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 now...at 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 (koroken.com). 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...