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!