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//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!


//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. 😉