Can You Really Do That Thing You’re Scared Of?

Like me, any other perfectly normal person feels weak and powerless when we are in new situations. When I joined karate, I knew I had seen martial arts movies and well, how hard could it be to become the next Bruce Lee?

Mark Twain said “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” So we can thank Mark Twain for allowing us to remain with fear and still overcome that fear. I am not suggesting that we are doing anything heroic. Just that when we overcome fear or something that scares us we are exhibiting courage.


I am getting older. This is a birthday card I received. Aging requires courage.

When I am looking to prepare myself to do something that scares me, I work at thinking back to things I’ve already done that took guts like fighting another adult for an AAU karate medal, stepping in the ring twice on my black belt test fighting two black belts at the same time. If could be easier items such as moving to a new city or a new house. Whatever the case is for me, it will be different for you. What is it that has you scared?


Most people are flexible and adaptable much more so than they may give themselves credit for.  To prepare yourself when you are scared, I will ask you to think of times when you exhibit flexibility. Do you speak to your sensei the same way you do your friends or others at the dojo? Do your interactions with your in-laws take the same form as those with your friends from school? Probably not. That means you can adapt to new situations and overcome your fear with a variety of people. This does not mean you can fly or have super human strength or stop bullets. That is Superman and we are not Superman. Also, we are not advocating or encouraging reckless or dangerous tasks.


Class participation = courage and overcoming fears to get on the floor with a black belt!

In karate, if we focus on the skills and strengths we already have, it can give us the courage to do new things.  Just stepping onto the dojo floor is a testimony to your courage. As we grow older and become smarter, we develop knowledge and “expertise” that can serve us well as well as cause our minds to become closed to new ideas and information. Karate is a new input and one that I did not take up until I was over 50. I had a lot to learn and more to un-learn prior to moving up in the ranks.

As a self-professed expert, the fear I had was couched in “I do not need to learn karate.” My son was taking karate and loving the time spent. When he asked me to join, my only response was yes. I know that much. I needed to unlearn more than I initially learned. I was afraid and still have fear in certain moves and being in a fight. I need to pay attention to the fear and have the courage to overcome it, and even on the second degree test I can tell you it never goes away.


We did it! A courageous group!

Nike would say, “Just do it.” And we know it is not that simple. Here are a few thoughts to help us on our journey.

  1. We are not as smart as we think we are. We all have fear and it is hard to get in the ring. Courage is not for the weak. We need to realize that others know more than we do, and we should be always open to the teaching.
  2. Asking questions and listening is a good way to discover what is going on. When we speak up in class that this or that is how it is done, we would be good to say “tell me more about…” I have described techniques incorrectly, I am human. When we ask questions and listen for the answer, we often learn and grow.
  3. We should observe the process and imitate the Sensei. When we learn we are over 80% visual. When our youngest white belts learn, they watch much more than they listen. We should be no different as we strive to improve ourselves.

How about it then? Are you ready to face your fears and join me in the next class? Yes, I will have fear as well. I am looking to you for courage as well as within myself. Let’s become the master of fear and not allow it to master us.

See you in class soon.





Are You Stretching Yourself?

Our Sensei often says that running kata is a workout and all you need to maintain your fitness level is to come to class and practice at home. One of my fellow senseis has a tee shirt that says “kata is my workout.” Being physically fit encompasses five essential components:   Cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition.

Of these five, flexibility, which is the ability to move a joint through its complete range of motion, is often neglected outside of our pre-class warm up. Some of you know that I make attending yoga classes a part of my routine. We are emphasizing flexibility in our movements in yoga as well as in all of our classes at the dojo.  You can reap the benefits of flexibility training at any age. I am sometimes surprised that my regular flexibility training shows up in performing moves with ease that if I was still or inflexible I would be unable to perform. Flexible joints are a key in maintaining pain-free and independent movements. This is a vital component for karate. How high we can kick, if we can perform that strike or kata often depend on our flexibility.

Think back to your last class at the dojo. We follow the same pattern in the classes. We begin with getting the muscles warm by performing a series of exercises designed to get blood flow into the legs, arms and all of the muscles we will use in class. When stretching at home please follow the same guidelines and never stretch cold muscles. The muscles must be warmed up for them to stretch.


Working on getting head to knee as shown here.

There are three components that affect flexibility: muscle elasticity and length, joint structure and nervous system. Of course we were born with our joint structure. Where flexibility training is impactful is on muscle elasticity and length and the nervous system. These two areas can be positively impacted by regular flexibility training. This is why we stretch prior to each class and some of us stretch after the class. After class stretching, especially after a fun kick class on Saturday, is where the real benefits of stretching come into play.

Flexibility is important for completing everyday activities with ease. Have you ever had trouble getting up out of bed or performing a simple task of bending down to pick an item up off the floor? Of course each of these requires a certain level of flexibility to be comfortable. Flexibility for students under the age of 20 is more natural. As we age we need to pay more attention to stretching and flexibility as our flexibility deteriorates with age. Engaging in regular flexibility training can assist with increased joint mobility, better posture, decreased back pain and a lower risk of injury.

Increased flexibility can improve muscular strength and endurance. Stretching can be a form of relaxation, which can positively impact physical fitness and mental fitness. For karate students this can positively affect your performance through increased mental toughness. When we enter the dojo we are to leave our worldly cares behind so we can focus in the moment on the lessons for the day. Meditating while stretching can assist with this concept and make it real for us.

To achieve peak performance, we must utilize the full length of the muscle to exhibit power and strength. As Sensei say, power comes from the maximum extension of a technique. If our muscles are too tight, they may not be able to provide the explosiveness necessary for a particular movement.

AP Strech

Proper stretching takes time. Spend at least 20 seconds per move–longer is better.

Here are several key benefits of flexibility: Improved performance of daily activities, Improved performance in karate class and training at home,            Enhanced joint health, Prevention of low-back pain and injuries, Relief of aches and pains (particularly in the muscles exercised), Relief of muscle cramps, Relaxation and stress relief (mental and physical), Decreased risk of injury due to more pliable muscles, and, Improved posture and balance (minimizes stress on spine).

Static and dynamic flexibility training is important and necessary to become “flexibly fit.” Dynamic flexibility is important for daily activities and for karate as karate movements require a full range of motion. Static flexibility, on the other hand, is preferred for increasing overall flexibility through muscle elasticity and joint mobility.

Flexibility training should be performed after the muscles of the body have been properly warmed up to allow effective stretching to take place. Ideally, flexibility fitness should be included five to seven days a week for all major joints. Here are some guidelines for general flexibility fitness:

  • Intensity: Stretch to the point of mild discomfort, not pain
  • Time: Hold stretches for 20 to 30 seconds. Perform them two to three times for the same area
  • Type: Static stretching exercises that focus on the major joints (stretch slowly and do not bounce). For karate performance, incorporate dynamic flexibility as well.

Next time you are with me on the floor let me know about your flexibility. Is increased flexibility a goal for you in the coming year? Please let us know your favorite stretch and warm up drill in the comments below.

See you in class soon.