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!