Friday, 22 March 2019


Robert Frost said:

‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.’

My dojo feels a little like this. Shouldn't they all? Since grading for my Shodan in May 2013 (6 years?? How has it been 6 years?!) my focus and commitment to my karate training has been sporadic (if we're being polite) or appalling (if we're being honest). Yet, every time I return to the dojo, it feels a little bit like coming home.

I've been back in the dojo consistently since August 2018 (barring a few weeks off in December when my older brother sadly passed away (yes, you read that right, on top of losing my Mum (2012) and my little brother (2013), the universe clearly has not tired of kicking me in the pants by inflicting us with family bereavements!)). 

I haven't wanted to resurrect the blog, or post that I've been back to training, because every time I've done that in the past 6 years its been short lived. I've had more comebacks than Madonna! 

We began back to karate as a family in August. Sadly it hasn't really stuck for the rest of the cookie family but I'm definitely feeling my karate mojo again. I've been consistently to 3 to 5 classes per week since January. I feel like I'm making serious progress in getting back to where I was in terms of knowledge, practice and understanding and in some areas even moving on.

There is talk of Nidan grading in the autumn. I think my belt has had that one gold tab for long enough. Time to put some graft in and take the next step.

So, focus for the next few months:

1) Fitness - currently level is pretty much in the toilet. I need to get back to some proper cardio and strength training. Good job I didn't cancel that gym membership.Thankfully the Cookie Kidlets are old enough to fend for themselves at home for a few hours now if hubby and I both need to be out.

2) Flexibility - I am still about as bendy as an ironing board. In fact I think it's probably worse. Somewhere in our house exists a copy of Flexibility for Martial Artists. I need to get that dug out.

3) Kata - My lower kyu kata are in pretty good shape. My higher kyu kata is a mixed bag, some are boxed off, some need work. My Shodan kata are okay, they just need more repetition and practice. My Nidan kata...... work in progress.

That's probably about enough to think about for now! Trying to balance the enjoyment against the possibility of overdoing it and burning out. My boss says I'm Action Potential: when I go for something I am an all or nothing kind of person. Must fine the middle ground!


Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Kata: Unravelled

Learning kata for me has always been quite formulaic.

First I get to grips with the pattern step by step, turn by turn. Then I nail down the strikes and blocks. Then the stances. Then the little nuances of the kata that make it finished. Then the intensity and kime needed appropriate to the sections.

I've been back to training for almost a month (yes, I've been back and so far stayed back (except this week where I missed class because I was off work sick and my Mother always told me if you can't go to school, you can't go out to play ;)).

What I've discovered returning to the Dojo after my year long hiatus is that the process for unlearning kata seems to unravel in a similar vein to how it is learned in the first instance.

There is a Friday evening class now specifically dedicated to kata. A great opportunity for me to see where the land lay with my kata having missed so much training.

Interestingly, for my lower kyu kata I still (mostly) had the patterns and movements and some of the intricacies down. The thing that was evidently missing was the intensity.

For the higher grade kata my learning had unravelled to the point that for some of them I struggled even with the pattern. That meant any hope of intensity, intricacy, stances, blocks and strikes was long lost. It's pretty much impossible to be intense about a kata when you can't even remember which way you're supposed to be facing!

So begins the (hopefully-not-too) slow process of piecing my kata back together. I've decided to focus on them one at a time until I can drag them back to a place worthy of my shodan belt. First up, Bassai Dai. Wish me luck, I may need it!


Tuesday, 28 March 2017

To (re)begin at the beginning.

So, confession time.

I don't believe I have set foot in a dojo for over a year.


I decided in January last year that I needed to take a clear cut break from karate training. I'd been dabbling on and off for months but couldn't seem to get a grip on it. Work commitments skyrocketing alongside other health stuff meant I couldn't give it all I wanted and then felt guilty about not being able to fully get committed to training. I emailed my Shihan and told him I was taking a completely break for a few months.

A year has passed.

I honestly don't know how that has gone so quickly. Literally blink and you've missed it.

A year on and am considerably wider around the waist and considerably less fit than I was when I was at the height of my training. I've been dabbling with running (not great for my knees) and weight training (not great for my boredom level) and can't seem to get to grips with anything fitness-wise.

Still, at the back of my mind, the little inner karateka niggles at me. Can you ever really turn it off once it's awake? Martial arts scenes in TV programmes, videos in my YouTube feed, articles from long forgotten sign ups to martial arts newsletters in my inbox. Every where I look and listen it's whispering at me.

So, after my year long hiatus, I am heading back. I have dusted off my gi, Facebook messaged my (long-suffering and very understanding) Shihan and made arrangements with the husband for childcare duty. I am dojo bound this evening.

I. Am. Terrified.

A year is a long time with no karate practice. I find myself endlessly trying to run through kata in my head (and some of it is far too murky for my liking!).

After some stern self-talk and some deep breaths I conclude that the only route forward is through Shoshin. Beginner's mindset. Forgetting all that's gone before and focusing on relearning from the start. Re-beginning, at the beginning.

The journey of a thousand miles, and all that good Eastern proverb kind of stuff.

Report to follow....


Friday, 20 November 2015


So, after my recent karate related vacillations I'm back in karateka mode. I've managed to get a good couple of weeks of consistent (twice a week) training in. I'm slowly picking back up all the little things I thought I'd forgotten.

We've been working through higher level kyu kata and 1st Dan kata indepth (which has been great for me to really nail those back down) and we're about to begin on 2nd Dan kata next week.

I have a copy of my 2nd Dan syllabus (nothing I wasn't expecting in there that needs to be covered) so I can start focusing on the parts that involve me having to present and/or bunkai syllabus elements.

I feel my karate mojo slowly returning.

It feels good.

I think I like it.

Happy days.


Monday, 10 August 2015

Knowing When to Cut and Run?

Words to describe my karate journey of late (like the last 2 years late).

I feel like I've lost the thread that kept me focused on what I loved about karate and I can't seem to grab the end back. I have a few weeks where I'm back at things and seem to be getting a grip on it again and then I'm back to square one of feeling lost, unsure and ungrounded about the whole thing.

I'm working hard at the moment, mentally, to try and unpick what's going on. Family trauma's aside, the past few years, what is it that's made something I loved with such passion something that has me confused and unsure?

There are changes to me, that's for certain. My priorities about my time and what I do and have to do have changed with changes to work and the kids getting older and the arrival of the gigantapuppies.  Physical changes within myself - I'm not getting any younger. My knees are not getting any less knackered. My back is not getting any less decrepit!

There are also club changes that have occurred while I've been sporadic in my attendance. It's inevitable I suppose when a club starts to grow past a certain size that politics will start to play a part. When the club is big enough for politics, but not so big that the politics can be impersonal then it can have a big impact. It brings with it an element of negativity that I've never seen before, which makes me uncomfortable. It impacts on my desire to be there. Even with deliberate non-involvement it impacts on my training, on my thoughts about training, on my experiences there.

These things make me harp back to an earlier time. When I could see my reasons for being there. They were clear to me. My goal was clear to me. My learning was clear to me (even if I didn't always feel it was going in the right direction). Clarity brought (mental) comfort and a sense of belonging. I feel apart from things,  but I know that a huge part of that is of my own doing.

I don't know if I can see a "forward" from where I am at the moment. I know things cannot go back. It's a futile exercise in life to expect otherwise, but I'm asking myself if I cannot go forward, or backwards then does that mean it is time to stop trying to go anywhere but sideways? Does there need to be a step away. A real one. A cut and run. Am I ready for that? Part of me says no, but what is that part holding on for? If it's the wrong reasons then holding on is the wrong choice.

Am I making this more complicated than it need to be?

Who decided life choices were supposed to be so hard on the brain?

Off to mull things over more.


Don't feel like I know myself at all when it comes to this question at the moment.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Dropping The Plates

How many "hats" do you wear in life? How many plates do you spin?

For the majority of us, it's a lot.

Money Manager


For me, the last one always seems to me the plate that has to be allowed to fall. To keep my sanity I sometimes can't keep all those plates a-spinning.

When something has got to give, it's easy to let the karate training plate fall, for a number of reasons:

- It takes up big chunks of time out of the house at fixed times
- It needs lots of logistically planning to fit it around other people's schedules
- As its something I do for only me it feels selfish to prioritise it
- It requires motivation (harder to come by than hen's teeth I think)
- It requires energy (the first thing to go when the plate spinning gets overwhelming)
- It involves social communication with other people (something I struggle with greatly. I do not find it easy to work and play with others!)
- If I do have "free time" it's easier to fill it with more sedate things. Reading, crafting, watching TV for example

Of course there is a flip side to this. The positive things that I get out of it when I do keep that karate plate spinning:

- the fact that I eat better when I'm exercising
- that despite the lack of energy I have when I'm overwhelmed getting back into training ultimately gives me more energy
- that when I get there I realise I do miss seeing my fellow karateka
- that it provides me with moments of peace away from the hubbub of everything else
- that as far as "me time" goes it is usually time well spent
- that it improves my physical fitness (I work at the top of the building, 6 flights of stairs is a long way when your fitness level is in the toilet!)

The worry is, at least one of the plates have to give. I cannot spin them all. I guess I need to take a close look at which other one can be made still if I'm going to set the karate plate back on its journey again.


Friday, 24 October 2014

Mojo: Unearthed.

There seems to have been some karate mojo unearthed around here.

A hint of a karate pulse.

I made the decision that I needed to run with it. It's been absent way too long. Waned way too much. Rule #1 Work with what you've got.

I've made it to the dojo three times in the last seven days. Eight if I get there tonight as planned. I can feel the excitement of karate study returning.

I'm re-reading this:

Living the Martial Way

Which always serves to perk the karate neurons up and I've ordered a couple of other martial arts related books in an attempt to keep the mojo flowing.

From my recent training sessions I've identified quite a number of areas I need to work on (not all specifically karate related):

1) Posture.

My posture is officially appalling. I spend 90% of my working day sitting at a desk (badly!) which results in extremely short hamstrings and a very flat back. I've been making a conscious effort to improve my posture in all things (sitting, walking, even sitting in seiza). Obviously it's not something to improve overnight but I'm hoping being more aware of it will eventually make an impact.

2) Flexibility.

Again, pretty appalling. Partly I think this is linked in with the posture. Bad posture leads to short hamstrings which leads to poor flexibility. I'm going to try to incorporate some stretching exercises. I bought this book a couple of years ago which has some great techinques targeted for martial artists so that will be getting a revisit:

Ultimate Flexibility

3) Stances.

Again, born out of the first two issues, some of my stances need some work. Not really my more grounded stances (Kiba dachi, shiko dachi, sanchin dachi) but the more mobile stances (neko ashi dachi, kokutso dachi) which much pressure more specifically on one knee need some work. My left knee is pretty weak at the moment and is the one that consistently gives me the most problems.

4) Kata.

The majority of my Kyu kata are good and strong. My Bassai Dai (as ever) needs work. What is it about that kata that plagues me so? I also need to work on improving my Shodan kata (Sanseru and Sepai) before I even think about continuing work on my first Nidan kata.

It's a quite a list to work on which could probably feel like a negative, but it's not all bad. My basics are strong still (hurrah for many hours of kihon!), my understanding of principles is still there (lurking in the fog of my karate brain). I'm still able to think with a karate mindset.

So, whilst it's been a while, clearly all is not lost.

Sincerely hoping the karate pulse continues to beat for a long time to come.


Monday, 7 July 2014


Feels a bit like that round here, doesn't it? I can't believe it's been over a year since I posted on here. I feel a bit like an imposter on my own blog! What's that all about? Weird.

Well, it has been a year, and what a hell of a year it's been. If you read my other blog then you'll know that sadly my little brother never did make it home from the hospital after his battle with Pneumonia. His body just wasn't strong enough to fight it (one of the issues his Downs Syndrome caused was a weaken heart and small airways). He passed away June 16th last year.

Coming so soon (a little over a year) after the loss of my Mum Ste's death really hit me hard. At first I just battled on through with little time given to myself to grieve. Ultimately that did me no favours in the long run and eventually things just caught up with me and I just had to give up for a little while and let all the plates stop spinning.

It had a huge impact on my time in the dojo (which became pretty much non-existent after a while).

I did manage to make it back to training for a few weeks before Christmas last year then my husband's work schedule had a dramatic change. He was working much further away from home and much longer hours meaning he was rarely back in the house before 8pm (thereby not giving me time to get to the dojo because of the kids).

I did manage to make it to the Dojo for a multi-disciplinary event in April. Other than that I can probably count without taking my shoes off the number of times I've set foot in the dojo this past year.

How did that happen?

How did I become "that person"?

You know, the one who trains years to be a black belt and then never dons the thing again. I really didn't want for that to be me.

So, one thing or another has stuck it's stupid spanner in the working of my training for the past year. Between bereavement and depression and injury (still struggling with my stupid decrepit knees and seem to be sporting some nice RSI/Carpal tunnel action in my right wrist) and work schedules and downright lazy-arsedness I've been nothing short of hopeless. One of my favourite sayings in the past has been "Excuses are like arseholes....everyone's got one". At the moment it seems I've got more arseholes than a Westboro Baptist revival!

Time to give myself a kick up the proverbial. I need motivation. I need commitment. I need conviction. I need to get myself back in the dojo before I've forgotten everything I spent 4.5 years cramming into my tiny noggin!

Senior class is 7.30 today. Ewan has a party till 7.30. Kendo is coming to relieve me from party duty early so I can get to class. I will make this work!

Once more into the karate tinted breech!


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.

© Cookie Family Karate
Maira Gall