An Obligation to Heal

Let’s face it – Karate isn’t about arranging flowers.  We get hurt.  Now that I’m older, I’ve discovered I don’t heal in ten minutes like I used to when I was a kid.  More like ten days!  I’ve come to realize I have an obligation to heal myself.  When I’m sick or injured, I often feel I must keep bulling through my normal routine when in fact, it’s better to do the opposite and rest.

Awww!  I know how he feels.
Awww! I know how he feels.

 If I truly love Karate, I mustn’t ruin my body by trying to be brave and work through the pain.  A little time off makes me even more eager to practice and learn!  Unseen hurts of the psychological variety need to be dealt with too so that I don’t drag emotional baggage into the dojo, where it doesn’t belong.  In the end, if I take time to heal myself, I’ll be more effective at healing others.

Huh?  Wait – Karate is about taking people apart, right?  Well, yeah, and accidents do happen.  I’ve just started training in CPR and First Aid as required by my new job.  If an emergency situation arises I am under obligation to start healing others.  Fortunately, emergency situations are rare even in Karate, so I won’t have to fulfill my obligation to help with physical healing very often.   But our obligation to heal isn’t limited to first aid.  There’s another kind of healing all karateka are obligated to participate in.


Karate is also about building people up.  This is a form of healing.  If you don’t believe me, just ask the kid who recently discovered she can pack a powerful punch.  She doesn’t fear being pushed around by the playground bully anymore, and indeed she’s gained so much self confidence that the schoolyard bully is backing off.  That is healing.  When we take the time to teach her, to spar with her, to tell her that her punch is amazing, we are healing her.  It’s our duty to heal where we can.

Our obligation to heal can be extended even further.  Pick up trash.  Smile.  Plant a tree.  Donate.  Say something kind.  Give someone the benefit of the doubt.  Volunteer.  Karate gives us the discipline we need to reach beyond ourselves.  Let’s use that ability to heal our world one small corner at a time.


So there you have it.  We are under obligation to heal ourselves, others, and our world.  Yes, we are learning to maim and kill.  But we’re also learning how to build and heal.  Let’s not lose sight of that.

Tail Whuppin’


black eye 2015 Joelle White
Bruises are fun!!!


With whom do I prefer to spar?  The people I can beat up easily?  Those who are roughly the same rank as I?  Surely I’m not so crazy that I prefer getting my tail thoroughly whipped by someone who vastly outranks me?

I have no preference.

Sparring with brand-new beginners is a chance for me to teach.  I’m careful to go at my opponent’s pace, then I look for opportunities to push a little – maybe two face jabs in a row, maybe a kick aimed four inches short of the head.  If I need to go slowly it is a chance for me to work on form and precision.  It’s encouraging to receive a great punch or kick in the gut when the beginner is good and confident about actually hitting me.

When I fight with those who are the same rank as I, it stands to reason I’ll win some and I’ll lose some.   At this stage clashing shins is the norm.  I can’t wait for my rank-mates and I to “outgrow” that.  Pain is an excellent teacher so I’m sure sooner or later I’ll learn.  It’s great that we’re all going through the same challenges and developing the same skills together.   I can compare myself to my peers and assure myself that I’m doing just fine for my rank.

Because I’m only a bit over 9 months into my training, most karateka outrank me.  Therefore any number of people can whip my tail with both hands behind their backs.  Some of them are shorter than I am, some are taller, a few are, well, pretty darned big and scary – especially if they also outrank me by two or more belts.  I learn a lot about my weaknesses.  Techniques and combinations of techniques that I’ve never dealt with before are thrown at me.  I find my skills are improved after a few sound thrashings.  I am more confident when facing those my same rank and I learn a little more about how to teach brand-new beginners.   The highest ranks usually instruct me on how I can improve, and that is priceless.

Let’s face it – some of us beginners are scared to death when faced with the prospect of sparring a black belt.   We might lose the fight even before it’s begun with thoughts like, “I doubt I’ll land even one punch,” or “even my fastest kick won’t be fast enough and she’ll sweep me for sure!”


Feel free to laugh at my expense.  The first time a Sensei chose to spar against me, I was scared spitless and had very few skills to draw on.  All he had to do was stick out a fist or whip a kick and I’d run straight onto it.  It wasn’t much of a sparring match at all because I asked for a halt and then asked what I was doing wrong – which led to some coaching.  That was about five months ago.  Fast forward to last month.  Another black belt chose to play cat and mouse with me (it’s pretty obvious who the mouse was).   I wasn’t terrified – maybe a teeny bit scared but mostly determined to do my best.   Yeah, I got my tail whipped, but…  I had lots to think about afterward, including something to try next time I see his signature move (I know, I should’ve thought of something to try long before he chose to spar with me).

So to all my fellow beginners out there – learn from everyone.  Be a good sport no matter who you’re up against.  And take heart – you will survive and you will thrive the more you get your tail whupped by those who are better than you.  Ask questions and get feedback, then practice.  You’ll be proud of your bruises.

Winning the Game, Keeping the Friend

I remember the first time I fought against a friend in a tournament.  I was a teenager up against another girl from my dojo.  We were both a little scared, I think.

After we did nothing but bounce around for too long, the judge called a halt and admonished us, “Ladies, this is not a tea party.  Throw some techniques!”


I decided then and there I would win the match even if it meant losing the friendship.  I also knew that if she was a sore loser maybe I didn’t really have a friendship after all.  I proceeded to score point after point and won.  I was so scared that I’d lost her friendship.  She was fine.  Remembering this experience helped me a lot this past weekend.

My daughter has seasonal volunteer work that is a bit of a drive away from home, so after her work, rather than rush all the way back to our “home” dojo to maybe make it on time for class, we visit a sister dojo closer to her work.  Last Fall I made a new friend roughly my age and sometimes the same rank, sometimes my junior, maybe someday my senior, LOL.  We missed each other during the long winter when my daughter didn’t have her volunteer work.  My friend didn’t go to the tournament last month but she was at another tournament just a few days ago.  Sure enough, we were in the same division.

We know each others’ karate pretty well by now.   In fact, in preparation for the tournament, we critiqued each others’ kata (we did the same one).  We’ve sparred together nearly every single time I’ve visited this dojo and we’ve critiqued each others’ favorite moves.  The Senseis even had us do our kata together as if we were in a tournament and pronounced us very closely matched.   I knew I had some real competition on my hands for the tournament.  I also knew neither of us were about to simply bounce around, too scared to throw the first technique.  When our division was called to staging, we learned it was just the two of us.  No other ladies in our age group/experience level showed up.

So how did we do?  Who won?  We both did – this was her first tournament and she did very well indeed.  It was a close match in kata followed by some pretty fierce kumite.  What exactly did I win?  Glad you asked!


I think my friend and I are closer than ever now.  The exchange of sheepish grins after the judge (her Sensei, who has trained both of us!) called fouls on both of us at the same time.  Bear hugs immediately after we were dismissed.  Complimenting each other.  Our eyes shining with pride at each others’ achievements as medals were hung around our necks.  These things are priceless.  That is the best thing I won.  But that’s not all I won.

When I performed my kata in this tournament I really felt like the kata was a part of me and I was a part of the kata.  I don’t know how else to explain this.  I was coached pretty intensively after class one day, and it made a huge difference.  I still have my scenario of a bar fight and my specific cast of characters and what they’re trying to do to me, but now there’s something more.  It’s more like if I let go and trust what I’m doing, the very movements of the kata will tell me that I have a considerable amount of control over how the fight is going .  So in my imaginary fight I’m less reactive and more proactive.  I feel like this is a clumsy expression of what’s going on.  I wish I could pin it down with words, but maybe that’s the beauty of kata – that it can’t be pinned down.  Anyway, performing that kata well and realizing there are depths I’ve never sounded is another thing I won in tournament.


How about what I won in sparring?  I’m taking baby steps forward in improving strategy.  A few minutes after I knew my friend would be my competition, I realized she knows what I like to do in sparring.  I decided then and there to fight completely differently than what is normal for me.  I took a leaf from my daughter’s book – she loves her kicks.  So I practiced kicking while waiting around in the staging area (I practiced lots of other things too so that my friend wouldn’t catch on).  I’d already put in hours with the punching bag in the garage.   Changing my game gave me an edge.  Let me quantify that edge.  Three points.

Throwing a kick to someone’s head can be deadly.  That is scary to me.  I recently came close to accidentally killing someone with a punch.  I’ve long since known my kicks are quite powerful, but didn’t worry much about them until I could actually kick at my chin height.  While sparring in the dojo if I want to throw a kick to the head I deliberately aim for four inches short of making contact.  Up until the tournament I never once made contact.  I saved contact for the punching bag in my garage.  I didn’t go full-out, but practiced the very light, very controlled contact that would score but not injure.  When I pulled off that precisely controlled kick to the head during the tournament, it was a fantastic feeling.  I knew when my foot made contact my friend was just surprised and not hurt.  I relished the judge’s call of three points and the wild cheering from friends on the sidelines.  Except for the tallest guy, all of them had experienced my four-inches-short-of-contact kicks to their heads.  I won that.

OHHHHHHHHHHH, you want to know what medals I got… OK, I get it!


Gold.  And this wasn’t like last tournament where I would’ve gotten silver if I had been born three months earlier.  My friend made darned sure I had to work hard to get first in both kata and kumite.  Maybe next time she’ll win.  All I know is both of us will be working very hard to incorporate what we’ve learned from each other into our training.  We’ll both get better.  We’ll make each other better.  Isn’t that what friends are for?


Powerful but Vulnerable

I am not always comfortable with sharing my inmost thoughts.  Sure I can blather on about stuff, but when it comes to who I am deep down inside I’d rather hide.  I was going to publish this post at my regularly scheduled time after a few other articles I have written and scheduled for the weeks ahead, but publishing later rather than now feels too much like hiding.  I don’t like opening myself up.  But I’ve “met” enough of you to know that if I do step out of my comfort zone a bit I will come out better for what I’ve learned from you.  One of Sensei Andrea Harkins’ recent blog posts affirms that if I do draw some real, live, actual “hate,” it’s OK.   I’ll survive, learn, and grow.


So… On with the story.

I was sparring with a man who was a match for me in size, strength, skill, and intensity.  In a moment of carelessness, I threw what I thought was going to be a no-contact jab to the face.  Thank God it missed.  Without realizing it, I’d put way too much power into that jab.  Believe me, I heard from a Sensei about it immediately after that match.  No, I’m not going to dissect what was said or how it was said.  Frankly, there is no “best way” to say what he had to say, so I’m not even going to “go there.”

In a nutshell, “You could have killed him.”


I took that warning very seriously.   I don’t blame any of you readers one bit if you want to roast me over coals for that moment of carelessness.  I know in my heart that I have changed, I will grow, and I have learned.  Controlling the use of force will be pounded into my muscle memory more and more as time goes by if I train diligently.   Nothing anyone can say will change the fact that I am turning things around, and that is something I can hold my head up about.

I know Karate isn’t about arranging flowers.  I’ve always been aware that I’m learning how to hurt and kill people.  So why am I making such a big deal out of this?  It could be because of the circumstances.  It would have been much nicer if, for instance, I’d been performing a kata and some Sensei had said, “You did that strike so well it would’ve felled an ox!”  Or if I’d punched a bag and heard a thunderous THUD echoing through the dojo.  Maybe, at only eight months into my training,  I wasn’t expecting to hear that I am capable of killing someone.  And maybe I just plain don’t want to hurt or kill.

[scratching record sound] WHAAAAAAAAAAAT?!?


You read that right.  I’m training my body to become a weapon, but I don’t want to hurt or kill.  I will if I have to – Mama Grizzly Bear will defend her cubs!  It’s just that I remember the things my Grandfather (WWII veteran) said about taking a human life.   And as someone who has given birth twice and nurtured those lives for almost eighteen years now, it’s hard to abruptly adjust to the fact that I can also take life.  That idea had, until the day I was warned, been relegated to the fuzzy realm of “someday.”

I’m processing what being able to kill means to the person I’m becoming.  I’ve figured out a thing or two – otherwise I wouldn’t have written the preceding paragraphs, right?  I know I’m even more diligent than ever in learning how to control myself during drills and kumite, and this is a good step.  But on an emotional level, I’m still processing the concepts.  I have a feeling I’ll be revisiting this issue and working through everything that goes with it throughout my karate career.  Am I correct?

It was tempting for me to just never let anyone know, but this blog is about the experiences of a beginner.  Sometimes us beginners have to deal with hard things.  I’ve bared my heart, so I’m vulnerable.   I won’t ask for anything but honest responses.  If you hurt me in love or if you hurt me because you enjoy inflicting pain, I will learn and grow.  If even just one person can benefit from what I’ve written, it’ll be worth everything.

What Motivates Me to Continue?


On this Valentine’s Day, a bunch of us are expressing our love for the martial arts we study!  This blog is going to be short and sweet because I really want you to have the time to read what everyone else has to say.  I’ll provide links to others’ articles below.

What motivates me to continue studying Shindo Jinen-Ryu Karate?

I have many reasons to continue bowing, sweating, shouting, forcing my muscles to work when they want to quit, lugging mats in and out of gymnasiums, and occasionally yelping in pain. I’ll start in chronological order, as my reasons for continuing in Karate have accumulated over time.

1) My daughter wants me to train with her.

2) I need to shed some extra pounds.

3) I love kata and bunkai.

4) There’s more than enough in Karate to keep me busy until I’m no longer physically able to do it.

5) I’m growing and changing.

6) I love finding out I can go beyond where I once thought my limits were.  Facing and pushing through challenges is quite a rush!

As promised, here’s a list of the other participants’ blogs.  Please make their Valentine’s Day special and leave a word or two of affirmation in their comments boxes!

Jackie Bradbury, “The Stick Chick:”  Why Do I Train?

Katy Garden: “Love of Martial Arts

Brian Johns: “What Motivates Me to Keep Practicing Martial Arts?

J Wilson: “What motivates you to take martial arts?”