Sticky Hands

Today’s blog post is gonna be short and sweet.

 

PushingHands

Earlier this week I had one of those, “Wow, I’m actually doing this!” moments that I love so much.  We were doing an exceedingly simple sensitivity drill.  Partners had to keep their hands/wrists in constant contact with each other as one blocked and the other punched.  At one point in order to demonstrate how far that particular drill could be expanded Sensei called me up to help demonstrate.  He told me to close my eyes.  I did the drill easily.  With my eyes still closed, Sensei took the lead and moved unpredictably, trying to lightly strike me.  I kept my wrist and hand in contact with his in order to foil his attempts at striking.

So yeah, it’s cool that I can do this “sticky hands” stuff with my eyes closed. But as I trotted back to my place in line after, I realized this sensitivity training could be useful if I’m ever blinded by dirt thrown in my eyes, blood running from a scalp wound, or just plain lack of light.  I’ve done this sort of sensitivity training before – with two hands and indeed the entire body.  But never with my eyes closed, and I never realized the practical application.  It was a neat little “light bulb” moment for me.

Sorry for the brevity.  I’ve been wrestling with MailChimp for months, and this week I neglected blogging in favor of figuring things out on MailChimp.   Hopefully those of you on my subscriber list will have already received email notification of this post.  If not, I guess it’s back to the drawing board for me!

Changes

Sometimes change is like broccoli - it's good for us but not exactly easy to like.
Sometimes change is like broccoli – it’s good for us but not exactly easy to like.

I’ve put off writing this blog post.  Indeed, I didn’t even write last week because I knew what I wanted to say but not how to say it. But now I feel the time is right.  And yes, I’m writing this at the “last minute” before my usual automated posting day/time.

Back in February (2016) College Dojo was already down to one Sensei (instructor) and an assistant brown belt.  Then the assistant moved away, leaving me as senior student.  College Dojo is really a class that students take for credit.  Most people take one quarter and we never see them again.  A few take two quarters, and it’s a “one room schoolhouse” situation, just like any other dojo.  Three or four students might stay on beyond the two quarters not for credit, but just for fun.  I originally joined in order to shore up my basics and stayed on just because I enjoyed the class (and to keep my basics polished).  As the highest-ranked student I inherited a boatload of responsibilities.

This was a very good change and I welcomed it.  I’ve grown used to my new role at College Dojo and I look forward to being involved there for the rest of my Karate career if possible.  This is my favorite age group to work with.  I’ve grown as a teacher and a karateka.

September brought more changes.

Maybe someday I’ll write about what’s been going down at the dojo I call home.  I’ve been too full of anger and grief and the story hasn’t fully played out yet.  In a nutshell, I am very sorry that my “home” dojo Sensei cannot be Sensei there anymore.  Understandably, we’ve also lost the occasional assistance of his lovely wife who is also a black belt.  It’s a good thing College Dojo Sensei stepped in.  I am immensely grateful.  But this change means that I get to be a student in my “home” dojo only every third class until the new white belts are integrated.  Add that to my teaching at College Dojo and yeah, making sure I grow in my own skills is challenging.

In my last blog post I wrote…

“I have to do a lot of work on my own and seek out opportunities to learn at a higher level with higher ranked people.  This is what black belts quite often need to do for themselves so this would have come sooner or later in my career.  It just happened to come sooner than usual.  I am blessed to have a good deal of support from many incredible people.  But even though I’m embracing this new phase, this time of transition is quite challenging.”

I wish that I could reassure myself with the thought that I will see the fruit of my teaching, but College Dojo students move on every quarter and the future of my “home” dojo is uncertain.  The host facility of Home Dojo has never been entirely understanding of what we need (you can read between the lines in this article).  Things have been even more difficult since I wrote that article and eventually everything came to a head a couple of months ago.  There’s been more stuff heaped on us since then.  Not only that, the host facility might shut down our dojo soon.

Because College Sensei stepped in to teach at Home Dojo, College Sensei is now my Sensei.  I am happy with this.  But if worst comes to worst and “Home” Dojo ceases to exist, “College Dojo” won’t be enough.  I will need a new “home.”  Fortunately, we’re part of an organization so we have other karateka pulling for us.  We’ve got ideas noodling around and people are looking for solutions.  I know I won’t be an “orphan.”

In the face of these challenges I am still making progress in my training.  Sensei is doing everything he can to train me and I visit other dojos and have their support as well.  But still, it feels like a premature end to childhood and there’s a little bit of stress that goes along with that.  Also I’ve invested a lot into Home Dojo and facing the almost certain possibility that it will be shut down soon is hard.  I have been grieving over the series of unfortunate events (to borrow a phrase) that have brought Home Dojo to this point.  Shortly after I started training I envisioned myself with a black belt happily expanding the program at “home dojo.”  That’s most likely not going to happen.

It’s time for a new dream.  If I can hold on for a couple of months longer I know I’ll find one, or one will find me.  Meanwhile, I just have to work through my grief and come to a place of acceptance.  It sure does help that vigorous exercise and doing something positive with other people generates some lovely endorphins.  It also helps that I love my art and there’s enough in Karate to keep me quite busy for as long as I am physically able to do it.  I’m working towards my next belt, and that alone could keep me going strong through this time of transition.  But still, I need something to replace the dream of expanding Home Dojo’s Karate program.  It’ll come, I’m sure.

What Do You Want for Your Child?

blackbeltpottySo you’re choosing a martial art for your child to get into.  There’s loads of things to consider.  Location, price, and the instructor’s reputation are biggies.  If you’re lucky you might find a good match in all three of these areas.  But there’s something more important that you should examine before you sign you child up.

Ask yourself, “What do you want?”

I understand the starry-eyed vision of your little darling wearing a black belt (I’m going to use “black belt” generically ’cause it’s easy for folks to understand – please note that many arts recognize high achievers differently).  You want your child to achieve and that’s great.  Chances are your child wants that black belt too, and that’s fantastic.  So, which school is more attractive?  School A warns that it will take 8-10 years to maybe be invited to test for Junior Black Belt, then test again at age 16.  School B will get your child to black belt in 6 years.  School C promises 4.  Which do you choose?

You might think you want the fast track for your child.  You might even think that four years is too long, and to a child yes, four years is four-ev-er.  But stop and think.  Do you want the black belt to be given to the child just to make him or her feel good, or do you want that black belt to really mean something?  There are martial arts schools out there that will give you exactly what you want if you think the black belt is the end-all-and-be-all of martial arts.  Are they worth the money?

Let’s get back to School A.  The one that says it typically takes 8-10 years until your child might be invited to test for Junior black belt, then re-test at age 16.  Chances are if you talk a little longer with the higher-ranked folks from School A they will tell you that learning doesn’t stop at black belt.  Black belt is regarded as a new beginning, a sign that one has a good foundation and is ready to embark on a journey of even more and better learning.

If, while talking to folks from the school, you hear a passion for lifelong learning (thank you, Kai Morgan), high expectations, tough requirements, and personal development you’ve found a great school.  If you hear a hesitation to award a black belt to a child after only 4-6 years, stop and listen to the reasons.  Chances are the school expects a lot from their black belts.  Children can achieve quite a lot physically, and often that is recognized with a junior black belt.  But even just the physical abilities cannot be achieved without a lot of time, effort, practice, and a willingness to focus, learn, and commit to the art for a number of years.

I know by the time I might be invited to test for black I will have physical skills, yes, but I will also have been trained in how to teach and maybe even in dealing with a host facility.  Hopefully I’ll have some idea of how to handle “That guy,” (borrowing from fellow blogger Jackie Bradbury).  Examples of “that guy” would be someone with bad hygine, or maybe a know-it-all.  Children can’t handle these responsibilities.

Every single belt I’ve earned has meant a lot to me.  All my future belts will mean even more because I will have put in a lot more time and sweat into earning them.  The tests I will take from here on out will be a lot harder than my previous tests.  I will have gained a lot of physical skills in my art that one cannot gain without considerable effort and time.  Have I mentioned other things I hope to gain along with my black belt?  Ohhhh, yes I have.  Here, here, here, and here.  Chances are if you read any given post on my blog, you’ll see where I’m headed.  This is what I want for myself.  Do you want the same for your child?

You might want to look beyond the belt and how fast your child can get it.  Some, not all, but some schools count on your fixation on the color of your child’s belt.  In fact, some go so far as to charge outrageously high testing fees because they know parents will do almost anything to get bragging rights.  Don’t be fooled.  There’s a lot to be said for enjoying the journey and appreciating where one is at the moment.  Certainly children can be guided into this if their parents aren’t fixated on the color of the belt and how fast it can be obtained.  They will most likely perform better and stick with the art longer.

My Karate “childhood” is drawing to a close.  Due to unforeseen circumstances I have been taking on responsibilities that are usually given to students who are a little more highly ranked than I am.  In addition (again due to unforeseen circumstances) I have to do a lot of work on my own and seek out opportunities to learn at a higher level with higher ranked people.  This is what black belts quite often need to do for themselves so this would have come sooner or later in my career.  It just happened to come sooner than usual.  I am blessed to have a good deal of support from many incredible people.  But even though I’m embracing this new phase, this time of transition is quite challenging.  Parents, please let your child have his or her martial arts “childhood” because that time is precious and vital.

I hope you understand that a black belt should be more than just a piece of cloth and a pat on the back.  If you’re still not convinced, go ahead and get your child that black belt in four years.  There’s room for just having fun, and heck, it’s a free country so anyone can wear any color belt they want especially if they pay money for it.  Just don’t expect that the color of the belt will mean the same thing in every single martial arts school.

Wanna read more about choosing a school and being a martial arts parent?  My online acquaintance, Jackie Bradbury has you covered.  Check out her blog post “A Parent’s Guide to Martial Arts.”

What am I becoming?

futureIn a wonderful inspirational blog post Andrea Harkins, an Internet acquaintance of mine, wrote about the question we all ask ourselves from time to time, “Who am I?”  I’m going to simply go off on a bit of a tangent, and I hope that nobody takes my musings as diminishing what she has to say in her article.  It’s just that she and I are different human beings and each of us has different thoughts to share.  She has truly been a role model to me and I loved her article.  ‘Nuff said.

I certainly do ask myself, “Who am I?” from time to time, just like anyone else.  But for more than a year, I’ve also been asking, “What am I becoming?”

150214_GraveI think the first time I asked myself this question was when I very nearly killed a man during sparring.  My inner voice was trembling with fear.  I had no idea that I was even capable of killing someone.  I’d only been training for less than a year at that point and assumed that I couldn’t kill someone even if I tried.  Since then, I’ve learned that my ability to inflict great harm does not in any way diminish the good inside me.  I’ve learned a great deal about trust and have been seeking to be trustworthy.  Accordingly, I have been seeking and will always be seeking to control my techniques.  Accidents happen and I don’t have perfect control yet, but most of the time I have peace knowing I am getting better.  Sometimes I do still tremble when I ask myself that question, but by now I can reassure myself and continue learning Karate, which is, among other things, a study of how to fight and how, if necessary, to end a fight.

Sometimes I ask myself, “What am I becoming?” with a tone of awe.  This happens after I’ve made a quantum leap of understanding in class, after a significant tournament victory, or a great performance during a belt test.  I’ll often feel like pinching myself to make sure that I didn’t just dream it.  My heart soars, and yes, I do feel proud of myself.  I look forward to better and greater things.  I know I’m one step closer to my goals and dreams.

When I watch those who outrank me, I have part of the answer to the question, “What am I becoming?”  Don’t get me wrong, these folks are human beings with their quirks and flaws.  They’re not perfect.  When I reach 3rd Kyu, 2nd Kyu, 1st Kyu, Shodan, and beyond, I won’t be perfect either.  And I certainly won’t be identical to any of those who I look up to.  What I will be is a better version of myself – mind, body, and spirit.  So when I look at those who outrank me, particularly the “ones who have gone before,” I get little glimpses of my future.

I like where I’m headed.

P. S. – If you’d like to read more by Andrea Harkins, check out her inspirational blog, “The Martial Arts Woman.”  Andrea also has compiled her own writing and the stories of other martial arts women in her new book, publishing soon!

Fun at Godo Renshu

allbeltsOur Karate organization held our annual Godo Renshu this past Saturday.  The translation for Godo Renshu is “Unity Training.”  We did some of that, but we had even more fun with other events and activities.

Two out of the five of us who packed ourselves into my car for a total of six hours of drive time are international students at the college where I work.  I had no idea when I took the job that I’d meet these incredible young ladies who I have the good fortune of knowing and, as they put it, “playing Karate” with.  I suspect that if I continue to work for the International Student Program I’ll get to know even more young karateka from around the world.

The day started off with belt testing for color belts.  As I’d hoped, I saw someone my own rank test for his next belt.  Now I have a better idea of what to expect at my next belt test.  I really, really, really need to improve on my combinations of basic techniques and my sparring.

At any promotion after the successful candidates receive their new belts those who are among the higher ranks of the color belts help children who don’t quite know how to tie their own belts yet.  I went over to one little fellow and started to untie his belt.  Next thing I know, a little girl approximately my own rank came over, called the little guy by his name, congratulated him, then gently took over the belt-tying duty from me.  It was such a beautiful moment my heart melted.

Next up for testing were the brown belts going up for their first degree black belts and those black belts who were testing for their next degree.  This is always great to watch.  The tests are difficult.  One sees some great karate, that’s for sure!  It’s obvious these karateka (karate folks) have prepared extensively for these tests.  I wanna grow up to be just like them.  Age is just a number.  Watch me.

Sometime in all this excitement we had lunch.  My main concern was not getting grape jelly on my pretty white gi (karate uniform)…  Yeah.  I should’ve opted for turkey.

The actual Godo Renshu was so much fun that I don’t know whether it was two hours or just one.  The time flew by.  We had what I describe as “mini-seminars” from a few of our Sensei (black belt instructors).  This worked very well.  No one Sensei had the pressure of keeping everyone busy for a couple of hours because the workload was shared.

Either my Karate is so abysmal I need the attention, or black belts pay more attention to those my rank and above, or both.  In any case I noticed a definite uptick in the amount of input, feedback, and help from the Sensei who took it on themselves to help us color belts.  I always appreciate that individual attention in any setting!

I admit I struggled with one of the drills we were taught.  That said, it was my favorite “takeaway” from Godo Renshu.  I write down drills I can use in the future, when I am a Senesei.  Just because I had a hard time with it doesn’t mean that I automatically dismiss it.  Yes, I felt a little discouraged because I didn’t quite manage to perform it, but I recognized its value.  Others were having fun with and being challenged by it and that’s enough for me.  That and there’s something to be said for teaching the drill to my fellow students back home – I will learn it better myself.

As if all that fun wasn’t enough, we were divided into teams for team kumite (sparring).  I had a lot of fun cheering for team-mates and I got to fight once.  The feedback I got about my sparring from three of our organization’s black belts was very welcome.  I found myself itching to do more sparring in order to start building better habits.  But alas, the day was almost done.

All good things must come to an end.  To celebrate everything we’d accomplished and learned, we had a big party.  Good food, good people, games, and dancing was a perfect end to a great day.