Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Acceptance of Truth.

I’ve had quite a productive training week this week in terms of karate sessions – a good session both Sunday and Monday night (not so much at home… but that’s a whole other story). That’s not really what I’ve been mulling in my head to post about today though.

Monday night at training Shihan said something that’s had me thinking all day. He’d made a silly reference to some mystical mythology in response to what a student had been doing. He joked that he shouldn’t really say that because I would probably take it as gospel and blog about it. It was only a passing comment, an off the cuff remark, but it’s had my brain whirring a little today (nothing like a bit of self analysis on a wintery Wednesday morning! LOL).

Clearly, I wouldn’t take what Shihan said in this instance as Gospel……..but I do in other things. When he (and the other Sensei) talk about things karate related, I do take them at face value. At this point in my training (12 months into my karateka journey) I don’t think I know enough to question what people with much more martial arts experience tell me.

So, when we begin to learn karate, we take things on trust. We have faith that our instructors know what they’re talking about. We believe what they tell us is right. That it will work. We trust what they tell us about effective blocks and strikes and kicks. We trust that they know what they’re talking about when they discuss body mechanics and pressure points. We listen when they tell us which moves belong in our kata and where their origins lie and how they should be interpreted and applied.

Conversely then, one must wonder if there will come a point where we start NOT to believe. When we start to think “Hey, I don’t think that’s right. I think it would work better this way”. When this question raises its head, then what? We have two courses of action it would seem. We can choose to ignore that inner questioning voice, to continue to trust what we’re told. Or, we can act on it. We can change what we do to reflect what WE believe, not what we’re told to believe. Is there a point when it becomes acceptable to do that? When is it?

At 2nd Kyu?

At 1st Kyu?

At 1st Dan?

At 5th Dan?

At what point, if any, is it okay to stop taking the word of your instructors as the truth and start defining your own truth?

From everything I’ve read so far about the history of karate its clear that the early karateka training under Okinawan masters didn’t question. If they wanted to learn karate they did as they were told. They worked one Kata for 4 years until they could do it perfectly, blind-fold, in the dark, on uneven ground, with 40 people attacking them (okay, maybe not quite like that, but you get what I mean ;)).

That said, if none of them had ever questioned the truth of what there were told, surely karate would just be karate. It wouldn’t be Shotokan, or Isshin Ryu, or Shito Ryu or Shukokai or Wado Ryu. There wouldn’t be diversity of karate styles if people didn’t at some point believe they knew a way to do it better.

I’m sure there are karate purists out there who would argue that change of any sort is a bad thing when it comes to martial arts. What do I think? Well, to me, everything must evolve. If things don’t they become stagnant, they can lose their fitness for purpose. Evolution breathes new life. It allows for growth, for improvement, for expression of changing times and environment.

Which brings us back round to the when. When is it okay to question the truth of what we’re told? When is it okay to act upon it to enact change?

For the moment, at this stage in my karate journey it feels disrespectful of me to question the truth of what my instructors (with 10/20/30 years karate experience) tell me. For the time being, should I hear that inner questioning voice I choose it ignore it. To have faith. To believe. To trust.

Later in my journey? Who knows? Only time will tell.

For now?

Acceptance of Truth.


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

A Grading and A Whole New World.

Wow. Time has gotten away from me this week. I don't know if it's the impending festivities taking up my time or the fact that I've been feeling a little under the weather so can't really be bothered with much. Either way, I'm a little late with posting this week.

Sunday was a Cookie family outing for grading. Kendo testing for blue test, me for red tip, Grace for blue tip. It was COLD COLD COLD in the hall. Even the warm up and an hour and a half kihon, kata and kumite couldn't completely defrost me (I swear my feet have been perpetually cold for the last fortnight!).

Grading was intense, but not too strenous (there was a large group of us -almost 30) which necessitates quite a bit of waiting around for your turn). Apparently I had my "serious face" on. LOL. Mostly because I was concentrating hard, especially for my kumite. I had to go up against Shihan in a one minute bout (with everyone else watching...ugh! Horrific!). I managed to hold up though....... mostly meaning that I held my ground and didn't just stand there being wolloped! He even managed to get an unsolicited Kiai out of me. I've never done that before while sparring but I was pretty frustrated with myself at the end and it snuck out with a side kick. LOL.

We all made our grades....hurrah! So came home happy and tired little karate-ka.

Monday night saw me acting as Sempai for Grace's class again. A few weeks ago Shihan presented me with my "Assistant Instructor" patch (I was stupidly excited about that I have to say) so I definitely feel like one of the team now. Shihan and Sensei Chrissy had me lead the class through kicks (I get the feeling my teaching skills are under some scruitiny now. LOL). I think I did okay. I managed to keep their attention, they were all kicking the right kick at the right time, I even managed to count and kick at the same time (who knew how hard THAT would be?). Of course after class I remembered a million little things that I probably should have done, but it was okay for a first time out I think.

Adult class on Monday was a mixed bag of old and new. We spend the first half implementing all the blocks we know - GREAT practice for looking at the applications of them. So often its easy just to get into the rhythm of doing block after block. It's nice to get to grips with how they actually work some times. I was paired with a newly graded yellow belt for some of these exercises which meant more opportunity to flex those teaching muscles as I had to show him some of the blocks first. He did a really good job of getting to grips with the new stuff.

The second half of the class opened up a whole new world of karate stuff! Our school has been running for about 18 months under it's current system. Prior to that it's run under different names in conjunction with other instructors in other locations. It's never been a school that has taken part in Tournament karate though. Well, that's about to change! Next year we'll be hosting the first Tournament for our governing body TKGB. That means we need to get some practice in with tournament style kumite. All the kumite we do at training is freestyle sparring (Jiyu kumite). Never for points and not with set attacks and defenses. Shihan gave us three areas where we could score points (torso, back, head) and three strikes we could score with (kick, reverse punch, back fist). It's really strange knowing you have to go in for that specific strike/area to score. In some ways it makes you much more focused as you're looking for a specific some ways it was quite distracting as you're concentrating on what will and won't score that vital point. We were spilt into team (2 teams of 6) and drew numbers so the bouts were random. I won my bout (yay) against Paul (the yellow belt I mentioned earlier who for some reason is a little bit scared of me, which is just hilarious). He managed to get a few jabs in but because they were off the front foot he didn't score. I took him out with a backfist. Sigh of relief.

Our team didn't win, but everyone did really well - especially the youngsters. They held their own. I was really impressed.

For the last 10 minutes of class Shihan gave us a taste of team kata performance (another element which will be included in the tournament). Shihan and Sensei Chrissy and Sensei Helen performed our version of Bassai Dai (which was pretty amazing and more than a little bit scary!). Then Shihan asked us who else wanted to try so myself, my fellow blue belt Louise and Purple tip Jon decided to do Kata Saifa. It was great fun and we pretty much nailed it (even if I do say so myself). Louise and I are performing this kata together for the display for the Christmas party so it was good to know that we're pretty solid on the timings already. A little more practice and we'll be all set.

So, that's the round up of the Cookie Family Karate week. New grades gained and alot of new things to think about. Just the kind of karate week I like!

Hope it's not snowing too hard where you are.


Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The "Two Steps Forward" Days.

Rivington Terraced Gardens ]

I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again. Karate training for me always seems to be a "Two steps forward, three steps back" kind of a process. Just when I think I'm getting somewhere I seem to lose the plot and end up feeling like I know less than I started with.

It's not always like that though - for every day of stepping back there are also those training days where I actually feel like I'm getting somewhere. The "Two Steps Forwards" days. Thankfully this weeks training (Sunday and Monday) have felt like forward stepping days :)

I couldn't believe just how much I'd missed my Sunday training sessions. We've only missed 2 weeks (one for Halloween and last week for the seminar, so that wasn't really missing a session, only missing my usual session) but it really felt good to get back to business as usual. The Sunday class is a completely different experience than the Monday session. It's adults only and a much smaller class so we get to cover much more stuff at a much more concentrated level and pace. We spent a lot of time on the Intermediate Taisabaki forms which have been plaguing me so of late. My practice has clearly paid off though because I was much more confident with my blocks and counters and managed practically the whole session without making a balls up of it! I did end up with a little Kata homework to take home with me (making sure I'm using both hands in my blocks consistently) but I had plenty of opportunity to work on that on Monday.

Monday's class is much busier and has a much wider age range which makes for a totally different training vibe. We were drilled on our Tagioko Katas again (Shodan and Nidan) but this time concentrating on stances and kick (for Nidan). What I discovered is that my Zenkutsu dachi (long forward stance) often isn't wide enough. I really need to work on my foot positioning in my kata, especially after turning. We took turns doing the kata and holding each stance and strike while our partner checked the stability of our stances. There was much correcting of position and shuffling about but I think most of us got there in the end. I'm really enjoying this indepth kata study. It's forcing me to think of every element of my kata (stance, block, strike, hips, pace, focus) and even though we're running over this stuff on the lower kyu kata I'm finding myself almost automatically applying it to the higher level kata I need. It shows that basics pay I guess.

The last portion of Monday's class was a bit of a marathon sparring session. There was a pretty big group of us paired up for kumite (around 17) and as there was an odd number one group at the end of the row went 2 on 1. My sparring is the area where I sometimes often struggle to see progress in myself but I really felt a improvement this week. What I love about getting to spar against everyone in the class is that there are some rounds where you're the higher kyu and are "teaching" your opponent and then others where you're the lower kyu and are the one doing the learning. It's great to be able to take what you've learnt and pass it on to others. I managed to get a few good strikes in against the higher kyu grades I was sparring against which felt great. In the 2 on 1 I even managed to nab the purple belt who was attacking me as a shield against my other opponent which was fab (we'd done some work on shields a few weeks ago so at least I know something about that stuck in my head!). My final bout was again Ciaran (2nd kyu). He's taken far too much joy in giving me a pasting the past 12 months and I finally felt like I held my own a little. I managed to get quite a few strikes to land on him and didn't fall for the moves he usually gets me with. Sorry to ruin your fun Ciaran!

I really noticed a massive improvement in the sparring of lower kyu grades in the class when I was paired with them too. I saw all things I know they've worked on over the last few weeks being implemented and a really marked improvement in their techniques and forms. I was really quite proud of all of them. We all rocked!

So, all in all a much more positive karate week than I've had of late, which is probably clearly evident by the tone of my post - I think I've been a bit doom and gloom around here the last few weeks!

Fingers crossed I can continue with the improvement next week..... I'd like a little reprieve from the suckage before I reach my "Three Steps Back" days! I know they're coming, but I'm praying they'll wait until after grading to arrive!! LOL.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Reward and Frustration

The only good thing about Tuesdays, is that they follow Mondays - which means I get to waffle on about what happened at class last night. Yey! Talking about karate, that's pretty much my second favourite thing...after practicing karate, of course. I think there's a very serious possibility that I'm becoming a karate bore! I'm sure people at work are sick of hearing all about my karate exploits. So I'll share them here instead. Chances are if you're here it's because you love hearing about martial arts too - so at least I know my audience gives a crap! LOL.

So, on with the waffle.

A bit of a mixed bag for the Cookie Family karate training experinence last night. A really good effort from Grace saw her being awarded the Student of the Week award (cue super pround Sempai Mummy moment!). There was quite a lot of messing around with the junior class last night - is the dark nights, a post Halloween/bonfire night sugar rush? I don't know. They just seem a little more hyper than usual. Grace managed to actually pay attention though and at least attempt to be doing what she was supposed to be doing.

As for the grown up contingent of the Cookie Family, not such a good showing. I definitely wouldn't be lined up for the Student of the week award (if there were one). For me..... it was more a case of this this week:

(Can I just take a moment to scream here? I'd written about 6 paragraphs of waffle which blogger has kindly neglected to save and then had a posting error. Now I have to rewrite it. We are not amused. >:( ).

On a positive note last night, I felt like my Kata was much improved after last weeks grilling. Much sharper and more focused and stronger. So, it wasn't all bad.

On the head-banging-inducing side of things... the intermediate taisabaki No.1 form still eludes me. I was somewhat better, I felt, with working my angles and stepping out more but I still always come to a point where I seem to hit a wall. It seems to work like this: I have a plan in my head about what block and counter I'm going to use against each strike. The impending strike comes. I block. I've used a different block than the one I had in my head and have ended up somewhere I wasn't expecting. I pause. That's it. Kiss of death. Once I've paused I can't seem to follow up with the counter because I'm not where I was expecting to be so it throws me. Then I have a total brain fart and my mind goes blank. Not good.

On the upside, clearly my muscle memory is beginning to develop - because I don't struggle getting some sort of block up for the strike, in fact I do that instinctively now which is great. So much so that when I had a couple of run-throughs of the second form for this taisabaki (avoid and counter) I found it hard NOT to block. On the downside, as it's instinct it's not really premeditated so I don't always know where to go with the counter.

This is a perfect illustration of the difference between myself and my DH in terms of the kind of karateka we are. When it comes to things that are prescribed - kata, forms with a fixed defense, pad drills with a fix pattern - I have no problems. My brain gets it and I can get on once I'm told what do to. When it comes to anything that involves thinking on my feet - forms with a free defense, kumite - then I lose the plot.

Kendo is completely the other way - he's much happier sparring and doing stuff that requires him to react and finds it more difficult with the stuff where he has to learn a set pattern and stick to it. Part of me wonders if it's a gender thing in terms of the block/counter response. Us girlie's (on the whole) are much less used to hitting and being hit then you boys. Growing up boys tend to have more rough-housing, fighting, wedgies, dead arms etc. Stopping themselves getting whacked and whacking back is programmed into those neural pathways at a much younger age and we all know it's much easier to learn stuff when you're a kid. It think I might just have to accept that my block and counter neurons are currently a bit rusty (if not non-existent) and it's going to take time to get them up to speed. More than anything I am frustrated with myself for not getting it.

So, acceptance of my lack of brain function in this area aside I need to think about a solution to this. Grading is coming up the first week of December and this is one of my requirements. I want to be ready.

One option I suppose is to make what doesn't work for me work for me by fitting it in with what I know best. That would mean setting up a fixed block and counter for each strike and sticking with it (having established that I'm much better with prescribed forms). I don't like that though, for two reasons.

1) I can't guarantee I won't suddenly whip out a completely different block when the strike comes and therefore end up with the same problem I've got now.

2) (and most importantly) Doing that feels like something of a cop out. It's taking something I have difficulty with and dragging it back into my comfort zone rather than using it as an opportunity to learn more. That's not what I want my karate to be about. I want it to be about learning more, growing more, experiencing more, understanding more (about myself and about things outside myself). If I don't push against the things that are hard for me I will never get past them and progress.

So, if I chose not to cop out and go with option 1, that leaves me with option 2 which I guess is to work harder. Strange how it always comes down to one thing: Practise more. Or maybe not strange at all?

Learning Zone, here I come!


**I'm sure I wrote loads more stuff than this in the first incarnation of this post. I guess readers should be thankful to Blogger for it's ineptitude forcing the condensed version of my waffle! See - a silver lining after all!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Butterflies In My Hara

I had a whole new karate experience at the weekend. My first ever karate seminar.

I have to say I was a little nervous about it, definitely some nervous butterflies about the whole process - mostly I think because I wasn't sure what to expect. Plus, there was talk of video playback......which I'm quite certain can never be a good thing!

10 members of our club (8 students ranging from yellow to brown belt, plus Shihan and one of our Sensei's) trouped over to a fellow TKGB school in Runcorn (Juurai Martial Arts) for the seminar on Sunday afternoon.

Despite my nerves it turned out to be a really enjoyable experience. The seminar was based on Bunkai for 2 kata.

Juurai's Senior Instructor (Andy Wilkinson) took the first half of the seminar. He taught us the Niseishi kata (which Sue has talked fluently (as always) about over here). The version we were taught was similar to the Shukokai version (although Andy did talk us through and demonstrate some of the Shotokan version (called Nijushiho) to illustrate the differences.

I quite surprised myself by how quickly I was able to pick up the pattern - Sensei Andy was really good at explaining each section, breaking it down in to managable chucks and building on the bits you'd already learnt. We applied the bunkai to various sections as we were going along (which really helped with the understanding of what we were doing in the kata). It always seems pointless to me to just do kata without knowing what you're supposed to be doing. Kind of like trying to put up flat pack furniture without reading the instructions! LOL.

We did mix up partners for the Bunkai exercises but unfortunatley very few of the Juurai students were able to make the seminar (due to sickness and injury) so we were pretty much mixing with ourselves (something we do in class anyway). It would have been nice to have been able to work with more students from another school I think (always interesting to see how other people do things) but alas we out-numbered them about 5 to 1 so it wasn't to be.

After we'd run through the whole of the kata a couple of times and examined the Bunkai for the various sections the higher grades ran through it a couple of times in a multiple attacker form which was good to see. Then we watched the video playback - ugh! Just horrible. I hated seeing myself. I'm probably my own worse critic (sitting there thinking -eek - that block was sloppy, that stance was rubbish....and yes, my bum does look big in that! LOL). I know they say the camera adds 10lbs - there must have been about 5 pointing at me! :P. If nothing else, I've definitely come to the conclusion that a new Gi is justified. I've lost over 2 stone in weight since I started karate last year and bought my Gi and it absolutely swamps me. It looks like theres about 3 times more material than necessary! There's comfortable - then just plain ridiculous! I think I'll have to ask Father Christmas nicely to bring me a new one. Maybe one of these, with my name embroidered on........... I think I might have earned it this year!

Anyhoo, I digress! The video playback was both excruiating, and informative. Once we'd watched through the video of the Niseishi section and had a spot of lunch we got started on the second half of the seminar.

Shihan Dave took us through Kata Saifa. This couldn't have been more perfect for me as it's the Kata I'm currently working on for my red belt. I know the pattern for this kata, I know the moves for this kata but I'm still working on tweaking it to get it just right (you know all those little bits that you need to work to transition from this stance to this stance, which arm position there). Going through the kata step by step with some people who didn't know it was really, really useful -as was the bunkai (back to those flat pack instructions again). What was particular interesting was that Shihan looked at the kata in terms of ground work application (always a recipe for some good fun!). We dragged out the training mats and worked some drops and take downs (one in-one out so Shihan could keep a close eye on some of the lower kyu and the Juurai guys who don't do a lot (if any) ground work in their training). Unfortunatley we were a little pushed for time for the second half as we needed to be out of the hall so we had to rush through the last parts of the kata a little and zap through some of the video playback for that section pretty quick (personally I think all video playback should be video in Fast Forward - it hides a multitude of errors! LOL).

All in all it was a really interesting experience. Something I'd definitely do again (and probably be a little less nervous about next time). Shihan has a number of seminars lined up for next year at our club (including some weapons ones which I'm really looking forward to). I still can't believe that I'm doing this kind of stuff. Shihan asked me in the car on the way home did I ever imagine I'd be this interested in NO! If someone had suggested this time last year that I'd be a blue belt and attending Karate seminars I probably would have burst something from laughing. If they'd have suggested I would a) spend my Friday night at home watching THIS (subtitled martial arts movie) and b) actually enjoying it, you probably would have needed a stretcher to carry me out of there! It's strange the directions life takes you when you're least expecting it!

Its back to karate business as usual tonight with Sempai-ing for the kids class and training afterwards. Hopefully my Saifa will have improved some with the extra knowledge and practice from yesterday. I'm hoping we get to work some Taisabaki again this week too. I must have block and countered those 12 strikes a million times in my head this week! I know what I need to remember:

1. Work the angles
2. Don't be so Linear

Okay, that's probably the same thing three times but it's that important (and it worked for Tony Blair....almost ;)).

That's it till tomorrow post-training debriefing.


Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Mastering the Art of Suckage.

Here we are already in November. I can't believe how fast the weeks are flying by. Another Tuesday, which means another post-Monday class debriefing.

Last night was a tough class for me. Not particulary physically tough (although my legs are feeling it somewhat from plenty of stance practice) but mentally tough.

If I had to sum my karate experience last night up in one word: FRUSTRATION.

Shihan drilled us on our lower kyu kata (Tagioko Shodan, Nidan and Sandan in particular) for about an hour, really focusing on our stances, blocks and attacks. There was a lot to take in at once. Concentrating on how your hips are placed (off for the blocks, square for the strikes), on maintaining stance (not bobbing up and down, particulary with kicks), on making sure you look before turning. I got a particular grilling over these and there seemed to be much shouting of "Marie - square your hips up", "Marie - lengthen your stance out", "Marie - bend your front knee more". There was very good reason I know why Shihan chose to pick on me so much. He's got me teaching the newbies in the kids class the first of these kata and in order for me to teach it, he needs to know that I've got it down perfectly. I know this, so ultimately I don't really mind being picked up on things (I'd much rather be picked up on this stuff now than still be doing stuff wrong several belts (and a whole lot of muscle memory) down the line and have to unpick it then. I know this, but that didn't stop my petulant "inner brat" feeling a little put out by it. LOL. I guess it doesn't matter how old we get, there's always that part of us that doesn't like being called out for doing something wrong. It whisks you straight back to primary school and pretty much makes you want to crawl under a table and hide. I managed to resist the urge though and took it on the chin. I'm reminded again of Jesse's quote I mentioned in my previous post:

"......sucking at something is a gift. It’s nothing but free information from nature, and the message reads: “Practise more”.

I'll certainly be giving these areas of my kata my full attention in future!

The last half hour of the class saw the continuation of me embracing the art of suckage! Myself and my fellow karateka Jon (he of the extraordinarily bony forearms!) were paired up to work on the Taisabaki requirements for our next gradings. For us these are a series of 12 attacks:


For red belt the response to these attacks is Block and Counter. For Purple (Jon's next belt) it's Avoid and Counter.

Kendo and I have practiced this a few times at home but clearly last night I was having a total brain fart when it came to this section. I just couldn't seem to get a handle on it at all. Jon pointed out what I'm doing wrong (which wasn't a big surprise to me) which is I'm not working the angles enough when I'm blocking. I need to be stepping out more with my blocks. It ties in with a lotus footwork pattern that seen in our previous Kata (Koke Ho) and I know I should be implementing it but I seem to really be struggling to get out of the linear mindset of our previous Taisabaki form (which is a ten step linear form so you just work forwards and backwards). Shihan suggested one way to help get into this habit is to practice working a higher requirement Taisabaki - the same 12 strikes but the responses must be kicks. This really forces you to make space between yourself and your opponent so you can open up enough of a gap to get your kicks in. I will definitely have to try that. I need to get it into my head that I need to move more. Work the angle, look for the possible rotations. Don't just stand in the line of the strike!! Grrrrrrrrr. I'm so frustrated with myself over this. I'm angry with myself for not "getting it" when I know what needs to be done.

For the moment. I'm embracing the Mastering of the Art of Suckage. I will own the suckage! It's mine and it will only force me to become a better martial artist in the long run. I hope!!


Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Say "Cheese"!

Time seems to be ticking by rather quickly, does it not? Here we are already half way through October nearly. Scary. In another month I'll have reached my 1 year anniversary as a karateka. Who'd have thought it? Certainly not me!

Monday's class was a bit of a strange affair for me this week. I'm still helping out with the junior class (and still loving it!) and as I was getting kitted up in my Gi on Monday I noticed one of my former school teacher's lurking in the wings. She taught me in reception (which was 30 years ago! Eek!) and has lived up the road from me for as long as I can remember. She was there with her Grandson who has not long started classes. I can't tell you how weird it was to be instructing these little people under her watchful eye! Nothing like feeling the pressure! LOL. The age range for the class is 6 to 9 although some do start a little younger. It's amazing the difference in attention spans you get in kids so young. Some of them take it all in and watch you like a hawk for what they should be doing, others...well, they're more easily distracted. I guess it's all in the personality. Every one of them is coming along well though and I see improvements in them week on week. It makes me really proud of my little guys when I see their first katas coming together and how they grow in confidence when they know they're getting things right. It's hard work, but definitely worth it. I definitely need some girls though! Where are all the karate girls?? We haven't had any new ones for ages.

The feeling of being watched didn't subside for the adult class either as there was a photographer there taking photos for the new karate club website. I can't say I was really bothered about having perfect hair and all that gubbins (because face it, karate gi....not the most attractive attire in the word and if you're training hard you're going not going to look like you just stepped out of a salon) but it was kind of hard to not be distracted by the guy looming in the back ground with the camera. Mostly I was worried that he'd end up snapping me with an expression akin to this:

especially when he was photographing us doing kick pad work. I know I pull weird expressions when I'm holding the pads! Heaven knows what the kata shots he took will be like. I dread to think! I haven't seen any of the pics yet but I'm sure I'll get to check them out soon enough - hopefully before any of them grace the pages of the club website for anyone to see! LOL.

On the training side of things. Well. It's ups and downs at the moment. I'm getting along okay with my new Kata (Saifa). I think I've got the pattern down now, I just need to work on the details and then keep running through it. My basics are getting better (partly due to having to do them over and over with the junior class - teaching them definitely helps me learn). Thems the ups. The downs...... I suddenly seem to be having real trouble with my kicks. I'm trying to make sure my technique is good - kicking through the hips, pivoting on the back foot, using my arms for counter balance, but I seem to be losing something along the way. What felt easy now feels a little cumbersome. I guess that's about progression in technique. It's frustrating though.

The other area I feel like I'm falling down on is my kumite. That's one of those areas where I think it's sometimes hard to see progress in yourself. Some times I think I'm taking one step forward and three back when it comes to sparring. If I really take time and see how far I've come in 11 months there's definitely been great improvement but I feel like I've hit a bit of a wall and I'm not getting any better. I'm really conscious that I'm very linear in my approach to sparring. I know I have to start working my angles more, getting out to the sides instead of always being face on with my opponent. I know I should be looking for places were I can use my more advance techniques...grabbing blocks, kicks, controls. Knowing and doing though are two very different things, it seems.

I know I probably shouldn't be beating myself up (pun entirely intended) over these things. I know it will come with experience and practice, but like anything in life you love, I want to be the best I can be at this.

I'm reminded of this recent post over at KaratebyJesse:

While we’re still on the subject of drawbacks and downsides; this whole Karate-jutsu system/pyramid has another big negative side, which is that many people tend to quit before they get somewhere!

Most commonly around green belt, it seems.


Because for the longest time you will constantly feel like you suck. Like nothing works. Like when you finally get a detail right, a new – even more serious – detail inevitably pops up.

And most people don’t like that feeling.

But they should.

Because sucking at something is a gift. It’s nothing but free information from nature, and the message reads: “Practise more”.

Constantly feeling like you suck? Check!

At least I made it past green belt though, and I know I'm not going to quit, so I will take from this the most important lesson. Practice more!

At the moment we're in the middle of redecorating our living room. When we're finished it will be half lounge, a little bit dining room and a whole lot of training room. Is it weird to be having a training room in your living room? Possibly. But we live there and training is what we like to do so that's what we'll do in there. I can't wait!


Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Greens and Blues and Greens with Blue.

Has it really been almost a month since I last blogged anything karate related? Wow. Time is flying by here. The start of the academic year is always a manic time for me. A whirlwind of data entry, timetabling, student ID cards and endless student enquiries.

Despite the tornedo of student related activity, long days and late finishes, I've still (thankfully) managed to keep up with 2 karate classes a week (three if you were to count acting as Sempai for Grace's class). I still doing it, and still loving it.

We've had a change to our school's grading process recently (mostly due to the fact that student numbers are increasing). Previously Shihan has been doing gradings on a kind of ad hoc basis but this month it was a set grading day and all students who were set to grade were given a slip inviting them to the session.

Myself, Kendo and Grace were all due for grading so after dropping Ewan off at his Nanny and Grandad's on Sunday we trooped off the the grading session as a karate family. Kendo and I were set to grade to 5th Kyo-Ho (green belt, blue tip) and Grace was grading for her much coveted 6th Kyu rank (green belt).

It was a tough old session of kihon, kata and kumite. My fine on my basics so trotted through them ok. Helping at the junior class is really improving my basic blocks and strikes I think because I have to be very conscious of how I'm doing them when I've got a collection of white belts copying what I'm doing! I don't want to pass on any bad habits! Eek!

One of the requirements was our basic taisabaki (a 10 step linear taisabaki with a range of strikes and blocks). The green and blue belts were called in to assist with this for the younger grades (they do 3 step, 5 step, or 7 step out of the same drill depending on their level) which gave us an opportunity for practice before we were tested on our own 10 step. We practice this quite a lot both in class and at home so it's pretty ingrained in my muscle memory now so I wasn't too worried about that part.

Then came the kata. As there were so many students grading things started with the lower grades on the first kata and took them up to their requirement for grading. I was really proud of Grace, her kata wasn't perfect but she nailed most of the turns and blocks. I just wish she would have more confidence that she knows what she should be doing and wouldn't get caught up watching some of the other kids who aren't doing it right!! LOL. The green belts and above were only required to complete from our orange belt katas onwards. Oh dear. We did get a bit of a dressing down by Shihan because our "strong" Tagioko Sandan kata was, well.... a bit pathetic to be honest. We had to do a couple more run throughs before he was satisfied with the pace and let us carry on with the rest of the required kata. To grade to 5th Kyo-Ho the required kate is Gekasai Nidan. Out of a row of 5 students I was the only one to Kiai. I pretty much cacked myself that I'd done it in the wrong place but I was right (phew!). I did however have to conclude that my Kiai's are still a bit rubbish. I sound like I'm about 10 years old. I must work on them more.

When we'd finished the required 5th Kyo-Ho kata Shihan asked Kendo and the other green belt testing with us to sit down and left myself, Jon (blue belt) and Cairan (brown belt) up for the next kata (Koke Ho - which is the required blue belt kata). At this point I was starting to suspect Shihan might be looking to see if I was ready to grade to blue belt (no pressure then! *GULP*). I managed to get through the kata pretty well (much practice had been done at home, thankfully) and then had to get geared up for some kumite.

The higher grades were again drafted in for kumite against the people grading for lower grades. I was paired early on with a lady who had come to the grading for her first class (there were other students there who weren't grading, just refreshing on their basics). Stupidly thinking I would be able to take it easy....that'll teach me. I should have suspected something was afoot when she asked before bowing if it was okay to use kicks as well as punches. Yup, you guess it.....ex-kick boxer!. She pretty much handed me my arse on a plate. Good job we can laugh about it! I got to spar with some of the little ones from the junior class which is always fab. I love sparring my guys!

Then the higher grades got their turn for kumite. All I can say is Oh My! I somehow managed to be paired up with Shihan for my first bout (I'm still not entirely sure how I let that happen!) and he wasn't anywhere near as nice to me as he usually is. There were a couple of moments there when I seriously considered employing the Armadillo defense (that'd be rolling into a ball shouting "please don't hit me, please don't hit me"!). In the end though I was brave and held my own (of a fashion) through a bout with Shihan and then another tricky bout with fellow student Jon.

Phew. It was finally done with.

The new gradings are given out at the end. I was so proud of the kids from the junior class - especially some of the guys getting their first gradings who I've been working with for the last couple of weeks in class. I had a bit of a proud teacher moment there! *sniff* Then I had a very proud Mummy moment when Grace was awared her green belt (she's so chuffed with it, I can't tell you). Kendo was awarded his 5th Kyo-Ho (blue tip on his green belt) and then Shihan awarded me my BLUE BELT! Hurrah. Double grading again. I came over all embarrassed when I went to collect my belt but then I did get to revel in the 30 seconds where I'd managed to catch up with Jon....before he was awarded his Red belt and went back to being the person I aspire to catch. LOL.

All in all, a really good grading for the Cookie family.

Now the work begins learning new kata and a whole new set of taisabaki and strikes and blocks.

Kata Saifa is the next kata for me which is already giving me sleepless nights! I'm chipping away at learning the first half of the kata (before you start with the hammer fist strikes for those of you who know the kata). Hopefully I'll have that committed to memory for Sunday so I can crack on with the other half.

TTFN. I promise to try to not leave it so long between posts next time (student pestering permitting!!).

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Plots? Pah, Who Needs 'Em?

A strange thing is happening to me. I'm developing a weird fascination for martial arts movies. It's starting to freak me out a bit. In the past the thought of watching anything resembling a Ninja movie would have filled me with a dread beyond reason. I would have complained that they had no plot, that they were bloody thirsty, that the acting was second (third?) rate, that they held no interest for me at all.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself deliberately wandering into Blockbuster over the Bank Holiday weekend in search of a martial arts movie to entertain us for the evening. Bizarre.

What I've found you see, is that I don't care about the lack of plot, or the lousy acting, or the dreadful script......because I'm not watching that.....I'm waiting for the good stuff. For the fight scenes. What before would have been a mindless blur of tussling bodies has now become a series of stuff I recognise - a rising elbow here, a long knee there, a front kick, a round kick, a head level block. I see the stuff I'm learning there on the screen being used and it makes me interested. I see combinations, I see strategies, I see possibilites.

Kendo reckons I'm becoming blood thirsty in my old age. I reckon if I am, then he's noone to blame but himself...... karate classes for me was his idea. Serves him right!

If any of you haven't managed to see this movie yet:

Then I throughly recommend it. There's a completely wicked axe kick in there which quite frankly made me go a little giddy. It's even got a plot too - bonus!

Oh my goodness. Whatever has become of me????? :P


Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Sempai Me.

Wow, has it really been two weeks since I last wrote about karate? Blimey. I was off work last week with the kids to give my parents a break (summer holidays are a killer on your childcare arrangements) and the week just seems to have gotten swallowed up in a black hole of Disney channel, Moshi Monsters, park visits and icecream eating.

So, what's been going on in Cookie family karate land? As I mentioned last time, Shihan and Sensei Chrissie have been on holiday the last few weeks leaving us in the very capable hands of Sensei H. It was really interesting having a different instructor. I love how you get a whole new take on things which can really help cement your learning.

Shihan and Sensei being absent also left a Sempai spot empty for Gracie's class which I happily stepped in to fill. What a great experience that was. The kids are great (for the most part) and it's fun to help them learn and to see them progressing. It was quite funny as they're all a little bit afraid of Sensei H (I told Grace that she was the master of wicked warm up session and I think it might have filtered down to the rest of the class! LOL). She certainly didn't take any nonsense from any of them and gave them a good drilling in basics as well as some fun games (with a little healthy competition). All in all it was a really good experience and I wouldn't hesitate to do it again.

She was a little less gentle for the Monday adult class - my gluts are killing me this morning from holding stances forever! I know the only way to get better at my stances is to work them though so I don't really mind.

The Sunday class was particular cosy this week with just 4 of us in attendance (Kendo was busy at home cleaning up after having removed our old back boiler and hot water tank - what a messy job that's turned out to be!). It was a good opportunity to work on kihon for us, especially some of the advanced strikes and stances, and to work on kata. The great thing about there being so few students is that Sensei was able to pick up on areas where our stances aren't quite right, or our blocks/angles needed tweaking. That one on one time for kata is invaluable I think. We could quite easily go along doing it incorrectly otherwise. I'd much rather be picked up on it now so I can make sure its getting imbedded in my muscle memory the RIGHT way!

It's back to business as usual from next week so we'll see what interesting stuff Shihan has dreamt up for us while he's been relaxing on his hols. I dread to think what he could have come up with with all that time on his hands. I imagine it'll probably hurt though! LOL.


Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Take Control(s).

You've heard the saying "be careful what you wish for"?

Well, I wished for opportunity to practice my controls and escapes and blimey if I didn't get that in spades at training last night.

As Shihan and Sensei are going away on holiday for a couple of weeks (leaving another of our Sensei's ((is that the plural or is it just Sensei?? Hmmmm. I'll have to double check that) to take the classes) Shihan decided to throw something a little different into the mix this week. Ordinarily we don't work much control and escape work in the Monday class so it was interesting to see how people got along with it.

We worked wrist controls, shoulder controls and arm bars from blocking (inside and outside) into controls and also worked some escapes (from strangles, head locks etc). I usually end up partnering with Louise (my fellow green belt) or Sensei Helen for these kinds of techniques (we're similar sizes and builds) but last night I ended up partnered up with Jon (blue belt). He really is an amazing karateka. He knows his stuff really well and excutes all his techniques to a really high standard. I really do like working with him because he doesn't go too lightly on you. Always put the controls on properly and tells you if you haven't got the control in place properly on him. He also doesn't move unless you move him (which makes for much more realistic (as realistic as it can be in the dojo setting) practice.

The only downside to working with Jon? He's so damn bony!! Doing blocks and punches with him has left me with a delightful array of forearm bruises this morning. See:

Jon, if you're reading this, you're gonna have to put some meat on those arms dude, seriously, you're killing me! LOL.

I really tried to concentrate on getting the controls and locks on well which I've been guilty of not doing way too much. The best part was working random punches so you don't know which side to work until you actually implement the block. It's great for working your muscle memory - you just have to deal with what you get. The block itself is becoming instinctive now..... hopefully the follow through will start to become second nature too. I'm going to have to line that hubby of mine up for some practice. Thankfully that's one of the things we can practice easily at home.

Sadly the time went so fast (when you're having fun?) last night that we didn't even get chance for kata practice or kumite so I'll have to make sure I work on my kata at home in the week.

Kendo and I have both started back on a 12 week training programme (fat loss and muscle building) this week. Last time we did this (starting in February) I managed to shed 2 stone (28lbs) and I still have some more to lose so hopefully I can start shifting my baby belly (can't really blame that on Ewan any more being that he's almost 4 now!!). Back in the gym tonight for the first weights day of my 3 day split (chest, triceps and abs) and tomorrow I'm thinking of taking a yoga class at the gym. I really need to improve my flexibility, particularly my hamstrings. My recurrent back problems have left me with shortened hamstrings and problems with my pelvis in my pregnancies mean I'm not as flexible as I'd like to be. I'm hoping the yoga will help me work on that some.


Monday, 2 August 2010

All About The Bunkai.

Sunday training last night and it was a really interesting class for a couple of reason.

There were only a few of us there as it's the start of the holiday season. Just myself, Kendo, Jon (blue belt), Sensei Chrissy and Shihan Dave. Such a small class (particularly in the adult class) brings a number of advantages, and what could be a big disadvantage!

The good side is that you get to work more indepth on things. We worked more complicated pad drills than usual (my shoulder is still grumbling from elbow strikes, it doesn't like those much) and Kendo and I got to work on our 10 step taisabaki and iron out a few kinks which was great because it's a requirement for our next belt grading.

The down side of course is that any mistakes you make are more glaringly obvious as Shihan has much less people to look at. That was the cue for me to completely forget all the escapes/controls we've worked on. Soooo frustrating. We've done these things countless times but when it comes to thinking on my feet I make the same mistake of thinking TOO MUCH. I over analyse instead of just reacting. I know that ultimately I should be able to end up with a control no matter what course of action I take. In a real life situation I can't ask my attacker to start again why I get it "right". I just frustrate myself so much because I over think it all the time. It's like banging my head against a brick wall. I know that the reaction is going to come with practice, that my muscle memory will eventually kick in this control situations (some times it does and I really feel like I'm connecting with the movements) but I annoy myself by letting my brain get in the way.

The smaller group and therefore more intense escape/control training also highlighted another bad habit of mine which I'm increasingly aware of which is that I don't "finish" the control. I don't see the movement through to a conclusion (the preferrable one being to ensure that your opponent doesn't get back up, obviously). Again I think practice is the only thing that's going to fix this. I need to get more confident with the escapes and controls until they're second nature, then I can look for the finishing strike.

So much to learn!!

A good portion of the class was spent on Kata (yey! My favourite part of karate :)). The small group gave a great opportunity for Shihan to pick up on areas where individuals needed correcting (stances, blocks etc that needed tweaking). It was good to have feedback on all of the kata we've done so far. It's easy to get caught up with the ones you're working on and let the others slide. We also did a very interesting exercise where Shihan had the four of us stand back to back in a square and perform the first of our Tagioko kata. We all know this kata, its the second on our syllabus, but it was really funny just how much concentration we had to put into it when we were faced with performing it in a different orientation than usual. I don't think any of us realised quite how much we associate the turns etc in the kata with our relative position in the dojo. Your brain is clearly thinking...okay, for the next part I'm turning towards the stage wall, for this part I should be facing the door. It was funny to do the kata without that association. Proof that we should try to avoid marking our kata out by external landmarks I think. Food for thought.

For me, the best part of the class was Shihan talking us through Bunkai for the kata I'm currently working on. The whole process of bunkai totally fascinates me. I love seeing how the movements in the kata can be applied. It makes the whole thing make much more sense to me when I can see what each movement is supposed to be doing. It takes them from just a random series of actions into something that actually has meaning and practical application. I think it gives a much better grasp of how to perform kata. I can't believe some schools don't do any bunkai at all. I can't really see the point of learning a kata by rote with no idea of what it's supposed to do. That seems like folly to me.

I've been struggling a little with this kata. Even Kendo commented whilst I was practicing at home the other day that of all the kata we've done this is the first one he's seen me look uncomfortable with. There's a lot of concentration on breath and stance in the kata (not to mention 2 evil, evil turns that have me wobbling all over the place!!) and whilst I've gotten the pattern down to pat pretty quickly I'm struggling to execute it well. I'm hoping that the study of the bunkai is going to help with that some.

More opportunity to practice tonight at the Monday class anyway. I'll see if it can actually help me improve any.


Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Teach and Learn.

"Learning is finding out what you already know, Doing is demonstrating that you know it, Teaching is reminding others that they know it as well as you do. We are all learners, doers, and teachers." - Richard David Bach

Monday's class was an interesting one. There were quite a lot of people there. Sixteen students by my count (ranging from white belts to brown/black tip) exluding Shinan and the two senior Sensei. It was quite cosy :) I've never been in a class quite so full before so it was a bit strange.

We had to line up in two lines for kihon which was odd. I'm not used to having people behind me and kept thinking I was going to step back into someone! LOL. We covered loads of blocks, strikes and kicks though including a fairly new one for me - haito strikes. I'm just about getting my head around those now. The set up and body movement still feels a bit strange.

The most interesting part of the class for me came with the pad work. Shihan had all the coloured belts team up with one of the lower grades (white or yellow) and help them with the punch combinations we were working on. I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It was great to be able to help the young man I was paired up with and really good to see him finally clicking with the drill we were doing. What I also found was how much I learned from emparting knowledge to others. It really made me think about my form, about how and why we do things. Definitely a two way street.

When it came to kumite I also nabbed a couple of the younger students to partner against and really enjoyed getting them to think about using their punches and blocks properly. One of the white belts in particular really impressed me. She's way better than I was at that stage. She's really quiet and reserved (quite shy even) in class but clearly pays attention and is learning well. It was great to be able to give her some positive encouragement. I did find it quite hilarious that she was frightened of me when we first faced each other. How times move on. LOL. 7 months ago that was me quaking in my gi!

As it happens it's quite fortunitous that I actually enjoyed this portion of the training. Grace's "Little Dragons" class on a Monday is normally taught by Sensei Chrissy (with Shihan and a brown belt Senpai assisting). Sensei and Shihin are off on holiday in a few weeks time and another of the Sensei (Helen) is stepping in to take over the class. As two of the instructors being off leaves them an instructor down, and being that I'll be in the building, with my gi, anyway Shihan asked if I'd be willing to act as an extra body at the front for Grace's class for a couple of weeks. I'm quite looking forward to the challenge, I have to say. I can't help wondering if I'll have any better luck getting Grace to pay attention to me as a Senpai than I do as her Mum! Lord knows most of the time she doesn't pay attention to me at home (6 year olds eh? Who'd have 'em?).

I wonder what I'll learn from helping with a class of 16 small people? I'm sure they'll have plenty to teach me.


Monday, 26 July 2010


Image from here.

Breathing. Pretty important stuff if you want to continue to function as a human being. Thankfully we can (for the most part) manage to do it all day and all night long without giving it any thought at all. Lucky really. This post is about breathing (did you guess that already?) in two aspects.

Since I started studying karate I can safely say that I've been giving breathing a whole lot of thought. Too much, some might say. You see, after 34 years of breathing in and out with little or no thought what so ever, I'm suddenly aware that (at least when it comes to karate) I'm not always doing it right. Now, I have to say, I am improving with this somewhat but I was (and still am sometimes) guilty of what I think are pretty much rooky mistakes when it comes to karate breathing. So.

#1: Breathing through your mouth. Uck! I'm most guilty of doing this during kumite when I forget everything else other than trying to hit and not be hit. I can't possibly concentrate on breathing right too, so ultimately I end up with total cotton mouth. It's pretty horrible and makes it very thirsty work.

#2: Forgetting to Breathe. YIKES! I'm most guilty of this during kata. Concentrating so hard on the kata itself that I forget I'm supposed to be breathing at all. Clearly that's not so good for you.

#3: Using your chest and not your stomach for breathing. Eek! This one is the most difficult to remember to do. I know when I'm getting this right because I really feel the difference in my performance, in how much power I can generate, in how much more relaxed and refreshed I feel (when I'm not doing it I tire much more easily). The worst thing about this is, I played wind instruments at school (flute, clarinet and saxophone) so I know how to do this, and quite frankly I should know better! I haven't played those instruments for a long time though so it's a case of having to relearn what I once did without thinking and applying it in the dojo.

I've been reading around a lot of karate blogs of late and there seems to be a recurring theme with people having these kinds of problems when they begin, so at least I know I'm not alone in my breathing messes. I've found some great posts on the subject. These two in particular at The Perpetual Beginner were really interesting, and useful. I especially liked the parts about beginning the breath with the exhalation and about setting specific exhalation points in your kata. Food for thought indeed.

I think becoming aware of this is half the battle won though. Once you know what you're doing wrong and when you're doing it you can at least try to correct it. I'm hoping it will eventually become second nature and I can go back to happily not thinking about breathing again. I do seem to be getting better, so may be there's hope after all.

The second part of this post relates (loosely) to breathing in another aspect. In terms of pausing. Of taking a breath. Of holding back a moment. I do think it's important in life to be aware of your own shortcomings (okay, maybe shortcomings is the wrong word... foibles maybe?). So, be aware of your own foibles.

One of my worst (and maybe best) is that I have an insatiable appetite for knowledge. I always have. Even as I kid I couldn't get enough knowledge crammed in to keep me happy. I love to learn. If you asked me when I was 7 or 8 what I wanted to do when I grew up, there was only once answer. I wanted to go to University. I had no clue at that point what I wanted to do there, or indeed after there. I just saw University as this great mythical seat of learning where there'd be unlimited knowledge for me to soak up at my leisure.

Now you might be forgiven for wondering why this thirst for knowledge is a bad thing, and in and of itself it isn't. However, couple it with one of my other personality traits... impatience, and it's a whole other kettle of fish. Not only do I want to know EVERYTHING. I want to know it NOW! Bad, bad combination.

In terms of my karate, I'm becoming acutely aware of this sneaky little personality trait rearing it's ugly head. I know that I need to stop. To take a breath. To make sure that I know what I know well before I move on to other things. I've been aware of it a little while now. Shihan mentioned it last night in training (not specifically related to me, but I was aware it applied to me because I'm aware of this trait in myself). So, being aware of this I shall endeavour to rein myself in. To focus on the now and not worry about the next too much. Just like with the breathing, being aware of the issue is half the battle. I'm sure I can master both in time.

Just one last thing for today. Some congratulations are in order in the Cookie family. Kendo had a grading last night and obtained the rank of 6th Kyu - Green belt.


We're officially a two green belt family. Miss Grace is not amused! She'll have to get that green belt kata down to pat sharpish if she wants hers :)

Another class for me tonight (did I mention I love two training days in a row? Because I really do :)). I wonder what training will hold tonight?


Monday, 19 July 2010

Gi Musings.

A comment from the lovely SueC on my previous post has had me thinking about my gi the last few days.

This is what Sue had to say:

"For me, the putting on of the gi is symbolic in that it separates the dojo from the outside world. For that reason I would never wear my gi outside the dojo (I always change when I get there). When I put on my gi I forget what is happening in the outside world and focus my mind on the training to come. I think you lose this sense of 'different place' if you travel to and from the dojo in your gi. What do you think?"

I’ve waxed lyrics on my other blog a couple of times about wondering what on earth possessed me to have three quarters of our family take up a hobby that requires the wearing of white suits that are made of 100% cotton, can only be washed on a cool wash and are an absolute b*tch to iron – and I still think this on a regular basis.

Nevertheless, other than a laundry nightmare of epic proportions what does my Gi do for me? I should probably start by reiterating that I never, ever saw myself as a martial artist. It’s not something I was really interested in as a kid. I once took a judo class (which was pretty much break fall 101 – who knew that would come in handy, eh? Then there were 2 Aikido classes with my brother (for lack of anything better to do those evenings).That was pretty much the extent of it though. No one was more surprise than me when I took my first class at Isami Ryu and completely loved it.

I started classes in November but didn’t get my gi until Christmas so for those first couple of classes I didn’t really feel like a real karateka. I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that at some point someone was going to point my way and say “hey, you there, yes, you, with the look of abject terror…who let you in here? Sling your hook this instant you big faker!”. Once I’d gotten my gi and started to wear it to training I felt much more the part. It really helped me get myself in the karate mindset. I guess if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it’s a duck – or in this case if it dresses like a karateka and rei’s like a karateka….well, you know what I mean.

Those first few scary weeks when you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing, looking the part at least helps with the “fake it till you make it”. My gi gave (and gives) me a sense of identity as a karate student. When I put it on, it’s all about the karate, and that’s all. Of course, ultimately feeling like I’d arrived as a karateka had nothing to do with my gi and everything to do with the day Shihan picked me out to demonstrate a control on. I figured he’d decided I wasn’t a newbie any more and was fair game to be picked on for demos – which really made me feel like I belonged.

Back to Sue’s question anyway. Wearing your gi outside the dojo. Hmmmmm. I had to think about this one. For the most part I don’t wear my gi outside the dojo. I usually change when I get there, but I have to be honest and say it’s not for the reasons Sue has mentioned.

Our usual itinerary for Sunday classes is to take the kids to the ILs, where we stay for an hour or so to visit, then Kendo and I head off to class for two hours. Then when class is over we head back to the ILs to collect the kids and then home. Sometimes though we stop at places on the way back from class….. this is where the not wearing the gi comes in.

Now, I’m not usually terribly fashion conscious. I’m not a designer type of person, I don’t have flash clothes. I pretty much a jeans and T-shirt kind of a girl. BUT…. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to wear a gi in public (even just the trousers) without looking completely ridiculous! I mean, come on….no one in their right mind would wear those things voluntarily in the outside world. I look like a complete loon in my gi. It’s possibly the least attractive outfit I’ve ever owned, and in the dojo, I could care less about that – it’s practical, it’s steeped in the tradition of my choice of martial art, it does exactly what it’s supposed to. I still look ridiculous in mine.

I have been known to wear my trousers to and from class if I’m only going there and nowhere else (like on the Monday class when I’m taking Grace (and Grace always wears her gi to and from class) but for the most part I don’t. Because I’m too vain to be seen in the thing in public. There. I said it. I’m horrible shallow. Shoot me now! LOL :P

So, in the dojo my gi make me feel like a karateka. It give me a sense of all the karate history that has gone before. It’s practical. It’s functional. It serves a purpose. I stand by all those things.

It’s also completely fugly. I stand by that too.

Do they really have to be white though? What were the karate masters thinking? Even brushed and mopped the floor of our dojo is minty! White? It’s just asking for trouble.

I do have another gi confession though while we’re on the subject. I have to admit, when it comes to folding my gi, I’m a little fanatical – to the point of OCDness. I little while ago I discovered this:

Which was a great tool for me. Especially as I have three gis to deal with at home and folding them this way means I don't have to iron them! Genius! I always fold my gi this way now.

Enough about gis anyway. I had class last night. This arse is so sore I could barely make it up the stairs to my office at work! I really thought my calves, quads and hamstrings were going to be in for it today, but no. They got off lightly. My gluts have born the brunt of it. I'll be diplomatic about the class and say Shihan was...... thorough. There's a good word. Squats and front kicks, lunges and round kicks, lunges and back kicks, sumo squats and side kicks. Thank God my fitness level is where it is now and not where it was 2 years ago or I'd have been flagging about 10 minutes in!

Once we'd finished on our legs our arms got a good work out too with some heavy punching drills. Nothing quite as satisfying as really getting to wail on a pad I find. On the serious side though Shihan had us really work on our body mechanics, on getting really good hip rotation and generating real power with pulling your off hand back and I really felt like I made some good strong punches. Not much else to say on that, except maybe this:

Knuckle skin? Pah! Knuckle skin is for wimps! Who needs it? Right?

(Kind of wishing I still had mine right about now!).

ETA: I just realised it looks kind of weird that only my middle knuckles are skinned. I should probably add that I was wearing gloves with gel cushioning on the main knuckles. Like these. Unfortunately, that's no good for the rest of your hand. Note to self: wear your full fingered bag mitts next time, you numpty

Another class tonight (dedicated, or a glutton for punishment? Who knows? Yo decide!).


Thursday, 15 July 2010

Things I Love About Karate: Part 1

I’m sure there’ll be many more of these as my training progresses but I thought I’d start by talking about the few things I already love about my karate training (even after only 8 months).

The first of these can be pretty much summed up by one of the first tenants of Dojo etiquette:

In the dojo, karate is your only concern.

This appears a simple statement, and to me its meaning is two fold. In the first instance it’s an instruction. When I’m in the dojo I should only be thinking about my karate. That should be what I’m concentrating on. Like teacher telling student, you should pay attention in class.

On the flip side of this statement, to me, it’s also an invitation (if that’s the right word). Let me try to explain what I mean. Like most people these days I lead a pretty busy life. I work outside the home, I’m Mother to two small children, I’m a wife and a homemaker and all the other things that that encompasses (nurse, teacher, accountant, chef, CEO, taxi driver, PA, referee, time keeper, maid, laundry worker, IT expert, engineer). I have so many things to think about in my daily life it’s a wonder I can keep anything in my brain for more than a few seconds without something displacing it.

That’s where the invitation comes in. To me this statement:

In the dojo, karate is your only concern.

Says “when you come into the dojo, you DON’T HAVE to think about anything else. You’re ALLOWED to let everything else go”. It’s permission, to not be all of the things I have to be every other minute of every day and to just be the best karateka I can.

From the moment I hear the first “Mokuso” to the time I bow the final Rei of the evening. For 2 blissful hours my harried, tired, overworked, over stimulated brain is occupied only by karate. Is my arm in the right place for this block? Did I swivel on my foot for that kick? How can I get generate more power in that punch? What’s the next step in this kata? Where do I go from here in this escape? What’s the best way to execute this control? Can I see a gap in my opponents defence in kumite? All karate, all the time. And you know what? It’s blissful. It’s a relief. My brain breathes a quiet sigh.

Then I go collect the kids from my ILs, and they can pretty much manage to unpick the calm in a matter of minutes *SIGH* For those 2 short hours though, karate provides a small island of calm for the maelstrom of my mind. Heavenly.


Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Shuhari at Work.

“We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size”. -John of Salisbury (1159)

I’m really enjoying searching out and reading the tonnes of information on karate that are available on the web. What a great resource the internet is….how did I ever live without Google in my life?

In particular at the moment I’ve been reading some articles by Iain Abernethy. He has an interesting take on a lot of elements of karate and his articles are really informative and easy to read (plus, totally digging his accent in the podcasts!). The article I've been reading this morning is about different styles of karate and what effect this splintering off has on karate as a whole. In the article he talks about Shuhari - the process of evolution in martial arts. Here's what the article says:

Shuhari is the process through which martial arts are said to evolve. Each syllable represents a specific kanji character and the process of Shuhari is best explained by looking at the meanings of each individual character.

Shu: The meaning of this character is “to defend” or “to obey”. In martial arts, this stage would be the learning of the fundamentals of our chosen style. The student does not yet have enough knowledge or experience to be able to effectively deviate from the fundamentals and hence it is important that they strictly adhere to them. Essentially this stage is “learning by copying”.

Ha: The meaning of “Ha” is “to diverge” or to “break away”. A martial artist who has reached this stage will be working to find their own personal expression of the fundamentals introduced by the preceding stage. They will be working out what they feel is most effective and making corresponding changes to their training and teaching. Essentially this stage is “learning by experimenting”.

Ri: The final character means “to leave” or “to go away”. At this stage the martial artist has moved away from the earlier stages of their martial art and – although what they now do can still trace its origins to their early training – is now uniquely theirs. It has “left” what they originally did and may now need its own name to adequately define it. Essentially this stage is “learning by creating”.

I found this completely fascinating. I've mentioned in an earlier post that the style of karate I do is an amalgamation of a couple of different style. I know that my Shihan has a strong back ground in Gojo Ryu, but also holds Dan grades in several other disciplines and that he's drawn on all of that knowledge to compile the syllabus we work to. When I gave this some thought I actually find it quite comforting! It's nice to know that some serious consideration of what I'm being taught is in play. To do things "because that's how it's always been done" seems to be a waste of brain power. What are our brains for it not to analyse, question, reason? On more than one occasion I've heard Shihan say "you'll hear people say you should only do it this way... in reality that kind of attack would never happen, you're more likely to be confronted with X, Y, Z so we learn it this way instead". To just continue to do something without knowing why you do it? What's the point in that? This story mentioned in an article over at KaratebyJesse is a good illustration:

In a cage there were five monkeys.

In the middle of the cage there was a banana. Every time a monkey tried to grab the banana, a scientist would spray the monkey with ice cold water.

Eventually the monkeys learned not to touch the banana.

One day a monkey was switched out for a new monkey. The new monkey instantly jumped towards the banana, naturally, when suddenly the four other monkeys started screaming and beating him, to warn him. He tried again, and the other monkeys kicked his ass again. After a while, he learned that he maybe shouldn’t go near that banana.

The scientist now decided never to spray the monkeys again, if they tried to take the banana.
Eventually, another monkey was switched out for a new one. As with the first one, he tried to grab the banana, but everyone started beating him up, including the first new monkey. So the second new monkey learned, like the first had done, not to touch the banana. In the end, all of the five original monkeys had been replaced.

In the cage was now five monkeys who never touched the banana.

But no one knew why, or what would happen if they did.

Because that’s the way it had always been.

Seriously? Who wants to be a banana avoiding monkey?

Another area Iain discusses in the article is the evolution of kata. It occurred to me whilst reading that I'd actually unknowingly had a glimpse of this first hand. A month or so ago I attended my Sunday evening class (adults only) without my DH. As it happened he wasn't the only student not to make it that day and in the end the class consisted of myself, Shihan, and two sensei. No pressure then :P

I was just beginning at this point to learn the kata required for my green tip grading (Tagioko Sandan, the third in our Tagioko series of kata). This kata follows the same embusen as the first two but introduces three new intermediate blocks. The first few times I had done this kata I'd been shown to do the kata with a long forward stance (Zenkutsu-dachi) throughout. When we'd been through the kata a couple of times some discussion ensued between Shihan and the Sensei's that it wasn't quite right. The reason? Well, when we're taught the new intermediate blocks as part of our kihon training, for the most part we use the blocks over a specific stance. Chuge Uke (double block) over Sanchin Datchi (pigeon stance), Kake Uke (hook block) over Nekoashi Datchi (cat stance), Shuto Uke (knifehand block) over Kokutsu Datchi (backward leaning stance).

Cue some quick kata run throughs with the blocks over their correct stances and discussions that they really need to look at that more closely and there you go. Shuhari at work.

Now we do Tagioko Sandan with stance changes as well as the new blocks. Thankfully I hadn't had much time to practice the old way! I love that my karate is evolving as I watch though (literally in this case). Things should never be stagnant, remember those monkeys!

On a kind of related note... in that it's kata related. I think I've finally gotten my Gekasai Nidan kata nailed down. I just need to work a little on my speed but the new block (mawashi uke) and strike (Haito) that are in there are making sense to me now. Unfortunatley that means I now have to worry about the next kata in the syllabus (Koke Ho "Divine Breath") which quite frankly makes me want to cry! It's based on a lotus pattern of foot work and involves a lot of sumo stance (Shika Datchi) which, to be perfectly honest, I suck at. I just can't seem to get the pattern and turns to stick in my head either. I think Saifa might be easier for me to grasp and that doesn't even have a pattern!

On the plus side, I am getting to do two classes a week now. Sunday class 5-7pm and the mixed age group class on a Monday evening after Grace's little dragon's class. Grace amazed me by managing to sit quietly and entertain herself for an hour and a half while I particpated in the class - she even agreed she could keep doing it every week because I want to go the class. Bless her. She's such a sweetie (most of the time ;)). I've promised her shopping for a special "karate class bag" which I'll fill with some goodies to keep her entertained while I'm training. Long may it continue working!


Monday, 5 July 2010


I'm finding some really interesting and exciting places on my karate-blog-hopping travels of late. It's surprised me to find some many people embarking on martial arts journey's as adults (you kind of imagine people who are martial arts to have been training since they were kids (well, I do did).

I've recently discovered SueC's blog and have been checking out her blog archives.

This post about The Power of Kiai particularly struck me today. I really find Kiai-ing (is that even a word) difficult and lets face it, more than a little embarrassing. It's weird for a grown woman to be screaming like that. I'm always really self conscious when I have to do it (I'm such a wimp! LOL). I don't think I'm the only lower ranking karateka in my class that has trouble with this either (adults only in my class, remember).

When I take Grace to her class, it's a completely different story. The kids totally love doing their Kiai's! When the class is full (16 or so students) they can damn near knock you off your chair when they get a good Kiai up (there's some serious sound waves coming off those little people) and you can see how much fun they have doing it.

So. What is it about us grown ups that stops us having such Kiai-ing fun? The same thing that stops us playing on the roundabout in the park, or spending the afternoon colouring I suppose (have you ever done that btw? Sooooo relaxing!). We're adults, we're not "supposed" to behave like that. Being a grown up is just no fun!

I suppose I should worry less about what I'm "supposed" to be doing as a grown up and worry more about what I should be doing as a karateka. Kiai is supposed to serve a purpose after all. An external channelling of internal energy. The ability to concentrate the whole of ones being (mind, body and spirit) into a single action. It's more than just a shout. It should come, not from your throat, but from the pit of your stomach (your hara) and focus all that power to one purpose.

So, note to self, less concern out outside perception, more concern about actual purpose.


© Cookie Family Karate
Maira Gall