Monday, June 30, 2008


Where does fear come from exactly? Is it purely an instinctual reaction or something much deeper, and is there such a thing as deeper than instinct? The fight or flight reaction is based in the instinctual part of our brain and surfaces in times of extreme stress, but does fear also reside in the same house? There seem to be so many levels that contribute to this response: the instant fear, the phobia, the I-should-really-be-afraid kind of fear.
When I began my karate journey I was afraid to perform solo in front of the class. After a while, through diligence and repetition, that fear eventually subsided. However, there's still the hint of sweaty palms, the racing heart beat every single time I get up in front of the class to perform a kata alone. Fear, in that sense, remains instinctual. I don't think about it, don't recognize that I'm afraid, yet I still feel the anxious body reaction as I stand in front of the class, ready to spring forth like a tiger.
There was also the fear surrounding sparring with another person. In our dojo the introduction to sparring for new students is with bunkai. This means one person throwing a specified strike and the other performing a specified defense technique or combination of techniques. The fight or flight response was so present when I was new to bunkai, and yet again I still feel it insinuate itself into my stomach to this very day.
Fear is a very complex emotion and to overcome that fight or flight response, the dumping of adrenaline and cortisol, is a very difficult thing to do. These days I enjoy sparring, although not the heavy kind where you need gear in order to prevent serious injury. I find that slow-flow is a much better way to hone sparring skills because you work on controlling the adrenaline dump, are actually forced to, in order to remain calm and relaxed. As soon as you stiffen up the fight or flight response has won and the energy it takes to get back to center can wear you right out.

There is also a whole other type of fear, the one related to your children. My son is an extremely active boy, climbing, running, dare deviling. With each of those actions I find my heart thumping against my chest, my palms sweating up a storm. I often have to control the impulse to go scoop him up in order to prevent him from slamming his head into the ground or falling off of a rock. There have been bruises and bumps, but that's all a part of growing up. With him there seems to be very little fight or flight involved in many of his actions.
The desire to experience far outweighs the desire to prevent injury.
He's three. Where does this begin to change?
I love the fact that he's so active and willing to explore, yet at the same time I keep finding more gray hairs underneath the red than I would like. It also takes an immense amount of energy to control the adrenaline dump when you are a parent. Perhaps this is why I have found it easier to do in karate class lately. I get plenty of practice at home.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

What I did on my summer vacation

I was here. It was good. Seriously, vacation was much-needed and it's too bad that it couldn't have been a bit longer. However, there is only so much time one can spend with one's family before one gets really agitated. I spent Tuesday through Saturday of this past week at this amazing lake house with my entire family. We go there every summer at the end of June. This house sleeps at least 30, so there's plenty of space, but three crazy kids and six crazier adults can make for an exhausting time. Don't get me wrong, folks, I had a wonderful vacation. We had one solid day of rain and the rest was sunny and partly sunny. Not bad for early summer in Vermont. I was also able to attend a karate class (man, I just can't let it go, even for one darn week....) at the mother dojo. It was so amazing. The class was a toughie and focused primarily on kihones, especially kage uke along with sebake and sudiash and following through with a seiken tsuki. We then translated that while receiving a punch to the head, using the kage uke and striking with mawashe tsuki to the temple, jaw or carotid artery. I lucked out and worked with Sensei Morallo, and it was so worth the time. He showed me how to root down with my rear leg and send the chi shooting up through the leg, up the back, along my scapula, down my arm and through my fist. The result was an effortless punch that packed a huge amount of power. This was the first time I was actually able to get it to work. I rocked the Sensei, yay me! Now I know how this man can send another man flying across the room with apparently no strength. My plan is to go to this same class every other week so that I can train with him in order to supplement the training with my Sensei. The two together will add so much to what I'm trying to learn before I move. What was so wonderful about this experience is that I finally "got" how to translate hara into my strikes and not just my movements. It was just a simple twist of the knee and hip, that's all it took.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hara you doin'

Recently I've been thinking a lot about how connecting with hara really, really improves your karate. It's a simple thing really: move from hara and the move is effortless. For me it's happened a lot lately, mostly when I'm teaching a technique to someone else. When I'm in that situation I'm not thinking about how the move works, I just do it. I show how the technique is supposed to go and spend no time thinking about it. It's the thinking that hinders performance. When my brain gets too involved in the technique it doesn't work the way it needs to. In our style both hard and soft movements are incorporated into the self-defense techniques. Go too hard and the technique falls apart. Go too soft and the technique has no substance. Somewhere in the middle lies a technique that originates from hara. For most of my karate career this has been an elusive feeling. It is now not quite so elusive, but in trying to teach someone else how to move from hara the "mysterious" properties have resurfaced themselves. It's really not magical but completely practical. However, how do you describe to someone who has no idea how to move in a karate way how to move in a karate way using hara? It's damn difficult. The thing is, you can't put your brain into it in that way, either. You just do it.

So, have you ever incorporated plyometrics into your martial arts training? We did the other day in class. Plyometrics are very exhausting, I tell you! Today my left calf is so sore I have a slight limp (yeah, yeah, poor me, I know. Don't cry for me, baby! I do this to myself...) and going down stairs is slightly challenging. I suppose it's time to incorporate them on a regular basis. They really are a beautiful thing, and for what they give you muscle performance-wise, it's worth the initial pain. The series we did incorporated an aerobic step. We jumped onto the top from a squat position, we jumped up and over from a squat position, we jumped up and over with a turn from a squat position. This and more. Ugh, it was awesome!

Well, I'm off to lovely Lake Bomoseen this week for some rest and hopefully relaxation. I plan on doing much playing about in the water, finishing a few knitting projects (I start them and never finish because I move onto something else. Hey, I get bored!) and read many books. It will also give me a chance to visit the "mother" dojo (I really have to find the right name for that) to train and talk to Sensei Morallo about opening up my own Koro Ken dojo. Ooo, so exciting!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

This weekend I took my son to his first movie. It was purely a selfish act, I'll admit that now. We saw "Kung Fu Panda". This was one great movie, with a simple, yet profound lesson for all you serious martial artists out there (and you know who you are...). Profound? In animation? Yes! It's a must-see, go now. Skadoosh!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

What color do you wear?

Today I meandered on over to Charles James Sensei's blog and found a very, very interesting thing. The message was clear: not everyone who wears a black belt really IS a black belt. It got me thinking, am I a black belt or do I just wear one? My training over nine years has consisted of so much repetition, so many kicks, so many punches, and many, many rounds of kata. Does that time warrant me wearing a black belt? Recently I've begun looking back to how I felt when I first began karate, but it has been hard for me to re-capture the feeling of being really new. Now that I wear a black belt, do I feel a different kind newness? When I train now I always look to the new feelings that crop up with old moves. I'm constantly aware of how I'm moving, constantly aware that there is still so much for me to learn. There's also this itch to go so much further, and how does that happen? To me this signifies that I am a black belt. If I just wore a black belt, I believe that all of my actions would come from ego-elephantitis. I see it in my dojo, and it's not pretty. Not many have this, but when I see it I think that where I am coming from is so different. For me my training is about improving spirit, improving movement, improving skill, but also keeping myself humble and open to learning from my kohai. If I keep in mind that I'm always a new student whenever I enter the dojo, my training will always show me new things. This does not make the shodan path any easier to follow. In fact it has made it so much harder. I relish that difficulty because it makes me stronger.

You may have noticed that I deleted a few posts. When I wrote them I was coming from a place of anger and frustration. I feel that now I have resolved the issue I no longer need to be reminded of what happened. Going through that experience and conquering those feelings of inadequacy really moved me along in my training. I feel more confident in my teaching, more true to myself as a martial artist. I am indeed a black belt and earned every ounce of it. That, of course, does not make me an expert. On the contrary, I'm still a newbie.