Tag Archives: black belt

//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.

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//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!

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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.