Two Beginnings: My Story

This is in response to an article by Troy Seeling posted on Jackie Bradbury’s blog – Click here to read it!

When I was 13 I tried Karate because I was curious – would I be breaking boards within a week?  What did karate people do anyway?  I was also having trouble with bullies at school.  From the first few minutes I was hooked.  I felt stronger every class, so that kept me at it.  I spent 3 or 4 years training hard.

My Sensei honored me by asking me to help teach the little kids’ class.  I enjoyed it, but I started getting sick.  All the time.  I even got chicken pox that year!  My training went to pot and my grades at school were in jeopardy from all my absences.  I got so discouraged I quit altogether.  I wish I had simply bowed out of teaching little kids, then I would’ve been fine.  But I was a dumb mixed-up emotional teenage girl and didn’t think of that.  Years went by and I did next to nothing for exercise.  Life happened, I went to college out of state, kids came along, yada yada.

When my kids were little I spent a good deal of time bed-ridden because of illnesses they dragged home.  When my kids were a little older and not bringing in the germs as much, I tried teaching Sunday School at church.  I would always be sick by Thursday.  My doctor did some testing and found out I have IgG subclass 2 deficiency – a fancy way of saying that my body simply does not produce enough of one of the germ-fighting substances the body uses to fight off illness.  So far this winter, I’ve been healthy, but all the kids in my current dojo are old enough to stay home when sick and they practice good hygiene.  That wasn’t the case with the little kids I used to teach when I was a teenager.

I know now I need to be very clear about my future in karate – I have particular dojos in mind where I would love to eventually teach because the demographics are favorable to my condition 🙂

My daughter started training in September 2013 at the community college, took both quarters then continued at the local YMCA.  Secretly I was eating my heart out every time I went to pick my daughter up from karate.  I’d often come early just to watch her.  Sometimes I’d meet her for the light lunch she’d eat before class, and I’d watch the entire class.  I volunteered at tournaments and felt stabs of regret.  I was proud but jealous at promotions.

I had my excuses.  Some I shared, some I didn’t.  My daughter and three Senseis persisted in their efforts to get me on the mats again.  The straw that broke the camel’s back came after a tournament and pizza party in early June of this year.  My daughter said, “You could help me with kata and I could help you with kumite!”

Two days later I was back on the mats.  It was a birthday surprise for my daughter.  I dropped her off at the door of the Y as usual, then parked the car, ran into the locker room, and changed clothes.  The look on her face when I showed up in a gi was priceless.

I survived.  I knew I’d get in shape eventually, so I persisted.  I found that a few things I’d been concerned about shouldn’t have kept me from training again because they simply aren’t a problem.  I’ve re-claimed my love for karate.  I don’t feel middle-aged when I’m in class.  I feel young, capable, and strong.

I keep on practicing because as an adult, I see there are depths and dimensions to the art that I wasn’t able to grasp as a teenager.  There’s enough to keep me busy for as long as I am able to do Karate.  This weekend, I was privileged to be able to watch brown belts earn their black belts.  Among them was a 70 year old gentleman.  If he can do it, I can too.

 

The Perfect Moment

141016_Image1One of my hobbies is photography.  I haven’t yet found out who coined the term “the perfect moment.”  Experienced photographers know when they’ve hit the shutter button at the perfect moment.  It’s a sort of “knowing” that you feel deep inside the core of your self.  The “perfect moment” is the instant you know every element is in place – shutter speed, aperture setting, lighting, composition, focus, and the subject – especially if the subject is in motion like Grumpy Rooster.

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You hit the shutter button at the right time and there’s your next prizewinner.  Miss that moment or worse yet leave your camera at home and it’s a real bummer.  But is that moment really “perfect?”  I can look at my top twelve images and pick apart every single one of them.  I could lose confidence about my photography.  Is there room for improvement in my photography?  Absolutely.  Are there better photographers than I?  Oh yes.  So for the sake of my sanity, I’ll define “perfect moment” as my personal best – far beyond my average.

Karate has its own “perfect moments.”  It’s when you feel all the elements are there – timing, position, breathing, stance, target, kime…  and you’ve nailed the technique or at least you’ve come as close to perfect as you can given your current level of training.  It feels awesome especially if it’s something you’re doing with a training partner.  For me in karate, “perfect moments” are exceedingly rare.  I’m a beginner so that’s to be expected.  I know all you black belts reading this are chuckling right now – remember, I’m defining “perfect moment” as “far beyond my average,” not, “grand-master standard.”  In photography, I get “perfect moments” fairly frequently.  What’s the difference?  A little over two decades of experience versus four months of training.  Frequent practice vs. writing blogs when I should be practicing (Please excuse me while I do ten pushups for that admission!  Ichi…  ni…  san…)

Do “perfect moments” come easily to me as a photographer now that I’ve developed the technical knowledge and the instincts to capture them?  Not always.  Sometimes I do just happen to be at the right place at the right time and I nail it.  More often than not I get cricks in my neck and back while taking about 20 or 30 frames of the same stupid daisy.

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Passers-by have probably wondered about the strange lady contorting herself and muttering to her camera for fifteen minutes at a time.  I have a confession: the vast majority of frames I take suck.  That’s why I often spend time contorting myself to get a different perspective, constantly adjusting the camera settings and the composition of the picture for each frame.  I take lots of frames.  One of those frames might be worth the effort.  Sucking at photography used to be expensive back in the days of film.

Imagine if you had to pay money every time you made a mistake in the dojo.  That’s what had to be done with photography in the “old days” of film – you had to buy rolls of film, pay to have them developed, pay for prints, and maybe if you were lucky you might have one truly amazing photo in a roll.  Digital photography has freed me to make more mistakes – therefore I am better able to work on technical stuff, to experiment with composition, and to make sure I get the most out of each subject.  Now that I don’t have to deal with film I have loads more “perfect moments” because I have far fewer constraints on the art of taking pictures.  Guess what – sucking has always been free in karate.  Yes, you do have to pay for your class time, but even if you’re amazing, you still go to class, right?  Right?  The correct answer, by the way, is a resounding “Yes!”  As long as you have the time to do so, you are free to make loads of mistakes, to work on technical stuff, to experiment, and to make sure you understand and explore every movement.  There’s really no shortcut – it takes work, time and patience to get “perfect moments.”

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I can hear the protests, “If you suck at taking pictures, there’s PhotoShop and GIMP!”  I am proficient in GIMP, and I can tell you that there’s really no way to make a purse out of a sow’s ear.  It’s much easier to tweak an image that is mostly good.  It’s even better when I don’t have to edit at all.  There is no substitute for a decent photo.  Karate doesn’t have PhotoShop.  Nobody’s going to wave a magic wand and make your belt turn the next color.  You can’t get by with sloppy kihon, half-hearted kata, or lousy kumite.  There’s no substitute for hard work and practice, for good technique, for the heart of a warrior (Buzz word! Ten more pushups for me!), and for years and years of time to develop your skills.  I’m told I must get used to sucking in karate and yes, even feel good about sucking.  I believe it because of my experience with photography.  Still, I love those “perfect moments” and I hope to have more of them as time goes by.

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Cross Post – A Parent’s Guide to the Martial Arts by Jackie Bradbury

Last week I gave a nod to Jackie’s article.  This week, I’m cross-posting the article!  Thank you, Jackie, for cross-posting my article last week – I really appreciate it!

Jackie Bradbury publishes “The Stick Chick“. You can find Jackie on Google Plus (+Jackie Bradbury) Twitter (@JackieB23), Pinterest, Tumblr and on Facebook

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Parent’s Guide to the Martial Arts

Mommy’s Little Badass,
about six years old.

I’m a martial artist, but I’m also the parent of a martial artist.  In fact, I’ve been a martial arts mom far longer than I’ve been a martial artist myself, and I anticipate my younger child will be stepping onto a mat within a year or so.

I believe that most, if not all, children can benefit from studying a martial art. Which martial art – and which school – is highly variable, based upon the skill sets and temperament of your child.

If you are considering putting your child in a martial art, here’s some tips I’ve learned that I hope will help you.

First, read this excellent post written by +Jesse EnkampHow To Be A Good Karate Parent.

Make sure you have a good understanding of  your child’s emotional, physical, and mental abilities and temperament.

  • Is your child outgoing, or shy?
  • Is your child aggressive, or passive?
  • Is your child physically gifted or not so much?
  • Is your child able to pay attention for long periods of time (20 minutes or more) or not?
  • Is your child “high strung” and intense, or laid back and loose?
  • Is your child emotionally sensitive, or not?
  • Is your child a perfectionist who needs things “just so”, or she just “goes with the flow” of things?
  • Is your child goal oriented, or not?
  • Does your child have physical, emotional or mental special needs?
  • Is your child especially sensitive to people getting inside their personal space, or are they fine with touching and being touched by other people in a sporting/martial arts context?
  • How much empathy does your child have?

For example, if your child is passive or shy, it’s probably not going to be too much fun for him to enroll in a school that does a lot of tournament and demonstration stuff, but if your child is a competitive over-achiever, she may get bored quickly with schools that are more laid back and intellectual.

Next, make sure you understand why you’re signing up little Junior for martial arts classes. Why do you want your child to take the martial arts?  Reasons may include:

  • Physical fitness
  • Positive effects on self-esteem
  • Self discipline
  • Learning moral values such as courage, perseverance, fair play, etc.
  • Helping your child learn how to protect herself against bullies or other people who wish her harm (i.e., self defense, but what that means for a kid is different than what it means for an adult)

One major benefit to the martial arts is that it can help out with other sports. Many NFL teams have hired martial arts trainers and coaches.  Four time Pro Bowler and two-time All Pro Outside Linebacker Tamba Hali for the Kansas City Chiefs is a Blue Belt in BJJ and studies with the Gracies.

One note about self defense:  I believe it is a bit irresponsible to teach young children self defense techniques that involve staying engaged with an attacker.  Kids that age should not exclusively be taught to trade blows and stay engaged in a fight.

I did not mention any specific art, as I don’t believe that the art itself is the primary reason you choose a school for your child.  Sure, we can debate grappling vs. stand up and all that stuff, and the utility of it all, but honestly, when you’re just starting out, make sure you pick the school that fits your child’s unique needs and your budget, not what somebody else insists is “the best” or right art.  Here’s a secret – each one of us is biased in favor of our own art, so take that into consideration.

When looking for a school, visit and watch the classes before you sign up for anything.  Talk to parents and see what they say they like and dislike about the school.  A good martial arts instructor will welcome this visit and examination.

Here are the big red flags to watch out for, in my opinion:

  • Very long contracts (more than 6 months). I am not
    Mommy’s Little Badass,
    age 13 and not far
    from her Black Belt.

    completely opposed to contracts on principle, but read the fine print VERY closely.  If they try to sell you some sort of big package immediately, and use high-pressure sales tactics, run away.

  • Hidden Fees.  These may include testing fees, belt fees (which are not unreasonable as long as they cover the cost of the belt), equipment fees, weapons fees, special uniforms, federation fees, and others.  Many of these are legitimate, but make sure they are being up front about it versus hiding or surprising you with it later.
  • Dirty or musty smelling training spaces in poor repair.  This school is either running out of money and will close soon, or they don’t care too much about the quality of what they teach.  A single broken mirror on the wall is not “poor repair” – they can be expensive and difficult to replace.  But falling down tiles, dirty mats, a bad smell are all hallmarks of a place you absolutely not allow your child to enter, much less train in.
  • Unprofessionalism.  Are teachers yelling at students, cursing, denigrating other arts or schools, treating parents with disrespect… basically engaging in any behavior that in any other context would be considered rude or poor customer service?  If so, run.
  • Flakiness.  When teacher doesn’t always show up or start class on time, where they don’t follow through on promises, where they don’t return phone calls and emails (it’s 2014 – YOU MUST USE EMAIL), where classes are run by very low level belts while the instructor talks on the phone or gossips with a parent on the sidelines, all that is being flaky. Avoid instructors like this, no matter how good a martial artist or nice person they are, as they will invariably disappoint you.
  • Poor teaching.  Just because one is an excellent martial artist, it does not necessarily equate to being a good teacher.  I am convinced there are more people teaching than really should be, because they think that you reach a certain rank and must strike out on your own and teach.  Hallmarks of poor teaching include no structure to class, no curriculum or clear process in which ones’ progress is measured and tested, and having high-level belts that still look clumsy and can’t move smoothly or with power.
Some final tips:
  • Don’t ignore Rec Center, Public Parks or YMCA martial arts programs, as they can actually be very good instruction, sometimes at a cheaper price than a stand-alone school.
  • Trust your gut.  If it feels wrong, it is wrong.
  • Do not allow your child to be alone with instructors without other trusted people around.  It’s unfortunate, but there are numerous reports of martial arts teachers abusing their students when they get them alone.  Also watch for inappropriate texts to your child’s phone.
  • It’s a good idea to survey prices for a variety of places to get an idea of “going rates” for martial arts in your area.  If a school you are considering is much more expensive or much less expensive than average, make sure you know why before you enroll your child there.
  • Research online reviews and check out Bullshido School Reviews.
  • YOU are the customer.
I hope this helps you pick a martial arts school and teacher for your child. Feel free to contact me [Jackie – not Joelle, LOL – info below] to ask questions!

 

Jackie Bradbury publishes “The Stick Chick“. You can find Jackie on Google Plus (+Jackie Bradbury) Twitter (@JackieB23), Pinterest, Tumblr and on Facebook

 

That Parent: The Coach

Inspired by the Stick Chick’s blog series “That Guy” Thank you, Jackie!!! Jackie Bradbury publishes “The Stick Chick“. You can find Jackie on Google Plus (+Jackie Bradbury) Twitter (@JackieB23), Pinterest, Tumblr and on Facebook

I’m not a perfect parent, never will be. Now that my older daughter has literally* kicked my butt in kumite I need to be even more careful. I’m not a perfect karate parent, either – I’ve made some mistakes, fortunately most of them were out of the dojo when we could talk at length and clear up any misunderstandings and work through our crazy emotions. In the dojo, our Senseis have jurisdiction so that means my daughter has to own her mistakes herself. It also means my daughter is free to achieve things without me clinging to her. She’s on the verge of adulthood, so it’s important that I loosen the leash!

I’ve taken my daughter to five tournaments, and I’m happy to say that out of the crowds of hundreds of parents, I’ve encountered only one parent who was a problem. That Parent: The Coach.

Lord knows I’ve done my share of sideline coaching when my daughter is sparring in tournament. But I do it quietly. I learned to shut the heck up the first tournament – I accidentally distracted my daughter. I still feel badly about that. There are loads of parents who do a fair bit of sideline coaching – mostly quietly and as an outlet for their own nerves. Occasionally one or two might shout encouragement, but usually it’s during a natural break in the action and the words are very generalized and positive (“Good job!”). Not The Coach. She screamed continually.

I don’t think The Coach understands it’s not about medals. My daughter didn’t come home with any medals. She was the only competitor in her beginner’s division, so she agreed to be in the group of girls who had more training. It’s happened before, and my daughter welcomes the challenge. She has always placed second or third. Not this tournament. She lost both fights. Her first fight she was conquered by someone who was expert in getting inside her reach. My daughter’s second fight was magnificent. She made a fantastic comeback after starting off behind 4 points, eventually tied 7 and 7 with a minute left to go. Fast and furious – and the match could’ve gone either way! The other girl reached eight points first, ending the fight. My daughter and I feel that even though she didn’t place, her second fight was her best tournament fight ever. I noticed she’s improved her skills since last tournament. This was a personal triumph. Frankly, I don’t even know where my daughter keeps her medals but I do know what my daughter achieved that day will stay with her. I don’t think The Coach sees anything but failure in the lack of a medal.

I’m not even sure The Coach is a good title. This lady probably has never trained in a martial art, so what credentials does she have to back up all the advice she screams? I’m betting zero. Nonetheless, The Coach had a lot to say, and boy did she say it loudly and continuously the entire match. I don’t think anyone within a thirty foot radius could’ve tuned it out. It’s a wonder the judges were able to concentrate. Her poor kid obviously couldn’t – I saw it in the child’s eyes as the child’s gaze was constantly drawn away from the opponent towards The Coach. “Catch the kicks and take your opponent down! Don’t let the opponent close in on you like that!” Of course the opponent could throw at least three techniques for every sentence, so the mother was mostly commenting on past actions. Did she honestly expect her kid to be able to internalize a comment about a kick that was thrown three seconds ago while blocking a jab to the face in the present moment? The screams went on and on. Right. in. my. ear.

I waited for the officials to call a halt and chuck The Coach out of the venue. They didn’t. Maybe they were waiting for me to deal with it because I was the only one sitting next to The Coach. But before I could think of something appropriate to say, I became aware of my younger daughter. I realized she was having a hard time. My younger daughter is the opposite of her sister – she shudders at fighting and so is not a karate-ka herself. She is autistic, so crowds and noise are difficult for her. Due to circumstances beyond our control, my younger daughter had to come with her big sister and I to the tournament. She coped with everything by reading her books and doing her best to ignore what she didn’t like. But The Coach’s constant screaming almost sent my autistic daughter over the edge. My younger daughter is bigger than her sister and I, so it’s best to be sensitive to her needs. I could see she was trying her best not to have a meltdown. Obviously The Coach had no clue about the effect her screaming was having on the people around her.

I no longer had a choice about waiting for the officials or saying something myself. My dear autistic daughter was tense – hugging herself and grimacing with fright. I led my younger daughter away so I could soothe and encourage her. As soon as we took our first steps away from The Coach, I could feel the tension leaving my dear, special child’s body. I didn’t see the end of that fight. I’m willing to bet that if The Coach’s kid didn’t place, it was The Coach’s fault. People with autism struggle with social situations, yet my autistic teenager showed far more self control than The Coach. I am immensely proud of my younger daughter for that. She triumphed over her impulses, which is an enormous achievement for someone under extreme stress. The Coach gave way to her impulses regardless of the consequences during what should have been a fun time for her and her child.

Of course The Coach didn’t stick around, so I didn’t have a chance to talk to her or encourage her child.

Next time I won’t wait for the officials. I finally figured out I could say, “Hey, relax – take a deep breath, your kid’s doing fine. Just trust your child and enjoy the moment.” The Coach might not appreciate this and might just might throw an amateurish haymaker at me, especially if I’m not wearing a gi – and I was in street clothes that day. If The Coach throws a punch or two at me, I’ll just start blocking and keep blocking until others come along to help. I know darn well that after a physical confrontation, one or more Senseis from my organization would debrief me to make sure everything I said and did was beyond reproach. This on top of whatever the police would want to know, and maybe even the court system. I’ll bet The Coach never considered I might lose my temper and pose a threat to her, and I’m sure she had no idea of all the things that were keeping her safe from me – my good upbringing (thanks, Mom & Dad), my faith, the Senseis who have talked with me at length about ethics, and the fact that I would be held accountable for my actions. I’ve heard of other parents who didn’t restrain themselves at their childrens’ special events, and the stories aren’t pretty.

Actions have consequences. We learn that in karate. We also learn to be good examples to others. The Coach’s constant, loud stream of advice was ludicrous and counterproductive. I don’t think The Coach had a clue that my autistic child was frightened by the screaming. Nor was The Coach being a good role model. I hope her child has other adults who are better role models. Most of all, I hope and pray The Coach’s child didn’t have to listen to an angry tirade on the way home.

Now, if you want to know how to be a good karate parent, I have an article for you by Jesse Enkamp
If you aren’t yet a karate parent but want to be one, definitely read this article by Jackie Bradbury

Thanks again to Jackie Bradbury for letting me play with her theme! A reminder – Jackie’s blog is Jackie Bradbury publishes “The Stick Chick“. You can find Jackie on Google Plus (+Jackie Bradbury) Twitter (@JackieB23), Pinterest, Tumblr and on Facebook

  • Here’s the story about my daughter literally kicking my butt. It was while we were doing two-against-one sparring. I was retreating from the other opponent’s attack. My daughter was behind me. She says she was aiming her kick higher and maintains that I blundered right into her kick before it was fully extended, thus, she concludes, I myself drove my posterior onto her foot. I have trouble believing she didn’t playfully tap me on the hiney just to be funny 🙂

Consequences

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(thanks to Sensei Andrea Harkins for this topic)

“Have you ever had to use karate against someone?”

Often people ask me this question because they hope I’ve never been in danger.  Sometimes they are just plain curious.  Every once in awhile when someone asks me this, the tone of voice, facial expression, and the body language indicate that what they’re really after is a cool story about how I beat up a serial rapist one night and sent him to the hospital with a few of his parts crushed into jelly.  Most of these people don’t understand that at my level of competence, I’d be lucky to create an opportunity that would allow me to run away.

Real fights aren’t glamorous and they have consequences.  I’ve only been in one fight myself. By Hollywood standards it really wasn’t much of a fight because I only used just enough force to make my point and walk away.  And yes, there were consequences for me even though I gained freedom from ongoing physical abuse.  As I’ve said before in another article, when we use force – even minimal force, against another human being there are consequences.  Outcomes can be either positive or negative.  One can see this principle played out in a variety of life situations.

In martial arts and many sports, two or more people mutually consent to engage in using force against each other.  One walks away with a medal, the other doesn’t.  Sometimes the consequences are greater – one team wins national honors, one team doesn’t.  Injuries of various severity happen.  These consequences are part and parcel for the activities, and hopefully everyone understands this beforehand!

Sometimes people use force against others to prevent greater harm.  For instance, someone might knock another person to the ground to save that person from being hit by a falling rock.  The consequences might be bruises and scrapes, but that’s better than being six feet under ground.  Usually there’s good feeling all around when someone is a hero.  In a more common scenario, a parent might snatch a curious toddler’s hand away from a burning candle.  The toddler might cry in vexation – that’s a consequence, but it’s one most parents can live with.  The child will eventually learn to leave candles alone.

Of course force is also used against people who are acting on bad choices.  It can be tough for us to deal with the consequences of harm we’ve inflicted even if it was only a little harm done for the right reasons against someone who deserved it.  We might doubt ourselves, and that self-doubt could last a very long time.  I’m told people sometimes get sued for harm they inflicted while defending themselves.

Before he passed away, I sometimes talked with my grandfather about his experiences as a soldier in Europe during World War II.  By the time he felt comfortable talking to me about the war, any PTSD he might have suffered was long since over. Nonetheless, he told me that killing others, watching friends die, and almost dying himself were things that had deeply affected his life.  He made it very clear that taking a human life is a very serious thing indeed.

I don’t want to write much about force that is used against people for the wrong reasons.  The consequences for child abusers, muggers, and murderers can range from jail sentences to the electric chair.  Enough said.

The challenge for me as I study karate is to learn to control my use of force so that I don’t use too much when it isn’t appropriate to do so.  I don’t sweat my way through drills and kumite so I can go to the worst part of town, pick a fight, then brag about it afterward.  Such behavior goes against everything Karate students are taught about humility and self control.  I am learning about what kind of force is appropriate for any given situation I might find myself in.  Should I ever have to use force against someone in the future, I will need to accept and deal with whatever consequences come afterward.  Hopefully I’ll have the strength of character to do that.