Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Favorite Martial Arts Books

Perpetual Beginner gave me the idea of posting a list of books I have read. (She does it periodically on her blog. BTW, go visit her blog - http://perpetualbeginner.blogspot.com/ - very insightful and well written.) If you read my previous post about running into the "psychotic professor" at the book sale - http://martialartsmom.blogspot.com/2008/07/beware-of-man-of-one-book.html - then you already know how avid a reader I am. (Side note: The "psychotic professor" is kind of like my own personal fish story. He gains momentum in each subsequent retelling. In my post, he started out as "a bookish little man", moved on to "the nutty professor" and in my current rendition, is "the psychotic professor". Who knows - next version may have him as "Dr. Dimented"!) Anyway…

Since I'm so effective at staying on subject (NOT!), I decided to narrow my book lists down for my blog, only listing martial arts related books which I enjoyed because if I didn't enjoy them, I'd have stopped reading mid-book or sooner, and also books that are on my wish list to read. I figured since this is a martial arts blog, you probably did not want to know that "sTori Telling" by Tori Spelling is on my full, all-subject-encompassing "want-to-read" list. (See, there I go again - admitting to watching those awful, exploitative reality shows like "Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood" - Do you still respect me?)

Without further ado, my lists:

M.A. Related Books I Read and Loved:
*Living the Martial Way by Forrest E. Morgan
*The Making of a Butterfly by Pete Starr
*American Shaolin by Matthew Polly (E-mailed him and he e-mailed back - supposedly making a movie of this book! That would be a great movie!)
*Solo Training by Loren Christensen
*The Way Alone by Loren Christensen
*Martial Arts after Forty by Sang H. Kim Ph.D
*Dojo Wisdom for Mothers by Jennifer Lawler
*Dojo Wisdom:100 Simple Ways to Become a Stronger, Calmer, More Courageous Person by Jennifer Lawler
*Be Like Water by Joseph Cardillo (This is more a devotional type book for martial artists - haven't read entire book but like what I've read so far.)
*Bow to Life by Joseph Cardillo (Again, more of a daily m.a. motivational book - haven't read it all, but what I have read, I like.)

M.A. Books I Want to Read and Love:
*Gravity Never Stops: The Life & Training of a Martial Artist by Ron Sreh
*Mastery by George Leonard
*The Art of Balance by Ambrose Loughlin
*Steal My Art by Stuart Alve Olson
*Quotations for Martial Artists: Hundreds of Inspirational Quotes to Motivate and Enlighten the Modern Warrior by
John D. Moore
*Persimmon Wind: A Martial Artist's Journey in Japan by Dave Lowry
*The Monk from Brooklyn by Lang Reid
*The Dance of Becoming: Living Life as a Martial Art by
Stuart Heller with Marilyn Ferguson
*Meditation and the Martial Arts by Michael L. Raposa
*Easy Meditation for Martial Artists by Robert Morgan
*The Fighter's Body by Loren Christensen
*Extreme Joint Locking and Breaking by Loren Christensen
*Winning with American Kata by Loren Christensen
*And a ton and half of other books…these are just the ones that come to mind…

I am a huge fan of the St. Louis County Library - the ultimate resource for someone in St. Louis. Most of the books on my wish list must be purchased because they are not available from the library (even via inter-library loan) and I am not in a financial position to be buying books, so I will probably not have the opportunity to read the books on my wish list for quite some time.

I have also found that with my interest in martial arts, I have also acquired a curiosity about eastern culture and history. I have read a few books by Adeline Yen Mah, which were great and have heard of a few more I'd like to look into about the foot-binding custom (how barbaric!) Another favorite subject stemming from my study of martial arts is energy work, pressure points, meridians, etc. Upon the recommendation of one of our teachers, I am reading, or rather studying, a book on pranic energy, "Your Hands Can Heal You" by Stephen Co & Eric B. Robins, M.D. Very interesting. We did one of the energy experiments in class last session and I inquired as to its origins and was referred to this book. As I said, I'm reading it very slowly, highlighting key points and doing the exercises as I go along. I consider it my own, private pranic energy course at the University of MAM (Martial Arts Mom). So, while not technically martial arts related, and therefore not on my official "lists", these books/subjects are related, and important, in my martial arts journey.

What are you favorite martial arts related books? Do you have any recommendations of additions to my wish list? I'd love to hear your thoughts or lists on the subject!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Quest for Balance - 2nd update

Well, I've been practicing the 4 Corner Balance drills recommended by Coach Sonnon http://www.rmaxinternational.com/flowcoach/?p=155 for a little over a week now. I still cannot hold these positions for 10-15 minutes at one stretch, but I've made my own modification that works for me - I hold them as long as I can at different times throughout the day. Practiced them in the pool last weekend - now that was a challenge! But I think it really helped accelerate my improvement. In execution of these exercises, I no longer look as if I'm on a pogo stick anyway! Just to measure a little of my improvement, the other morning, I was brushing my teeth and doing my hair and I balanced in a high knee chambering as if I were going to do a front snap kick or side kick and I held it there for quite some time without even wavering - all while carrying out my morning routines. And in class the other night, I did some back kicks, similar to the last position in the balance drills, so I saw some improvement there. I also did some roundhouse kicks - a low and then a high without rechambering and I was able to do it without losing my balance. This is a marked improvement for me. So, that's where I'm at one week in...anyone else have any progress to report yet?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Learn to Teach - Teach to Learn

I am not a teacher and I don't play one on t.v. either.

I can know something, know how to do it well, but ask me to teach it to someone else verbally and I'm a bumbling idiot. Or so it seems to me anyway. For this post, I'm using this statement in a martial arts context, but the statement is true for almost any situation in my life - whether I'm trying to teach someone at work an aspect of a computer program, trying to teach Buddy how to tie his shoes, or teach my daughter and her friends how to play "Zooma-Zooma". (You had to have watched Big Brother episodes with Evil Dick to know what I'm talking about. And on a totally unrelated topic - I can't believe I just admitted to all cyberspace that I watch superficial reality shows like Big Brother!) Okay to get back on the subject at hand…

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'm a word person. I think I write pretty eloquently…okay, maybe not eloquently, maybe more like expressively. Whatever - I'm mooting my own point here! And I can create written instructions that would rival any of the "Dummies" books any day. I have written directions for logging onto online reference libraries for those whose extent of computer experience is the self-checkout at the grocery store. And I'm never verbally at a loss for words either. (Just ask anyone who knows me.) But to teach someone, face to face, is very difficult for me. And I don't like this about myself. Therefore, it is something I absolutely want to change.

I wrote this post over the course of a few days. In that short period of time, my frame of mind shifted quite a bit after one of my karate classes.

The first (and original) frame of mind (written Wed. & Thurs.):

A few months ago, we had a child start with the beginner's class who had obvious attention problems. I recognized the characteristics as very similar to my son's ADHD behaviors…the not being able to stand still while at attention, the flailing arms and legs, which did not seem to be under the control of the child attached to those limbs, the scanning of the room in every direction except for the teacher at the front of the dojo. I painfully watched from the sidelines for a couple of weeks, when I finally asked my sensei, who is a teacher by profession, if she would allow me to just kind of shadow this child. I know that one-on-one is usually the best possible solution for Buddy and thought it might work for this child as well. Still being a white belt at that point myself, I was a little gun shy about asking, but I knew the basics, so I risked the rejection of being told no because I was too new. But she agreed. The next week, I bowed in and stood right near the child and tried to help him shore up some of his moves. I encouraged him to stand still and at attention when that is what was expected of him. He was still very unfocused, but I would like to think my being there helped him a little. If for nothing else, just knowing someone cared enough to take a personal interest. I would like to think that, but in truth, when trying to help him, when showing him correct ways to perform the movements, we got behind the rest of his class and that is where the real problem lies. I think I was the one who could have benefited from the one-on-one at that point! It was frustrating - I knew that I had the knowledge but just couldn't get the info to him in a manner that would make it clear enough to him to make the correction and recover in time to catch back up with the class. He did go on to the intermediate class and still had difficulty focusing, but in watching from the sidelines with his mom, I did seem to notice he didn't seem quite as "frantic" as he had been in his first session.

I offered to help a few more times with the children's beginner's class after that, and again, I found, that when I tried to demonstrate to a child the correct technique or form, both the child and I fell behind the rest of the class. I can't speak for the child, but I know this really threw me off. Therefore, I'd get confused and I'm sure I wasn't helping the child much. Now don't get me wrong - this didn't happen with every assist - just when the child wasn't "getting it" and there was a major correction to make that put us a little behind the others.

About 3 weeks ago, there weren't as many adults to help with the kids' intermediate class. I had always shied away from helping with the intermediate class. A boy who had taken a session or two off had forgotten some of the nuances of the basics. So, I asked if I could help the teacher. He said yes. We did okay until we got to the basic kata. In trying to help this boy and correct his incorrect moves, he and I lagged behind and I got confused because the teacher went on with the rest of the class. The teacher instructing the class jokingly told me to learn my kata. He was well aware that I know it. I think he sensed my frustration and was teasing me a little because he didn't want me to be so hard on myself.

So, knowing this is one of my weak points, I need to put some extra effort into it. I need to talk to one of our senseis and/or teachers to help me with this problem - Ask them how to help without falling behind the rest of the class and getting discombobulated myself. As I said, I know the basic info in trying to help these kids. I am just not versed in the best ways to help and not hinder. Please do not misunderstand me - I am by no stretch trying to insinuate that I am a teacher, but as I continue in my journey in the martial arts, I know that teaching is expected as one progresses. And not only because it is expected , but also because helping someone else with something I love so much is an aspect that I truly enjoy and find rewarding in my own journey, I plan to work very hard at improving this skill.

The second (and now ongoing) state of mind (written Fri. morning after Thurs. night class):

I had thought I was finished with this post until after my class last night and was feeling a little down on myself. But, in pursuit of being a better class helper, I talked to Mack, who helps with, and sometimes even teaches the intermediate kids classes. (Remember him - he is the guy who encouraged me to start the adult classes in the first place -"If I can do this, anyone can do this") In talking to him, I asked how I could be a better helper for the kids' classes, for example, how to avoid the dilemma of the child and I both getting behind the rest of the class when I try to help them correct themselves. Mack hesitated a little and almost laughed and said, "You can't, really." He reassured me that it happened to him, too, and went on to advise me that sometimes the best thing you can do is to just do the exercise along with them and lead by example.

And that one piece of advice made all the difference in the world to me. One of our orange belts taught the intermediate kids' class last night and she asked me to help her. So, I put Mack's advice into practice. I made sure I was in the front row at all times so the kids could use me as a reference. You see, I was doing the techniques in the same direction as the kids. The class leader was facing them so they were seeing it "backwards" when looking at her. I was their peer and they could look at me to see which way they should turn or if they should have left or right side forward. (Now I said they "could", not necessarily "would' : ) I only gave the kids who were next to me a few corrections - no stopping what we were both doing and getting behind. I would just remind them that they were executing a chest punch and not a face punch and their arm would immediately travel down to more of a solar-plexus level. We broke up into groups and I assisted one of our black belts who was teaching our Basic Kata # 1 to three of the six kids. I just continued with my newfound assisting technique, performing the kata right along with them, only correcting slightly, not getting behind, leading by example. We then went on to work on two of the five ippon kumites, where I played the role of uke. (and I was not a bad drama queen if I do say so myself.)

We wrapped up the kid's class without my having gotten discombobulated. And I think I might have even helped a kid or two, even if just marginally. And it felt really good. Thanks, again, Mack - you are always able to inspire me in my journey.

Last night I had an epiphany - Sometimes teaching is just as much about learning as it is about teaching.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Knuckle Push-Up

A few posts ago, I declared the "inside-out crescent kick" as the bane of my martial arts existence. The knuckle push-up is probably a distant second. I say distant because I actually kind of enjoy the knuckle push-ups whereas the inside-out-crescent kick…not so much.

Back when I was watching Buddy take his first classes and saw the knuckle push-ups, I thought I surely must be seeing/hearing something incorrectly. Surely I was not seeing these little kids supporting all their body weight on two knuckles on each hand? Well, that is exactly what I was seeing…and stop calling me Shirley. (Oh, c'mon, laugh - you've seen Airplane! haven't you?)

When I confirmed that what I was seeing was, in fact, these little kids holding all their body weight up on 4 knuckles, I started to get a little nervous. After all, they only had to hold up about fifty or sixty pounds. I had a heck of a lot more weight than that to hold up on my 4 knuckles! I thought to myself, "Self, this is not going to be easy."

And I was right. On my first night of class, Sensei told the new people that we could just get on our knees and rock forward with the weight on the 2 knuckles of each hand until we became more used to it…that we could build up to it. He then went on to explain the purpose of this unusual exercise. We punch, leading with the first two knuckles. This exercise toughens-up those knuckles. He explained that some women did not feel comfortable doing them for discomfort reasons or because after time, the knuckles seem to get bigger. I looked around and everyone, women included, were doing the knuckle push-ups. So, I tried. And failed. (But I didn't really fail BECAUSE I did try.) I determined that this was going to be one of those challenges I would work my way up to. I started on my knees and rocked forward on my knuckles, putting as much weight as possible on them. I'm not going to lie to you - it hurt. Mercifully, we only do ten repetitions of the knuckle push-ups in each class. (But, before you dismiss this as too easy, keep in mind that they follow 10 regular and 10 triangle push-ups!) Sensei then showed those of us new to this torture how to "shake it out" and get the blood flowing to all our filanges again. And it felt great.

And I did the modified version of this knuckle toughener for quite a few more sessions before I felt able to lift myself on my knuckles. And if you've been reading my posts, you have probably already figured out that I practiced at home, and up against walls at work, and I even push doors open with the first two knuckles of my hand to help that toughening process.)

Recently, Sensei started having us count each push-up out loud together. I don't know about you, but I'm so used to the regulated breathing that I try to use now, that it makes it more difficult for me to do the push-ups (knuckle or otherwise) when I'm counting them out loud as well. Sometimes, it is all I can do just to do the push-ups themselves.

But now that I've been doing the knuckle push-ups for about a year now, I can usually do them. I don't dip as deeply as many of the students who have been with it for years, but I do it. But some nights, I just don't feel I can pull (push?) my own weight. And on those nights, I stay on my knees and rock forward like I did when I was a brand new student. Can't really put my finger on why I feel like that occasionally - maybe just not feeling strong arm strength that night, sore hands from a hectic day of office work, weak from a cold or flu…Whatever the reason, I try not to judge myself and try not to feel like a failure when I just can't do them on a particular night in all their uncomfortable glory.

And I try to remember something Mickey Rooney said, "You always pass failure on the way to success."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Quest for Balance - First Update...

Just a quick update on the progress of my now 3-day journey in the quest for balance, using Coach Scott Sonnon's "Four Corner Drills". First of all, I can tell you that I now know why you must work at the basic level for 1-3 months. Coach Sonnon suggests you practice for 10-15 minutes each day. Well, I would assume he means at one time. I had to modify that right out of the gate. I am doing the exercise a few times per day and I don't hold it very long yet. I plan on improving on that - in fact, if his claim is true, I am counting on being able to hold the poses for much longer by the end of the 3rd month. I am also not able to lift my legs as high as is shown in the photos accompanying his article. But again, I'm sure that will improve as well. However, I do seem to feel a bit more stability on one leg already so I am encouraged. Anyone that has taken the challenge with me - what are your results thus far?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Quest for Balance...

Why is it that at home, watching tv, I can stand on one foot in the half lotus position for hours? Okay, not hours, but a good 3-5 minutes without even flinching.

But get me in the dojo with 20 other people and I get my foot 2" off the ground and I'm already teetering? I would guess it has a lot to do with focus. Last night in class, Sensei mentioned that some people find it helpful to find a small spot on the floor on which to focus. And when he said focus, he explained he didn't mean to hyperfocus, but more just kind of stare and let your vision blur on that small little focus point. I know that helps me at home and also at work when I practice, but the difference is that I'm alone when I'm balancing at home or work. So, one could probably safely say that the other people just being in the room distracts me. It does make perfect sense. After doing research on my son's ADHD, (remember I told you I'm a Research Girl) I found that I have many of the classic symptoms of mild ADD. So, that would account for why I'm so easily distracted in the presence of others.

So, like Julia Roberts was a "Safety Girl" in the movie "Pretty Woman", when it comes to ANYTHING, I am a "Research Girl", and I just had to start the google process. I typed in "Balance Training" or "Exercises to Improve Your Balance" or something like that - I don't remember. (But don't fear, I'm going to give you the link later in this post). I found some pretty interesting exercises, but one program stood out from the others…Three Dimensional Balance: No Equipment. No Fuss. No Cost!" Well you have all probably figured out by now, I am broke all the time so the "No Cost" aspect was a big selling point for me. The author, Coach Scott Sonnon was pretty darn convincing when he said in his article, "As far as balance training, this set of drills is the only exercise you'll ever need. Period." After reading the article, I was sold. After all, Coach Sonnon seems to be a pretty accomplished guy (see Wikipedia:
Scott Sonnon - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia because you know I had to do my research on him before I relied on results of my original search for information on balance exercises.)

Coach Sonnon gives a timetable for practicing his "Four Corner Balance Drill" and I like the orderly way you are instructed to start with the least difficult exercises, take your time and master those before moving on to the next, more challenging set. Same with the next more difficult set until you finish with the "Elite" drills for a total of about 2 years of perfecting your balance. I found that I admire that feature in a program…any program…patience and thoroughness. I also admire that attribute in a person...patience and thoroughness. I hope I possess those attributes at least somewhat in my character - despite my self-diagnosed mild ADD.

Tonight, I am going to begin the first leg of my well-balanced journey of 1-3 months with the first 3 exercises of the "Basic Level" Four Corner Balance Drills. I printed out Coach Sonnon's article, "Three Dimensional Balance: No Equipment. No Fuss. No Cost!"
Scott Sonnon - Flow Coach of the Internet » Blog Archive » FREE Program Improves Your Heart Health? and am going to embark, with patience and thoroughness, on my "Quest for Balance". I will update every few months and let you know how much / if my balance is improving.

Anyone care to join me? (Don't 'ya just love a challenge??)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Martial (Escape) Artist...

Did you ever have one of those days in which just the thought of physical activity makes you want to cry?

What about a day where if you have to call one more company to complain, straighten something out, make an appointment, or even just ask a simple question, you feel like you'll lose your mind?

Have you ever had an emotionally draining day? Week? Month? Lifetime?

In other words, have you ever had one of those days when you were just EXHAUSTED - physically, mentally, or emotionally? Boy, I have.

Do those kinds of days ever have you thinking maybe you'll "play hookey" from karate class that night? Boy, I have…on more than one occasion, too. (Thinking it, that is. I rarely opt out from class because no matter which of the above exhaustion flavors I'm experiencing that particular day, I feel better during and usually after class.)

Just Thursday, I was having a bad day…mostly of the emotional/mental variety. Bad day is a major understatement. Everyone wanted something from me. Nobody had anything to give me. I was spent. Depressed. Sad. Tired. Depleted. Well, you get the point.

I have been going straight from work to karate class on Tuesday and Thursday nights now to save a little on gas money. I was on my way there - about 12 miles or so from the dojo when I had one of those emotionally draining phone conversations. Without going into details, I had had a disagreement with someone on the phone, who shall remain nameless except to say that we share a last name. (Okay that narrows it down to three!) Anyway, this was one of those calls where the other person says it is not a good time to talk and the two of you can talk later. I hate that. It's like going to the doctor and having to wait over a weekend for test or lab results. You'd rather just get everything out on the table and resolve things and then sigh a big old sigh of relief that things are going to be okay. So, we hang up.

I'm now stuck with that nagging feeling of waiting for those lab results to come back. My stomach felt "icky" and I had a headache and tightness in my chest. I immediately think to myself that I'm not going to go to karate tonight. How can I go and concentrate on karate when I'm feeling this discombobulated?

I tell myself that my hubby is going to play softball - why shouldn't I have my "me time" too? (Oops…so much for remaining nameless!) And I decide to go ahead and go to karate class. I figure maybe there will be quite a few adults gone on vacation and I might be allowed to help with the kids' class. Almost as soon as I'd made the decision to suck it up and go, I felt a smile sneaking up on me. And I knew it was the right decision - discombobulated or not.

I got to class and almost immediately the side effects of my troubles started to evaporate. I knew they'd resurface at 9:00 pm when class was over, but this was my escape time now. The next 2-1/2 hrs was "Me Time". Even in helping others, this is "Me Time".

I have always been the worrywart. I have never been the type to be able to "forget my troubles" or just smile through it all. As a rule, I usually get all mired up in my emotions and the physical side effects of my nervousness. But since starting karate, I have changed two-fold in this respect. First, I have learned some deep breathing and relaxation techniques that really seem to help me physically. And second of all, I have found such enjoyment in my classes, even the difficult parts…ESPECIALLY the difficult parts, that it proves to me that I am a capable person who is able to overcome obstacles - both physical and mental / emotional.

True to myself to a fault, I was emotionally a bit down on my way home after class. But it did amaze me that I had just been "in the moment" in class. I had not thought of anything except what I was working on right at that moment in time.

This is a really big hurdle I have overcome here. Being able to NOT get all bogged down with the things not going great in my life - finances, disagreements, career disappointments, gas prices (seriously!) and being able to enjoy martial arts to the extent that everything else falls away for a little while.

I guess that makes me a Martial (Escape) Artist!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sew What?

That's what my husband always says when I tell him I am going into my sewing room/office to sew. "Sew what?"

A few months ago, maybe during my 3rd session with my school, the senseis were discussing the poor condition of our banana bags. They were wondering if it would cost a cool fortune to have them repaired. I overheard and asked if I could take a look since I like to sew.

The canvas bags were quite worn in spots. The soft, almost flannel material inside the pockets housing the handles was terribly frayed. Of the 6 handles, (3 bags x 2 handles = 6 handles), only 3 were intact. One of the banana bags had a huge jagged L shaped rip near the heavy duty zipper. There were coffee colored water stains. I asked if the outer coverings were removable, which they were, and promptly said I could probably repair them. Sensei said he'd pay me if I could repair them, and that it was no hurry to do so. I told him no payment required. I just wanted to be a team player (and still do.)

We used ball point pens to deflate the innertubes inside the bag covers. The senseis told me that the air in those bags had been there for many years and I had no reason to doubt them - Whew! Fresh air it wasn't! I took the bags home and immediately started trying to figure out how to make the needed repairs. The thing I thought would be the most difficult ended up being much easier than sewing the detached handles back into place.

I visited my favorite store, no names but suffice it to say, I had to really watch my step with all the falling prices, and picked up some canvas that was approximately the same weight and color. I promptly took it home and washed it, along with the bag covers themselves to avoid shrinkage, hoping some of the water stains on the existing bag covers would come out in the wash, so to speak.

My favorite store did not carry the flannel type stuff to reline the pockets, so I went to a fabric store and found just the thing. I looked and looked while my husband scoped out the sales floor to see if they sold red hot pokers in the fabric store. (He enjoys fabric stores about as much as book stores if you read my post on the book sale.) There was one small scrap roll of it in the scrap bins so my determination paid off in this case. We paid for our purchase and got the heck outta there before my husband suffered any retinal damage.

Back at home, I went to work on repairing the bags. As I said, the big, jagged, L-shaped tear was the least of my problems. I made patches from the canvas I bought, used some fusion material to reinforce the layers and then sewed the whole thing. I was quite proud of myself because, initially, it "seamed" a quite daunting task. (There I go again with the puns!) Feeling pleasantly surprised at the ease of this repair, I thought to myself, "Piece of cake."

What followed were quite a few long, cozy evenings in front of the roaring…sewing machine. Actually, the roaring was coming from me - It was enough to make a saint scream. The angle of these handles inside the pockets was virtually impossible to get to with a sewing machine. The needle kept jamming in the material. The needles kept breaking. The needles needled me to the point I thought I would have to chuck the whole project or chuck my sanity. (And some will argue my sanity had been "chucked" long before this!) But, of course, my pride and time already put in prevented me from quitting. I am not the best at hand sewing, but I knew that was going to have to be the repair method of choice if I were going to finish this project. And I was going to finish this project.

So, like so many other times in my life, I told myself that quitting was not an option and that not only could I and would I hand sew these handles back on, I'd sew them on securely and built to last. And that is just what I did.

About 2 weeks later, I returned the the bags when I came to class. The senseis liked the looks of the new and improved repaired banana bags. They exchanged the cost of the sparring gear I had just ordered for my time/materials in repairing the bags. I thought that was a generous and fair gesture, so I accepted and said thank you.
Whatever the case, the sense of accomplishment in making challenging "material repairs" was much more satisfying than the "material rewards".

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

You Gotta Know When to Hold 'Em...

At least that's how Kenny Rogers would say it. You could also say, "Hold your cards close to your vest", or if you're a purist, just plain, "Keep your martial arts knowledge to yourself".

I am, for the most part, an impulsive person - at least in the verbal sense. I tend to speak before I think. (I submit for evidence my faux paux in telling "the nutty professor" at the book sale that I was a beginner in martial arts.)
I could also site myself on plenty of other "think before you speak" infringements. (Both martial arts related and not.) Another aspect in which this character trait can be very dangerous is in answering to a call for volunteers. I am so the sucker for a cause. (You'll hear more about me and my big mouth in another post on just that subject.) Matter of fact, I could probably just cut and paste these first two paragraphs onto that future post as well. But here is where the two posts' similarity will end…

I have been cautioned - more than one time and by more than one person - to "play my cards close to my vest". In other words - don't advertise that I practice martial arts.

The first time I heard it, I was in my first or second session, when we beginners were practicing the absolute basic moves. One of the guys said he didn't have a spot large enough in which to practice. Sensei told us we could practice even in small, tight spots. I suggested to the guy that if he had an outside area, maybe he could do his martial arts there. Sensei said that was not a good idea because you don't want everyone to know the extent of what you know. This surprised me. At that point in my journey, I would have thought that the more people thought you knew, the better off you were. My thought was that if they thought you were a bad-ass, they would not mess with you. But Sensei said you don't want to give them warning to work around your knowledge. Made me think of it with a totally different point of view.

I know a young man who shows off his moves whenever he gets the chance. Not maliciously or anything like that. Just does kata for whoever will watch. I don't see anything wrong with that. I have only the highest regard for kata. But some old school practitioners would probably deem this behavior inappropriate.

We all remember how the opposing team flaunted their martial arts prowess in the Karate Kid movies. I think this is the ultimate in using martial arts for vanity and illicit purposes. It's also a prime example of how modesty would have served those "bad guys" much better than their arrogance. You notice Daniel was instructed to not broadcast his martial arts training. And sometimes, when you feel you are doing really well at something at which you've worked very hard, you want to show it to the world. And in most non-martial arts related instances, you'd be encouraged to do so. So, when it is martial arts related, you have to "curb your enthusiasm" a bit - at least in the sense of showing it off outside the dojo. But therein lies yet another virtue of martial arts training - modesty and patience…with yourself as well as with others and situations.

I posted on my blog the other day about practicing in impractical places and at impractical times. (In all actuality, they are very practical - kind of a "bloom where you are planted" kind of theory.) But in getting my blog name out there, I posted my blog address on http://www.martialtalk.com/ (GREAT forum BTW) and someone wisely commented that I should be careful in training in front of others because some people take offense to martial arts. (No pun intended this time.) So far, I have not encountered that apprehension aimed at me just for doing my katas in the bathroom at work or my knuckle push ups against the lunchroom wall. But I could see where someone might not like it. For instance, someone may have a false assumption that martial arts equal a certain religious belief, or even lack thereof. Someone may have a strong aversion to women in any kind of sport, especially martial arts. And I suppose these people are entitled to their opinion, unfounded or not.

But as far as I'm concerned, the only person who should have a valid complaint about me doing kata in the bathroom at work is the woman who has to fill in answering the phones when I’m in the ladies' room, making the time away from my desk about 10 minutes versus 5 minutes.

As long as she doesn't have a problem with it, I think I'm okay…

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Bo Knows Martial Arts...

Speak softly and carry a big stick. Who was it who said that? Teddy Roosevelt I think. But I could be wrong - history is not one of my strong suits.

As I've said before, my martial arts school is based out of a community center. Our sessions run 10-14 weeks depending on the season. Because of the limitations of meeting once per week for our regular sessions, we do not operate like many schools.

For instance, only once per session is the norm for working with bo staffs. The first time I saw one of these weapons was when I was still just a spectator at Buddy's classes. It was almost the end of the kids' class when the adult students started filing in with what looked to be 6' long broomsticks. I could sense the excitement amongst them. They were clearly ready for the kids class to be over and theirs to begin. A group of about 4 or 5 of the adult students stood down in one corner out of the way and practiced with the oversized toothpicks. It was fortunate it was very near the end of the kids' class because you can just imagine how much attention the kids were paying to "boring old punching and kicking" when the grown-ups were over there in plain view playing with toys! At that point, I don't think I had decided to sign up for adult karate classes and I did not stick around to watch the class to see how these pool-stick looking weapons were used, but I have to admit - my eyes were as glued to those adults and their toys as the kids had been.

My next encounter with bo staffs was when I had already joined the adult class. About 4 or so lessons in, at the end of our class, when Sensei updates us on what is going on with our school and martial arts outside of our school, he told the class to bring their "bo's" next week. I was all excited, figuring I could borrow one as I'd seen that there was a box of them in our storage area.

The next week I arrived to class, and in came the same adult students from before with their bo staffs and their enthusiasm in tow. I was enthused as well, but also anxious because I couldnt' figure out how I was going to do any kind of kata with the class never having handled a bo staff before in my life. Sensei asked if I'd like to just work on basics since I was so new to martial arts. I was disappointed in a way, but relieved in another. And after all, everyone can use review on the basics - especially the newbie.

Fast forward to the next session (my 2nd session) and when bo staff night was upon us, we had a few new beginners sign up so there was more than one person to learn bo staff basics. About 3 of us eagerly chose a bo staff from the box kept in the storage room. And one of the then brown belts taught us how to hold it at attention and fundamentals in how to handle a bo staff in general. That evening passed very quickly. I could see I was going to enjoy working with this weapon.

In my 3rd session, on bo night, I was back to being the lone ranger in that I just knew the very basics from last session. So, Sensei himself took me aside and taught me the basic bo kata. I caught on pretty quickly and was quite proud of myself. He and I "sparred" back and forth quite a bit that evening. The repetition drilled the routine into my head. I knew I wanted to practice at home, so that was the evening I ordered my very own bo staff.

I practiced at home and got the hang of switching hands, but could not get the jist of figure eights where one does one wrist over the other (one up, one down). But I got the kata pretty well under control - not an easy feat considering I did not have anyone to practice it with. My neighbors must have wondered what in the world a grown woman was doing in her front yard fighting an imaginary adversary with a 6' pole.

Now I'm in my fourth session and another mom and I ordered bo staffs for our sons who are also in the kids karate class together but who have both taken this summer session off. So, she and I received the bo staffs this past week. We took them out and started practicing the different ways of handling them...and luckily, Sensei was right there and I asked him about the proper technique on the figure eight dilemma I've been having. I did not know the proper term for this technique so it was kind of comical me trying to describe to him what I wanted him to show me.I think the other woman knew what I meant too but didn't know the proper term. He did a little assortment of movements and when he hit upon the one I wanted to see executed, I was almost giddy that we had hit pay dirt. Everyone thought that was kind of funny and we all laughed together about how I knew the kata but didn't know this simple little movement.

The other woman and I started to practice the kata - one of us attacking, the other defending and then reversing the roles. I happened to catch the "in awe" glances from the kids class - just like that first time I saw a bo staff, so I suggested to my friend that we go into another room so as not to distract the kids. And so we did and the kids got back to their kicking and punching. And probably, some new adult student who arrived early, or a parent thinking about joining our class saw us and thought, "Wow, look how excited those grown women are over an oversized toothpick. Maybe I should look into signing up for these classes..."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Beware of the Man of One Book...

Beware of the man of one book.~ Thomas Aquinas ~

I love to read. No, that is an understatement. I read voraciously. I am an only child so I had plenty of time to cultivate my love of reading as a kid. I love martial arts books, biographies, autobiographies, books about meditation/energy/healing arts (if they're not of the hokey cure-of-the-week variety), books on cooking, magazines, newspapers, cereal boxes…Wait, I just had a better idea - I should tell you what I don't really care to read because that list would be MUCH shorter.

None of my family and friends are as dedicated to reading as I am. My kids like books but don't care much for reading. (Don't ask me - I’m just calling it like I see it.) My husband would rather have his eyes gouged out with a red hot poker than read. My parents are not readers. My friends, who are not involved in nearly as many things as I am, say they don't have time to read. As a fully committed adult (committed in the sense of community/family, not committed as in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), I make time to read. I have to make time to read or I'd feel life was not worth living. Seriously. That is no exaggeration. I have one friend who is as obsessed with books and reading as I am, but we only get to get together once in awhile so when I go to the bookstore or library, I usually have to go alone because when my husband does go along, he is wandering the mall looking for a store that sells red hot pokers to gouge his eyes out. (Or maybe with which to prod me to herd me out of the store!) Whatever the case, I rarely get the treat of leisurely visiting a bookstore or library. So, when I do get this opportunity, it is a rare, exquisite gem of a day for me. And yes, there is a reason I'm telling you this.

About a month ago, THE used book sale came to town. And I mean this was THE granddaddy of all used book sales. I had only been able to attend this annual event one other time - before I was a committed adult (don't make me explain it again), back when I was a teenager and had no husband or kids to whine about how long I was gone. I told my family that I was going to this book sale come hell or high water, and nobody had better call me while I was gone for those few hours of luxury. They do not understand, of course, but they agreed to it.

The book sale was being held on Macy's lower level parking lot at a popular area mall. Because this mall is not right around the corner, I do not frequent it. So, when I parked on the upper level of Macy's outside parking lot, I had no idea just how far I was going to have to walk to get to the book sale. I started toward the garage and upon entering, I couldn't see anything but cars. No books. Only 2 or 3 people. BUT NO BOOKS! I almost panicked, but contained myself. I asked a couple with a stroller if they knew how to get to the book sale. The man told me there was an elevator or steps and to take it/them to the lower level, then go to the polar opposite end of the garage. So, figuring I could use the exercise of the steps, I proceeded down about 4 flights of stairs to the correct level. And then I saw them…BOOKS! I sighed in relief and tried not to skip or run to the other end of the parking garage.

I grabbed a pretty good sized box and started looking for category signs, hung neatly over each table. I knew there would be no "Martial Arts" category so I thought I'd go for "Sports" but biographies grabbed my attention first so I had a look, figuring I'd do this in an orderly fashion and take my time and not miss anything. I grabbed one biography, Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen-Mah, (which was great BTW). I bypassed the true crime, the fiction, (which I normally peruse but I was just too darned eager to get to the martial arts, energy work books). I bypassed the romance…yuck…never have liked that genre. Guess I have enough romance in my life! So, I finally make my way to the non-fiction areas. Found two copies of Jennifer Lawler's "Dojo Wisdom for Mothers" in the gift book area (?). Having already checked it out and read it at the library, I grabbed both copies - one for me and one for a woman at work who does karate. I looked at all the theological, health and self-help books looking for books on energy - chi, quigong, prana, etc. Nothing. I finally found the sports section. I found a bunch of hockey books - so many I couldn't even get them all for my son because of finances, but only two martial arts books. One was a 1970's looking copy of a book regarding martial arts injuries. I picked it up - you never know. There was one about women in martial arts but it looked to be from the 70's also and not very good. So, silly as it seems, it bothered me to pass on it because it was a martial arts book, but I did pass on it because I'd probably never even look at it.

My cell phone didn't ring once. Amazing is all I can say. My family actually gave me those few hours to myself - almost totally unheard of. Thank you Hubby, Sis (what I'll call my 18 yo daughter to protect her identity from my sometimes embarrassing ramblings), and Buddy (remember him from a prior post - the pseudo name for my 10 yo son?) Anyway, it was GLORIOUS!

I drag my book laden box to the check out tables. My cardboard "shopping cart" is now battle worn from kicking and dragging it around for the past couple of hours, so when I saw that the lines were long at the checkout, I sat the box down next to my feet and hoped I'd have the strength to pick it up again when it was my turn to check out. The man behind me in line, a rather small-in-stature, bookish looking man (after all, we were at a book sale!) was looking at my book choices and asked if he could look at the martial arts ones. Me, being the friendly person I am, said he sure and that he had probably picked the slowest line because the one I'm in is always the slowest line. So, then he asked me if I was interested in martial arts and I told him I was a beginner. (In retrospect - BIG MISTAKE!!! You'll see why.) Atypically, the line moved very quickly and I found myself hoisting the dilapidated box onto the check out table. The ladies rang up my order and turned to the man behind me, acknowledging he was on his second trip through their line. He sprouted some sensitive mumbo-jumbo about the single book he was holding, saying he came back to save it - that this book did not deserve to be in a landfill. It was some off-brand "Fun With Dick and Jane" type of reading book from the 40's or 50's. I looked over at him and don't ask me why, but he reminded me of a Russian college professor. Now, I don't know any Russian college professors, but I'm telling you, that is what came to mind. Right then and there, my BS detectors started going off. It occurred to me that he was not just making small talk when he asked if I practiced martial arts. As soon as the two women were finished collecting my payment, I made tracks toward the other end of the parking lot. Still not seeing any other people around, I kept looking behind me and the guy was nowhere to be found. I started to relax a little, but kept moving quickly toward the stairs, when I realized I'd never be able to do those steps with this heavy, collapsing box. I didn’t want to get on the elevator though all alone. It was right by Macy's store entrance in the garage, but again, as weird as it sounds, there was no one around. I pressed the elevator button and kept glancing around for the strange little man. Nothing. The elevator took forever to get to my level. Finally…"Ding" and the elevator doors opened. Just as they did, I looked behind me and the Nutty Professor was right behind me holding the elevator doors open for me! Where the heck did he come from???? Nobody around, I stepped onto the elevator. He followed. Still nobody around. It went through my head, "If what my gut is telling me is right and this should escalate into something bad, could I use my martial arts training to get out of it? Or would I freeze up?" I thought to myself, yes, I'd have to - I'd have no choice.

"But what if I couldn't?"

Then it came to me. Over and over, when practicing self-defense techniques in class, Sensei stressed the first rule of self-defense is that if you don't need to be there, don't be.

All of a sudden, I shouted out, "Oh, I forgot something. I was supposed to run in Macy's while I was here." He was going to hold the elevator for me, but I told him that I was going to be awhile - to go ahead without me." I then went right inside the doors of Macy's and stood there for about 10 minutes to ensure he was gone before I got on the elevator.

He may have just been a sensitive Russian professor, but he could also have turned out to be a Hannibal Lector. Whatever the case, I think my sensei would have been proud of my decision. And even more importantly, I'm proud of my instinct and decision.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Spar Me - The Details...

I really hate to admit this right out of the gate, but sparring intimidates the hell out of me. There, I've said it.

I have always hit like a girl. Granted, it could be because I am a girl. Or was a girl anyway. Now that I don't hit like a girl, I guess I'm not a girl anymore. So I guess you could say that learning to punch like a man has made a woman out of me! Or as Shania Twain once said, "Man, I feel like a woman!"

Punching doesn't intimidate me. Kicking doesn't really intimidate me either. (Except those darn inside-out crescent kicks - the bane of my existence thus far in my martial arts journey)Then why-oh-why does combining punching with kicking freak me out so much?

In practice, we punch air and we punch bags. But until the sparring gear comes out, we don’t punch people. And I think that is where the line begins to blur.

The first time I sparred, it was in a very controlled setting. Since I was the only person left from my beginning class, one of the senseis took me aside and taught me the basics one-on-one in a very non-threatening manner.

  • Breathing: Up to this point in class, we were told that we MUST breathe out on punches, kicks, blocks, etc. When I became out of breath pretty quickly, Sensei explained that this is why breathing out was stressed so much. In sparring, being so wrapped up in the match at hand, one tends to "forget" to breathe at all. But, if you do breath out, your lungs MUST breathe in again, supplying you with the oxygen you so need in sparring. As a matter of fact, I have found this martial arts "rule" to be very true and helpful in almost any physical challenge.
  • Get in and get out: Don't get in there and just keep advancing. Move in, attack and get back out of there.
  • Use combination moves - don't just do the same thing over and over, unless, of course, you do it on purpose to throw your opponent off before you literally "hit them with your best shot".
  • She gave me the low-down on what was considered "low-down" or dirty - our school does not punch in the face in sparring. Top of head, yes. Face - no. Kidneys are also off limits.

Then, it was baptism by fire. We played a game called "The Gauntlet". We lined up like Danny Zuko, Sandy, Rizzo and the gang in the dance scene in Grease. Only this was the martial arts version - "Gi's" (I know - that was a real moaner, wasn’t it? Sorry, I've posted enough now that you should know you're gonna get these really corny puns with me! You obviously did not read the disclaimer…) Anyway, we lined up and the objective was for each person to "stroll" down the center of the two lines of people, acting as if they are just walking down the street nonchalantly. These two lines of people were to randomly attack the one doing the strolling. The one being attacked was to block the attack and then counter-attack. This was even more intimidating to me than one-on-one sparring. Everyone is watching you walk the Gauntlet in anticipation. I remember walking it and the teachers and people who knew me well came at me and I was very slow to react. But that was to be expected, it being my first time walking the Gauntlet. I got to the end and joined one of the lines and proceeded to watch in anticipation of the other people advancing toward me. I think it intimidated me even more to be on the line because that meant I was to attack someone, too. Some of the people really get into this and staged big old mock grudge matches. It really is fun to watch…especially when you're not the one doing the strolling.

Another time, we played a game in which a large area was covered with mats. One person (aka: the victim) stood in the center with his(or her) eyes closed. Everyone else stood around the edges, quiet as church mice so the person wouldn't know who was coming for him (or her). Sensei would point to someone and they were to attack the "victim" in any way and the victim was to "get out of it". A brown belt was out in the center with her eyes closed. Her black belt husband snuck up behind her in an exaggerated manner as we all tried not to giggle. A woman who hates to spar launched an attack on one of the guys. The guys, who enjoy the art of judo as well, were pulling judo moves on each other (a whole new level of intimidation for me!) Well, we were almost out of time. I thought I had managed to finagle my way out of being the "victim". Nope. Sensei pointed to me and told me to stand in the center of the mat…that we had time for one more - lucky me. I did and all of a sudden, what I was sure was one of the 6' guys, wrapped their arm around my neck…and tightly at that. We had done some self defense and escape techniques in class, but I had never seen the techniques for getting out of this hold demonstrated. So, I just kind of started to pull down on Hulk Hogan's arm and started to curl into myself, bending at the waist toward the mat, but not intentionally. All of a sudden, I have 2 senseis and quite a few others surrounding me, telling me to drop to my left knee and throw the guy over my shoulder. So, I did as I was told and threw the big guy over my shoulder. Everyone was clapping and thinking I had done this on purpose and saying stuff like, "Way to go." Now, I don’t know whether I was more embarrassed that they all thought the newbie had performed this really cool judo throw when it was really a complete fluke, or if it was more embarrassing when I found out which giant had the hold on me in the first place. It was the female brown belt who was no taller than me and weighed quite a bit less than me.

Just goes to show, size doesn't always matter.