Burnout

Wait – what?!? Yes. It finally happened. Growing up sometimes means growing pains.  I experienced burnout. Don’t worry – I’m on the mend. I’m still with my home dojo, never fear. Let’s just get this out there – no, dear readers, you don’t need to know the specifics. Rest assured someone is making sure that I’m staying the course. Many others are completely unaware that they are helping me. Most of these are children who don’t need to be burdened with the knowledge of my struggle. I don’t think any of them read this blog, but if they do, maybe they’re ready to learn about a very real thing that can and does happen.

I have experienced burnout both as a parent and as a caregiver to my late grandparents. It took me a few hours to recognize what I was feeling in connection with my karate. Up until that moment, I never thought I would go through this with karate! Yet it happened just the other day. I am human. I’m glad I was able to catch it quickly. Burnout is a sign that I am investing heavily in my karate, which is a good thing! But burnout is also a sign that things are out of balance. Changes need to be made. I’ve taken measures, rest assured.

Recommendations to remedy burnout are many. Make time to get away and take care of yourself. Keep a journal. Talk to someone about what you’re going through. Pray. Exercise. Spend time outdoors. Have at least one person keep tabs on you. Get professional help if needed. These are great general recommendations, but what can be done about karate-related burnout specifically?

For some, burnout could indicate a need to change dojo(s). It’s a drastic step. If you’re considering it, make sure you’re leaving for the right reasons. Make sure you’re not viewing the dojo with a consumer mindset.  See your dojo  as a community, not a commodity.  That shift in view alone could put things in perspective.  That said, abuse of any sort is a good reason to leave. Dysfunctional relationships, illegal activity, neglect, unsafe conditions – these are all great reasons to get out. But if you’re simply running out of fuel because you’re dealing with things that most dojo(s) go through to one degree or another – tell someone about it and stick with it. You could learn and grow as a result.

For some, burnout could be a result of not making enough progress or making too much progress too quickly. Plateaus happen – just do a search on the Web for “performance plateau” and you’ll see it’s a phenomenon that is not exclusive to martial arts. There’s loads of good and bad advice out there, I’ll let you decide. A huge upward spike in performance can be stressful and lead to burnout too. Also doing too much of anything, really, can burn one out.  The remedy for that is deceptively simple. Scaling back sounds easy, but, as with any human endeavor, it’s complicated. My best advice is to find balance.

I’m not qualified to address the specific needs of a sensei (instructor) who is burning out. The most I can do is offer some general things I learned from home schooling my children. Put on your oxygen mask first before helping others. Don’t be a slave to the curriculum – tweak it, mold it, knead it, pound it if necessary. Always search for fresh ideas and new activities. Ask your students to come up with something and have them lead the class for ten minutes or so. Don’t be afraid to step outside your culture and experience what life is like for others (this is what seminars are for). Be innovative – some things you try won’t work (and that’s OK) but more often than not you’ll find your intuition will lead you and your students to success. Trust yourself. Whenever you don’t trust yourself, read whatever records and journals you are keeping (you are writing stuff down, right?) to see your school’s growth and success. Most of all, get help when you need it. Your students need you and vice versa.

Ohhh yes. Never forget that you need your students. They can help you even when they don’t know they are doing so. The very next class after I recognized that I was burning out I looked for things to be happy about while I was assisting with the Intermediate class. I found plenty of things to be glad about, and my bucket started to fill again. One small student asked me to put my hand out as a target for him to kick – he recognized that this had helped him earlier. Another had a breakthrough with a kata (form) and appreciated me teaching him the concept of embusen. There was a belt test the next week, and the candidates were looking sharp. I remembered the pride I felt when the dojo sensei told me I was a big part of their success.

The big picture is hard to see when one is burning out. The other day when I experienced burnout, my perspective got skewed rather badly because emotions are powerful things. Immediately after recognizing what I was experiencing I read some articles on my blog. This included the post that was scheduled to publish just two days after I was hurting. In that post I wrote that making the world a better place is really the heart and soul of what I do in Karate. Oh my. It’s a lot to live up to, but it is so true. I had lost that focus. I asked someone to keep tabs on me and remind me of all that I’ve gained and about the fun I’m having. I’m willing to do the same for that person. Burnout happens. Fall down seven times, stand up eight.

Content

Every year the facility that hosts my “home” dojo shuts down for a week for maintenance and deep cleaning. That is a smart idea and there is always a visible difference throughout the facility when it re-opens. I don’t mind that I have to find an alternative to going to my Karate class. I simply visit a sister dojo. A couple of weeks ago while the host facility was shut down I visited a sister dojo.

Whenever I visit that dojo I always think back to how I almost started my first journey there, way back in late 1983. After six weeks in a little Parks & Rec Tang Soo Do program, I was hooked. I was completely dissatisfied with meeting only twice per week and with the long, 2-3 week breaks in between sessions. My father did some research that included the club that I now visit when I can. Ultimately he decided that a storefront dojo closer to our house and headed by a lady sensei (instructor) was a better fit for me. It gives me an odd feeling whenever I think that if I’d started at what is now my sister dojo and if I’d kept up with Karate all these years, by now I’d probably be senior to quite a few karateka in our organization.

But then I wouldn’t be having the adventures I’m having now. Worse, maybe I wouldn’t be studying Karate at all. Maybe I’d have sustained a more severe injury than any I’ve had so far. Or perhaps I’d be burned out from juggling too many responsibilities while raising babies and, later, helping my mother care for my grandparents. Of course it’s equally possible that I’d be sitting among the highest ranked karateka of our organization today. I don’t mourn for that lost possibility because I am content with my journey.

I hope the love I have for my art pervades this blog. I’m tickled pink that I, a slightly-lumpy middle-aged matron, who “should be” doing more passive things am enjoying this “strange little hobby of acquiring bruises for funsies” (as fellow blogger Jackie Bradbury puts it).  Every once in awhile I get a little sad when I think, “I don’t have enough decades left in my life to accomplish [fill in the blank] like so-and-so has.” Maybe so. But is that so important?

No. It isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I respect and treasure everyone who has achieved more in Karate than I have. I admire their accomplishments and I emulate my mentors and heroes as best I can. It’s just that there’s an immensely important thing that absolutely everyone, martial artist or not, can achieve starting right now. It’s called making the world a better place. And that, dear readers, is something I can do every single time I enter the dojo. I am touching lives. I am helping to bring about those “Aha!” moments that light up people’s faces. I help sweep the floor before class. I treat a child with respect, and that respect could be like water in the desert for that child’s life. Simple things, yes, but the results are magic.

That is the secret to my contentment. I still push myself to the top of my game. I still try for those tournament medals. I still train for my next belt test. I still do conditioning exercises early in the morning. I don’t mourn for the decades that were lost, the things that never happened, the honors I might never earn. I focus on the here and now. I can make the world a better place one small act of love at a time. It’s a fun benefit to training 🙂

Metablognition

Metacognition is the process of analyzing what goes on in one’s own mind. A few weeks ago I realized I was nearing the fourth anniversary of this blog, and the word “metablognition” popped into my head. Yep – blogging about one’s own blog. At the time, I was in a motel room journaling that day’s experience at Nationals, so I simply jotted the word down and let it percolate throughout the weeks that followed.  I knew by the time I reached my fourth “blogiversary” (yesterday, 9/6/18) I’d have a blog post.

Four years ago when I started this blog I’d been reading and commenting on three other blogs: “Karate by Jesse (The Karate Nerd),” Andrea Harkins’ “The Martial Arts Woman,” and “Happy Life Martial Arts” by Ando Mierzwa. I have to admit my comments were long and autobiographical. Accordingly, Andrea and Ando encouraged me to start my own blog (yes, go ahead and laugh, it is funny). I’d just finished reading an autobiography of a martial artist who had begun her journey as an adult. It was a good read, but it was clear the author was missing details from her early years. She was writing from the perspective of a seasoned yudansha (black belt). I wanted to chronicle my experiences right from the start, with an eye towards writing an autobiography later. I want to see how my perspective shifts over time.

It turns out my blog is a potpourri. I set a breakneck pace at first and explored a number of topics. Then I saw the wisdom of slowing down and settled into biweekly posting.  From time to time I’ve taken inspiration from other martial arts bloggers. At one time I was active in a martial arts forum and saw how people argued, so I wrote a little series on logical fallacies  based on a book I’d used to teach my children. Sometimes I tackle broader topics such as gender and inclusion. I’ve always kept the autobiographical theme running.

The trouble with my original idea of writing an autobiography is that some things are better left unsaid. I must respect the privacy of other people. I absolutely must not blog about things that karateka have told me in confidence! Also, I admit that sometimes my perspective is erroneously skewed towards the extreme end of negative. New to me this year is my responsibility as a judge to remain neutral about the athletes who enter the ring where I’m working. As a sensei-in-training I have to maintain good relationships with everyone from the host facility’s janitor to the highest-ranked yudansha of any organization, not just my own. In this blog, I can’t just spout off about stuff I don’t like. That said, every once in awhile I’ll play with fire and address the broader concepts that are related to whatever negative situation I’m in.  Sometimes I’m scared when I hit the “Schedule” button.

Putting myself “out there” is actually a little scary to me, believe it or not. For about three years I was really shy about sharing my blog with people I actually know in real life. Considering this blog has been up for four years now… Yeah, I was “somewhere between bed-wetting and a near-death experience” (as Rizzo in “Muppet Treasure Island” puts it). I don’t remember clearly, but I think very shortly after I joined Facebook someone quite highly placed in the Karate organization I belong to  discovered my blog. I do remember receiving a commendation and a jump in readership for my post about Gasshuku 2017. Ever since then I’ve been both more confident about my writing and more aware of my responsibilities.

So what’s the future of this blog? Honestly, I don’t think much will change. I’ve settled into a groove. I’ve slowed my initial pace, and have been comfortable with biweekly posts for quite some time now. That said, sometimes I hit writer’s block and slip a post in just under my deadline!  Judicious autobiography seems to be working so I’ll keep that up. I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to cover broader topics without repeating myself – I’m already starting to search my own blog to see if I’ve already written about something. I’d like to figure out how to get people to look to the right of the PC screen (or the bottom of the phone screen) and buy something I’ve created on Zazzle 🙂 But one thing I know – I won’t stop this blog (“A Beginner’s Journey”) if I earn Shodan (first degree black belt). I’m watching karateka make the transition from i-kyu (rank just before black) to Shodan, and I’ve talked to more seasoned yudansha, so I can say confidently that Shodan is not the end of the journey. It is the beginning.

Gasshuku 2018

My little hatchback car seemed to explode once we arrived at the Yoshida Gardenview Estate for Gasshuku (Karate camp).  Somehow I had jammed the little car full with three people (including myself), two tents, three sleeping bags, two bo (long staffs), assorted other camping and karate stuff, and cleaning supplies for the bathrooms.  One of my senpai (higher ranked student) had hitched a ride with me and  my younger daughter.  As he claimed his favorite tent site, my daughter and I made a little boundary with our bo(s) (long staffs)  to mark our home for the weekend.  Our tents were set up in short order and we threw ourselves into a weekend filled with training, chores, and fellowship.

Our retreat was “home grown” this year, in that our own yudansha (black belts) led the training (as opposed to bringing in a guest instructor).  For us students it was almost like visiting classes at sister dojo (schools) without having to travel to each individual school.   As always, everyone got to be a student at least most of the time.  Each sensei (instructor) has a different teaching style so it’s good for us students to make the little adjustments students need to make when someone other than one’s own teacher is teaching.  Having a variety of sensei(s) teaching meant that we got a lot of different perspectives.  We all were exposed to things we’d never done before, and all of us took things away that we can use for ourselves and for our kohai (students who are lower-ranked than oneself).

I had a lot of fun and gained some knowledge.  Bo (staff) work is coming more naturally to me now, which is good because it’s not part of our curriculum back home.  I learned a few footwork drills that I can use for myself and for when I lead warmups.  And I fell in love.  No, not with a person – with a kata (form).  Tomari Bassai. I’m already quite familiar with Bassai Dai, so it was easy to follow along with Tomari Bassai.  New for me this year is that I knew enough about kata to recognize that I personally would have an easier time learning Tomari Bassai rather than Sochin.  In general, I noticed I’ve improved in working around my directional dyslexia.  I wasn’t the only one who had things to work around.

Not only is my daughter a brand new beginner, she is also autistic.  There were a few little incidents, she often needed prompting, but on the whole she did quite well.  Even in regular classes my daughter has fun imitating what she sees around her, so she wasn’t at all fazed that the material at Gasshuku was well beyond what she’s done so far in the four or five weeks she’s been training.  The karate community at Gasshuku supported her, and everyone was kind – but also firm whenever a boundary needed to be drawn.  I really appreciated that – it’s one thing when Mom says something, quite another when a total stranger says the exact same thing!  As the mother of an autistic adult, I am constantly balancing her increasing need for independence against her disability.  I’m grateful that Gasshuku was a safe place for me to let go of her a little (but only a little because I’m still also her senpai).  Having my younger daughter along was one of a few things that were different for me this year.

Looking back on my post about last year’s Gasshuku I can see some changes in myself.  I am definitely established in my role as a brown belt.  I earned 3rd brown last Gasshuku and, in fact,  I had  already earned 2nd brown before coming to this year’s Gasshuku (the ranks are numbered in reverse order, so 1 is high and 3 is low).  I am much more accustomed to how children and adults relate to me as their senpai.  I did better this year about remembering to work with kohai, as opposed to always seeking out someone of a higher rank for partner drills.  During bo training I did better than in previous years because I concentrated on my body movement and trusted my weapon and gravity to do the rest.  I’m thinking I’ve grown in my art since last year.

I wonder how much I’ll grow between now and next Gasshuku (2019)?

Judging at Nationals

It’s no secret that I’m the lowest of the low in the world of Karate judging. I got my USA-NKF Judge D license just a few months ago. I would never have dared volunteer to judge at Nationals (2018) if it hadn’t been for one of my sensei(s) who, after coming home from judging the US Open, said, “It was the best judging experience ever!” I figured if I wasn’t wanted or needed at Nationals someone would let me know. I should’ve known I’m not the first rube to volunteer to judge at Nationals.

There was a lot of mentoring going on for anyone who needed it. I was very grateful for that. The more I learn, the better I become. I’ve heard stories about ring controllers who are mean, who chew officials out and deride them. I’m sure someday that will happen to me too, and I hope I’ll have the right attitude about it. I have been told that I can ask to be assigned to a different ring. I hope that will never be necessary. I feel badly enough when I make a mistake, and I feel a lot more confident if someone calmly teaches me how to perform better. If I’m treated with respect I’m a lot more willing to push myself out of my comfort zone.

The first day was incredible – the experience was so valuable that if I’d had to turn around and go home that night – missing out on competing, mind you – I’d have been happy to have had just that one day at Nationals. I was already somewhat familiar with judging kobudo (weapons) thanks to my online acquaintance, “The Stick Chick” Jackie Bradbury and a little prior “sink or swim” experience my first tournament judging. I spent most of the morning judging weapons and received a lot of valuable tips on what to look for. I must confess, though, that I abandoned ship rather than judge iado (sword).

I changed rings with someone who was familiar with iado, and lo and behold, I got to judge the very division I’d been hoping to judge: mentally disabled 18-34 year olds. My daughter’s division,  if she ever wants to compete at Nationals. I had to hold back tears as I watched these incredible people who have come so far and overcome so much. After judging them and the visually impaired adults, I was back in my “home” ring again. I was delighted to judge team kata, and found that came just as naturally to me as judging individual kata. With the exception of a little kobudo, I’ve never had the experience of judging these specialized divisions back home!

I skipped two days of judging because I knew I’d make a lousy judge on my competition days.  I didn’t judge for the Oregon state qualifier because I needed that competition in order to go to Nationals, and I was nervous. I can get away with both judging and competing in the fun tournaments. But facing a high-pressure competition later in the day is another thing altogether. While waiting for my division to be called to staging, I still worked on my judging skills by watching the elite divisions. I remembered how I’d prepared to earn my judging license by watching the judges and referees work together. This is still a valuable thing for me to do when I get the luxury. There’s still plenty more for me to learn!

Judging kumite (sparring) doesn’t come naturally for me. I approached the final day of Nationals with some trepidation. It took me awhile and some respectful feedback before I hit my stride. I also got a bit of a morale boost.

Officials are forbidden to work in the ring when there is a competitor from their home state. For one match I was swapped out with someone who had such a conflict of interest. The score ended up tied and the first-point advantage had been taken away due to a minor foul, so the referee signaled for us judges to vote on who should win. I threw the only flag for Red (competitors wear red or blue belts and judges have red and blue flags). I admit I had a little black storm cloud hovering over my head as I went back to my “home” ring, but I heard someone from my own organization call out a commendation for my call. The little black storm cloud evaporated and the sun came out.

I felt more confident. Good thing, too because next thing I knew, I was judging Advanced teenagers. GULP! The cream of that crop will be 2019’s elites. 2019’s elites will be representing the United States in 2020, when Karate will make its Olympic debut. I had to shove that pressure aside in order to focus on the other officials and the athletes. I was grateful that most communication among the officials is nonverbal because it was LOUD in that convention center. I was relieved whenever I got to sit in Judge 1 and Judge 4 positions because, while most coaches were wonderful, there were some who, uh, got a little excited. I don’t blame them, though – we all were well aware of what was at stake for these athletes.

Because there is so much at stake for the athletes, there are strict rules of etiquette that must be followed. I’ve already mentioned that one must not officiate when a competitor in your ring is from your own organization, state, or country. There’s more, and sometimes it’s hard. Many athletes and I are used to the nice little tradition of shaking hands after the division is finished. We had to stop that tradition in the name of objectivity. I recognize this helps prevent accusations of favoritism, but it made me a little sad to turn those kids away. When I was in a gi (karate uniform) for my competition, I couldn’t fraternize with the officials I’d worked with the day before (ironically, my kumite division ended up in the same ring I’d worked). When I was in an official’s uniform, I couldn’t chat with friends who were wearing gi(s) or track suits (which is what coaches wear). Even when I was just in shorts and T-shirt practicing kata in the areas set aside for that purpose, I had to be careful not to spend too much time chatting. It’s hard, because I truly do love networking, but I understand the need for judges to be beyond reproach in their objectivity.

During the gold/silver rounds for the elite groups on the last night, my fellow officials and I were rewarded for our hard work. The highest among us got to referee and judge these amazing athletes, and the rest of us officials got the best seats in the house to watch the action. I had a blast watching some excellent karate, and I was sad when it was all over. I said goodbye to old friends and new, and left knowing that I was a better judge than I was when I turned in my passbook at the pre-tournament officials’ meeting.

P. S. Most people ask me if I get paid for judging, so I’ll go ahead and address that. The answer is officials get free lunch and, usually, a small stipend. Since earning my credentials I’ve made back my license fee and what I paid for my uniform (mostly assembled from thrift stores and Black Friday sales). Local non-profit booster clubs often help officials with the costs of food and lodging for national and international events.  But we pay the vast majority of our expenses ourselves.  We’re not exactly the National Football League!