.  No one looks like the chiseled young people you see in swimsuit advertisements.  Health is by and large gone.  Some are as helpless as newborn babies.  What’s left after all has been stripped away by the ravages of old age?  The core of who they are.  It’s sobering to see one elder bitter and unhappy while another is still smiling and blessing the socks off of everyone within hearing.  Even when someone is afflicted with Alzheimer’s, the core of who they once were peeks through for a fleeting moment every once in awhile.


Personal development is key to strengthening your core.  Martial arts are valuable for developing physical and mental control.  Spiritual activities (for example: church worship services) have proven their value throughout the ages and across cultures.  There are many ways to work on your core.  It is vital that you do so.  Someday you might find everything else stripped away.

Here in America, we are celebrating Thanksgiving today.  Being thankful is one of many very powerful ways of developing your core.  Even if you’re heartbroken and crying today, find a way to be thankful for the gift of tears because crying is a healing process.  Look outside the window.  Even gloomy skies and rain are a blessing – just ask anyone who lives in a desert.  If you’re out in that cold, gloomy rain, please seek out warmth and fellowship – shelters throw their doors wide open today and you’ll definitely find plenty to be thankful for – maybe even a bit of hope for your future.  If you can find one little thing to be thankful for, you’ll start to get better at finding more things.  Your “core” will get stronger.


If you want to explore the core of yourself further, Sensei Andrea Harkins has a great article that goes deeper and gives specific steps to help you think about what she calls “The Genuine You.”  Don’t worry – you don’t have to spend hours of meditation contemplating your bellybutton, but Sensei Andrea will make you think!  She also has a related post about seeking something you can be passionate about.   The great thing about passions is they come from your “core” and nourish your spirit at the same time!

What does the core of your self look like?  What are you made of?