Sunday, December 26, 2010

Keep Fighting

This is a miscellaneous entry.

Martial arts is about a lot of things. It's debatable (and has been debated by many, many people over the years) what the main focus of martial arts is, and it obviously has a different meaning to every person who studies it. But when it comes down to the skin and bones of martial arts, we who study it are learning to fight. We are learning to defend and to protect and to be prepared, but we are also learning to attack. We are also learning to strike when it really counts; when our safety and lives are in danger.

Sometimes we are in danger of our lives outside of the physical. Sometimes the situations in our lives can bring us to our knees. Sometimes they can surround us, corner us, outnumber us, outsmart us, surprise us, strike low, fight dirty, break bones, and generally break all of the rules of fair fighting. As a matter of fact, life doesn't play by any rules. Life doesn't fight fair. It strikes hard and fast directly at vital points...a formidable opponent.

But in the dojo, do we stay down on the mat when we get hit? No. We get back up.
On a cold, wet street full of assailants, do we stay on the ground and let them continue to beat us? No. We get back up. And when they don't fight fair, we go for the quickest, most effective strikes we can think of. Strikes to vital points like the neck. The eyes. The groin. The knees. We finish it and we finish it quickly.

When life throws us on the ground, it is exactly like hitting the mat in the dojo. It is the same situation as the one in the street. No matter how hard it is, no matter how much it hurts...we get back up. We train ourselves to defend. We train ourselves to protect. But most of all, we train ourselves to fight.

I'm missing some people right now who fought, but eventually let life beat them. It's hard to be alive, sometimes. It's really, really hard...for everybody. Life doesn't fight fair.

Hit the mat...hit the ground...hit rock bottom...but then get back up. Because the fight is worth it. It's always worth it.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Testing Jitters

About a year ago, when I tested for my orange belt (I was jump-promoted through the white and yellow ranks because of the four-month time-frame between when I began studying again and my test), I was so nervous that I could hardly think straight. I remember that during the test, I mixed up my inside and outside blocks!

I tested for green belt three times because the first two times I was sick and had to stop for health purposes, so by the time my third test came, I was less nervous and more ready for it.

I have about four hours until my blue belt test. I'd like to be able to say that the old nervousness has gone away now and that I am completely confident in my ability to advance, but there's some serious nervous energy coursing through me right now. I'm going to have to really work hard to clear my head so that I don't forget what I'm doing.

The testing environment is kind of interesting because you don't get to practice your techniques a few times before being tested. You have to be able to do them on the spur of the moment, as accurately and effectively as possible. And with nervous energy, nonetheless. Sounds a lot like what a real fight is like, to me. Perhaps that's the point. What good is self-defense if you can't apply it when you need to?

Anyway, testing jitters strike again! We'll see how it goes tonight!

Update: Made it! :)

Friday, December 10, 2010

"That's Martial Arts!"

My last post introduced Bruce, the third degree Shotokan black belt who is now training with us at the Refinery. He's from Iran and he just moved to the states a few weeks ago. Being a Shotokan guy, he trained at a traditional school for a long time before coming here. He told me that he spent five years just working on basic blocks and stances before his sensei actually taught him how to fight.

Talk about patience!

Anyway, our class last night was very heavy on sparring. It was the most intense night I've had in my training so far. Not only was it incredibly fun and fast-paced, but I also feel like I learned a lot. There's such a big mental factor to sparring that people who don't practice martial arts probably don't see. Watching Bruce and Sensei spar each other was very interesting. There were long periods of time where they just stared at each other--neither one of them attacking. When they did attack, their moves were precise and calculated...and were countered almost immediately by the other person! Very interesting.

The injuries were all minor. Everybody took a groin-shot last night. Everybody jammed toes and fingers. I took a knife-hand to the back of the neck, which put me on the ground. I thought I was alright for a minute, but then my vision went blurry and I got dizzy and fell over. Within about five to ten minutes, after checking me out, Bruce said, "Ahhh, you're fine!" And he helped me up, saying, "That's martial arts!".

It's funny that he said that because there are so many things about martial arts that you could apply that phrase to. Injury is one thing. With a room full of people practicing dangerous techniques, you're bound to get hurt sometimes. Luckily, the body is very resilient and most of the time injuries are minor. They just hurt a lot. That's martial arts.

Another thing is being mentally and physically tired. Last night, by the time our third hour began, I felt like I was going to fall over (that's about the time that the adrenaline from sparring wore off). Instead of leaving, though, I stayed and continued to train despite the fatigue. Sometimes we have to do things when we're tired. That's martial arts.

One more thing that I'll mention that we can apply Bruce's phrase to is feeling that our technique isn't where it should be and that it needs to be improved. Most of the time when I feel that way it's because I haven't been able to apply something that Sensei has taught me, or because I've been severely beaten in sparring. I hate to admit to this, but I am competitive and I can be a sore loser. I try not to be too prideful because that's not what martial arts is about, but I always feel like I should do better when someone completely destroys me in sparring. It humbles me and makes me try harder to improve. It helps, however, to remember that there will always be someone who is stronger/faster/more experienced than I am. And because they are stronger/faster/more experienced, there are countless invaluable things I can learn from them. That's martial arts.

There are a lot of situations in training that can be uncomfortable or just downright painful. I can see how pain, fatigue, and occasional feelings of inadequacy might really turn people off to an activity, but I think it says a lot about the martial artist's character and spirit that he continues to train despite these things; that he is able to look past the pain of the temporary toward his goal of constant improvement. Meeting that goal is worth the cost. Lots of things in life are that way. Sometimes we just have to push through the pain and adversity and continue to get back up.

That's not just martial arts. That's life.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Today was very interesting. We have a new student at our school who is a third degree black belt in Shotokan. The first time I saw him, I thought he was Sensei's friend and that he was here to show us something cool about whatever style he specialized in, but it turns out that he's just someone who heard about our school and who wants to train here. It's exciting! I got the pleasure of working with him on a side-kick drill today and not only is he very, very skilled, but he is also very patient and he trains with a quiet intensity that really inspires me.

To be honest, at first I was kind of intimidated by him because he is SO senior to me. It might take me a few classes to really get used to that. I shouldn't be so freaked out, but Bruce is very intense...and so am I. The problem with that is that sometimes I get so intense that I don't think as clearly as I should. It may take me some time to learn how to calm down a little bit while in his presence. Intensity builds off of itself, but it won't help me at all if I'm not able to keep a clear head.

Anyway, it's always exciting to have new classmates. Every person you work with has something to teach you, whether they're six-years-old and just beginning or whether they're a third degree black belt. I am really looking forward to learning from Bruce. He is a great example of how martial arts is a journey. Bruce is very, very advanced, but he's continuing to study. He's not stopping. He hasn't arrived. He will keep learning and improving, until who knows when.

A lot of advanced students do that. They keep learning and growing. It's not a new concept, but now it is truly impressive to me. I am inspired by Bruce. I can't wait to see how we'll learn from each other.

And I am really, really, REALLY looking forward to class next week!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Project Double-Leg

I'm setting a new goal for myself. By the end of this year, I want to have a somewhat decent double-leg takedown. I'm going to practice it as much as I can, every opportunity I get. I want a good double-leg. It's always been difficult for me, which is interesting, considering the double-leg takedown is the easiest takedown there is...but it's always been hard for me. I tend to do too much thinking and not enough moving.

By the end of this month (December), I want to have no doubt that I can successfully take someone down with no hesitation or second-guessing. I don't want to have to say, "Oh no" anymore when Sensei has us go over double-leg. It's hard, but hopefully by the start of the new year, it won't be as big of a deal.

I really want this. I've kind of come to the conclusion that the only way I'm going to learn how to not over-think everything is to make sure that I practice my techniques enough that second-guessing doesn't come into play at all.

It's an issue of confidence stemming from the fact that I'm not 100% sure of what I'm doing. The more I practice, the more I'll be sure.

Ready, set...go.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanks Giving

"With thankful hearts, offer up your prayers and requests to God."
-Philippians 4:6

This is our yellow belt verse at the Refinery. As a white belt, the first thing you learn is to show respect to the dojo, to Sensei, to your classmates, and to yourself. Respect for all of these things is needed before you can be thankful for them. I think this is one of the reasons why Philippians 4:6 is the yellow belt verse and not the first thing that new students learn.

Thankfulness isn't really a learned thing in and of itself. There are a lot of other lessons that must be learned before thankfulness can be truly possible. For example, as I mentioned above, respect for something is required before you can be thankful for it. If I don't respect someone, I'm probably never going to be truly thankful for them until I can find some part of them to respect. Granted, respect usually has to be earned...but sometimes it's easy to show a lack of respect for someone or something, even after they've more than proven themselves worthy of it.

Another thing is humility. I wasn't thankful the first time I got thrown. I was scared and slightly embarrassed to be on the ground while my opponent was standing. It wasn't long until I learned that arrogance has no place in training. Pride can be good, but arrogance and stubbornness are two obstacles that can get in the way of being thankful. Chances are, if I consider myself above someone or something, I won't be thankful for its presence in my life. Why should I be? If I am ultimately better than someone, THEY should  be thankful for ME, right?
You can see how that attitude can get in the way of being thankful. Humility is needed for thankfulness because the humble mindset allows you to treasure things that you need to help you grow.

One more thing that has to come before thankfulness can be achieved is love--not just love for the person or thing that you are thankful for, but love for yourself, too. It might sound kind of crazy, but I think sometimes we don't ALLOW ourselves to be thankful for what we have. The mindset that society teaches us to live in is a mindset of always wanting more. This frame of mind also teaches us not to trust in ourselves, God, and other people in our lives and, in essence, teaches us not to love ourselves and the things that we should be thankful for. We must love ourselves enough to allow ourselves give thanks and trust that we'll be able to be happy and get by with what we have.

So in order for thankfulness to be achieved, we need humility, respect, and love. Putting it simply, we're humbly thankful for those people and things that we respect and love.

Let's do our best to be thankful today for health and friends and family and martial arts and pumpkin pie1 and whatever else we can think of. My pastor said something the other day at church that really struck something in me. She said, "Have you noticed that you can't be thankful without being happy too?"

Sounds like a hint to me! Happy Thanks Giving!

1. My mom just finished baking a homemade pumpkin pie and it smells great! I love pumpkin pie, it's my favorite. I have a feeling I'm about to be even MORE thankful in a few minutes. Not sure about next week, though. I wonder if I'll still be able to do the flying side kick after this week! Haha.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ready For Anything

Today I went over to Zak's house to help him make some plans for a family retreat we're doing at our church. It was fun. His house is really quiet when the entire youth group isn't packed inside. Imagine that. Anyway, I had just eaten lunch and was kind of tired because I tend to get less sleep on Saturday nights than I do normally (I teach Sunday school and often over-prepare). Right as I was about to leave his house, Zak came up behind me and put me in a rear-naked choke. I was NOT expecting this AT ALL and it really threw me for a loop.

In short, I panicked. My mind went somewhere else. I don't even remember whether or not I successfully got out of the choke hold. I know he let me go, but I'm not sure if I was effective at all. It's like my thought-process switched off and I reflexively reacted...but I don't remember how I reacted. It was different from practicing in the dojo. At least there's some warning when you're working on choke-holds in class. This was out of the blue; completely random. And while I'm sure Zak wasn't going all-out on me, it was still unsettling.

In reality, an attacker isn't going to announce, "Okay! I'm gonna choke you now!", he's just going to do it. You have to be ready and be able to implement the techniques learned in training. You have to be able to keep a clear head and know what to do, even though it might be a fight for your life. If you panic and your mind blanks like mine did today, you may or may not be able to defend yourself. The risk isn't worth the cost. You want to know that you'll be able to use what you've learned effectively. You want to get that guy OFF of you, as soon as possible. That requires a clear head and the ability to control your fear enough to be able to think about what you're doing.

We've got to be ready for anything. You never know when being prepared will be the difference between life and death. Keeping a clear head in the face of danger and fear has probably got to be one of the most difficult things to do, but it is very, very important. It's hard to learn how to keep your mind clear when you're scared, but fortunately, the ability to do hard things is something that can be learned with training. Especially martial arts training.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Domo Arigatou

Today I have been training for exactly one year at Martial Arts Refinery. It seems fitting that it was around Thanksgiving last year that I started training again. The first class that I attended was held on a cold Monday night...and I hadn't worked out in years.

I distinctly remember that during warm-ups that day, Sensei had us say what we were thankful for while doing straddle-splits. We held that position until everyone got a chance to say what they were thankful for. I said something generic like "martial arts", although I was probably more thankful for water breaks at that particular moment.

Today, I led warm-up and we went around the room during straddle-splits saying what we were thankful for, just like last year. This time it was a much longer process, though, because our class size has increased greatly since then.

A year ago, during that first warm-up session, if you had asked me whether I thought I'd help teach at the Refinery someday, I would've laughed and said something like, "Yeah right, there's no way I'd ever be good enough to do that."

It's a testament to the quality of training that I've received from Sensei Frank and my classmates that today I cringe when I reflect on those words. The words "no way could I EVER be good enough" were once part of my vocabulary. They were once part of my thought-process. Looking back, it seems like a different lifetime where my attitude was so negative about myself and about my ability to do martial arts...but it was only a year ago. And now, just a year later, I help teach kids and adults how to do martial arts. Now I recognize that hard work and spirit will triumph infinitely over doubt, so long as you have the willingness and desire to see yourself improve and grow. Now I lead warm-ups and have something to truly be thankful for when we're holding the straddle-split position.

Now when I say that I am thankful for martial arts, it is not just a generic answer. Now it means something to me; to reflect back on who I was a year ago, when I began training, and to see how much I've improved...there's no feeling like this one. It is truly unique and is deeply satisfying.

It's a feeling I would never have been able to feel if not for Sensei's patient instruction and my classmates' willingness to help me learn. While I realize that I have improved because of MY choices, it is THEIR spirit and generous giving of time, effort, and experience that truly helped me grow this year. They push me to want to be better, every class, all the time. I bow to Sensei and my classmates every day, multiple times, to show my thanks...but I don't truly have words for how thankful I am for them. They have truly been an example of indomitable spirit to me and I'm not sure they realize how important they have been (and are) in my life.

So tonight I say thank you. I don't know who reads this blog of mine, but if you're a student at the Refinery and you've stumbled on this post, or if you're a parent, or especially if you're Sensei, my sincere thanks to you for all that you do and have done for me. You are truly amazing. It is an honor, today and every day, to train with you and I am extremely, extremely thankful for you.

Domo arigatou gozaimasu. Thank you very, very much.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Surprise Punching Bag

This is a true story!

I woke up last Friday and as I walked into the kitchen, my dad was sitting at the table, reading a book. He looked up at me, smiled, and said,
"Hey Becky, go look in the garage."
Naturally, I was suspicious. My parents don't surprise me often, so I assumed that maybe I had forgotten to clean up a mess I had made (I forget sometimes) and was now expected to do so. I stood my ground, however, and asked why I had to go into the garage.
Of course, Dad just smiled, and said,
"Go look!"
It was early and cold. I was still groggy. But when I opened the door, the morning grogginess went away immediately. Or at least quickly.

The garage was clean (that's enough to make my jaw drop, in and of itself) and in the middle of floor were a bunch of puzzle mats, a punching bag, and sparring gear. I was VERY excited about the punching bag. I had been thinking about what it would be like to have one...and then...there it was! I thought I was dreaming and said something like,

"Whoa! Oh my gosh!". It was quite an interesting situation to wake up to. It was like Christmas; like the story of the kid that wanted a cocker-spaniel more than anything and, on Christmas Day, opened the box to find the dog in there.

Okay, maybe that's a little over-dramatic; a punching bag's probably not as big of a deal as I'm making it out to be...but now I have a target to practice on at home. And I also have more of an incentive to focus on specific details and to practice longer, overall. I suppose I shouldn't really NEED incentives, but to be honest, I like having targets. Practicing in the air only gets you so far, after all.

A funny thing that happened as a result of the punching bag's appearance in our garage was the appearance of my dad's long-dormant Taekwondo experience. I somehow got it in my head that since Dad has to survive a two-on-one sparring match (for a police officer certification test), I should help teach him how to fight two people at a time, since I'm starting to get more teaching experience at the Refinery. Well, I soon found out (that very morning, in fact) that Dad doesn't need any help. In fact, he remembers everything about two-on-one sparring from his TKD years. And what's more is that he's much more experienced than I am and is in many ways much more knowledgeable. He's about twenty years out of practice, but he knows what he's doing.1

Needless to say, I felt rather silly when I gave the bag my best roundhouse kick and he said,
"What, that's all you got?".

Anyway, the appearance of this punching bag is like getting a puppy or something. My sister even started to get excited about martial arts again when she saw it. It's funny how much of a change it's causing in our household. Our garage is so full of energy now.

November is the month to give thanks. Tonight I'm thankful for punching bags.

1. I never really thought about it before, but every single one of us has studied martial arts. Mom and Dad studied together until Mom got pregnant with me. And KC, my little sister, is the main reason why I now train at the Refinery. We've all studied. I never before realized that we have that in common. I am still the most obsessed, though. Hands down.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Love My School

This is a miscellaneous entry.

I'm sure that every martial arts student who is privileged enough to train at a dojo that is well-suited for them probably feels the same way about their school as I do about mine: I wouldn't want to train anywhere else. I imagine the issue of changing dojos rarely comes up for people who are committed to training, but it very recently became a possible future event in my life.

Before I decided to change my plans for college (I was originally going to transfer to a university which is about an hour away from here) I felt really rushed in my training. I felt like I had only a very small amount of time to learn as much as I could before I had to switch to a new dojo that was located somewhere closer to where I was going to live. Thinking about that whole transition really made my head hurt...and my heart.

After you've trained somewhere for a while, you gain a certain kind of loyalty to that place and the people whom you train with. It's really hard to envision myself learning martial arts somewhere other than at the Refinery. And while I realize that I could train somewhere else if I really had to, I don't want to. I am absolutely content with my school; I wouldn't change a thing. I was prepared to drive an hour every other day to continue to train there, but being a job-less college student (and a music major, no less) was going to make that very difficult for me. It worried me a lot because I didn't want to stop training, but I didn't know where else I could train that would be...well...good enough.

I don't mean to come across like I don't think that there are good schools in San Marcos, Texas...but I'm pretty sure that my school is the best school for me, at the moment. Like I said...I don't want to train anywhere else. I love it there. I love the people I train with, I love my sensei, I love the small class-size, I love being versatile in my technique, I love teaching, I love the atmosphere...I love everything. My school has done so much for me. I can't even begin to explain how grateful I am toward the people there, even in this blog. I hope that for the time being, my loyalty is a good enough placeholder for that explanation...which I will give someday when I have words for it.

Anyway, I've changed my college plans. I decided to transfer to the local university: UTSA. Martial arts wasn't the main reason that I made the change, but I'd be silly not to admit that it WAS a reason. I'd also be silly not to admit that I'm extremely happy that I don't have to train somewhere else. Sometimes change is good, but I'm very glad that I get to avoid this one. I don't feel rushed anymore.

Maybe if every karate student felt this way about training at their school, there would be a larger number of skilled karateka in the world. Don't get me wrong: I definitely train for me. Karate is one of the only things in my life that I do simply because I love it...but I also train because I love my school and my sensei...and I know that the best way to give back to Sensei and my classmates is to give my all at everything that I learn from them.

Anyway, to sum it all up: I love my school. If given the choice to train anywhere in the world, with any teacher, in any country...I would stay right here and train and teach and learn from my sensei and the people who have helped me re-learn what it means to be a martial artist.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Teaching is hard!

I'm partially writing this post because I've had this idea in my head for a long time and haven't gotten around to writing it...and partially writing it because I'm not actually attending our last class of the day right now, like I normally do, and I miss it. I have a stomach bug, so I'm at home. I'd like to be there, but stomach problems and training don't go well together. So I figure blogging about martial arts sort of counts as training, even though it's not physical.
At any rate, it makes me feel a little bit better about missing class.

Sensei has been letting me do a lot of teaching lately. It's really fun, but is also really hard sometimes! Last Wednesday during the first class I got to teach the white belts their cat-stance and a few other things like the roundhouse kick and side-kick. I distinctly remember it being very difficult to teach cat-stance because sometimes I get my hands mixed up and I'm not one-hundred percent sure which hand goes in front and which one rests beneath the front elbow1

I've found that if you're teaching a technique, you have to be one-hundred percent sure of how to do it correctly because if you're lost, your students are going to be even more lost than you are. I've also found that it's really easy to start teaching a concept only to find that you're not getting your point across for whatever reason and then to automatically want to move on to something else. Teaching takes a lot of patience. Not only patience for your students, but also patience for yourself, as the teacher.

During the second class, I taught both the white belts and beginners how to do the inside-block, shudo combo. That was also challenging in its own way because our newest student is a middle-aged adult and the other two students in my group were young children. As a teacher, it's difficult sometimes to switch back and forth between pedagogy [Pronounced: PED-uh-go-jee]and andragogy...that is, teaching kids and teaching adults. They're very different. An adult will usually respond well to straightforward, technical, detail-oriented information while a kid will respond better to information when it's delivered in more creative ways...such as being able to relate the movements of a technique to something familiar to the child.

For example, doing a reverse-shudo is like serving a dinner on a silver plate! To do an inside-block, stick your hand in your ear and then bring it across your face. To do a rising-block, make a roof over your head with your arm. Make a windmill-motion with your hands for the Aikido side-step. Both adults and children respond well to those previous associations, but kids respond extremely well to them.

Also, you have to take into account your style of teaching versus the size of the class you have. If you're like me and you enjoy working one-on-one with people, a large class can be kind of difficult to work with. Sensei is a great example of the one-on-one teacher. He likes to make sure that he's teaching each student as thoroughly as possible and does an excellent job doing so. Questions are asked and answered frequently, demonstrations abound, and techniques aren't drilled; they're refined. That said, Sensei is also very good at teaching groups. I remember him telling me once, though, that he prefers each student to get a chance to really work on their skills with him, one-on-one. Our classes are growing large enough that this can be difficult for him by himself, so he often asks Zak and I to help him teach. Hence this post.

Anyway, bottom line is, there are a lot of details that go into teaching that someone on the outside might not notice or even think about. Here's a good one. How do you measure progress? In karate, this is often done with belts and ranks. We have a belt system at the Refinery. It works well in showing where students are at in their technique. But there are other things to measure as well. Attitude is one thing. Improvement is another. Both are part of progress, but it's hard to measure those things. Especially attitude. Not to undermine belts, because I enjoy the physical representation of my progress, but they are not all-telling. Most of the time, a blue or brown belt has developed not only skill, but attitude as well, whereas a yellow belt is still learning those things, but sometimes you find a yellow belt with incredible attitude and swift improvement. Likewise, sometimes you find a blue belt with great skill and technique, but mediocre attitude and little to no improvement.

I'm way ahead of myself, here.

Teaching can be very difficult...but it's also very fun and rewarding. Watching somebody improve and learn has to be one of the coolest things to experience. Also, as the students learn, so does their teacher. That seems to fit in really well with the whole "Martial arts is a journey" theme. We're always learning. Always improving. Even as a teacher.

1. My excuse for not knowing my cat-stance well enough to teach it was that lately we've been doing much more advanced techniques (most of them involving ground fighting) and I had forgotten the details of cat-stance, since my mind is in Jiu-Jitsu mode most of the time. Still not a good excuse. I'll practice more.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


The first time we worked on sprawling, I didn't quite understand what it meant. Sensei had us pair off and practice what seemed to me like a jumping-on-each-other drill. That isn't what sprawling is, but I remember thinking to myself, "The last time I jumped on someone, I was shorter and at least ten years younger than I am now". Needless to say, I was hesitant about learning.

Not only was I hesitant about learning, but when I finally learned what sprawling is for (keeping yourself from being thrown by dropping your weight directly on your opponent and shooting your legs out behind you to widen your base), I was hesitant to do it the right way. I didn't really want to drop my weight on my partner.What if I found out that they couldn't support me and we both ended up getting hurt? I didn't want that. The point was to stop my partner, not kill them.

I still have trouble with it sometimes. I'm doing my best to just do it, but I've gotta be the weirdest martial arts person ever. I'll do pretty much anything to keep from hurting someone, even if it's detrimental to my training. Or at least, I used to be that way. I'm growing. Learning. Figuring out that I truly can rely on my classmates and Sensei to not let me hurt them. Accidents happen, but not so frequently that I should be as worried as I often get.

Anyway, this post is about trust. Martial arts has taught me a LOT of things, but trust is one of the biggest, most important lessons that I've had the privilege to learn about and improve on. From the first lesson I took, up until now, I've had to learn how to trust people in many different circumstances. There's physical trust, such as trusting my classmates to keep their guard up so I won't hurt them and to do their best not to hurt me; to practice with me like they mean it and to be able to hold my weight when I sprawl.

There's mental trust, like trusting them to treat me well and to help me learn; to not laugh at me when I mess up or otherwise embarrass myself; to be courteous and constructive; and to expect me to do the same for them.

And there's another kind of trust that I can't quite figure out how to articulate. This is the kind of trust that a team shares; trust that others around me who are learning the same thing will understand on a deeper level than anyone else the importance of training and how it applies to life. It's the kind of trust that people share when they have a common goal.

Anyway, I've learned that it isn't easy to trust; it must be earned. And the circumstances through which it can be earned must be genuine and pure. Sprawling gives me trouble sometimes. It's hard to let go and to trust someone other than yourself. But being alone, in my experience, is much more difficult...even if it seems easier. You miss so much when you practice by yourself. There are things in martial arts that only another human can help you to understand. Without people to help you train, you severely limit yourself. You can't sprawl by yourself.

Without people in your life, you can't lean on anyone. You have to do everything by yourself. Sometimes you're successful at that, but when something comes up that you can't handle alone, you need someone to help you up off the mat. And that requires taking a hand that's being held out. That requires trust. And trust requires courage.

Fall seven times, stand up eight. But you don't have to stand up by yourself. If you can stand up with someone else, you'll be that much more sturdy and strong.

Sprawling will become easier as I learn to trust more. Perhaps all I need to practice.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Breaking Things

This is a miscellaneous entry.

Speaking of breaking things, I don't mean body don't worry! I'm talking about board-breaking. I broke my first board on Saturday at a demo. It was really exciting and it didn't hurt at all. I thought that it might, especially if I were to find out that I couldn't break it and instead ended up breaking my hand. With correctly applied force, however, I found that board breaking is (so far) not very difficult to do and is immensely satisfying and fun!

But since it was my first board-break ever, I had a moment of serious doubt about halfway through my palm-heel. There was a split second where I wondered whether my hand would go all the way through the board. I was already moving, though, so I couldn't really stop my momentum...which is a good thing because despite my short-lived doubt, my palm-heel went right through with no trouble. That moment of fear, though, was something else. I was already committed, so I knew that I wouldn't be able to stop myself before either the board broke or my hand did. And even though it was my own hand, I felt a little bit out of control, just for a second. It was kind of scary.

The reason I bring up this second of doubt is because I've been having a lot of those moments in my life, lately: just little split seconds of wondering, "Oh man...can I really do this?" and "will things really work out?". I think it's pretty normal to feel scared and doubtful in situations where you feel out of control. But being committed to pushing my hand all the way through the wood to the other side is what gave me the ability to break it. Had I stopped myself, even if I could have, I might have been injured anyway and I certainly wouldn't have been able to break the board. It's committing and pushing all the way through; seeing an idea or a situation through to completion with all your heart and strength that ultimately gets you to the goal.

And sometimes that requires a split second conquest of fear, as well.
Sometimes that requires the courage to take a risk...or a step in a new direction. Before I broke my board, Sensei told me to breathe, relax, take my time, and exhale on contact. Despite Sensei's great instructions, getting ready to hit the board was scary all the way up to the second before my hand actually made contact with the wood. Breaking the board, however, was easy. Committing was the hard part.

Courage is difficult sometimes, but when you commit; when you find it within yourself to do something even though it scares you, you'll find that your hand is that much more likely to break the board.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


A few days ago, I walked outside my house and noticed that two of the neighborhood kids were on the ground, fighting. I couldn't tell whether they were fighting for real or just for fun, because they're at that age where they like to wrestle (by the way, some of us never grow out of that age) and have just started to get into things like UFC and pro wrestling. As a matter of fact, I see more and more children wearing Tapout T-shirts every day. I look at some of those kids and think, "My gosh, you're so little. Do you even know what UFC is about?"

I don't know whether kids who watch UFC and other kinds of regularly televised martial arts are educated enough by their parents to understand that the stuff they see on TV is extremely dangerous, even when done correctly by professionals. I don't know whether their parents tell them, "Okay, this is really serious stuff and you need to respect the fact that the people on TV are professionals and have been training their bodies to be able to handle the stress of full-body contact and dangerous techniques for a very long time". They probably don't. They probably just turn the TV on and expect their kids to know better than to try it...but it's just like with anything else you show children: if you enjoy something and you make a huge deal out of it, they will naturally want to do it in order to receive your attention and praise. I'm no parent, but I was once a kid and I remember getting REALLY into airplanes because my dad was a pilot and I wanted to have something in common with him.

Anyway, my point is, parents have a responsibility to their children to ensure their safety. Where UFC is concerned, it is especially important to educate children because of how dangerous it can be. Not only that, but martial artists also have some responsibility to those people who don't recognize and respect the danger of  what we do. Knowing how to seriously hurt or even kill someone is a huge responsibility in and of itself. When people who don't know what they're doing attempt to show off the moves that we've been training for years and years to learn and refine, they are a danger to themselves and to others. So if we ever have an opportunity to properly educate those people, we kind of have an obligation to do that nobody gets hurt.

With that, I stopped the fight and found out that it really WAS for real. I made them apologize, and allowed them to get the rest of their anger out on each other under direct supervision and only AFTER teaching them how to grapple properly, without killing each other. Injury was avoided and they both thought it was awesome afterward and wanted to learn more.

The number of Tapout shirts on children will probably only increase, because UFC is popular and engaging. What we want is an increase of shirts and a decrease of ignorance. Together. At the same time. Then children can understand that professional fighting isn't just about kicking the crap out of each other; it's about practice and hard work and honor and respect for the opponent, the art form, and yourself.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Knuckle Choke

Sometimes I feel like I have nothing to write about and sometimes I can think of so many things to write about that it's just not funny. Right now is definitely one of those times; so many things happened today that I could probably write three or four entries and still not be finished! I love it when that happens. It makes me feel like I'm really studying martial arts; not just the techniques but also the stuff that reaches a deeper level.

We did more BJJ today with the knuckle choke. In the knuckle choke, you straddle your opponent while pushing your fist (which is generally a hammer-fist) into their carotid artery. At the same time, your other arm goes around their neck from the underside while you grab your occupied arm (the one pushing on the carotid) with your free hand. Then you squeeze both your arm and your fist together until they tap out...or pass out, depending on whether you're doing it in practice or in a real life situation.

I don't like choke holds. Not at all. I'm an asthmatic, so I naturally fear not being able to breathe. Also, when I was young, somebody who should never have choked me, did. It's pretty difficult for me to not panic when I'm in a choke hold because of that. I don't generally like to admit it because I love pretty much everything about martial arts and I realize that my attitude is absolutely crucial to my learning, but honestly, choke holds scare the hell out of me. All of them...especially the knuckle choke, because it's a hold that's applied when you're on your back, which just so happens to be the position that my real-life assailant choked me in.

The first time Sensei showed us the knuckle choke was last week. I wasn't expecting it to be so alike my experience; nothing else had been, up to that point. I tapped before I ran out of air because it scared me so much. It's different now, though. Earlier today when we were first working on the hold, it really freaked me out. But by the end of class, Sensei had taught me the counter to it and had given me time to practice it.

It still scared me. I was still kind of freaked out. But now that I understand the choke a little better, I don't feel as scared as I did when it was unknown. Also, I don't feel as scared about what happened in real life. It was terrifying then, since I was just a kid, but now I know that if someone tries to do that to me any time in the near future, I'll be at least moderately prepared for it. I'll probably also have somewhat of an advantage over them, provided they aren't carrying a weapon...which may well be a possibility in a real situation.

So this entry is about fear, I guess. I am really afraid of choke holds, but not for the same reasons that I'm afraid of other things in martial arts. It's a real and tangible fear that isn't caused by my ever-present habit of over-thinking things. This really happened to me and it was terrifying. But even though practicing choke holds scares me and makes me remember what happened, I realize that someday I'll have to face that fear and be able to put it aside so that I can move on with my training...and life, as well. Fear can be crippling. It can hold us back and keep us from trusting and learning. In some cases, if fear is great enough, it can destroy inner-peace and keep us from feeling happiness.

I'm starting to realize that. The defense against the guillotine choke from the side is to find a way to get flat on your back and stare your opponent in the face, so that he can't choke you out anymore. At that point, you can gain the upper-hand by thrusting your hips to off-balance him and flipping over him so that you're the one on top. Perhaps to really conquer my fear of choke holds, I have to find a way to stare them in the face and decide that they're not going to bother me anymore.

It's never fun to get choked, granted, but it doesn't have to work me up as much as it does. Because of my traumatic experience, when we work choke holds I am always reminded of what it's like to be helpless at the hands of someone that's trying to hurt me. But I've been working on various choke defenses for a year. I am no longer helpless...and I suppose I should really think about that next time I'm in a hold.

They never tell you how difficult it is to conquer fear. But they also don't mention that it's having the courage to TRY doing what seems difficult that really makes the spirit indomitable.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Close Contact

Alright, I admit it: Jiu-Jitsu is really fun. I usually identify better with fighting styles where you keep your opponent at a distance, such as Taekwondo because I don't want people near me when they're gonna hurt me. I realize, though, that sometimes close contact is unavoidable. I'd like to be able to say, "I'll knock them out from a distance before they get close enough to hurt me", but things don't always work out as expected. If a fight ends up on the ground, BJJ techniques are definitely going to benefit me more than TKD techniques will. Especially if the other person isn't clear-headed, or doesn't know anything about ground fighting.

 Something to consider, though, is whether the person attacking you is bigger or stronger than you. Generally people who are smaller than you won't try to attack you, so it's good to prepare for bigger and stronger opponents. We can't always do this, though, since practicing in the dojo is completely different from being in a situation where you have to use your techniques on someone whose intent is to hurt you however they can.

Anyway, application aside, Jiu-Jitsu is fun. We learned what 'passing the guard' is, yesterday in class. Basically, it's when your opponent's legs are locked around your body and you dig your elbows into their thighs to push them off, then after a groin strike (maybe), you use your knees to hold their arms down so that you're straddling them and now have the upper hand. After passing the guard, Sensei taught us how to get the kimura from the side. Also, he showed us how to make like you're going for the kimura and then to actually lock up the guillotine choke. It was awesome. And tiring. Also, I had to fix my uniform about six times. I asked Sensei if he'd ever seen a match where one of the fighters' pants came off. He said no. I told him, "You might today!".

Anyway, I'm still pretty hesitant about ground fighting. I usually don't like it, but it's growing on me. I can definitely see the application behind it. I'm starting to realize, though, that seeing the application isn't enough for me to truly learn something. I have to enjoy learning it to truly understand it.

I'm definitely getting there.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Spectator Sparring

This is a miscellaneous entry.

It's about 2AM and I'm on YouTube watching videos of sparring matches from different styles of martial arts. The video I'm currently watching is a montage of clips from the 2004 Taekwondo Olympic games. It's pretty crazy! These guys really know how to kick. I've never really realized how effective the axe-kick can be until now. There was this one guy who had chambered for a really strong spinning-back kick, but his opponent stopped the kick with an axe kick to his back, while he was chambered. Man, that's fast! I probably can't even fathom how fast he had to be to catch his opponent halfway through a kick like that. With an AXE kick, no less! That has to be one of the slowest kicks that doesn't require spinning.

Something I noticed about the sparring gear they're wearing is that they not only wear the chest-protectors, but they have shoulder-protectors, too. That's indicative that it's common to see a kick to the collarbone. That can be very damaging, since it only takes 4lbs of pressure to break a collarbone.
When I was little, I thought that the Taekwondo guys wore all of that gear because they were kind of wimpy, since we didn't wear much gear at all while sparring. Now I know that it's because Taekwondo kicks are so powerful and dangerous that not wearing gear could probably kill you or seriously injure you, especially if the opponents are going all-out...which it looks like they are in this match!

I watched a video of Shaolin monks sparring, as well. Actually, I watched a couple of videos. Nothing on Taekwondo, but I know what a TKD sparring match looks like. Shaolin Kung Fu is a different story. The speed at which they were hitting each other was ridiculous. Rather than focusing on power, it seems that speed is a really big thing with Shaolin Kung Fu. Speed and stances! They must practice footwork for years and years! I noticed that one of the guys used low dragon stance to offset his opponent's center of gravity. It was so fast, though, that if I hadn't been looking for it, I would never have known that he was doing a version of low dragon. Also, I was absolutely astounded by one guy's ability to take five (5) (FIVE) groin kicks without flinching or falling over. In fact, he took the kicks and then retaliated with a flying side kick. What?! I don't think I'd be able to stand after that. And I'm a girl.

Let's see...I also watched some Sanda, which is Chinese kickboxing. It looked like the exact opposite of Shaolin Kung Fu, although some people have told me that Sanda is just a part of Kung Fu. I don't know...this looked more like Wushu than Kung Fu. It definitely didn't resemble boxing. Lots of kicking and sweeping! They also did some pretty cool throws that reminded me of wrestling. It had a kind of 'anything goes' atmosphere to it, but not as much as UFC. It was kind of like UFC without Jujitsu...if you can imagine that.
Maybe that's a very American way of looking at it. The Sanda video was definitely one of my favorite I've seen tonight. It made me really want to work on my sweeps. I don't usually think about sweeps as an option when I'm sparring, but these guys really know how to make them count.

Of course, Judo is Judo. I'm watching a match between Kim Jaebum and Sergei Shundikov from Beijing 2008. Again I am dumbfounded by the speed at which these guys move. Hmm...I see a recurring theme in sparring, here. Speed is good. I'm also starting to notice how Sensei's different martial arts styles play different roles in his repertoire. He definitely uses a Judo-like stance when sparring. Anyway, I see why they keep their center of gravity lower than other styles of martial arts. It's harder to throw someone when they drop their weight. Also, I'm watching these guys use their hands to distract each other rather than to strike. Jaebum really likes to do this. He'll throw in a few fake grabs, but they're really just to redirect Shundikov's attention away from...his legs, while Jaebum goes in with what looks like a scissor-leg variation and takes him to the ground. Nice. It worked.

Another lesson learned about sparring: redirect your opponent's attention to some other thing that you're doing before you strike with the REAL attack. That way he doesn't see it coming. Sensei tells us to do this all the time, but it's a different thing seeing it being applied to a real match.

One more thing about Judo: these guys must have seriously strong fingers to be able to grab each other like that. Shundikov has more than one finger taped up on both of his hands. I jammed my finger today (again) while working Escrima with Zach. I wonder if Shundikov's fingers feel like mine did. He must have some serious pain tolerance.

Last one. I just watched an Aikido guy completely destroy a Judo guy. I think it was a demonstration, so I guess it's really not as valid as the other videos, but I really like Aikido. I like Judo, too, so I was really excited for this video. It was short. The Judo guy kept trying to grab the Aikido guy, but he would end up in some submissive lock or throw. It must've been like an Aikido nightmare where everything you did just ended up being used against you. Any time the Judo guy came near him, he was out of the way and his opponent was somewhere on the ground, somewhat far away from him. The only thing you could hear was the sound of the Judo guy hitting the floor. Man.

Anyway,  I think you can learn a lot about sparring by watching other people do it. Also, it's good to take into consideration the style of the person you're sparring. For example, I don't think I'd want to spar a Judo guy because I don't know a lot about Judo. I don't want to spar an Aikido guy because that would frustrate me to no end. I don't want to spar a Shaolin monk because I'm not fast enough...

But if I don't spar any of these people, I'll never learn. So while it's good to watch other people spar, it's also good to spar, yourself...Although I don't think there's anybody who wants to spar me right now, as it is now 3AM and pretty much every sane person I know is I'll just watch videos until I can resume practice!

Or sleep. That sounds better.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


One more about staff and I promise I'll write about something else in the next post.

This one isn't really about staff, actually, it's about water. It just poured rain on us, here in Helotes and I thought, "Wow, this would be a really cool time to practice staff". I couldn't resist. We don't get a lot of rain and usually my staff practice sessions are hot and sticky, so the cool rain was a nice reprieve from the usual humid mugginess.

It was a good workout. The rain seemed to give me more energy than I normally have while practicing. I could feel the power of the storm and it gave me power, somehow, to watch the streets fill with running water and hear the thunder off in the distance. There's just something about water. I couldn't put my finger on it. At first I thought it was the steady consistency of the storm that made it powerful, but then I remembered that rain can also be very sporadic and unpredictable. Then I thought, "Well, it's pouring, so maybe it's the hard way in which rain asserts itself that makes it so powerful", and then I remembered that it can rain lightly, too.

Then I realized that it's really the changeability of rain that makes it powerful.

I've noticed that in many martial arts movies (and I guess martial arts culture, in general) there tends to be a lot of allusion to water. You've seen the movies where the masters meditate beneath waterfalls and if you're somewhat well-versed, you've probably read or heard someone talk about Bruce Lee's "be like water" quote.

If not, here's the quote:
"Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless- like water. Now you put your water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put your water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."
 -Bruce Lee
 Water is strong. It can take any shape. It can be powerful and gentle. It can be both calming and frightening. It can be unforgiving and destructive, but it can also be healing and cleansing. If you touch it, it moves around your hand, adapting to the change. And when you take your hand away, it moves back into position so that no trace of your hand is left there.

Bruce Lee was onto something, here. Martial arts is like water. It is strong. It can take any shape. The techniques are powerful but the spirit is gentle. It is calming on the inside but can be frightening on the outside. Martial arts techniques can be dangerous and destructive if the need arises for them to be used, but the process by which we train and learn is healing and cleansing of the spirit.

Martial arts students can be like water, too. Adaptability is what makes you strong; the willingness to learn new things and to flow, perhaps even in a direction that you weren't expecting. Life is full of those. Standing rigid will knock you down; resisting a throw can injure you. Flow with the situation, adapt, and decide where to go from there.

Be like water.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sensei said

On Wednesday, I had some trouble focusing in class. I'm not sure what was the matter with me; perhaps it was just an off day. I don't have many of those, so I suppose I might have been due for one. Anyway, for whatever reason I was having trouble staying on task...and I couldn't shake it off.

This went on until the end of the first class, which is the class that I usually help Sensei teach because of its size. Afterward, I felt like I was more in the zone. I was sure that I was ready for the 6:30 class.

Well, 6:30 had a lot more people in it than 5:30 did. It kind of threw me for a loop because usually 5:30 is the larger class. Not only were there more people, but there were two complete beginners that required my full attention during striking practice and one slightly more advanced student that I could tell REALLY didn't want to be there.

It was very difficult to get said student to cooperate with me, and since he was working with one of the new students, they kind of fed off of each other and ended up getting very off-task. If I wasn't watching them constantly, they would trip each other and play around, like children do. It could've been dangerous to the other students. I told them this, but they only obeyed when I was watching.

Eventually, I had to help two other students who were having notable trouble with what we were teaching (osoto gari), and leave the other two alone. I hadn't been watching these students because Sensei had been working with them and I had been working with mine. When Sensei moved on to help another pair, I noticed that the older student, whom I could tell also didn't really want to be there, was being unnecessarily rough with the younger one. When I went over and told him to be a little more gentle, he said,

"But Sensei said this is how we're supposed to do it." And then he shoved his hand into the other student's face. I could tell that the younger student didn't know what to do to block the motion, so I told him to put his hand in front of his face so that the older student wouldn't hurt him, but the older student kept on doing it, before the younger student could protect himself.

Again I told him to be gentle and not hurt his partner. I even gave him an alternative. You don't have to push your opponent's face when you're doing osoto gari. You can push their shoulder instead and still sweep them all the same. I suggested this to him and he got very distressed and said,
"But Sensei said this is how you're supposed to do it! And I want to do it how Sensei showed me!"

I didn't know what to do because I'm not Sensei, I'm Becky. When it comes down to it, I'm only a senior student. Sensei has the final say in all techniques and situations. It kind of really hurt me when my classmate wouldn't listen to me because I'm not Sensei, but I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me. He was frustrated and didn't want to be in class, so that didn't help matters, but even so, he should've been more careful and respectful of his classmate.

Since I didn't know what to do, I asked Sensei to work with them and went back to work with my other younger classmates. I'd never been confronted with a situation like that before, where my friend wouldn't listen to me. It upset me, obviously, or I wouldn't be writing about it. It was just an off-day.

Anyway, I think I did the right thing asking Sensei to work with them. I was starting to become frustrated and when that happens, I'm at risk for saying things that are counterproductive and mean. As a senior student, I want to help the little ones, so I want to encourage and build them up as much as I can. It was just an off day, I guess.

I'm sure things will go back to being fine by the next class.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Staff and Perfectionism

I've been practicing my bo shodan kata a lot recently. I really enjoy learning staff; it has always been my first weapon choice (now don't laugh at me!) while playing various video games and occasionally when practicing on my friends as a kid. There's something about keeping my opponent at a distance that really satisfies me. You don't have to touch me. Don't even come near me. If you do, you'll feel a sharp pain in your head before eating the dirt. Treat your concussion with rest and relaxation. Ice it...and leave me alone with my stick.

Anyway, this kata is starting to really bring out the perfectionist tendencies in me, which is probably a good thing. Sensei videotaped me and Zach practicing the kata and it's really easy to see where I need work. Upon seeing the video, I found myself feeling very critical, rather than particularly excited about my progress. My stances really need work. I look off-balance. My strikes aren't clean. It kind of looks like I'm just swinging a stick around. Perhaps the staff is still too heavy for me. More push-ups maybe? Also, something that I didn't think about much: I'm not looking where I'm going! My kata looks like a string of memorized movements, not an actual potential fighting sequence.

Despite all of these things, I don't feel discouraged. I know that I have a lot to improve on, but I'm confident enough in my persistence, if nothing else, to not feel worried. Maybe I'm learning the difference between perfectionism and having high expectations.

I think one of the key differences is that when you have high expectations, you actually expect yourself to perform well, hence 'expectations'. When you're a perfectionist, you need everything to be perfect and when it's not, you feel really down about yourself. Perhaps subconsciously you don't even expect yourself to truly succeed.

I think there is a point where you have to say, "it's good enough". I'm not saying that we should settle for less than what we're capable of. Only that we should know our limitations and respect them.
You never 'get there' in martial arts. You never reach perfection; you can only refine.

But that doesn't mean you can't get close!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

All of life's a staff kata

It's midnight and I should really head to bed so that when I have to wake up tomorrow morning at 6:30, I'll be well-rested...but something inside of me just needs to move. I am wide awake and itching to do something, so, by default, I've decided to work my staff kata.

There are a lot of things that I need to work on; correct stances, hesitation, looking, and even posture. My balance is off on some moves and I face the wrong direction sometimes. But the most challenging thing for me is to center myself and to not over-think things. I tend to panic when I get lost or hesitate because, just like with music, the form is supposed to be smooth and flowing. Hesitation interrupts the flow of energy and momentum...and freaks me out!

It flows until I start to second-guess myself. It's almost like driving; I get behind the wheel, turn on the music, and then suddenly I'm pulling into my driveway at home! I bow to begin the kata, and then suddenly I'm stuck at the one move where my footwork gets messed up. I fix that, but by then I've stopped and it doesn't feel right to resume from there, so I start over...I bow, and then suddenly I'm stuck at the next move that I have trouble with. I adjust that and then I start over again...and the whole process repeats itself until I finish one rep without stopping in the middle to fix things.

Over-thinking. I do it so often. I want my kata to be perfect right now and I get so caught up in that mentality that I don't regularly practice the form without stopping to correct something. I realize now that it won't be smooth unless I practice being smooth, which means continuing the flow of energy, even if I'm unsure of whether the move is correct.

Life, I think, works this way, too. It has a natural flow; there are things that we do by instinct. Things like laughing. Crying. Feeling emotions. Loving people. Reacting to situations. We do all of these things without having to think too much...but it's easy to over-think all of them and to complicate the flow. I think this happens when the flow scares us; when the imperfections show and we want to constantly correct ourselves.

We often say, "Don't think this" or "Don't feel that". We often feel threatened by things that are natural and normal...because life tells us what we should be. How we should think. Social norms tell us what we should feel and how we should react...and we feel threatened when we suddenly feel the opposite of those things.

Maybe we should practice flowing more, regardless. Even when we're unsure.
Perhaps especially when we're unsure.

Monday, August 23, 2010

'Ouch' is not a Judo term

If you've studied martial arts at some point in your life, you're probably somewhat familiar with the anecdote that I've titled this entry after. I think that 'Ouch' (as I will now say in reference to the above phrase) is mostly used to try to explain part of having indomitable spirit to students; when you're knocked down, get back up as soon as you can. Martial arts hurts sometimes, and to have indomitable spirit is to push through the pain because even though it hurts, it will eventually make you stronger. I think that this is a good thing to teach, because with it come the lessons of determination, commitment, and patience, along with the perseverance of getting back up time and time again.

But if there's a student in the class like me, who tends to take things a little bit too seriously at times, bad things can happen with this phrase. Although they are usually said with humor, I must admit that I tend to take phrases like 'Ouch' a little too much to heart.

On more than one occasion, I've used 'Ouch' as an excuse to keep going when I've been injured. I suppose some people like to keep going when they're clearly hurt because it gives them an ego boost, but that's not really why I tend to want to continue as normal when it happens to me. The reason I keep going is because I don't want to quit having fun. I love martial arts. I love training. I love almost every part of it (even push-ups and straddle-splits, on occasion). Sitting out  for me is almost like being the one sibling who has to sit in timeout in the car while the rest of the family enjoys the carnival.

But today my sensei said something very wise.
I had accidentally kicked a fellow student too hard in the thigh, triggering a charlie horse, and he (wisely) took a few minutes to rest. Something similar happened to me, later on, as my foot (which I'd injured over the weekend) started to really hurt when I put weight on it. I however, unlike my wise 9-year-old friend, did not take a break.

At the end of class, I received a bit of a reprimand for not taking care of myself when my foot started hurting. Sensei said that it's usually good to keep going, but sometimes when we get injured, it's not easy to just get up like nothing happened. He said, "Sometimes it's a good idea to get the hurt out, and then get back up. I don't want you to push through it and not rest, thinking you'll be fine if you just ignore it. Get the hurt out first and really make sure that you're okay before you continue training. We don't want a little problem to turn into a big one."

Very wise words. I needed to hear them.

It's so easy to get caught up in the 'I'm-a-martial artist-and-I-have-indomitable-spirit-and-therefore-I-am-invincible' mentality. Nobody is invincible; it's really easy to get seriously injured while training. Being careful is important; more important than being the most 'advanced' student; more important than being 'tough'; more important than having fun, even. After all, if you seriously injure yourself while training, you have to stop training! That would be like an endless time-out session for me. Not desirable at all.

But my favorite thing that Sensei said was, 'Get the hurt out, first'. It sometimes seems like (in martial arts and in life) we're pressured to hide our pain; to keep fighting; to continue to 'push through' serious pain by ignoring it or pushing it away altogether. We say, "Well, maybe if I pretend it's not there, it won't be. And then I can get on with more important things like training and being happy and having fun."

That's just like ignoring a broken arm. Or a foot injury. If I 'push through it' and keep fighting without stopping to assess the damage, my small problem can quickly turn into something serious that could put me out for months, maybe. I now have to deal with a big problem that could've been avoided if I'd simply listened to and respected my body (or mind) in the first place.
Tonight was another night for learning. There seem to be a few lessons that keep popping up during my training. They are:
  • Tap when it hurts (or, know when to stop before you're seriously injured)
  • Don't take things too seriously
  • Take care of yourself (specifically, don't ignore a problem and expect it to just go away. Acknowledge it and react appropriately)

All three are important lessons that can be applied to pretty much anything in most lessons learned on the mat.
I'm gonna close out this entry a little bit differently than usual. I found a video called, "The Top 10 Worst Freak Injuries in MMA". In some of the footage shown here, the fighters continued fighting through their injuries, but all of the matches were called off as soon as a medical problem was identified.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Waterfall meditation...or not.

Today I'm writing from Bear Flats, Arizona; a quiet place which is just a few miles away from Tonto Village. If you're not familiar with the surroundings of Arizona, you're in good company, but it's about ten miles away from Payson and about two hours away from Phoenix, up in the mountains. I think my grandpa said that we're up about four-thousand feet, and believe me, I can tell. It's a hundred-thirteen degrees in Phoenix. Guess how hot it is up here? Eighty-three, maybe. Low fifties at night.

Anyway, Bear Flats is a beautiful place. It's very quiet and time seems to move slowly, here. There's a creek that runs throughout the community called Tonto Creek, which has a wonderful fishing selection of trout and other kinds of fish that I don't know the names of (I'm not a huge angler, but we're going to go fishing tonight and I'm very excited).

I've been trying to get some practice time in while I'm here, because missing class doesn't suit me well. So, after about an hour of staff work and striking practice, I decided that it might be fun to go down to Tonto Creek (which is pretty much in the backyard) and sit on the rocks for a while and meditate.
Well...that didn't go as planned.
I fell in.

It was wonderful.

What does that have to do with karate? Well, I found out that I'm not very good at meditating...nor balancing on slippery surfaces, apparently. My staff also fell in, so I had to go chasing after that. It was definitely not what I had planned on happening!

I went to the creek with the intention of clearing my mind and instead, I got excited and wet.
Sometimes things don't work out like we expect them to. But just because my original plan didn't work doesn't mean that the new plan wasn't really, really fun...and to some extent, really helpful to my mental health.

I tend to get so serious when I'm training. Before today, I might have called such a scenario a training failure. I might have said that I was unfocused and unprepared and non-productive and off-center...and I wouldn't necessarily be wrong!

But maybe just plain old having fun can be part of training, too.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hitting the target

This is my second entry today, because I'm going to be on vacation next week and there's something that I discovered a few weeks back that I told myself I would write about in this blog. I'm worried that if I put it off any longer, I won't be able to write as effectively about it because I'll have forgotten the details. So...thus begins entry number two.

Anyone who's been studying martial arts knows that precision and control are key components to executing a technique effectively. Granted, you can't expect to land a good blow if you're focusing only on control and not putting any power behind it, but most people can agree that the hours spent striking targets and body shields in class pay off tremendously in the long run, right?

I like targets. I always (I kind of hate to admit this) want to try harder when there's something to hit. It's fun to do techniques in the air, but at some point it's good to know that you can also hit something that's in front of you. I also really like targets because they give me an idea of how I can improve my striking; what details am I missing? What can I do to make that technique more effective? But most of all, I like them because they don't change or do anything unpredictable. The body shield is always going to be right in front of you and it's not going to move or go anywhere unless you make it happen.

Besides...there's a feeling of satisfaction that I get when I know that I landed a solid strike, right in the middle of the target; right where I wanted that strike to be.

On the other hand, targets can also make things challenging; particularly when you don't land a good hit. Right before my green belt test, I was a little bit nervous about my spinning hook kick, so Zach helped me practice by holding the target for me. I already mentioned in the last entry that my left foot needs work, and since the belt test was about a month and a half ago, the spinning hook was no exception. I landed some good kicks with my right foot, but when that left foot was in the air, I missed...and missed again...and I just couldn't hit that target! We actually stopped for a minute because I was so frustrated with myself for not being able to hit it. I thought that it was nerves that were keeping me from being able to land the kick, but after a few minutes, I realized that I was focusing too hard on hitting the target.

It's hard to do anything when you're thinking too hard about it. So I started again, thinking that if I focused on not focusing on the target, I would eventually hit. Well...that didn't work either, so I got frustrated again and chambered for one more try, no longer caring whether I hit the target or not and...I hit it.

Man, that really surprised me. How was it that the one time I didn't care whether I hit or not, I actually landed a good kick? So I tried again, using the same approach, and landed another good kick. What was up with that? How was it that when I cared and I focused and I tried hard, it messed me up? Wasn't caring supposed to help me?

I think that it's possible to care too much about something and when that happens, you can actually prevent yourself from doing what you need to do to reach success. All that I was thinking about was hitting that target. That's all that I wanted. But while I was focused on precision, I wasn't focusing on technique or speed or power. I just wanted to hit the dang thing. When I let that go and just stopped worrying about it, my mind was clear and my body did what it was supposed to do.

That situation showed me how much influence your mind really has over your body. Hitting the target was really important to me; I wanted to make sure that I was kicking high and far enough to be effective...but I cared so much that I was actually holding myself back.

Having a clear mind is crucial to executing a technique well. Over-thinking doesn't help at all. Perhaps we can train ourselves to not think too much and to just do what needs to be done. Not for every situation, mind you, because many times circumstances in life call for a great deal of introspection. When it comes to martial arts, however, hitting the target is important...but it's not THAT important.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Right foot forward

Today, I realized that my left foot needs a lot of work. We were doing spinning-back-kicks and I was pretty solid on my right foot, which is the one that we began with, but as soon as we switched stance, it was almost like I didn't know what to do with my body.

Generally, in a spinning-back-kick, you place you front foot directly in front of your back foot, pivot on the balls of your feet until you're in a backwards-facing forward stance, chamber (which is what it's called when you bring your knee up in front of you, in order to generate power and give your kick 'push'), look over your shoulder, and shoot your foot out behind you, into your target, striking with your heel. It's a very powerful kick, and, as Sensei said today, it's not really a spinning-kick, so you don't need a whole lot of rotation to get a good, solid hit.

Anyway, I was doing fine when we were working the right foot, but as soon as we switched, it felt foreign and strange and I started to over-think what I was doing. Sometimes, our minds can be our worst enemy. I've found that if you don't have your mind on your side, it's very unlikely that your body will do the things that you want it to do. I had to stop and center myself before I could continue, and once I recognized that my thoughts were causing me to be unable to execute the move, I was able to fix it and get back in the swing of things.

There are a few reasons why it was so difficult for me to do the spinning-back-kick, left-footed. One of those reasons is the age-old excuse that I'm right-footed, so naturally, my left foot is my weaker side and requires more thought and work to train. I heard a saying once that says, "Train your non-dominant side twice as hard, so that you can make up for the lack of coordination." It's hard to do that, sometimes, because it's discouraging to see what your kick CAN look like, having been executed from your dominant side, and then switching to your non-dominant side and seeing how much work you really need.

It's also hard to do that because at any time that we're put into a situation where we have to react in a way that we're not used to, it's extremely uncomfortable. Not only that, but we take for granted the more familiar way of doing things and therefore often don't prepare for a situation where we might not have the luxury of doing the familiar thing. We get into a way of thinking that says, "I shouldn't ever have to use such a technique" or "I shouldn't have to worry about what it's like to not be able to use my right foot, so there's no reason to focus much on the other side".

There are any number of situations that could disable a right foot. My left foot shouldn't be something to fall back on (no pun intended). I need to train both of my feet so that either one could deliver the blow that I might need to save my life or the life of someone I love.

As for the other side of the equation...sometimes no amount of preparation can keep your mind on your side. At the point where we've become discouraged with ourselves, there begins a cycle of doubt, frustration, and general negativity. The best thing to do, I think, is to step away from the situation for a moment, recognize that you're frustrated, realize that your mind is holding you back, and try to get it to work with you. It's easy to be discouraged. It's hard to give yourself encouragement in spite of that fact.

So, at this point, I'm gonna start practicing from right-bow-stance. Put my left foot forward, instead of my right. Eventually, whichever foot is forward will be my best foot forward.

Martial arts is swiftly going to make me better by forcing me to do the hard things. I can live with that.
(And  someday, I might live because of that!)

Friday, June 18, 2010


I found this funny video game on the internet called "Osu!". Basically, it's like Dance Dance Revolution, or Guitar Hero, but instead of using a guitar or a dance mat, you score points by clikcing your mouse. If you're not familiar with DDR or Guitar Hero, allow me to explain a little bit. 'Osu!' is a scroll-based interactive video game that incorporates music, rhythm, and mouse-clicking. Perhaps that's not a good enough explanation, but the game isn't the point, it's the TITLE that got me.

Being somewhat familiar with Japanese culture and language, I've encountered the word "osu!" many times...but for some reason, I never thought to research its meaning. Whenever 'osu!' is used, it's usually a short, loud cry that suggests something positive, kind of like the Army's 'Hooah'. I just assumed that 'osu!' was some sort of agreement...and then I said it out loud a few times and realized that it sounds a lot like sensei's "ICE!" kiai. And then I thought, "Wait a minute...'osu!' kind of IS a kiai..."

So, with interest, I typed 'the meaning of osu!' in the Google search box and, low and behold, the first webpage that I found was a page for Kyokushin karate explaining what 'osu!' karate terms. Needless to say, my interest-meter went up about thirty notches. Here's what I found out.

Apparently 'osu!' is more than a kiai. Much more. The website's author first explains the practical uses of 'osu!' while in class:

[" Kyokushin, every single question is answered with 'osu'. Every greeting is osu...when performing basics in class, every technique is often accompanied by a loud 'osu!'. When practicing free sparring and your opponent lands a good, solid technique, you say 'osu' to acknowledge their skill. As a measure of respect, knockdown fighters at a tournament bow and say 'osu' to the front, to the refferee, and to each other, before and after the fight..."]
So, 'osu!' is used in greeting and in parting, in reverence and encouragement, as a kiai, as a way of saying, "I understand", and in every positive demonstration of the indomitable spirit. Wow. That's a lot of meaning to place on one word!

And if that weren't enough, the writer goes on to explain the spiritual meaning of 'osu!', of which I will paraphrase in order to keep from quoting the entire webpage.

Basically, 'Osu!' is THE word to represent and explain, in very short terms, every facet of the indomitable spirit. The word itself is made up of the Japanese words 'oshi', which means 'push' and 'shinobu', which means 'endure'. According to the writer, 'osu' means, ["...patience, determination, appreciation, respect, and perseverance."].

'Osu' means pushing through the pain. It means giving everything you have, and then giving just a little bit more. It means bettering yourself by searching for the deeper meaning of martial arts; in matters of both technique and spirit. It means finding the courage to get back up after you've been thrown, and finding the courage to land a good hit in sparring instead of running away.

My sister once asked me, "Gosh, Becky! Is everything about martial arts?!" I told her that no, not everything is about martial arts...but martial arts is about everything. 'Osu' is too, I think.

If you really look hard, you will find that any lesson which can be learned, can be learned on the mat. Of course, that's a very in-your-face and straightforward way of learning, but while a good reverse-punch is thrown with strength and power, it is equally thrown with control and grace. It's powerful but gentle at the same time.

'Osu' means that the phrase, "Perhaps I will get there someday..." becomes, "I will get there in time." The words, "I can't" become "I will".

'Osu' is martial arts. It is a one-word description of everything that martial arts is.
Finding my inner "osu" will definitely be a journey.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Martial Arts Refinery

I think that an interesting way to look at martial arts would be to think of it as a teacher. I once read a book that talked about personal 'master teachers', which were described as more esoteric and intangible things, such as emotions, id, and ego, but seriously, if you think about it, martial arts can also be thought of as a teacher.

Every time I step on the mat, I learn something. First I learn the obvious things that everybody else can see, such as kicks, throws, kata, and whatnot, but I also always learn something about myself, as well. Not everybody can see what I learn about myself, but I can see it, and I make it a priority to take those lessons and apply them to my life.

There's something about my martial arts journey, though, that I find sort of amusing, and that's my semi-obsessive want to know for sure that I've become a martial artist and not someone who just does martial arts. It's funny because I have this nagging feeling that, like with music, there is never a given point where one becomes a martial artist.

But see, that's not because martial arts doesn't change you. The name of our school is 'Martial Arts Refinery' and I used to think that the reason it's called 'Refinery' is because, as a martial artist, you are constantly refining your technique. There is no set destination; there is always something to learn and improve.

It's interesting that now I'm discovering that it's the other way around; martial arts refines you, too. It's an interesting relationship, though, because martial arts only teaches you what you want to know. Yes, it shows you everything about yourself; there are no secrets...but it never forces. Never pushes. You are the one who pushes. And why do you push? Because after a while, you realize that not pushing wouldn't be fair to yourself. That by not pushing, you are holding yourself back. Stunting your growth. It took me about five minutes to learn that on the mat, but it's taken me eighteen years to learn to start applying it to situations in my own life.

Anyway, I rambled. The reason that my semi-obsession with wanting to know when I've officially become a martial artist is funny is because it's an endless uphill climb. I find myself saying, "Okay, I got ___ belt, I must be a martial artist now!" and then something great happens and I learn something really great, that tops that achievement and I say, "Never mind, that doesn't make me a martial artist, this does." It's a great and wonderful up-cycle that, I think, never ends. Because the learning never ends. I will always learn something new and then I'll be forced to say it again: "Okay, now I'm a martial artist..."

It's as if I'll never be a martial artist, but I will always be one, at the same time.

Also, martial arts doesn't ask anything in return. There's nothing for it to gain from my learning, but there is infinite wisdom for me to gain through learning, refining, and being refined by it.

Anyway, I'm really glad that I'm doing it. Even if it scares me sometimes with its honesty and straightforwardness. Even when I have to say, 'next time, I'll be better'. The fact that I can say that at all is a teaching victory in and of itself.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sparring and the art of not running away

Sparring is hard.

Yep. That's it; that's the whole entry. I'm done.
Nah, just kidding. But really, I've learned that sparring doesn't just come naturally; unless you're practiced in it (like with most things), you'll find yourself getting hit a lot. Unfortunately getting hit a lot is something that I try to avoid, naturally. 

Of course, with sparring, pain is unavoidable. Which I don't like.
The only way to practice sparring is to get hit a lot. For someone like me, who is...well...not a big fan of pain, this creates a high-threat situation. In short, it freaks me out and I want to run away!
So basically, I'm a martial arts enthusiast that likes everything except...fighting.

But anyway, sparring is also hard because when you're in the moment, it's very easy for your mind to go completely blank. Conversely, it's also possible to have a complete overload of options where you're overwhelmed into inaction...and then you get hit. I think this is why repetition and refinement of a few choice techniques is extremely important.

While I was waiting to spar with Zach today, I was thinking about how I could set up an axe kick and completely surprise him, but my first priority is to not get hit. Of course, that itself is a recipe for inaction and...well, I lost that match, but my point is, I didn't do the axe kick because it was easier to do a front kick. Why? Not because I don't know how to do an axe kick; not because it was physically easier to do a front kick in that position, but because my mind went directly to the kick that I knew would deliver the results that I wanted. Axe kicks are flashy and are also very effective if done at the right moment, but there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that the front kick would've landed and scored me a point.

The axe kick might have given me the element of surprise, but I wasn't thinking about that. My mind went straight to whatever was at the front of my 'bag of tricks', as Sensei calls it. I suppose we could chalk that up to being in the moment, because when you get the adrenaline rush and your brain goes into overdrive, in any situation, thinking clearly is a very hard thing to do. There's hardly any time to think, "Okay, well this kick would be better than this kick in this situation" if the other guy is about to hit you. You're going to do the reflexive thing, and for me, that was the front kick and NOT the axe kick...Even though the axe kick might have been a better choice.

So, the reason that this entry is called "Sparring and the art of not running away" is because the first thing at the top of my list, at the moment, is to not get hit under any circumstance. This, I've found, is a recipe for disaster and I'm trying to change it. Or perhaps I'm not trying to change it, but I'm trying to think of ways to work around it. Changing instinct is extremely hard. Nobody wants to get hurt, no matter what they've trained themselves to do. It's the 'training yourself' thing that I'm struggling with.

I don't have to like getting hit, but I can teach myself to think away from instinct. Perhaps what I need to do is to practice applying the axe kick to more situations. Maybe I need to practice my crescent kicks and my hook kicks as often as I practice my front kicks. I need to find a way to make those other kicks reflexive. And maybe I need to practice getting hit so that I can better recognize the difference between a threatening and a non-threatening situation.

Truthfully, at this point, I'd rather run away from a sparring match than actually make a move. I'd rather block everything, time-out, and have nobody score...but that's unrealistic and it defeats the purpose of sparring, which is to practice applying what you know.
And since getting hit is unavoidable, I suppose there's no point in being hesitant.

But anyway, martial arts is teaching me a lot about courage. And about learning how to think away from instinct. Every time I practice sparring, I learn something. It's win-win, even when I get hit. That doesn't make getting hit feel any better, but at least I know that there's always something to gain from it.

I suppose it's all a matter of perspective.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Go green or die trying!

Today was definitely a day for learning experiences. I'm usually sore from karate, but this time I'm a different kind of sore.
We had our belt test today and I didn't make it to green belt.

I can't pretend that I didn't consider the possibility that I might not make it, since I've been sick for the past five days and am definitely not at my best...but when it actually happened, it was a different thing. It was like the difference between back-falling on purpose and having to actually back-fall. I really thought that I'd be able to pull through! I guess I should've known that it would be too much when I started getting winded from practicing the high-dragon stance. That should've been a red flag. It's just a stance.

Anyway, I learned two things today. First, I learned that my health is the most important thing. I got so into it; I wanted that green belt so much that if Sensei hadn't stopped my test halfway through, I probably would've passed out. I might have even had an asthma attack and ended up in the hospital. I let my emotions get in the way of my better judgment and it could've had some serious consequences if Sensei hadn't intervened. 

It was irresponsible of me to put myself in that kind of danger over a belt test. I need to be able to trust myself to stop if it's too much for my body to handle. There's a difference between pushing yourself and being stupid and I was stupid tonight.

Besides, if I die from training, I can't train anymore! And I don't ever want to stop.

The second thing I learned today is that I am not invincible. Emotionally. That is, I was very disappointed when Sensei told me that he was going to stop my test. It's not a good idea to get upset when you can't breathe, because it just makes everything worse. I was a little bit worried that if I started crying, I'd stop breathing. So I didn't cry. And that's okay, because a few minutes later, I got over the initial frustration and I was alright..

Anyway, I'm a little bruised from this; a little bit disappointed...but it's nothing I can't handle.
After's just a belt. Just a different color.

Nothing to get myself put in the hospital over!

Thursday, April 8, 2010


This might sound kind of obvious and pointless to say, but it's really important to breathe. When we stretch, we breathe a certain way. When we kiai, it's a loud expulsion of breath. When we've been doing a lot of kicks and we start getting winded, Sensei often has us take a few seconds to just breathe.

I think it's important to take time out to breathe in real life, too. It's really easy to get wrapped up in school, work, and the other kinds of stress that occupy our daily lives. Sometimes we forget to breathe.
It's so easy to just forget. Breathing is automatic; most of us don't have to think about it. We just do it. And we only take time out to focus on breathing when we think we really, really need it.

After all, why should I just sit here and breathe while I could be getting something accomplished? I can multi-task, after all. Isn't it just a waste of time?

A few months ago I might've answered that question 'yes', but I've learned that the opposite is true. It's not a waste of time; breathing is a way to help us reboot or reconnect with what's going on in our bodies and minds. Sometimes it's easy to forget where and who we are...taking a second to breathe really helps with that. We, as humans, seem to feel the need to always go, go, go. I know that I like to be at the top of my game, three steps ahead of the last "ICE!". I like to DO stuff on the mat, and I like to do it with enthusiasm and excitement.

But even so, it's immensely important to stop and catch your breath so that you don't get hurt.

My dad once told me that, "If you're not breathing, nothing else matters."

He's an EMT, so he would say that...