Monday, November 28, 2011

A Temporary Hold

It has been a very long time since I last posted to this blog. There are a number of reasons for this. The first reason is that I took a trip to Japan over the summer to aid in the tsunami relief effort. I spent a month over there and it was pretty life-changing for me. There is nothing like helping other people. Truly. It changes you. I would go back right now if given the chance. They still need a lot of help over there.

The second reason I stopped writing is because school began right as soon as I got back from Japan. This semester was my first semester as a university student. Being a music major, my course-load has been crazy. Ten classes. 30 hours. Rehearsals, practice sessions, concerts, performance requirements, more life has been school with a little bit of karate sprinkled in.

The third reason I stopped writing was because Martial Arts Refinery, my school, closed. That didn't mean the end of my karate journey, but it meant the end of something great; something that changed my life and helped me discover who I am. It was too painful to try and write about all of the feelings that came with my school closing. To be honest, it has been really hard to face up to the emotions that have been brought to the surface. Sensei Frank and Ammar and all of the kids I helped teach...they changed me. Training with them has been the highlight of the past few years of my life. I don't think I've ever learned more about myself than I had while I was training at the Refinery. So I'm experiencing a mixture of emotions right now, as well as some grief.

A few days ago marked my two-year karate birthday since I started training again. I haven't trained since the last day that our school was open. I miss it. But I'm unsure as to whether or not I want to train anywhere else right now. I have many options; I can start virtually anywhere. But I sort of feel homeless right now...and I think there's a time for that. And I think my time for that is now.
I have no doubt that I will continue training. I want to. I miss it so much. But I need to take a break first and reflect on everything that I've learned over the past few years.

Therefore, martial arts is now on a temporary hold. It won't be there for long because my body is itching to get back to training...but I will take this time for my mind to come to terms with the situation. It's been hard; I loved training at the Refinery. In many ways, training defined me. Going to another studio right now would be unwise; I'm not ready to move on yet. I would be preoccupied with thoughts about the Refinery and my training would suffer for it. I will return to karate when I can do so peacefully and with an open mind.

But I WILL return. I have to. I just need time to heal.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Great faith, great doubt, great effort

It's been awhile since I last posted! A lot has happened since then. First of all, my college spring semester just ended and I was accepted into the local university's school of music, which means that I'm less busy now and I should be able to write more often. Secondly, I'm preparing for a month-long mission trip to Japan to work with refugees from the Tsunami/Earthquake and to teach high school and college-age kids English. Thirdly, I'm about to teach my first ever martial arts class by myself.

Part of brown belt requirements is that the student has to teach a class focusing on one particular technique. I chose spinning-hook kick because...well, it's my favorite. The way I plan to teach it is to give the students a chance to practice a regular hook kick with partners, so they can get the feel of the kick before they try and spin. Basics are great; foundations are crucial. Really, I could stop at hook kick and spend the entire class learning that, but kids have short attention spans. They'll enjoy spinning with the kick, even if it's not absolutely perfect the first time.

As for how I feel about teaching a class by myself? I am nervous, but in a good way. Sensei has been giving me a lot of practice teaching individual students, so I'm confident that this will be a great learning experience for all who are involved. I don't always feel this way about it, but that brings me to the entire point of this entry.

I stumbled on a quote that read, "Great faith. Great doubt. Great effort." and at the bottom, it said, "The three qualities necessary for training."

It took me a few minutes to really understand what the quote was saying. I saw 'great faith' followed by 'great doubt' and thought, "Well, wait a minute...that's confusing. How can you have great faith and great doubt at the same time?". I think what the author meant was that at times during training, it is necessary to have great faith and at times it is also necessary to have great doubt. It depends on the situation.

For example, it's important to have faith in yourself and in others while you're helping each other learn techniques. I can think of a few situations where trust in yourself and your partner is crucial. Sprawling, back-bends, and throws require trust, just to do the technique! In addition to those things, you also trust your partner to execute the technique correctly, but also safely. You trust them to help you learn by training seriously, rather than goofing off. You trust them to constructively correct you when you're not doing something right or when you don't understand something.

These are situations where great faith is necessary in training. It's also important to have great faith in yourself, as well as in your fellow students. If you don't trust yourself; if you aren't able to commit to pushing your palm-heel all the way through the wooden board, you won't be able to break it.

Now, the 'great doubt' part also has its place. For example, take sparring. If you go into a sparring match with arrogance or pride, it will definitely get in the way of your decision to make a smart move. Making a smart move doesn't always mean attacking first. It means doing what the situation calls for. Another helpful thing about doubt, at least in my experience, is that it pushes us forward in a way that faith can't. When we look at a situation with skepticism, the natural step forward is to go searching for the truth. Skepticism and doubt often create determination to get to the bottom of something. If I doubt that I can do an aerial cartwheel, I subconsciously have an inclination to try harder in order to prove myself wrong (this can also be used to prove oneself RIGHT, but I don't want to be right, in this situation!). The doubt that I feel causes me to train harder, to practice cartwheels, and to basically stretch myself until I can do it.

You may argue that that's not actually an example of doubt, it's an example of faith in the face of overwhelming odds, but here's the difference: if I were to have total faith in my ability to do an aerial cartwheel right now, and I tried to do it, I would get hurt. Why? Because I can't do it yet. I haven't practiced. If I practiced and trained and strove to condition my body so that I could do an aerial cartwheel right now, it would be another matter. But the fact that I doubt I can do one right now will set those events into motion. I will train and condition my body to learn how to do it because I have GREAT doubt in my ability to execute that particular move at this moment, and I want to be able to later.

As for great effort? That speaks for itself. Great effort is necessary in anything that we do if we want to become great at it. To excel is to continually perform, not for a moment or moments, not for a day or days, but to perform day after day, month after month. If we make great effort a habit, it will no longer seem great to us...but we will feel the results!

That's my interpretation of the quote. I really like those three necessary things because I've personally experienced all of them multiple times in my training. I think this means that whether one is conscious of them or not, they will always show up as good personal teachers: Great faith. Great doubt. Great effort.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Facing Up

When a fight goes to the ground and your opponent is on top of you, you should never, never, never end up on your stomach. Being stuck in that position causes all kinds of problems. It exposes the back of your head and your neck, it keeps you from being able to see or predict your opponent's actions and, worst of all, it makes it impossible for you to defend yourself or react in any way to what's going on.

Instead of rolling onto your stomach, you should turn your body so that you're either on your back or on your side. You should face your opponent dead on. Not only can you see him now, but you can also protect yourself and find ways to turn the situation around. In general, on your back you have more control and more options.

Of course, rolling onto your stomach might be easier and might even seem like an instinctual thing to do...but it doesn't help you. It only leaves you exposed and vulnerable to attack.

I think it's important to face up to the things that take us to the ground in life, as well. It's a scary thing having to face an opponent that has the obvious advantage of being on top. Acknowledging that there's someone on top of you means that you have to fight; that you have to trap a foot and an arm and exert the energy it takes to turn the situation around. Sometimes that's hard to do because we don't feel like we have the energy...or maybe we're just afraid of the guy on top and we don't want to have to look and acknowledge that he's there.

But the alternative is to leave ourselves exposed and in a position where we can get hurt. And that's not really an option. It takes courage, I've found, to choose to look at your attacker just like it takes courage to face up to a problem that is holding you down. But we all have that kind of courage inside of us. It's hard to harness sometimes, but if there's one thing that I've learned from training it's that we often have to do hard things--things that are uncomfortable, painful, and even downright scary.

That's martial arts...and the only way to improve is to practice those hard, uncomfortable, painful, scary things. In the long run, we're training to be better people through and through, and that journey makes doing hard things worth it.

In life, we're training to be better people, too, hopefully. It's hard to have the courage and wisdom to stare your problems in the face and tackle them head-on, but it's better to have some control while lying on your back and facing your attacker than to have no control while blind and exposed. We want to always have options. Facing up to your problems gives you more options than denying them or running from them ever will.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bacon and Shrimp

On Wednesday, Sensei said something that incapacitated me with laughter for a few minutes. We were working on 'shrimping' which is the technical term in Jiu-Jitsu for making space between you and your opponent when he has you in side control or in a full mount.

Here's how shrimping works: you stretch your body out as far as it can go with your hands pointed above your head and then, very quickly, you scrunch up like a shrimp with your knees to your chest and your arms tucked in and use the push-off afterward to propel yourself forward and out of your opponent's reach. You can even use their body to push off, along with your feet. It's hard to describe what it looks like in words, but there's a reason that it's call 'shrimping'. Shrimp are all curled into themselves. You have to curl into yourself as well and then quickly push yourself back into a straight position in order to get the momentum needed to free yourself from the mount. Sometimes you even have to do it a few times to get out!

Anyway, we were practicing shrimping across the room and suddenly, out of nowhere, Sensei yelled, "BACON! SHRIMP!" And I couldn't help it; I laughed so hard. I guess that when you're straightening yourself out, you look like a slab of bacon...versus when you tuck in and look like a shrimp. It was so funny, mostly because I wasn't expecting it.

The point of this entry is that martial arts can be a very serious thing, especially with the responsibility of knowing how to seriously injure people. But when people ask me why I do it, I tell them it's because I think it's fun. And that's 100% true. The self-defense and discipline and physical conditioning is great, but it's all just a bonus. The real reason I practice and study so hard is because it's so much fun. I probably laugh more during karate than I do during other activities that I'm involved in...not because I don't respect the discipline or the seriousness of what we're learning, but because I'm having a good time doing what I love to do.

It's important to do what we like. Other things are important too, but if we aren't laughing at least a few times a day, something isn't right. There are a lot of opportunities in martial arts training to be serious, and appropriately so...but there are at least as many opportunities to laugh. It's good for us to experience those as well.

Monday, March 28, 2011


March was sort of a bad month for writing blog entries. We're in the middle of the semester and I have more than a full course-load, so I've been writing less...but I HAVEN'T missed any class, which means that I've learned quite a bit even though I haven't written about it.

A few things have changed at the Refinery over the past month. Bruce went to a different Shotokan school to try and earn his 4th degree black belt, (which we can't supply him here at the Refinery), Zak's work schedule has made it impossible for him to come to class, and Blake's mom was pretty severely our classes have been kind of lacking in advanced students. Also, since school is in full swing, there has generally been less attendance over the past month, so on many days it has just been me and Sensei during the last class of the day.

Now that nobody is able to attend the 4:30 advanced class, it's just Sensei and I, as well. Let me tell you: if you want to really learn a lot, one-on-one training is absolutely the way to go!

Anyway, today during the 4:30 class, Sensei spent most of the time pushing me around. He told me to take a fighting stance and the object of the exercise was to stay on balance, no matter what. He pushed me, pulled me, tried to throw me, tried to sweep me, arm-barred me, tripped me, and the whole time I had to keep my base wide and my weight dropped in order to stay on balance.

Sensei has this new way of telling us to drop our center of gravity. Instead of saying, "Bend your knees" he says, "Be humble". Humility means serving, and in order to do that, you place yourself beneath those you serve...and it's also a lot quicker than saying, "Bend your knees".

Anyway, the wider my base was and the lower my center of gravity, the harder it was for Sensei to push me/pull me off balance. He said that this is because when you have a strong foundation, you have a strong stance. We practice stances all the time, but it really put things into perspective for me to be knocked over a few times.

Foundations are really important. Ask any home-builder. If your house isn't built on a strong foundation, when the hard times come, it will sink into the ground and collapse. This is why we spend so much time practicing the basics in karate. Every advanced move has basic moves in it...and every basic move will help prepare for advanced moves. Just imagine a jump-spinning-hook-kick without a bent front leg! Guess what that sounds like? WHAM! It feels even worse than it sounds. Trust me.

It's important to build our lives on strong foundations, as well. Sometimes we see something good and we realize that we really want to make our whole lives about that thing. Sometimes it becomes our job. Sometimes it becomes a well-treasured hobby. Sometimes, it's even a person!

But at any point in our lives, those things can be taken away. We might lose our jobs. We might become sick or injured. Our houses and possessions might be destroyed in a natural disaster. Friends and family eventually grow old or sick and die. Our lives and the very things that we believe to be so strong and steadfast...aren't. They are fragile and finite. Eventually, even the human race will cease to exist on Earth. Nothing lasts. Everything passes through the natural cycle of life and death.

So what foundation of this world can we hope to build our lives on? Nothing on Earth will last forever...but God is not of this Earth. He created it and lived on it, but he is not of it. He is not finite; he will not die. He will not even shake or stumble or sway in the wind. He is a solid foundation...the ONLY solid foundation. God is the only one that will not grow tired or crumble to the ground. He won't decay. He won't lose his luster or his strength with time. He won't even be out of breath from a series of sparring matches. He is not of the Earth, which makes it difficult to base our Earthly lives around him, but nothing else in the world will hold. Nothing else will last.

All of it will someday fade away...but God will always remain. Our orange belt verse is Proverbs 18:10, which says, "The name of the lord is a strong tower. The righteous run into it and are safe". There is no greater foundation; no better place to build your life than on God. God, who commands the oceans and calms the storms; at whose whisper mountains shudder and nations fall to their knees...God, who is on his throne; who is reigning and who is never shaken; who never falls. Never fails. Never abandons.

The ways of this world say that we will die and ultimately lose...but God's promise is that we will win, either way...because through him, we cannot lose. If our God is for us, then who can ever stop us? If our God is with us, what can stand against us? Nothing, because our foundation is everlasting, eternal, true, and good.

We will be pushed and pulled in our lives. We'll be swept and arm-barred, thrown to the ground, choked, pinned, and rolled. We will be hurt. We will fall. But we will fall on something greater than the nicest martial arts mat, and we will stand back up with our base wide and our knees bent. And nothing will defeat us, because when the day is done and our time here is gone...we win.

And that's that.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I think that when most people think of martial arts, they think about techniques and kata and nunchaku and cage fighting. I don't think that the thought of being helpful to other people comes to their minds right away. But most martial artists, if not all of them, can probably recall a time in their training where they needed the help of someone else. Perhaps it was to better understand a technique or to begin a form. Perhaps they needed assistance with properly conditioning their body for the physical fitness level that martial arts requires...or maybe they needed help with something more esoteric; maybe a struggle with a life issue or coming to terms with something outside of their control.

I can name many examples of each of those struggles that I've had while training, and I've only been training for a little more than a year. At some point in class, everybody needs a hand with something. It's inevitable when there's something new to be learned.

For example, who can practice a throw on their own? Without a partner, it's difficult to really prepare for that situation, because you're only moving YOUR body and not someone else's. Who can practice a choke defense without being choked? Sure, you can go through the motions until you have it perfect each time, but you need fingers to grab. You need to feel deprived of oxygen. You need to know where to look for air.

When we train, we need other people...and they need us! Since everybody needs assistance with something at some point, this means that most people have an opportunity to give that assistance. Senior students help younger students. Younger students eventually become senior students and continue that cycle.
But whether younger or senior or sensei, everyone has a chance to help someone else.

Right now, in Japan, there are a lot of people who need help due to the earthquake and tsunami. While they might seem stoic and calm, this is because Japanese people have been raised to appear as though they can bear the unbearable (this concept is called 'gaman'). Accepting help is sometimes very hard, but for the Japanese it is much more difficult. Their culture raises them to accept hardship without complaint; to persevere through extremely difficult things with poise and a general "can do" attitude. For a Japanese person, accepting help often feels akin to dumping their problems on another, and that is completely counter-intuitive to their way of life.

Sometimes, we have a hard time accepting help because we're proud; we're embarrassed to not be able to do everything on our own, but in Japan this is just the way of things. With such widespread devastation, so many people are now in need of help, though they will never ask for it. In some cases, they will not even appear to need it. But we all know at least one person who behaves the same way in martial arts. Maybe we ARE that person. I know I've been there.

So my message in this entry is, when you see somebody struggling, help them if you can. When someone hits the mat, I try to help them up. When someone is struggling to learn a technique that I have some understanding of, I try to help them learn. Sometimes others will need help, but they won't ask. That may be a good indicator that you should take the initiative. Whether Japanese or American, we are all human, and humans are not meant to do everything alone.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Losing and Gaining (And avoiding a fight!)

Tonight, a friend of mine and I were walking in a McDonald's parking lot on a side of town that we usually don't explore. It was late and there was only one other car (a van) parked in the lot, but I didn't really think anything of it because nothing seemed suspicious. It's a Sunday night. Most people are getting ready for work tomorrow.

Anyway, we got out of my car and suddenly, this guy appeared from inside of the van and asked us if we had a second. Of course, I said yes because he seemed like he might have been having car trouble or something. It turned out, he was looking for money. He asked me for about fifty dollars and when I hesitated, he got really close to me and it really made me nervous. He seemed very desperate and the way he was walking/talking/moving suggested to me that something wasn't quite right. He may have had a weapon. I'm not sure. Anyway, I was glad to find that I had about fifty dollars to give him.

I would've given it to him anyway, even if I didn't feel threatened. As a matter of fact, I was reaching into my pocket to get my wallet when he got inside of my personal space. His wife got outside of the car, too, seemingly to thank me, but she was moving strangely as well. It seems that I might have avoided a fight tonight by simply giving the guy what he wanted. I just have this feeling, based on the way the two were acting, that had I told them 'no', they would've taken it by force.

I am broke now, and I probably will be for the rest of the month, but at least I'm not broken! I still have my head. I'm not hurt...and neither are they. Any kind of fight may have cost someone their life tonight. What if that guy had had a gun? What if he really did have a knife? The way he was moving suggested a weapon of some did his wife's movements. The way that he invaded my personal space suggested that he was desperate and perhaps willing to take drastic measures to get what he wanted. There was no need for that since I gave him what he wanted willingly.

The lesson here is that it's better to lose something that seems important to you than to lose your life. We have to die to ourselves in order to gain eternal life in heaven. This means that we must sacrifice what we think we need, here on Earth; we must change ourselves and leave behind who we were in order to become who we need to be.

It's much better to lose your life and gain heaven than it is to gain the entire world, but lose your soul. Likewise, losing fifty bucks means that I'm going to have some trouble paying for some essential things that I need this month, but I still have my life. I am not hurt. I am not dead.

Overall, a very obvious success.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Training all the way

I'm currently involved in a cardio kickboxing class at my school. Since I haven't been able to participate for the past few weeks due to the concussion, it's been a bit of a challenge adjusting to the extra workout at 8AM every Tuesday and Thursday...but I've found that I really enjoy the class, and while our instructor isn't quite as hands-on and personal as Sensei is, he's a nice guy and I really like him.

Today, he noticed that I was wearing my Refinery T-shirt and he asked me, after holding the pad for my roundhouse kick, whether I was a black belt. I kind of laughed because I'm obviously not, but he told me that he couldn't tell what rank I am because I train so intensely while I'm in class. He said he thinks I work out like a black belt.

Looking back at this morning, that really was quite a compliment! But at the same time I think that's kind of how it should always appear to other people if you practice martial arts. Your actions should reflect your training. Karate is in everything you do. It goes way beyond showing up to class every day; it's in the way you practice and in the amount of effort you put into tasks placed before you. It's in the way you treat people and how you interact with and encourage others who may be struggling. It's in the way you carry yourself and in the way you's even in the way you demonstrate what you believe. Its everywhere, all the time. The same amount of effort and heart and spirit that you have on the mat, you should also have off of it.

Even if other people don't know that you train in a martial art, if you treat everything as though your training is part of it, they will notice something different about you. This is why we're always practicing, on the mat and off.

I made a faith connection, as well. Just as we should demonstrate our martial arts training in everything we do, we should demonstrate the love of Christ to others in the same way. Jesus should be in everything we do, as well. And just like with martial arts, even if others don't know that we're disciples, if we take Jesus with us everywhere and treat everything as though it is part of being a disciple of Christ, they will notice something different about us. And perhaps our example will be just what someone needs. God uses everything we do for his glory. He works through even the littlest things that seem to hold no significance for us.

So is there karate in holding the door open for someone? Is there karate in offering a friend a quarter at the vending machine? Is there karate in giving your best at everything you do? My answer is yes to all. And in those same things, there is also Christ. What we do with our time and our lives; the decisions we make...they should reflect our training and also God's love. Then we'll really know that we're training all the way.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Today Sensei and I did a demo at a church. It had a small congregation and they were very warm and hospitable to us. We taught some basic moves (rising block, double punch, front kick...) and demonstrated some kata (Tioga I and Bo Shodan). Afterward, we worshiped and Sensei gave a great sermon. The kids loved it, and it looked like even some of the parents were getting into it!

I was really excited about everything too, because it was the first time I'd been able to participate in martial arts for about two weeks. My concussion headache is gone, but almost every day, I get mini-headaches in various spots on my head. My mom, who is the TBI specialist in the house, isn't concerned with it, though. She cleared me to go back and...well...moms usually have the last say anyway, so I'll be back in class tomorrow! :)

After listening to Sensei's sermon this morning, though, I realized that this two-week hiatus has been really good for me. The main point of his sermon was that it's really important to have a strong foundation in something that won't let you down. Of course, that foundation isn't music, or another person, or even martial's God.

I really really love karate. I'm not sure if everybody in the world knows it yet (I think they do) but right now martial arts is my favorite thing to do. Even music, which is what I've chosen to make a career out of, comes in second to karate at the moment. Training is so much fun and it makes me feel good and I enjoy having the chance to teach and be taught by everybody at the Refinery. Since I began training again, I feel healthier and stronger and I'm at a much higher level of thinking than before.

But Sensei said today that, "If you really really love something and you give it to God, He will give it back to you and it'll be three times better because now you're doing it in His name." (I paraphrased that a little bit, but that's basically what he said). I find it very difficult to consider the thought of giving up martial arts at all, for any reason. I survived these two weeks but I didn't really enjoy not being able to participate. I realize, though, that the only time that I'll have to quit is when I start making my life more about karate than about God. God's gotta come first.

I think this two-week period of frustration and impatience was a good indicator that I've gotten a little bit too involved in karate. I love it so much and that isn't going to change anytime soon, but in the excitement of training and everything I forgot to make God my first priority. I relied on Him a lot over the past two weeks to help me keep my spirit strong and my attitude positive in spite of pain and impatience and anger...and even though sometimes it was tough, God found ways to keep me going and even to work through me in the lives of other people. I guess you could say I got grounded, but in a good way.

It was a great reminder that it's not a matter of what deserves my top priority, but who. It's a little bit difficult for me to think of giving martial arts away because I want to keep it so much...I love training; I treasure it. But after recovering from my concussion, I know now that I can trust God to take what I treasure and to tweak it and refine it and make it work for His glory. And I can deal with that. In fact...I'd be delighted to.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pride in its place

In a previous post, I talked about how pride has little to no place in karate. In this entry, I'm going to talk about it again because it's starting to seem like a theme in my training.

It's proof that I really don't remember a thing that I've had two different people confirm that my concussion was caused by a punch and not a kick. I kept telling folks that it was a roundhouse kick (including the doctors) because I couldn't imagine a punch causing me this much pain and trouble, but I was really just guessing. It was actually a follow-up punch off the back hand that gave me the concussion.

I've been feeling okay, off and on. At my best, I'm just a little tired with a pretty bad headache. At my worst, I feel nauseated and disoriented on top of the tiredness and pain. It comes and goes. But in between the episodes of bad headache, I mostly just feel like a wimp. I keep thinking to myself, 'It was just a punch. You must not be very strong if a punch could do that much damage to you'.

I'm not treating myself fairly though, because honestly I'm really not that strong. I keep having to remind myself that the human body can only handle so much and that a punch to the temple, no matter how hard or soft, is damaging. I'm way too demanding of myself sometimes. I find it difficult to keep my expectations within the range of what can realistically be accomplished. And I think the problem is partially caused by an excess of pride.

If I wasn't proud, I wouldn't feel like a wimp because my expectations would be within the range of normal human capability. I wouldn't expect another person who got hit in the temple to make an immediate recovery. I'd expect them to have a concussion. I should therefore expect the same from myself. I am not Superman just because I feel like I should be. And why should I be? What makes me so much better than everybody else that I should be able to super-humanly handle head trauma? Nothing. I am human like everybody else...but for some reason, that isn't always enough for me.

Now don't get me wrong, pride can be good sometimes. That is, some types of pride can be positive and good for you...but it is not good when it makes you feel unnecessarily bad about yourself. Right now, I'm struggling with that kind of pride. I'm having a hard time putting it in its place...which should be somewhere else, where it can't get to me like it has.

Another factor in my being hard on myself is that I really just want this to be over with so that I can return to training. According to my doctor, I can't do anything; I can't even take a walk around my neighborhood until I make it through an entire week with no symptoms. I've been relatively active for a year and having to completely slow down and stop is a little bit discouraging and is making me feel restless.

Despite the negative tone of this entry, I really am trying to have a good attitude because I know that having a good attitude will speed up recovery and is generally more fun to live with. But honestly, in between my periods of optimism, I do feel a little bit discouraged. It's kind of like my headache: I feel good and then I feel lousy...and then I feel good again.

This whole ordeal is becoming a test of my patience and kindness toward myself. Both are being challenged, and perhaps both really need to be. I'll just have to do my best...and I hope I learn something from this that will help me in the future. And hopefully something will change as a result.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Attitude is Everything

I'm about to apply life to martial arts instead of the other way around, although this story is definitely martial arts-related.

On Wednesday I didn't have my hands up when I needed them to be while sparring and I received a very solid roundhouse kick to the temple. I thought I was alright for a little while, but my head hurt and I started to feel really sick, so my mom picked me up from karate and took me to the ER to check for brain damage.

My parents are in the military and I am still on their insurance, so we had to drive about 45 minutes away to get to the hospital on the local air force base, Lackland. The military is great, don't get me wrong, but they are required to serve people in uniform before they serve people in civilian clothing (unless, of course, said person in plain clothes is bleeding on the floor or having a heart attack), so Mom and I waited for a total of about 6 hours before we were seen.

It was a long wait and my head was killing me. But somehow I managed to stay positive...even through the loudness of Fox News and Glenn Beck. There were some times where I became discouraged from having to wait so long, but I found that it was easier to sit and wait while I was making jokes and trying to keep a good attitude about it. I think life is easier when we keep a sense of humor.

They did a CT scan and found no internal bleeding, so I was diagnosed with a concussion and told that I can't go back to karate or do anything physically demanding until I go for an entire week without headaches, nausea, or memory loss.

Well, this was a little discouraging because I love karate. It's the highlight of my week. I hate having to sit out when I get hurt, I hate getting sick, and I hate missing class. But I'm trying to keep a good attitude because I realize that having to miss karate for a little while is much better than going back and injuring myself further, and then having to stop doing it altogether.

It's my third day since the ER visit and my head hurts worse than it ever has, but again, I am trying to stay positive because I've learned that the entire experience is easier and doesn't seem quite as bad when I keep my attitude good and my sense of humor handy.

It might be awhile before I'm allowed to return to karate, but if karate has taught me anything, it's that attitude is everything. Pain is pain and it hurts no matter what, but it will surely hurt more if it's the main object of my focus all the time...just like push-ups! Push-ups hurt sometimes and they're physically demanding, but they always hurt worse when you're only thinking about how much you want to stop.

Indomitable spirit definitely exists off the mat. This is probably a great time to practice it. And whenever you're practicing indomitable spirit, you're practicing karate. Whenever you're practicing having a good attitude, you're practicing karate. Whenever you're doing something you must do even though you don't really want to, you're practicing karate. When you're kind to someone, when you're helpful, when you don't give up, when you push through the're practicing karate.

I'll miss going to class for the next week or so, but I don't need to be in class to practice. I'm always everything I do.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Power Words

When we think about martial arts, we probably don't first think about words. If we don't train in a martial art regularly, we probably think about UFC and roundhouse kicks and old Kung Fu movies. If we do train regularly, we might think of improving our technique and bettering ourselves physically and mentally...but it's highly unlikely that when thinking about karate, we'll first think about words. After all, there isn't a lot to be said (minus 'help, this guy's mugging me!') when we find ourselves in a situation where self-defense may be needed.

While training, however, words have tremendous power over our ability to progress. There are some words that I've discovered during my training that I like to refer to as 'power words'. These words have different connotations and some of their meanings change depending on context, but in general, these are a few that have somehow effected my training:

-Thank you

'Thank you' speaks for itself. We thank our partners, we thank our sensei, we thank our senior students, we thank parents, we thank God...we do a lot of 'thanking' in martial arts, for the big things and the little things. When someone says 'thank you', they are acknowledging their gratitude to you for helping them improve. It raises morale for both people and also allows us to practice our humility. Very powerful. If everybody were thanked at least once a day, even for something small, I think life in general would improve tremendously.

'Spirit' is a word that describes that attitude of always getting back up, no matter how tired you are or how hard you've fallen. This word is very motivating. It's a reminder to continue to fight; to never give up; to be your best at all times and to give your best effort to everything. Because you deserve to expect the best from yourself.

'Difficult' actually doesn't speak for itself. There are two ways to interpret and receive this word. Instead of saying "I can't", I often say "This is difficult". To me, it isn't an excuse to stop trying, it's a way to acknowledge where I need improvement. This word is powerful because it is a motivator. It is also powerful because it is scary. Difficult things are sometimes daunting, but doing them anyway makes a stronger and more disciplined person.

'Okay' is a good word because it's always what you want to hear someone say after they've taken a hard fall or a punch to the nose. I constantly say 'I'm okay' to reassure my partner that they haven't seriously injured me and they usually do the same. 'Okay' doesn't mean that I'm not in pain, though. It doesn't mean that I didn't feel it...but it means that I can continue and that I will.

'Can't' is the first power word that has a negative connotation. This word is especially powerful because once it's in your head, it's very very hard to get it off your mind. 'Can't' can be debilitating. It can keep you from learning; from trusting; from progressing. This word applies not only to martial arts, but to life. But despite the implications of 'can't', we can also use it to learn about ourselves and what we think our limitations is especially valuable when we find out that our limitations are much less than what we thought they were.

'Strong' is a power word because it ties in with spirit. We train our bodies to be strong; we want our strikes and stances to be strong. We also want to be strong in our attitude about life. A solid foundation is very important to any kind of structure. Understanding that about martial arts helps us to understand it in relationship to life, as well. Strong doesn't always mean that you're the best or that you win...but it means you continue to try and you continue to improve yourself. There's a lot of power in that.

'Practice' speaks for itself. This should always be a power word because practice is what ultimately makes us improve. With practice, even the most inexperienced student can become strong, fast, and experienced. With practice, even the most uncoordinated person can learn balance and grace. Practice is taking the time to work on details that slowly bring together the whole. A talented fighter that doesn't practice will eventually be beaten by an average fighter that does practice. The attitude of spending time on something when the end doesn't seem clear teaches us to have faith and to follow through.

'Good' is a powerful word because it is encouraging. I tend to do better when I hear that something I did was 'good'. It's as simple as that. When we encourage each other, we set each other up to succeed. Likewise, if we tear each other down and use lots of negative words, we set each other up to fail, ultimately...and to feel bad. Nobody trains well when they're feeling bad.

'Tired' is my last power word because it is the word I learned about today. I've discovered that when I'm tired, I move slower, I feel stiffer, I think too much, and I'm quick to get frustrated. 'Tired' has a required co-requisite called 'patience'. When we're tired, our minds fixate on fatigue and we start to lose our focus. Even when we're legitimately exhausted, if we continue to tell ourselves that, we are only going to become more and more tired. This power word took control of me today in class and I felt that I wasn't training as well as I usually do. It's important to take care of ourselves, but it's also important to be kind because we don't always do a good job of taking care.

Words have power. They have sway over our feelings and our thoughts. I use some of these power words to fuel my attitude during martial arts. Others, I try to avoid. Attitude is 90% of the work that goes into training. It's the same with life. Words have a lot of power in regular life, too.

There are other power words. I've only listed those that come up in training, here. I'm sure you can think of others. I'm sure you can think of words that others have said to you which have had power over you. We do have power over ourselves...and that power is often brought into play by a few choice words.

It's important to be responsible with the words we use. Not only with others, but also with ourselves. Ultimately, words become thoughts and thoughts become actions. Actions become who we think we are...and that is important. That is powerful.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Courtesy. It's in the black belt code (or at least the black belt code I was taught as a kid): Honesty, courtesy, integrity, self-control, perseverance, and indomitable spirit. We used to repeat those words, in that order, right before class ended when I took Kempo-fu. I'll never forget the code because of the constant repetition.

We have a sort-of new student training with us named Blake. He took Jujitsu, from what I understand, and reached orange belt in Taekwondo. Blake started training with us last week, which is why he's only 'sort-of' new.

I don't usually talk about specific people unless there is something good to say about them. There are plenty of good things to say about Blake, but one of my favorite things about him is that he is courteous. He trains intensely, never complains, helps out at every opportunity, offers constructive criticism, and is just all-around a good guy. Aside from the obvious big things, I most notice the little things that he does. He helps others up from the ground, offers to help put away equipment after class, spends extra time explaining a technique until the other person gets it, and doesn't focus completely on his own training, but also focuses on the training of others.

I'm not sure if you can teach that. I think it must come from somewhere within you; from a desire to serve others. Blake does a good job of that. Martial arts training is more than physical training. It is also a refinement of character and spirit. Sometimes it takes awhile to learn what the black belt code really means. Even though Blake is new to our multi-style hybrid martial arts training, he trains like a black belt...and it's possible to learn that kind of attitude, but I don't think it can be taught by a person. It has to come from experience; from an inner desire to be the best you can be in all the ways you can be.

I have a quote that pertains to excellence taped up on my wall, right next to where I sleep.

It says:
"To excel is to continually perform. Not for a moment or moments. Not for a day or days. But to perform continually, day after day, month after month after month...and to make the uncommon performance look commonplace.

To excel is to take the inner drive of competition and not only to embrace it, but to master it.

It is no wonder then, that when one truly excels, one is known for excellence.

It cannot be taught or legislated or willed into existence. It must come from the very depths of an individual's desire to be the best."

Blake comes to class with that spirit. I see it when I work with him. I see it when he wrestles with Sensei. I see it before class, and even after class when we're all worn out. He has that desire; the same desire I have. We work to better ourselves and to see others become better because of it. We work to know and understand excellence. And...we work to be the best we can be. For the sake of improving and growing. Because we know we can. Because we want that.

But of all the things I like about Blake, my favorite thing about him is that he is courteous. I highly respect him for that.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Yesterday, Sensei said to me,
"Okay Becky. I realized that after Zak knocked you out, we should probably start sparring with headgear." Then he proceeded to give me my new headgear. I was so excited! I finally had the ENTIRE sparring gear set! Gloves, shins, mouth, head! I couldn't wait to put it on.

When I did get it on, it took me about ten minutes to realize that I felt very lightheaded and shaky. It was a tight fit. Really tight. I discovered that I felt a bit claustrophobic in there. I couldn't use my peripheral vision to judge how close to the ground I was (I have some trouble with balance because of ear infections when I was a kid) and it made me dizzy and hot. Sparring was difficult. I couldn't focus.

I wasn't pleased with myself because I always want to try my hardest and give it my all...and it just wasn't happening with that headgear on. It was difficult for me to relax and think while I couldn't hang onto my depth perception.

My solution? Last night I slept with it on so that I could get used to how tight it fits. My reasoning was that if I could fall asleep with it on, I could definitely spar with it on Wednesday. I also wore it most of the day today and practiced striking with it on. I have to get used to it because we're getting advanced enough that strikes to the head will soon be a regular thing.

Being distracted and disoriented by something that's new can be a dangerous thing. It's important to keep ourselves focused on the task at hand. If we find ourselves in a situation that's a matter of safety or of life-and-death, it's not likely that we'll be able to keep our attention 100% focused on getting through it. When we're blindsided by something significant, it's really easy to be distracted by physical pain or mental uncertainty or fear and to lose our focus on finishing what needs to be done--whether that be finishing a fight quickly, or studying for a last-minute test, or making a dreaded phone call, or coming to a decision we don't want to make.

We can't prepare for everything, granted...but for the things we can prepare for, we should. Tonight, my headgear sleeps with me. Whatever it takes to make it work.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy new year, and ganbatte!

Wow, it's 2011. A lot of things have changed in the past year. It was a good year for karate. I tested for all three of my belts: orange in February, green in April, May and June (three times!), and blue in December, just before Christmas. I started teaching this year, too. New students came, old students left, I made headway with my choke defense...and guess what? My double-leg takedown has improved a lot since the beginning of the month.

I didn't make new year's goals last year because I guess I wasn't as serious about karate as I am now, but this year I'm making them.

Next year, on New Year's Day, I want to be able to say that I've improved my thought-process and focus while sparring, gotten into much better physical condition (I want to be able to do fifty push-ups in a minute and twenty-five seconds), and I want to be able to proficiently teach at least up to orange belt basics. Green once I feel comfortable with orange.

Here's the big one, though. This time next year, I want to be able to say that I've applied martial arts to my life, but specifically the discipline part of it. Martial artists should devote a lot of time and patience and effort to practicing, but they should also devote the same level of time, patience, and effort to their relationships, their schoolwork and careers, their faith, and their family. That's a big one for me because I tend to over-devote time to things that I like to do and not necessarily to things that I need to do.

I have other responsibilities in my life which should be given the same amount of devotion and effort as I give to martial arts every week.

On a side note, today I attended Sensei's daughter, Christine's karate birthday party! It was great! We played a few games of duck and jump and a game called 'turtle shell', in which both combatants attempt to get on top of each others' backs and hold them there for ten seconds. I versed my sister KC, a friend of ours named Zoey, Sensei's youngest daughter Carol (she won), and Sensei.

I let the kids beat me, but I didn't let Sensei beat me. I just didn't stand a chance! It was over in five minutes. It ended with an improvised rear naked choke. He is so strong...but what should I have expected?

Someday I'll get him. :P
Maybe by next year? Somehow I think that may be pushing it.

Anyway, happy new year to anyone who's reading this! If you're a martial arts student, then let's agree to train hard in the upcoming year and to train smart!

Ganbatte! Let's do our best!