A Judo Seminar

Today (11/18/23) a friend hired me to take pictures of the self defense seminar held at his dojo (as in he owns the dojo). He also wanted pictures of the judo seminar held earlier today and was OK with me juggling photography and learning about judo from the guest sensei (instructor). I initially thought, “Good – my camera will be the perfect excuse for me to stay safe and comfortable.”

I was scared.

No, make that terrified. I’d seen judo throws before and no way was I gonna allow that sort of thing to happen to my over-fifty-year-old body. Best leave it to the youngsters, I thought.

My perspective shifted a little when someone walked in with a pad that had to be at least a foot thick. When asked about it, she explained, “It’s for bouldering. Rock climbing. You put it down over things so that if you fall you won’t die.”

I had to laugh. I quipped, “Well now I’m not afraid of Judo anymore. I should be scared of bouldering instead!”

With that shift in perspective I thought perhaps I would give Judo a try. After all, I could still use my camera as an “out” if I thought I couldn’t handle something. I admit I did use my camera as an “out” for somersaults and cartwheels. But not anything else. I gleefully threw myself into shrimping and other basic movements. Ground work wasn’t scary – I’ve done it before (click here and here).

I ended up paired with my friend the dojo sensei. This was perfect because anytime he needed to check on something or do something I’d grab my camera and photograph the guest instructor and/or the seminar participants. I guess I’ve learned to juggle from being a mother. There was one occasion, though, when my friend was taking longer than usual and I’d already taken plenty of photos.

The guest sensei’s assistant came over to me. Participants had just begun the “scary” throws. I knew in that instant that even though I trust my friend I’d feel better about being thrown by someone who’s done it a thousand times. I told the young stranger that I needed to practice being a good uke (receiver of a technique) and requested he throw me.


I got up, looked him in the eyes, and said, “Again.”


“One more time. I just need to face this down, and I’ll be OK.”


“Thank you.”

By this time my friend came back and we went to work. I have to admit that being thrown also helped my fear of injuring my friend. I came to the realization that a modicum of fear was good and healthy. Fear made me mindful of the dangers involved. I tried to make sure I understood what to do and if I overlooked something I appreciated help and feedback. Fear provided fuel for respect – respect for the art of Judo, for the guest instructor, for my friend, and for myself. By shifting from terror to respect I shifted from a closed mind to an open mind.

I learned a lot about leverage and body mechanics. From time to time I drew parallels between kata (karate forms) and Judo. I will be thinking about throws more as I look at possibilities for bunkai (interpretation of forms). That’s all well and good, but more importantly, I learned about myself.

I’ve blogged before about being pushed outside my comfort zone. At least this time I didn’t vomit. I didn’t even feel nausea. Does that mean Judo wasn’t as scary as all those other times? I’ll be honest, I’m pretty sure the prospect of being thrown like a rag doll freaked me out more than anything else to date.

In my series, “More Betterer,” I speculated what being a Shodan (1st degree “black belt”) would mean for me. I listed some of my “inner demons” in Part III. Fear was number 5 on my list. I quoted an online acquaintance:

“The bad news is, you’ll probably be facing those demons for most, if not all, of your time in the martial arts. The good news is, they get smaller (or maybe you get “bigger?”) the further you go.”

Clifton Bullard

    My fear of Judo was a pretty big inner demon, but I’m bigger” now. I’ve had almost eight more years of practice facing down fear. I was pushed so far out of my comfort zone today that I’m certain I grew in many ways. I’ll be discovering those areas of growth for a good long while I’m sure.

    And… I had a lot of fun.

    Wait, what?

    Yes, fun. I had a big grin on my face most of the time. I thoroughly enjoyed solving puzzles with my body. I always enjoy cross training and today was no exception even though initially I was thinking about sitting this one out. My body might not agree with me tomorrow morning, but I had fun. And really, if this stuff isn’t fun, would it make sense to stick with a “strange little hobby of acquiring bruises for funsies” (as Jackie Bradbury puts it)?

    Body Autonomy for Boys

    Disclaimer: Just like “Save the Whales” doesn’t mean other species are expendable, this blog post highlights challenges that some boys face. Of course most of the content of this blog applies to everyone else as well.

    “Boys will be boys.”

    In some contexts that’s true. I remember reading about a mother whose three-year-old twin boys triumphantly carried the lid of the toilet tank through the house, then accidentally dropped it. Using the phrase “Boys will be boys” in this instance is meant as a half-amused, half-annoyed acknowledgement that yes, sometimes boys will break the toilet. But all too often there is a more damaging use of this phrase.

    Many of us have read about the harm caused by using “Boys will be boys” as a way of excusing misconduct towards girls. I’m not going to delve into the ramifications of that in this blog. Others have covered that ground better than I have. But I do want to take one aspect of the issue and apply it to boys. Yes, “Boys will be boys” has been used to dismiss female body autonomy, but the phrase also dismisses a boy’s right to body autonomy too.

    Body autonomy is the right for a person to govern what happens to their body without external influence or coercion. This is an important concept for all children to be taught and to understand.

    Shalon Nienow, MD

    When we hear about body autonomy it’s usually in the context of girls, women, abortion and/or sexual assault. Sometimes boys get a brief mention when sexual assault is addressed. That is a disservice to boys and I very much hope someone has written about the issue. My own focus in this blog is non-consensual rough play and bullying.

    Did you catch the term “non-consensual?”

    Some boys don’t like horseplay. They have the right to stand up for themselves if someone tries to force it on them.

    If you’re having unkind thoughts about that, stop right there. A penchant for or a dislike of rough play has absolutely nothing to do with gender, gender expression, or sexuality. If you think for one instant that anyone who doesn’t fit your idea of “normal” is worthless, is “other,” and deserves to be made fun of, beaten, or even killed… You’re not going to like what I say next.

    All too often, parents, school officials, coaches, etc. attempt to downplay bullying by calling it “horseplay,” and often summarize their views by saying, “Boys will be boys.” This is an egregious denial of the victim’s right to body autonomy. Boys have the right to go about their day without their body being pummelled, shoved, and/or struck with various objects. If you believe all that is harmless, you might as well say to boys, “You have no right to your own body.” Not only that, you’re teaching boys that it’s OK to violate someone else’s rights.

    I have participated in a number of self defense seminars as a supplement to my base art (karate) and so I can learn how to teach such seminars. One of these classes was open to anyone, the rest were for women only. That’s fine, I understand women need a safe space to learn. But I think children, particularly boys, need these seminars too. I’m not dismissing the needs of girls, rather I’m acknowledging that boys are more likely to experience the dismissal of their right to protect themselves. Boys need a place where their rights are supported.

    Everyone knows karate is a system for learning self defense. Most of us karateka (people who study karate) know or have been taught the value of kihon, kata, and kumite as tools for learning self defense. In the dojo some of us teach or have been taught self defense techniques that aren’t part of the dojo’s curriculum. That’s all well and good, but let’s dive a little deeper. Most everyone knows karate builds self confidence, and when bullies see the positive changes they often (but not always) go hunting for easier victims. Deeper still… Karateka learn self control. In a schoolyard situation, self control is key.

    I believe my job as a sensei is to teach not only the techniques, but also the correct application of techniques along with a good helping of self-control on the side. Allow me to illustrate this with an anecdote from my own life…

    I was working in a kitchen when a man put his arm around my waist and pressed in close while reaching for something on a shelf above me. He could have asked for the item or waited for me to complete my task. I gave him a very light elbow to the stomach. I could have doubled him over, but in that context all he needed was a bit of a warning. His wife gave him worse (verbally).

    This kind of self control is incredibly difficult in the context of physical harassment at school. “He threw a rock at me,” is often just one of hundreds of things that the boy has endured up until the point where he finally complained to someone. After all, he’s been taught all his life…

    “Boys will be boys.”

    “Just be more like the other boys.”

    “Turn the other cheek.”

    “You sissy!”

    “Try to be friends with them.”

    “It’s not that bad.”

    “No fighting. Zero tolerance.”

    The underlying message behind all of this, of course, is that the boy has no right to body autonomy and, in the case of zero tolerance, no right to defend himself.

    Do you see how damaging this is?

    Often there comes a breaking point, especially when a child knows the adults either can’t or won’t help him assert his rights. The dojo (karate school) is a safe place to explore those big emotions. Those big emotions will come up in the dojo even when one is in a good place in life. Part of learning self control is learning how to work with and through emotions. More importantly, being able to choose to fight is empowering. If one doesn’t know how to fight, there is no choice to fight or not to fight. There is only fear and anger if one can’t fight. It’s even more empowering when one knows the appropriate degree of violence to employ in any given situation.

    If he’s being bullied, getting your boy into karate classes can be a great move. A good dojo is a community where your boy will be respected. That’s a welcome change for someone whose soul is battered from constant harassment. Sensei(s) usually recognize everyone’s right to body autonomy because fundamentally, karate is self defense. Whether a sensei explicitly teaches it or not, your boy will start to realize his right to body autonomy. He will be more confident in standing up for himself, whether that be verbally with a school principal or physically with someone who tries to force him into rough play.

    In closing, I would like to acknowledge that not all boys can, or even want to join a dojo. Perhaps a self defense seminar geared towards boys would be a good alternative. Of course even a seminar might not be feasible or desirable for some boys. But all boys can benefit from society ridding itself of the systemic dismissal of boys’ rights to body autonomy. I believe my responsibility as a sensei, as a karateka, is to be an ally. That means standing up for victims, even to the point of verbal or physical intervention if appropriate.

    “Karate stands on the side of justice.”

    Gichin Funakoshi


    Years ago during one Gasshuku (weekend camp) I asked every single yudansha (“black belt”) what they’d do differently if time were turned back and they were beginners again. The most common answer was, “I wouldn’t abuse my body like I did.”

    During my first karate journey when I was a teenager, I didn’t know anything about recovery. Before the days of the Internet the most readily available source of information on that topic would have been buried deep within books about jogging and running marathons. Besides, when I was a teenager I could bounce back quite readily. I didn’t have a concept of a recovery day.

    Now that I’m, ahem, over half a century old… I don’t just bounce back. When I started my second karate journey at age 44 I still had no concept of recovery. But over time I’ve accumulated some knowledge here and there. Disclaimer: this blog post is about what works for me. I hope it’ll give you some ideas, but it’s not meant to be a scientific paper. I’m not a sports professional. I’m just a slightly lumpy middle-aged matron with, as blogger Jackie Bradbury puts it, “a strange little hobby of acquiring bruises for funsies.” I have to say this – talk to your doctor, nutritionist, whatever, yada yada.

    Training in karate is hard. It’s meant to be. Go to a McDojo and shell out the dough if you want an easy black belt. Sometimes karate training is harder than usual. Maybe you sparred with eight people in less than an hour for a tournament, for a belt test, or for fun/learning/practice. Perhaps you had multiple training sessions over the course of a weekend. You could be ramping up for a tournament or belt test. Or, like I did, you’re stepping on the mats for the first time in 27 years. Honestly, age doesn’t make a difference in whether or not you need recovery time. It’s just that you feel the need more acutely when you’re older.

    Here’s what I like to do for recovery days following a harder-than-usual event. Again, talk to your doctor, nutritionist, whatever, yada yada.

    For me, recovery begins before the event. I usually have a recovery day (no athletic activity) once per week. It’s usually the same day each week, but I sometimes shift it to two or three days before the special event and one or two days after. Hydration is always crucial, but I keep an extra-close eye on my water intake before, during, and after. Ditto for nutrition and stretching.

    I’ve started to see the value of stretching after each workout, especially after something that’s harder than usual. For multiple training sessions over a weekend, I suggest saving stretching for after the last seminar of each day. This is anecdotal, and it’s just me, but I’ve found that stretching after a harder-than-usual thing cuts my post-event-feeling-like-crap days way down – we’re talking from about a week cut down to maybe three days. During those feeling-like-crap days I sometimes let go of my own practice/workout times and only go to class. I try to take a complete recovery day immediately after a hard event. Sometimes that doesn’t work because I have class the next day (my dojo meets only 2x per week). When that happens I simply take the next day off.

    When I get home, I refuel. A little product endorsement here… What I really like at the end of any workout (1x per day max) is Ultima Replenisher (https://www.ultimareplenisher.com/ ). If it’s not mealtime, I have a snack. Bananas are packed with nutrition. I often throw in a source of protein such as cheese, nuts, or pea-protein snacks. Before bed after any workout, I take a calcium/magnesium/zinc supplement. Muscles use calcium to relax, and magnesium helps prevent “Charlie horses” (cramps) in the middle of the night. Talk to your doctor, nutritionist, whatever, yada yada. There are other ways of getting your muscles to relax.

    Dealing with tense muscles is easy. I can’t say enough good things about a good long soak in a warm bath with Epsom salts before bed. I love it when I don’t have to set a timer and can just soak until the water gets too cool. This is best done right after a tough workout, but if you don’t have access to a tub or the time to just soak, get ‘er done as soon as you can. It’s bliss. If you can afford it, massage is wonderful. If you can’t afford a massage therapist, wait for a sale (Black Friday is coming up!) and get a handheld massager, a foam roller (I like the one with bumps), or both. I don’t use these as often as I should, but believe me, they provide a lot of relief.

    I’m not sure if this is scientifically proven or not, but I believe in “a hair o’ the dog what bit you” when I’m sore the next day. If you’re not familiar with that expression, it means that drinking a little bit of whatever alcoholic beverage you got drunk on will supposedly cure your hangover. When it comes to exercise, it’s more than just an old wives’ tale for me. If I’m sore from holding a stance, I’ll hold that stance for a few seconds the next day. If it’s crunches that made me sore, I do a maximum of 4 reps. It seems to help. Again, you’re recovering, so don’t do a workout – rest, even sleep, is crucial.

    I once saw a meme that read something along the lines of, “Naps, I’m sorry I treated you so badly when I was a child.” If you can find a way to work a nap into your recovery day, do it. I’m refreshed even after 15 minutes, although I prefer 30 to 90 minutes. Set an alarm if you need to.

    As you can see, recovery is an art in and of itself. For us, ahem, older athletes it’s vital. I would argue recovery is vital for young whippersnappers too, it’s just that us old folks run into a brick wall if we neglect it. Building healthy habits now, no matter what your age, will contribute to your longevity in the art of karate.

    Kung Fu Drilling

    Your earworm for the day. You’re welcome.

    Because the rate of hospital admission due to COVID-19 is just as high in my county as it was in Fall of 2021, this immunocompromised karateka (IgG2 deficiency) is very grateful for online seminars. Now that we know monkey pox can be spread on surfaces and by skin-to-skin contact, I’m facing a double whammy. I don’t relish the possibilities of bacterial pneumonia on top of COVID-19 and/or MRSA on top of monkey pox. Accordingly, I very much appreciate online seminars. They’re not quite as good as in-person seminars, but it’s really nice to have this option, especially when your travel budget is limited and/or you just can’t be crammed in a small metal tube with 300 some-odd people for hours on end.

    Twice now I’ve taken online seminars led by an acquaintance of mine, Ando Mierzwa. The first was a seminar on forms, and it was the last of a marathon of karate seminars benefitting Ukraine. A few days ago Ando offered another seminar. I guess I didn’t pay much attention to the advertisement beyond the words “Kung Fu.” For some reason I got it stuck in my head that this would be a beginner’s class. I was anticipating being a “white belt” (new beginner) for a little while, just like some of the other times I’ve cross trained.

    After the seminar started it didn’t take long for me to figure out that I wasn’t going to feel like a white belt. Rather, I felt every inch of my black belt. Ando taught a Kung Fu drill that translated beautifully to karate. I learned only one new technique, and I’ll bet if I look hard enough I’ll find some karate kata (form) somewhere that has it – so I can’t really say it’s an exclusively Kung Fu technique. The main point though, was not to learn cool Kung Fu moves. Ando was getting us to think about our body dynamics. He also taught us how to teach the drill – building up from bits and pieces (and a couple of variations) and finishing with the full drill.

    From time to time during the seminar I could hear the late Remy Presas, founder of Modern Arnis (a Filipino martial art) whispering, “It’s all de same…” As another acquaintance, Jackie Bradbury explains,

    “The meaning of this is that what we do and learn in my style isn’t actually terribly unique in the martial arts world.  Much of what we do can be seen in other seemingly unrelated styles like taekwondo, karate, and kung fu.”

    Jackie Bradbury, The Stick Chick Blog

    I knew I was learning some new material that I could teach at my own dojo. A few days later, I did exactly that. The only thing I changed was horse stance ( kiba dachi to us karateka). I changed that to shiko dachi because it was easier for our lower-ranked student. The only difference is the position of the feet. I also didn’t add the “new” technique because we didn’t have time to explore the variations.

    That day in the dojo there was only me, a fellow Shodan (senior to me by a couple of years), and a low-ranked gentleman. I had to slow down the drill and keep it slow because although the lower-ranked student caught on to the movements quickly, he needed to work on staying the same height throughout. Of course this forced me to think about what exactly my fellow Shodan and I were doing. Then I had to explain and demonstrate to the lower-ranked student. This was a prime example of the teacher learning something too. The next time I teach Ando’s “Kung Fu” drill I’m sure I’ll learn more.

    What would have happened if I’d been the same rank as the student I taught? I believe I would have learned the drill with very little difficulty. After all, Ando did choose to teach something that translated well. The seminar was not really about the drill itself. The drill is simply a tool that points the way to a bigger concept. I’m sure I’d have grasped the overall concept when I was lower rank. But I do know I’d have felt a bit awkward, and not nearly as sure of myself. I’d have devoted more mental resources to “doing” and fewer resources to analyzing. I would have memorized the drill well enough to explain it and demonstrate it in class, but I would not have been able to teach someone else how to move properly.

    What a difference a few years of training makes! So yeah, I not only learned a drill from another martial art and I taught that drill, but I also learned something about myself. I noticed I am getting more confident about tackling new material. A few days later I gained experience in teaching something that hasn’t been taught in my dojo before. Passing on knowledge is what it’s all about, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure Ando agrees.

    P. S. because I spent most of an hour transitioning in and out of Horse Stance, my legs were a little bit sore the next morning. This meme came to mind…

    Blind Spots

    We all have ’em

    Last night, two of my fellow Shodan(s) – first degree black belts – came to the dojo. Unfortunately my dojo sensei (head instructor of a school) missed them. Of the three of us, I am the lowest in seniority but my dojo sensei left me in charge so I didn’t quite know about the etiquette of the situation. We all managed just fine.

    There were more sensei(s) than students. We traded off teaching duties. I multi-tasked like crazy. I worked one on one with a student while listening to my peers give feedback to the other student. If I overheard feedback on something that the other student was doing I looked for it in whoever I was working with. And for awhile I put myself out there.

    We dismiss our new beginner after an hour and then for the final half hour of class we focus on a student who’s been with us awhile. At that point last night it was three yudansha (“black belts”) to one student. I became a student for awhile. I had already told my fellow Shodan(s) that I needed them to look for any blind spots that I might have. After that first hour my peers had a side by side comparison – a student who I’ve taught for the last three weeks and myself. There are things I need to work on for myself, things the students need to work on that I have been blind to, and yes, things that both the students and I need to work on.

    I’ve drifted away from our style’s standard in a couple of techniques. I was blind to a few things that the students need to improve in. Those two students are happy and doing well for their respective ranks, so obviously I’m not a complete failure. It’s just that having another pair of eyes (or two other pairs of eyes) helps tremendously. Ideally we’d have the dojo sensei there, but for a season that’s going to be intermittent. But in the meantime, I know who I can count on to point out what I’m missing. Yes, my peers who came last night, but even more than that – all of us yudansha know we can count on those who are higher ranked than we are.

    If our organization’s chief instructor for our state had visited my dojo last night he’d have seen everything my peers did and more. This is not a bad thing. Feedback means everyone will improve. An outside pair of eyes brings a different perspective, and it’s even better when those eyes have seen decades’ worth of students come and go. Not to mention those who are more senior to me, including my dojo sensei, are quite familiar with everything that goes along with being a newly-fledged sensei. Is it any surprise that some of our yudansha are managers in their professional lives? They have the “soft skills” in spades, and believe me when I need to pick their brains about that I do.

    It would be the height of arrogance for me to think that now that I have that pretty belt tied around my waist I know everything and can start my own dojo (school). I have my foundation, yes, but until I build more on that foundation I’m not equipped to take someone to Shodan. I’m still wet behind the ears.

    A couple of days ago I watched two videos of myself presenting the same kata. The earlier video was taken at my test for 2nd kyu (2 ranks below 1st black). The other was taken at my Shodan test a few months ago. I had to pause the earlier video two or three times because I was rushing the kata back then. On the flip side I saw a couple of things in the later video that I need to work on in the weeks to come. My overall impression was that I didn’t really understand that kata all that well back then. I suspect that if, five years from now, I take another video of myself doing the same kata I’ll see just as big a gap, if not bigger.

    Even videoing myself has its limits. I know some things to watch out for, I know some of my habits. But I’m lacking experience and I will need help along the way. There is absolutely no substitute for someone who has years more training on me being right there in real life, 3 dimensions, telling me exactly what it is I need to do to improve, learn, and grow.

    We all have blind spots as teachers and students. Those blind spots exist to allow others to share their experiences. We need people who see things through a different lens, especially mentors. I need that input to keep going on this journey. Shodan to me means my bags are packed and I’ve taken the first step on the path outside my door. I don’t want to be stuck there, never seeing what’s down the road, never picking up souvenirs, and never being able to help a fellow traveler because I haven’t the foggiest idea of what lies beyond what little I can see from my doorstep.