Tag Archives: dojo

//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.

//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. 😉