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?”


The Best Athlete in the Family

Let me introduce you to the best athlete in my family.

17 pounds of cute!
17 pounds of cute!

Don’t let his small size fool you.  Dex is speedy enough to keep up with larger dogs, his endurance is incredible, and his agility is jaw-dropping.  He hops and trots through the treacherous jumble of slippery logs on the beach like it’s nothing.

Ready for action!

He delights in movement.  One summer we taught him to do a little Parkour…

Let’s get a little closer and slow it down some.

Every paw precisely placed.  Strength gathered and released as appropriate.  Breath synchronized with what his body is doing, jaw relaxed.  Timing of each step and leap – perfect.  Natural, graceful, and yes, joyful movement.  He doesn’t think.  He doesn’t worry.  He just moves from instant to instant.  His body knows what to do.  Each movement leads right into the other.

Man, I wish I had all that in my Karate!!!

Guess what?  Dex has a handicap.  He was born with bad knees in his back legs – his right bothers him more than his left.  The kneecaps are prone to popping out of place.  He knows how to pop them back in.  When Dex first came to us, the muscles that support those knees weren’t well developed so he often limped or even refused to put weight on his right back leg.  Daily walks, especially uphill walks, have bulked up those supporting muscles nicely so Dex rarely limps anymore.   The building up process was a bit rough for him, but he always has been overjoyed to go for a walk.  Wow.  There are times I have to talk myself into exercising!

So there you have it.  A little furry creature with a positive attitude and incredible athleticism.  An animal who overcomes the challenge of a handicap every single day and who lives in constant appreciation of the simplest things (like tidbits and tummy rubs).  Maybe I could learn something from Dex.

I Love Jogging…

Feel free to laugh.  I totally laugh at myself when I think of this incident…

Back in August, our organization held Gasshuku (extended training) one weekend from Friday evening through Sunday morning.

I think it was Saturday morning when we were told that we were going jogging.  Inwardly, I groaned.  It was announced, “If you can’t jog or don’t want to jog, we’ll find an alternative activity for you.”

I began to think.  Injured people were definitely in the “can’t jog” category – I didn’t fit that description.  What about the “don’t want to jog” people?  I began to imagine exactly what the “alternative activity” would be for the “don’t want to” people.  Maybe a thousand pushups, then a thousand situps, and a million punches in horse stance to top it all off?

I decided, “I love jogging.  Jogging is one of the best activities in the world!  Yes, I’m going jogging!  Yay, jogging!”

So I jogged and jogged and jogged with the vast majority of karateka.   After we were done jogging I found out the “alternative activity” for all non-joggers was something that was right up my alley.  They were picking up twigs, fir cones, and rocks from the field.  I beach-comb, so I’m used to scrutinizing the ground and repeated bending and stooping for agates and sea glass.


Sea glass is shards of broken glass that have been conditioned by the combined actions of waves, pebbles, sand, and chemical reactions with salt.
Sea glass shards are shards of broken glass that have been conditioned by the combined actions of waves, pebbles, sand, and chemical reactions with salt.


Like I said, feel free to laugh.