Tag Archives: kata

//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.

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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.

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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.

//01// Finding New Places to Practice

22 Mar

 

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

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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. 😉