Making a Difference

Last week a few of my fellow karateka (people who study karate) and I helped out with a womens’ self-defense seminar taught by one of or organization’s sensei (instructor). With seven assistants among twenty four women, not everyone got to have a karateka as a partner. I very deliberately chose someone in particular to work with. “Judy” (not her real name) was my senior in age, not old enough to be particularly fragile, but I wanted to be sure that she was paired with someone who would be able to instantly modify the material if need be. I was very confident that I could do that, and that it would be a great experience for me. I was right.

I’m familiar with the era Judy grew up in. She would have come of age sometime in between my parents and me. Sometimes I hear the echoes of society’s messages from that era (for further reading, click here and here). It was pretty obvious that Judy hears those echoes too. I admired her willingness to explore what she is capable of. Yes, Judy can indeed execute those wicked awesome moves we taught her. But more importantly, Judy learned she is capable of being strong mentally.

Judy admitted to me that she was crossing into unfamiliar territory. She told me that she hadn’t really thought about or learned much about the power of being assertive in a potentially dangerous situation. Of course I was gratified when Judy said I was a good role model for her and that she admired my inner strength. But truth be told, I was in awe of Judy. She was growing and learning. Judy became more and more comfortable with the physical exercises and started to see possibilities for adding more to the material. I do so love it when a student starts thinking on that level! That manifestation of engagement indicated a significant mental shift for Judy. Right before my eyes, she became empowered. Judy owned what we were teaching.

Judy said I was a good role model, but really, she is an excellent role model herself. It takes grit and determination to step beyond what women were told in the era Judy and I grew up in. More so for Judy because she spent a longer time than me in that era. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone takes guts, and it’s obvious Judy is brave. Most of all, Judy wanted to learn. A strong desire to learn helps a student overcome many obstacles, and Judy overcame a lot that day. I admire her for that, and I am honored to have been a part of that process for her.

Making a difference and helping students to be better than they were before they walked in the door should be my focus every single class that I help teach or actually teach. I admit, some days I’m grumpy, I’m unfocused, I’m not in that zone. Maybe on those “off” days I should ground myself by remembering Judy. Hmm – it looks like Judy is making a difference to me and, by extension, the karate students I help! What goes around comes around.

Another Self Defense Seminar

See my last post for an explanation of why I chose this image.  I reversed the image this time because, after all, one must train both sides of the body!

The day after my last post published I put in a full day. It wasn’t enough to go to Saturday practice time at my dojo. Oh no, not when there was more fun to be had! A local dojo (not from the organization I belong to) was hosting two women’s self-defense seminars. I skipped the first seminar because I really needed to put my own dojo and my own practice in top priority. I had enough time to rinse off in a shower, gulp down a protein bar and some electrolytes, drive, and change into a clean set of workout clothes upon arrival. I found my way through the unfamiliar athletic club and into the studio perhaps ten minutes before the first seminar ended.

The first seminar was billed as basic but from what I could tell it had been different from the basic seminar I’d attended two weeks prior from this one. The ladies were drilling a sequence of defense and attack. I’m guessing that the skill-set was built gradually, movement by movement over the course of half an hour or more. My first inkling that I might be using skills I’ve learned from Karate came when I recognized a movement from the kata (form) we label as Pinan Yondan. Students were carefully grabbing their partners’ head and slowly bringing a knee up to simulate smashing an opponent’s face.

I joined in the closing meditation. The instructor led us in this, reminding us how and when to breathe. She’d say things like, “Know that you are powerful. If someone who wants to do something harmful sees you, they will feel your power and they won’t mess with you.” I thought this was a nice touch for this context. Guided meditation is not generally done during Karate meditation, so it’s good to experience something different.

After the end of the first seminar the dojo sensei (karate school head instructor) and the self-defense instructor came over to greet me. I’d “met” the dojo sensei online after I commended him for offering a free month of karate classes to women following a rape attack in the community. We’d had a little online “conversation” going off and on for a few weeks so it was nice to finally meet him in person. The self defense instructor is an impressive woman. Not only does she teach Kung Fu, she also teaches Krav Maga. Awwww yiiiiiiisssss!

Three other women stayed to take the advanced seminar. Four students – perfect.

“You’re all pretty fit, so let’s get that blood pumping!” the instructor announced.

It’s a good thing I’ve been to other seminars and camp and such. I’ve learned to go, go, go even if I’m tired, tired, tired. I learned a new movement to bring to the table next time I lead warm ups at my dojo. The warm up was vigorous but not beyond me. It turns out we would be demanding a good deal from our bodies so I was glad that the instructor had us thoroughly warm up.

I learned right away that my Karate skills were both going to work against me and work for me. Right away I was fighting the instinct to do something different than what was taught. No sooner did I overcome that when the dojo sensei requested that I slow down in order to reduce the chance of harming my partner. My immediate positive response to his request indicated that my Karate training was also working for me. One incident in particular highlights this mixture of blessing and hindrance.

We’d reached a point where we could drill the three of the sequences we’d learned. The instructor had us circle up and asked for a volunteer to stand in the middle of the circle. I tried to hang back but I got volunteered anyway. My understanding was that everyone was going to attack me in order “to simulate being attacked by a group.” I’ve done this sort of thing before. When I’ve done this at my own dojo the rule was only one attacker at a time. Small mercy because you don’t know what technique the attacker will use and you don’t know who’s attacking next. I knew I could handle that but I didn’t think I could reliably use the defenses that I’d just learned. They weren’t hammered into my muscle memory, unlike quite a lot of other things I could do without thinking. So I asked, “Do we have to stick with the techniques we learned in the lesson?” It turns out I completely misunderstood what we were about to do. I only had to go around the circle to each person and the attacks were predictable. Yes, go ahead and laugh.

I started thinking about the basic principles of what we were doing. Leverage. Kime (look it up). Weight distribution. Load-bearing stances. Smashing joints.  I started to hear the voice of the late Professor Remy Presas (founder of Modern Arnis) whispering, “It’s all de same…”

Next up was ground work. This was totally and completely unfamiliar territory for me. Sure I’d been taught some throws as part of kata bunkai (practical application of movements from our forms). But so far I hadn’t been taught about what to do once I’m on the ground. I also had never been in a situation where some guy I’m barely acquainted with is, you guessed it, straddling me and “choking” me while I am flat on the ground. Not just in one position but three. Because of my size, strength, and martial arts experience I wasn’t rolling the petite lady instructor – oh no, I was rolling my gentleman acquaintance, the dojo sensei. I was a little unprepared for the mixture of dark, negative emotions that crashed through me. I was definitely out of my comfort zone.

I had to fight myself to even lie down on the mat. I had to sternly tell myself that yeah, I was learning from watching the other ladies but actually doing this stuff would be infinitely better. The rush of elation after my first escape was fantastic. I learned to channel the negative emotional reaction to being in these positions into motivation to learn the lessons well and execute the sequences quickly. I relaxed and started thinking about leverage, push-and-pull, hip rotation, and using your opponent’s natural reactions to your advantage… Yes, it’s all de same. Ground work suddenly didn’t feel alien to me anymore.

After this it was back to more familiar territory. The instructor had us expand on something we’d learned earlier. Before this one of the ladies had to leave early. That left me paired with my gentleman acquaintance, the dojo sensei. He let me throw him a few times while the instructor worked intensively with the other two ladies on the sequence (and they weren’t allowed to throw each other). When it was clear I had a good handle on the sequence and the throw, the dojo sensei smiled, changed his position relative to me and to the padded mats, and said, “Now do it on the other side.” I grinned – every good sensei has his or her students train both sides of the body 🙂 Using my non-dominant side was a bit awkward at first but after awhile I managed just fine.

We ended with another circle drill and this time I knew how to proceed. It was a good review. When it was my turn to attack with a rubber knife I received the last sting of the day to my forearm. Earlier, we’d drilled that defense quite a bit so everyone got hit repeatedly when it was their turn to wield a rubber knife. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a bruise. I was willing to repeatedly take that pain so that others could learn, and learn they did. There are women in my community who know they can defend themselves against a knife and I was part of their learning. It’s a great feeling. For this knife defense we were essentially using juji-uke, a block that is very familiar to me from kata (forms). So as a bonus my kata will be that much better because I got to experience this block both on the striking and receiving ends.

I found out from the instructor that there’s an organization centered around women’s self defense.  I can see myself someday registering as an instructor. Meanwhile I have a lot to learn. Throughout the seminar I kept thinking about the principles behind what we were doing and comparing what I was learning to things I’ve learned from Karate. I’m more eager now than ever to keep building my skills in Karate. I have a deeper appreciation for the foundation that my sensei have laid. Our kata are our textbooks.  The self defense instructor showed me how to apply what I didn’t know I knew.

****

If you’re in the Seattle area and are interested in taking a self defense seminar from Kimberly Bowen, please click on this link:  http://www.macabeeseattle.com/  Thank you to Greg Sommers-Herivel of Northwest School of Karate (Burien) for hosting and for letting me try some wicked awesome stuff on you.

A Self Defense Seminar

I’m not making fun of the seminar with this image, although I do find the image amusing on several different levels. It’s just that when I was searching for “self defense” images most of what I found was 1) white ladies beating up black men (racist), 2) ladies kicking guys in the crotch (um, there’s more to self defense than that), and 3) ladies attacking guys who are wearing outfits that match their own (black tank tops mostly).  Apparently rapists try to find ladies whose outfits match theirs – so don’t dress like a rapist and you won’t get raped.

A couple of weeks ago the community college where I work shut down all normal operations for Professional Development Day. Faculty and staff members ate free food, listened to a speaker, and then ate more free food. After lunch we had our choice of one of several seminars. Most seminars were geared specifically towards faculty, but there were a few that weren’t. Among the choices was a self defense seminar.

So why would I need to go to a self defense seminar? Surely by now I can at least manage to give someone a bloody nose, right? I have any number of really brutal techniques hammered into my muscle memory from practicing kata (forms). I’ve hit and kicked bags using my fastest speed and all the power I have.  And I’m a brown belt – that’s right before black so I should be pretty badass already, right?

It’s true that I was hoping to pick up at least one new technique. I did – swiping thumbs across an opponent’s eyes in lieu of gouging.  I also learned a combination of techniques that could very well work “in the street.”  I had Japanese names for nearly every technique the instructor taught and most of the other techniques were very slight variations of what I’ve already learned. I felt free to expand on a couple of things – for instance swiping thumbs across the opponent’s eyes (from the opponent’s nose outward) led very nicely into the double kidney strike featured in the kata (form) named Bassai Dai. On the surface it looks like I didn’t get much out of the seminar.

I remember being at a seminar on leadership and the speaker said that if he spends hundreds of dollars to spend four hours cooped up in an airplane, spends hundreds of dollars more on a motel room, food, and transportation, then sits through five hours of a seminar that cost him a couple hundred more dollars and all he learns is just one thing that sticks with him for the rest of his life… It’s totally worth it. Yes, that one combination of techniques will stick with me, as will my expansions and improvisations on other things that were taught. But that is certainly not all that I gained. I gained a lot more.

My main objective in attending the self defense seminar was to learn about one-off self defense seminars. I’ve never been to any self defense seminars. Teaching self defense seminars is something I might want to do in the future.  There are huge differences between studying a traditional martial art and taking a one-off self defense seminar. This was an alien world to me. I’ve taught new beginners in Karate with the presumption that they’ll stick with the Karate class for at least a month or two, if not longer.  I lead them through a gradual progression of skills.  Teaching people you might not ever see again is a whole ‘nother ball of wax. I wanted to learn how it’s done.

I was very glad that we didn’t line up in rows as we would for a formal Karate class. The instructor had us standing in a circle. This meant that I could observe everyone in the room. There was a glaring gender disparity – a male instructor, one male student, and about twenty female students. The male student was smirking a lot – I would like to think he was smirking at the thought of how much well-deserved pain an attacker would receive but I have to admit it’s entirely possible he was mentally mocking the proceedings. The women showed a wide range of emotions. Some were a little nervous but warmed up nicely, and a couple of these turned out to be quite ferocious later. A few women had perhaps taken a self defense seminar before – this was familiar territory. One woman was overconfident and later ended up hurting her foot against the punching bag. And one woman was silently soaking it all in and evaluating absolutely everything (that would be me).

I paid attention to everyone, not just the instructor. I listened to the questions that the students asked. I evaluated the answers the students gave to the instructor’s questions. I myself stayed silent – this was my time to learn. I asked myself later how I would reach the students, “where they were at,” so to speak.  Because I picked up on techniques and combinations quickly I was able to look around to see how well the students were learning them. When students rotated through stations to practice on punching bags, a BOB (man-shaped Body Opponent Bag), and a kick bag there was plenty of time for me to observe others as I stood in line.

I surmised that even the students who were not generating much force with their techniques would still hurt a real person with what they were doing. More force, of course, would be ideal but the main point of a one-off self defense seminar is that even just “stinging” one’s opponent can give one an opportunity to escape or follow up with another technique. This wasn’t a continuous marital arts class where ideal body mechanics could mean a tournament medal or moving up in rank. This one-off seminar was about giving people a few tools they could use to save their lives.

After class the instructor spent time with me to answer my questions and to give me pointers about learning and teaching self defense.  I really appreciated that.  I have a lot to think about, research, and learn in the years to come. As I’ve said before, my vision of my Karate future is kinda fuzzy right now. Perhaps teaching one-off self defense seminars is something I can specialize in after I earn Shodan (black belt – and along with that the credentials to teach without in-person supervision).  I treasure both male and female sensei (instructors), but not every woman shares my sentiment. Some women prefer to learn martial arts and self defense from other women. Maybe that’s a need I could someday fill.

Aside from all that, this seminar was just plain fun.  Most of you who are reading this understand the “weird little obsession with acquiring bruisies for funsies” (as Modern Arnis blogger Jackie Bradbury puts it).  So you know how much fun it is to try empi uchi and teisho uchi out on a BOB. You know how much fun it is to try something new, or to put familiar things together in new ways.  Some of you teach so you know the satisfaction of watching first-day beginners learn something (even if they’re not your students, LOL).  You know how fun it is to pick up new teaching ideas. And yes, it was fun to hit things and yell.  That never gets old (in the proper context, of course).

****

P. S. – I have the opportunity on Saturday to go to a more advanced self defense seminar.  Different instructor, so this will provide even more learning opportunities.  All I have to do is get over this stupid sinus infection that has been plaguing me all week.  Stay tuned!