Sunday, June 29, 2008

Impractical Practice...

I was thinking about this yesterday and thought it would make an interesting post. The comments/responses should prove interesting and educational for all of us.

Because I am a busy mom who also works full time and is involved in community groups, church groups, PTA, etc, I don’t have a lot of large blocks of time to practice my martial arts. (Although I try my best to make time!) So, I try to incorporate it into little time crunches throughout my day (and life). If you’ve read my Kata post, you know I practice martial arts in the bathroom at work when nobody is in there with me. (The bad part – I have to have phone relief to use the restroom at work because I answer the main lines. I bet they think I’m constipated a lot of the time because I’m gone so long! Gee, it just occurred to me - I hope nobody from work reads my blog or I’m busted!) Below are just some of the ways I find to put my martial arts into practice in what some people would consider unusual circumstances.
I’d love to hear some of yours as well…

  • Okay, I already said it – I practice kumites, katas, kicks, knuckle pushups, whatever in the bathroom at work. (When I run out of room on the katas, I just push the stall door open and continue or back up a little bit and continue. (Safety note: Much easier to do this in summer when I can just kick my sandals off and do this bare footed. In winter, with socks – too slippery and easy to fall on the tile floor! Thank goodness our bathroom floors are very clean.)
  • I also practice the above things in my kitchen, my bedroom, my living room at home. Same process with backing up and continuing.
  • I balance on one foot while watching tv at home (there’s a small tile section right inside my front door where I do that – good view of the tv from there. (But I lock the front door in case someone comes in unexpectedly and knocks me off balance.)
  • I balance on one foot at in the kitchen at work while waiting for my lunch to heat in the microwave. I also practice katas there. The soda machine’s shiny face provides my own little practice mirror. (I really wish I had a big mirrored area to practice all the time. Just my little soda machine glimpses seem to help.)
  • I do knuckle push ups and triangle push ups (for the triceps) off the wall in the kitchen at work while waiting for my lunch to heat up in the microwave.
  • I try to balance on one leg while brushing my teeth and blow-drying my hair. Now that is a challenge! I’m usually not very successful at that one.
  • When standing from a sitting position, I try to not use my hands and try to use the center of my gravity more.
  • When going up steps at work (3 flights often throughout the day) I try to also use my center of gravity.
  • I don’t remember in what martial arts book I read this, but when opening doors, use your core strength rather than your arm strength. When I remember, I try to do this.
  • I read anything I can get my hands on about martial arts. Books, magazines, websites, blogs…You name it, I’ll read it. I try to have a m.a. related book with me at all times so I can learn while waiting in line rather than just wasting my time waiting in line.
  • I watch documentaries, movies, again, you name it, I’ll watch it.
  • I do a breathing/meditation/energy technique taught to me by one of our school’s teachers, whom I admire very much. It is from a book called “Your Hands Can Heal You” by Stephen Co. I have only done this one exercise from this book and it is very powerful and lets you see how you really do possess energy. I have the book and want to read it and apply its principles, but it is not one I want to rush and just never seem to have the time/place to sit and read it uninterrupted where I can really understand it. New goal for self: Read this book and truly learn and understand it’s teachings!
  • And then we have the visualization that I also spoke of in the kata post. I probably use this technique more than any other. I can do this anywhere, anytime, provided I am not distracted from what I need to be doing. Just visualize it and then try it when I have the opportunity to perform it physically. (Currently, I’ve been working on that for a jumping front snap kick and when I do it physically, it is getting better, but I have a lot more work – both visualizing it and physically practicing it to go.)

    Anyway, I’d LOVE to hear some of the ways you put your martial arts into practice in impractical / unconventional ways / places!

Friday, June 27, 2008

You Kata Love It...

It is hard to narrow it down to just one thing, but if I had to name my very favorite part of martial arts, I think it would be kata. I know it is a very controversial subject in the martial arts world. Almost every article on kata I've ever read starts out with something along the lines of "Some arts stress the importance of kata, while others think it is just a bunch of bunkai. (That was a pretty good one, wasn’t it?)

It could be said that I have not been involved in martial arts long enough to know which of those viewpoints is most accurate. And if you're the one that said it, I'd almost have to agree with you. You would be partially right. After all, I have only just learned my fourth kata. I have read/heard both sides of the debate. Opponents say kata is not applicable to real life. On the flip side, many say it is the most important aspect as its repetition drives home the muscle memory of the fundamentals; That it enables our bodies to carry out the basics of martial arts without our minds having to think through it first.

What I do know about kata is not based on research or fact, but on pure gut instinct and that is that I absolutely love it. I love the simplicity within the intricacy. I love the elegance, the rhythm, the flow, the power, and if done correctly, the emotion (which if done well, looks more like a lack thereof). I love the fact that I can practice kata almost anywhere, anytime. I can glide across the large dojo floor, or feel the plush, green carpet of a large patch of grass in the backyard under my feet. I can practice kata in my kitchen or the bathroom at work (when nobody else is in there that is!) In those smaller places, all I have to do is compensate with less encompassing steps or kicks, but the movements are all still there. I can even perfect my katas at work at my desk, behind the wheel of my car at a stoplight, or as I'm drifting off to sleep at night - in my mind, that is. When I can't get up and perform the actual physical movements of kata, I try to visualize myself doing just that. And since so much of martial arts is about the mind, this form of practice is almost as beneficial as the physical act itself - maybe even more so. Sometimes I work out the logistics of a technique or move with which I'm having trouble in this way. More than once, in doing so, I've had one of those "Aha!" moments and could barely wait until I could get to a place where I could try it out physically. And the icing on the cake is when, in trying out the solution I've come up with in my mind, I find that it works!

You Kata love that!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Howdy Partner and Happy Trails...

I hate numbers. I am a "word person", not a "number person". I know there are probably some stats I could quote for you in regards to how many adults start martial arts classes but drop out fairly quickly, but I will spare you the drudgery of that. I'm sure we can all agree that this is probably true no matter what the figures say. (But they apparently hold onto their gi's because I sure don't find any adult ones in the thrift stores!)

Our adult class has lost some students, too. Our sessions last between 8-16 weeks depending on the season. At the time of this blog, I am in my third or fourth session - I've lost track. (I blame it on the number phobia, not a poor memory.) During that time, all three from my first session are gone. One woman, who I'll call Rose, from my second session is still involved. All the others from her class have dropped. We retained one guy from the next session. Another guy from that session hung in there for awhile but he quit coming after I agreed to be partners with him in class one night. (More about that later in the post.) We had a gentleman come in during the same session as these other two guys. He brought his entire family - the wife and all 8 or 9 of his kids. They all sat and watched their patriarch learn karate. He stuck with it for almost a full session, but then did not come back either. And he seemed really into it, too. Last session, we had a 14 year old girl join us. She is very quiet and very shy. Surprisingly, she came back this session. She is starting to talk a little more now. She and I were looking at the 10 or so newbies last week trying to predict who we thought would stick with it and who wouldn't. The funny part - one of them has the same first and last name as I do! So, in case you lost track there, I believe that since I started a year ago, only 4 others have continued their classes out of approximately 8 or so.

Now, back to the guy who went AWOL after he and I were partnered up in class. This guy always came in street clothes -never a gi. He was about the same height as me with our arms & legs being about the same in length. Probably about the same weight - close anyway. In our class, not always, but more often that not. when we break up into partners, the females usually pair up with other females and the guys with guys. One night, we started to break into partners as always and Rose & I started to partner up. Out of the blue, this guy who has never spoken to us before says to me, "You know, you girls always partner up with each other. In real life, you wouldn't be fighting a girl all of the time. You need to step outside of your comfort zone." Rose & I took it more as a slam than constructive criticism and partnered up anyway. The guy partnered up with another, much taller guy.

Fast forward about 2 weeks later. When we went to partner up, I got a wild hair up my…I mean a sudden inspiration to call this guy on his challenge and partner up with this guy to prove I was ready to step outside of my comfort zone. I told him that we'd be partners tonight and I think I shocked him. I think he never thought I'd actually act upon his "dare". Well, we did some kumite practice and because of our similar body shape/size, it was easy to work with him. He was very encouraging and helped me work through the more difficult techniques. It was a very productive evening and I think it surprised both of us that we worked so well together. At the end of the evening, he thanked me for practicing with him. And then I never saw him again. Are you sensing a pattern here?

Remember the delusional girl from my first class ever? The one with the too-small green belt? I never saw her again either. I've come to the conclusion that either A.) I'm so intimidating that I scare them away, or B.) I'm the delusional one…

I prefer to think it's "A"…which basically pretty much proves it's "B"…: )

Monday, June 23, 2008

Bend it Like Dolly...Or Don't Let the Boobs Get You Down

Or more appropriately, "When the Boobs Won't Let You Get Down" : )

Guys, just bear with me here. You will have no way in which to identify with the problem I have with some aspects of martial arts, or even just exercise in general.

Boobs. And I don't mean idiots. I mean female anatomy. Ladies, if you have the garden variety average size, you will probably identify with my problem about as much as the guys. But those of you females reading this who are on the more ample end of the spectrum, you could probably write this blog post yourself.

As I said in my previous post, the adult class stretches and exercises for the first 45 minutes of our class in order to be in better shape and to have warm, stretched muscles for the instructional part of our class. Most of these exercises are just as easy for me to do as anyone else in the room. I am actually pretty limber & stretchy, which I think surprises some people given that I'm overweight. The neck stretches feel great. The toe touches - no problem…I can touch my fists to the floor. The crunches, while not exactly my favorite, are not too difficult - anatomy wise, anyway. The Cobra - I love it. Feels great. But then there are the ones that require me to "bend it like Dolly"…Dolly Parton that is.

Okay, I'm not THAT big, but big enough that when I sit with my legs straight out in front of me together, and try to fold myself in half, my very short waist, coupled with "the girls", well I can barely bend! I just do my best. When we sit with our legs stretched far out to each side (think almost splits) and try to touch our head to each knee, I can rest my forehead on my knee…if I push the corresponding "girl" toward the inside of my knee! (I'm sorry, I know this is pretty graphic, but you gotta admit - it's also pretty funny!) The other ladies in the class and I have a laugh over that one. Now, the next step to this exercise/stretch is to pull the soles of our feet in close and bend down in half and try to touch your head to your feet while keeping your knees flat to the floor. Again, I'm bendy. I’m stretchy. I can do that because the girls are not in the direct path!

Now, you might say, "Get that girl a good sports bra!" I am here to tell you, have you ever tried to buy a good sports bra for those who would need it most? I mean, really? If you're a small chested gal, you would have no problem finding effective and possibly even cute sports bras. I did find two that held the girls pretty securely, but there was one problem. Okay, two problems. First, and most serious of the two problems - remember the gi top is white cotton. You could see right through it. That was not going to do. Remember, I told you, I do not like to "stand out" in a crowd. (Sorry, I couldn't help using that pun - it was unintentional at first - until I realized how funny it was in context! : ) The other problem is that in my life outside of martial arts, the girls are one of my better features and smashing them down making my chest look like a barrel is just pushing the "not caring what I look like" thing I talked about in my last blog, just a bit too far. There you go, guys, here is your chance to get involved in this post and get rich in the process - invent a sports bra that gives us the support we need without making us look like John Goodman taking a karate class.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Normal Newbie...

To be honest, I barely remember my very first night of karate class. The part I do remember is the twisted nerves leading up to it. I really did not know what to expect. Since I had made the decision to join the adult class, I had planned on staying late one night to see what the adults did differently than the kids, but I never did. Probably because I was afraid of what I’d see and then chicken out altogether!

I knew the senseis from having asked questions about proper technique for my son, but I did not know them well. I had met a great guy named Mack (not his real name of course) who, when asked, gave me a lot of good reasons to join the adult class. While I was worried about being over 40, he told me he was 46 when he started a few years back. He, like me, is overweight, and has 2 bum knees as opposed to my one. And he gushed about the class and martial arts in general. I knew if he could do it, I could do it. So, you see, he was a big part of the reason that I had the courage to start my journey. Thank you, Mack!

My son, who I will call “Buddy” because I kind of affectionately call him that a lot (and also to protect the innocent – hey you never know what I’m going to say in my blogs to embarrass someone – myself included!) So, anyway, Buddy and I went to that nights’ kids’ class and my stomach was doing flip flops the entire time. There were two other moms of students with whom I became friends while sitting and watching our kids. I vented my fears/nervousness to them and they stroked my ego by telling me I’d do just fine. I appreciated that too.

My husband, let’s see what will I call him to protect his privacy? Hmmm, how about just plain Hubby? Not very original, but it beats the impersonal “my husband”. It was agreed upon that Hubby would pick up Buddy at 7:30 pm - the end of the kids’ class. I knew Buddy couldn’t stay while I did my class because he has a short attention span and would be gallivanting all over the community recreation center and I’d be too worried about him to concentrate on my own class. So, he picked him up and I looked around at the 20 or so gi-clad students who had arrived. I found a group of 3 women and strolled over while we waited for the kids to clear out and our class to begin. I learned their names, hoping I’d remember them next time. Two were in their 20’s and the other woman was within a year or two of my age. That made me feel better.

We bowed in and took our places. I knew from Buddy’s class to line up in rank order. Wasn’t hard to figure out where I was supposed to stand…all the way to the sensei’s left. There were three other beginners, a strange girl whose name I don’t remember, a strange guy who’s name I don’t remember, and another guy who wasn’t as strange as the other guy, but I don’t remember his name either. Okay, now I’m the only normal beginner there. (Go ahead, I’ll pause while you get all that hysterical laughing out of your system.) The girl wore a gi with a green belt far too small for her and insisted she knew all about karate and had taken lessons for years but her dojo just closed up all of a sudden and that was why she was here. The other guy was a mentally challenged man who didn’t talk much. The other guy was a tall, hulk of an African American teen. The only one who talked to me was the girl, telling me of her alleged karate prowess. At this point I had no valid reason to doubt her except for the ill-fitting green belt, but this alone was enough to set my BS sensors off.

After warming up for 45 minutes (which I now use as my basis for warming up/working out), the newbies were taken aside to assess what they already knew. When the two guys were asked, they said they were clean slates. I said I had watched/practiced what the kids class had learned and the girl, of course, insinuated that she was Beatrix Kiddo. Well, the senseis started us on the easy basics – power stance, horse stance, head block, leg block, etc. It was obvious that not only would the girl not be Killing Bill, she did not even know what a power stance was. After the same results with each basic, I saw the senseis exchange a discreet look of realization between them and one said, “Well, different arts do things differently”, so as not to embarrass the girl. We then just all started from scratch and learned all the basics. Beatrix seemed relieved.

The time just flew and before I knew it, it was time to line up again to bow to our senseis, thanking them for the lesson, and then to bow out of the dojo for the night. After doing so, the girl hinted at needing a ride, and it was pouring rain, so being the compassionate person I am, I offered her a ride since she lived just up the street. On the way, she asked if I wanted to meet her there early next week and we could practice. I said sure, already regretting my response. She said bye and I never saw her again.

Driving home, I felt exhilarated and so proud of myself. I had gotten through all this physical exertion, put finishing touches on what I had learned from Buddy’s classes. I had sweated all my makeup off and my hair was wringing wet with perspiration, and the amazing part – I DIDN’T CARE HOW I LOOKED! (You have to know me to know just how surprising that is. For example, when camping, I don’t come out of the tent until I have my makeup on and my hair fixed in some way.) I mean, to put the significance of this into perspective, I am sitting here on Sunday morning writing this blog with NO makeup on and my hair all askew...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

To Gi or Not to Gi...

Okay, now that I had made up my mind to sign up for the adult karate class, chickened out a few times, thought about psychiatric evaluation, and came to the conclusion that I was, in fact, still intimidated, but going through with the class anyway, I had to have something to wear to the class. I could just wear sweats and a t-shirt, but everyone else wore a gi. The last thing I wanted to do was draw attention to myself by looking different right from the get-go.

My first step was to look in the yellow pages to find a martial arts supply store. Hah! There was one store that was also a "fitness" store. It was about 30 miles from our house (which was okay at the time as it was "pre-$4/gallon gas". My husband and I took a drive so I could try on a gi because being a woman about 50 lbs overweight, the chances of me buying a gi online without trying it on first were about as likely as there ever being a Clay Aiken, Jr. (Hey, wait a minute, that is actually in process right now, isn't it? Okay, bad example. How about as likely as a Michael Jackson Jr…oops, that happened, too, didn't it?) Oh, well, you get what I mean - I wasn't going to buy a gi without trying it on first. Any overweight ladies out there will know EXACTLY what I mean by that.

So, we go in the store and there is one little section, and I mean a very little section of uniforms and a large selection of colored belts. That was it. Almost the entire store was exercise machines. Well, since gi's are not made of a stretch fabric, and my tummy is my worst feature, I needed a size bigger than they had in stock…or so I thought. The one they had fit but I was afraid at the first kick I did, the pants would split and I would have martial arts' first crouchless gi pants! So, they special ordered the next size up for me. I was disappointed because I do not get to try it on until it comes in. Heck, I could have ordered it off the internet and not even had to drive all that way when they came back in. But again, gas was a frugal $2.99 per gallon back in the good old days (aka: early 2007).

A week later, the new, larger gi arrives at the dinky little excuse for a martial arts store and we make the trek out there again so I can try it on and buy it if it fits properly. I open the bag and the gi that has been custom ordered for me is a soft, brushed cotton, and very heavy material. Did I mention I am a sweater? Not like a knit top - like a perspirator! So, I knew this was not going to be pretty upon physical exertion. I go in the hideously dirty/tiny restroom/storage room/janitor's closet and tried to put on this pristine white gi without getting anything on it. The pants are about 7" too long and the crouch is about halfway down my thigh. But it is the next size up form the next one down which was just a bit too snug. So, what's a girl to do? I bought it at a price that was a little inflated. Took it home and figured I would hem the pants, which I did. But because gi's are sized for men who are not in the least overweight, the legs are not tapered at all. So, the size I bought is really made for a 6'3" man because I took off 7" and the hem was so wide that I looked kind of silly. And let's not even discuss the top that was also cut for a 6'3" man. It looked like a bathrobe on this 5'4" woman! But again, what was I supposed to do?

Meanwhile, I looked at thrift stores, hoping I'd find a better fitting gi. I had read that people sign up for martial arts classes, but rarely stick with it. So, there had to be a ton of unwanted gi's out there donated by the former karatekas, right? Wrong. They may be quitters but they are apparently optimists as well, holding onto those gi's for when they "get back into it". I found nothing except children's uniforms, and I found a lot of them. (I haven't had to buy my son a brand new gi yet.) Eventually, I did find a lighter weight top that fit better. I paired it up with the heavier weight pants and the first incarnation of my uniform was finally "ready to wear".

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mind Over Matter...

The real first step in my journey of a thousand miles was getting up the courage to even sign up for the adult karate class in the first place. I'm overweight, not in the best physical shape (but not terribly out of shape either), and 42 years old. I know nothing about karate except what I've seen as a spectator at my son's classes and in Jean Claude Van Damme movies. So, what in the world possessed me to want to pursue this so badly? At that point in time, your guess would have been as good as mine.

I had resigned myself to sign up for the adult class months before the next session would start. However, I must have talked myself out of it at least 5 to 10 times, rationalizing that a 42 year old, anything-but-athletic mom could never do well at something as physical as martial arts. "C'mon", I told myself, "you punch like a girl!", and "They are going to laugh at you." But the feeling I got when I did even the basics such as head blocks, leg blocks, front snap kicks and basic punches won out over all the negatives. I don’t know exactly how to explain the feeling, but the closest thing I can come to it is "confidence". Doing those basics - I felt almost athletic. I felt like I could do anything to which I set my mind. (And just to fast forward a little - that is exactly why I do not stray from my journey - the self confidence the martial arts gives me is addicting.)

And as with any other project I start, research is always my first step in the process. And martial arts was (and is) no different. I immersed myself in anything karate, taekwondo, or martial arts in general. I read many books, searched the internet, watched documentaries, movies…you name it, if it had anything at all to do with martial arts, I was all over it.

I continued practicing all the new techniques my son learned in the kids’ class, figuring I’d have a leg up (pun intended) on the other newbies who’d be signing up for the next adult class. I kept reading, watching and discussing anything I could get my hands/eyes on having to do with martial arts.

I started looking for a martial arts supply store so I could buy a gi. That sounded much easier than it was. I found one sorry excuse for a martial arts supply store in my area. And I really needed to be able to try the gi on because their sizes run differently than standard sizing…So what was I going to wear to these classes?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Making of a Martial Arts Mom...

Like I said in my maiden blog, I like to start at the beginning. So...In the beginning (aka: early 2007 in this case), I was looking for activities for my then 8 year old son, who has ADHD.

Softball? We couldn't afford the hundreds of dollars...

Soccer? Again, we couldn't afford the multiple hundreds of dollars...

Karate - We couldn't afford the THOUSANDS of dollars...

When I mentioned this to my son's pediatrician, she gave me a list of community centers offering sports programs at reasonable prices. She informed me it was well documented that the discipline and focus required in the practice of the martial arts was beneficial to those with ADHD.

And that is how I found our Martial Arts School. The school's "Karate Kids" program meets at a neighboring municipality's recreation center every Thursday night from 6:30 pm - 7:30 pm. The school's adult Karate class meets from 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm.

My son enjoyed the class, but true to his nature, he had trouble remembering what he had learned as recently as a few hours before. I took to videotaping new moves and then practicing them with him each night. I am sure I enjoyed the routineness of this much more than my son.

I also noticed that I really enjoyed the graceful moves, especially the kata, named "Basic Number One", taught to the beginners.
Without even realizing it, I found myself practicing when all alone...and often. I actually went through the movements of the kata in the bathrooms at work (um...when nobody was in there that is! : ) Other employees would walk into the kitchen area and catch me doing knuckle push ups against the wall or balancing on one foot while I waited for my lunch to heat up in the microwave.

When I finally admitted to myself that this is something I wanted to do for myself, not just in support of my son, I had to overcome my long time ingrained fear of people laughing at me and my track record of poor performance in most athletic endeavors. I mean, I like to ride bicycles and bowl, but that was about the extent of my love of sports. It took me a few weeks to convince myself to sign up for the adult class, but I did it. And because of those preconceived perceptions of myself, I have to tell you, it was a difficult decision for someone like me. But I really did it. And you know what? It was an exhilerating feeling! Now more than ever, I more clearly understand the Chinese proverb, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step..."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Martial Arts Mom: aka The Blogger Virgin

Yep, hard to believe a 43 year old is a blogger virgin,but that I am. I have wanted to blog for a long time now, but didn't know how to get started. Then through another blogger, completely by accident, I stumbled upon this website. My main reason for wanted to blog is to keep track of my martial arts journey, so I'll have it all there in archives for when I write my memoirs when I achieve black belt ranking : ) I also thought it might help me satisfy my obession in talking about martial arts without driving my family and friends completely crazy. If you found this blog, you probably have some interest in martial arts, right? Anyway, that's enough for my "maiden blog". Just wanted to get my feet wet. I am a firm believer in starting at the beginning, which I'll do next blog...when I'm no longer "The Blogger Virgin"...