Long time readers of this blog know I love learning about other martial arts. Through one-off introductory workshops I’ve sampled Capoeira, Tai Chi, and Judo. I also attended several self defense workshops led by instructors from varying backgrounds, trained under students earning their personal fitness trainer credentials, and attended an online seminar that wasn’t so much about Kung Fu as it was about body dynamics. So when a friend invited me to the bi-monthly Kendo (Japanese sword) classes he hosts at his dojo I jumped at the chance.

These bi-monthly Kendo classes will be ongoing and I plan on making as many as I can. That said, I honestly don’t think I can get serious about kendo – as in seeking any sort of rank or certification. Bi-monthly Kendo classes mostly fit my schedule. I have a good bit of karate material to keep fresh and I need to fix some foundational things. I don’t have much time to devote to new material. That said, now that my karate belt tests will be few and far between I have the luxury of taking a good long time to learn any given Kendo technique, stance, form, etc. Casual dabbling is not something I’m used to but I’m going to do my best to juggle this new endeavour with my main art. Sometimes I will have schedule conflicts, and that’s OK.

I missed the first Kendo class due to an important karate event. No big deal, this is a casual gathering for the purpose of learning. I had to catch up, but at least I’m used to following along, to being at least few steps behind everyone else. In other words I know how to be a white belt (no rank, new beginner). I know how to learn and I know my own learning style. I know how to manage my practice time. And of course I had a blast learning something completely new. This beginner’s mindset is called “Shoshin” in Japanese. I try to keep my shoshin fresh in karate because, after all, Shodan (1st degree black belt) means “first level.” I’m still a beginner in my primary art (yes, after nearly 10 years).

My primary art is of course empty hand. Weapons aren’t part of the rank tests in the karate organization I belong to. To me dabbling in weapons is a nice little “extracurricular activity,” although I have recently started thinking about the benefits to my empty-hand game. I have started to understand this quote:

”Karate and Kobudo are like brother and sister. They should stay together.”

Nakamoto Mashiro

Studying weapons gives one the chance to compare and contrast, to think about how and why body dynamics change (or don’t change) when one is wielding a weapon. During the pandemic lockdowns I learned bo (Japanese long staff) over Zoom from one of my sensei (instructors). Bo feels natural because it involves push-pull dynamics similar to karate. A bokken (training sword) is another animal altogether. About the only thing I knew going in to my first Kendo class was you use two hands to wield the weapon. The bokken feels very different from my bo, from Filipino Martial Arts canes (in one or both hands) and is totally and completely different from fencing foils. Yes, I took a semester of fencing in college. And yet…

Like many other times when I’ve cross-trained, I heard the late Professor Remy Presas whispering, “It’s all de same…”

 Blogger and Arnisadora 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

With the bokken I learned angles of attack just like in Filipino Martial Arts. These angles of attack are based on human anatomy in order to cause the most damage and hopefully not catch your weapon on bone and lose your grip on it. This is serious stuff, but so is shattering joints and there’s plenty of that in the empty hand arts. Speaking of the empty hand arts, there is a relationship between Kendo and the style of Karate I study.

Konishi Yasuhiro Sensei founded Shindo Jinen-ryu karate. But before that he was a Kendoka (one who studies Kendo). Konishi Sensei coached the University of Keio’s Kendo club. Just a few months short of 100 years ago (at the time of this writing) Konishi Sensei met two karate luminaries after one of his classes. They asked if they could use the Kendo training hall for their karate classes. The rest was history. A karate exercise I practice frequently, “Te Gatana,” echoes Konishi Sensei’s Kendo and always reminds me of Filipino Martial Arts angles of attack. In 1927 and 1928 Konishi Sensei hosted a guest in his home for ten months: Mabuni Kenwa Sensei who founded the style of karate my friend teaches at his dojo. Talk about echoes of the past!

Kendo and Karate weren’t the end-all-and-be-all of Konishi Sensei’s martial arts life. In addition to Kendo and Karate, Konishi Sensei also studied Jujutsu, Judo, and Aikido. Within the Karate world Konishi Sensei trained with whoever he could. This garnered some criticism but Konishi Sensei held fast to his belief in the value of cross training. I’ve seen its value myself. That and it’s just plain fun to learn something new and different.

In karate I thoroughly enjoy exploring bunkai (interpretation of forms). Imagine my delight when I was taught that Kendo kata (forms) require two people. Instant bunkai! On the other hand, what I like about karate kata bunkai is there can be multiple bunkai for any given movement and/or sequence. Still, there’s something appealing about having obvious and set bunkai. Like anything else, there are advantages and disadvantages either way. I’m stoked I get to explore these modes of learning.

In a way attending a Kendo class felt like coming home. When I was a girl I was fascinated by sword-and-sorcery novels. At Renaissance faires I was more than a little jealous of those who owned real blades. I took fencing in college but the restriction of activity to a narrow lane drove me a little nuts. I was used to having free range due to my study of karate when I was a teenager. Years later I learned the history of the style of karate I now study. Entering the Kendo world just feels like a natural step for me. The cherry on top? A few years ago a co-worker gifted me with a polypropylene bokken at an office Christmas party. He uses his for cosplay. I used mine as a wall decoration. So is this fate? Time will tell. What I do know is this. My first Kendo class was fun and I’m looking forward to the next one.

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)?

    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…

    Capoeira Again

    Long time readers of this blog know I love cross-training. Some of you might recall that last year I attended the one-off Capoeira workshop offered as part of my employer’s annual Professional Development Day. That workshop was so much fun I signed up again this year. What the heck is Capoeira? Here’s a very nice 5-minute video (start near the 1 minute 45 second mark). Obviously a one hour introduction to any martial art is only going to cover just so much ground. And if this year’s workshop was pretty much the same as last year’s workshop, what the heck did I learn?

    I learned plenty.

    There was one movement I learned which wasn’t covered in last year’s workshop. Someone I know who studied one of the Filipino Martial Arts described training with drums. The idea is to catch your opponent on the off-beats. I’d been wondering if Capoeira players do that. Yes, they do. We were taught one movement that is meant to throw the other player a bit off. I’d like to work out how to translate that movement into my jiyu kumite (karate free sparring).

    One new movement… First-time reader, I hear you asking, “So why did Joelle say she learned plenty?” Long term readers know I learn way more than what’s on the surface.

    As I said, this year’s workshop wasn’t much different in content and format than last year’s. Even my Hapkido buddy was in attendance again. But here’s the thing – I’m a different karateka than I was a year ago. And as a second-time attendee, I came with a different perspective. I paid attention to things I hadn’t noticed last year. I kept tabs on my internal world too. With any martial art, one learns about oneself through being pushed outside one’s comfort zone.

    Ahhh yes, the comfort zone. Autopilot. Muscle memory. Folks, muscle memory can be downright annoying sometimes. I’d memorized Kanku Dai kata (one of our forms) last year, but obviously the lessons from that kata have sunk in deeper this year. I kept wanting to drop to the ground exactly like in that kata rather than execute a proper esquiva. Also, I’ve been practicing a drill in which I execute an inside crescent kick then place the foot down in such a way that the leg I’ve been kicking with becomes the back leg – i.e. that leg is behind me. What I needed to do for the Capoeira workshop is set the foot down to the side so as to transition into something else.

    “You can put your leg behind,” the instructor admitted, “But…”

    He trailed off, so I finished with a grin, “For the purpose of this drill, I need to step to the side.”

    Sticking to the drill is even more important when one is working with a partner. My partner was a newbie to boot. Yeah, I know, pot calling the kettle black. Last year I was actually nervous about working with anyone other than a fellow martial artist (my Hapkido buddy) and the instructor. I’m totally fine with people who are new to the art of karate, have been for quite some time. But last year the idea of working with a newbie in Capoeira when I myself was unfamiliar with the material was a bit too much. This year I was a lot more confident about adjusting what I was doing to accommodate someone who hasn’t had any martial arts training whatsoever. I’ve not practiced any of the Capoeira movements I learned last year, so my ability to adjust obviously doesn’t come from long practice in Capoeira. Perhaps all those self defense workshops and other cross-training experiences have helped me become more confident about working on unfamiliar techniques with people who are entirely new to all martial arts in general.

    What about confidence in working directly with an instructor who is from a completely different art? Last year I had a little anxiety about that. This year, no problem. I knew I could be myself – strengths, weaknesses, everything.

    I even did something I didn’t do last year – I showed the instructor a little karate before class. I took the broom from him and swept the floor. I explained to him that this is the job of the lowest-ranked student. Which I was – I hold no rank in any system of Capoeira. Although one could use a broom as a makeshift weapon, there are no hidden techniques in sweeping the floor. This wasn’t the 1980’s movie “The Karate Kid,” this was me showing respect for the place where I train and for my instructor. That’s karate.

    Perhaps some of you dear readers are wondering if I showed some “real” karate – in other words, did I bust out some cool karate stuff while I was in the roda? Why yes, I did. I started by respectfully entering the roda and following the instructor’s lead for the etiquette involved. Yes, that level of respect is “real” karate. Respect is the gateway to learning.

    Instead of bowing to the instructor, I squatted down facing him, held my crossed arms out to his, and locked eyes with him for a moment. That moment told each of us what we needed to know about the other. We saw confidence, trust, respect, and curiosity. Last year I was a little too nervous to truly appreciate that formality. Right then it hit me that I’m a different karateka than the one who entered a roda for the first time last year. Last year I was just trying to function with the limited tools I had. This year’s play was different.

    Of course I stumbled all over myself frequently. I’m a newbie, after all, and to top it all off I hadn’t been to a Capoeira class in a year. So what was different? This year I was even more keenly aware of the ways in which the instructor and I were keeping one another safe. I saw exactly how he was adjusting for me. I adjusted too, once. I tried something and ended up way too close to the instructor. I backed off because I didn’t know how a Capoeirista would interpret my intent if I did what I’d do on the tatami (karate mats). I wanted to keep the play light and fun.

    A couple of times, my muscle memory took over at least twice. Instead of executing a proper Capoeira esquiva, I dropped as per Kanku Dai kata. Actually, that muscle memory did come in handy once. I misread the instructor’s intent and ended up dropping instinctively at the last instant to avoid his kick. It wasn’t pretty like in the kata, but I did it without even thinking. Yep, I’m coming along in Karate, but I’m a total rube when it comes to Capoeira. And that’s OK.

    The point of me entering the roda was not to show off or to prove Karate superior (it isn’t – apples and oranges, folks). The point was to learn about myself, about the man in the roda with me, and about the art of Capoeira. While playing, I made different mistakes this year than last – and that is to be expected. I’ve barely learned a little bit of “baby talk.”

    There is an element of “conversation” in Capoeira games, in karate jiyu kumite, and in point sparring (except a referee keeps interrupting the conversation during point sparring). I wrote about this underlying conversation in last year’s blog post. One year, one belt rank, and one gold medal in kumite later, I still need to improve my karate “conversational skills.” I strongly suspect I always will.

    It might seem like going to essentially the same workshop as last year would be pointless. But the very nature of any martial art is you can always go deeper into the material. There’s always some new insight and/or refinement to discover. I’m seeing this more and more as I progress in my Karate. What I love about cross-training is I can compare and contrast, and in the process learn more about my base art. I wish I could do more cross training… Sigh… So many martial arts and so little time.

    Lab Rat

    Every quarter, students in the Personal Fitness Trainer program at the college where I work need practical experience for their certificates and degrees. In other words, they need people to train. Usually the email to faculty and staff from the Personal Fitness Trainer program manager comes either in the afternoon, when I’m not at work, or right when I’m in the middle of something and can’t respond. The time slots are usually claimed within the hour. Assuming that I get the email at a time when I can respond immediately, I haven’t had the time to take advantage of the opportunity. Finally, in April, the stars aligned just right. I signed up to be a lab rat.

    I was expecting my trainer, Marissa, to be young enough to be my daughter. She is. But what I did not anticipate was the camaraderie we developed and the easy way she and I worked with one another. That said, Marissa pushed me hard and didn’t hesitate to ratchet things up a notch or five if she saw I could handle something more or less easily. But she was so nice and sweet about it. Her encouragement and high-fives made my day and pushed me to the top of my game.

    Marissa confided to me that the college’s program has students learn how to design a program while they are developing programs for their “clients.” It’s a learn-as-you go deal. There is something to be said for that approach to learning. From my end, I really wouldn’t have guessed that’s the Personal Fitness Trainer program’s methodology. Marissa did an excellent job creating my program and revising it as I progressed. She has all sorts of numbers written down about my body measurements, the pounds pressed, the miles ran, and I’m sure all her numbers point to one thing – I’m better off for having worked with her.

    Certainly I’ve been pushed out of my “comfort zone” a little. One of my sensei (instructors) used to nudge me every now and then to try weight training. I ignored that nudge. Now I see why he enjoys working out in the gym. I spent a couple of seasons training hard with karateka (karate peeps) who were going to Nationals. But I didn’t maintain that level of fitness. I loathed jogging and dropped it altogether. Marissa had me jogging or on the elliptical strider a lot. Now I’m seeing a difference in my performance in the dojo (karate school). My sensei has noticed a difference too. He hasn’t actually said that he’s noticed a difference, but I can tell because he’s been pushing me harder and harder in class.

    There are loads of things I’ve gained from the time I’ve spent as a lab rat. I’ve learned that I can make significant gains in a short period of time. Of course I’ve learned a lot of very specific exercises, but I’ve also learned how to structure a workout. I’ve resolved to use this knowledge in my personal workouts outside of the dojo. Now I have a few more fun little things to have my fellow students do whenever I lead warm ups for Karate class. And if I want to go to the college’s gym and track after work, I won’t be completely clueless about what to do. I have a feeling that I’d better invite Marissa to my black belt test, whenever that will be. If she’s still in the area!

    Marissa has a dream that I hope will come true. Yes, she wants to open a gym. But not just any old gym. She wants a commercial kitchen tacked on. The idea being that after a personalized workout, Marissa can hand her clients custom-tailored meals to take home. Not only is Marissa studying to be a personal fitness trainer, she is also studying to be a nutritionist. Marissa used to be a cook at a restaurant. She jokes, “I used to make people fat, now I want to make them healthy and fit.” Whenever I tell people of Marissa’s dream, they are enthusiastic, and invariably say, “Sign me up!” I’d like to see a studio added to Marissa’s business so that there’s room for yoga, Pilates, Zumba, and gee, maybe even Karate. Marissa’s future looks bright, and I’m glad to have helped her on her journey as she has helped me on mine.