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?


150214_GraveI’ve put my life in all my senseis’ hands so many times there’s no point in even entertaining the notion of counting.  I always enjoy being uke for a demonstration.  I get to see the movements close up and experience a very mild version of the end results firsthand.  Not only that, I rather enjoy the challenge of listening to and watching the sensei for cues on what I should do.  I also am a little bit proud of my ability to know when to yield and how to fall safely.  I know that it’s unlikely I’ll come to harm.  I’ve only had to tap out once, and I’m thinking that was due to the tendon in question just deciding it was going to be cranky, not any error on Sensei’s part.  He was demonstrating something that would’ve destroyed other parts of me!

But how many times have the black belts put their lives in my hands?  Up until now, very seldom indeed.  First off, I’m only a brand-new 5th kyu, so I’m not exactly a killing machine.  Yeah, accidents happen and there are a few things I could do to harm, even kill someone.  But given my lack of learning, I’m not much of a threat to any given black belt.  Still, working with me is risky because I’m still developing control, particularly with dangerous movements that are new to me.

Given all that, in the short time I’ve been 5th kyu there’s been an uptick in what I’m allowed, even encouraged to do when I’m working with a black belt.  In fact at one point just this past week a Sensei allowed me to work him into into an incredibly vulnerable position – as in with one strike I could’ve easily killed him.  Of course because I like him as a person and value him as a teacher, I slowly mimed the deadly strike.  Let me say it again – he allowed me to trap him.  I’m sure he has any number of tricks up his gi sleeve to have countered anything I did at any point from start to almost finish.  And I know I was a bit poky getting there.

What it boils down to is trust.  My senseis they trust the hours they’ve put into developing their own skills, they trust how well they’ve trained me, and they trust me as a person.  To be given that trust is precious.  My senseis are risking themselves so that I can learn.

RoleModelI’m sure that Sensei who allowed me to trap him knew what I was attempting, and I’m positive he allowed me to proceed because he wanted to see if I would reach an effective outcome.  Of course he resisted but only just enough to see if I could reach my eventual goal in spite of light opposition.  To him, me learning something was worth the risk to himself.  What would I have learned if that black belt had shut down my efforts immediately?  Nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, videos can and do serve a useful purpose in martial arts.  But let’s face it, you can’t experience trust on YouTube.  You can’t learn from a computer screen how to trust your instructors and fellow students nor can you receive trust in turn.  These powerful lessons for the heart and spirit require the actual presence of other people.  When you give and receive trust you are building a solid group of people who can learn and grow together.

treasure-chest-mdAnd that is most precious and powerful indeed.

The Dreaded Question

FootRThat question.  “Have you ever used Karate on someone?”  Groan.  Whoever asks it might want a tale of how you beat up six bikers who were bothering a girl in a bar.  Maybe they’re even wondering if they can get you to tell some tall tale and then they’ll try to goad you into proving you’re as good as you say you are.  I don’t really like “that question” even when someone is merely curious.

I’ve written about “that question”  here .  People don’t ask it often because, well, let’s face it, I’m a middle aged matron.  I’m not exactly a hot little cutie who would capture the interest of a rapist.  I don’t hang around dark alleys, and I certainly don’t go into biker bars to pick fights for funsies.

In spite of all that, though, I did get asked “that question” again recently.  And I finally have a story that I’m comfortable telling.

My two co-workers, both ladies, really didn’t like going down to another department.  It’s isolated in a basement, and lurking down there was a bully.  They sent the new girl (me) down.

The guy was big.  And loud.  And grumpy.  I’ve dealt with adult bullies before.  When called to task, they say their motivation is something entirely different than what you “imagined” it to be.  This guy probably said to HR, “I was just blowing off steam about the workload her department was causing me.”  His words were all about the extra work but his hostility wasn’t directed at what I brought to him.  Oh no.  That day, it was all about putting the new girl in her place.  It’s not my imagination – my co-workers agree that’s how this guy rolls.

Have I mentioned the guy is big and the office is very, very isolated in a basement?  Not good.  I kept an eye on his position relative to me and on my position relative to both exits.

So the bully was there yelling at me and then next thing I knew he threw a wicked haymaker.  I caught his wrist and with a move modified from Bassai Dai kata I yanked his arm (dislocating shoulder, elbow, and wrist) and then completely shattered his elbow.  I stomped his knee and threw him to the ground.  I stomped and re-stomped his groin.  Then I used zip-ties to truss him up and I threw him into the FedEx bin with a shipping label to our least-favorite “study abroad” student agent somewhere overseas.

Nope, that’s not how it really went down.  I didn’t even lay a finger on the guy.  I never even so much as made a fist.  I kept up a cheerful attitude and responded with politeness and even good humor.  He slowly deflated like a beach ball when you open the valve.  I left him with a cheerful farewell.  But later I reported him to HR >:)  My co-workers and I don’t have to put up with that crap.

Yes, I did use Karate on that guy.  I controlled myself and in so doing I controlled him.  The next time I encountered him his boss was watching, and he was polite.  I sincerely hope that politeness lasts.  I’m not itching for a fight.  But it sure is good to know that I can take command of the situation by taking charge of my own responses.