Friday, February 26, 2010

Tap when it hurts

Man, today was painful!

We did Aikido today. Usually I'm like, "Woo hoo, Aikido! I love Aikido!" because I enjoy arm-bars and wristlocks and submission. I dunno; maybe I'm crazy, but I usually get very excited when we learn Aikido stuff. But like with anything else, after doing the figure-four-arm-bar-elbow-pit-reversal-submission-death-throw ('FFABEPRSDT' for short) twenty times on each arm, I was beginning to hate life a little bit!

The move (which is actually just called 'Figure Four') starts out with an attacker throwing a punch at you. You're supposed to sidestep out of the way while giving them an arm-bar, then very quickly, you twist their arm up into a shoulder-lock and simply walk forward until they lose their balance and fall down.

Maybe I'm just a big complainer, but after we were finished with class, I could actually feel my joints throbbing and aching. Tomorrow I'm going to have to do a lot of stretching to make up for today.

I don't think I would've had such a problem if I had tapped out before Zach, my classmate, actually started to hurt me. I've found that when Zach is my partner, I get kind of competitive. When I'm working with Zach I feel like a big wimp if I complain about anything, so when he had me in the figure-four, even though he went too fast and over-extended both of my elbows and shoulders almost every time, I didn't tap. Even when it hurt, I didn't tap. Some people might be extremely proud of that, but now that I'm hurt, I'm not proud at all. I just hurt.

I should have tapped, but my pride won out over my better judgement. In martial arts, you're supposed to avoid injury. If it is possible to walk away from a fight without hurting anybody or getting hurt yourself, that is the ideal solution to the confrontation. Likewise, practice is not supposed to cause injury. If I had told Zach to slow down or to not push as hard, I might have been able to avoid over-extending my elbows and pulling the muscles in my shoulders.

This was a painful lesson to learn and it was unneccessary to allow myself to be injured just so that I could say, "Hey, look. I'm not a wimp." After all, who cares what other people think, right?

I confess that that doesn't work as well when I'm around people whose opinions matter to me. But I should've known better; Zach and Sensei are both great people whom I've trusted on many, many occasions. Sometimes I forget that they're my friends and that they aren't going to think less of me if I tap when it hurts.

I guess I just need reminding of that every now and then.

Hopefully I'll be able to skip the Motrin next time I need a reminder.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The hardest part is pushing off

So, today I learned an interesting lesson.
Rolls kind of scare me.

Obviously that's what we worked on today in class. Forward rolls.
I was extremely reluctant to work forward rolls today because it's the first time I've done them in over ten years. There's really not much to them; they're not the most complicated thing we're learning. Matter of fact, they're relatively simple: tuck your head in (of course!), push off with your back leg, and use your shoulder and forearm to roll your weight over. Simple in theory and not too hard in context.

For me, however, they are a challenge. It's momentum, I've found, that really makes or breaks the roll; it's the push-off. It hurts to do them slowly. You're not really supposed to go slow. It's a fast progression and by the end, you should be standing...not sprawled out on the ground. How useful are you on the ground, after all? The idea isn't to make yourself vulnerable, it's to do exactly the opposite.

So anyway, the rolls were challenging for me and I found myself getting a little bit discouraged by the end of the class. I suppose I've gotten to be a little bit arrogant. I've gotten used to the idea that I can pick up on things relatively quickly and refine them with a little bit of practice.

With rolls this is not so. I'm actually going to have to work on rolls if I want to get them down. See, I'm not in the same kind of shape that I was in as a kid; I'm not as flexible, I'm not as fast, I'm not as balanced, and my lungs aren't as healthy as they were back then.
But today, my biggest roadblock wasn't my body; it was my mind.

Today was the first time since I began to study martial arts again that the words "I can't" popped into my head. I've found that it's really hard to make those words go away, once they're there. The word 'can't' opens up a whole world of negativity and apprehension. All sorts of doubts and fears raced through my mind, that first time Sensei said,
"Alright Becky, go."

Go? Really? Me? I haven't done this in a billion years...I don't know what I'm doing. I'm going to hurt myself. I'm going to look stupid because I'm going to mess up. What if I pull something and then I can't do karate for a month? What if I disappoint you, Sensei? What if I find out that I'm not good at this?
What if I find out that I can't do it? That I'm really not good at any of this stuff?

Rolls scared me. I had so much doubt and fear. And even after I found out that they were possible for me, it made me angry that I couldn't do them as well as the other people in class. I wanted to be at the level that everyone else was at; I wanted to stop being the one that slows everybody else down.

So much negativity over such a little thing as a forward roll...I can't believe how much it bothered me! I was discouraged by the end of class because I really want to be able to do this stuff; I really want to be good.

It's just going to take time and patience...And I know now that if I practice them, forward rolls won't be so hard after a while.

But it's really not about the forward rolls themselves, it's about how they made me feel. Sitting here at my computer, I can think about how I felt and kind of laugh at myself. But when I get on the mat, I feel so serious; like it's so important that there's no room for error. This is obviously not true; I don't have to run. Where am I running to, anyway? Just more learning. More journey. That's how it is.

But forward rolls make me feel exposed. They make me feel vulnerable because I need help with them and I can't just BE good at them by myself. And that's weird; I like to be able to figure things out for myself, without the help of others.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned, here. First of all, it's not a race, right? And if it IS a race, in the end, it's only with myself. Secondly, it's easy to get discouraged about something that doesn't come naturally. Patience and practice might take a long time, but they pay off. Thirdly, I can't do everything by myself. If I only accept help from myself, I limit my ability to learn...And I limit my relationships with other people.

And fourth...Well...I have to learn how to trust that people are good and that they're not going to laugh at me because I can't yet do something as well as them. And I have to learn how to trust myself, that I can do more than I think I can.
The hard part is actually doing it.

When I was first in position, I didn't spend two minutes actually rolling, I spent two minutes freaking out about technicalities, footwork, whether or not I was going to hurt myself, whether or not people were going to laugh at me, and whether or not I was cut out to do it at all.
But when I stopped over-thinking it and actually rolled, it was easier to do than I could've ever hoped for.

The hardest part is just pushing off.

So while I had my first encounter with the word 'can't' today, I eventually conquered it. It was hard and it was scary...And it involved risk. But if I had settled for 'can't', I would never have discovered that I could do it.
Now that I know I can, I'm only going to get better. Which is great.

Isn't it funny how the things that scare us often hold some of the best lessons?

All the best,

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Don't hit your head!

I took a lot of falls today.

Sensei told us a few lessons ago that we were going to start doing back-falls whenever someone didn't get up quickly enough after warm-up. Well, he wasn't joking! It happened twice today. Most of the time I enjoy doing back-falls because I think it's incredibly useful to know how to fall without getting hurt (I'm one of those people who trips over their own feet), but after one or two...or ten...or thirty...I'm generally not as thrilled with them. Still, repetition is important; perfect practice makes perfect!

Everybody in the class knows how to back-fall by now. It's simple. When you fall, you put your arms out like a fighter jet to equally distribute your weight, so that when you hit the ground, your arms also absorb the force. No specific part of your body takes the full force of the fall, that way.

Also...Rule number one is...Don't hit your head! Tuck your head in so that you don't hurt yourself. Blood is not allowed on the mat and we are not allowed to go to the hospital. : )

Anyway, we worked on the osoto-gari and the scissor-leg takedown today in class. Both of them require a working knowledge of how to correctly back-fall, so maybe it was a good thing that we worked that over and over again before we actually practiced the techniques. They're fun moves, especially if you enjoy back-falls.

I learned something interesting today, though.

It's really simple to practice back-falls under training circumstances but it's a completely different thing to fall correctly when you're not thinking about it. When you're practicing, you have a chance to really focus on technique and improve your skills, but it's unrealistic to expect a real-life situation to be like a training session. We were working on spinning hook kicks today and I forgot to bend my front leg while I was gaining momentum. The kick ended with me flat on my back, having NOT equally distributed my weight, and it hurt!

At least I remembered rule #1, though, because I didn't hit my head. That was a plus.

It's interesting that even though we practice back-falls all the time, over and over and over again, I still forgot to distribute my weight when it counted. I guess it's not reflexive yet.
But anyway...Fall seven times, stand up eight.

I think life can do that to us sometimes; it can surprise us. We can practice over and over again how to handle and cope with various situations, but when a situation actually arises, it's easy to forget what we've practiced and to just go with whatever seems good at the time.

Or maybe a situation hits us so quickly that we don't have time to react the way that we've been planning to and we're forced to take the fall in its full force, without an equal distribution of weight. And man, let me tell you...That hurts, sometimes.
But regardless of whether it's a practice session or whether it's a real-life situation, it's important to always get back up. (An attacker can kick you in the head if you stay on the ground!)

So practice, practice, practice! Work on back-falls. Plan out how to cope with the hard things. Practice helps. But don't forget that real life is what we're practicing for. And if you have to take a fall at full force, always get back up. It might hurt, it might knock the wind out of you, and it might be embarrassing, but getting back up means that you're willing to try again. It means that you haven't yet been beaten.

But...most importantly...don't hit your head!

All the best,

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Kiai Loud!

I always feel weird when I kiai. I have no idea why...It might have something to do with the fact that it's not something that I do on a regular basis. I mean, I'm not standing in line at the DMV, practicing my kiai...
"Yes ma'am, I need to renew my driver's license! Hooah!"
"Check please! Osu!"
"Can I get twenty bucks on pump twelve? Aiyaa!"
"Glory be to the father...ICE!"

Seriously though, kiai-ing is just not something that I do outside of the dojo.
(Unless I'm around Army folks, where the word 'Hooah' is used quite often...)
Then again, maybe it should be. You're supposed to kiai to focus your chi. It's also used to startle an opponent and to keep you from having the wind knocked out of you. And if you do it right, it should psych you up and get your adrenaline going.

I can back up that last one, for sure; we'll be in the middle of class and someone will suddenly start to kiai...And then it's hard NOT to kiai with them. But until that someone gives his spirit yell, the room can get kind of quiet.

I think it's also a matter of self-consciousness. In the dojo, I can't hide. Everything about my personality is exposed; strengths, weaknesses, good things, bad things, attitude, self-esteem, character...Everything is in plain sight for everybody else to see, and that feels weird. I think that a lot of people, myself included, spend their lives trying to cover up the parts of themselves that they don't want other people to see, but it's really hard to conceal anything on the mat. Those hidden things can sneak up on you and come out when you least expect them to. It's kind of frightening, sometimes, to try to learn how to do battle without your shields up.

One day in class we were practicing the Tioga I kata for the upcoming belt test and Sensei stopped us and said, "You know, I really want you to animate this. When you're practicing this kata, I want to see your strength. Good strong down-blocks, good strong punches. It should be quick and strong. And kiai loud!" He demonstrated what he wanted to see and I was like, "Yeah...Wow. Okay. THAT'S what it's supposed to look like." Everything that he did, he did deliberately and with firm movements, but that's not what caught my attention.
Sensei was into it.
Everything about him was intense and in the moment. His entire demeanor changed, as though nothing in the world was more important than executing that kata with as much strength, control, and enthusiasm as he could. It was really cool to see such passion coming from him.
And he kiai-ed loud.

When he finished, he told us that, "Sometimes when you do martial arts, you're not going to look cool. You might make weird facial expressions, you'll probably sweat a lot, you might be out of breath, people might think that you're weird, but if you put your heart and spirit into it, you'll find it rewarding in a lot of ways."

Applying that lesson to life off the mat is hard...To put your heart and spirit into anything, without a second thought about what people are going to think, is hard. Even when I'm on the mat, I'm worried about what my sensei and my classmates think. Even when I'm supposed to clear my mind and simply react reflexively, I tend to over-think and over-analyze. I'm finding that it's a hard habit to break; we want to look good. We want to look like we know what we're doing. It gives us confidence when we have the approval of others...But I guess that the approval of others isn't as important as we think it is. Especially since it gets in the way of what we're passionate about.

I've heard that more often people are afraid of success rather than being afraid of failure. Failure is expected of us; it's easy to fail. It's hard to succeed because success means taking responsibility for your accomplishments and finding ways to continue accomplishing great things, over and over again. And that's hard. That requires effort. That requires self-confidence.

And sometimes it requires us to kiai loud.

But regardless of how weird and exposed that feels, I think it's worth it. It means that you're passionate about what you're doing. It means that you're going to be ambitious and try your hardest to meet your goals, no matter what other people think.

And I think that a little bit of weirdness is worth meeting those goals.
So...I'm going to kiai loud.

Better start practicing!

Never Leave the Mat

Post number one, post number one...What do I write about in post number one? I've been back and forth about what to talk about in my first post. Do I introduce myself? Introduce what I'm doing? Introduce how much I love martial arts? (Is that even possible?)
I think, instead, I'm going to introduce a question; one that I think about on a regular basis:
When does one call oneself a martial artist?
Is there a 'Martial-Artist's Right of Passage' or a similar ritual that officially inducts you into the art? (Or rather tosses you onto the mat, saying 'Good luck! Try not to break anything!') 
Does it happen as soon as you receive your white belt? Does it come with rank? A title? Paper certification? Is there a time that comes when a new learner officially becomes a student? I've been told that even the masters are students; that one is always a student since one can never know everything there is to know about martial arts. But is there a given point in time or a milestone that must be achieved before one can say 'I am a martial artist' and effectively back up that statement? Is there a point that comes where you just know?

Maybe it happens when you chamber and execute well and your sensei tells you, "Hey. That was a good kick!" Maybe it happens when you can do twenty-five seconds of push-ups and you realize that you've improved. Maybe it happens during your first Randori session or your first sparring match. Perhaps it happens when you get thrown or knocked down for the first time and you realize that you can get back up.

Perhaps, but when do you know?

Does it happen in a consecutive, measureable way or is there an abstract element to it that I've been overlooking? Does it happen as soon as you decide to study? When you choose to give it your best effort?  Perhaps it happens as soon as the very words leave your mouth: "I am a martial artist".
Maybe it happens when you bow in and out of the dojo and you finally understand what that means. Maybe it comes with understanding of custom, courtesy, and attitude. Maybe it happens when the black belt code (Honesty, courtesy, integrity, self-control, perseverance, and indomitable spirit) becomes a part of your everyday life, not just a part of your 'karate life'. Maybe it happens when the lessons that you learn in the dojo transfer over into everything that you do.

Maybe it happens when you never leave the mat.

I think that's it. A lot of lessons are learned on the mat, after all.
For example, always getting back up; working with your strengths and improving your weaknesses; giving it your best effort; respecting yourself and others; being open to trying new things; understanding when to be gentle and when to be firm; knowing when to back off and when to stand your ground; never allowing yourself to say the words 'I can't'...

To uphold and apply these lessons to your life is to never leave the mat, and I think that a martial artist strives to do just that.
After all, all of life is a mat, and what you decide to do in between the time when you bow in and bow out is what counts.

So with those words in mind, I will say it for the first time:

I am a martial artist.
And I will never leave the mat.