Thursday, 30 May 2013


Well, I finally made it.

After almost 4 years of karate training I tested for and was awarded my 1st Dan Black Belt in Isami Ryu karate on Saturday 25th May.

It was a crazy run up to a crazy day. Two weeks before my grading date on the 10th May my little brother (I say little, he's 29 and about 17st but he'll always be my little bro) was taken to hospital in an ambulance with suspected Pneumonia. He has Down's Syndrome so had no real understanding of what was going on and was very distressed. Ultimately he ended up in the ICU, sedated and on a ventilator. He's still in there but seems to (thankfully) be on the mend now.

Needless to say with my big sister having just flown out for a holiday in Greece, the hospital visiting and the worry put something of a scupper in my training preparation. Thankfully I had already written my presentations (and kept on practising them to my steering wheel on many trips to and from the hospital car park!). My Shihan had faith that I was ready to grade and that the lack of training before hand wouldn't hinder me too much. The one plus side was that I didn't really have chance to get nervous about it until the evening before (when the stomach churning kicked in! LOL).

It was a 6 hours grading including some seminar style segments from several other styles (Aiki-Jitsu, Ju-Jitsu, Ninjitsu and Shotokan karate). I was required to present on a high Kyu kata (I opted for Seunchin) with history, performance of the kata and bunkai which I managed to do without being too speedy with my speech or too mumbly with my words. I also had to present a small segment on a non-karate martial discipline. I opted for fencing which everyone seemed to find quite interesting.

The rest was the usual mix of fitness, kihon, kata (I had to perform Bassai Dai as the syllabus kata that was selected for me along with my two required Shodan kata (Sepai and Sanseru)), and kumite. Thankfully as I had to attend church for my Daughter's Holy Communuion the following day Shihan kindly requested that none of my sparring partners punch me in the face! LOL.

It was a long day as one of our karate instructors was also grading for Shodan but in another style (Aiki-Jitsu) so there was quite a lot of switching in and out. It was also hard as I was the only candidate for karate so I had to perform all my Kihon etc on my own - eek!

I was very glad to reach the end of the day and incredibly happy to have passed. I even managed not to cry (much).

Now it just feels a little strange. I'm not quite sure what to do with myself. Friday should be my first class back after the grading and I'm certain it will feel very strange tying that stiff new black belt on for class for the first time. Hopefully it'll get less weird as time goes on. I don't imagine myself as the type of person who would achieve Black Belt quit but I suppose you never know until you get there. Time will tell I suppose.

Until then though......oooooo... Hidari Ni Empi is the first Nidan kata. Lots of lovely elbows! I like the sound of that! :)

If anyone is still reading after my epic absence from here then a big thank you for all the helpful comments and support I've had from everyone since I started this blog. I never really thought I'd make it this far and I've picked up some great advice along the way.


Wednesday, 6 February 2013


When I was a little girl I was pretty much a girlie girl. I liked dolls and gymnastics and could be found most Sunday mornings in the summer doing this* somewhere in a field in North Wales:

*for those of you fortunate enough to have never had the pleasure, this is troupe morris dancing. Very popular in the North of England and Wales. Basically troupes of girls in matching dresses with bells on their shoes and pom poms in their hands trotting out a kind of formation dancing. If you're really desparate you can see some here. Builds exceptional thigh muscles.

I've said before that I never had any interest in martial arts at all as a child. I certainly had no interest in fighting with weapons. That was for boys and we all know boys have cooties (well, they do when you're 10 anyway).

Something strange has occurred these past few years though. Since I started on my karate journey I've developed something of a taste for weapons work. I loved the Bo staff section of our kobu-jutsu programme. I enjoyed the Escrima section. I liked working with Tonfa. Then this last year I've discovered something I love more than all of those things.

I love swords!

It occurred to me on my way out to training last week that lately most of my activities involve me leaving the house with some sort of pointy/slashy weapon in my hand.

If I'm not doing this:

I'm doing this:

Or occasionally doing this:

(although to be fair if I'm doing this its most likely at home acting as Uke for DH - this is HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) and involves lovely pointy/slashy synthetic long swords)

I'm not sure what it is about sword work that I love so much. The interesting thing is that whilst each of these is very different, at their heart they share a lot of common ground. I suppose ultimately there are only so many ways to hit someone with a long piece of metal so its inevitable that some similarities would evolve even with arts from different sides of the globe.

I'm going to try to write some posts on each of these things individually (just need some time to think them through and get writing) but I just want to share my love of all things pointy and slashy for the moment.

Inexplicably, swords make me happy.


Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Nana Korobi Ya Oki

You can't beat the Japanese for a good proverb. One of my favourites is:

"Nana Korobi Ya Oki"

Essentially it means "Fall down seven times, get up eight." When it comes to karate I've certainly found it true. I've lost count of the number of metaphorical (and occasionally literal) "falls" I've had on this journey. I have always so far managed to get back up though and hopefully this time will be no different.

After my total "woe is me" posting of yesterday I had some stern internal dialogue words with myself (and some excellent words of advice from the lovely SueC). I've concluded that part of what I'm missing at the moment is a "beginner's mindset"*. When I first started out in karate I would be constantly running over stuff in my mind when I was doing other things. Kihon practice in the kitchen, going over taisabaki at the photocopier, sneaky kata run throughs in the work bathroom. For whatever reason over the last year I haven't really been doing this and I need to get back to it.

So for now, that is the plan. Carving out some snippets of the day to consolidate what I'm going through in class. Last night for example was a good chunk of time running through my two required shodan kata (seiunchin and Sepai) and ironing out some bits that I was a little muddled on. Now I've got the blips ironed out I'll try to make sure I get a least some mental run throughs of them both this week (so I haven't forgotten everything come Friday).

Little bits, often, will be my way to go I think.


*This was a really good read regarding this concept. Worth checking out if you haven't already.


Monday, 28 January 2013


Definition of commitment


  • 1 [mass noun] the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.: the company’s commitment to quality I could not fault my players for commitment
  • [count noun] a pledge or undertaking: I cannot make such a commitment at the moment

  • 2 an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action: with so many business commitments time for recreation was limited
I've been thinking a lot about commitment these last few weeks. Questions are being asked of me. Can you commit?  Are you ready to prepare for Shodan? Do you want to commit?Can you give 100%?
That last one is what's giving me pause for thought. 100%? 100% of what?
In terms of karate training the days of karateka devoting 100% of their time to training are long gone it would seem. Bygone days when students would live in the house of their Sensei - sweep his floors, tend his garden, mend his fence as part of their karate study are distant memories from another era.
This is karate for the modern age, and unfortunately for the vast majority of us (Western karateka for sure) the modern age means the (in)conveniences of modern life.
We have families. We work. We clean house. We have responsibilities and roles that need to be filled.
So where does that leave us? Given the 168 hours in a week my time (as a quick assessment) looks like this:
Now this doesn't include the time I spend dealing with staff who look after by brother (HR issues, wages, HMRC stuff) or the time I spend doing stuff for my Dad.
Hmmmm. Interesting. I spend a lot of time sleeping (trust me when I tell you that me with less than 8 hours sleep isn't healthy for anyone!) and a lot of time working. The kids and the house taking up a large chunk there too. For karate though.... I spend about 6.75 hours a week in the dojo (that's split over Monday and Friday and includes travel time).
When we talk about 100% it can't be in terms of time. 95.98% of my time is already taken up with things that are necessary for the smooth running of our family existence. So what does that leave? Is it effort we're talking about? Is it enough to give 100% effort in the 6.75 hours (the 4.02%) of time I'm in the dojo? Well, that's good, but it's probably not enough.
If I'm going to commit. To enter "the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity". To "pledge or undertake" the next step on my journey to shodan. Then I'm going to have to find some % from somewhere. Some of that time allocated from other things is going to have to be turned over to time focused on karate. But where do you steal the time from? What is less important? What can be allowed to slide? Am I willing to let anything go? How badly do I want it? Do I have it in me? or ever?
Am I ready to commit?
A more complicated question that one might think.

Monday, 11 June 2012

The Journey Of A Thousand Miles....

There's a very famous old Chinese proverb that says that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Now, I haven't travelled a thousand miles (probably not even a metaphorical tenth of that) but I have come a long way in my karate journey in the last 3 years. With things as they've been the last few months I think it's time for a little self reflection on just where that journey has taken me, and just how far I've come.

It feels like a decade ago I first stood nervously in the dojo for Sunday evening senior class. Nervous, excited and terrified in equal measure, not knowing a single thing about karate and not even knowing if I cared enough to find out. Flash forward to now and things are very different. I look at the new people starting out in our classes and see (with a little amusement and a lot of trepidation!) that they look at me the same way I looked at the higher grade students when I started. With that "OMG, I could never do that what have I let myself in for?" expression. It's comforting to be able to say "hey, I've been where you are, just give it a shot, you can do more than you think".

So, what have I learned in this long and sometimes tumultuous journey? Well....

I've learnt some karate. Quite a lot of karate. Kata (13 in total - blimey, I think that's the first time I've actually counted them); kihon, kumite, taisabaki, pad drills, controls, escapes. Not to mention the less practical but no less important side - how to bow in/out, how to behave in class,  how to tie an obi, how to tie someone elses obi (imperative for anyone who teaches kids!).

I've leant to ride out the ups and down. I've had moments that have felt like shining brilliance (where I thought "wow, that's the best X, Y or Z I've ever done") and moments when I've considered giving it all up as a lost cause and investing in one of those signs that says "Bang head here". Both of those are important and it serves you well not to get too hung up on either the highs or the lows.

I've learnt that is okay to question. In fact, its good to question. I've learnt not to assume that just because something is the best thing for one person that means its the way forward for me. I've learnt to adapt my techniques to account for my weaknesses, and for my strengths.

I've learnt that I have more. That I have more power than I thought I had (and that it doesn't necessarily come from strength but from technique). That I have more stamina than I ever would have believed possible. That I can take a 3 hours pummelling (both physically and mentally) and still come out (almost) smiling at the end.

I've learnt that I can impart what I know to others and do a pretty reasonable job of it too.

I've learnt that I can control a room full of small, chattery, easily distracted small people, and have fun doing it.

I've learnt that sometimes what you're doing becomes NOT FUN. And that at those times its okay to step back. To take a break. To find the enjoyment again. That ultimately if you're not enjoying being there, then really, you shouldn't be. Life is too damn short to do things you don't love. That its okay to stop loving something for a little while and then come back and find the fun again.

I've learnt (and continuing to learn) that its a fine juggling act between embracing being where you are and looking forward to where you need or want to be. Sometimes you need to concentrate on the present, sometimes you need a push to move towards the future.

I've learnt that my motives for doing what I do are all my own. Unique to me. No one can tell me that my motives must be the same as their motives. That's never going to happen. We all come to this journey from different places and travel along separate paths to the destination.

I've learnt that you're truly never to old to take up something new.

I've learnt that fencing is about the most fun you have have with a pointy metal stick (more on that some other time).

I've learnt that sometimes it's as important for me to say be able to say "No" to doing something as it is to say "Yes". That I can't do everything and do myself and other people a disservice by trying to.

That's barely even touched the surface of the lessons and skill I've learnt from my karate journey, but my self reflection has been somewhat halted and cut short today by pesky work commitments. More on this rambling at a later date then, maybe. Certainly more about the aforementioned fun and pointy metal sticks to come anyway.


Tuesday, 3 April 2012

When Life Kicks You In The Teeth.

For all of our martial arts training, there really is no defense against those times when life chooses to kick you in the teeth!

We've had one of those moments around here lately. Sadly my Mum passed away suddenly on 14th February. She went from being in reasonably good health to not being with us any more in the space of around 36 hours. It was quite the rollercoaster (one I definitely wouldn't pay to ride again!) and completely knocked me for six.

As well as dealing with the loss of Mum on an emotional level there have also been a lot of changes in terms of extra responsibilites coming my way -  dealing with issues regarding my younger brother who is profoundly disabled and still lives at home, assisting with financial organisation/ practical arrangements for my Dad etc.

In the beginning I did try to just maintain everything as it was. I was clearly kidding myself. I made the mistake of being imminently practical and not really allowing time for my own grief. I learnt that lesson the hard way and eventually ended up having a week off sick from work and from all other responsibilities (including karate training and assisting at classes).

When I finally felt my head was back together enough to go back to training I was struck down with THE most appalling back and neck problems. I haven't done any injury to my back, I suspect a lot of it has to do with maintaining a level of tension for so long (I tend to carry my anxiety in my neck, shoulders and back when I am dealing with stress.

So, in terms of training I'm pretty much feeling like I've taken about 4000 steps backwards. I've gotten to the point where I've been absent from it for so long that finding the motivation to go back becomes increasingly more difficult. I feel it's really difficult for me to make a commitment to the assisting side of things when I still don't know some days if I'll be able to get up and function for even the simplest of tasks.

I have already asked to lessen my teaching commitments to one class per week which I think will be a huge help in terms of balancing everything that's going on. I just need to muster up the motivation, and I suppose the courage, to get back on the metaphorical horse.

Classes are on a break over the Easter period so providing my back has improved I will be back to it on the Saturday after Easter. I just hope I haven't forgotten everything I've learnt! LOL


Monday, 30 January 2012

Welcome to Hell. We hope you enjoy your stay!

I graded for 1st kyu-ho yesterday (black tip on brown belt). Far and away the worse grading experience of my karate journey so far. I'd had a very broken nights sleep the night before (if you cobbled together all the snippets of actual shut eye I'd manage it might total about 4 hours) with my little boy who is poorly with an ear infection. Coupled with other issues I've had with my back this week (a recurrance of sciatica) it was the first time I have felt so completely unprepared (both mentally and physically) at the start of a grading.

Beginning the session with already wavering confidence my performance was definitely affected. I was faced with questions I wasn't expecting (despite knowing to expect the unexpected on grading day) and by the end of the 2 hour session I was so tired that I couldn't even muster the brain power to implement the number 1 rule of defense......get out of the goddamn way!!

I will blog more about the gory details when I've had more time to think about the experience and assess what was good and what went wrong, and perhaps more importantly how I dealt with what went wrong. Not my finest karate hour.

If I had to sum up how I'm feeling about the whole experience right now I'd have to go with "irrationally over-emotional" to the point where thinking about parts of it has almost reduced me to tears even today.

I suspect I need more sleep (another broken night last night has not aided the catch up) and a little more time to be able to think about the experience more rationally and less emotionally. Thankfully, for my senior instructor it was very much a case of a fact finding mission to assess where I am up to in terms of where to begin with preparation for 1st Kyu and ultimately Shodan. That at least means that there will be tangible and constructive outcomes from the process allowing me to work on my weak areas.

When I've had more time to process 2 hours of hell I'll try to get into more sensible analysis.

In the meantime. TTFN.