Tension at the Dojo?

How could there be tension? No, we do not mean gossip or intrigue. We do mean that we are not relaxed while training at the dojo. Of course, stress is another word for tension. Sensei Glen here to tell you that there is stress in my life and it comes with me more often than it should onto the dojo floor. I am working on being better in leaving my outside world outside when I enter the dojo.

When we enter the dojo, we look forward to the tension of our life disappearing. The stress from our day has been building and we are looking forward to doing fun things at the dojo. Regardless of our situation, taking a math test or having to grade the test, the dojo is a fun place to go. We know we are likely to get to hit something or maybe someone!  Just kicking a bag releases tension for me and then I am fully into the lesson at the dojo.

If we know about stress we know that psychologically there are two types of stress. The one no one at work discusses “good” stress called Eustress (pronounced U-stress) which can be fun, exciting and energizing, especially in the short-term.  And the “bad” stress or distress. This bad stress is what we often think about and discuss with our cronies.

So, how is it that we have tension or distress at the dojo? When we enter the dojo we bow and should recall that we are leaving the outside world (and our street clothing, shoes & socks) behind and that the time in the dojo is ours. It is not that easy to leave the tension of the world behind.

We are in a new home for our dojo. While we were in our temporary dojo, we may have forgotten why we bow on the way into the dojo and how we need to release the cares of this world. We bow at the entrance to the dojo to show that we are leaving the world at the door, all of our cares and worries are left outside of the door like our shoes. The time at the dojo is for training and not compiling a list of things to do next.

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Bow and release the tension when entering the dojo

At the beginning of our training we kick or punch and our Sensei is just trying to get us to kick or punch. As we progress on our karate journey we begin to have some tension in our body. We tighten and muscle up. During training I sometimes think  “let’s execute the perfect kick, I am so going to nail this and then be promoted two belts and not just one, based on this kick alone!” Okay, it may be an ego thing for me. You never would think that about yourself. So what do I do for that “two belt kick?” I tighten or muscle up and launch the “winner” which of course, you know, never works.  This is the opposite of how we should practice and execute techniques. This is also one of the reasons Sensei Mae was a black belt one year before I was.

Of course employing distress or tension is a mistake. We have all made a mistake and mistakes are great at the dojo! What did you say? Yes, we said it is great to make mistakes and to have your Sensei see them! When we work with a qualified Sensei they will correct us to the right form as well as the correct tension.

This week’s blog Japanese word is “Ima” meaning the present time or now.

  • Ima is pronounced ‘ee-mah’
  • When we are in the dojo our mind should be on the here and now of the training and in the moment, not the past or the future. This is hard for me. How about you?

In karate we are often told to relax. We should practice Ima and be in the moment when at the dojo. Our Sensei reminds us to relax as we fight. We may be thinking to ourselves, “Let me watch and coach while this guy comes breathing fire at you!” It is hard to train ourselves to relax. Sensei will tell me or other students to relax my jaw or breathe deeply to help us relax. During fighting we are encouraged to smile. Not necessarily to distract our opponent. Most importantly we smile or even laugh to breathe and relax our tension and carry out the drill or exercise.  If we can smile, we are experiencing Ima during the fight. Can you smile and fight? I know from experience when I can, my fighting is better.

Let’s agree to do better at the dojo next week and release all of the tension and pick up some Eustress to have fun with and focus our training. How can we achieve Ima when we enter the training floor? Encourage each other to bow on the way into and out of the training space. Our shoes, socks and tension will wait until after class to be put back on! See you in class soon.

Stay Calm, Keep Reading, and Top 5 Reasons to Go To Class

Sensei Mae here. In this information age, we all want to “google” everything and DIY-it on Pinterest and whatnot. The essence of karate is the exact opposite of the information age.

There are a lot of great things about this information, for example, this blog. But as good as we are, Sensei Glen and I cannot teach you karate through this blog. One must simply go to class. But don’t stop reading; let me explain the top 5 reasons on why going to class is so important.

  1. Learning karate is a “hands on” activity. Most people who are “hands on,” tactile learners, need to physically do things. I am that way and so is Sensei Glen.  We like to think that we have more fun that way!  Class is a great way to be hands on.
  2. Reading is not the same as doing. Reading about karate is a great way to supplement your learning. Reading is also a great way to stay current with news, explore new topics, or see what new moves you should be incorporating in your dojo. That’s why we have to go to class. We have to keep up our skills, and we have to do something.
  3. Regular practice keeps your skills sharp. When I was getting ready to test for black belt, my goal was not just to get my black belt. My goal was to be able to go to black belt class. That way I would not forget the skills I worked so hard on achieving. Having a black belt doesn’t stop bullets and doesn’t stop people from attacking you on the street.
  4. Knowing is not the same as doing. Just knowing about something doesn’t mean you can actually do something. I’ve watched plenty of baseball games and heard people talk a lot about baseball; I have seen movies and read books with baseball themes. Of course that does not mean I can play baseball or am qualified to play in the World Series. I’m not convinced I understand baseball at all.  But I recognize it when I see it.  As with watching baseball, I can’t have the same attitude with karate.

    baseball

    Sensei Mae posing with Sensei Glen at Cooperstown. Sensei Mae looks great in her baseball uniform!

  5. Seeking feedback from an expert will improve your karate. Unlike the Great Sport of Baseball, karate can and has saved my life. Working with a qualified mentor will move your skills to the next level. Regularly working with your Sensei and asking questions will assist in pushing towards the next goal. You cannot google the information your sensei brings.

 

Martial arts and all athletic events have this in common: they require regular practice, and improvement comes with a good sensei. When we say “regularly” we do not mean every few years dust off your gi and reminisce about the fun times.

Karate is not so much an achievement as it is a journey that has achievements along the way.

Achieving black belt is a tremendous accomplishment, and it is meaningless if thrown in a box.  Going to class builds your skills the way technology cannot. A video is a good reference tool, but there is no substitute for real learning.

That is why Sensei Glen and I always go to our master teacher. If you always go back to the source, you won’t be wrong.  We work out regularly at home to keep up the skills taught to us in class.  We go to class to continue on our journey.

I am happy to report that Sensei Glen and I completed the 21 day kata challenge. What challenge is next for you?

 

Learn Kata Today, Live Kata Tomorrow

Sensei Mae here!

How is everyone doing on the 21 day challenge?

I know in a lot of dojos, kata (also called forms) is looked on as irrelevant, weak, or a general waste of time. Some senseis just “aren’t kata people.” Sensei Glen and I respectfully disagree with those.  Kata is so important to karate; we call it the lifeblood of karate.

Now it’s time for the Japanese word of the day! Kara, meaning “emptiness,” is the root of the word karate. And if you look at your right palm, you can see the Japanese kanji (or the Japanese writing) for “te” meaning hand. SO literally karate means the way of the empty hand. Now, what does this have to do with kata? Everything.  Here are the top three things this tells you about martial arts:

  1. Practitioners of karate are said to be devoid of emotion. Hence, the emptiness. One cannot fight with anger. You must empty or clear your mind of emotions. Anger, regret, or sorrow get in the way and distract the mind from what is going on. Our muscles tense up when we become emotional, and we cannot block quickly when we are focused on our emotions.
  2. The hand is empty. This speaks to the lack of weapons in karate training. In our dojo we practice Shotokan Karate, and in that system there are no weapons. It is all “te” or hand techniques.
  3. The “kara” and “te” signifies that there is no first strike. As you may recall from previous posts, we are big fans of that concept. We do not start fights, but we can finish them.  These are basic principles of karate, the way of the empty hand.

Kata helps to clear the mind. Personally I don’t care for yoga or “deep meditation sessions,” but I always enjoy kata. Kata focuses the mind and body.  Executing the proper techniques, breathing, and timing are paramount to calming. There have been a few occasions at work when I have become furious with a situation and removed myself in order to do kata. My coworkers know not to bother me while I am outside doing my “crazy karate stuff,” and when I return I am calm and usually have a solution.  Kata is a healthy outlet for frustration and stress. Even if I start kata frustrated, I always end calm. Starting from yoi or ready position  I have already focused my breathing and cleared my emotions.

For those of you who know me personally, I am back at university, and this can be very stressful. To combat this, I have developed a habit where I always walk through a kata in my head before I begin a test. That way I am calm and confident.   The simple act of visualizing kata can transform my mindset.

I encourage everyone to do kata regularly, and not just as a destressing mechanism but for many other reasons. My Hanchi always says that “kata is the essence of fighting” and is very important.   Kata teaches you to be empty and to fight without distraction.  That is how great fighters fight. When Bruce Lee fought, do you think he was worried about his hair looking just right for the cameras? I don’t think he even cared about that. He fought to defeat his opponent.

 

reverse-punch

Sensei Mae performing advanced kata.

Kata is the lifeblood of karate. Not only does it embody the meaning of karate, it teaches us the moves we must know to defend ourselves. As we move up in rank, our katas become more intricate.  The kata teaches us every move we need to know. From strikes to take downs to specialty moves, kata has everything.  By recording kata into our muscle memory, we can live kata every day.

I would love to hear about your favorite kata! Please comment below or tweet me @Sensei Mae.

 

#21 Day Kata Challenge. How are you doing?

If you are like me, I easily took to the 21 day kata challenge and thought it would be a breeze. I am committed to this challenge; it is public that I am part of the challenge. Of course, I struggled to fit this daily routine into my schedule. In preparing for the black belt test I practiced my kata four times per day. How hard could it be to practice at least one kata every day? It was not that easy for me.

It has been one week since we began the challenge. How are you doing? Here is how I am doing: Every day I have practiced at least one kata.

  • Sunday, I performed one kata at home. Day number one of any new challenge is always easy.
  • Monday, a holiday (January 2—do you remember?) I performed most of my kata at home. Of course I slacked off a little bit. We had company on Sunday and were getting ready for the return to the routines activities on Tuesday. So, it was harder to make it happen.
  • Tuesday, black belt class. I was so glad I had practiced my kata. It was kata night at the dojo, and we went through most of the first degree black belt katas. Prior to class I went over one kata with Sempi Josh that I am working on learning for the second degree test. That was great fun to work with Josh.
  • Wednesday morning I performed all my kata at the gym with the mirror and was able to go over some of the finer points from last night’s class. I am a regular at the gym on Wednesday morning, so, not too tough for me on Wednesday to meet the kata challenge.
  • Thursday, worked late and came home and performed one kata in the living room before eating and heading to bed. It snowed, it was cold. In the morning on Thursday, I was at the gym and pressed for time and did not practice my kata as I had on Wednesday.
  • Friday, I had fun swimming laps and then practicing my kata (and self-defense) in the hot tub. It was less than 10 degrees outside so I felt great being able to work on my kata in the hot tub and then stretching.
  • Saturday, performed all my kata in the basement. After a day of running around, I finally practiced my kata. Again, I brought home some of the fine points from Tuesday. This is why we take notes.

Kata is the lifeblood of karate. To get you motivated to continue to practice your kata in our 21 day challenge here are the top 5 reasons to practice your kata:

  1. It is good cardio. One of our dojo sensei’s has a t-shirt that reads “kata is my cardio.” Our Hanchi says that performing our white belt kata 4 times is the same as walking a mile. I find that running all the kata I know without a break gets the heart rate up. Have you tried running your kata without a break?
  2. In Karate only kata challenges the entire body as a unit during exercise. You can perform isolated exercises at the gym. Only kata is that total body workout.
  3. You learn to move in the fundamental stances, front, horse, and back. As you practice kata you learn the importance of proper stances and attention to the detail of the stances
  4. You sharpen blocking techniques. Our first kata teaches down block. We become experienced in blocking through this repetition of practicing our kata. A simple blocking drill is great and if you at the gym with me you know I practice one at the gym prior to kata. Kata is just more fun with the movement then a blocking drill. I like to be active.
  5. You practice how to strike. Every block, strike, stance in our kata is on our black belt test. We do not learn a kata without having first learned that block, strike or block. Have you ever thought about that?

kata-dumb

To the uninitiated kata is dumb. Do you know better?

A bonus for reading this far…secret knowledge is imbedded into every kata. This is called Bunkai, the application of kata.

 

kata-taught-me-this-move

You can learn a lot from kata!

Are you ready to begin? Have you already begun? It is not too late to jump on board the 21 day kata challenge. Remember that your New Year’s challenge from Sensei Glen and Sensei Mae is to practice one kata each day for the next 21 days. Are you able to spend less than 5 minutes a day practicing kata?

 

 

ready-to-practice-kata

Are you ready to practice kata? I am!

See you in class soon.

Top 5 Lessons from a Hike in the Woods

We hope you enjoyed the time between Christmas and New Year’s! We have been practicing our kata and some other techniques. We have a 21 day challenge for you at the end of this post. For fun we went to a nearby state park for the night and came away with 5 lessons from the experience we want to take back to the dojo.

  1. Be in the moment. At the dojo we say “Ima” or being present. As we were hiking the woods and trying to follow the trail, we sometimes let our minds drift to things in the future or the past. The six mile hike was best when we stopped and listened to the sounds of nature. It was only then we saw the many birds and caught glimpses of the many deer that went on our path. We noticed things in nature, including big leaves, footprints in the mud at our feet and the remnants of the old ski slope including snow making equipment hidden just off of the path.
  2. Use the lessons from kick class to go over fallen trees. Several large trees were across the path as we were hiking. We got a chance to practice our inside and outside crescent kicks to easily go over the trees. It was fun. Also from kick class was a lesson in lifting the knees to kick. This came in handy as we climbed a steep hill on our way to the main trail from the side visit we took to see an historic house that was part of the state park.
  3. Practicing balance (fortunately for us we did not fall) was helpful as it had rained the day prior to our visit and we walked through a lot of mud on the trail. Of course the trail was not flat and we often slipped. As black belts we have learned lessons on posture and balance. Do you practice these lessons in your life? It is helpful when you need sure footing. We also recalled that keeping one foot grounded was a recipe for success when hiking on a muddy trail.
  4. Stay on the path to learn the most from class. We keep our chin up and focused on our surroundings. The trail was not as well marked as we would have liked. Leaves covered the path and made it sometimes difficult not to follow the deer trail versus the human trail. We enjoyed seeing the man made bridges as we knew at that point we were on the correct path. Keeping focused on our surroundings allowed us to see a few landmarks in the distance such as the nearby high school football field and a cell tower that we seemed to pass more than once on our journey.
  5. Stay in good physical shape. By regular training sessions at the dojo we maintain ourselves in good physical shape. We did not set any records on the hike in terms of speed—see point number one as we were in the moment. Our climb on our hike was 1, 096 feet, not Colorado hiking but a lot of up and down for Kentucky. We were warmly dressed for our 40 degree hike out in the woods and at times needed to think like black belts to see the hike through to the end. We did have a few obvious short cuts we could have taken. We also know that short cuts never benefit us in the long run and we stayed on the trail and took the hike as it came.
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Top 5 Karate Lessons from a hike in the woods.

Great lessons from hiking in the woods for us that all apply directly to karate. Some of this we knew prior to joining karate of course as we have all hiked. For us, the dojo lessons were brought into focus when we noticed something out of place on the hike. I will not share the location so the secret stash of water guns will remain a secret. We did spot them on our six mile hike in what appeared like a spring stream where a pool would form. We were excited that the kids in the nearby area were using the local state park as a source of fun and adventure. I think we laughed on the hike as we discovered the stash of three water guns in the water. It was fun for us to see. At the dojo we need to practice good observation skills, especially when sparring.  We used these skills and noted the potential threat.

Your New Year’s challenge from Sensei Glen and Sensei Mae is to practice one kata each day for the next 21 days. Are you able to spend less than 5 minutes a day practicing kata? See you in class at our new location soon.