Trash Talk Tuesday: Circular Reasoning

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!

Just Curious:  Why do you do all those choreographed moves in Karate?

White Belt:  We do kata to improve our fighting.

Just Curious:  Uh, you’re not actually hitting anyone when you do that whatchamacallit…

White Belt:  Yeah, but kata improves our fighting because it’s good for our sparring.

It looks like White Belt is resorting to circular reasoning because he doesn’t know enough to explain why kata can help someone learn how to fight.  Let’s try another example of circular reasoning:

Sensei Rockum Sockum is a 12th degree black belt because he is the head of his own style, and he’s the head of his own style because he’s a 12th degree black belt!

GROAN!  I’m not sure pointing out the fallacy would do any good…

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

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.