Category Archives: martial arts

A New Martial Arts Home

Last week ended up being incredibly and unexpectedly busy–and for a spectacular reason.

100_2182I found a new place to train.

This is not a small thing.

I moved to Colorado a year ago, mind.  Though I didn’t spend every moment of the last twelve months seeking out a new dojo-home, I invested a great deal of energy looking up schools and instructors online, asking around, and spending more than a few hours sitting or standing in parking lots watching classes through storefront windows.

That watching-classes part quickly became depressing.  I wasn’t looking at how marvelous the students were.  I was watching how instructors managed their class and interacted with students… and never once came away thinking, “I’m impressed!”  In fact, I never walked away thinking, “Wow, good job.”  I wasn’t looking for a school that taught the exact art I’ve learned for the last fifteen-ish years–that’s impossible for many reasons–but was looking for quality instruction and school community.

Yeah, I’m picky.  And I don’t apologize for it. Continue reading A New Martial Arts Home

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The Expectations and Fault Follow-Up

In the comments to Making the Nice-Guy Challenge a Safe One, mrissa and scallywag195 both shared questions and perspectives I wanted to answer in more detail. That “more detail” ended up being much longer than I thought… but here it is!

Questions from mrissa first:

My question is twofold:

1) In what context would his actions have been reasonable in a class/mat setting? In what context is “respond as though someone who is not in pads etc. is the actual attacker” the correct scenario? If this was a mismatch of reasonable expectations, I am having a hard time seeing where his expectation was reasonable.

The short answer is, “When Sensei says so.” Continue reading The Expectations and Fault Follow-Up

Making the Nice-Guy Challenge A Safe One

In 2013, I made a mistake that still affects my physical abilities—everything from Okinawan weapons training to using a screwdriver.100_2182

Two students, father and son, began classes at my dojo. The son was an energetic eight-year-old. The father was a six-foot-six retired drill sergeant who’d trained in a similar style about twenty years prior, but who wanted to start again as a white belt in order to train with his son, and had observed enough of my classes to decide he wanted me as an instructor. He was the kind of returning student who makes a sensei’s job easier by acknowledging long-ago rank is not a measure of present ability. He was fun, supportive of his son and other students, perfectly respectful, and quick to smile. I liked him. Still do.

As I mentioned in The Snarky Partner, I teach hold escapes not only as a basic self-defense technique, but as foundational training for partner work. That’s what the man and his son were learning, alongside another dozen or so new students. As usual, one of the first escapes I taught was a shoulder-hold escape: the bad guy grabs your shoulder, and you break the hold. It’s a totally simple technique I’ve taught and performed thousands of times. I not only know how to teach it in a few minutes, I know the counters, the means to avoid injury, the importance of release, and so forth. So I worked my way around the circle of young and older students, letting them each try it a couple of times with me as their partner, before reaching the father.

I reached up to take hold of his shoulder with my right hand. Just as I grabbed, a younger student starting spinning in place. I gave the child my attention for two seconds—”John, eyes on Sensei!”—and that’s when the father whipped his arm around to perform the escape.

But he did it as if I were an actual attacker. He grabbed my hand, trapped my wrist, tugged my arm straight, whipped his arm around and brought it down on my elbow with force. Even though I dropped to my knees and fell against his leg (an attempt to put my straightened arm as parallel to his body as possible), everyone heard the crack and snap. Continue reading Making the Nice-Guy Challenge A Safe One

The No-Fun Public Challenge From Strangers

One of my business writing clients is a company headed by twin brothers. Big twin brothers who have worked hands-on construction for almost forty years. On the business side, they’re great clients. On the personal interaction side, they are a great deal of fun. After a recent business lunch that included talk of martial arts, the few-minutes-younger brother asked if I thought I’d “be able to take” the few-minutes-older brother if he tried to attack me. I looked the older brother up and down and smiled. “Sure! My thumb will still fit in his eye socket.”100_2182

There was a moment of surprised silence before the laughter and nodding. It was one of those good-natured exchanges based more on fun curiosity and comfortable friendship than the need to challenge.

But friendship and curiosity aren’t always elements in those conversations, and when they’re absent…

Continue reading The No-Fun Public Challenge From Strangers

Self-defense and Fighting Articles — All Together Now!

By request, I’ve gathered up my fighting and self-defense related articles onto one link-y-filled page.  The page is also listed on the menu now for folks to find more easily.

It isn’t quite complete yet, so I’ll be adding and updating along the way.  And, uncertain how wide a net I wanted to cast, I didn’t include everything that touched on any part of fighting, self-defense, and martial arts.  So if your favorite post isn’t on the list, and you think it ought to be, please let me know!

 

#SFWApro

The Purpose of Kata

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If you talk about martial arts long enough, someone will eventually say, “What’s the point of kata? You can’t use it in a real fight. The only thing kata is good for is tournaments.”

I mightily disagree.

Kata is, in simple terms, a series of choreographed movements — punches and kicks, stances and turns, blocks and attacks and evasions. From the outside, it looks as if one fighter is taking on multiple attackers coming at her, one at a time, from different directions. Many martial arts use them as a training tool, with some arts and schools putting greater emphasis on them than others.

A friend recently asked me about the purpose of kata. I gave a short answer, then realized how different today’s answer was from the answer I might have given ten years ago, or even five years ago. My understanding has changed — not only because of my training, but because of my teaching experience.

At first, kata serves to instill rudimentary body awareness and muscle function. We’re talking very rudimentary here. The student must learn, at the bare minimum, to be aware of and in control of what her body and all its parts are doing at any given moment. Most people can stand up and throw a punch with their left hand, but will not be able to say what the right hand was doing without looking at their right hand. Ask if the knees were bent or straight, or if the chin was lifted or tucked, and she will have no clue. Ask her to keep track of all those things while moving from one technique to the next with at least a smidgeon of intensity, and things quickly fall apart.

Continue reading The Purpose of Kata

Just Us Women

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After a stumble-start last fall, my experiment with a women-only karate class is off to a fantastic new start.  The first class was on Tuesday, with seven women in attendance.

Most uncomfortable moment: Making it clear to my own (male) teacher that he needed to leave the dojo before we started class.  I’d made it clear to the women there would be no men, no husbands, no children in the dojo at all.

Most awesome moment: When everyone walked out the door saying, “See you next class!”

Once upon a time, I was uncomfortable with offering a women-only class.  I’m a staunch believer in men and women training together, and see huge benefits come from that.  Then I chose to listen to the women who expressed a passing interest in karate, but never actually took a class.

Body image.  Fear of judgment.  Fear of failing.  Fear of being the worst one in class.  Discomfort with a physical sport.  Discomfort with being seen enjoying an aggressive sport.  All those reasons and more, I heard over and over from women who murmured their interest in karate to me when no one else would hear them.

I pride myself in creating a safe and supportive environment for new students who are, more often than not, nervous stepping on the mat.  I’ve had kids cry crocodile tears at the start of class, and beg to come back for more by the end of class.  I’ve had adults hesitant at the beginning because of physical limitations realized at the end that I’ll work with them to reach their goals.  But whatever atmosphere my methods and personality create, it wasn’t safe and supportive for a subset of women who wanted karate training enough to mention it, but feared it enough to never try.

So I set out to create that environment.  No men.  No witnesses.  That was a big deal for all of the women who committed to showing up.  Then we talked about the physical stuff, and I shared my Ultimate Karate Dork stories as well as the problems my hip dysplasia caused.  We talked about things women don’t often discuss with men: boobs that get in the way, post-pregnancy body problems, hitting other people.

On the mat, we not only worked hard on technique, but we laughed.  Laughed and shared and enjoyed everyone’s company.  We started on the basics of dojo etiquette, chatted about the boundaries of Sensei-In-Dojo and Blair-In-Supermarket, and acknowledged that it feels very strange to say “Yes, Ma’am/Yes, Sir” at first.  We worked up enough of a sweat that everyone was at least a little sore the next day.  And we spent time listening to one woman sharing an issue she’d been struggling with all day, and we offered support.

Unlike six or seven years ago, when most women I spoke with wanted “self-defense” without all that “karate stuff,” these women want the whole thing.  They want to earn the black belt.  They are working hard, asking questions, making mistakes and corrections.

Three to six months from now, I suspect they’ll all be ready to transition into the standard classes at least once a week.  By then, all those preliminary fears will have been encountered. Best of all, this group of women is helping me refine these ideas by giving me honest feedback.

…and I have to back up, because my hopes are running away with me. 🙂  The true test will be how many of those seven women commit to a longer-term program.  The decision point will be this coming Thursday.

In the meantime, I am thrilled with the two classes we’ve had so far.  I come home happy, energized, and grinning.  It feels like the beginning of a community.

And in the writing news, I suddenly wondered if I should end Sand of Bone 20K words deeper into the larger story.  This is not all that helpful to my stress level, alas.