Dipping My Toes Into the Flow

graduation-hat-cap-md5/2/16 – College Dojo

Pushing hands.  Hubad-lubad.  Sensitivity drills.  I’m not quite sure what the Karate organization I’m training with calls ’em.  The label doesn’t really matter – as Grandmaster Remy A. Presas would say, “It’s all de same.”

The first time I did anything like this was in a black belt’s garage-dojo.  She had invited a few of us out for training and lunch, and I was by far the lowest ranked.  I was introduced to this fun game of deception, luring, escaping, trapping, and generally, as my stick-playing FMA friends would say, “going with the flow.”  We started out with arms only then moved on to using our whole bodies.  Now I have a better idea of how to work when someone is in my space!

I found out very quickly that trying to use brute force and strength only gave my opponent a huge advantage.  I had to stay loose and keep in motion – adjusting and re-adjusting as needed to work towards a goal.  I also learned that sometimes it’s OK to yield to my opponent – that in doing so I might set him up for what I want to do to him.

In College Dojo today we did a little of this as well.  College Sensei only had us use one arm today.  I smiled as the young man I was paired with tried to overpower me with strength.  It didn’t work.  I figured out which direction he was “aiming” his strength and simply directed it aside and tagged him.  Patiently I started working, getting him into a rhythm, then abruptly broke the pattern I’d woven.  Tag again.  We didn’t have time for more because class ended.

After class, another young man of low rank challenged me to a one-armed match.  A challenge from a lower ranked karateka is a breach of etiquette.  I chose to deal with it indirectly and with a good bit of mischief, grace, and humor.  I said, “I’ll do you one better.  Let’s play this with two arms and the goal is to trap one another.”

Sometimes being Sempai is a lot of fun.  I found out he is good at this game.  Both of us thoroughly enjoyed the few minutes we had to play.  I think we are equally matched skills-wise, so if we play together more we’ll both get better.  I learned that rather than yell at the kid for daring to challenge his Sempai, it’s a heck of a lot more fun to “punish” him by challenging him to grow in skill.

Click here for a great article on going with the flow!

Role Model

RoleModelWhen I started training in June 2014 I couldn’t imagine being where I am now.  I thought if by some miracle I didn’t die of a heart attack, I’d still be pretty low-ranked.  I’ve trained hard, had tons of fun and…  Now I find myself in an interesting position that I didn’t think would come until, at the earliest, brown belt.

I am a role model.

Little girls see that women can do this Karate thing too.  Teenage girls see someone who has trained for a shorter time than they have pass them up in rank – and they are starting to take more interest in their own training.  College women see me as a very strong, capable leader (I am Sempai to that dojo) who is herself growing in skill and who freely shares what she knows.

Sure, the limelight is kinda nice, but it’s a lot of responsibility.

I have to be better.  I’m not talking about having to have incredible speed, unstoppable power, textbook form, and all that jazz and having to have it all right now.  I’m on my own timetable with that – like everyone else I have my strengths, my weaknesses, things that challenge me, and things that come more easily to me.  When I say I have to be better, I mean mentally better.

StaringThey’re watching me.

What do I do when I’m punched a little too hard?  What do I do if I accidentally hit to hard?  How do I teach someone who is struggling with something simple?  If I myself am struggling with something simple how do I handle it?  How do I react when I lose a sparring match to someone who is lower ranked than I am?  What do I say and do when I win a sparring match against someone who is higher ranked?

As the only grown woman in one dojo, as Sempai to a dojo full of young adults, and as one of few grown women in a third dojo, I’d better watch myself.  If I make a mistake, do I accept responsibility for it?


I will make mistakes.  I will tread on toes, I will be obnoxious, impatient, snarky, angry, and whiney.  Sensei might assign me push-ups.  Yes, folks, I am human.  But will that make me less of a role model?  No.  Not if I work to make things right and accept the consequences with grace and humor.That, friends, is what being a role model is all about.  It’s not all about your achievements, it’s not about being a perfectionist, it’s about helping others realize what they themselves could be some day.  Because “some day” might come sooner than they think, and they might suddenly find themselves in the spotlight.

For those of you who were and are still role models to me (and there are a LOT of you)- thank you.  I appreciate you greatly.  And guess what?  Some of you who look up to me are also role models for me.  I’ve watched your progress, I’ve seen you overcome obstacles, and I admire you.  Rock on!  I’ll help you as much as I can 🙂

When Someday is Today

RainThis, that, and the other was dragging me down today (4/23/16), and I found myself sinking deeper as I drove to Affiliate YMCA.  The instant I started moving in Zumba, I started feeling better.  Later, during the Affilate YMCA Dojo’s Saturday practice time, something beautiful happened.  One of my “some days” was today.

It took me several weeks to learn Bassai Dai, my first advanced kata after some thirty years.  I was fully expecting to take several weeks to learn Nijushiho.  Today, all I needed was a bit of reminding of what comes next.  Suddenly, I realized I had Nijushiho memorized.  I then spent at least an hour hammering that kata into my brain.  Now I can begin refining it.

01_Graphic1Learning any kata is a triumph for me because I have directional dyslexia.  So this felt really good, especially as the process of learning Nijushiho was one of the things I was discouraged about as I drove to Affilate Y.  Once I had that kata solidly memorized, I realized 24 movements (the translation of the kata’s name) makes for a short kata.  So Nijushiho isn’t quite the bear I’d imagined it to be after all.

Some day…  Two words that give hope.  Some day I’ll be rid of the shoulder tension.  Some day I’ll be consistent with throwing from my core.  Some day I’ll learn Rohai Shodan (the second kata I’ll be tested on for my next rank).  Some day I’ll be a black belt.

Ceinture_De_Karate_Ou_Judo_clip_art_greenHow do I know that one day I’ll find a “some day” has turned into “today?”  I have faith in my “some days” because I’ve reached so many milestones already.  Some of these milestones are belt ranks.  Some are tournament medals.  Some milestones involve learning something I’ve only read or heard about.  The most precious milestones of all involve my instructors trusting me with their safety.

SunCloudThe trick to countering discouragement is to remember all the days when a “some day” became “today.”  Many of those milestones were reached in spite of numerous challenges.  I ran into someone’s car in the parking lot before my last belt test.  I am dyslexic.  Last year, I won first place medals in a tournament despite an injury.  I had 22 pounds of fat the day I started my first Karate class in 27 years.  And let’s face it, I’m not exactly a spring chicken.  In spite of it all, I’ve had many, many “some days” come true.  That should give me hope next time I’m bummed about some aspect of my Karate or my life.

Bright-Eyed Girl

graduation-hat-cap-mdLast month I had an incredible round of free-sparring with a white belt at College Dojo.  Yes, a brand spankin’ new beginner who, at that time, had only about 18 classes’ worth of training.  She was a petite gal, no previous martial arts experience.  As with any white belt, I started off gently and slowly.  I can tell pretty quickly who’s had martial arts experience – by now I’ve sparred with collegiates who have backgrounds in Tae Kwon Do, wrestling, Kung Fu, Sumo, boxing, and other styles of Karate.  This gal was a complete newbie of average ability but… Oh boy was she feisty!

I ramped things up gradually, she matched my intensity.  I found her threshold then backed down.  She stayed right at the top of her game.  I kept her there and not once did she flag or give up.  It was a challenge for me as well to keep pushing while riding that edge of her spirit and ability.  I admit I did a tiny bit of playing with her just to show her her where she was making mistakes.  But her response was to learn and to punch me right back next chance she got.  I loved seeing that.

After it was all over, her eyes were sparkling and she was smiling.  She bubbled, “Oh my God, that was SO FUN!!!  THANK YOU!!!”

I told her, “You’re welcome.  It was fun for me as well.  I love teaching.”

By now I have a good deal of experience being in “teaching mode” while sparring.  It’s always great to see the students responding positively to the pressures I put on them to improve.  I love the light in their eyes after we bow to each other when we’re done.  When they seek me out as a sparring partner next class, that right there is a huge compliment.

This time I saw more than I’d seen before.  I know part of the youngster’s enthusiasm came from her realization of her own capabilities.  But I also wondered if another part of my young sparring partner’s enthusiasm was the idea that someday she too could have the joy of teaching someone else – maybe Karate, maybe something else.  I hope she knows that she has that potential.  Even if she never sets foot in another martial arts class again, I hope what she learned about herself and about challenging others to reach their potential will stay with her.

To all of you who have ever taught me – thank you.

Stay Loose

TensionTense shoulders have been plaguing me all throughout my training.  Earlier this month my Sensei said that just like riding a bike, one day I’ll “get it” and I’ll be moving better.

I got a big hint on Jesse Enkamp’s blog.  He suggests that if stiffening up is a problem, stop trying to be loose.  I’m sure it’s great advice but I haven’t quite got the hang of it yet.  I’ll just have to be patient and remind myself to quit worrying.  I’m sure everyone progresses at their own rate, and I’m just going to have to trust the fact that the more I train, the better I will get at this art.  I just need to have faith that this breakthrough will come.

PushingHandsI was given a tiny bit of insight a week ago.  We were working on, well, I don’t know what to call it it was like “pushing hands” or sensitivity drills, except no structure – just free play at close range with the objective of trapping.  We started off with just arms and hands.  At one point, my partner pointed out, “If you stiffen up, that just makes it easier for me to trap you.”  Light bulb!  I started becoming aware of tension and releasing it.  We moved on to using the entire body at close range.  It was a flowing game of evasion, deception, luring, and trapping.  Every time I stiffened and tried to defend with stiffness or power into offense with muscle, I lost opportunities and/or advantages.

On the surface, these were exercises in strategy, anticipation, intuition, and working at close range.  But I think the Sensei who was teaching us also wanted me to learn loose, fluid movement in a context that would give me instant feedback.  I know if I can remember what that felt like, it’ll help my kumite.

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I have to admit there are still a bunch of stupid anxieties and worries on my emotional level when I’m in the ring doing kumite.  I’ve been a little lax about finding ways of being aware of and letting them go.  On the other hand, it’s been quite some time since I last barfed on anyone, so I guess I’ve improved some.  That said, performance anxiety, overthinking things (the centipede’s dilemma), and fear of injury are still lurking around.  It’s good to know that as of last week’s lesson, I have a positive experience to recall.  I’ll try to remember what it felt like to move gracefully, to have those flashes of insight into what my partner was up to, and to execute a strategy successfully.

At one point I asked my partner, “How am I even doing this?  It’s my first time doing anything remotely resembling this, and I don’t understand why I’m not floundering.”  My partner said I was using my intuition.  Light bulb!  I need to trust myself.  The human brain has incredible capacities – I need to tap into all those wonderful attributes that enabled my ancestors to survive a lot of really tough things like being chased by sabre-toothed tigers.

Now let’s see if I can apply these lessons next time I’m in kumite.  I’m hoping this’ll be a “magic bullet” that will fix my problems.  Yes, I’m an optimist.  But I’m also a realist – I’m human.  Maybe I’ll “get it,” maybe I won’t.  But I sure as heck won’t undermine myself by groaning in despair, “It’s too hard!  I’ll never get it!”  That will guarantee failure!

There’s another tournament at the end of this month.  I wonder what will happen?