One More Push Up

Remember these characters?  Id and Super-ego?  Long-time followers of this blog will recognize them from this post and from this post.

Characters made by yurike – Free for both commercial and non-commercial use Credit is not required but it would be greatly appreciated

Sensei (instructor):  Everybody down.  Push-ups.  Hajime (begin).

Id:  Ugh.  Push ups.


Super Ego: Let’s rock & roll!  We’re getting stronger!


Id:  Aaaaaugh!  Sensei isn’t saying “Yame (stop)!”


Super Ego:  Chill.  Get ‘er done.


Id:  No more strength!


Super Ego:  Modify.  Keep going.  We’ve got this.


Id:  Ohhhkaaay, but I don’t know how much longer…


Super Ego:  Hey, you know what?  We’ve improved since last week – we’re doing more!


Id:  Oh man, seriously – now there’s nothing else left to give!  Ahhhh, sweet floor, how I love you.  Man, it feels good to lie here.

Super Ego:  We’re going to try anyway.  Rrrrrrgh!  Fight it!  Oh, look!  Here comes help.


Id:  That’s not HELP – that’s Sensei!  We’re DOOMED!


Super Ego:  You be quiet – I’m listening to Sensei.  He’s explaining how to do this.  KIIIIIIIIIIIIIAAAAAAIII!  There, see!  There was one more push-up in those muscles.  Sensei said to stand up now.

The sound that came out of me was unlike anything I’ve ever vocalized before.  It was a cathartic roar that came not from my throat but from the gut.  I’ve learned a little bit about vocal techniques from singing, so I know I could have damaged my vocal cords if they’d been tight.  Of course there wasn’t tension in my throat because the cry came from my gut.  Among other things this exercise was meant to teach us how to kiai properly.  But I gained more.

I was charged full of energy and ready to learn.  I usually am able to lock my problems in the locker along with my street clothes, but that day I was still dragging when I came to class.  With that one yell I shed the weight of those problems right off.  Afterwards I was focused, clear-headed and light-hearted.  My attitude had turned around.  I was full of wonder at what I’d just accomplished.  With a little encouragement from Sensei I won a battle with myself (the Id and the Superego).  I’d pushed beyond what I’d thought was a limit.  I admit I was feeling a little proud.

[sound of a record needle scratching]

I hear you asking, “Wait – you felt good afterwards?  Don’t you think your sensei was being mean by making everyone do all those push ups?”

I see you reaching for your phone to call the funny farm.

Sensei wasn’t making me do anything.  I could have walked out, changed back into my street clothes and driven away never to return.  That was totally an option.  I could’ve flopped around in a half-hearted effort and been scolded for it – that was totally an option too.  But I value my training.  I also respect myself and my Sensei.  So my “Superego” overpowered my “Id” and I listened when I was told how to get one last push up done.  Once again, I learned I am capable of more than I think.  It’s a lesson that I need to keep on learning because I am human.

Sometimes in life we face adverse circumstances.  We might think we’ve hit a limit and we’re helpless to do more.  We might be right – there are some circumstances that are too dire for anyone to overcome.  Or…  There might be enough strength left to fight back.  Sometimes we need someone to remind us of that and to help a little.  Our challenge afterward is to pass on what we’ve learned to someone else who needs to hear it.

After class was over I felt more equipped to face my real life challenges.

Interestingly enough, within two days very positive progress was made with those problems that I’d dragged with me to class.  The progress wasn’t due to anything I did – if anything it was the prayers of good people (yes, including Sensei), the grace of God, and a whole bunch of recruiters who called my husband so often that he couldn’t finish taking notes from one conversation before starting another.  But I could’ve done a lot of damage to myself and to my husband in the day before the phone started ringing off the hook.  The positive experience of getting through a physical challenge helped me find that strength.  It turned out that I just needed strength for one more day, one last push.

Do you still think Sensei is mean?  Well, you’re entitled to your opinion, and my Id actually agrees with you.  But my Superego knows better.  My problems aren’t solved yet, but things are looking better.  Even if my family and I end up putting four boxes and the dog into a car and driving off to another city, we will find the strength and courage to face that.  But I have a feeling things won’t come to that.  I think this could very well be the last push up.  I am roaring my battle cry in victory.

Desiring Depth

Now that I’ve reached a stage (4th kyu) where I can expect to take longer periods of time between belt tests I find myself eager to go deeper into my art.


My online acquaintance Kai Morgan recently wrote a brilliant article that sums up a lecture by deep freediver Sara Campbell .  Campbell lectured about seven principles of mental success in free diving, and Kai Morgan related those principles to martial arts.  This article really resonated with me.  There’s so much more that I have yet to discover about challenging myself and improving my performance.  I’m starting to understand the mental work that goes into this.  I’m looking forward to more growth in this area.


There are so many ways I need to improve.  I’m doing well for my age, but boy howdy I’ve got a long way to go before I’m satisfied.  I want to understand more about the best way to make those gains in strength, endurance, and flexibility while taking into consideration my middle-aged body.  I won’t be as fast or as strong as someone half my age at peak physical condition but by golly I wanna be one bad muddah.

I’m also eager to explore what I am capable of.  I’ve often been surprised.  I’m becoming more willing to try things that seem “impossible” for an “old lady” to do.  Every now and then I outperform or at least keep up with athletes young enough to be my sons and daughters.  That’s a great feeling and I’m thankful for the sensei (instructors) who have been guiding me.


I see so much that I want for myself when I watch more advanced practitioners.   I’m sharper, faster, and cleaner than the lower ranked students, so that’s a start.  My stances are deeper.  Most of the time I don’t wobble like a newborn fawn or flap around like a spastic duck.  But there’s so much more work I need to do.  There is still tension in my shoulders that needs to be banished.  I need to use my hips more.  When I’m doing the simplest of moving basics alongside the first-quarter students in the college class I concentrate on how I’m executing the techniques.  I think that effort is paying off.  This week I was given homework to help me with appropriate timing of kime (tension) and flowing through movements.  I’m looking forward to improvement!


I’m starting to learn about refereeing and judging.  I’d like to add coaching as well.  I don’t have sufficient rank yet to take a certification exam.  Quite frankly it’s going to take quite awhile for the information to really sink in, so getting an early start will benefit everyone once I actually get to work in a ring at a tournament.  Tonight, College Sensei emailed me a link to the information I want to know.

Etiquette and culture fascinate me, and I’ve bugged more than one Sensei with questions.  Even on the occasion when I was reprimanded then gently lectured for an inadvertent breach of etiquette the emotional sting was offset by my inner anthropologist gleefully scribbling notes and making comparisons.  I can’t help it – I’m a total nerd.  I will continue to make observations, think about, and ask questions about why we do what we do.   Poor Sensei.

For the future

I already have a fairly good start on how to teach, at least with the college program.  I’ve also had experience teaching child beginners in a dojo setting.  Currently I’m getting opportunities to help a wider variety of ages and ranks.  I want to improve on how I teach groups.

I must admit that I find teaching advanced kata (forms) very challenging, so I need to work on actually knowing the kata well enough to teach it.  I want bunkai  and lots of it!  I can’t ever get enough of bunkai.

Some months ago there was a period of time when I had a little taste of what I’ll most likely need to do once I reach Shodan (first degree black belt) and beyond.  I spent a good bit of time teaching and therefore I  needed to create or find learning opportunities.  I did a lot of work on my own time.  I’m now enjoying a more gradual road to that place.  Because of that period of time, I know I can do a little exploration on my own.  I also learned I will always need other practitioners who know more than I do to help me go deeper into my art.

I hope I’ll always enjoy diving deeper into the art of Karate!

Round Two

I know you.  I’ve fought you before.  I know every way you’re going to attack me.  I’ve been beaten down by you before.  You’ve brought me so low I wanted to quit.  You kept kicking me when I was down.  You showed no mercy.  At long last the fight ended, but you kept hounding me – picking at me in small, petty ways.  I was free of you for awhile then unexpectedly I found myself in Round Two.

This time I will not undermine myself with worry.  Worry crippled me the last time I fought you.  I will remain calm no matter what you throw at me.  Screaming, ranting, and giving in to despair did me no good.  Crying… Yes I will cry, but only as a healthy release not as part of a self-destructive cycle of self pity that leaves me wide open for the worst of your attacks.

I will listen for the voices of my coaches during this fight.  I will listen for my friends cheering me on.  I didn’t listen last time around and you took full advantage.  No more.  There are a few who say to my face that you will win.  There are some who don’t believe that I am capable of fighting you.  I’m not listening to them anymore.  If I happen to hear them in the clamoring voices of the ringside crowd I will listen again for those who are encouraging me to keep fighting.

Every time you throw something at me, I will take action.  I will go on the offensive every opportunity I get.  I am looking for those opportunities so watch out.  I didn’t look for opportunities last time around; I just reacted and my reactions were ineffective.  I acknowledge that maybe my best might still not be good enough.  You almost crushed me utterly the first round and you might win this round.  But if you win, know that I will hound you until the next fight just like you hounded me between rounds.

Most importantly I refuse to do your work for you.  I will not undermine myself.  That stops now.

I will stay positive and look for and hope for better things.  I will be grateful for everything that helps me beat you.  Maybe I will defeat you utterly.  I know I will learn more no matter what happens, and when I am learning more I am gaining strength.  In a way, I will win no matter what – no matter how many times I have to fight you, no matter how many times I fall to the mats I will win.  I will get back up again even if I feel defeated.  I will fight until there’s nothing left in me.

Dear reader, this is not a human opponent.  But I have learned to fight this enemy because of the lessons I’ve learned in Karate.  My husband unexpectedly lost his job.  We’ve been in this place before.  I spent a weekend grieving, then I took up the fight.  Every day I strive to do as many positive things that I can do to help the situation.  My eyes are wide open for creative ways of saving and earning money.  Even if the worst happens I have plans for that too.  We will persevere.

To all who have encouraged me, taught me, and worked with me both in and out of the dojo – thank you.  You mean the world to me.


A Little Bit of Authority

Jackie Bradbury, in her recent blog post, “The Question of Authority” asked,

“Are you an authority?  How did you get recognized as such?  What are some of the downsides of how authority works in your neck of the woods?  Upsides?  Join in the conversation and let us know what you think!”

I found myself writing more than a Facebook comment could handle.  Thank you, Jackie for the inspiration!

I help out at College Dojo, and I guess that makes me a junior authority.  College Dojo is, at its core, a college class that students take for credit.  Two quarters are offered, and both PE 116 and 216 meet at the same time, same place.  Most students take only one quarter, so it is possible for an intermediate-ranked person to assist such a class.  That said, College Sensei wants me to work my butt off in my own training so that hopefully sometime in late 2017 my belt rank will finally match my function at his dojo.

I originally came to College Dojo as a very low-ranked student seeking to really solidify my foundation by practicing the most basic skills of Karate alongside new beginners.  I stayed on by the indulgence of College Sensei and I have no doubt the extra training has given me a great boost in my progress.  Suddenly a year ago I found myself to be the second-highest ranked karateka in the dojo.  A black belt had already retired and a brown belt moved away.  The class is during the business day so it’s hard for most brown and black belts to come help.  Logically, my role changed.  That said, I’m not so sure that my belt rank automatically entitled me to the authority that comes with the role I play now.

I think College Sensei could probably run PE 116 and PE 216 without an assistant.  It would be tough for him and the students, but I think he could pull it off.  He could also insist that only paying students are allowed into the class, which would leave me out.  He must have seen something in me that prompted him to let me grow into the role that I found myself in.  So really the vast majority of my authority comes from College Sensei allowing me to assist with the class.

A tiny bit of my authority stems from where I am now and where I have been in life.  I’m old enough to be the mother of almost every student in College Dojo.  I am in fact a parent of a college student.  I was once a college student myself.  I work on campus and deal with college students every day.  I know how they roll.  So part of the authority I have stems naturally from how a middle-aged matron relates to her kiddos’ peers.  I’ve been affectionately called “Mama Senpai.”

An even smaller piece of my authority in College Dojo comes from the mystique of my abilities in the eyes of newbies.  I look OK when I do Karate – not the best but just right for my rank.  But to someone new to the martial arts world I look amazing.  Advanced kata?  Boo yeah.  Light free-sparring with College Sensei?  OMG.  Sure any given black belt smiles indulgently at me and can pick everything I do apart, but let’s face it…  New students don’t know my green belt with a stripe represents an intermediate rank. They don’t know my abilities don’t even come close to what more highly ranked karateka can do.  New students see a middle-aged lady doing something athletic that looks like it would hurt someone pretty badly, and that does give me a little bit of a mystique in their eyes.

“I think you’ll be giving me a run for the money,” I told a big guy once before sparring with him.  He’d trained a bit here and there in boxing and a couple of other martial arts arts.

“Yeah, but you have skills,” he offered, emphasizing the word, “skills” in a slightly awed tone.

I grinned, “For this fight only, don’t limit yourself to what you’ve learned here.  I want to learn from you.  Stay within the tournament rules, though.”

We had a good fight.  I hope he learned not to underestimate his abilities and his potential.  I know I learned a thing or two about my own fighting style.

College Sensei has on many occasions given students a chance to see me as a work in progress.  He’s sparred with, uh, played cat-and-mouse with me while everyone else watched.  He’s called on me to perform kata that I’ve barely memorized in front of the entire class, then a month later he’ll have me perform it again.  On any given day before or after class anyone can watch if College Sensei decides to work with me, so I don’t mind it when he wants everyone to pay attention.  They learn what’s expected from a student of my rank.  So my authority is put into context.  I am a senior student, not a fully accredited instructor.

The disadvantages of me being in any sort of position of authority are slight, but are, nonetheless, “out there.”  I’m not sure but I probably am not “supposed to” have this much authority until I’m at least one rank higher than I am now.  The role landed in my lap when I was two ranks lower than I am now.  Maybe some consider the mismatch between my role and my rank to be acceptable, maybe some don’t.  That’s OK, I totally understand.  That said, the sooner I achieve my next rank, the better; then that point will be moot.  Another disadvantage is I’m still adjusting from one-on-one teaching with no deadlines to group teaching with deadlines (the end of each quarter).  I do not have decades of experience practicing and/or teaching Karate, so I’m not exactly a superstar expert. I am what I am, and I am growing.

The advantage of me helping out is College Dojo runs smoothly and the students get the benefit of two completely different teachers.  Yes, I feel free to be myself and to teach in my own manner (and College Sensei does give me feedback).  Both as a student and as a teacher I can tell you that sometimes having input from more than one person can make the difference between struggling and understanding.  I am quite comfortable leading either PE 116 or 216, giving feedback to individual students while both classes drill together under Sensei’s direction, leading warm-up exercises, serving as a role model, or any other job a senior student has (like being Sensei’s uke for throws, LOL).  I’d leave a big hole if I couldn’t continue.

I am trying hard to make sure that those students are getting their money’s worth.  And no, I don’t get paid.  I’m volunteering.  Willingly.  The college already pays me for something I’m very good at and have extensive experience in – namely, secretarial work.  I’m good at teaching beginning  karate students too (I started when I was a teenager), but I’m still learning the ropes of running the college classes and I’m not nearly as good at this as I will be in six years, ten years, or twenty years.  The students sometimes hear Sensei giving me my marching orders for the day’s lesson, and sometimes they observe that I’m getting feedback from him after class.  That’s OK – the beginners will see that even though I have a bit of authority, I’m still learning and growing.

Most importantly, I’m having fun being in this position.  I truly enjoy helping to introduce young adults to Karate even if I never see them again after 22 classes.  This is my favorite age group to work with.  Yes, the responsibility that goes along with even this little bit of authority sometimes is daunting, but I’m handling it and I’m growing.  Being in this position has definitely led to growth in my own skills – leadership, patience, innovation in teaching methods, and self confidence.  Being something of an authority figure at College Dojo is very rewarding, and I am very thankful for the opportunity to serve in this capacity.

Hey, here’s some related reading by my Australian counterpart whose journey parallels mine in lots of ways:  Back to Basics – Teaching is the New Learning

Taking Notes

Last week I posted about what I’d learned from watching a belt test.  I didn’t know then if I’d be too tired in the aftermath of the flu to drive three hours in order to watch another belt test in the state next door.  As it turned out, I was well enough and yes, I brought a notebook and pen.  Now I get to blog about what I learned from the exercise of writing down what the candidates were tested on and my observations about the candidates.

It should have come as no surprise to me that if I observed something either positive or negative in an individual or in a group I’d see it over and over again.  I don’t know why I was so surprised at the number of times I wrote things like “see prev. note” [see previous note] or “heiko d. (again!).”   Obviously if someone’s upper block is mediocre while he or she is just standing in shoulder stance, that person’s block is still going to be mediocre if he or she is doing it as part of a combination of basics while moving in a stance, and yes, you’ll see it again in kata (forms).  Guess what?  In kumite (sparring) that same person will get popped in the face.  I think the act of writing down the same observations over and over reinforced my awareness that there are connections among kihon (basics), kata (forms), and kumite (sparring).

Until I took notes I took for granted that one can build off of the combinations of basics given to lower ranks in order to challenge the higher ranks.  This is often done during regular classes as well.  The act of writing down each rank’s “assignment” solidified this concept for me.  It’s a good way to alert the higher ranks to the primary technique the graders want to see, as the white belts (testing for their first rank) are generally given instructions first, then the orange belts, etc.  This progression also makes things easier for whoever is in charge of formulating and calling out the combinations of movements.

I was in a dojo in another state, so this was a good opportunity for me to compare and contrast familiar students with students I didn’t know at all (with the exception of one of my friends from my home state).  I was secretly delighted these candidates were having trouble with something too.  My fellow dojo-mates and I had drilled that particular thing during the prior week in response to what the Chief Instructor for our state saw in the latest belt test.  I was very impressed with a couple of things that, in our state, are not expected until slightly higher ranks.  It’s good for me to see that each dojo has its reasons for doing things, and none of those reasons are necessarily wrong or better.  Just different.

Next belt test it will be interesting to see if my observations of, for instance, low purple belts will be the same or different.  I wonder if there will be new positive and negative trends.  I do have an idea of what’s expected for the first two ranks due to my observation of seven tests held for the college class.  But I need to increase my knowledge beyond that.  Some day I will have students of my own.  I will need to prepare them for their tests.  Some day I might be called on to be in charge of what the candidates do for a test.  By taking notes and thinking about what I’ve written, I’m taking a step forward to prepare myself for that “some day.”

I am slowly transitioning out of the comfort zone of one-on-one teaching (home school and helping lower-ranked karate students) and into the increasingly more familiar territory of group learning.  One-on-one teaching has been my groove ever since I helped out in the dojo I used to train in when I was a teenager.  I’m challenging myself to stretch and grow beyond that comfort zone.  I don’t have to learn how to run a belt test until later in my karate career; I just want to do something more than help stack chairs and congratulate my pals when I’m not actually being tested for my next rank.  I’ve learned a lot from thinking about the nuts and bolts of a belt test, and even more from taking notes and analyzing those notes.