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.

 

How Taking a Day Off Will Improve Your Karate

I can just hear it now. “Sensei Glen, it is so enjoyable for me to go to class each and every day and I just have to keep active and cannot miss a day of working out.” I have said the same to my teacher as well. Connecting with my karate family at the dojo gives me a place to talk to like-minded people and does help me deal with daily stress. I am always making new friends at the dojo. Yes, I encourage you to come often to the dojo. The main point is to take the time needed to build stamina for classes at your belt level.

Glen Last Day at Fido

The picture in today’s blog is of me on one of my last days in the office as I have retired from corporate life. I did not go into work every day and I am sure you took vacation as well from your job or school. The goals of these vacations are to relax, reconnect, and rejuvenate ourselves so we can come back to our jobs and continue to be productive.

  • Part of our karate training is a continuous build up to black belt and once at the black belt level to continue to improve through consistent training.
  • Beginners and exercise enthusiasts (could be me) sometimes forget that our bodies naturally need rest and recovery.
  • A consistent pattern of training will push you to your goals with proper resting in-between. If you are planning on taking off one or two days from training per week, the results will be good. If you train for a month non-stop, as I have, and then stop for a month, the re-start is harder on your body than the consistency of the training.

Sensei Glen, how do we reconcile a day off with Funakoshi Precept #11: “Karate is like boiling water, if you do not heat it constantly, it will cool.” Here is how, we do need a day off once in a while. We are still committing to consistently training. The benefits from that training require 1-2 days off per week to keep improving.

In my training plan, we look to a few fundamental principles to keep us at our best. Here are the top three reasons to take a day off from training.

  1. Rest between practices is a key to growth in strength training. We need to listen to our bodies when we exercise.
    • Karate can place relatively high stress on the body. Think back to our last kick class. We could go up and back on the floor and not stop the activity. We are better off walking back to the starting position and having a moment of recovery and to bring our heart rate back down.
    • The same principle of an interval between activities applies to our overall active schedule.
    • For our children at the dojo who are still growing and developing, too much of anything, even karate, is likely to result in injury, burnout, or poor performance.
    • We need to take a day of rest. In the Bible, Genesis 2:2 says that God rested on the seventh day.
    • Failing to rest at regular intervals, I need to force myself to take the weekly 1-2 days off from working out, which can mean all the benefits I am hoping to achieve from my hard work is counterproductive without the day off. I have seen it in myself that my performance actually decreased when I do not take a day to recover.
    • Just prior to the black belt test, I had a slightly pulled calf muscle. Nothing was going to stop me from testing. I did have to take a few days off from training and had to re-think how to train. I ended up in a pool practicing no impact kicking and katas. My kicking and kata looked better on the test due to the rest and alternate training then they would have if I had just followed through on the initial, non-stop training plan.
  2. The proper amount of rest or sleep is critical; this is the rejuvenation process
  3. Coming to class on a regular basis allows us to reconnect with our fellow martial artists and create the family of support many of us are looking for to keep us sharp.

As some of you know, our blog is designed to improve the lives of those who come to the blog using lessons learned from the dojo. I was recently teaching an adult class with and a new yellow belt asked where the main sensei was.

  • Apparently, we had not met, and our main sensei had never been absent from any of his classes.
  • I introduced myself as this was prior to class and his next question was “So, is class cancelled?” “Of course not” was the answer.
  • As a result of the question, I had the good fortune of meeting a new friend and was able to teach some really good lessons at class.

My challenge for you is to sketch out your week and find the intervals when you are not training. When you adopt this new schedule of less than seven days of training you will find that your performance will actually improve. Put a comment below and let us know your intention as well as how the new training went.

See you in class soon.

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.

Extinct

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.

Strech

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.

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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.

 

 

 

Have You Hit Something This Week?

Baseball season has begun and this is not what our Sensei was on fire about. Karate is the way of the empty hand. This means we are striking, or hitting, or in some way using our hands to defend ourselves and well, I can say, attack others after they attack us. Gichin Funakoshi has on his gravestone this quote, “Karate ni sente nashi” or “There is no first strike (attack) in karate.”

As karate practitioners, we hit things! It is what we do. That was the point Sensei was making for us all in class on Tuesday.  We started with a simple reverse punch and moved to a front punch. We did combination strikes front and reverse punch. It was a lot of fun after a long day of working to punch a bag. We did have a go at my favorite, back fist. It felt good to do back fist drills.

Sensei Glen with a back fist as part of the ten strikes for the day.

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This is the first class this year that I recall us focusing on striking. Our Sensei shared with us that we are a karate dojo and we hit. He then listed some of the other martial arts:

  • Taekwondo emphasis is on kicking
  • Judo is designed to grapple and throw
  • Aikido has an emphasis on throwing
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Sensei Glen hitting the bag. Have you hit yours today?

The point for all us on Tuesday was that we needed to go back to the bag and ensure we were hitting and striking daily. He gave us the 10 hit a day challenge: each day punch a bag or other object ten times with each hand to improve our strikes. I am happy to report that so far I have participated every day and met this challenge.

In studying for our black belt test we had a series of over 100 strikes to perform both standing still and moving. It was a challenge to master all of the different strikes. It is interesting how many of them we use in our various katas. The next point that was made on Tuesday was that our katas all have strikes in them. Not just blocks. We need to work on both. Even with no first strike in karate we need to know how to strike properly.

Have you noticed that katas begin with a block? Take a look at the kata you like the best and let us know if you see that as well. I am sure our Sensei would also like us to make good punches in our kata. Block, punch is a basic winning formula for a good kata. Yes, we have the occasional kick as well. When we teach striking, we use our bodies, not just our fists. Throwing our hips and weight into a punch makes it land better.

At our dojo, we incorporate the best of martial arts into our teaching. We are a karate dojo and we also teach kicking, grappling, throwing and weapons. Our teacher is real. He worked as a bouncer at a bar and tried out the material he teaches us to ensure it worked. Besides the confidence that comes from learning a new technique or drill, we want to ensure that it works. What if, like the Music Man, you used the “think system” to learn any drill. In the movie, the boys to learn to play via the “think system,” in which they simply have to think of a tune over and over and will know how to play it without ever touching their instruments. That is not what I want for me and my family. We want the real deal.

I know that I am practicing my strikes and here is our challenge for all of you. How are you doing on your strikes? Could you make 10 strikes a day for the next ten days beginning the day you read this? Follow us on twitter and you will hear how we are doing #10strikestoday. Put a comment on Facebook or on this blog post. We are interested in how you are doing.

See you in class soon.

Getting out of a Slump. Sensei Mae’s Five Steps to Happiness

Hi! How’s your week going?

Sensei Mae here. I want to talk about getting out of a slump.

Even though I love karate, sometimes life just takes me away from the dojo.  And when that happens I fall into a slump.

Come on Sensei Mae. Lets get up and kick

Sensei Mae in a slump!

So now I’m getting out. And here’s how you can too.

1) Do something.  My teacher always says “to do something is better than to do nothing”

So get up and do something. Even if it’s just a few kicks, one kata or a few punches, something is always better than nothing.  So right now as you’re reading this get up and do something. I’ll wait. The more you move the better you will feel.

Lets keep kicking

Sensei Mae loves to kick. Just get up and do one thing!

2) I just did some punches and kicks and I feel better. Don’t you?

Remember why you got into karate in the first place. I got into it for self-defense, so that’s what I’m practicing next.

3) Call your karate buddy. Who do you look forward to seeing at karate? Give them a call. Even if you haven’t trained in years just reach out. Just talking about karate is great.  Talking about the fun you had together can rekindle the love you have for this great art.

4) Everyone gets slump. But not everyone overcomes it. The difference between a white belt and a black belt is that a black belt never gave up.  The Black belt comes to class, respects the teaching and diligently practices.  At my dojo, some black belts take breaks and that’s ok.  They come back refreshed and ready for more.  They are some of the most technically accurate and caring black belts.

5) Set new goals, and have a plan to achieve them. Goals are no good without follow up.   My goal is to test for 2nd degree. So I called my karate buddy and I have a plan of attack.

 

Not time for class to end yet!

What do you mean the dojo is closing? I have more kicking left!

So get out there, practice the art you love.    And then tell me what you did on twitter or Facebook!

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.