//08// Breaking Bad Habits

8 Jul

For some reason we’re on summer break at my dojo and it’s been really interesting! Last year I managed to keep running around but this year I’ve been taking it easy and let me tell you, it’s something I could get used to.

We have two weeks with no classes. After my last kids’ class before the break I was so sad that I wouldn’t get to see the kids for two weeks. I reminded them to practice, practice, practice. Then the next class time rolled around and I was still at work. The pang of longing was there but not as strong as I expected to be. In fact, I got to used to it pretty quickly. I work better at night anyway. So it’s been a whole week of work and then doing nothing but relaxing after class. Or maybe going to the mall, which is bad. I only filled up my gas tank once the entire week which is unheard of in my normal life. I can tell you, I could definitely get used to it. But that would mean never going to class again. Of course, that’s not what I want. So this lazy lifestyle cannot turn into a bad habit.

A couple of weeks before my second degree black belt test my Sensei and I had a talk. She said that she had this discussion with all the future black belts before their tests. She wanted to talk about things that I could improve. Only she was having some trouble coming up with any.

I was more than happy to help her out with a laundry list of things I needed to improve. Like my shuto blocks aren’t chambered correctly every time. Or my back stance could be a bit off. And my feet directly underneath my knees could be a problem. And I have a bent wrist issue on things like high block. And I need to keep my hands up more consistently while sparring. Well, the list goes one. But Sensei said she wasn’t talking about physical things but rather what I could improve on as a human being. Well, I’m not a perfect person either so we came up with a few things but I was still thinking about my other bad habits as I prepared for my test.

The thing about habits is once it’s a habit it’s very hard to break. I’ve had some of these bad habits for years and it really worries me, especially being an instructor for impressionable young children. Every time the kids are doing something in a funny way and the other black belts are like, they need to correct this & that, I cringe inside because I feel like it’s a direct result of my bad habits. Like I’m the example they see but I’m not perfect. So it worries.

Of course, it’s way easier to correct others than to break your own bad habits. So the foot angle I have to constantly worry about is easy to point out in others. But there’s a big difference between saying it and doing it. Sometimes I think the visual a more effective teaching tool, especially when speaking to children who just may not have the vocabulary to understand what’s really important.

So what’s the best way to break a bad habit? Get hit in the head a few times? Well that’s already happened to me so I’m not sure it’s the best method. I just have to think about it constantly in my quieter moments, especially when we’re going through the basics. I think my favorite thing to do in class is drills, just punches and kicks up and down the room, back and forth. It gives you time to actually think about what’s going on. Of course, you can’t practice the basics too much. While you’re sparring or in the middle of the kata there just isn’t the same amount of thinking time.

The other place where I practice on my basics is when I practice on my own. That’s something I’ll need to do more of. Just looking in the mirror and really studying myself. The other part of it is having others help me figure out what I’m doing wrong. It’s not enough to just look at myself all of the time. My dad encouraged me to do this while I was practicing for my last test. He has a good point.

As simple as it is to pick up bad habits it’s that much harder to break them. That’s why I encourage my students not to start in with their bad habits. I try to get them to break it right away– which is easier said than done. There’s one little girl who’s getting those elbows out in his fighting stance but through some knowing glances I think she’ll be able to break herself out of that one. And I know it’ll be the same for me.

Only one more week of break left!


//07// To Cross-Train or Not to Cross-Train

1 Jul

Hiatus from the dojo means an un-hiatus from the blog. Hello again! It’s been a long time since I’ve updated this thing. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think about my lovely little blog which I hardly wrote in. How I love it so!

Anyway, since the last time I posted I’ve hosted a lot of other special games for my kids’ class. The kids keep changing but I still love it as much as ever. The class is a bit on the small side right now but I’m excited because we’ve got kids advancing, which is the best part. I just want to see them all go further and further until we all reach that elusive shodan level which is a lot less exciting once you get there.

The other thing keeping my class exciting is the different assistant instructors I have, keeping it interesting. If there’s anything that’s most important to me when I’m teaching it’s not so much the moves, because I’ve got those down, but it’s the people helping me that really makes the class worthwhile. Even though we have a small class its wonderful to have the kids be able to get one-on-one attention and I really like using the small-group format in order to address the different levels in the class. When you’ve only got one instructor in a mixed-level class you almost always have to default to what our sensei refers to as “the lowest common denominator” meaning that the higher ranks aren’t always getting the challenge they’re looking for, which can be frustrating for everyone. It’s hard fitting everything into 45 minutes twice a week but I’m doing my best.

Also, I recently tested for my 2nd dan, which went well. More on that later. Now that I’m a second-degree black belt I’m thinking about what I can do next. When it comes to martial arts I like a concrete goal. For the first six years of my training it was getting to black belt. For the past 18 months of my training it was about getting to second-degree. Now, I’ve done it. So what now?

Of course, third-degree is the next logical step but there’s a waiting (training) period of three years before I can test. Those three years will be spent further strengthening my technique because I have a lot way to go before I can feel fully satisfied. I want to hear my gi snap everytime I do a shuto strike. I’m pretty slow with doing the 10-move hand strike combination that I do every single day (lol). My foot angles still need work, especially on front kick. For some reason when I do a side kick on my left side I have a really hard time looking over my shoulder. The list goes on and on. But I think another thing I was to address are not only my weaknesses but my fears when it comes to certain aspects of the style I study.

For example, I really don’t like close range fighting at all. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I’m a strong kicker and I have pretty long legs & I’m pretty flexible with my kicks so I’ve found that doing an intimidating kick to the head and then keeping my opponent a leg’s length away from me is my favorite way to spar. But unfortunately (or fortunately) there are a few people at my dojo who have figured this out so if they get in on my kicks and come in close they can take advantage of my obvious weakness. I really need to be better at close-in fighting. Plus, it’s more applicable to real-life. But I hardly ever wear my mouth guard!

Another skill I need to improve are my take-downs. My sweeps are pretty hit-or-miss and I hate to be thrown. Falling is not my favorite thing to do, at all, which means I’m also pretty lousy at teaching it. But it’s an important skill and throws are important to. I feel like I understand how it should be done but when it comes to doing it in the moment, I still need work.

So when it comes to issues such as these I think about what to do. One thing I’ve been considering is cross-training. Maybe I need to find a style that focuses more on these problem areas and will force me to improve. Something like Judo or Brazilian Ju-Jitsu which just about sounds like my worse nightmare. I think at some point I’ll have to try something different. I’ve studied three styles already and while each are different at the same time they’re pretty similar or in the same hemi-sphere of martial arts. What if I went into something completely different? Something I’ve barely even heard of before? What would that be like?

Our sensei shared with us an interesting article about “different kids of martial art students” and there were some interesting points. One of the types was “the drifter” which is someone who flits from style to style looking for something different. Sometimes I wonder if that’s me except I’d like to conquer whatever style I got into. But then again, cross training is a very important part of being a martial artist. I look at all the grandmasters out there and I feel like they all have studied something different, at least once. It’s not a bad thing and luckily, my sensei understands that. So we’ll be having some upcoming guest instructors which is really fun and also intimidating. Starting from the bottom isn’t something I’ve had to do for a long time but I think if I make the commitment to cross-training in another style then it’ll make me a stronger martial artist and eventually, I’ll be worthy of my third degree black belt.

//06// How I Put the PAR-TAY in KA-RA-TAY: A Photo Essay

29 Apr

[randomness] A fond farewell to my Idol favorite Casey Abrams. Sad to see you go but I’ll see you on tour!


Last week, I had a vision. I said, I’m going to make a karate scavenger hunt for my kids’ class. I think I actually said it out loud. Whoever heard me probably chalked it up to the crazy things that I say but I was serious.

The only question was… how?

I did the smart thing. I googled “how to create a karate scavenger hunt.” Of course, the search results were less than helpful. I googled “how to create a scavenger hunt.” There’s so much enthusiasm about scavenger hunts on the internet. Yes, people love them! But the instructions for how to DO it were murky at best. I clicked through a few pages and then gave it.

I knew it’d be up to me.

Now, this was a project. But one thing karate teaches you is that if you commit to a goal you can achieve it. I was committed to this.

We have a lot to cover in kids’ class. I only see the kids twice a week for 45 minutes and there’s always more to do. I’ve been the main instructor since November and by now I’ve got a really great core group of kids who have been coming regularly for at least three months. There are a few students who have been coming for years and then a couple of newbies. The challenge was making a scavenger hunt that could cater to all of them. This was a scavenger hunt. I had to think about what they would find.

I don’t want my karate games to just exist in a vacuum of fun with no basis in what we’re doing on the mats. The trick is to tie everything we learned previously into the game. It’s another way to apply karate skills. So I wanted to tie almost all of the blocks, strikes, kicks, combination, self defense, etiquette and basic kata moves that the white belts had learned so far into this scavenger hunt. It would be sort of like a final exam, but fun, without any finality or a grade. Well, it wasn’t a final exam at all but what I mean is that I wanted this scavenger hunt to be comprehensive. I wanted the kids to really think about–and discover–what it is that they learned in karate. I bet that they would know more than they thought.

So I sat down and I thought of 20 items for the scavenger hunt. It wasn’t a scavenger hunt so much in the fact that they had to find a bunch of things hidden in the dojo. Rather, it was more of a series of tasks that they had to figure out and complete. This was my list:

— Draw a picture of the Japanese flag
— Everyone does the 10 move hand combination with each other
— break a yellow and orange board
— Any Self Defense, kids choose their own
— Everyone does as many round kicks one one leg as they can on a target
— side/spin side kicks on a large target
— front kick in the air
— Bow to all the black belts who are around
— everyone does a kick/punch combination on the bob
— find one of the balls outside
— do the first 8 moves of white belt new age
— perform a break fall
— write down all the belt ranks in order
— find your instructor and take a picture with her
— Everyone performs blocks against a bat that the team leader strikes them with
— everyone has to jump 4 times over a blocker
— everyone reports one helpful thing they did that week (write it down)
— meditation for a minute
— draw all the belt stripes on a belt with the last one on the top
— sparring drill, partner up and they have to move towards and away from each other and do a strike or kick three times back and forth

Yes, there are a couple of vanity items on there. But I wanted to take a picture with the kids. And hey, people bowing to me never hurts anything.

On Tuesday, we prepared for the scavenger hunt by practicing kicks, self defense, 10 move hand combination (a series of 10 hand strikes you do in a specific order), and learning break falls. Of course, the kids didn’t know they were preparing for it. The game was a surprise.

So I looked over my list and then I had to figure out what to do with it. Was I just going to list everything individually or was I going to write some clues? I decided to make it interesting and write all the tasks as clues. Then at 2:30am on the night before my Thursday class I decided to make all of these clues rhyme.

So I wrote out a list of 20 clues for my scavenger hunt. The clues included gems such as:

It’s the kick where you strike not with your toes or your knee, but your heel. Use this kick three times on a large target so you can get a feel. Here’s a choice before you begin. If you want you can give this kick a spin!

A combination means kick, punch, one, two, three. Now make up a fighting combination to share with me. Once you’ve figured out how your team is going to block, strike and dodge, give this combination a try on the nearest bob.

Sometimes gravity takes us out of the air and even though this may not be fair maybe you won’t get hurt at all if you can demonstrate the proper way to fall.

And so on. 20 of them. It was late! Everything sounds more fun when it rhymes. If you want to read more, let me know. But that’s enough.

On Tuesday, I also promised the kids a party. So along with the scavenger hunt I decided to make a few treats to bring in the next day. Who said girls who take karate can’t cook?! (Actually, this one can’t… but she tried!)

Baking also gave me an excuse to try out my new camera.

I decided to make my fave treats: triple chocolate chunk and anything funfetti!

I decided to make my fave treats: triple chocolate chunk brownies and anything funfetti!

My workspace sure was organized!

I carefully mixed the three ingredients!

It looked pretty good before it baked.

But it looked even better after! (I don’t know why my mouth is so wide)

funfetti mix
The funfetti cookies were next. That mix is so white. There are sprinkles inside!

fun mix
More mixing…

The cookies came out the oven like magic!

Yay! Now it was a real party with all sorts of junk food so that we could ruin whatever calories we burned in karate immediately after the class.

I arrived early at class to set up for the scavenger hunt. I had the list with me.

scavenger hunt list
(the sunglasses are just cool.)

I set up the different stations so that the kids could do the kicks on the target or whatever they needed to do.

We’ve got a big target for side kicks and a blocker for jumping over in these corners…

… and plastic boards for breaking and a bat so the teachers can attack the kids! (Hopefully, they’ll block)

writing station
This is the writing station, where they drew a picture of the Japanese flags, colored in belt stripes, things like that. I got a real kick out of it when I heard one kid exclaim “We need to go to the writing station!” Or maybe I called it the drawing station. Something like that. We had markers!

Isn’t our dojo pretty?

Before class the kids were very curious about what was going on since I announced that we would be doing something special. They tried to weasel the information out of me but I stay tight-lipped. I was running around so I could finish up the set up. I forgot to hide the balls! But finally everything settled down and we lined up.

kids before class
The kids are listening to the weekly announcements. (We also have parents in the class, which is awesome.)

This whole scavenger hunt would not have been possible without my assistant teachers. I’m lucky enough to have three who come consistently every week and I’m always amazed they’d help me out like that. I don’t think I could function without them. Since I had three teachers I decided to divide the class up into three teams with each teacher leading a team. We had the Pink team, the Blue team and the Purple team. I let the kids pick their own teams. I was a little worried but the teams actually turned out almost perfectly. I don’t think I could have done a better job if I assigned everyone to teams myself. One important thing about karate is building personal relationships. Karate is a place where you meet people who you probably never would have talked to if you saw them on the street or had a class with them or something like that. I am pleased about the different friendships that are developing in class.

Then I described the rules of the scavenger hunt and shouted “GO!” (Not sure if this actually happened but it should have.)

I didn’t give the kids a lot of direction. I didn’t give the teachers a lot of direction. I just handed them the clues and said go for it. But I did give the teachers a page of answers to all the clues just in case they needed some clarification. I kept an eye on everyone in case they needed some help or if some of the kids needed to be reminded that they had to focus.The teams could complete the tasks in whatever order they wanted. The purple team headed outside to do the outdoor activities first while the other two teams stayed on the mats.

The Purple Team was our only kids only team. Comprised of some of the older kids in the class, I favored them to win, especially since they went outside to complete those tasks first. The kids took charge of the list and their teacher wandered after them, lackadaisically.

The Pink Team was a father/son, mother/daughter team with a strong leader. They seemed to take a strategic approach to the list, working their way through all the stations rather quickly. I was worried because we had about five minutes left and they hadn’t gone outside yet… dun dun dun.

The Blue Team had the youngest members of the class (along with our youngest teacher) but a couple of strong moms who really saved the team. I helped them out the most, just reminded the kids to focus and help their team out (and get off the exercise equipment!). My favorite part was when they were trying to figure out what order to put the belt stripes in. (There really was no correct answer.)

I watched the scavenger hunt unfold.


There were a lot of discussions about what the clues meant.

All of the group did their break falls…

more falling
… more falling …

… we’ll have to work on those.

The kids broke boards…




… but sometimes the mom just has to do it!


The kids jumped over a blocker


Let me tell you, that’s tough!

self defense

Gotta look intense with those self-defense moves. Grrrrrr!

10 move
There’s always time for instruction about how to do the 10 move hand combination.

time to block
Time to block the bat!

Everyone lines up for a turn!

side kicks

Side kicks on a target was a crucial one to complete.



There were lots of gatherings around the writing station!

So much going on. The clock tick-tocked away. Class was actually over time. I was about to tell everyone to stop when one little boy came running up to me. His team had completed everything.

THE PINK TEAM WON!!!!!!!!!!! Underdogs, but they prevailed. It was wonderful.

Then it was time for celebration!





We had a really nice party, just talking and eating and taking pictures afterward. The people from the next class joined us. Usually the energy level in the dojo is high after Kids’ Class but that day it was REALLY high. It seemed like everyone was a little hyper. Our next instructor had to bang the gong and calm us down before we started the next class (that I take). But it was fun!

Things that I learned:

1. I probably need to go over the scavenger hunt rules with the teachers more thoroughly next time.
2. Next time I will ramp it up so that it’s even MORE active with the things the kids have to do.
3. Writing rhyming clues is pretty fun!
4. Even with a new camera I’m a bad photographer. The sports mode on my new camera is LAME.
5. Wearing sunglasses hooked to the front of your gi makes no sense.
6. Next time I will keep a closer eye on all of the groups so I can better assess where they are at by watching them do something like a kata with little assistance.
7. Pizzazz is a funny word.
8. The parents in my class are super helpful.
9. Making something from a box still counts as cooking.
10. The next big activity/party will have to be even BETTER.

So all in all it was a great time. Karate is a serious sport but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun sometimes. As long as the games keep the kids engaged in their martial arts training I think that it’s a good idea. I’m going to keep racking my brain so I can push my class further. I love the unexpected creativity you can find in karate. It’s a wonderful outlet to figure out how you can create something new.

The most important thing that I learned is my assistant teachers are awesome. They always go with the flow and never question my crazy/unexplained ideas. We make a very good team. Check us out!


//05// Say Yes to the Dojo

27 Apr

[currently watching] The Season Premiere of the Voice! If it’s a reality TV show about singing… I’ve watched it.


For me, Tuesdays are usually a good day. First of all, it’s not Monday. It’s one of my favorite days to recruit at work. It’s a good night for TV (although now that Idol has moved to Wednesdays it’s just not the same… but still a good night). And most of all, it’s the first day of the week that I teach my kids’ class at karate. I look forward to Tuesdays.

One thing that we have to teach the kids is that the dojo has certain rules. I’m not a very formal/serious person in everyday life. I’m pretty silly and easy-going. However, there is a certain amount of formality required at the dojo. It’s kind of nice having to act somewhat differently from how I would in other situations. Of course, the point is that your good manners in the dojo will become part of every day life and your identity as a martial artist.

When a black belt enters the dojo someone is supposed to yell “Chareyut!” (attention in Korean) and then everyone in the dojo bows toward the black belt. I’ve had my black belt for about 10 days now so I think people still say that with some special enthusiasm. It makes me feel bashful and amused at the same time. I’m not sure either of those are the right emotions. But the kids are very gung-ho about bowing. Whenever I ask them a question about things they should do when they enter the dojo they can tell me a hundred million reasons to bow. Bow at the door. Bow before coming on the mats. Bow when you leave the mats. Bow to the black belts. Bow to the instructors. Bow going out the door. Oh yeah, bow when you come in the door. Bow to Sensei. Bow when you’re coming on the mats even if you already came on the mats before. Bow if you think about coming off the mat. Bow if you see your instructor climbing a tree. I’m like, all right, enough with the bowing already. What else?!

I’m still happy that the kids can tell me about bowing because it is very important. It’s a sign of respect and the people you bow to have earned it. At my old dojo my sensei said that you should bow deeper if you’re the lower belt and keep your eyes on the floor. I keep that in mind. The kids know all about bowing but it’s one thing to know it and another thing to do it. We’re still working on that. Even I have to remind myself to bow bow bow especially on nights when all the black belts are in class. (It’s not like there’s 20… it’s more like 7. But still!)

Karate uses a special language and not just because we’re learning Japanese and Korean terminology. Yes is not the same in the dojo as it is at home. You don’t just say “yes” to mean that you agree. In the dojo you say “yes” to signify that you understand, you’re listening, you’re taking this all in and that all boils down to proving that you’re paying attention. You say “yes” to let the instructor know that you appreciate and respect the time and the effort they are putting into helping you become a stronger martial artist. It also keeps you engaged. I know I tend to get a little spacey in class. It’s not that I’m not thinking about the karate–I am– but sometimes I get caught up in my own thoughts about what I’m doing or watching for all my bad habits in the mirror. Having to say something—“Yes, sir!” or “Yes, Ma’am!”–reminds me about where I am and what I’m doing and what I should be watching. It helps keep me focused and it could work that way for everyone.

At my dojo we use “osu” which is a Japanese term. I had never heard of it before this dojo. Saying the word felt strange. I didn’t like to say it because it was so awkward to me. You say it like “OH-SSS” like a bark and then a snake hiss (because you usually say with some enthusiasm, usually loudly, at least that’s how I use it most of time). That sounds kind of crude. It’s a nicer word than that. But I felt funny using osu so I’d opt for the clunkier, longer “Yes, ma’am”, “Yes, sir”, “Yes, Sensei” and the like. Until one day the word just clicked with me. Osu! I just loved it. That’s literally how it happened. One day I was like, wow, I really like saying this word and I’m going to start using it forever. A switch flipped in my brain. Now I use it all the time. Now it really feels like I’m part of dojo when I yell Osu? at my kids and glare until they repeat it after me.

But where does osu come from? I did a quick google of “yes in japanese” and all the first results were “there is no word for yes in japanese.” Of course, that was strange to me because I thought osu meant yes. So I did a follow up search and I came up with this interesting essay.

There are plenty of times when you should not use “Osu!” toward other people. Those rules are pretty simple, but there are quite a few of them. To simplify things, �Osu� neither means “Yes� nor “I understand”, although sometimes it is used that way. �Hai� or �Onegaishimasu� deems more appropriate. You don’t use “Osu!” toward women, since women in Japan, being addressed by men, should be treated in a certain polite way. Not toward strangers also. “Osu!” is an in-group expression, so it is appropriate to use it toward your own group of friends, and inappropriate to use it toward those you have a more distant, polite relationship.

Okay, so that whole essay pretty much contradicted everything I thought I knew about the term. But it’s an interesting read. It said that osu could be a contraction for a couple of different expressions and that it is a masculine word and a word used during athletic activity. It said that the Japanese wouldn’t use the term with women or to answer a question. I said osu to my female sensei today answering a question. Huh.

I think this warrants more research. But I don’t have time for that tonight. In the end, the dojo rules matter the most. Like I said, there’s a different language in the dojo and it includes osu in the way our sensei has taught us to use it, a way that has most likely been handed down through generations. I like the history in the traditions of the dojo, I like being one of the people who is trusted to uphold those traditions and teach them to the next generation. I need to get tougher with my kids about bowing and saying “yes!” in the special dojo way. I want them to bring this knowledge that they need to respect and listen to people who want to teach them to every part of their lives.

Of course, it’s always awkward when you say osu! to the cashier when you go buy something after class. But maybe that’s just me….

//04// Finding the Water Element

26 Apr

[fun fact] Dancing with the Stars has the most annoying music in the history of reality TV dance shows. Currently hiding from it in my room.


I have a confession to make. I don’t currently study KARATE. I do a style that’s a mix of Shotokan Karate, Tae Kwon Do and Tai Chi.

But it’s my blog so I’ll call it karate for short.

Now I know about karate. I got my first black belt in Isshinryu Karate. I know about Tae Kwon Do. Kicking is my favorite!

It’s the Tai Chi part that gets me.

A couple of weeks ago Sensei had us do an exercise in class. I don’t remember what we were doing exactly but it was like some strike or block that we were doing slowly, deliberately and she said to visualize that we were underwater. I visualized, all right. I felt like I was drowning. 1) Because I imagined the water was over my head and I’m not a particularly good swimmer and 2) because I’m not very in touch with my chi.

Sensei calls it the water element. It’s all about flow and breathing and fluidity. This is kind of a foreign concept to me. I knew about chi before, of course. You gathered your chi before starting a kata. It’s part of the kiyai, part of the belt, that spirit inside of you. I knew about it on the surface but I had never focused on what it really meant before. I was all about harder, faster. How much power can I put into something? How can I be stronger? I was about speed and power through brute force. In order to keep up with the guys I wanted to be strong. Force and speed was always the most important thing to me. I think that’s why sparring as been more of a strength of mine than kata (my sister always beat me in every tournament) even though I really do like katas.

I’m missing the water element.

Fire and water, two conflicting elements that need to work in harmony. How do I maximize the water and maximize the fire? Or is there always going to be give and take?

(Wikipedia tried to give me a definition for “chi-square distribution” when I typed in chi. NO! Leave the statistics at home please.)

Chi came up in weapons class today. Sensei chose me to help demonstrate, which I thought was mind-boggling. She wanted us to practice using someone’s momentum against them. I watched her do it to me wide eyed as she kept my energy going forward and struck me in some vulnerable area. Of course, I’m familiar with parrying and moving off to the side of some attack, stopping them cold with a nice round kick straight in the solar plexus or something. But this was something different. It really was using their force, their energy against them, feeling it and then using it for your own advantage. Letting that strike come into you and then taking the control instead of stopping the strike and adding your own force into the mix. With this kind of defense it wasn’t so much about the strength of your block but the ability to focus and anticipate and feel–really feel–what was happening with the other person’s body and your own.

We practiced with out partners. I got the direction of the flow wrong a couple of times even though it’s so obvious, especially since we were striking with the speed of a three legged turtle. It just wasn’t wired in my brain. I wanted to stop and strike, stop and strike, power, strength, rawr rawr rawr. This was more about patience. Sometimes I don’t have enough patience.

Last week we used Tai Chi swords (wooden) and did something similar. We touched swords and then one partner had to follow the movement of the leader. The swords had to stay touching. It was difficult following each other but also kind of cool when Sensei was my partner because she knew what she was doing so that always makes it easier. She also showed us another way to use someone else’s chi against them. Is that even the right way to think about it? I’m still figuring this out.

I started learning my next kata for my black belt and Sensei said the tough part was finding the balance between the fire and the water element. So this–the water element, the chi, and me–is my next challenge.

//03// Why I Got a Pedicure Before My Black Belt Test

24 Apr

[Currently Listening to:] Degrassi! It’s the last episode of the season, omg!


Last time I posted I was getting ready for my black belt test at my new dojo. It was about seven months in the making. I joined the dojo in August and worked hard at learning all the new katas. I actually love learning katas so this was a great time for me. I couldn’t believe there were two katas per belt. That’s a lot of katas… more than I’d ever learned before. It seemed overwhelming! But I chugged along, learning kata after kata after kata. I slowed down during November and December with the holidays. Then in January we were having a tournament so I spent most of the month trying to perfect the purple belt kata I decided to compete with (I was going to do blue but then I saw the 9 year old doing it better than me so I nixed that, lol). Finally in February I really committed myself to learning the brown belt katas. I finished learned them and announced it to my Sensei. She was like, great, so let’s get you to test!

I was like, uh-oh.

But this was what it was all leading up to, right? We picked a date about six weeks away. Sensei sent me an email with all the test requirements and I read it at work and had the closest thing to a panic attack I hopefully ever have. I had to walk away from my desk and hide in the bathroom. I thought I was going to cry. I was like, how am I ever going to do this? Why did I agree to do this in six weeks?! I wasn’t going to remember, wasn’t strong enough, didn’t want to. Karate wasn’t that serious! It’s just a hobby! Hadn’t I already proven myself? I went through a variety of emotions in a couple of hours and then finally I came around to acceptance and replied to the email to confirm the date.

Everyone was full of advice but of course they couldn’t tell me exactly how to prepare for my test. I knew it would be a test of endurance so I started running. I practiced my katas and self defense moves. I had to invent a kata and I needed to invent three self-defense moves that I had always slacked on. So I finally finished inventing my kata about two weeks before the test and then invented the self-defense moves around the same time (I just couldn’t think of anything that was really cool!).

I practiced my katas after running a long distance (for me) in parking lots and on the high school track, messing up the moves, not putting any power into it, mixing orange with my invented, green with blue, purple with brown, screwing up the white belt ones. I looked at the sky above me and I was like HOW AM I EVER GOING TO DO THIS?!

Two weeks before the test we started doing fitness tests in class and I hurt my right thigh, stretching it the wrong way or something. It was an ache that wouldn’t go away. I was having a hard time standing for my job the next day, rubbing IcyHot and Aspercreme on it and praying that it would go away. I mostly took that week off from karate and practicing but my anxiety continued to build.

I got back into class and I could still use my right leg even tho it felt funny so I was like, okay. I’m going to practice every day this week. Of course I didn’t. Finally, I got it together on Wednesday, speeding through my katas so I wouldn’t be late for American Idol. Thursday was really helpful because I practiced all the katas before I taught my class and during class that night. (And had this illuminating conversation: “Do you know the names of all the katas?” “Yeah!” “What’s the name of this one?” “Blah blah blah.” “Uh… that’s not it.” “I hate my life.”)

I was useless at work on Friday, the day before my test, but I made a decision.

I was going to get my nails painted red.

I remember watching a Behind-The-Scenes special about High School Musical on Disney Channel one night. Director Kenny Ortega explained the final scene of HSM1. This one!

He said that he thought red was a power color and that he wanted everyone wearing red and white and the walls painted red to give the scene really good, high, positive energy. Ever since then I’ve been convinced that red is a power color and since it’s the color of my dojo and my favorite color to wear I knew it would be the perfect way to power me through my black belt test.

So I got my pedicure and dutifully studied my terminology as the kind woman dealt with my feet (except for the part when she scrubbed the bottom of my feet with that loofa bar, which is horrible if you’re ticklish and the part where she cracked my toes, which is horrible if you’re me) and painted my toes and then we did the manicure and I messed up my nails trying to get my keys out of my purse. Even with my power color activated I still wasn’t completely relaxed. I knew I knew the self defense moves and the katas (and now the names of the katas!) and the terminology/knowledge items pretty well but something was holding me back.

The pushups.

I planned to practice them. I even bought a yoga mat! But… I never really got around to practicing those pushups except for the one time I did 47 in a row and then collapsed on the mat in anguish. I was really worried about those push-ups because I knew it wouldn’t be pretty.

Everyone told me that the black belt test was designed to break you down, to exhaust you and then make you push further, use your inner-strength. But what they didn’t say is that the test is also designed so that people see you struggling. I didn’t want anyone to see me struggling through my push-ups. I hate for anyone to see me when I’m less than my best. Whenever I’m having a bad moment it’s time for me to disappear. My worst fear was about to come true in less than 24 hours.

I woke up on the day of the test and laid in bed for a little while. My dad gave me a pep talk over the phone and my mom texted me and my aunt was excited and I just wanted to get it over with.

I couldn’t help lamenting about all my handicaps. I’d only been at the dojo for seven months. I hadn’t been practicing the katas for years and I hadn’t been hearing the terminology and saying the sayings, hadn’t been witness to a lot of the traditions and rituals. I hadn’t seen a black belt test before. But in a way this also worked to my advantage because I didn’t take anything for granted. I knew I had to work really hard in order to remember anything. I wasn’t scared off by watching any of the previous tests. Even though I had never tested at that particular dojo I had tested many times, working my way up through the ranks at two different dojos and had done a black belt test before. So despite my lack of specific experience I knew that I could do it.

The most repeated piece of advice I got was to always take the water break when Sensei offered them. I think people said that to me so much because I rarely get water when we have a water break in class. I like to stare at myself in the mirror instead (I enjoy the mirrors in the dojo). So that was on my mind when I started the test.

The first part of the test was the endurance. Jumping jacks and the sit-ups and the push-ups. I turned away from my classmates watching me and closed my eyes during the push-ups but unfortunately it didn’t make them disappear. However, it wasn’t as bad as I thought because everyone was very supportive and cheering me on and I liked it more than I thought I would.

Every moment I got a break I would assess the situation. How much more did I have to do? Once I got through all the katas I was so relieved. Then I realized I still had kumite AND breaking. The test seemed never-ending. I couldn’t breathe. I have asthma and I’m terrible at managing it so I can’t breathe a lot. I’m used to it but I think it concerns other people. I was just thinking, once it’s over I can breathe again.

I remember doing a break with a flying side kick and I missed the first time. The holder was asking me if I wanted it higher or lower and I was just staring at him like I have no idea what is going on right now? How am I supposed to know? I really don’t know how I’m going to get from here to there and break that board. Eventually they stopped talking to me since I wasn’t giving any helpful replies and then I squeezed my hands in fists tightly and told myself to commit and I broke that board.

There’s a lot more to say but in the end it was a really good experience. It was about pushing yourself and triumph over your own fears and having other people be a witness to your good and bad moments and trust them to keep cheering for you. It was about the inner strength that the martial arts teaches you and also about the physical skill that you find somewhere deep inside. It was about connecting mind and body and soul for one purpose. It was also kind of fun! My favorite part of the test was when I meditated at the end and then one of the other black belts came to help me to my feet and the smile on his face was so sweet. Then it was over, hurray.

Still, I have a lot to learn and there’s a lot that I want to accomplish in this upcoming year. When I test for second degree it’ll be even better than the first time. I’ll probably get my nails painted again.

//02// Kids! Games! Karate!

25 Mar

[Currently Listening To:] Worth the Wait by Anoop Desai


I’m really lucky because I get to be the kids’ class instructor at my dojo. It’s wonderful to me because I really love it and I feel honored that my sensei would trust me with such a responsibility since I’m new to the specific style. I wasn’t new to karate so a lot of the basics are the same. I worked hard to learn the differences and overcome my own bad habits. It’s still a work in progress, obviously. It always will be. But it’s great to have my own group of kids to watch and teach as they work their way through the ranks.

And it is WORK. Sensei said don’t be surprised if the kids stay white belts for a year. If you think about it that’s a long time. Especially as a kid. That’s a big commitment where interests change from moment to moment. But we have high standards at our dojo which I appreciate. I didn’t start karate as a little kid. We have students 5 and 6 and 7 and 8. That’s pretty young. So it’s going to take a while for the many many many moves of karate to sink in.

However, I want to keep it fun and engaging. We have a lot of work to do. I want the kids to learn actual karate and not play games all the time. We go over proper technique and form and stances and kata. We go over where to strike, how to strike, what part of the foot/hand to strike with, why we’re doing such things, when we can do them. We learn terminology, we learn sequences and combinations and do sparring drills. It’s a lot to teach two days a week for 45 minutes. So there’s really not a lot of time for games.

But I love games.

Games! It’s what the kids always remember. It’s never, oh hey, remember that time when you showed me back stance?! That was awesome! No, it’s always, can we play that ball game again? Or whatever we did last class? Of course, I am pleased they remembered anything about class at all so I’ll take it. I remember in karate class when I was a kid I liked games too. My favorite one was Crabwalk Wars. It was when everyone would scurry around the mats in a crab walk and try to sweep someone else’s foot so they’d fall down on their butt. Once your butt hit that mat you were out! Oh, it was vicious. But it was also so much fun. I’d love it to play it with my kids but I don’t trust them not to kick each other in the face, which is not really the point of the game, though it could be entertaining.

When I first started teaching I scoured the internet looking for a big bank of martial arts classroom games I could play. There are so out there. I think there’s even a book or two about teaching karate to kids, which is great. But I never found that site I was looking for, the one with tons of resources about great, educational, helpful karate drills/games to do with kids. If you know of such a place, please share. Or maybe everyone is keeping their own secrets!

So I decided to make up my own games. I’m kinda slow in creating them but I’ll keep thinking about it. I usually plan my lesson on the drive to karate but I keep it open. I never know when I’m going to have 5 kids or 20. I like to save the good stuff for the big class.

On Tuesday I woke up and I thought, I’m going to get some balloons. Why? Because they are fun! Also I wanted to see if I could blow them up because I had a problem with that. So I sat on the floor in the middle of the mats before class and blew up my balloons (with no problems, thank you very much!) and the kids swarmed around me, full of questions. I let them play with the balloons before class and it was just fun to see how something so simple could make them all so happy. The sad moment was when a balloon burst while I was blowing it up. I guess I put too much stank on it. Ouch.

Anyway, my grand idea was to have the kids fight the balloons. We went over fighting stance and how to move in that stance when sparring. Then the kids “sparred” the balloons, meaning I pitched the balloons at them and they had to strike! You never know where those crazy balloons are going to go. I urged them to step up to the balloons using the moves that we had just learned. It was pretty fun and it almost worked the way I wanted to. There were some good strikes, some good kicks and good movement. Of course, some of the kids missed the point entirely and were just swatting the balloons. But I just might try it again.

The next part was a battle royale of sorts. I’m a big fan of teams and although I worried that one kid might wake up in a cold sweat ten years from now thinking about the moment they were picked last in karate class I allowed the kids (well one kid and one of my assistants) to pick teams one by one. I think it went well with no hurt feelings. Then we had a contest to see which team could keep the balloons in the air (using only karate moves! ha) the longest. It was a close fight but one team prevailed and we all clapped and it was nice. I think the kids like being on teams going head to head for victory. Competition is a healthy part of karate. Competition with your peers and competition with yourself as well. It’s definitely something I want to continue with in my karate classes.

I’m going to play around with the balloon idea and see what else I can come up in the future. However, balloons cannot last forever. It might have been fun to throw sais and pop them that way but not really a good idea seeing that we were inside and all. In the end I let the teenagers used scissors and I said farewell to my latest teaching idea.

We’ll see what happens next week!

//01// Finding New Places to Practice

22 Mar


[currently listening to] The latest episode of Skins. Duh-rama!


This is my second winter in North Carolina and I must admit I got used to this weather quick. The first winter was kind of rough. Not by Pennsylvania or Michigan or Ohio standards (where I’ve endured all the previous winters of my life) but by North Carolina standards. There was some snow. Schools were closed. I remember about three bad snow days where everything was shut down (but I still went to work! I took the bus).

This year, however, winter went quickly. There were only a couple of snow days and it didn’t seem as bad as last year. When the northeast had all those awful snow storms earlier in the year I felt as far removed from that as if I lived in China. It was like I barely knew what snow was anymore, let alone what it was like to have 5 feet of it. How quickly your perspective can change!

Over the past month the weather changed from cold to warm to cool to warm-ish to less cool to warmer and the trees are blooming and the grass is growing and I’ve been sneezing. It looks like it’s just about spring! I have sweaters I haven’t even gotten a chance to wear twice yet! But spring is coming whether my wardrobe is ready or not (my wardrobe is ready, in case you were wondering!) I had my windows open today and the air felt good even though it was cloudy. Spring cannot come a moment too soon. I’m gearing up for my black belt test and I need a place to practice.

My dojo is great. It’s large. There’s a nice-sized mat area and plenty of mirrors. Then there’s the other exercise area with all the bags to kick and things like that before the viewing area. You can run from the front door to the back a couple of times and probably get tired. I don’t know how to describe it really. But it’s the perfect place to practice. Of course! That’s where we have class. I practice before class and during class and sometimes after class. But this is my black belt test. So that’s just not enough practice. I have to practice on my own. But where do I go?

My house doesn’t have a large area like a living room or something so I can do my katas freely. Maybe the backyard but it’s all uneven and the grass needs mowing. I don’t mow grass. That happens magically in my life. Don’t ask me how. So where can I go?

I’ve taken up running in a desperate attempt to build up my stamina for this test. I have no idea if it will help as I do not run very fast. But it’s kind of comforting to know that I can run for 18 minutes (going for 20 tomorrow!) without stopping because I didn’t think I could do that before. So I’ve decided to combine my runs and my practices by running to some random location and then practing karate there.

The first time I used a high school track. I practiced in the large area in front of the high jump. It was actually a really nice area with the track all springy underneath my sneakers. It’s quite awkward kicking in sneakers. Your foot is heavier and foot angle is an issue (especially for one who needs to work on her foot angle. That girl is me). But there was enough room to move and I don’t always need a mirror. I know my body and the way it’s supposed to be. I can adjust my position based on feelings.

I liked the high school but the next time I went a different way. I think parking lots are also an excellent place to practice. There’s a lot of room and they can be empty. I practiced in a parking lot in front of a store that was closed. There weren’t any cars around. It was dark so then I left because my aunt doesn’t like me being out after dark! But my favorite place I’ve practiced so far is the back of a Lowe’s in the parking lot. It was a good place to focus because there were the cars speeding past on the road and people honking at me. I could hear the whir of the buzzsaw behind me as Lowe’s employees cut wood and yelled things at each other. It was a Sunday so Lowe’s was a busy place. But I blocked it all out and did my katas from bottom to top, worked on my problem areas (orange belt grrrrrrrr) and invented a good chunk of my original kata.

It’s good to practice outside of the dojo. Just being in shoes, being outdoors, it forces you to move differently and think about the moves in a different way. Doing a kata can become very rote and that’s the last thing you want. Katas should be dynamic, energetic, they need to mean something. You have to breath life into the fight! I’m always working on that. It’s not just a series of memorized moves. Taking yourself out of the dojo where you do the kata in your regular place, facing the same way, going the usual speed, it makes the kata feel more immediate and real. Also, you have to get used to doing your kata in front of other people (I don’t know if anyone was watching but they could have been) and focusing even with distraction and noise. So Lowe’s gave me great practice in all those areas. Plus, they have the best water fountains. Oh my goodness, the water was so good. And I don’t even like water!

Better than Smart Water.

Anyway, my test is in a couple of weeks so I will be looking for even more secret places to practice. I need all the practice I can get. But don’t worry Lowe’s. I will return! And you need to bottle that water. 😉