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.



Time for a New Kata.

Our grading last week (6th Kyu-Ho (green tip) for Kendo, 6th Kyu (green belt) for me) meant this week we embarked on learning a new Kata. Thankfully the first few kata for our style of karate follow set patterns. The first 6 steps for the new kata being the same as the previous one. Phew!

Having to learn a new kata has had me thinking about something that I deal with a lot in the college where I work. We have student study mentors here at the college who will do this neat little trick called “Diagnosing your learning style”. Basic theories of learning style claim there are three kinds of learners:

Visual learners – people who learn best by looking/observing

Auditory learners - people who learn best through listening

Kinesthetic learners– people who learn best through doing/experiencing

There are all sorts of little tests you can take to see which category you fit into (you can even take them online if you fancy a go, here). For me, I'm somewhere between visual and kinesthetic. I learn best by observing, then doing. When it comes to kata, that means I need to watch, then do, then do, then do, then maybe watch, then do, then do, then do...until I run out of do time, then I could probably do with doing some more. When I'm not actually doing the kata then I see it in my head (great for whiling away waiting time and particularly useful for distracting yourself from the sensation of getting your teeth drilled by the dentist as I discovered last Friday. Bunkai (application of kata) dental style! Kendo is even more of a kinestheic learner than me. He really needs the "do". What he doesn't like is to see other people doing other things at the same time. That visual input detracks from his learning.

The great thing about last nights class was getting instruction on the new kata from two different instructors. I find it really fascinating how people's interpretations differ, and how they impart that knowledge to others differs. For some parts of the kata one persons explanations for one part made perfect sense to me while other parts were a left a bit cloudy. Swapping to a different instructor....the cloudy parts start making perfect sense with a different way of seeing it. Things slotting together with knowledge from different people. Brilliant.

I think I'm finally getting the kata pattern to stick. There'll need to be much more "doing" before it's ingrained in my noggin for good though. I guess that means I need to get some more toilet time in. I know, sounds weird, but I have to confess that the loo at work is where I manage to get most of my kata practice in. I'm not talking big communal loos with cubicles.... the nearest toilet to my office is a massive disabled one. LOADS of room in there. So usually once I'm done and washed up I whizz out a quick kata run through. Do that every time you go the loo (which is a lot in this office -we drink a lot of tea around here ;)) and it soon sinks in. I can't help but feeling practicing your kata in the loo might somewhat go against the karate nature, but hey? Working mum of two here - I've gotta take all the opportunities I can!

Other than the new kata last night's class also held the new experience (for me at least) of attending a class with different age groups in attendance. Clearly I've been spoilt rotten by the adults only class with a top headcount of 9 people (including all the instructors!). Some of Grace's class came to the Sunday class for their grading (4 of them, including Miss Grace). Blimey, it's a whole different ball game! I was terrified I was going to smack one of them in the top of the head with a side back fist! Then there's the kicking - not so much fun when their heads are right in line with where your feet are going to be! It's a bit embarrassing when they put you to shame with their stances and basics too. Then there's the kumite. Shihan had us all do light sparring (big ones versus the little ones). Man, they're vicious! They certainly love those round kicks too, I've never block so many in my life. Grace got to see Kendo and I sparring aswell which was quite funny. I think she liked that a little too much ;)

The good news was that they all graded to 6th Kyu-Ho, even Grace who struggled through with a very sore right foot from getting an accidental hot tea v small person scalding on Saturday afternoon (yikes). So Grace is all caught up with Daddy now. I better watch my back, she'll be chasing me down now!

Grace's sore foot means no karate class for her tonight. Grading with adults and a couple of small kids is one thing. Letting her loose in her own class with 32 stomping kiddie feet running around is a bit more risk than I'd like to take with her sore foot. Bad news for Gracie, good news for me as it means I get to go to the Monday class today which I don't normally do. Hurrah!


Friday, 2 July 2010

The Need to Fill the Silence.

It’s a few weeks down the line. I definitely came back. I’ve made my first grading (yellow tip on my white belt). I don’t feel like quite such a klutz. Kicking and punching still feels a bit weird but the more I do it, the less weird it feels. I’m starting to get to know people in the class, remembering names, feeling more comfortable talking to people before and after class.

The rituals the surround the Dojo are becoming more comfortable too. Bow on the way in to the Dojo, formal bowing in to start the class, bow when you leave the floor, bow to your opponent/partner, bowing out at the end of class, bow when you leave the Dojo. There’s a lot of bowing. The terms the instructors use are starting to make sense. Rei (bow), Yoi (ready), Hajime (begin), Yame (stop). I can even count to 10 in Japanese now (Grace has been teaching me!).

This week though, something new is coming. I’m about to be introduced to a whole new element of karate training. Kumite.

Kumite is karate sparring, it’s where you use the techniques you learn in your Kihon and Kata against an actual opponent. So. Let me get this straight. You want me to actual (try to) HIT someone. Not just “someone” either. You want me to actually (try to) hit this person here. This person with a BLACK BELT in karate. Me, with my lowly yellow tip? Oh my. This could end badly (for me, clearly).

In my short time as a Karate-Ka, the single most important thing I’ve learnt about facing higher ranks in Kumite (which I didn’t know back then) is that they have much worse things than a battalion of punches and kicks at their disposal. To start with, they don’t even use those at all. For the most part, they just LOOK at you. Trust me, it’s enough. The thing about that look is – there’s no defence against it.

They’re just standing there. Looking at you. WAITING for you to do something. It’s like that moment of silence in a conversation. That big long ugly pause that needs to be filled. And if you’re the least confident person in that conversation then 99% of the time it’s going to be you that feels the need to fill it. Thus it is with Kumite. You're standing there thinking “I’m supposed to be doing something, what should I do? Okay, I’ll try a few punches”. There it is. That’s what they’ve been waiting for. You see, the other part of that look is probably the most dangerous part for you. Not only are they waiting with that look, they’re WATCHING. Really watching. And what they see is the intention of what you’re going to do, way before you actually do it.

You’re a karate newbie. Try as you might, your intention is written all over your body movement like a blinking neon sign for any more experienced karate-ka to see. There in lies the rub. They’re waiting for you to do something and as soon as you think about what you’re going to do, they’ve got you. They’re waiting for it. There’s no hope. Even when you do start sparring, should by some miracle of spacial freakishness you manage to squeeze a hit in , you know that two seconds later you’re pretty much going to regret it. They’re gonna let you know that you might have snuck through once, but once is all you get.

So, what can you do about it? Well, get better at karate, clearly. Learn to not telegraph your intent with your body movement. Learn to anticipate your opponents intent from their body movement.



I’ve been pondering lately whether if I didn’t actually do anything and just stood there and LOOKED too would I ever have to spar with anyone again? I have to confess I don’t actually know. I always give into that look and crack first. Obviously it’s going to be a while before I’m not the one that needs to fill the silence. I live in hope.



1st Class

Nervous. Excited. Stomach-churning. Exhilarated. Trepidation. Anticipation.

All these things, and a million more, are what I am feeling before attending my first karate class. Kendo had already been going a week or two before me so kind of had a head start (at least he knew everyone's name!). Sensai Chrissy introduced everyone...Dave, Helen, Wayne, Cairan, Louise, Jon. I've pretty much forgotten everyone's name apart from Dave's already. Yikes!

I've got driving test bladder (I need to pee about 20 times before class starts. Note to self, don't have a cup of tea at the ILs before class, it only makes matters worse!). A call for class lines. Everyone lines up in a row. I'm between Kendo on my left and another student (Louise?) on my right. My heart is pounding. Shihan smiles at me. "Don't worry, just try to follow along". Okay, I can do that. Right?

Someone calls "Seiza". Everyone is kneeling down. I follow suit. "Isami Ryu - Rei". Everyone is bowing, I'm following. A few more "Rei's" (I'm getting this, Rei means bow). Everyone stands up. Warm up begins.

I'm running round in circles on a wooden hall floor. Strangely, it reminds me of summer playschemes. Push ups, sit ups, leg raises, more running. Stretches. I'm thanking the God's of fitness that I've been going to the gym lately. If I'd been there 18 months earlier I'd have been in an exhausted heap in the corner by now!.

The class proper begins with Kihon (karate basics). Left arm up, head level block. It's strange. These are completely alien movements to me. My arms aren't entirely sure they want to co-operate. I feel awkward. Klutsy. Is everyone staring at me? I bet I look like an idiot. I'm thinking of all the reasons I didn't want to be here. I hate fighting. Martial arts is never something I've been interested it. I didn't even want my kids to take part and now here I am doing just that. I hate boxing, I have no interest in karate, or Kung-Fu or Tae Kwon Do, or anything else similar. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was two hours of my life I'm never getting back. What was I thinking? Hooking block. Sweeping block. I'm trying to concentrate on what movements I should be making.

Shihan moves on. Head level punch, Stomach level point. Sumo stance and groin level punch. Sumo stance? My hamstrings pretty much hate me right about now.

We move on to Kata. OMG! Kata. I'm going to have to try to remember stuff. In a sequence! Now I have a total brain cramp! First Kata. Rokuku. Six steps. I can cope with remembering six things...can't I? Step forward, left arm head level punch. Step again, right arm stomach level punch, again left arm groin level punch. Now backwards. Head level block, hooking block, sweeping block. That's okay. I can handle this.

Next Kata. Taikyoku Shodan. Oh my. There are turns and a pattern. I'm screwed! I bumble along as best I can, breathing a sigh of relief when I get to the end and wondering how I'll ever remember it!

Now, pad work. The instructors grab out kick pads. Shihan demonstrates what he wants us to do. Front kicks to the pad. Yikes. I can't remember the last time I deliberately kicked anything. I mean, really, really kicked something. It's weird, plus it batters your feet. I completley forget to kick with the ball of my foot. Youchy! When I look at the clock more than an hour has passed. Wow. It feels like I just got here. Time flies when you're having fun. Clearly.

We move onto controls next. Shihan demonstrates how to get out of a wrist grab. WAIT! I know this! This is the ONLY thing I remember from the 3 Aikido classes I took with my big brother when I was about 14. Phew! Now he's showing how to go into a control and take down. Eek! I give it a try and mostly manage what I'm supposed to be doing. It's really odd trying these things out on your husband! Even more odd for them to be trying them out on you!

Time for cool down. Lots of stretching. At least I won't be hurting too badly tomorrow. Class lines. Someone calls "Seiza" again (I'm getting this too, Seiza is telling us to kneel) More Rei's. Everyone sits. Shihan tells us its been a great class. I've done okay. I haven't embarrassed myself completely. A final "Rei" to dismiss the class. A sigh of relief I made it through.

Of a few things I'm certain:

-Out of all the people here I know the least about Karate, but one day I'm going to know what they know.

-I'm DEFINITELY coming back.

-The quicker I can order myself a Gi the better.



Start at the very beginning.

If you ready my regular blog, you'll know that just before Christmas 2009, at the ripe old age of 33, I decided to join a local karate club.

There was some method in this madness. Grace and Kendo were already going to classes there (they were a month or two in) and enjoying it. Kendo was trying to persuade me for a while that I'd enjoy it, that it was something we could do together, but I wasn't really convinced. Eventually though curiousity got the better of it and decided to give it a try.

The club that we go it is called Isami Ryu Karate Jutsu. The kanji (Japanese character (although technically I think they're Chinese adopted into the Japanese language)) for "Isami" is:

it translates (more or less) as: - to be in high spirits, cheer up, courage, bravery, heroism. "Ryu" is the Japanese term for school or way. Thus, Isami Ryu.... The school of the Rising spirit. How can that not be a good start to your karate career?

Isami Ryu is a small, local club with some pretty hefty British karate weight at the top of it. As well as being an excellent instructor, our Shihan, Dave Clare is Chairman of TKGB (Traditional Karate Great Britain) and holds Dan grades in more disciplines than you can shake a bo stick at. There are two other instructors, Sensai Chrissy (who takes the Little Dragon's class that Grace belongs too.... one of Gracie's most favourite people, ever) and Sensai Helen (who seems to have a secret copy of my list of "fitness things I least like to do in a warm up" and is not afraid to use it ;)). They both hold 3rd Dan Black belts and like Dave are both amazing instructors.

The class that Kendo and I attend together is the adults only class on a Sunday. Two hours of child-free time together (not something we get that much of). As well as the 3 instructors there are generally only a handful of other students. Kendo and myself, Cairan (a brown belt - who is Senpai for Gracie's class), another woman (Louise) and two guys (Mike, and Jon (you can read a bit about Jon's karate journey here)). So, a pretty small class. Practically one on one black belt/lower rank tutition. It's great.

Isami Ryu is a traditional style karate taking influences from several karate styles It also incorporates some holds and controls (hence the "jutsu"). A great explanation here for the difference between Karate-justu and Karate-Do. In a nutshell though, Jutsu means "practical art", Do means "way". From my (albeit limited) understanding..... karate that actual has a practical application. Self defense for the "real world", not for someone to judge you in a competition. That suits me fine. I'm never going to compete. I might one day have to defend myself against attack from some nutjob. I know what I'd rather know.

The grading system for Isami Ryu is similar to other traditional karate styles:

9th Kyu - White belt, Yellow tip

8th Kyu - Yellow belt

7th Kyu - Orange belt

6th Kyu - Green belt

5th Kyu - Blue belt

4th Kyu - Red belt

3rd Kyu - Purple belt

2nd Kyu - Brown belt

1st Kyu - Brown belt, black tip

Then your Black belt grades.... 1st Dan to 5th Dan.

There are "inbetween" grades called Kyu-Ho where you're awarded the next colour tip onto your belt (for example, 6th Kyu-Ho is Orange belt, green tip (the step between orange and green belts).

So, what was the point of all that? That's Isami Ryu 101 for you. What's the point of all this? Well, a record of my journey. Something to look back on way down the line and see how my feeling and ideas and experiences of being a Karateka have changed. I've been at it a little while now, so you might have to bare with my while I play a little catch up. Hopefully it'll be worth it.



© Cookie Family Karate
Maira Gall