Enjoy the Journey!

I trust that you are enjoying your martial arts journey. I have enjoyed writing this blog that started from a family conversation, okay several, about karate. We all just celebrated Thanksgiving and a few of us had karate conversations again around the table. I am thankful for readers of this blog. I am grateful to my teacher, Sensei Steve, for teaching us such excellent karate.

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Sensei Glen and Sensei Steve

In thinking about our karate journey, our Sensei is a mentor to us giving us direction daily in class on how to handle ourselves in different situations. Our responsibility is the easiest, which is to show up for class. Okay, you might say, “I have done that this week.” I just worked with some of our black belt candidates on polishing their technique. They have been showing up for class for years and still had not worked on the small areas that make the techniques effective, such as how to grab or throw or even how to spin and kick.

 

I am reminded that we need to practice prior to class so we can polish what we learned in class. We worked through all of this with them and Sensei Mae is working with the same group and will likely have some comments as well.

The lessons we have learned as students of karate have had a profound impact on my life and that of my family. For a while I traveled internationally as a part of my job. I now know that going to another country is no more or less dangerous than going to the grocery store. The confidence that I received from my training in self-defense, being aware of situations and how to best win a fight (by avoiding it!) were ones that made the journey to another culture less daunting. In finding that new place to visit, I was drawn into the culture more quickly as karate has us in another culture already. A new culture was not as big of a deal as it would have been if we had not been studying karate and involving ourselves into karate as a new undertaking already.

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Daya working the bo staff in India

Was I concerned traveling? Of course I was. I have also been intimidated at local locations. It is no different the world over. One of my international trips brought me closer to my friends when I needed to practice with a bo staff. It is hard to explain a bo staff to someone without a context. I was so pleased when they arranged for one and that we found a place to practice. Practicing with a group of my friends in a park was also exciting as they wanted to see what all was done with this weapon and the others I had brought with me to practice.

I did not need to use any of my karate skills while traveling internationally. I was confident and more aware of what I was doing and where I was going. I thought about how I would handle a group of people or avoid them when I saw them coming. I tried to travel in a group, when possible, so I was less of a target.

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Sensei Glen bo staff in India

All of this thinking goes back to the basics of my martial arts training. I did not want to ever look like a victim walking on the streets. When we traveled to San Francisco this summer and took the public transportation, we applied the same lessons and enjoyed the challenge of keeping safe.

I have a lot to be thankful for in my karate journey. As we approach the end of the year, are you looking at what you can accomplish? Do you have a plan?

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving! See you in the dojo soon.

 

We Need More Ceremonies

When we think of ceremonies we often think of weddings or graduations.

  • If we think about a Japanese ceremony, it is generally the tea ceremony we think about.
  • What is an “American” ceremony that others would recognize outside of our country? In America we do not have many ceremonies. Of course, if you have seen any event, you will notice a ceremony or celebration of some sort. When you google “American ceremonies” you will notice several Native American ceremonies. At the beginning of sporting events, we have a ceremony with the National Anthem. At the start an American football game, we begin with a coin toss, part of the ceremony to open the game.
  • In karate, we bow in to start the class; this is part of our on-going ceremony to unify our sport and discipline. All the bowing at the beginning of class is an important reminder for us to leave the outside world outside of the dojo.

Ceremonies are often more than just a ritual we do daily or in class. Good ceremonies have a clear purpose and enrich the meaning and mood of the event. We recently had a black belt tie-on at the dojo. It was a fun event. It is a celebration of the accomplishments as well as the public recognition of the change. We celebrate by breaking boards and performing kata. More than that, it is a public acknowledgement to the dojo and to the rest of us that we have passed the test and belong.

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Ready for the Black Belt Ceremony

At my second degree ceremony, it was about recognizing my fellow students who passed the same testing that I did as well as that self-recognition that now I am a second degree black belt at the dojo. My outlook on who I am changed after the belt was tied around me by our sensei.

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Tie on for second degree!

I was able to bring a new white belt to the dojo on Tuesday. As a part of his first day at the dojo, he was transformed by the subtle ceremonies we have at the dojo:

  • First he changed into a uniform and added a new white belt to the uniform. He now looked like the other students in the dojo.
  • We bowed prior to entering the dojo (see prior posts) to show that we are leaving the world behind.
  • He learned our phrases in Japanese that we say when we bow into the class. All this was new, and sometimes I just take for granted that yes, this is what we do.
  • He learned some basic skills and wants to come back for more.

Seeing the ceremony through the eyes of my friend was refreshing for me. I was reminded of the first time I brought my son to the dojo and how strange it all was. The ceremonies and routines were not mine. Now that I have some experience with martial arts, I sometimes find myself bowing on entering rooms or responding to a question with Yes (“hai” or sometimes the word “oss”). Have you ever done that? Sensei Mae has as well!

How about you, have you been to a black belt tie-on ceremony? We need more ceremonies to celebrate the accomplishments we have achieved. Passing a black belt test should have a well thought out ceremony, and I am pleased to say we have that at our dojo.

  • We may be tempted to sometimes skip the formal event as it requires planning and work on our part to organize the ceremony. At our house we have a “celebrate plate.” It is just a plate with the word “celebrate” on it and when we do something well in the family, we get the celebrate plate for the evening meal to recognize the accomplishment. Not too much work once we had the plate.
  • The ceremony appropriately finishes off the prior level and we celebrate that we have moved onto the next step. We need more celebrations and ceremonies in our lives.

What ceremonies do you participate in on a regular basis? Can we add more for enhancing our daily lives and celebrating our wins on a regular basis? See you in the dojo soon for that next celebration or ceremony.

 

Do You Have Courage?

It takes courage to walk into the dojo for the first time. Vince Flynn described his hero Mitch Raap in the book “Act of Treason” peering into a dojo and seeing the eight students practicing sanbon kumite (3 step fighting drills) with the sensei walking between the students complementing or correcting students. Who would want to walk into a dojo and participate in fighting action? It takes courage to walk into the dojo the first time.

I met a first time student last week. He has a cousin who is an active student at our dojo. I was so excited to see him prior to his first class with a notebook! I know he was ready for the first lesson. This student had courage and the support of a friend which is a great combination to overcome adversity. When I first went to karate, it was to watch as my son participated. I did not plan on joining. I of course did when asked as I already had the support of my son who was in the program. Which of you would turn down a request by a teenager to join them in an activity?

 

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Courage and a notebook!

 

We all have little examples in our day-to-day life of courage. Showing up to train at the dojo is displaying courage. In class this week, one of my fellow black belts told us a story of courage that eventually made the symbol of the Okinawa flag. The three tears on the flag (each swirling toward each other) are symbols of “death before dishonor.”

The story goes that three envoys went to the king to plead for the people who did not have enough rice to feed themselves, due to a drought, let alone pay the taxes owed. The king was upset as not only did they not bring the rice, but they had the courage to still come and ask him to excuse their debt.

The king ordered his samurai to kill the messengers, but they were skilled in karate and easily defend against the attack of the guards in the room. The king had other samurai come in to assist in their capture, and the numbers eventually proved too much. The king ordered the immediate execution of the three envoys by having them thrown into a huge caldron of boiling water. When they screamed out, the envoys were pleading not for their own lives but for the lives of the people. Hearing their screams for the king to save the people even as they were boiling to death moved the king to open his mind to the suffering of the people.

When he finally realized the extent of the of their plight, he expressed solidarity to those people and not only accepted their excuses for not paying tribute but had his men carry a cargo of rice to them to ease their hunger and suffering. In return for his generosity, he requested that the masters of the art of karate come to teach his men the fighting techniques he had observed that had defeated his warriors. The value and courage of those three warriors initiated a new period of relations between the two kingdoms and eventually led to the cooperation and friendship of both peoples. That took courage.

Do you have enough courage to come to class this week? We will be there encouraging you, and we hope you too bring a notebook. See you at the dojo soon.

Lessons from the Karate Kid

It was the last Saturday class at the temporary dojo and our Sensei pulled out a technique made famous from the movie the Karate Kid. He called the technique “ura,” a technique that deviates an incoming strike, or as the movie called it: “wax on, wax off.”

If you are not familiar with original Karate Kid movie, the main characters Daniel (a/k/a the karate kid) asks Mr. Miyagi to become his karate teacher. He agrees and puts Daniel to work at his house.  After four days of performing seemingly irrelevant and arduous tasks, such as waxing the car, sanding the floor, and, painting the fence, Daniel loses his temper and confronts Mr. Miyagi. Mr. Miyagi responds simply, “Not everything thing is as it seems.” To which Daniel replies, “Show me.”

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Sensei Mae demonstrating Paint the fence

Mr. Miyagi positions himself in front of Daniel and asks him to demonstrate “wax on, wax off.” Daniel performs the circular arm movements. This is the same technique we learned in class. As Daniel demonstrates wax on, wax off, Mr. Miyagi unexpectedly moves to the attack using straight punches that are harmlessly deflected away. When we performed this in class, it worked just as it did for Daniel in the movie. Fun!

As one of the students in class, I was impressed by the knowledge and the detail that went into the teaching of this technique as well as the teaching for our class. This is teaching from Okinawa, and the circular nature of the technique was effective. Sensei went on to demonstrate other techniques from the sequence and showed the moves in various katas as well.

I will be practicing the ura technique with circular motions. As we had several students at the class, we all took turns attacking and defending.

  • One aspect the students liked best was when we hooked the punch and then pulled down our attacker.
  • We also appreciated how the technique blocked a follow-up punch from the attacker.
  • It was tricky to mirror the hands and we were encouraged, just like Daniel in the movie, to go slow at the beginning and perfect the technique.

This movie was well done in teaching this unconventional way.

  • It is much easier for me to stop into the dojo rather than practice waxing several cars in one day.
  • Of course, I do not have a bad guy from Cobra Kai stalking me.
  • The karate kid, original cast is coming back on the small screen. Youtube is starting a new series titled “Cobra Kai,” the fall of 2017. It will be interesting to see where it lands.
  • Will they use the ura technique in the sequel? Stay tuned…

Have you learned this technique? Are you interested in learning similar fun drills? I know I will look to use this technique in my next fight.

  • Sensei knows us well enough not to throw too much at us at one time.
  • Later in the movie Daniel wants to learn the kick he sees his teacher performing. A wise teacher knows when the timing is right for the teaching, and in the movie the kick is learned after a foundation of knowledge is passed along.
  • In the dojo we see upper belts performing fun kicks or kata and have to learn patience that we, too, will learn that technique when the time is right –when we have the foundational skills or muscle development. We can harm ourselves without the right foundation.
  • Daniel learned the virtue of patience and life lessons in karate along with sprucing up the house for Mr. Miyagi.

Please let us know in the comment section below. We are interested in your feedback. See you in class soon.

Beach Time Improves Your Kata

Our karate and kata style comes from Okinawa. The Okinawa main island has over 100 beaches. Karate started with the notion that defenders needed a solid footing to repel invaders. If you lived on an island, you would have plenty of beaches and need to learn how to defend in the sand.

We just came back from our travels out to San Francisco. Even though we may not generally associate the beach with San Francisco they do have a few. Practicing kata on the beach while on vacation is always a joy. We do get a few looks and people tend to move away from your area. In San Francisco where it was likely in the mid 60’s while we were at the beach, not too many were just lying down and sunning themselves.

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Kata on the beach!

The sand and water offer their own unique challenges.

  • The fresh air and bird songs are good for your emotional well-being.
  • Sand is constantly shifting and changing, demanding various muscles in the body to come into play that might not normally engage on a dojo floor workout.
  • The sand is on different levels, and you have to adjust to that difference, which brings a new element to our kata and really checks the balance.
  • Jumping is much easier on our joints in the sand.
  • I loved the spray of sand when I kicked as it kept my focus on good technique.
  • The water was cold and kept filling in my marks.
  • Grounding is a theory that electrical energy from the earth can be absorbed through your feet when you walk barefoot leading to multiple health benefits. We have between 3,000–7,000 nerve endings in each of our feet so let them loose every now and then.

One big visible benefit of the beach is that the sand leaves a pattern of our kata for us to review. We reference our feet when performing kata. The sand impressions let us know how well we are doing. In wet sand you need a little more pressure to leave your mark and in the dry sand, with no wind, you can easily see the referencing.

Our challenge this week is to take some time off and find a local beach, any sand will do for the sensation. Practice your kata on the sand and find what else your kata can teach you while you are enjoying a relaxing time on the sand. I know that my practice session on the beach helped me with my kata.

Going to the beach this summer? Please let us know in the comment section below. See you in class soon.

 

Your 5 Keys to a Good Class

We all have specific interests that led us to sign up for karate lessons. It may have been a cool movie or television show we saw where martial arts were on display.  We know that we have had a good class when we discuss any aspect of it the next day. I know for our family, good classes were discussed at dinner for a week. We walked away from class with new knowledge or an appreciation of a technique from a particular class. That always gets me to thinking, what are the elements of a really good class?

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Sensei Glen about to teach a fun striking drill.

My karate journey began when my son asked me to join class. My thought was that when a teenager asks you to join, you join, and my advice is to take them up on the task. Step out of the comfort zone.

  • I grew up watching David Carradine in the TV show Kung Fu. I wanted to practice karate as a kid. Maybe for you it was the karate kid.
  • As a dad, I thought the days of training were long over and I still joined and am so happy that I took the chance on myself.
    • As I get older I have come to realize that no one else thinks about what you do or how you dress. Do not worry about that—I may blog more on that in the future.
    • Do what you think is right.
  • On our journey to black belt we had many favorite classes.
    • Most of these were classes that we were ready for and did not realize we were ready for the learning.
    • We were often pushed out of our comfort zone by a new kata or technique. Looking back, the most difficult kata is always the next one you learn.

Your top 5 keys to a good class:

  1. Take notes–a good class is one you have to record in your notebook.
  2. Be open to learning a new skill or technique. We do not always know when our studies are at the point to learn the next technique. We have to be ready to step out of what we know to grasp new concepts and ideas.
  3. Be prepared to have fun, not joking, just be ready to enjoy the moment and having a smile on your face.
  4. Put your full effort into the class. Why hold back? Class is the time find out how hard you can kick or punch. Who cares about anyone else? Leave your thoughts of the outside world at the door when you bow and enter the dojo.
  5. Pay attention. Watch the sensei and the other students. Model the teacher’s behavior and be respectful.
  6. A bonus point—make coming to class a continuous practice. Not practicing or sharpening the skills will allow the skills you worked hard to perfect to decay and die. A lifetime habit allows you to maintain the results you worked so hard to achieve.

Our challenge this week is to have fun in class. No matter the topic taught, embrace the teaching and have fun with it. Go all in with your attitude and your participation. Last week I told the class they were not yet having enough fun with their kata. They not only stepped up the fun, they performed better on the kata.

This is the last week for our survey. Please help us improve. We would like to get your feedback on how we are meeting your needs. Please take 3 minutes and complete the Let’s Talk Karate user survey by following this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/P7TCRPR

Thank you in advance for your valuable input.

See you in class soon.

 

Making Karate Practice Fun

Happy Father’s Day! One of the many lessons I learned from my dad was how important it was to plan for fun. Cool thought and follow-up from my childhood. I trust you are planning for fun when you practice; I know that I am.

Glen and Dad 2006

Happy Father’s Day!

Both of my parents were teachers which meant we had the whole summer off of school. Back in the old days my dad wrote letters and received answers, maps and information in the mail, and we made our summer vacation plans from that information. The internet had yet to be invented. With some input from all of us, my dad mapped our intended fun vacation day by day and event by event. We even practiced the fun of an overnight event with our pop-up camper to ensure we could use it. These were fun practice sessions for us as we got away for the weekend. Continue reading