Thursday, December 20, 2007


All week I've been wanting to write about various themes in this blog, but haven't had the time available to put any quality thought into them. The topics were tolerance and balance and I will get to them since they are playing a rampant theme in my life lately, both in and out of the dojo. But to me my life is my dojo and they aren't really separate. That said, I hope all you have wonderful holidays full of family love (and tolerance and balance) and wonderful things. I'll write again when I have the time to sit and really put some thought into those two topics since they really need my attention.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

SWOT 'yo part 2

I've been asked to do the promote three meme by John Wood yet again, and I will get to it, really. I think it's a wonderful way to get others to read those blogs that do not have a lot of traffic (mine included) yet may contain those little gems of insight worthy of all our attention. I've put a list together and am in the process of looking them over. That said, it's back to SWOT 'yo!

Strengths: I feel that my blog's strengths lie in my honesty and my hard work regarding my training. Writing about what you know is the best way to write, at least in my eyes. I do not toot my own horn, but look at my path with open eyes and use my blog as a way to further my progress in the martial arts.

Weaknesses: My writing could use a little polishing, especially the grammar. I tend not to pay attention to many of the rules, but part of me doesn't really care about that as long as I can get my point across. But I know that there are grammar Nazis out know who you are. Another weakness is my tendency not to post in this blog as often as I post in my other one, which is a very different vein of topic. Maybe there's a way to combine the two so that I post more often? However, I keep them separate for a reason since the other blog has nothing to do with MA. Something to consider. There is also this aversion to writing about specific MA topics since I do not feel qualified to do so. That comes with time put into training and learning. I've started reading more about MA and also google many styles to learn more about them as well to see how they can further my knowledge in the style I've learned.

Opportunities: Commenting on other martial arts blogs usually results in the authors checking out your blog. I've started doing that more often, and not just to get them to come over to my house. I'm also a part of the Convocation of Combat Arts Forum, which does the same thing. I've also told my dojo mates about my blog. Getting out into my community isn't as important as getting it out to the blogosphere since I talk to my friends in the dojo all the time. What I want here is to talk to other martial artists everywhere.

Threats: I tend to be a shy gal, which prevents me from speaking up the way I want to speak up. That is something I've worked on for a long time. Speaking my mind is much easier these days since I'm not opposed to any confrontation that may result from my opinions. There's also the tendency for me not to go into any topic where I may "talk out of my behind" instead of learning the facts.

Phew, that wasn't so bad. I'll move onto the next part some other day.

I learned Naihanchin today! I love it! It's such a cool kata, and apparently Sensei has been teaching it to the upper belts in the later classes. It didn't take me long to learn, though, since it's very repetitious. I love the side stepping and the cobra-like punches. Now I have two new katas in my arsenal of learning. Love the kata....

I'm also loving the "Living the Martial Way" book. I just may do a review from my point of view when I'm finished with it. It has propelled my thinking into a whole other realm, which has had amazing results in my training. I feel so much more grounded and capable. It's a wonderful thing. My hesitation is almost non-existent now when I'm grabbed. Finally...

Thursday, December 6, 2007

SWOT 'yo, the beginning

There's this part of my brain that really want's to do the new Mokuren dojo challenge about where you want your blog to go. Okay, that's the really basic explanation, but it works for right now. This is my first step to that challenge: the "goal". When I started this blog it was for the purpose of writing down my thoughts on my shodan training and where this new path was leading me. It is still about that, but I want it to be more. I don't feel I have the experience under my belt yet to write about specific topics, but I can at least write about things that I know. So, my goal for my blog is to: 1. Write about more specific topics as they relate to my training, and 2. Have more people read my blog. Why is it important to have more people read my blog? Well, it's nice to know there are other's out there who agree and disagree with what I'm talking about. It's also nice to have the comraderie of those with similar interests, in this case martial arts. The only time I get to discuss anything MA related is either in the dojo, a place where I frequent only three times a week, or online. I crave to talk about topics in the MA world and to give my two cents about them. That's why I joined the Convocation of Combat Arts forum. Yet, I am still such a young one when it comes to all things MA. There's also this desire to learn about all the different types of MA out there. But, I digress. Anyway, here's the beginning to the challenge. Now I have to go back and read the post again, and maybe write it down...

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Today I took part in this amazing MA seminar at my dojo. Master Morallo came down from Rutland to teach us all sorts of crazy, fun things. First we dove into flexibility exercises and strengthening. His stretch routine is a workout alone, and then we did so much more! There were quite a few push-up variation, like Hindus (ouch!) and many hip stretches. Master Morallo focuses a lot of attention on opening the hip joints in order to give lasting flexibility without causing too much wear and tear on the joint. He feels that by doing these exercises on a regular basis will allow you to kick fluidly and without injury well into old age. Needless to say that's the sorest part of me right now. Then we went into internal exercises, pulling our power from the earth and dissolving into our hara. We did this first by working on sebaki and sudiash (I'm sure I'm not spelling those right), the basic evasion maneuvers. This is such a hard concept to actualize, and it left us exhausted. It also opened up a new avenue to training. Working on kihones in this manner can skyrocket you MA abilities, especially due to the spiraling energy that we incorporate into everything we do. After this we moved onto heavy hand exercises of which I have forgotten the name. It's a "push/pull" type of exercise used in aikido which works on your warding off posture. From there we went into kotegaishi along with the circling step used in the throw. Then we went into key locks using the elbows along with a takedown. Great stuff! I was also honored to be Master Morallo's uke, gulp....he's like a Mack truck. Luckily for me I have good ukemi and fall well. I felt like a rag doll! It was fun! I have this suspicion, however, that I may have a hardt time getting out of bed tomorrow morning. All in all I came away with so much more to work with, but it's the kind of work I've been leaning towards. I want to dive so much further into the internal aspects of my MA and see how I can make it work for me, to really begin to make it my own. There has been a difinite shift in my attitude this week and it's left me feeling so much more secure about my abilities and where they can take me. Practice, practice, practice!

I've been chosen again to do the promote three meme, which I haven't done! My next mission is to go over to toplist so that I can see who I deem worthy....hee, hee, hee. Thanks, John!

Thursday, November 29, 2007


I'm afraid to unleash that inner "stuff" (for lack of a better word) in self-defense situations. I mean the practice version, not the real thing. There's this definite fear of letting go in order to let it go, if you know what I mean. That's where the hesitation comes from. I just figured this out today. That's all we did in class, along with slow-flow, and at some point I unfocused my eyes and the moves went so much smoother. It's that fear that prevents me from attacking to my fullest extent. Maybe I'm afraid that if I let it go I won't be able to control the movements and will hurt someone. That results in hesitation as well. This is something to work on and work through, at least now I know where it comes from.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It's been a while

The other blog has had more attention as of late. Training has been going well, I just need to make, and find, more time to do it. I have definitely slacked off in the cardiovascular department and am feeling it. There has to be time somewhere, even if I have to get up really early, which I despise. But, it can be made into a habit as can anything.

Kenpo is going very well. So far it has decreased my hesitancy. I know the last entry talked about that, but since then it has gotten much better. That will only dissipate with practice. Now to find more people to practice with in the self-defense arena. Doing them without another body is an option, too. Just look in the mirror...

That's pretty much it. Although I have been reading "Living the Martial Way" by Forrest Morgan. Very, very interesting and inspiring. The more I read the more I nod my head in agreement.

Friday, November 16, 2007


This is what is inside my head: train every day. This is what I strive for and have yet to achieve. I'm finding it difficult to train every day due to life being right in front of me all the time. Sensei wants to have private training sessins with me. He says he needs a focus and would like to do that with one or two students outside of the regular class days. I'm excitied! This would mean more training, more days of following my path the way I want to follow it. There is such a large part of me that would love to go off and just do karate for a few months, maybe a year. However, I have a family that needs my attention, too, and I love to give them my attention. This is where the paths cross, where the hardest challenges lie. My husband can be very supportive of my training, yet there is a breaking point. The trick is to not reach that point, which only places unecessary strain on our relationship. I am not going to give up my life for training, I want my life to include training. There is definitely a place for both to exist, and I'm getting better at melding the two.

I was able to teach class the other day, the whole class time. It's getting easier and easier and my discomfort with being the "leader" is slowly waning. There is so much more I want to become proficient with before I dive into sensei-dom. I'm so not ready for that and am not being pushed, which is good. I just reached shodan and want to sit with it and practice, practice, practice. I've begun to feel what the inside of kata can be like, and it's such an amazing thing. I am also starting to feel so incredibly humbled by teaching, and I think that's a good thing to recognize. Ah, it never, ever ends!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No impressions, please.

I really need to stop thinking that this blog is for waxing poetic about martial arts, mostly because I do not have enough years under my belt to do so. This is about my training and how it's affecting me on the inside and outside. When I read other blogs about martial arts topics I think, "Why don't I try that?" Then I realize that this is not what I'm about. I read the topics, not write about them. Those topics give me something to think about and then perhaps write about once they have percolated through my brain. An example is "the great kata debate". I'm on the yay side of kata, and I'm beginning to realize just how important it is to my MA training. The kempo class I've started is very, very interesting, but I'm so much more in love with the style that I do. There are so many wonderful aspects to it, like how it uses spiraling energy in every move. The effectiveness of blocks and strikes seems to triple when utilizing this type of spiraling movement. And it's very subtle. I also like the point and circle aspect of koro ken. We are always encouraged to move to the outside of our opponent instead of staying center. This knocks the uke off-balance so nicely! But the kata...I love kata. It's such a great moving meditation, a battle with the inner self. I'm learning a new kata, sekuran lin bloom, and it's amazing. There are no repetitions in this kata. All of our other kata have some repetition, but not this one. It's beautiful to watch. Some day I'll film it to show to you all. There are other kata for black belts, but I'm just not there yet. Right now the path is leading me to self-defense and becoming comfortable with it, to have mushin and no hesitation. When I'm comfortable with self-defense that's when I'll pursue opening my own dojo and having my own students. Mind you, I'm not looking to open a McDojo, just a space where I can share my knowledge because it's very important to me to carry on in this style and teach it to others. Karate rocks!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Why blog?

My sensei asked me the other day why I blog. I guess the answer is, at least for the martial arts aspect, a place to put my thoughts on favorite topics and also to expand on areas where I feel my martial arts is lacking. It's also nice to get a little validation, even if it's from strangers. The anonymity allows for a freer writing space because I don't really care about being judged by people I don't know. Constructive criticism is a good thing and I can handle it much better in writing than I can face to face. Anyway, I'm beginning to fade in the NaBloPoMo in my MA blog since my "other" life has come to the fore with more issues. Nothing serious, just a need to write about that more often.

I'm off to the Burlington Kempo class tonight. It will be nice to train again in a new place, and the "old" place is feeling just grande. I did a lot of martial arts activity last week and hope I can keep up the pace every week. It helps with the outward stresses of our move looming closer and closer. I've decided to do the elliptical trainer since it allows me to listen to music and exercise and sweat. Kabox is okay, but my body isn't really into it right now. On the elliptical I can zone out and just be in myself, which is something I really need right now. What I really need to focus on is keeping that sense of serenity as I do self-defense techniques. Just be internal as I go external. This is difficult, and I plan on working it until I can't stand it, or at least until I reach mushin...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Fighting in a circle

I used to fear fighting in the middle of a circle of people. These days, however, it's much more exciting and I see it for the challenge that it can bring to martial arts training. In our circle we do not defend fast, even is the attacker is going fast. The trick is to be calm and relaxed and control the adrenaline dump. In today's class I had a wonderful time inside the circle and felt pretty relaxed and confident. Certain aspects, like really connecting from hara and blending, are beginning to find a home within my body. Blending with the uke is the toughest for me to connect with because nine times out of ten the uke is much taller than me and I immediately go up to their level instead of using my short stature to my advantage. It's what my body wants to do right away. That has been a tough battle and continues to this day. However, with today's class I was beginning to "get it", at least in my brain. Now all I have to do is repeat it ad infinitum in order for my body to go there as well, right away. One other battle is hesitation at the onset of the attack and again the more I practice self-defense the less that will occur. I need to go back to the training I was doing before the shodan test. It all sort of fell away once the test was over, but I really need to be training at that level all the time. My mind is there, but my body has definitely been slacking lately. I also was unable to go to the kempo class this past Monday, but am hopeful that they will see me this coming Monday.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Anatomy Trains and martial arts

Anatomy Trains? What the heck is that? Well, this weekend I've been attending a bodywork class of the same name and it's an introduction into a form of bodywork known as Kinesis Myofascial Integration. Huh? Let's begin by talking about fascia. Fascia is this thin connective tissue that covers organs, muscles. It's found in the brain, it's found everywhere. It basically connects the entire body (muscles, organs, etc.) underneath the skin like a wet suit and when injury or bad postural habits affects this system many dysfunctions can occur within the structure as a whole. Anatomy Trains are a series of fascial meridians throughout the body. They cover the front and back of the body, both sides, spirally and in the arms. There are a few more but we haven't covered them yet, so stay tuned. So, how does this in any way pertain to the martial arts? Because of how we move in the martial arts. Each of these meridian affects the way we move and when there is dysfunction we do not move in efficient ways. Have you ever experienced a stiff neck, pain in the lower back, headaches? Well, those pains are most likely due to fascial restrictions, which in turn affect the muscles, nerves, circulation, you name it. IT'S ALL CONNECTED! Getting proper bodywork to release those restrictions in the fascia will open up a whole new world of movement in your martial arts practice. Until we learn to move in ways that don't cause habitual restrictions in our tissues we cannot move efficiently therefore cannot put our best behind each punch, each kick. We put what we have available to us into our practice, which can be good enough. But wouldn't it be so much better to move freer? Personally I have not gone through the series of KMI sessions. KMI is Rolfing focusing on the Anatomy Trains. KMI views the body by seeing where the restrictions are along those Anatomy Trains. It is an incredibly efficient bodywork system and I highly recommend it to any martial artist wanting their body discomforts to stop. Of course after the 12 sessions you must own your new "you", change your habits and make new, better ways of moving. The thing is, when all of the Anatomy Trains are moving in concert with each other you get a beautifully functioning body.

Friday, November 2, 2007

NaBloPoMo, oh no!

Well, I've joined forces with BBM and some other MA bloggers to write every day for a month. However, I will be cheating since I also have another blog that will be included as well. So, let's say every other day will most likely be a MA blog. Sorry, I'm cheating!!!

For today I would like to continue talking about blocking. In our system we have four primary blocks that we begin with : agay (spelled wrong since I do not have my book in front of me), soto, uchi and gedan barai. They are called the hachi ban uki (also spelled wrong, my deepest apologies!) and we do them over and over and over with heavy emphasis on mushimi, or heavy rubbing. Mushimi is incredibly important in our system and if the upper belts are caught not utilizing it at every turn we do push-ups. But, hey, who's complaining about buff arms....not me. Mushimi is especially important in a self-defense situation where sticking (literally) to your opponent places them off balance and allows you to always maintain balance and hara connection. Mushimi begins with the block. With the upper rising block, agay, the arm is energized and mushimi allows you to uproot the uke, at which point you can continue to push the arm back and wrap it or just keep it off to the side. The same goes for the lower blocks, but in this case the uke becomes off-balance towards the tori. There is also the kage uke (hook block), the mountain block, the snake block and a block where you place your hands together, palms facing you, as if you were making a bird shadow and press outwards against an attack. My favorites are the snake block, which is performed to the outside of the punch and allows you to then mushimi down the arm and grab the wrist, and the kage uke.

With blocking we are taught to perform soft, not hard. With this softness I find that it is easier to place the uke off balance, much like an aikido move uses the uke's energy against them. I do not know much about aikido and have only done a little, but from what I've seen our blocks are very similar to aikido moves. The softness also allows the tori to maintain flow, which to me is a much more efficient way of moving against an attack. If I defend hard my energy goes right to my upper body and I lose hara connection. Once this happens the techniques are no longer going to work the way you want them to. With hara connection and mushimi you are insured against losing connection with the uke and will have a much easier time with stun, rip/tear and project. This is how we defend. We block and stun, rip/tear with a combination and then project the uke to the ground or away from us. The projection of course comes with more than a few years of practice and I'm still battling with it. I will most likely always be battling with projection. But, that's for another post!!!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Martial Arts Ramblin' On

So my last post sounded so disjointed to me and I apologize for the rambliness of it all. Thing is, I had to put my dearest doggie friend to sleep yesterday. She was 13 and her health over the past week just tanked, leaving me an emotional wreck. She was a special dog and I miss her incredibly. So if my writing seems a little lifeless, that is why.

Anyway, I'm still pretty excited about doing the Kempo class once a week. Today's class just re-affirmed my need to practice self-defense. Damn hesitation! It happens to me too often and there are moments when I just want to run from the dojo screaming. But those are the moments I also cherish the most due to the learning that can be gleaned from such frustration . That's when I bring my focus down to my feet, bring myself back down to the ground and then to my center. In today's class frustration was not present, which was a very good thing due to my relatively fragile mental state (no, that statement is NOT an over-dramatization of how I'm feeling. I am not a drama queen!) We did mostly self-defense and then kata, ever kata. Kata felt pretty shaky, though. I need to practice them every day....I strive for daily practice, even if it's only kicks and punches. There isn't much room in my house for kata. Let me rephrase that, there is NO room in my house for kata. Perhaps if I were to do them Tai Chi slow, which is actually a wonderful training technique and really gets the hara into action. So, I have no idea where I'm going with this post, but just bear with me...

What I'm now learning as a shodan: be patient, be pro-active, just &*^%$ relax and let it all flow. This I was able to see most in the kempo dojo. Most of the other kohai blocked so incredibly hard and stiff, one in particular really pounded my forearm (can we say human makiwara?). It got me thinking about the way blocks should be performed. Hard blocks seem to be more appropriate if you intend them to be strikes as well, especially in zing e (that is a completely phonetic spelling. I'll have to look up how to spell that style...), which is so violent. All attacks. It's great! Anyway, I'm finding that a softer block will gain you so much more time (were talking split seconds...) to pull off a combo of some sort, especially if the uke is placed off-balance. Then there's the trick of blocking above and striking with the feet at the same time. This I need to practice over and over since it would be such an invaluable technique for me in that I barely reach 5'. Sensei does this beautifully and every time I think, "Man, I have to get that down!"

So, there you have it for today. Rambliness....

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Learning something new

Last night I went to a Kempo class in Burlington. It was a very interesting experience and I plan on returning. The class was centered around self-defense combinations, a part of the MA where I have the most trouble. The trouble is self-confidence and not looking completely out of control with my moves. I have this tendency to go too fast, mostly due to nerves. Don't get me wrong, 9 times out of 10 there are no issues, just every once in a while. The class was all men (which I am already used to) and the Sensei was very low-key. We did not line-up by rank and used no formalities except bowing to each other during the exercises. This is something I am not used to. We often kneel when Sensei is speaking and say "osu" and "origato, sensei". The relaxed atmosphere was very strange to me, but it was a different dojo with different rules of conduct. I do not put this dojo down or pass any judgement. There was much to be learned and I was so glad for the self-defense practice. So much so that I'm going to continue training with this dojo once a week and see where it takes me. It's worth it to try new directions, something that I haven't really done except for one class in kung fu many years ago. This particular style of kempo comes from the Chinese Hawaiian lineage. Unfortunately there are no karate dojos in Burlington, only kempo, BJJ (which I also plan on checking out) and many Tae Kwon Do. Perhaps I'll just have to open my own karate dojo someday...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I nearly burst into tears at yesterday's upper belt class. I'm not sure what it was that was making me such a weepy puppy. We started class hitting the mits, moving around, working on stances and body placement while punching with the heavy gloves. This is not my favorite thing to do. I would much rather be practicing self-defense techniques. But, this is where Sensei is going right now. It made me incredibly frustrated, mostly because I was so out of breath most of the time. There is this shodan who recently came back to train who intimidates me. He has this air about him that makes me nervous. It think most of it is just now knowing who he is and what he's all about. He seems like a nice man, but to have him correct me really puts up my defenses. When I'm corrected I do not have a problem as long as I know where the person is coming from. Sensei is one thing, a senpai is one thing, but this person, who is senpai to me, has not been training for a while and kept correcting my movements before I had the chance to work on them. Yeah, I know, it's a petty thing, but it was bothering me. At least give me the chance to work and keep your mouth closed. That's how I try to teach. Instead of constantly correcting someone I say a few things and then let it sink in. If after a few attempts the same mistakes are being made I'll say something again. But not over and over and over. That just leads to frustration and nothing is learned. Maybe that was the start of my teary, bleary moment. I could not tell the guy to keep his mouth shut, but did say something to the effect of just let me work this, please. Anyway, not to complain, but it was on my mind. Then we went into seiunchin kata. Sensei came up to me at one point to correct my unbendable arm application in the kata and said some wise words, at which point I nearly lost it. He has this ability to get to the core of you and really see who you are and how you work. What a wonderful teacher to have! I get weepy just thinking about it. Of course there are other factors in my life right now contributing to this weepiness, but I write about those on another blog. My martial arts path right now is working on my balance when sparring, not staying planted to the spot. Though there are times I just feel like I'm chasing the other person down. There is so much time to work on this, but I will get frustrated, it's just my nature. The key is to relax and just let it go.

Friday, October 19, 2007

So, I've managed to do at least 60 side kicks each side since my last post. Could this be my new favorite kick? Right now it's mawashi geri. I can put a lot of power behind it since I'm short and my leg doesn't have far to travel. Plus it's just an amazing kick. Yoko geri still, after eight years of training, feels awkward. I know, I'm still a baby in the MA world....

Yesterday in class sensei had me working the pads with 12 oz. gloves. Hard! Mostly because I'm so lacking in cardiovascular strength right now. So, I've decided to pursue heavy bag training on a regular basis. It's so frustrating for me to run out of breath after five strikes and five kicks. It takes so much cardiovascular focus when boxing like that. You can have all the technique in the world, all the right moves from hara, but if you can't breathe...well, it's difficult. My work schedule gives me a little more "breathing" room starting next week so I will be able to hop over to the dojo (which also includes a gym) to train on the bag at least three days a week. I have a bag at home, but I can only use it outdoors right now so weather is an issue, and if you've ever been to Vermont our weather is never predictable. Anyway, I've also started a weight regimen, too. What we do to stay healthy, hmm?

I'm hoping this Monday to check out a kenpo class in Burlington. A good friend of mine is a shodan in that dojo and he is always doing amazing things. I have no idea what it's like, so I guess it's time for a little google.

One aspect that is lacking in my dojo is weapons training. We only have bo right now, and two sword forms. What I really want to learn is sai. I guess I will have to search out a weapons teacher. Yeah, in all my free time!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I must not rush

There is this person inside of me who wants it all now, perfected and set to memory. That is my impatience. There is this other person who savors the slowness of learning martial arts correctly, to go back again and again to kihones and do them over and over. To be mindful always until there is no-mind. Take for example yesterdays upper belt class. No more mister nice sensei. We went over and over yoko geri, slowly and with extreme mindfulness. And also much losing of balance. The homework was to do 100 yoko geris on each side before next class. Well, that's tomorrow and I have no idea where I'm going to fit in slow, focused side-kicks. Where does my time go? Where do I have time to train outside of class? I do have half an hour inbetween each massage client today, but here I am writing a blog and eating instead of the side-kicks....hmm. There is time to do them outside after work, or perhaps before dinner. That is, if my little one does not run over and say to me, "No mommy, no karate now." Where does it all fit in. I desire to train everyday, but mostly I do it in my head, which does me only very little good. I did a few side kicks after a shower and a few after an early client. I guess you have to look at the quality instead of the quantity. No rushing to do 100 of them, just do them correctly and with purpose. A HA!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Black Belts in the house

So, what happens when you have three shodans in class and no teacher? Who teaches? Thing was, I new I had seniority over one shodan, but not the other. He was a shodan in Koro Ken Aikijitsu (another style under Sensei Morallo) and this was the first time I've met him. He's studied longer than me, but hadn't been training in Koro Ken for a while, just stuck with the aikijitsu. So, I took on the kata/kihon portion and then diverted to him for some aikijitsu fun. But.....three kids also showed up to the upper belt class, and they were all upper belts. So, I taught them rolling while the other shodans had fun doing aikijitsu Ippons. I finally had my turn to do Ippons, but did not have enough time doing them since the kid's class was starting up. Urgh. I was a little frustrated about the situation since I decided to join the upper belt class to continue my learning, but teaching is learning, too, and I can't forget that. If Sensei had been able to teach class things would have been different. He looks to me to teach; really, really wants me to teach. In fact he wants me to teach in Burlington, VT, where we will be moving to this April. I've wanted to have my own students, but really want to take more time to work on those things I find uncomfortable, like wrist grabs and throws. I'm fine with all the pugilistic applications of our kihones, but throwing and grabbing need more work. When those become comfortable I will think about taking on students. I'm just not ready to go out on my own, and don't really feel that a shodan is ready to do that alone. I've just started to sink into all of this and don't want to rush it. I have plenty of time. The key is to not get frustrated when you have to teach instead of learning new things.

Friday, October 5, 2007

New Class

I've decided that on Tuesday afternoons I'm going to take the upper belt class (and not the morning class), meant for brown and black belts. This way at least once a week I will be learning new things, such as the elbow lock routine Sensei learned from Grandmaster Chaka Zulu (I know, a little fancy? But check out his website at, who's style is known as zujitsu. It's really a great form of martial arts, and Soke is quite the amazing man/teacher. He came to our dojo about five years ago for a seminar and the elbow locks are insane! Anyway, I've really been wanting to go over them and we just don't get that much of a chance in our morning classes lately since there are newbies and I end up either teaching them or teaching the other kohai their new katas (ah, the responsibilities of a shodan....), which I do not mind doing at all. I also have a new kata to learn, part of the Lin Bloom series. Sekuran Lin Bloom, and I'm not at all sure I spelled sekuran the right way. It's along the same lines as Flight of the Striking Tiger and Lin Wane Kune, very Chinese. Sensei Morallo also has this other kata, Cartier, that I'm dying to learn. It's very beautiful, and very complicated. I'm not sure if my Sensei knows it, but I haven't asked him yet. Supposedly it's a "secret" kata, whatever that's still pretty. I also want to spar more and become as comfortable as I can with it since next fall is Nidan, which is a very brutal test. I will be seeing a Nidan test this November, which will give me a preview of what it will be like.

Off for a weekend of fall activities. Vermont is so incredible this time of year with the changing leaves, and the yummy apples!!! I plan on having lots of fun. Plus, it's supposed to be in the 80's. Weird weather...

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

My first class as a shodan

Today was the first class I went to after last week's test. For some odd reason I was nervous to enter the dojo wearing a black belt. There is definitely a little "uncomfortableness" about this new path for me. The lower belts have a new respect and part of me is having a hard time with that. I think it's because I don't want to feel better than anyone else, don't want to, especially, look like I don't know what I'm doing. It's the old self-esteem issues coming to the surface. I talked about the self-sabotage a few posts back and this is very similar. Now that I've come this far do I deserve to lead others? It's so strange. There is absolutely no way I could ever get "shodanitis". My ego is not that big and I feel so humbled by this new addition around my waist. I want others in my dojo to know that I will never treat them like they do not know anything and I know everything. Our dojo, as Charles James Sensei puts it, is a gendai budo dojo. We train for the path, for the betterment of ourselves. There is no competition in our school in any form and Sensei does not condone it at all. The sparring you saw me do in the videos is not something we do very often, at least not with all the gear. We do more slow-flow Ju Kumite, not the full-on Kumite. I'm very happy with that. I don't have the need to go at someone with flying fists and feet. I'd much rather harness the control that would benefit me in a self-defense situation. Our dojo is serious and light-hearted at the same time. We joke around, but not when it's inappropriate. We have much respect for Sensei and his teachings and teach that to the new student who walk through our doors. There have been quite a few recently, and all of them women. I like to see women start in the martial arts, and I hope they stick with it.

So back to the weirdness of shodan. I have to grow into this like anything else. Sensei said to me the day after shiai that he would like me to test for nidan in a year. Is that enough time? I feel there is so much for me to accomplish in my training right now. I want to focus on the internal strength, the internal compression, or as Sensei Morallo puts it, "the twisting of the meat." He was doing Chen Tai Chi before the shiai last Wednesday. It was absolutely beautiful. Apparently this is the parent form of all the other tai chi forms, and he mentioned that it's a very difficult style to study. That is what I want to do. Hmm, yes, in all my free time... I've found that in my training I struggle with the internal applications of our style. I want to perfect them (as much as they can be perfected).

So, this marks the beginning of a new beginning! I will be interested to see where this blog goes now that I have attained shodan. I'm so excited!!!

Oh, I've been "promote three memed". I'll take care of that next post...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Shodan videos

Here I am, all sweaty and proud. I had just put on my black belt. Yay me!!! I honestly can't believe that it's all over, but am so glad that I did it. The test was fantastic...

Okay, here are the youtube links for my vids:


Thursday, September 27, 2007


It was hot, wicked hot. No fans, not much air except from what was coming in from the open doors. The shodan shiai, of course, had to happen on a record breaking temperature day in southern Vermont (in late September!). The spirit, however, was flying everywhere. What a fantastic shiai we had. Lots of sweat, I mean A LOT. It was great. The six of us found our zones and just stayed there the entire time. The dojo was also packed with onlookers (our shiais are open to the public), which of course made the place even stuffier. I felt so good, very nervous, but very good. I'm uploading some videos onto youtube and will let you know where they are so that you can give them a gander. The last part was total, full-on sparring. We each had to spar with three people right in a row. This was very tough, and it's what made me very nauseous. Needless to say I ended up vomiting on the way home. My stomach still doesn't feel quite right today, by my mind and spirit are flying! What an experience, what an accomplishment. I'm so glad that I made it this far and look forward to many, many, many more years of learning in the martial arts. This is only the beginning...

A note about my shodan paper. I know that there were errors, it wasn't the final copy. I made some changes and corrections before I handed it in. I just wanted you to see what it was all about, but a hearty thank you for those of you who gave me great suggestions!!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Shodan paper

Well, here's the completed shodan paper for tomorrow night. We were to pick a topic to write about, and I chose ego and self-esteem and how they relate to the martial arts.

The butterflies have landed....I'm nervous, but I'm ready. I'll post as soon as I can about how the test went. Yay!!!

We know the warrior by his presence and the healing he automatically gives to everyone he meets. ~ Erle Montaigue
“There are many people who, even when studying the Way of the Martial Arts, think that these skills will not be useful in real situations. In fact, the true Way of the Martial Arts is to train so that these skills are useful at any time, and to teach these skills so that they will be useful in all things.” Miyamoto Musashi, “The Book of Five Rings”
When we meet someone else who does Karate differently than we do, we seem to have a knee jerk reaction and immediately begin attempting to dominate the other person instead of listening to what they have to say and thinking about it with due consideration. Rob Redmond, 24 Fighting Chickens blog

Ego, Self Esteem and the Martial Arts
By Karrie
What do you think of when someone asks you about the martial arts? If you were to ask a person who does not do martial arts, they might mention Chuck Norris, Steven Segal or even Jackie Chan. All of those men encompass what is known, in my eyes, as the “movie martial arts”. The egos involved tend to be inflated and evolved to the point where the practitioners may feel as if they are indestructible. This, however, is only my opinion. The martial arts you see in movies are very far removed from what the actual martial arts represent. Ego and self-esteem play a very large role in the evolution of a martial artist, and I write about those two aspects of our personality because they have played a very important role in my martial arts practice and my growth as a person involved in the martial arts. All of the opinions expressed in this paper are my own, and they are far from being the norm with all karateka. The three quotes at the top speak to me about ego and self esteem and how they pertain to the martial arts and I will touch on all of them within this paper.

How does the ego pertain to martial arts and where, exactly, does self-esteem fit in? When talking about the ego you need to look into how a person reacts to having gained a significant amount of knowledge in martial arts technique. Martial arts provide a very powerful source of self-protection and can therefore lead to a very powerful increase in a person’s ego. This is not necessarily a hindrance, if the ego evolves slowly and does not gain control. The opposite of that is an ego which becomes so inflated that the martial arts practitioner feels as if he or she “know it all” and proceed to show this knowledge off to all who will watch. Self-esteem, on the other hand, can only increase in such a way as to compliment the ego. When you feel confident about yourself, your ego will inevitably grow stronger since you have more confidence in yourself and what you know. That being said, what happens to the self-esteem if the ego takes over? Does it become weaker in the sense that the person has now “become” the ego? This is a very interesting question, and I feel that if the ego becomes too strong, then self-esteem becomes weaker. Ego is a very strong trait, and can quickly take over all other personality traits if left unchecked. To be all ego is to be weak, which is not something karatekas want to be. Self-esteem is a much stronger trait to have, a much more reliable source of courage. Courage with too much ego becomes carelessness.

The first quote at the beginning of this paper is first for a reason. To me it represents the humbleness the martial arts can bring to all those who practice it. Being a healer requires a great deal of self-confidence and self-esteem. If you do not have those aspects of your character in a solid place within yourself you cannot provide healing to others. When training in the martial arts a certain amount of healing happens within you, which slowly builds a solid sense of self-esteem. Too have too much ego in this sense would not only be detrimental to yourself, but also to those around you who recognize your healing capabilities. Being a massage therapist gives me a unique perspective into this idea. There are many massage therapists who allow their egos to become too strong, which degrade their healing capabilities. Receiving a massage from someone who’s ego has become too inflated is not a pleasant experience and you often leave the session feeling more stressed than when you felt at the beginning. Ego must be contained; self-esteem must be stronger than ego. The martial artist who has strong self-esteem is capable of great healing and great martial arts. To me it’s all about allowing this to happen within yourself and not letting your ego get the best of you. There will always be someone stronger, faster, and more capable of striking from hara. It’s a wise thing to remember.
Miyamoto Musashi’s quote touches on believing and trusting in your techniques. This has been the toughest battle for me throughout my eight years of training. Trusting in yourself and the believing that the techniques you know will work boosts self-esteem in amazing ways. To not trust the technique means you are not trusting in yourself. This can be the “death” of a karateka’s self-esteem. The more you fail at performing, the more you mistrust what you know, both about yourself and your techniques.
I put in the last quote because I’ve seen this happen in our own dojo. There are often times when Sensei Bottomms teaches us one thing and either after class or during application of what was just taught others from another dojo interject what they feel is the “right” way to do the technique. This bothers me to no end. When entering another’s dojo, their “way” is to be respected and learned, not critiqued and criticized. That is not respectful and is purely coming from ego’s point of view. A dissolving of the ego must occur when entering the dojo, whether it is where you train or not. If you do not agree with the Sensei, speak with them after class, not during the time he or she is teaching. In my eyes there is nothing ruder than someone who speaks out against what Sensei teaches. Everyone has the capacity to learn, no matter how much training they have had. Having respect for other’s teachings shows not only humbleness, but a strong sense of self (self-esteem). To not respect someone else’s teachings shows only the ego is present, one that is far too large to allow for any further learning.
When I think of self-esteem and how it relates to the martial arts the picture inside of my head is of an elderly Asian man slowly performing kata with a serene smile on his face. He is sure in his stances; sure of how the moves work. You realize that the serene smile also goes much deeper than what you see on his face. I also think of this same man with his students, with the same serene look on his face, allowing himself to learn from his students as he teaches them all he knows about martial arts. The most important part of my learning thus far has been how to control the ego and allow your self-esteem to rule your inner battle. There is a never-ending battle between ego and self-esteem, the trick is to find that delicate balance where they both work together. I work towards finding and honing that serene smile on my face, and have already learned from those that I have taught. I feel that my ego is in check, and I am so grateful that Koro Ken has taught me to believe in myself and to trust what I know. I have never learned so much about myself as I have while being a martial artist and I look forward to learning for the rest of my life.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Karate dreams

Do you ever have karate dreams? I often have this dream where I'm in class and we're usually in shiai. They are always fun and full of movement. There was even this once dream where me and a fellow female dojo mate were making up an entirely new kata. But last night I had my first fight dream. I was in this video store looking at the children's videos when this woman comes over and starts to turn the videos in her direction (they are on a turnstyle type of thing) completely disregarding the fact that I, too, am looking. At first I just pull them back, but she keeps doing it. I then tell her that I am still looking at this particular section and she needs to be aware that someone else was here first and to be patient. Then we just start getting into it. She comes at me and I evade her and give her a "gentle" mawashi geri to her stomach, just to let her know that I know some techniques and it might not be wise to continue. But she does. I don't remember the rest and I woke up in the middle of it. It was so weird! Usually when I have a dream where I'm hitting someone I barely have any strength and am not effective at all. This one was different. There was power in my moves. Hmmm, could I be believing in what I know?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Teaching Flight

After every class lately Sensei keeps asking me if I'm ready, and I always tell him yes. The truth is I AM actually ready, although the shodan pre-test scared me a bit. Sensei said to me today, "You're teaching Flight, of course you're ready." He means Flight of the Striking Tiger, one of the black belt katas we have to know for the test (the other is Sanseiru). I've known this kata for at least four years, but I have not performed it for that long. It's a beautiful kata that stems from some Chinese MA of which I forget the name. Sensei Morallo told me last night, but it did not stick in my brain. He's tweaked it, of course, for he said that the original is too stiff. Sensei Morallo is big on "twisting the meat" in the body, making if move softly, yet powerfully. All of our moves must come from hara and our stances must be strong yet supple. Yesterday afternoon he took us through Shisochin and Sanseiru and told us some amazing things about what to do in those katas. He told us when to use kime, how our bodies should be moving. The trunk of his body is exactly like a wall, no kidding. That's what is feels like. He has such control and when he strikes it's just like a snake. At the end of the class we all sparred for half an hour or so. My head was pounding from my injury, so I donned a sparring helmet since I had been tagged on the exact spot a few times. This is the thing, my head is such a target because I'm short and my head is right there for the taking. Ugh, I really don't feel comfortable going full-bore. We had on 16oz. gloves and just had at each other. I had the pleasure (note the sarcasm) of sparring with Sensei Morallo. You can hit him, it doesn't hurt him. I don't know who could hurt him. He did teach me some great stuff, parrying, etc. I just don't do it enough, and it's a big part of the shodan shiai. Sensei Bottomms does not like to spar heavily, he doesn't believe that it's a valuable part of karate. We do much more slow flow Ju Kumite, which teaches you timing, balance, flow. Anyway, Sensei Morallo told us that this shiai is not a "cake walk" and that he doesn't just hand out black belts. That is a very good thing. This will be very, very difficult, but I'm not scared. I'm elated.

I stayed for the kids shiai. Those shiais are always great to be a part of. I love hearing all the kiais and seeing those little people so focused. My nephew was testing for his San Kyu (he's 8) and did an amazing job of Seunchin. Apparently he had awoken that morning with butterflies and felt the stress of it all day long. Right after he was done he burst into tears of relief, literally sobbed against Sensei Bottomms. It was so amazing to see him release like that. I was so proud of him. He is truly a karateka in the making and I hope he sticks with it. His focus is so sharp and his body just knows what to do.

I will not be in class again until next Tuesday, which means practicing in my yard on the grass. I love doing that. So much to do, and so much time to do it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The universe's revenge?

Is the universe out to get me? Two weeks ago I hurt my foot and today while playing with Griffyn at the local sandbox I had the metal handle of the scoop toy drop directly onto the top of my forehead. It hit me hard enough for me to see stars and I felt it all the way down my spine. Griffyn had been sitting on the seat at the time and I think he thought he made it happen, which he didn't. When I looked to see where he was I saw him crouched behind the seat with his head in his hands. Oh, sweet boy! He wasn't crying, but clearly upset about my reaction. It fucking hurt!!! Excuse the explitive, but it's appropriate. So I was just thinking, "Okay, what's the third thing?" I then promptly told myself there is no third thing, what will happend next is the shodan shiai, period. No more getting hurt. This is ridiculous. It hurt bad enough for me to think about going to the doctor, but now I feel okay, just a little tired and throbbing. At least I'll have a good bruise...and no, it didn't come from karate...

This makes me think of self-sabotage. Is there some part of me that doesn't feel I'm really worthy of going the next step in my martial arts? Am I afraid to? That's entirely possible. Yes, I do feel afraid, but I feel ready for this. I'm ready to dive into the unkown and make it known, make it my own.

I'll have to talk more about this in another post. This afternoon is a very busy karate afternoon. I soon am off for the shodan pre-test, which is an hour and a half. Then the kid's shiai followed by the adult kyu shiai. I planned ahead and only did one massage today. It was very nice to spend the morning doing family time. I'll just have to watch out for metal backhoe thingys from now on.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Why I do karate

It all began after watching "The Matrix". My sister had just had her first child and I had witnessed the entire thing. While staying with her I went to see that movie and was transfixed by the martial arts moves. I said to myself, "I really, really want to learn that!" For the past year my kickboxing instructor had been bugging me to join his dojo and learn Koro Ken. After seeing the movie I went to my first class. The next day I could barely walk. I had used leg muscles that I never knew were there and it felt GREAT! I was hooked, so I kept going. A few months later I tested for yellow belt. Then went to second green. Then purple. Then first brown. Then second brown. After a year at second brown Sensei Bottomms wanted me to test for Shodan with another student. I was apprehensive, but excited. At this time it was about achieving rank, seeing how far I could go. Two weeks later I was trail running and sprained my ankle. It wasn't pretty and I was out of the running for Shodan. I was upset, but not terribly so. I continued training and then started to slack off. I can't remember why or at what point in my life I was at, but I do remember a lot of transition, break-ups, moves, etc. Karate was on the back burner because it had to be at that time. So, I went back again, then met my husband, got married and got pregnant (yeah, I REALLY wanted a baby.) I went to class a few times early in my pregnancy, but was extremely nauseous and it just didn't feel right. Then Griffyn was born and I became a mommy. I went to a few of my nephew's classes to just soak in the training, but formal training for me did not begin again until last summer. At that point I had had enough waiting. It was time to go back. So I went at it full bore, and could barely do 10 push-ups. By December I was testing for I Kyu and the feeling of martial arts was beginning to sink in. I was beginning to feel it, to make it my own. The power of hara, the power of moving so effortlessly was just fantastic to feel. For the longest time I just couldn't "get" what it was supposed to feel like. I could do all the moves, and do them well, and found that when my brain was out of the equation my moves had a different flow. This was so exciting for me. For years Sensei had been telling me to "move from hara", "just let it flow", "soften, Karrie". Now I was beginning to actually live it, and not just in martial arts training.

So why write all of that? Because I do karate for the history, for the building of the foundation. It started with a movie, and whenever I see that movie I laugh at how stiff the actors look doing karate, how staged it looks. To me karate means training, it means being true to yourself, it means pushing yourself, it means trusting yourself. Never have I felt so sure of who I am, and of what I am capable of accomplishing. The trust is the biggest part of this. When you trust your teacher and your fellow dojo mates the learning is compounded by that trust. It's fun, it's easy, and it's harder. When you trust the moves they flow better. When you don't trust the moves they don't work very well.

The hardest part of becoming a martial artist (at least for me) is believing that you are a martial artist. When I started it was to learn fancy moves, not necessarily to learn about me. I thought I had already done that in massage school (at that time I was only a year into my massage career. Massage school was very intense and you do learn a lot about yourself and your boundaries.) However, as the years of training slipped by I stared to realize that karate wasn't just about the moves; it was also about internal growth. The training was also applicable to my massage career, and to my relationships (not just paramours, but family, friends, etc.) Once you give into the flow of things, everything else just fits into place, it really does.

Whew, I think I just started my Shodan paper. One more week to go. I will be glad when it's all over. My brain has been so full of everything I must know, but my body knows it better than my brain does and I trust it to get me through. It's not just about the color of the belt for me anymore, it's about taking one more step closer to myself and closer to moving from hara. I am a martial artist, I will always be a martial artist.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Two Weeks

Well, the foot is not broken and is actually very functional. The power of intention is a very powerful thing....

The shiai is two weeks away. Next Wednesday we have a shodan pre-test for an hour and a half with Sensei Morallo. Then I will most likely participate in the kyu shiai that same afternoon. Practice, practice and more practice. I feel very good about this.

For every belt test we have had to write a paper about what we have learned at each stage of testing. For the shodan test we have to delve a bit deeper. I've begun thinking about what I will write and what books I will refer to that have deepened my practice. I will have to start it soon so that time doesn't get away with me.

Class was very low key today. I taught most of it and just had everyone do the katas and bunkai that they have been working on for shiai. It sounds like Thursday will be a bit more energetic...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

He stole my heart (this is not a romance)

Today I went up to the Rutland dojo again for an I Kyu shiai. One of our Ni Kyus is leaving for boarding school and it was his turn for shiai. I joined in and it was great. Tough. Great. There was this green belt I was doing Ippons with who had an injured foot and she stepped out because it was just too much (train smart!), so I ended up working Ippons with Sensei Bottomms. He turned it on and turned it up. Needless to say he stole my heart. I became so flustered that it was almost as if I forgot all my training and did not feel like my self-defense was worthy. What an awakening!!! It's so amazing how something like being uprooted can throw everything off. I did manage to regain most of my focus back, but on one throw I did not project him far enough away from me and ended up with his knee into my foot. So I then had to bow out. I just had an x-ray and the fourth long bone (metatarsal) is not broken, but one of the smaller bones had a "questionable" appearance. Now I need to wait until tomorrow afternoon when a radiologist can read the x-ray to see if it is indeed broken. I do not plan on stopping my training, will just have to "train smart". That means no sparring or kicking anything with density with my right foot. No Kabox (lots of jumping), which means elliptical trainer in order to keep up the cardiovascular output. I can do all my upper body moves and slow Ippons. Again, I just have to train smart. This will be an adventure, and a learning experience. When isn't there a learning experience....

Friday, August 31, 2007

Too much attitude.

Man, there are some kohai in my class that have just a little too much of an attitude, and it's really not pretty. I went to class last night, bowed in a began to stretch. Sensei was not in yet and everyone was either stretching, gabbing or just milling about (which is really not a good thing to do before class starts. That time is meant for practice...) and I started to stretch a little before rounding up the class. I always wait a bit before I start class to see if Sensei is coming right in or needs a few minutes. Anyway, this nikyu comes up to me and asks if he should get class going or if I was going to do it. Hmm. I told him I was just warming up a little before starting class and that we would be lining up momentarily. He then said it was always a good idea to get everyone sweaty, etc., because Sensei really likes that. Duh. I know that since this apple does not fall far from her Sensei's tree. I let him know that I often have to start class during the day time (when he cannot be there so he wouldn't know this) and this was not new for me. Anyway, I grumble, but was a bit annoyed by the attitude he was throwing my way. And he was throwing it, I'm not exaggerating and I'm known for hyperbole. So I start class right off with 50 pushups and then 40 more variations of pushups and then straight into kihones and kata. Then into kicking, and when I did not get a quick response to go into migi zenkutsidachi (please forgive my phonetic spelling, I mean front stance with right leg back) I had everyone hold horse stance for a bit, including me. Anyway, he wanted sweat, he got sweat. There's been a little too much of the attitude going around in our dojo with a few people and Sensei and I had a chat about it today. Hopefully they will find some humility...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Four weeks

Well, the shodan shiai has been set for September 26, with a pre-test on September 19. This is something new, the pre-test. Master Morallo will be down that day for the kyu tests, so all those going for shodan will meet with him to go over everything and see what we have to work on before the final testing. I'm feeling really calm and ready, which is wonderful. My brain seems to have fallen into this amazing groove with my martial arts lately. I'm feeling strong and knowledgeable and faced with so much more to learn. That I really enjoy, the fact that there will always be something new to learn, some new task to face. I'm so excited to be embarking on this new path, the shodan path. I've always been on a path, but this one is special somehow. I've worked so hard to get to where I am and am looking forward to working even harder to go even further. Someday I'd love to open a dojo in Burlington, VT and teach this style. It just feels right to me. I really enjoy teaching because you learn so much from it and it pushes all kinds of buttons. Challenge is healthy. Challenge keeps you strong.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Not my shodan

Yesterday I went up to Rutland to support Drew, the San Kyu who was going for his Shodan. The Rutland dojo is the "mother" dojo, and it was the first time I had ever been there. Drew's test was a tough one, but he did very, very well. Originally he was only going to be receiving a junior shodan since he's only 17, but then Master Morallo decided that his performance warrented a full shodan. Quite a surprise for Drew and our Sensei Bottomms (who was very proud!). I got to help Drew out with Ippon Kumite. It was great. We were both so on and very well matched. Master Morallo was very pleased. Kudos for us! There's still no date set yet for my shodan, but now it sounds like it will also be a nidan test as well for two of our shodans. This should be a very interesting shiai and I can't wait! I really feel ready and am now just staying in shape and practicing as much as I can. Now all I have to do is not get hurt in any way...

Today Sensei Bottomms told the class that this year is the year of martial arts courtesy in our dojo. We will be paying close attention to rank in the dojo and the higher belts will each be given a lower belt to work with. I think that's such a great idea, and the courtesy, too. Our dojo is very traditional and respect within the dojo is very important. It also transfers to life outside the dojo as well, and if we are ever in other dojos. It's just about respect for each other overall and I really, really dig that.

I've been really focusing on hara work lately, and it seems to be paying off. I found this beautiful crane Qi Gong form on youtube and will do my best to do it every day. My life right now really needs a little slowness, a little focus. The massage business is crazy, the martial arts is tough, and when I go home I need those few breaths to just slow down and be present for my family. Balance has been tough to find, and hubby is feeling a little frustrated with how much my mind has been on MA lately. But that's the way it is, that's how I live, and it will always be that way. The trick is not to let the MA get in the way, but to be present within my life. I'm getting there, but it's been a small battle. Time to change battle to something else.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Being the teacher

Teaching karate is not easy. To try to put into words and actions what you have learned in order to make it understandable to others is very challenging. Sensei was off on a motorcycle adventure today (mental health day) and I am dai sempai (unless our other black belts are in class, which they usually aren't at that time). I felt so put on the spot and a little uncomfortable today. This isn't the first time I've taught, but today just felt a little weird to me. There's this voice in the back of my head that keeps telling me I really want to be Sensei some day (that's some day a long way from now). It's hard to not feel like I want to crawl inside a hole sometimes! And I also kept putting myself down when I didn't do a move right. What?! It was just very strange. But my head-set lately hasn't been that great since there are other outside forces acting in not very nice ways on my brain right now, which in turn affects my performance in karate. Forces like marriage troubles, work troubles (as in I want to work less and be a mommy more). The marriage troubles aren't devestating, just annoyingly present. Anyway, I digress. When others are looking to you for guidance and instruction it places so much pressure on your performance. I kept feeling like I had to get everything right, which isn't the right mindset in my opinion. There was no one to show off to, to gain approval from. I think that this was just me coming into another phase in my training, specifically teacher training. In order to get a black belt in Koro Ken you must teach on a regular basis, and not only just by yourself but in every class. It's a wonderful way to improve on what you already know and forces you to go back to the beginning. It also provides humbleness, which is a great thing in martial arts. To be humble is so important in the karate world (the martial arts world for that matter). The class today was also all men, but men that I have been training with for a while. So, we just went through a few kihones and then the first three kata and their bunkai. Then I tried the technique Charles James Sensei has been writing about in the blog, which is having uke and tori during the kata. It was really interesting to mix things up a bit. I also had them do this facing in the opposite direction, which is always a challenge. But when I brought up that I wanted to try something new, they all backed away, laughing, and pointed at one guy to be the "guinea pig". Guess I can be a little too rough sometimes....

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Kata, dear Kata

I love kata, and feel that it has such an importance in my karate practice. In my dojo, kata is very crucial to our learning, along with bunkai. The most challenging thing for me now is moving from hara in all aspects of karate, especially in kata practice. I find that when I'm moving from my shoulders or my legs the kata does not go smoothly and I get more and more frustrated (another battle of mine...). But when I sink and move from hara everything fits into place, the kata comes alive. It's a beautiful thing.

Today class was great. Everyone was moving together and the energy was alive. There were lots of push-ups in-between kata, along with a few sit-ups. Myself and another I Kyu went through our upper kata as well. To sweat is to perservere I say. The other I Kyu will be testing for Shodan next Wednesday since he will be leaving for his first year of college three days later, and I will be going. Who knows, maybe that will be my testing time as well. I need to wear my gi, anything is possible. I asked this I Kyu today how long he had been training (he started while I was on hiatus) and he said two years! Talk about belt skipping...that made me a little annoyed, but I guess sometimes there are those who just fly through. But still, he has much to learn even though he is ready for this test. Although by the look of his face I'm not sure he feels the same. We shall see. All I know is that I am very glad that it has taken me 7 years to reach this point. Of course I had some time off to have a baby, but it's been a wonderful ride and I hope to continue for as long as I live!

I recently found out that our upper katas are based off of the Shito Ryu katas - Bassai Dai, Shisochin, Sanseru, Lun Wane Kune (although I'm not sure which kata that one is derived from). Today Sensei said that Lun Wane Kune is a "20 year kata", meaning that it takes at least 20 years to fully understand the kata. I'm already 6 years into it...

Thursday, August 9, 2007


So, the black belt shiai has been postponed, and hopefully not too long. Sensei Bottomms feels it will most likely be in early September. When I heard that at the end of class last night I was immediately frustrated, and then started to think that the extra time to practice and train was not such a bad idea. Part of me just wants this to be over so that I can go back to normal, that is not thinking so much about all of what I have learned. Mind you, even when I'm not training for shiai I'm thinking about karate, but it's just more intense right now since our black belt tests are so physically and mentally demanding. One of my dojo mates is going on August 22, so I'll go and support him. He's off to college on the 27th and needed to have it before then and it will also be in the "mother" dojo in Rutland, VT. See, Master Morallo is the one who tests us, not Sensei Bottomms, which can make for a few shifts in shiai times. It can definitely get frustrating, but it seems as though Master Morallo's father is ill and needs his son. So, we wait and train harder, like we did today. My legs were practically shaking by the end of class. We went over the first three kata - Empi (elbow kata), Taikyoko Shodan (First Cause #1) and Taikyoko Nidan (First Cause #2) - all of which require low front stances and cresent stepping, and with Empi horse stance, too. Plus we did these slow since there were two people new to these kata, which meant holding low stances. Ugh. Then I would stay up and perform the same kata at my speed after we all did them together. Then on to push-ups, etc. Great class. Last night I did some slow-flow with Sensei and I have to say that it's becoming much more comfortable. He's all about relaxing in your moves and moving from hara and not about being hard and fast. Quickness comes from within and if you don't move from hara the technique is wasted.

There are so many nuances to kata that you are always perfecting. First you learn the moves in the kata, then you become comfortable with those moves, then you practice over and over. After the kata becomes known completely by your body you go into the small things, like a solid chamber hand, low stances, low kicks, etc. Last night in class we worked Sanchin kata, which is pretty difficult in regards to stance. First you must be in the sanchin stance and root down into the ground. Then you must spiral your energy upwards, contract you lats, spiral your arms. It's a hard way to stand. Then you must breathe easy and focus each strike as though it were a full strike. So much to learn! Anyway, I love kata. You are fighting yourself and you lose when you lose your focus.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Training continues

So I decided to change the title to my blog. I didn't really like the last one since I didn't feel it fit. Anyway, enough said about that.

This weekend I decided to train on the heavybag and it went very well. There's a great feeling hitting something relatively solid. What I need to do is train on it more often, but it's outside and that requires good weather, which in Vermont can be fleeting. I also strung up a rope from the house to my husband's studio so that I could do the duck and weave thing. I've been having a difficult time getting my body to do that during sparring and it was high time to kick it into gear. Then I ran through the higher kata - Shisochin, Sanseru and Flight of the Striking Tiger - in the grass. It was great to practice outside in the sunshine. My son joined me from time to time and had a blast kicking the heavybag.

Today in class we had some newbies and it was fun to go back to the very beginning. It can be very humbling, especially when you're so caught up in the black belt training. I'll also get to go to class tomorrow night, which I never get to do. It's a different group of people, so a change of pace will be good. Sensei said we will be doing full-contact kumite soon, and I ordered sparring gear since I will need it for Shiai. We have never really done much full-contact in our dojo. There was this incident many years ago when a student from another dojo landed a punch to the face of a student in our dojo, resulting in a broken cheekbone. Ever since then Sensei has been very hesitant to do too much of that. It's a good thing and a bad thing. Most of our sparring is slow-flow and moderate speed kumite, but not so hard to where we have needed gear. That's why I have never owned any. It should be a very interesting experience. But, it's so important to relax first. That's why Sensei has us do slow-flow all the time. It's not gentle by any means, but it forces you to relax and not be so hard in your punches. A very challenging drill indeed.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Randomness that comes around

I recently read John Vesia's blog ( about women in the martial arts. In my dojo there are a few women, but mostly men. What I find is the women, when sparring with Sensei Bottomms and the other men, focus on the techniqes they are performing instead of trying to hit who they are sparring with. The men, on the other hand, are always trying to land the punches and kicks and then get these huge smiles across their faces, which of course result in a counter-attack landing in their faces, etc. This especially happens when they are sparring with Sensei. All they seem to think about is how they can trick him. Well, that's just not going to happen since he seems to know about each move they make before they make it. In a sense they are telegraphing their intent, making it easy to counter any throw they make. When I spar with the men I often have to hit low and kick low (although I can throw a mawashi geri to the head) since they are so much taller than I am. I barely stand five feet. However, I am starting to find that some of the men "run" away just out of my reach when we're performing offense/defense drills. This happened the other day. So, I run after them for the attack. It's fun, which is what these drill should be. Sometimes there is far too much seriousness, which results in raised shoulders and punching from the muscles instead of punching from hara. Again, the men seem to have this happen much quicker, to escalate much faster into a very defensive posture, which results in poor body mechanics. It happens to women, too, don't get me wrong, just not as fast. Ah, all this talk about differences...

I gave Sensei a massage today, which he really needed. It's a little hard for me to do that since it brings into play a dual relationship, which can only work if both parties are comfortable. This is not so hard for me that I will not help him feel better, it just takes me a few minutes to relax into it. But, it was a great session. I wanted to remark to all the other martial artist out there how massage therapy can benefit your practice. Not only does it relax the body, but it allows you to sense where in you body you have pain, or potential pain. My main form of massage is deep tissue/Myofascial Release, which significantly reduces chronic pain anywhere in the muscular body. Once a month is sufficient and if you try this you will be surprised how much more fluidly your muscles move, which of course makes it easier to throw any waza from hara. Okay, off the soap box.

There is four more weeks until my shodan shiai. I'm a little concerned about not knowing all the bunkai and do not know how I'm going to fit in extra practice. I do not know the bunkai for the last four kata and have a rusty recollection of at least three kata and a very good recollection of everything else since that is what we work the most. I'm confident that it will all fall into place by the time I need it to. Positive thinking!!! It really works people!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Keep your hands up!

For the life of me I couldn't keep my hands up today. That resulted in many hits to the head and face. Luckily we weren't going full speed. The drill was to have on person on offense and one on defense. My deltoid muscles were very tired today since in class last night we did nothing but slow-flow and lots of push-ups, and then I did two hours of massage before class today. So, I was tired, that's what I'm contributing my lack of defense to. But it was damn frustrating! Last night I got a good clip to the nose and lip and a really good clip to my shin (which I was using to block a kick, which turned into a knee. Ouch). Argh, I complain too much. I'm just feeling very frustrated today and I'm trying to let it go. My body and my mind are tired. I've been doing so much with both lately and they are feeling a little fried today. My massage practice is very busy right now (15-20 massages per week. That's a lot in this business) so that alone makes my body tired. Trying to fit it all in is becoming harder and I find myself escalating into an almost frenzy. My husband is feeling a little forgotten. Do any of you who have spouses that don't do martial arts have that same problem? It's tough right now to find that balance between martial arts and life and integrating the two to where there's an even flow.

I'm also feeling a little scared about sparring with other's I don't know at the shodan shiai. Master Morallo brings black belts with him from his dojo to the test, people whom I've never met, and they will try to hurt you. Yikes. That's making me a little nervous seeing as my hands practically refused to stay up today. But that is today. I will not be working on the day of my test so that I will be rested and well-fed. Yes, well-fed is a good thing and sometimes it doesn't always happen and I go to class with not much energy. Again, balance....

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Patience, grasshopper

Patience. Such a key element in fighting, in any aspect of martial arts. Without patience there is no calmness to the technique. If you move too soon, the technique is wasted. There is that perfect moment where it all comes together, but you have to wait for it. You have to stand there and focus, but not too hard. I find that by looking at the tori's throat you're able to see the entire body, to see those subtle movements just before they attack.

There is an Ni Kyu in my class that is very challenging on many levels. When I'm teaching class, he completely disregards rank and speaks out of line. At first I just let him, but then I had a talk with Sensei and asked him if it was okay to have him do push-ups for speaking out of line while I'm teaching. "Of course!" , he said. This young man is also a challenge for Sensei. Today this Ni Kyu and I did kata together and he did not follow my lead, so I had a talk with him about feeling what the other person beside him was doing, how important it is to have the patience to move as one. There is a lot of anger to his movements, a lot of aggression, and it wears on one's nerves. This is the best thing for him to be doing. Respect and honor are so important in our "outside" lives. I'm sure that eventually he'll grow into that, and if not, so be it.

Class was a sweaty one today, but I felt so much better and not at all sloppy. When the weather is hot and humid we work extra hard. It's good for the spirit!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

one step forward always leads to two steps back

Today was so frustrating for me. My kata felt sloppy and I just felt so out of shape. I'm not that out of shape! But I was definitely "sucking wind" if you know what I mean. At the beginning of class I lead everyone in kihones with a lot of crescent step walking up and down the floor, performing punches and kicks as we went. Then a little "hug the tree" as Master Morallo has affectionately termed holding horse stance. Then kata. When Sensei Bottomms came to class I took a young girl (she's 8) and went through two of her kata. Then Sensei took me aside to work my upper kata while the others did the first Bo kata. That's when I started to flail. Just before that me and another brown belt (San Kyu) did Lune Wane Kune (means continuous and rotating fist. A very beautiful kata, reminiscent of kung fu). The other guy did it so much faster than me, but the reason I went slower was to really focus on getting the moves right. So then I went through it again by myself and worked on the nuances more. Now I see...with the little girl I told her about working the nuances of her kata and how they made the kata work. It's the little parts, like making sure the eye rakes are eye rakes and the tiger claws really tiger claws, that make the kata flow, that add to the whole. So then I had to go through that, too. It gets to me sometimes. I need to let the frustration go, which is not easy for me. I know the 14 kata cold. Here they are: Empi, Taikioko Shodan, Taikioko Nidan, Gekesai Dai Ihci, Sanchin, Gekesdai Dai Ni, Saifa, Tensho, Seunchin, Lune Wane Kune, Tensho, Bossai Dai, Shisoshin, Sanseru, Flight of the Striking Tiger (another very kung fu-like kata. Very heavy on the legs). But knowing the kata and really having them down are two very different things. In order to give the kata power you need balance and focus (kime) and be able to use you hara to issue power. "Move from hara". I hear that all the time! Get the brain out of the way and let the body do the work. It's so much easier that way...

So, is it normal to think about karate all the time? I think that in the situation where you are testing for Shodan, yes, though there are times I need to tell my brain to take a break. I go over and over kata and bunkai and visualize sparring. Guess you could say I'm slightly obsessed! As soon as it's all over I can relax. This is so big, so much larger than most of what I've done in my life. Of course giving birth trumps anything, but Shodan test comes in second. It's exciting. It makes me feel so proud of myself. Our "code" in the dojo is to love, respect, care for, take responsiblity for yourself first in order to have peace within yourself. It's a great way to live.

Monday, July 23, 2007

How slow-flow Ju-Kumite works

The key to slow-flow is continuous movement without hard strikes. One person throws a soft strike and the other follows with a block and counter-strike. Ulitmately it should look like a self-defense "dance" without the power of full-on Ju-Kumite. It's an excellent way to practice target aquisition and focus in your strikes and blocks. The hardest thing for me in this flow is not to escalate into hard sparring and to remain relaxed. It's amazing and any martial artis should utilize it in their practice. I'll have to get a video of it, that is if my brain can remember! We use slow-flow alot, especially with those students new to sparring. It's also a great way to gain control over the adrenaline dump ("fight or flight") that occurs in highly stressful situations.

Well, it's been a great weekend. I took a break from training (at least physically. I'm always mentally training) since the cold I got last week kicked my ass on Friday when I did a Kabox class. I had to stop after half an hour because my body just quit on me. It was very frustrating. All last week I worked through the cold and pushed, but I think I pushed a little too far. It will happen and you just have to accept it and move on.

I also spent time this weekend designing the tattoo I will be getting after the Shodan Shiai. A few years ago I got four of the Five Rings (from the "Book of Five Rings" by Miyamoto Musashi. A great read!), earth, water, fire and wind, tattooed onto the outer sides of my ankles and inner wrists. I waited on the kanji for the emptiness, which is the final chapter, for when I received my black belt. I've decided to put it on the back of my neck and have a traditional oriental dragon and tiger on either side. I already have a dragon covering my left shoulder, along with some other tattoes. You can't just have one...Anyway, right of passage and all of that.

I'm looking forward to more sparring this week along with bunkai. There are still some upper bunkai that I do not know, and I'm getting a little nervous....

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ippons and slow flow

Ippon Kumite. This, besides my never-ending battle with horse stance, has been the bane of my martial arts existence. My battle is to not hesitate when the strike comes my way. I've been getting better, but it would be nice to go to the dojo everyday and practice with someone. Alas, that will never happen. See, I am the "breadwinner" right now, doing massage therapy (nine years in my own practice) and work on 4-5 people four days a week. Sometimes more. I get to the dojo on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings and also try to do the Kabox cardio class whenever I can. When I'm done with work all I want to do is go home and see my hubby and two year old son. So, practice comes when I can get it. It's mostly inside my head, often right before I am trying to fall asleep. "Okay, what if I did this and then that and then..." endlessly, making it hard to fall asleep.

Today I did a little slow-flow Kumite with another dojo mate and it was really great. That is exactly what it sounds like. Slow, flowing punches and kicks, making sure you keep your hands up (I got a good shot to the mouth, but no fat lip...darn) and your elbows in. That is an area where I need more practice, too, but at least now my adrenaline dump isn't as severe as it used to be and I stay relatively relaxed. There are times when we both escalated and Sensei Bottomms had us stop and then he and I would go and then I would go again with the other person. Man, my lungs need more of that so I'm not sucking wind at the Shodan Shiai. Sparring is a major part of that shiai and I really want to be in shape. At least I have an extra week now to train since the test has been moved to August 29. Phew.

I still feel ready to test. I'm so freaking excited!!! I figured out that I've had my brown belt for 6 years and for the past four years I've been training for black belt. The first time I was supposed to go I sprained my ankle, the second time I got pregnant. Now it's my time!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

what we do when we do too much

We fall over. So, I took a two day break from the crazy black belt training schedule because my body was completely worn out. Yeah, I know, poor me, right? Whatever!!! Saturday's class was a killer. I have never done so many front snap kicks in my life, or punches for that matter. All after holding horse, holding in the up part of the push-up and then going down for a push-up. It's no wonder I've come down with another cold (I just had one a month ago and it was a doozy). I never get sick that much. Guess it's time to up the vit C...

Anyway, training has resumed. Today was kehones and kata and push-ups, of course. I'm now up to sixty a day and going strong. One hundred is my goal since that's what we will have to do at the end of the black belt shiai. I must also become more comfortable in horse stance since there is a 100% chance that I will have to hold it for five minutes or longer at some point during the testing. Maybe more than a few times, it's anyones guess. Master Morallo is not a kind tester, and we like it that way. If it's not a difficult test for both body and spirit it's not worth the time. I say that least there will be two other people going with me (one woman and one man). To do a test alone...well, I guess that would be a character builder, now wouldn't it.

I do have to say that it's a bit strange just writing about my martial arts. There haven't been any chances to really talk about it with anyone without it sounding incredibly obsessive. But those who train know what life with martial arts in it is like. You bring what you learn out into the world, into your work, into your family. It's not just exercise anymore...

Thursday's class will be sparring. I've gotten so much more comfortable with it over the past few months. Usually I just try to throw combos, but now I'm thinking more along the lines of how can I get this person to do what I want so that I can land a hit. It's not one point sparring, but back and forth. Good stuff.

Check out "Fight Girls" on Oxygen. It's about this group of women vying for spots on the American Muay Thai team. Very cool. Master Toddy is the man!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

soreness is my friend

Today my back is sore, my pecs are sore and I feel just a little physically tired. For the past three days I've been going like a madwoman and all I've been able to think about is bunkai and kata and holding horse stance. It's so exciting, but I've never been so consumed by karate before! It's really quite fascinating. It's been so hot here in so. VT that training has been quite a sweaty event, but I love it!

You know, I wasn't going to keep up with this blog since I already have another one. But, this is all about my martial arts, which I don't do in the other one specifically. Anyway, I'm finding that I need a place to put my worries, my excitement, that are all for martial arts, specifically martial artists who are also mothers. That poses such a challenge, at least for me. Where to find the time to go to the dojo, how to practice with your two year old running around you. It certainly makes you appreciate the times you go...

Today was the first day I felt confident that I was ready for the shodan shiai. In class I just felt to strong with all my material. I have all the kata down with just a little tweaking here and there, the kehones are strong (just have to go through all the Japanese names a few more times...). The only thing I'm concerned about are the bunkai for all the kata. I have never been taught the bunkai for the last three kata, but I've decided not to worry too much about it. What is important is that I have the older bunkai down cold. One of my challenges in my martial arts path has been to trust my self-defense techniques, more like trusting that they will work. There's been a certain timidity about those moves, mostly because I don't want to hurt my dojo mates. But, if you trust yourself you won't hurt others. If you focus you won't hurt others. There is so much going on all at the same time, it's amazing!!!

Okay, it's taken my two days to write this, mostly because I haven't had a chunk of time to just write. So, I send this off into space...

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

my welcome letter

This is not my first blog, but the first time I will be dedicating a blog to my black belt journey. I have been studying a style known as Koro Ken (mind/spirit fist) that was created by Sensei Richard Morallo ( It's origins lie in Goju Ryu and is a very beautiful, yet deadly, form of martial arts. My sensei, Sensei Jon Bottomms, is an incredible man who leads his students on this amazing journey. We talk about moving from hara, about kimei, about fajing. Never before have I gained so much insight into myself and what I was capable of doing with my body, mind and spirit. Now I am reaching the first end to this long journey with the training for my black belt. The shiai will be on August 22 and I'm definitely scared, definitely feeling that I won't be prepared, but am definitely, absolutely excited. Martial arts is my life, it's how I live my life, how I interact with people, how I do my job (massage therapy). If any of you who read this have any wisdom on black belt training, please feel free to comment. One of the obstacles, which occurs at the very end of the shiai, is doing 100 pushups. Not a huge hurdle, but one that will be difficult after performing for almost two hours straight. We do a lot of sparring, a lot of kehones, holding horse stance for five minutes of more, a lot of kata and bunkai. I will not be the only one testing, which is a good thing. Another woman and maybe two or three other young martial artists (middle teens) will be testing as well. The more the merrier. This test is not closed to the public, so there will be an audience. Oh, I'm so excited and the whole day I have been thinking how I can step up the training. I also have a husband and a two year old son, so making the time isn't always an option. I often find myself kicking up and down my driveway and doing kata on the grass as my son plays around me. He will often join me in his own way, which is so incredibly cute. Any other karate parents out there? How do you fit your martial arts training in with young children and spouses who do not do karate? My husband often just doesn't understand that I need to participate in more classes, but we're working on that....selfish me...