Gasshuku 2017 – The Beginning of a New Phase

Our annual Gasshuku (“Karate Camp”) at the beautiful Yoshida Gardenview Estate  was, as usual, challenging and very educational. I have a lot to reflect on and a lot to work on. Not just techniques but I also will be growing into a new role. I don’t want to downplay the seminars so I’ll start off with that.

Our guest instructor was Sensei (instructor) Elisa Au Fonseca. Others have done a better job of outlining what she brings to the table, so I’ll just refer you to this website. Ohhhh yes. Not only is she quite accomplished, not only is she training for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, where Karate will be part of the Games for the very first time, but she also is an excellent teacher. The emphasis this weekend was on kumite (sparring). We had loads of drills that everyone thoroughly enjoyed. Those drills will be showing up in dojo-s (Karate schools) in the months and years to come, let me tell you. I appreciated how Sensei Elisa built the skills over time. One of our own sensei and another highly ranked sensei from another organization gave Sensei Elisa a break on Saturday and taught half a session each. They built on her material and, next session, she took it from there so as to maintain a continuity throughout the weekend. We had high caliber instruction, as always 🙂

This year we welcomed guest students and sensei (plural) from other organizations. I had the pleasure of speaking Jaspenglish (Japanese, Spanish, and English) with a student from Mexico. Getting acquainted with a group from Walla Walla was fun. But what really touched my heart was being able to train with students from McMinneville, Oregon. I’ve only ever seen them and competed against them at tournaments, so being able to experience the comradeship of being students together and helping one another learn was wonderful.

I recognized the culture shock when one guest student asked another karateka (one who studies karate) and me about how we in the karate organization I belong to refer to our sensei (plural) and sensei from other organizations. When I studied as a teenager I was in an organization that uses the same titles as the organization that this karateka belongs to. Because of that experience as a youngster I could understand the confusion and, yes, concern. I deal with cultural differences all the time at work so explaining our traditions was no big deal to me.  I hope I set the other karateka’s mind at ease. We mean no disrespect; we simply have traditions that are different.

OK, now back to simply being students together and helping one another learn. I had the pleasure of sometimes being paired up with sensei (plural), some of whom have instructed me at one time or another. I have great memories to look back on with two in particular. The sensei who was in charge of my old home dojo hasn’t worked with me in several months, ever since that dojo was shut down. He and I gleefully pushed each other as hard as we could go during a few drills. On Sunday morning, College Sensei and I worked together for a good while. I’ve been so busy being his student, his assistant, or his uke for demonstrations that we’ve hardly ever drilled together. I’m really glad to have real live examples of karateka who don’t stop learning once they tie on a black belt and who aren’t too proud to work with their kohai (karateka who are lower ranked than oneself).

Speaking of kohai, I think one thing I could’ve done better with at camp was to work more often with them. This was driven home to me on Sunday morning. We were to form groups of six and somehow I ended up with five children. Groups of people did a drill where one person was up front, the rest in line taking turns attacking, then the person up front gets to join the line after everyone has had a turn. That kind of drill really eats up time and our group was the slowest. Whenever I was waiting in line I saw other groups really pushing each other hard and having tons of noisy fun. I reminded myself that sometimes I have to be the senpai (senior in rank). I’m good with kids and it was my turn to be a leader; the one who challenged them to be better. It just so happened that I was the last person to stand up at the front of my line. All the other groups were finished by then so all eyes were on me as the kiddos took their turns coming at me.

Those who know me well felt free to indulge in a little silliness. They cheered me on exactly as they would if I were fighting in a tournament. I did hear a compliment on my control. After everything was over one wag joked, “I dunno, Joelle, it just seems like you weren’t giving that fight everything you’ve got.”  🙂

This kind of camaraderie means the world to me. I come to Gasshuku not just to improve my Karate, but also to hang out with other karateka and build my network of friends and acquaintances. We need one another in order to grow in our art.

Speaking of growth, in the first paragraph of this post I hinted that I have a new role to grow into. Friday evening I took the hardest Karate test I’ve ever taken.  There was a significant change in format this time, and I dealt with it.  My performance and what happened during the course of the test was not at all what I expected. One aspect of my Karate that I thought of as a weak area was quite solid, one part of the test was over way more quickly than I’d anticipated, and my performance was definitely sub-par in the area which is usually my strongest. I barely passed the test because of that weak performance. It’s strange, but I actually find it refreshing that I very nearly was asked to try again at the next opportunity. It means this test was well and truly challenging. Not that the previous tests haven’t been challenging, it’s just that this test was, by design, almost beyond my ability. And I passed that test. I now wear a brown belt.  The Japanese term for that rank is san-kyu, which means I have three more increasingly tougher tests to pass before I tie on a black belt.

A new phase in my training has begun. There are higher expectations. I will be going to brown belt training.  I will be given training in how to be an instructor. I’ve a bit of a jump on this already from training as a teenager and from helping at College Dojo and in my old and new home dojos. But I still have a lot to learn and I’m looking forward to being trained to be the best sensei I can be. I am now eligible to earn credentials to be a referee at tournaments. Tests will be far less frequent and will really kick my butt. I’m looking forward to the longer stretches of time between tests – it means I can go deeper into the kata (forms) I’ve already learned and get a solid start on each new kata. I’ll have loads of time to fix bad habits and develop new bad habits (and fix them in turn, LOL). My new role started immediately Saturday morning at camp.

In just about anyone’s system, brown is at or very near the top of the colored-belt heap, so everyone recognizes that the color Means Something. Children, especially little girls, often looked at me with wide-eyed wonder. Yep, I definitely have a responsibility to be a good role model. I gotta love the kohai – because of the color of my belt the adult and teenage kohai sometimes came at me with zero control over their techniques because they assumed I could handle whatever they bring. It’s OK. I have done and, well, um, sometimes I still accidentally do the same thing. Most of the time I can easily “read” these kohai and get the heck out of their way or block them, so it’s all good. Sensei and brown belts more senior to me have always had high expectations of me, and now they have even higher expectations. Yep, it’s a whole new world.

So am I still a beginner? My belt rank says I’m not a beginner. Or am I? Yes I am – I’m beginning a new phase in my training. I still have a lot to learn. I’m not a black belt yet. But even when I do achieve Shodan (1st degree black belt) I will still be a beginner – it’ll be a new beginning. I will always be a beginner because I will always be open to learning new things. I will begin, and begin again, and again. Karate is a lifetime study, so I will always preserve the mindset of a beginner. The title of this blog, “A Beginner’s Journey,” isn’t going to change.


Here’s some cool drone footage of a sparring drill at camp – half session taught by a guest sensei.

8 Reasons Why Mom Should Practice a Martial Art

I hear you saying, “What, me sign up for martial arts lessons? No way!” I see your never-ending “to do” list and your full calendar. Hey, I know how rough it is to have at least two kids in diapers – been there, done that, got the T-shirt with the spit-up and who-knows-what-else stains. Here’s the thing – you don’t have to be a national champion and you don’t have to burn through all the ranks in one year or even three. That can wait until your kids are older. Your body and your mind can’t wait. They need activity so go ahead and leave the laundry and the running noses. All that will still be there when you get back from class. Just be sure to give Dad his getaway time too. Believe me, your children would rather have you sane than irritable and snappish. And yes, I do know what it’s like to start a martial art as a slightly lumpy, middle aged, and out of shape mother of teenagers. And if your kids are in martial arts class, why not join them instead of sitting there playing with your phone waiting for them to finish?

Here’s 8 reasons why Mom should practice martial arts…

8) Adult students are rare and usually a very welcome addition to the class.  Don’t get me wrong, teaching kids is rewarding.  But speaking as someone who helps out with newbies and lower-ranked students, I enjoy helping a variety of ages.  And it’s kinda hard for an instructor to get experience teaching a variety of ages if all the students are children.  Kids benefit a lot from training alongside adults.  For the most part adults model appropriate behavior and that helps an instructor no end.  Kids who are more senior in rank get a kick out of helping and working with adults.  I had the pleasure of teaching new adult students when I was a teenager and now I treasure the youngsters who outrank me!  An adult who treats a child with respect is a blessing if that child doesn’t fit in well with his or her peer group at school.  You are needed.

7) With a huge variety to choose from, more likely than not there’s a martial art out there that will fit you. It’s not my place to say what the best martial art for you is. Do some research, try a few free lessons. If you find an art and a school that clicks with you, you will learn your lessons better and you’ll be more likely to stick with it. You need to look forward to your lessons. If the classes are a drag try a different school or art.  You should be having fun, and yes, you should feel like whatever martial art you choose is the best in the world 🙂

6) You can practice a martial art with your children. Say what? Yes, it can be done. But during class you have to let the instructor do the parenting, especially in a traditional karate dojo (school) where there is a hierarchy of authority. Starting together means you can practice the same things at home. If you start after your child, let your child help you at home – the role reversal can be delightful for both you and your child. Don’t be surprised, though, if you outlast your child and your child moves on to other things while you continue with your martial art. This is very common and means nothing more than your child is forging his or her own identity.

5) Martial arts are more than just a workout. There’s problems to solve, like how to escape an arm bar or how to string techniques together. You’ll have goals to reach – for instance earning the next belt or refining a form. Not to mention you’ll hang out with a diverse group of some really great people. Every mother needs exercise, mental stimulation, accomplishments of her own, and some time to interact with adults. Martial arts are a time-efficient way of gathering these benefits and more. One hour of Karate class time to me equals three hours of other activities – like, say, reading a book, hanging out with friends, and jogging.

4) Adults reap the same benefits as children! Read any article out there on how martial arts are good for kids and put yourself into the article. Are there areas of your life where you could use a bit more self discipline? Do you want to be a great role model for your children? The discipline of practicing a martial art benefits mind, body and spirit and keeps one from stagnating.

3) You will age more gracefully if you keep up your martial arts studies for as long as possible. Look up some of the more “seasoned” warriors and you’ll see what I mean. Along with the rest of the body martial arts work out your vestibular system (responsible for maintaining your balance) and your core muscles. You will be less prone to falling and most likely your back will stay straight. You can’t stop the inevitable but studies show that you can slow it. Your continued good health puts less of a burden on your children.  I helped my mother with my grandparents, so I know what I’m talking about.

2) Middle-aged lady hormonal changes are the worst and they usually hit at a time when you need to be the best parent you can be. At perimenopause us women turn into freaky wild-eyed hags, our periods are hell, and at the same time… cough, cough… um… To put it delicately I have a lot more sympathy for young men than I‘ve ever had in my life. Exercise helps all that on a physical level, but there’s more. It’s true that karate has been an outlet for my inner harpy but it’s also given me the mental discipline to overcome the emotional/hormonal weirdness when it wafts through my psyche. My husband and nearly-grown children don’t mind my Karate-related absences. They know I’ll be easier to live with in between classes.

1) You are your children’s body guard. Most women know this instinctively. Awareness, instinct, and adrenaline count for a lot, but wouldn’t it be nice to have more tools to use in a crisis situation? Do you know exactly where and how to hit someone who is grabbing your child? Do you really have time to dig around in your diaper bag for the mace and is your child in the line of fire? It’s easy for me to be an armchair quarterback and to say I would do this or do that, but I do know that I’ve had training in shattering joints and a smattering of training fighting off more than one attacker and in cooperating with others to take someone down. I have tools pounded into my muscle memory – and that is what martial arts training gives you. Hours of sweating and drilling turn into something your body can do automatically if needed. I hope I never have to use these tools to save one of my kiddos, but it’s good to know that I have them.

Still not convinced? Read more articles on my blog and see what I’ve gained. I re-started Karate at the age of 44 knowing full well what I’d be getting into because I’d studied as a teen. I wish I’d started sooner. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re too busy, too out of shape, too old, too this, too that. Just join your children in their class or find a martial art that fits you and start. It’s a lot of fun.

This post was inspired by a mix of happenstances.  After a woman in his community was raped, Greg Sommers-Herivel offered a month of free Karate instruction to local women. I knew many women would not take him up on his generous offer because they feel like mothering would get in the way.  Then “Super” Dan Anderson shared this rather good article on Facebook, “7 Reasons Why Your Child Should Practice Martial Arts“by Eric C Stevens.  A mother commented on how much benefit her son was getting from his martial art and I replied, “And now for 7 Reasons Why Mom Should Practice Martial Arts.”  Roseanne Mussar saw the comment I’d left and suggested I write this article.  Thank you, everyone!

To The Beach

After work and lunch on a day when I didn’t have Karate class, I found myself dreading the exercise and practice I needed. It isn’t unusual for me to fight the attractions of computer, couch, and bed, but that day it was hitting me hard. I was still sore from an intensive workout two days prior, even with a recovery day. I decided what I needed was a change of scenery. I got into the car and drove to my favorite local park.

I was dismayed to see so many vehicles, and I almost didn’t get a parking space. However I knew most people wouldn’t opt for the “primitive” trails down the steep bluff to the beach below. Water bottle in hand, I strode confidently down the wooded trail. I saw no one. I broke into a jog, water bottle sloshing and gurgling in my hand, feet drumming the bare earth.

I noticed that I was very confidently placing my feet to avoid tree roots. Years ago when I first discovered this park, I would never have rocketed down the steep primitive trail at a jog. I admit it is hazardous, and a misstep could result in serious injury. There’s vegetation to stop a fall, but… Tree trunks are hard, and underbrush scratches. Rescue would involve a specialized team, lots of rope, and a hand-carried stretcher for at least a quarter mile. I let go of my fear, trusted my eyes and feet, and enjoyed breathing in the rich forest air.

I only encountered two people on my jog down to the beach. They were young women with milk-chocolate brown skin, covered head to foot in brightly colored clothes. I must have looked very strange to them – tank top, shorts, pale as a corpse, middle-aged, muscled and sweating. Nonetheless, as they moved aside and I flew past we greeted one another with smiles and quick pleasantries.

The trail I chose had a short but intense uphill stretch before plunging down the bluff again. I sprinted up this, slowing to a walk near the top. I was disappointed I couldn’t jog the whole slope. I reckoned that last summer (July 2016) I probably could’ve done it. I got control of my breathing and told myself I was still doing well especially compared to most women my age.

Soon I came out to the paved trail and the stairs down to the beach. There’s anywhere from 101 to 105 stairs depending on how much sand is piled at the bottom of the tower. Before I knew it I was at the beach. Immediately I found a driftwood log at the perfect height for some inclined push ups. I did a few, knowing I’d do more arm work in class the next day. Then I scouted out the beach for a spot for kata (forms) practice.

I picked up a fragment of a large barnacle and stowed it in my fanny pack as a reminder to myself that no matter how frustrated I get with my weak areas, I’m not like a barnacle. Barnacles just sit in their shells all day long, never going anywhere. All they do is kick food into their mouths. Too many people are like barnacles, I mused as I jogged towards an empty stretch of sand. I don’t stay in a little shell. I don’t like being out of my comfort zone but I recognize that’s the only way I’ll grow.

After about a quarter mile I was sufficiently far from my fellow human beings so as to be more or less alone. I did a few abdominal exercises in the warm sand, then started practicing kata. I did the six advanced kata I’ve memorized. Up the beach about 50 yards (roughly 50 meters) away, a guy was on his cell phone. Down the beach 50 yards away, a mom, two kids and a dog were enjoying their day. On the water a motorboat idled by. I don’t think anyone really cared much about what I was doing.

Kata is very different when you’re not barefoot on hardwood floor or foam mats. Add a slight slope, sand, and patches of round rocks, and you bet you have to adapt. My balance was tested many times. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to pull off the kata named Rohai Shodan with only one wobble. In that kata, one has to get into sagi ashi dachi (crane stance – yes, on one leg) three times. The advantage of practicing kata on sand is that one gets to see the embusen (floor pattern). For the kata I’ve most recently memorized, I moved to a “virgin” stretch of sand. I was pleased that the marks in the sand matched the embusen I’d envisioned.

I felt good, much better than I had felt before I grabbed my car keys. I used driftwood logs for some stretches, the warm sand for others. I enjoyed the sparkle of the sun on the water, the smell of ocean in the air. Then, yes, I had to get back up those 100+ stairs and then that steep bluff trail.

The colorfully-dressed young women I met earlier were sitting on a log near the stair tower. I grinned at them and remarked, “It’s worth the walk, isn’t it?” They agreed and laughed. They commented they had gotten a little lost on the way down, and I advised them to take the paved trail back up.  I wished them a good day, then started climbing.

I was going at a slower pace and my feet didn’t need much of my attention. I enjoyed the rich green smell of the forest in summer. I listened to the birds and to what they were saying about each other, about me, and about other intruders in their territories. Based on the bird calls, I tried to locate the other intruders with my ears… There! One faint voice – a woman’s. I know the trails well, so I knew approximately where we’d pass each other.

Twenty seconds later, a dog rounded a corner followed closely by a second dog. I cooed to them, then they took off up the trail, no doubt to alert their owner. Shortly thereafter, I could hear her quite clearly, and my suspicions were confirmed when she came into sight – I saw she was indeed talking on her cell phone. Her dogs had assessed me and dismissed me as harmless long before my presence registered with her. She was startled to see me standing quietly by the side of the trail even though we had been in full view of each other for three seconds.

After the lady and her dogs passed me I pushed my pace just a little harder just to get my heart rate up a little so I could practice controlling my breathing. I used the bird sounds as my guide to how hard to push, being careful not to pant and drown out even the slightest rustlings in the underbrush. It paid off. I turned my head at a rustle, stopping to see what creature was there. A squirrel and I stared at each other. He started twitching his tail, trying to decide if silence or scolding would be better. Eventually he concluded I wasn’t a threat, and so began foraging for new leaves. Tiny branches bent under his weight and he nearly slipped. His recovery was funny and noisy. I laughed and continued up the trail.

I was at the top of the bluff when I realized that I felt like the climb had been almost effortless. I was stunned. I remembered years ago I was always absolutely worn out by that climb. I knew three years of Karate had improved my physical fitness, but exactly how huge the change had been didn’t hit me until that moment.

On the way back to the car, I reflected back on my workout. At first blush, I didn’t see that I’d done much Karate. 6 kata practiced once each. Hmm… Doesn’t sound like much. But then again, there’s more to karate than kihon (basics), kumite (sparring) and kata. I worked on footwork during my jog down the trail. I was polite when I met people who were from a culture not my own – politeness is in our dojo kun (school creed) that we recite at the beginning and end of each class. I pushed myself physically and measured my progress. I trained myself in observation and breath control. Most of all, I found and successfully implemented a solution for my initial inertia and angst – in other words, I exercised self discipline. Did I have a Karate workout in the woods and on the sunny beach? You bet I did. I hope to do it again soon.

A Liminal Experience

I was archiving old blog posts when I ran across this one from February 2015, when I was eight months into my training. In the introduction of that post I wrote:

“I am not always comfortable with sharing my inmost thoughts… I don’t like opening myself up. But I’ve met enough of you to know that if I do step out of my comfort zone a bit I will come out better for what I’ve learned from you.”

I sat bolt upright in my chair and read the whole post. In that article I wrote that I had been waffling but eventually decided to go ahead and write about a punch that, fortunately, missed my sparring partner. I outlined how I processed my feelings about knowing that I could inflict great harm so unexpectedly early into my training.

Further down, I read my words:

“I have a feeling I’ll be revisiting this issue and working through everything that goes with it throughout my karate career. Am I correct?”

Oh I was absolutely correct. I read through to the end:

“If even just one person can benefit from what I’ve written, it’ll be worth everything.”

I had no idea how much my own words from my past would benefit my own self nearly two and a half years later. I stopped archiving old blogs and started typing the draft of this post. I had been waffling about writing this blog post, but I saw the courage I had then.  You see, shortly after my last blog post I landed in the same position I was back in February 2015:

“It was tempting for me to just never let anyone know [about the lethal punch that didn’t land], but this blog is about the experiences of a beginner. Sometimes us beginners have to deal with hard things.”

I still consider myself a beginner. My belt rank (currently 4th kyu – an intermediate rank) says I’m not a newbie, but there’s still a pretty wide gap ability-wise between myself and a shodan (1st degree black belt). I’ll still consider myself a beginner after shodan because I’ll still be learning new things. And yes, sometimes us beginners have to deal with hard things.

Earlier this month I accidentally injured someone while we were sparring.

It took me quite a number of days to process everything that went with the accident. Some people were concerned that I was taking it too hard. I dragged myself to the dojo and was grateful whenever my fellow students showed they weren’t afraid to work with me – particularly the teenagers of both genders. I received advice from sensei (instructors, plural).

One kind friend wrote, “Perhaps try to look on this as a liminal (transitional) experience if you can? You are becoming Joelle who has the genuine ability and power to hurt others; and to be a woman who can live and thrive well beyond the tight, dreary rules about what “femininity” is supposed to look like.”

I know very well that transitions can be hard (e. g. college to working world) or downright brutal (e. g. puberty). If we play our cards right, we come out better people for what we’ve learned. As another confidante put it, “As we used to say in the mountains of western North Carolina – sometimes you get the bear; sometimes the bear gets you. Just try to be better than you were the last time you met a bear.”

An interesting phenomenon to note is that the gentlemen I’ve confided in are quite pragmatic about the whole situation and about what I need to do and not do. There are some women who echo the gentlemen’s perspective. But most women have a different take on the incident. My opinion is that this difference in perspective exists because most boys grow up with rough-and-tumble play in which they injure themselves and each other fairly frequently. I simply listen to what everyone has to say and I try to learn from all.

“I have a feeling I’ll be revisiting this issue and working through everything that goes with it throughout my karate career. Am I correct?”

Yes, this has already happened nearly two and a half years after I wrote those words. Furthermore, I’ll bet some day I’ll have to counsel my own students through a similar situation.

On this blog I’ve been loosely translating “sensei” as “instructor,” but a better definition is “one who has gone before.” Sometimes being the one who has gone before means you’ve walked down some roads that nobody should walk down (but we’re human, so we do walk those roads sometimes). From raising my own children I know this is true. Sometimes your darkest moments and deepest regrets enable you to effectively counsel your children if and when they face similar situations in their own lives. I deeply appreciate the sensei (plural) who have said what needed to be said about what I did, especially if it was hard for me to hear. I am learning how to handle this situation so that when my own students go through it, I will have the tools to help them.

As a side note, I’ve been treasuring the continued confidence of a young girl kohai (a student lower ranked than oneself). She was a witness to the incident and immediately afterward she was the one who insisted that I take care of myself.  She brought me a damp towel and told me to clean up so I could see if I myself had an injury.  She has not been afraid to work with me during subsequent classes.  Her trust has helped me to regain my confidence.  Some kids just goof around and don’t do much then they quit. Some kids stay, and boy are they molded and shaped!  Hats off to my young kohai.

A Karate Weekend

Excellent training, breathtaking countryside, a tournament in an air & space museum and a friend to share it all with. I had a great weekend. I came back refreshed and eager to get to work on the things in my karate that need improvement.

Bright and early Saturday morning (6/24/17) I picked up my friend S. T. She is from Japan and has just finished up her studies at the community college where I work. We’ve been training together for a few months now, and it will be hard to say goodbye in a couple of weeks. After a little over three hours we rolled into a city just outside Portland, Oregon.

We were a bit ahead of schedule so I introduced my friend S. T. to the joys of thrift stores. It just so happened that I needed shorts and found a pair immediately. The shorts still had the original store tags on them, so I showed S. T. the original price and the thrift store price. To top it all off, Oregon has no sales tax. I explained the thrift store’s mission. S. T. was impressed.

In due time we reached our destination. My Dojo Sensei (the head instructor of the school where I study) had contacted the Dojo Sensei of our organization’s Hombu Dojo (headquaters) and obtained permission for S. T. and I to attend Saturday class there. It turned out to be a very tiny class and I was very definitely the lowest ranked. I absolutely love it when that happens.

Under the direction of one sensei (instructor), three of us worked intensively on kumite (sparring) for ninety minutes. I was the only one who hadn’t earned at least a Shodan (first degree black belt) yet. I’ve learned not to be intimidated under these circumstances. We had a lot of fun together and I learned very valuable lessons. The sensei who led the class had been wanting to help me ever since he saw me bopped on the nose two seconds into a sparring match with someone one rank higher than me. He sure got his chance, and I am grateful.

At the end of the class, the sensei who led us told me that my kumite wouldn’t be fixed tomorrow, nor next week or next month. But, he continued, if I continue to practice what I’d learned, eventually it will sink in and I will improve. I believe it. I already knew I couldn’t expect a quick fix that would win me the gold medal in the tournament the next day. Learning new skills and honing existing skills is a process that takes time.

My gi was soaked with sweat, I was happily tired, and my brain was full of what I’d learned. That’s my excuse for not practicing kata (forms) on mats after class. Bad karateka (one who studies karate). Bad, bad, bad karateka!

Over bottles of juice at a convenience store, my friend S. T. and I looked up local attractions and decided to visit a lavender farm. We drove through beautiful farm country. S. T. was in awe as we rounded the bend of a road and came upon a particularly beautiful field.

“THIS is America,” she breathed, “I cannot get this view anywhere in Japan.”

I had to agree.

The lavender farm was interesting and beautiful. I did not know there are varieties of lavender, and my friend and I delighted in trying to tell the differences both in form and scent. We enjoyed the antiques and befriended a dog. I got a kick out of the chickens – one was black with a white “wig.” They weren’t as friendly as the dog.

Because of the heat (100 F, 38 C) and overall fatigue, we decided to check in to our motel. S. T. took a nap while I washed our gi (uniforms) and visited a convenience store. It’s a good thing I decided to wash the gi (plural). I had thought I’d packed my everyday gi and my nice competition gi, but it turned out I’d packed my everyday gi and a ratty old gi. My everyday gi had to suffice for the morrow’s tournament. After I hung the gi to dry, it was my turn to relax while S. T. finished her nap and looked up some information about a university she’s thinking of transferring to. I jotted down notes from the morning’s class, then I had the luxury of reading a novel for a good solid hour.

Dinner was another adventure for S. T. The only Cracker Barrel restaurant on the West Coast opened up a few months ago. It had been years since I’d been to one. Because it was 100 degrees and I was walking into a Cracker Barrel I had a hard time remembering that I wasn’t in Texas! When my meal arrived I got my Japanese friend to try the Southern staple known as “grits.” She asked if it was rice, and I replied one can easily make rice grits with a grain grinder. She enjoyed her BLT and we both enjoyed the reasonable prices.

Talk about having trouble remembering where we were… On the way back to the motel I decided to stop at a gas station. I forgot that in Oregon, one is not allowed to put fuel in one’s vehicle. The gas station attendant does that. The attendant was cheerful, and I was grateful for his humor. He must get at least five out of state tourists per shift who forget to stay in their cars.

I for one slept like a log.

After a quick breakfast of juice, toast, and fruit in the motel lobby, we were on our way. It was an absolutely gorgeous morning, and good thing because the drive was spectacular. It was farm country nearly all the way to the tournament venue. The morning sun was beautiful, illuminating trees, grass, and flowers. We climbed up a ridge to what I guesstimate was 500 feet ( 152 meters) and spent a good long while driving a road along the top of that ridge. Every so often we’d have spectacular views of the Willammete Valley, its farms spread out like a quilt below us. S. T. and I were both in awe.

We descended into the valley and drove through vineyards to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Last year I wrote about competing under the tail of the Spruce Goose in the aviation part of the museum. This year, the tournament was held in the Space building. It was good to see Oregon friends as we hustled about to get ready for the tournament. I got a kick out of competing among and below space capsules, a model of Sputnik, and experimental aircraft designed for use in the upper atmosphere.

I spent most of the day watching, napping, and snacking. I really enjoyed seeing tiny tots who couldn’t have been older than three. At the opposite end of the spectrum were more seasoned warriors. Truly, Karate can be enjoyed by a wide range of age groups. Whenever I could, I tried to sit where I could hear the coaches. I would like a thorough grounding in and experience in judging and refereeing before I move into that realm, but it doesn’t hurt to listen and observe now.  Eventually I had to go to staging and get warmed up.

Just before my division was called I got a chance to see friends in action. I cheered a gentleman who is my kohai (a student lower ranked than oneself). I helped him learn the kata (form) he performed and was immensely proud when he won gold. He did well in kumite (sparring) too, as I knew he would. My Japanese friend S. T. did not compete in kata, just in kumite. She had a ferocious fight that was fun to watch. Her opponent really gave her a run for the money. I was in awe of S. T. that’s for sure!

My division was small, just two of us. At the last tournament, one of my sensei had pointed out that I could’ve challenged myself by performing the kata I had most recently learned (its name is Jion). Just for him, I did just that this tournament. I won gold in kata. The sensei who had instructed me the day before was right – I didn’t receive a magic fix that would get me the gold medal in kumite (and as I said before, I wasn’t expecting one because learning new skills takes time). However, I did notice I was a lot better at staying loose. That’s progress. My opponent and I know each other pretty well by now, so this match I realized that I have to build my repertoire. Off the mats, we are starting to get acquainted, and we had a very nice chat after we were awarded our medals.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye to Oregon friends and hit the road. S. T. and I spent the hours in the car talking and silently mulling over the experiences we’d shared. Soon, S. T. will go home to spend her summer back home in Japan, then she will start a new American adventure at whichever university she chooses. As much as I enjoy my work with the local community college’s International Student Program, the goodbyes every quarter are hard, and after Spring Quarter is the worst. I’m sad that I will say goodbye to my friend soon, but I’m very happy for her and I’m immensely proud of her.