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.