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.

Adventures

In any given dojo in our organization, classes meet only 2-3 times per week.  If a student shows the Senseis he or she is willing to work hard and have a good attitude, the student may ask to visit sister dojos.  I’m very privileged to have been granted such permission.  Whenever I bow in to a dojo I never know what adventures I’m going to have.  Here are some of my favorite memories.

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My “home” dojo

As much as I love visiting other dojos and going to seminars and stuff, I try to never take my “home” dojo for granted.  It is the place where I do most of my learning and growing.  The Senseis have a long way to drive after work, so sometimes they make it to class early, sometimes not.  Most often, two men who are both young enough to be my sons help me with kata and kumite before class.  So really, I have two Senseis and two Sempais teaching me.  I feel very privileged to have four people to help me learn new things and refine stuff I’ve already learned.  My fellow students are all very young – the oldest is in his early twenties, the next oldest is my daughter.  Half are teens, half are young children.

Before Christmas, we spent three classes exploring the Jiu-Jitsu heritage in our style of Karate (Shindo Jinen-Ryu).  This came about when one of my Senseis said it was too bad we didn’t have mats so we could learn this stuff.  I know our YMCA pretty well by now, so I was able to tell him where the mats are stored. Sensei’s face lit up like a kid at Christmas when he saw the mats for himself.

The next class we learned how to fall safely.  At one point, we were introduced to forward rolls.  I’d done them before.  A few years ago I performed a very nice forward roll instinctively to avoid crushing a child who had fallen in front of me.  I knew the technique was in my memory somewhere, but I wasn’t confident about performing it in class.  I started feeling old. Then I reminded myself I was the one who spoke up about the mats, so I was going to have to do all this stuff.  It turns out I did just fine.

Later on I was paired up with a teenage girl (not my daughter) for takedowns.  I know better than to make things easy – these young women have to know they can use leverage to beat someone bigger and stronger.  Sensei saw my partner struggling and stepped in to demonstrate.  Boy, was I grateful Sensei had made us practice falling because I didn’t even have time to think before I was on the mats.  Some day, if the Lord be willing and the creek don’t rise, I’m going to be that proficient.  That scares me a little.  It makes me aware that I’d better be a good, responsible person who knows when to use what I know and when to refrain because these techniques are dangerous!

I wish we had class more often than twice a week.

The Hombu dojo

Our organization’s Hombu Dojo is about three hours’ drive from my house.  I’ve only been there once, and that was for promotion right before Thanksgiving (2014).  I’d love to visit there, maybe even get a chance to take a class under the head of our organization!

I was so nervous before leaving to drive down there that I decided to just pretend I was visiting yet another sister dojo.  It wasn’t all that hard to do because I’m acquainted with a good many students and Senseis.  I was especially happy to see a couple of out-of-state acquaintances I hadn’t seen since Gasshuku!

So I tried not to think much. I tried to continually concentrate on the techniques, etc.  If I did waver in my concentration, this is how my thoughts ran:  “Here I am visiting the Hombu Dojo, what a great class we’re having…  Focus on the technique…  Ignore Sensei S. and Sensei K. scribbling on their clipboards, it’s OK if they’re standing there watching.  Not the first time they’ve watched me.  Glad they’re here.  Focus on the technique…”  By the time I got to kata, I really did feel as confident as I do whenever I’m simply visiting another dojo.  I was then able to pass along as much encouragement as I could to others (while still respecting dojo etiquette of course).

I could’ve waited to promote locally in mid January 2015, but my Senseis dangled a big, juicy carrot in front of me to get me to travel.  After the color-belt promotion came the promotion for brown belts moving to black belt.  This was well worth watching!  I started thinking seriously about long term goals for sure after watching that promotion.  I’d like to learn for as long as I’m physically able.  Teaching is in the cards, so I’m thinking the more exposure I get to different dojos, the better equipped I’ll be to deal with teaching a wide variety of people.

Sister Dojo #1

This dojo seems to emphasize sparring, which is my weakest area.  I’m looking forward to visiting more in the future!  This dojo has a good mix of adults and children.

Sister Dojo #1 is not far from the place where my daughter does her volunteer work.  The work is seasonal, so for six Tuesdays in the Fall and six Tuesdays in the Spring, it’s far easier for her and I to grab a bite to eat after her work and toodle on over to this dojo than it is to fight traffic to get to our home dojo barely in time for class.

What is it like being in class under the instruction of a world champion who is the same age as my daughter?  Well, I had to remind myself to respect his rank and not play the “old age” card to get out of doing stuff that’s a bit hard for a middle-aged beginner.  After awhile, I stopped thinking about his age and mine as I enjoyed learning things I’d never done before.

It was this young Sensei who called for two-against-one sparring (you can read the story here).  This was the turning point for my attitude about sparring.

I’ve had classes other two other Senseis at that dojo as well, and enjoyed those classes thoroughly.

Sister Dojo #2

This dojo seems to emphasize refinement of technique and form.  Three times now at this dojo, I’ve learned traditional drills that were recently brought out of mothballs.  Two of these are useful for practicing in small spaces.  The vast majority of students are adults.

One of the Senseis from this dojo graded me for my very first promotion and invited me to visit.  My daughter and I visit this dojo during those weeks when we miss our regular class time due to a holiday or promotion.  They meet on different days than our home dojo.  I happened to be in the last class of 2014 and the first class of 2015.

The chief instructor invited a high-ranking black belt from out of state to teach the last class of 2014.  Attendance was low, and I feel sorry for those who must have been dismayed about hardly anyone showing up, but at the same time, I was gleeful.  I love small classes.  However, I was a bit nervous when it became obvious class would consist of 5 black belts (including the instructor), a brown belt, and two beginners (including me) who’d had significant prior training.  Never mind I knew three out of the five black belts, I was worried about keeping up!

I needn’t have worried.  Everyone had something to work on.  The guest Sensei had us working on natural movement and drills designed to get us to move smoothly from one thing to another.  Because the class was small, we did drills where everyone could participate for the benefit of each in turn.  Usually in any given class it’s “us” (students) and “them” (Senseis), but this class was very much about everyone.  I’d been told that even black belts have things they need to improve.  But it’s one thing to merely hear it and another thing to witness it in a class. This was driven home when I heard the instructor give the same feedback to a black belt that he’d given me just a few moments earlier!

The first class of 2015 was even smaller.  It was just the chief instructor, my daughter, another student, and I.  It turns out I was the highest ranked student, so I had a significant role in the opening and closing ceremonies.  I wasn’t expecting that honor for years, as all our dojos boast quite a number of high-ranked students.  I really enjoyed getting lots of feedback.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a class as small as that, and I really appreciated the extra attention.

Sister Dojo #3

This dojo is on a community college campus, and is where my daughter got her start in Karate.  It is where the head of our organization got his start teaching in America.  Most students go only one quarter, get their first belt, then disappear.  Some stay for two quarters.  After that, one must audit or join another dojo.  The student body consists mostly of those in their late teens and early twenties.

My daughter and I are auditing this Sensei’s class this quarter.  I want to re-visit some things from the “ground” up, and I joke about going to this dojo for “remedial sparring.”  My daugther wants to prepare for tournament season by training more than the two days a week we get at our “home” dojo.

A year ago I would sometimes pick up my daughter from the community college after her last class of the day – Karate.  Quite often, I would come early and slip into the dojo.  My daughter had jumped at the chance to take the class.  I envied her – I remembered what it felt like to perform a kata well, to earn a new belt, and to have a strong body.  I was so glad my daughter was clearly enjoying herself.  I thought, “I’m to old.  I’ve got this issue going on with my body.  I’m too fat.  I’m way out of shape.”  My daughter’s Sensei had invited me into the class about a month or two in, but I politely declined, laughing that I’d probably sprain something.

Fast forward twelve months.  Earlier this week, when I entered the community college dojo in a gi for the first time, I was the ranking student.  My daughter stood in line at my left as the second highest – she and I are auditing together to get some extra training.  I’m not usually the ranking student in my home dojo.  I hesitated a moment before beginning the opening ceremony not because I couldn’t remember what to do but because it hit me that a year ago I never would’ve believed that I’d be standing there leading the class in the opening ceremony.  It was one of those profound moments that goes by in a second or two – no one else knows about it when it happens, but it’s a moment that leaves one changed, empowered, and thankful for those who have helped bring one to that point in time.  It’s a moment I’ll savor for a good long time to come.  It was a powerful moment, and I let it infuse my voice as I led the class in the opening ceremony.

After class, I thanked the Sensei for allowing me to audit his class.  I had to be brief because new students needed to order gis.  He seemed tickled pink – I’m thinking he also remembered how things were a year ago 🙂

Each and every Sensei brings something different to the table, and in addition to feedback I receive, I’m filling my training notebook with sketches and descriptions of drills I’ve learned in various places.  It can’t hurt to prepare for my future now.

Let’s look at the black belts who have had a hand in my training!

When I was a teenager:  2 seminars, 1 main Sensei, and 1 Sensei who occasionally dropped in.

Since I began again 7 months ago:  12 Senseis leading regular classes, 1 seminar, the main instructor at Gasshuku, and roughly 10 more Senseis who weren’t teaching class but who helped me at one time or another.

Roughly twenty eight black belts in all have had a direct hand in my training.  I am deeply honored and, when I think of it, astounded at how these men and women have gifted me with their time.

But it doesn’t stop with the Senseis who are teaching me in person.  Please see my post “Help from Others: Encouragement, Teaching, and Support” to see who else has helped me get to where I am now.  I am extremely grateful for all of you.

Mother and Daughter

Karate Kid and MomR

I’ve been training with my daughter for seven months now.  Because I’d trained for about 3-4 years when I was a little younger than her, I was able to promote at a fairly rapid rate after I started training again.  I caught up to her pretty quickly and now outrank her by one belt (the picture is a little out of date).  My daughter is working hard to catch up to me.  It would be fun to promote together some day.  However, if we never promote together, we’ll at least know there’s someone cheering us on!

I love it that there’s someone I can geek out with.  At dinnertime, we probably bore my other daughter and my husband with our karate talk.  But then again, they do get to listen to some funny stories from time to time.  It’s nice to have someone who was there when the funny thing happened – that way if the others don’t think it was all that funny, at least my daughter will laugh.  We spar some of the same people, then later we pick apart their preferences and go over strategies.  It’s great to have a buddy!

Our practice times together are fantastic.  Sometimes we’re in the garage, other times if there’s a studio empty at the YMCA we’ll be there.  My daughter coaches me in kumite, I coach her kata.  We want to learn partner stretches.  It’s not always easy to get practice time together because of her school schedule, but it’s worth it.

There are challenges to training with my daughter.  I have to fight my own urges to control her life.  There is an ogre in me that wants to really be on her about this, that, and the other.  She’s a teenager, so that would backfire rapidly.  I don’t like fighting the ogre, but it must be done.  I know I’ll be a better mother if I do.  That said, I have intervened once or twice outside the dojo to steer her back on course.

We’ve had little tiffs outside the dojo about things that relate to and affect Karate (like nutrition).  It’s rough, but we eventually work through those things.  Inside the dojo it really, really, really helps that the Senseis are in charge.  I’m supposed to be loosening the leash anyway.  If Sensei is in charge, I can let my daughter make her own choices and mistakes and allow her also to learn the consequences.  The good part of me backing away like this and acknowledging Sensei’s authority is my daughter’s accomplishments are really and truly her own.

I think we’re becoming more than just mother and daughter – we’re developing the friendship that comes when the relationship is good between mother and adult daughter.  At this stage in my daughter’s life, it’s great to have something we can do together.  Karate is giving us skills that are serving us well through this time of transition as my daughter matures into a young adult.

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Bruises

Happy New Year, everyone!  In the spirit of this joyful holiday, I offer three bruise stories for your entertainment and amusement.

black eye 2015 Joelle White
Bruises are fun!!!

Here’s my favorite bruise story from when I trained as a teen.  I was sparring and ran my face right into my opponent’s fist.  This resulted in a spectacular black eye.  The guy apologized profusely both to me and my father.  I laughed so hard at my sparring partner – the guy was apologizing to my Dad for something that was my fault, carrying on as if my Dad would tear him apart even though he outranked Dad considerably.  I didn’t even feel pain because I was laughing too hard.  Three days later, when the shiner was at the peak of its color, was school picture day.  Yeah.  I actually did manage to pull it off with some heavy duty makeup, and the photography lab did their magic with their airbrushes too.

Here’s three more recent bruise stories for you.

A couple of months ago, the weather was warm enough to allow me to wear a cute 3/4 sleeve cranberry-colored blouse I’d just bought.  At the last minute before I left, I saw a livid bruise on my right forearm.  There wasn’t time to change to a blouse with longer sleeves.  During the church service, I sang in choir.  Front row.  Dead center.  Holding up a music folder.  Everyone in the small church saw that big purple, blue, black, yellow, and green splodge against my pale skin.  Oh golly.  It’s a good thing everyone knows I’m not being abused by my husband – I’m taking Karate.  But they don’t have to know that bruise was in the wrong spot on my arm.  The bruise should have been lower down for the block I was using.  For that matter, I should’ve either dodged, caught the kick and swept, or used a block better suited for use against a kick to my upper midsection.  What the congregation doesn’t know won’t hurt them 😉

A few days later, Sensei gave us the option of sparring or continuing to work on kata.  I chose sparring because class time is limited and I can work on kata on my own.  Only three of us chose sparring, so Sensei himself made a fourth.  I’d never sparred with a black belt before.  Sensei and I bowed to each other.  I fought down nerves and launched an attack – or that was the idea, anyway.  WHOOMP!  Sensei landed a kick to my gut.  I felt it but didn’t think much of it.  A few moments later I went for Sensei again – WHOOMP!  Another kick to my gut.  I called a halt and asked what I was doing wrong.  Sensei spent a few minutes coaching me, then it was the end of class.  I didn’t think I’d been hit hard – it didn’t hurt much and I hadn’t had the wind knocked out of me!  But next day in the locker room before swimming I discovered a deep bruise.  Fortunately the bruise was covered by my swimsuit.  Every time I felt that little ache throughout that weekend, I reminded myself of what I’d learned when Sensei coached me.

Earlier this week I discovered four little bruises just above my ankle.  No doubt these were from four human fingers.   I was sparring with a tall guy who outranks me and he caught my kick.  Message received – speed those legs up!  I had no idea I’d been bruised while hopping around on one leg – in fact, I was laughing at the time.  I’m kinda proud of those bruises because we were the only ones actually doing something before class (my daughter was sick, otherwise she’d have gleefully asked to have a turn).

This is karate, not knitting.

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If I get hurt, I try not to think much about the other person or to stew about what he or she did to me.  I think about what I could have done differently.  I think about how badly I could get hurt in a fight for survival.  Those thoughts put bruises in perspective in a hurry!  I remind myself that I am building skills and next time I’ll hopefully do better.  Bruises eventually fade, but the lessons stay.

Please pass the arnica gel while you share your favorite bruise stories…

The Tree

The tree
The tree in front is much taller than the building now

1974.  I was in preschool then.  Outside the library I passed a little Douglas Fir tree growing in the small plaza outside the library.  I inhaled the scent of books and library paste as Mom and I walked towards the doors.  Once inside the doors I ran several steps straight to the window of a courtyard and watched water trickle down an abstract metal sculpture fountain.  I lingered for a few minutes, fascinated.  After awhile, Mom and I turned right and walked through another set of doors and into the library proper.  On the right were books, books, and more books.  I ran to pick out my favorites from the shelves under the window you see in the picture behind the tree.

2014.  I passed the trunk of the fifty foot (15.24 meters) high tree growing in the little plaza outside the community center that once was the library.  I knew the scent of books and library paste was long gone, but I smelled the air anyway.  Once inside the doors I took three strides to the window of the courtyard to see what had replaced the old fountain.  I turned away after a quick look then turned right and walked through the other set of doors, noting the button that would open them if needed.  On the right was a wall and a door – a closed off space with no shelves, no books.  Behind the door was a big empty room waiting to be filled with people, food, and good memories.  It was time for me and my new friends to set up the room for the annual Christmas party for the organization of dojos we belong to.

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I worked hard with friends – most of whom outrank me, two who have taught me and my daughter.  As the time for starting the party approached, more people helped to set up and I found myself coordinating one part of the efforts – people who outranked me had asked how they could help, then they cheerfully fulfilled my requests.  After helping a family with three toddlers get food I went through the buffet line myself and sat down at a table with a new acquaintance and his family.  I ached for the company of my daughter, home sick with the flu.

We were given a chance to eat and fellowship, then awards were presented.  Right in the spot where some of my favorite picture books had once awaited me under the window by the tree, my Senseis honored me and gave me an award.  I about cried – the recognition meant so much to me.  I accepted another award on behalf of my sick daughter, remembering how she had picked out books from the same spot, remembering the Empty Bowls charity event she and I attended a few years later in the same room I was standing in now.  So many happy memories rooted in one spot just a few yards from a tree that has grown up with me.

 

All too soon the Christmas party was over.  Many hands were available to help clean up and most of the work was done in the space of half an hour.  Those of us who had been there from the first stayed on until the work was done to the satisfaction of the community center’s manager.

As I helped clean the floor, I took a moment to look out the window at the trunk of the tree.  I imagined my four-year-old self standing in the exact same spot.  That little girl could never have imagined her grown up self – a student of karate mopping a floor alongside two mop-wielding instructors.  A mother wishing her nearly grown child had been healthy enough to be there to hear the affirmations and the challenge for the new year, and to receive the award herself.  A woman striving for personal growth, physical health, and the means to defend herself and others if need be.

 

At last the work was done and the manager signed us out, remarking that we were remarkably quick and thorough workers.  She made it clear we were more than welcome to hold future events there anytime.  Outside, I took a moment to look up into the night-darkened branches of the tall Douglas Fir tree.  Fog obscured the night sky.  The tree was enchantingly beautiful in that moment.  I started to think about how I’ve changed and how that tree has changed.  My thoughts were interrupted by the welcome voice of one of my Senseis.

“Is that the tree?”

“Yes it is, Sensei.”

 

I guess at some point I had told Sensei about how small the tree used to be.  I was flattered he remembered.  I took one last look up into the branches high above me and wondered what changes the tree would see in the years to come.  Then I fell in step behind the people I’ve trained under and worked with so I could participate in the lingering chatter and wish them well on their journeys home.

On the way home I passed by the storefront that had once been the dojo I trained in when I was a teen.  I wished my parents and I could remember my old Sensei’s last name.  The dojo was part of a different organization.  Last Spring at a tournament I took the opportunity to talk to the head of that organization.  He doesn’t know where my old Sensei is now.  I wish I could find her and talk with her again.  I wish she could meet my daughter.  I wish I could thank her.

Merry Christmas, Sensei, wherever you are.

P.S. – I actually wrote this article several days ago.  Since then, while visiting a sister dojo I met another student of my old Sensei who had started after I left.   He remembered her last name.  What a great pre-Christmas present!  Hopefully I’ll find her soon!!!