Wait – what?!? Yes. It finally happened. Growing up sometimes means growing pains.  I experienced burnout. Don’t worry – I’m on the mend. I’m still with my home dojo, never fear. Let’s just get this out there – no, dear readers, you don’t need to know the specifics. Rest assured someone is making sure that I’m staying the course. Many others are completely unaware that they are helping me. Most of these are children who don’t need to be burdened with the knowledge of my struggle. I don’t think any of them read this blog, but if they do, maybe they’re ready to learn about a very real thing that can and does happen.

I have experienced burnout both as a parent and as a caregiver to my late grandparents. It took me a few hours to recognize what I was feeling in connection with my karate. Up until that moment, I never thought I would go through this with karate! Yet it happened just the other day. I am human. I’m glad I was able to catch it quickly. Burnout is a sign that I am investing heavily in my karate, which is a good thing! But burnout is also a sign that things are out of balance. Changes need to be made. I’ve taken measures, rest assured.

Recommendations to remedy burnout are many. Make time to get away and take care of yourself. Keep a journal. Talk to someone about what you’re going through. Pray. Exercise. Spend time outdoors. Have at least one person keep tabs on you. Get professional help if needed. These are great general recommendations, but what can be done about karate-related burnout specifically?

For some, burnout could indicate a need to change dojo(s). It’s a drastic step. If you’re considering it, make sure you’re leaving for the right reasons. Make sure you’re not viewing the dojo with a consumer mindset.  See your dojo  as a community, not a commodity.  That shift in view alone could put things in perspective.  That said, abuse of any sort is a good reason to leave. Dysfunctional relationships, illegal activity, neglect, unsafe conditions – these are all great reasons to get out. But if you’re simply running out of fuel because you’re dealing with things that most dojo(s) go through to one degree or another – tell someone about it and stick with it. You could learn and grow as a result.

For some, burnout could be a result of not making enough progress or making too much progress too quickly. Plateaus happen – just do a search on the Web for “performance plateau” and you’ll see it’s a phenomenon that is not exclusive to martial arts. There’s loads of good and bad advice out there, I’ll let you decide. A huge upward spike in performance can be stressful and lead to burnout too. Also doing too much of anything, really, can burn one out.  The remedy for that is deceptively simple. Scaling back sounds easy, but, as with any human endeavor, it’s complicated. My best advice is to find balance.

I’m not qualified to address the specific needs of a sensei (instructor) who is burning out. The most I can do is offer some general things I learned from home schooling my children. Put on your oxygen mask first before helping others. Don’t be a slave to the curriculum – tweak it, mold it, knead it, pound it if necessary. Always search for fresh ideas and new activities. Ask your students to come up with something and have them lead the class for ten minutes or so. Don’t be afraid to step outside your culture and experience what life is like for others (this is what seminars are for). Be innovative – some things you try won’t work (and that’s OK) but more often than not you’ll find your intuition will lead you and your students to success. Trust yourself. Whenever you don’t trust yourself, read whatever records and journals you are keeping (you are writing stuff down, right?) to see your school’s growth and success. Most of all, get help when you need it. Your students need you and vice versa.

Ohhh yes. Never forget that you need your students. They can help you even when they don’t know they are doing so. The very next class after I recognized that I was burning out I looked for things to be happy about while I was assisting with the Intermediate class. I found plenty of things to be glad about, and my bucket started to fill again. One small student asked me to put my hand out as a target for him to kick – he recognized that this had helped him earlier. Another had a breakthrough with a kata (form) and appreciated me teaching him the concept of embusen. There was a belt test the next week, and the candidates were looking sharp. I remembered the pride I felt when the dojo sensei told me I was a big part of their success.

The big picture is hard to see when one is burning out. The other day when I experienced burnout, my perspective got skewed rather badly because emotions are powerful things. Immediately after recognizing what I was experiencing I read some articles on my blog. This included the post that was scheduled to publish just two days after I was hurting. In that post I wrote that making the world a better place is really the heart and soul of what I do in Karate. Oh my. It’s a lot to live up to, but it is so true. I had lost that focus. I asked someone to keep tabs on me and remind me of all that I’ve gained and about the fun I’m having. I’m willing to do the same for that person. Burnout happens. Fall down seven times, stand up eight.


Every year the facility that hosts my “home” dojo shuts down for a week for maintenance and deep cleaning. That is a smart idea and there is always a visible difference throughout the facility when it re-opens. I don’t mind that I have to find an alternative to going to my Karate class. I simply visit a sister dojo. A couple of weeks ago while the host facility was shut down I visited a sister dojo.

Whenever I visit that dojo I always think back to how I almost started my first journey there, way back in late 1983. After six weeks in a little Parks & Rec Tang Soo Do program, I was hooked. I was completely dissatisfied with meeting only twice per week and with the long, 2-3 week breaks in between sessions. My father did some research that included the club that I now visit when I can. Ultimately he decided that a storefront dojo closer to our house and headed by a lady sensei (instructor) was a better fit for me. It gives me an odd feeling whenever I think that if I’d started at what is now my sister dojo and if I’d kept up with Karate all these years, by now I’d probably be senior to quite a few karateka in our organization.

But then I wouldn’t be having the adventures I’m having now. Worse, maybe I wouldn’t be studying Karate at all. Maybe I’d have sustained a more severe injury than any I’ve had so far. Or perhaps I’d be burned out from juggling too many responsibilities while raising babies and, later, helping my mother care for my grandparents. Of course it’s equally possible that I’d be sitting among the highest ranked karateka of our organization today. I don’t mourn for that lost possibility because I am content with my journey.

I hope the love I have for my art pervades this blog. I’m tickled pink that I, a slightly-lumpy middle-aged matron, who “should be” doing more passive things am enjoying this “strange little hobby of acquiring bruises for funsies” (as fellow blogger Jackie Bradbury puts it).  Every once in awhile I get a little sad when I think, “I don’t have enough decades left in my life to accomplish [fill in the blank] like so-and-so has.” Maybe so. But is that so important?

No. It isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I respect and treasure everyone who has achieved more in Karate than I have. I admire their accomplishments and I emulate my mentors and heroes as best I can. It’s just that there’s an immensely important thing that absolutely everyone, martial artist or not, can achieve starting right now. It’s called making the world a better place. And that, dear readers, is something I can do every single time I enter the dojo. I am touching lives. I am helping to bring about those “Aha!” moments that light up people’s faces. I help sweep the floor before class. I treat a child with respect, and that respect could be like water in the desert for that child’s life. Simple things, yes, but the results are magic.

That is the secret to my contentment. I still push myself to the top of my game. I still try for those tournament medals. I still train for my next belt test. I still do conditioning exercises early in the morning. I don’t mourn for the decades that were lost, the things that never happened, the honors I might never earn. I focus on the here and now. I can make the world a better place one small act of love at a time. It’s a fun benefit to training 🙂


Metacognition is the process of analyzing what goes on in one’s own mind. A few weeks ago I realized I was nearing the fourth anniversary of this blog, and the word “metablognition” popped into my head. Yep – blogging about one’s own blog. At the time, I was in a motel room journaling that day’s experience at Nationals, so I simply jotted the word down and let it percolate throughout the weeks that followed.  I knew by the time I reached my fourth “blogiversary” (yesterday, 9/6/18) I’d have a blog post.

Four years ago when I started this blog I’d been reading and commenting on three other blogs: “Karate by Jesse (The Karate Nerd),” Andrea Harkins’ “The Martial Arts Woman,” and “Happy Life Martial Arts” by Ando Mierzwa. I have to admit my comments were long and autobiographical. Accordingly, Andrea and Ando encouraged me to start my own blog (yes, go ahead and laugh, it is funny). I’d just finished reading an autobiography of a martial artist who had begun her journey as an adult. It was a good read, but it was clear the author was missing details from her early years. She was writing from the perspective of a seasoned yudansha (black belt). I wanted to chronicle my experiences right from the start, with an eye towards writing an autobiography later. I want to see how my perspective shifts over time.

It turns out my blog is a potpourri. I set a breakneck pace at first and explored a number of topics. Then I saw the wisdom of slowing down and settled into biweekly posting.  From time to time I’ve taken inspiration from other martial arts bloggers. At one time I was active in a martial arts forum and saw how people argued, so I wrote a little series on logical fallacies  based on a book I’d used to teach my children. Sometimes I tackle broader topics such as gender and inclusion. I’ve always kept the autobiographical theme running.

The trouble with my original idea of writing an autobiography is that some things are better left unsaid. I must respect the privacy of other people. I absolutely must not blog about things that karateka have told me in confidence! Also, I admit that sometimes my perspective is erroneously skewed towards the extreme end of negative. New to me this year is my responsibility as a judge to remain neutral about the athletes who enter the ring where I’m working. As a sensei-in-training I have to maintain good relationships with everyone from the host facility’s janitor to the highest-ranked yudansha of any organization, not just my own. In this blog, I can’t just spout off about stuff I don’t like. That said, every once in awhile I’ll play with fire and address the broader concepts that are related to whatever negative situation I’m in.  Sometimes I’m scared when I hit the “Schedule” button.

Putting myself “out there” is actually a little scary to me, believe it or not. For about three years I was really shy about sharing my blog with people I actually know in real life. Considering this blog has been up for four years now… Yeah, I was “somewhere between bed-wetting and a near-death experience” (as Rizzo in “Muppet Treasure Island” puts it). I don’t remember clearly, but I think very shortly after I joined Facebook someone quite highly placed in the Karate organization I belong to  discovered my blog. I do remember receiving a commendation and a jump in readership for my post about Gasshuku 2017. Ever since then I’ve been both more confident about my writing and more aware of my responsibilities.

So what’s the future of this blog? Honestly, I don’t think much will change. I’ve settled into a groove. I’ve slowed my initial pace, and have been comfortable with biweekly posts for quite some time now. That said, sometimes I hit writer’s block and slip a post in just under my deadline!  Judicious autobiography seems to be working so I’ll keep that up. I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to cover broader topics without repeating myself – I’m already starting to search my own blog to see if I’ve already written about something. I’d like to figure out how to get people to look to the right of the PC screen (or the bottom of the phone screen) and buy something I’ve created on Zazzle 🙂 But one thing I know – I won’t stop this blog (“A Beginner’s Journey”) if I earn Shodan (first degree black belt). I’m watching karateka make the transition from i-kyu (rank just before black) to Shodan, and I’ve talked to more seasoned yudansha, so I can say confidently that Shodan is not the end of the journey. It is the beginning.

Another Beginner


She shudders, grimaces, and hugs herself as her sister spars during a belt test.  She flinches at every punch and kick and does not understand her mother’s assurance that the fighting isn’t real, that most of the techniques are controlled.  She isn’t convinced that her sister is unharmed.

Due to unforeseen circumstances she is dragged to a tournament.  She buries herself in a book and tries to ignore what is going on around her.  But when a parent starts yelling, she feels compelled to look up.  She is frightened by the loud parent and anxious about the girls who are sparring.  She has to step away for a few minutes.  She eventually buries herself in her book again.

She grows and matures.  At the library she finds a book about superheroes.  She gets hooked.  Soon she memorizes which heroes belong to which publishers, she knows every power and every limitation.    Her tastes in movies change from “My Little Pony” to the PG-13 superhero movies (and she learns cuss words from Wolverine).  She learns there are times when one has to use force in order to protect oneself or others.  She learns there are things worth fighting for.

She wants to be a superhero.  Her mother tells her that being a martial artist will be the closest she’ll get to being a superhero.  She’s been listening to her mother’s karate stories at the dinner table.  Sometimes she imitates what she sees when her mother practices at home.

She watches her mother undergo a tough belt test.  Immediately after her mother’s belt test she puts on some fist pads and imitates what she saw.  Her tired, sweaty, hungry mother teaches her a little bit of Karate right then and there under the casual supervision of several yudansha (black belts).  She is warned that she will, from time to time, sustain minor injuries.  She is finally mature enough to realize that most of the time her mother comes home from class unharmed and injuries heal over time.

Her mother asks if she would like to begin Karate lessons.  She says yes.  She graduates from high school – a mix of special ed and mainstream classes.  As a graduation present her mother enrolls her in the new beginner class.  She has fun the first day of class.

This is my daughter.  She is autistic and she is brave.

Long-time readers of this blog will recall that I joined my first daughter after she started training.  My first daughter decided to stop training and I continued.  I never expected my second daughter, who used to be fearful at the merest hint of violence, to develop an interest in Karate.  In the opening paragraphs of this post you can see how autism has affected her perception of Karate.  You can also see that she grew past it.  I waited about a year to see if my daughter really was serious and if she really did understand what training involves.  I discussed my training injuries thoroughly with her and made sure she understood real life consequences versus  movie consequences.  After my ni-kyu test I had no more doubts:  she was ready to begin Karate.  She had a blast her first week.

I have to admit I do have some anxieties about my daughter’s autism getting in the way of her karate.  But according to her high school special-ed teacher, my daughter made some quantum leaps in her personal development.  We saw this at home too.  I have to trust that.  I also trust the sensei (instructor) who teaches the new beginner class.  Not only that, I trust Karate itself.

In general, autistic people crave structure in their activities and they appreciate specific guidelines for social interactions.  Karate has that.  Autistic people, like everyone else, want respect.  The dojo is a place where everyone is expected to treat everyone else with respect.  My daughter loves ceremony and ritual, so she’ll do well with that aspect of Karate.  In the dojo my daughter and I will be adults together – my role as mother will be diminished.  This will help us both, I’m sure.  I know that Karate aids personal growth on several different levels – and yes, autism has delayed my daughter’s development so she needs the boost that karate can give her.  It is likely she will thrive in Karate.  I know she’ll have good guidance from the very people who are helping me on my journey.

I didn’t expect this at all from the girl who used to shudder at violence.  I’m looking forward to seeing my beautiful, special daughter become Wonder Woman.  But even if she decides to stop training at the end of the three months that new beginners commit to, I will be proud of her for trying.


“Wow, that was so awesome when those blue belts went like this,” a little white-belt (no rank) boy enthused, imitating the movement in the intermediate kata (form) that had most impressed him.

I chuckled, smiled, and agreed, “Yes, it was. Someday you’ll learn that kata too.”

Of course the blue belts (a low rank in our system) were not performing that movement at black belt level, not by a long shot. I’ve seen that kata performed by patient yudansha (black belts) as they were teaching me and others. It is definitely so awesome when those yudansha go like this… But in that moment when the little boy praised the other kids, I agreed wholeheartedly that it was awesome when those blue belts went like this… Of course there are several reasons for me to agree with the boy, but I really don’t want to go off on a tangent right now. Let’s look at the little boy who loved what he saw.

That little boy’s “Sense of Wonder” (a term coined by Rachel Carson) is fully operational. I’ve seen his sense of wonder kick in at other times too. I have to admit it’s flattering when he’s in awe of what this slightly-lumpy middle-aged matron can do. But it’s even more gratifying when he compels me to take a closer look at something, to see it through his eyes, and to feel my own heart swell with the joy of witnessing something amazing.

Karate, with its endless drills, its plethora of kata to be memorized, and its demands for more and more repetitions of each and every movement, would seem to be a murderer of the sense of wonder. However, Karate’s demands won’t kill anyone’s sense of wonder if the leaders in the dojo (school) are constantly cultivating their own sense of wonder, letting their joy spill out for everyone to see. Nurturing a sense of wonder is the job of everyone in the dojo, of course, but there’s an extra burden on the sensei(s) (instructors) and the senior students. Wonder is a powerful motivator.

The dojo should be a place where people are tuned in to the amazing things that they can do and to the amazing things that everyone around them can do (no matter what their rank). Yes, improving in the art of Karate takes a lot of repetition, gallons of sweat, and a smattering of pain and tears. Students will start to value the tough process of growth if those in leadership are constantly pointing out specific ways in which each person is improving, if the leaders exult in those “aha” moments, and, most importantly, if they are constantly feeding their students’ sense of wonder.

I’m sure there are many teachers – and not just martial arts teachers – who have loads of practical ideas for maintaining that curiosity, that thirst to learn, that constant recognition of everyday miracles. Some of their ideas might work for your dojo and for your teaching style, some may not. Research what’s out there. Bounce ideas off your peers. Experiment on your students (I’ve been a lab rat loads of times).

Most of all, cultivate your own sense of wonder. Watch videos of karateka who you admire. Think back on how far you yourself have come. Remember when your own sensei showed you something and you were amazed. Here’s a hint: you’re not limited to Karate when it comes to nurturing your own sense of wonder! Take the time to do these things and your students will reap the rewards.  We are awesome – all of us – from first-day beginner to seasoned master.