Application of Technique

Sempi Glen here. Like me, I am sure you sometimes wonder, “When will I ever use this technique?” I think of the countless hours of drill and formal and informal attacking and defending. One thing our Sensei always says—some day you will fall. And when you do, you need to know the most important aspect, how to land.

Last month when at a class teaching how to fall properly, our Sensei challenged us to practice falling several times a week. At the gym where I work out, we have a stretching area with padded matting, the perfect place for this practice. So, I added to my stretching routine a few minutes of falling practice.

In addition to Karate, I have participated in the MS Bike ride several times. A great cause and a fun ride. I have done a few century rides (100 miles) for the Bike MS ride and my training and planning was for another century ride that Saturday. The training, like Karate, is a big commitment of time, practice, technique and discipline. It is too hard just to pick up a bike and ride for 7 hours!

I did not know that this weekend the most important practice I would do was practicing to fall. At mile 46 of my planned 100 mile ride on Saturday going over 30 mph on a downhill (twice as fast as I can ride!) I applied the brakes incorrectly and fell. My bike was fine…I know you were concerned. Fortunately I remembered the falling lessons—tuck the chin!

I ended with a few scrapes on the shoulder and leg and some gravel (yes it hurt) on my elbow as I went down. My head was fine, in part because I was wearing a helmet. I will note that I never did hit my head. The least amount of scraping was on my legs and shoulder as I mostly hit my back. My Garmin bike computer says I was going 120 mph at the point when I was thrown from the bike—and it just measures the speed that the bike is traveling. No time to think, just do!

I am glad I was practicing! Yes—we will all fall and yes I will again. I hope to walk away as well. I did ride another 30 miles after getting cleaned up at the rest area on the ride. After the fall I settled for 75 miles foregoing the 100 mile course. Always next year for that ride! See you in class soon. What drill or exercise should you be practicing?


Falling practice at the gym after working out and having kata practice!


You Are Not Art!


Anything is a weapon in the hands of a master

I told the class on Saturday, “You are not art.” As we were practicing our kicks at the second adult class of the day, some of the students’ form required a little adjustment. Of course, they were tired as many of them had already attended a class that day. So yes, we are not art—I cannot paint a perfect roundhouse kick and forever have that kick whenever I want to throw it!

Our bodies require us to come back into the dojo and practice our form, our strength and most of all our conditioning.  It would certainly be great if the kata I ran last week would be the same kata I run this week. If only we were art.

We are martial artists and as such have not perfected our waza (technique). I know we are working on it daily. As we advance in the ranks—though the colored belts and as black belts—we can go back and look at a simple roundhouse kick and find so much more in that kick than we did earlier in our martial arts background. We continue to grow and improve. A good Sensei is a key ingredient as the Sensei will push you forward and sometimes remind you that you are not art—keep working and pushing to the next level of artistry.

See you in class soon.  What practice do you need to ensure you are not art but an artist?

Secrets at the Dojo?

When our Sensei says “Here is secret knowledge,” we all begin listening just a little better to hear and memorize this teaching. The third definition of secret, according to Merriam-Webster, is: “revealed only to the initiated.” This is the definition our Sensei means and that the class intuitively understands.

We were in kicking class and Sensei said the magic words and everyone stopped and paid rapt attention to his words. Do you know how to kick from any distance? Of course, none did. Then we learned the secret. What great teaching—we had three bags lined up, one for the Goldilocks or just right distance—as any other kicking drill we performed. The second bag was just a little too far from us and the third bag too close. Do you know the secret? Part of the answer is the technique described only works for non-linear kicking. A key is the movement of the foot closest to the bag toward the bag or away from the bag prior to the kick. Experiment and let me know when you discover the secret.

In class we often discuss secret knowledge of Karate. The class is not open to the public. Our Sensei makes a living by teaching these secrets to us just as he paid to learn from others as well as discovering these truths on his own over his 30 years in martial arts. I would argue that even by publishing the kicking secret, it will remain esoteric knowledge for a vast majority of the world—especially those without a desire for Martial Arts training or knowledge. In that case we are back to Merriam-Webster and the first definition for the word secret: “kept from knowledge or view.”

What secret knowledge can we share with our next class to encourage the students to work at home as well as in the dojo?

See you in the next class.

The Importance of Taking Notes

Sensei Mae here.

I remember when I started out as a white belt, I saw the upper belts taking notes during a water break, and then again after class was over. At the end the class my Sensei reminded us to take notes on what we did in class. I laughed to myself; I was a senior in high school at the time and had no intention of taking notes when I clearly didn’t have to.  I thought I was too good to take notes. I had no problem remembering to do my homework at school, and I assumed this activity wouldn’t be any different.

The problem was that I treated karate as an activity–just a place I visited once or twice a week for exercise and to learn some practical self-defense. I did not set out to become a black belt or even a sensei. So for purely recreational purposes, not taking notes was fine. Or at least it was for a while.

I was fortunate to have a brother doing karate with me, and we were able to practice at home.  A problem arose one day when we were working on some self-defense. I couldn’t remember the little details that made one particular move so cool. I was stuck in a painful wrist lock and had no way out. My brother (in a rare moment of grace) let me go and he tried to find it in his notes. It was then I realized that note taking was very important. Of course no attacker will stop and let you look up your notes to allow you to escape.  However, I would have remembered the technique better if I had written it down.

My Sensei is very wise to instruct his students to take notes. He has realized that students need to take notes for several reasons. The first is that it encourages understanding. Often after class while taking notes I ask my Sensei several more questions in order to understand the technique or concept better. In part, that is how we started talking about Karate and this is what you will see as we continue this blog. By putting the concepts into my own words, I have better understanding.

One of the most challenging aspects of keeping a notebook is how to organize it. I asked the upper belts, and they all gave me vague responses. Everyone should have his own notebook. Just as each student sees things differently, they write differently. Some prefer the physical notebook and pen while others have an app for that. Therefore, just like the way you take notes (pen and paper or an app) your notebook should reflect your organization.

As I progressed to black belt, I found myself understanding things differently, and wanting to reorganize my notebook. Each time I reorganized, I learned something new, and I remembered some things that I had forgotten.  The notebook is a powerful tool for students.  It encourages them to talk to each other and to take the steps toward black belt as a community. It also fuels the personal study of martial arts. By keeping a notebook, students have something to practice at home. The have their own personal reference.

Let me know how your notebook is organized! I’d love to hear if you go chronologically or section it out, or something else.