Why Train?

We all come to karate from different places. Some as children because their parents understand it helps with focus and respect. Others want to try a new sport and some of us wander into it as adults. That’s how I ended up on the training mat. If I hadn’t finally relented and quit saying, “Karate’s not for girls,” I probably wouldn’t be writing this today. In hindsight, it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Karate gave my little family something we never expected. When our world changed, the dojo became our extended family. We fostered friendships 24 years ago that we still have. We shared the training, the ups and downs and wonderful successes along the way. For us, it was about more than the focus and the dedication. It truly was a family affair. Part of that was wrapped in competitions. Yeah, I travelled across the country so my four kids could compete. I was that parent. And I’m proud to brag any time you want to listen about their multiple national championships. They earned them through hard work, sweat, sore muscles and dedicated focus.

It was the massive array of trophies and ‘war stories’ that led Christopher to want to train. There’s no doubt about that. Kid number five wasn’t around during the traveling competition years and he yearned for a piece of that history to call his own. I’m not going to lie, at first I tried to dissuade him. Coming to karate just for the trophies and the glory was the wrong reason. I knew all too well about the hard work, and hours upon hours of training necessary. Competitions needed to be secondary. The training itself, for defense and the pure love of karate needed to be first. How could I explain that to a four-year-old? A quick trip into the dojo to let him watch proved he wasn’t ready. It took three years before we, as parents, were sure that he was ready.

I’m glad we waited. A miraculous thing happened. He no longer talked about the trophies, instead immersing himself into the training. He proved himself and worked as hard as a seven-year-old can. That means he had his good days and his bad days. But when the good outnumbered the bad, I knew he was ready to reach for a dream. And he started competing. And winning. I’m proud of my State Champion. He earned the trophies but more importantly he kept focused on the true reason to train. He’s no longer that little orange belt with a trophy almost as big as him. He’s a black belt and a karate instructor. It’s about being strong, being focused and taking care of himself. Training for all the right reasons. More

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Intimidation

I had the oddest moment last night in class. We were doing partner work and I had one of my old students as my partner. That’s all good. It’s happened before. This student is still fairly young and I could tell he was struggling to work with me. Every time he had to punch, he’d pull back. I intimidated him. Once the teacher  – always the teacher.

The drill was to tap your partner’s chin with a short punch. A valuable skill if you need to defend yourself. Of course, then you don’t hold back and you give them all you’ve got. He, however, wanted nothing to do with actually touching my chin. He stopped way too short every time. I coaxed him a little closer each time until eureka, he was doing it.

Ahhh…then he kept doing it, only he was rocking my head with some solid contact. All it took was a glimmer of a smile and one little sentence. “Don’t rock my head – remember, I’m punching you next.” He knew I wouldn’t hurt him. I could tell by the smile that slid across his face. But he did work on his control. It felt pretty cool to watch the growth and progress he’s making.

We had the best time working together. What fun it was for me to see my former student  becoming stronger. I definitely see a black belt in his future. He’s focused on his lessons, has a fabulous attitude and shows great respect.

Staring into the face of danger

Yesterday, unexpectedly, I got to train in the class I teach. It was so much fun to partner up and do the drills. There’s nothing like banging a bag and slamming kicks in on a Monday. Just the best feeling to get some energy flowing out and releasing any and all frustrations.

It was a particularly fun class because I had a great partner. We locked eyes and went hard with each other. I couldn’t help thinking what it would be like to be face to face with a crazy person intent on hurting you. Literally staring into the face of danger. I wonder if it’s harder for women than men, something about the way we’re raised. I’m not positive but I’m pretty darned sure I wouldn’t have an issue. Let’s face it, if someone wants to hurt me, I’m not going to take my eyes off that person. Everything…absolutely everything in that instant depends upon it.

As an instructor I’ve seen how hard it is for a student to maintain eye contact. It’s something I focus on in my classes. It’s that important. Training isn’t just going through the moves, its about learning skills – lessons that will save your life. Karate is more than kata, a set of choreographed moves. Karate is about focus. And nothing demands focus like staring into the face of danger.

Could you do it if you needed to? Would you be aware of the next attack? It takes practice. And attitude. Start training with that in mind today.

Be Aware

In this crazy mixed up world, you can’t be too aware of what’s going on around you. Every day when I read the news posts or watch on television it seems as if something else has happened. People hurting people. Not only does it make me sad but it also makes me want to scream from the rooftops, “Be aware. Watch what’s going on”.

The other day I was talking to a student about that very same thing. I don’t want to have to use my martial arts skills. I want to be cognizant of what’s happening in my environment and control it by using simple things like my voice or removing myself from the situation before it unfolds. That of course, means I have to rely upon the age old ‘trust your gut’ – the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach that something isn’t right.

All too often I see ads for women’s self defense tools and I cringe every single time. Most of the devices being sold require that the woman be close to the attacker. Letting them get close to me – that’s the last thing I want to do. Distance is my best friend when it comes to defending myself. If you can’t touch me, you can’t hurt me. Unless you have a gun. Or a car. And there seems to be a lot of that going on lately. Like I said, this crazy mixed up world is making me sad. Be aware of your surroundings. Move and get away.

Be safe. And say a prayer for the latest victims – those in Spain. I loved the time I lived there and seeing terror flooding through the streets makes my soul cry. Make your little corner of the world safe. Be aware.

Time

Like most human beings I want everything to happen instantaneously. No hard work, no waiting for the right time. I want it now. Karate isn’t like that. I’ve seen extremely gifted people begin training, excelling through the lessons faster than it seems possible. On the other hand, I’ve also seen those who have had to work hard, sweating and straining to achieve each milestone.  Most of us are in the middle ground, paying our dues with sweat equity and determination.

Everything worth anything takes time. That’s why I sometimes have to chuckle when I see a brand spanking new black belt who struts around like they know everything. Little do they know – but they’ll learn soon enough – that they’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. They’re only now ready to learn. Lessons unfolding around them reveal something new, they hadn’t noticed before. So fixated on having a big draw hand they failed to see the role the hip plays in the punch.

Have patience. It takes time for the knowledge to seep in. Keep training with humility and dedication. The best things in life are truly worth waiting for. Persistence is the key that’s unlocked many a door. Respect your teachers. You’ll get there at your right time.

Aches, Pains and Other Excuses

We do it all the time. Make excuses. I can’t do this because I have to pick up the kids in an hour. I can’t do that because I have to wash my hair. We all do it, just our excuses are different. Last night was almost one of those nights for me. Almost. Thankfully, I decided to push through the aches and pains and kept on going.

I’ve had this nagging cough for a while, which gets in the way of training sometimes. I step off, hack for a minute and hop back into class. And then my feet. They’re another story. Having flat feet is no great thrill when they start to ache. Thank you plantar fasciitis for coming to visit. And of course, the hacking cough brought a new friend with it – the muscles in my ribcage spasm and have their own brand of fun. Ahhh…and because that just wasn’t enough, my left elbow and my right shoulder both thought they needed to grab my attention. Now, before you feel sorry for me, realize the aches and pains come and go. More importantly, they don’t derail me. I had the best time doing three step sparring, running through the basics and kata. It was a blast. If I’d have listened to the excuses welling up, I’d have missed out on a great class.

The moral of the story? Don’t let a little ache or pain become a big excuse. One of my students during warm up groaned, “it hurts”. Working on becoming more flexible he stretched a little more than he was used to. It was a good pain. I try to keep it all in  perspective. No pain. No gain. I’m in training for the long haul. So my feet and other body parts had better get used to it. It’s all about attitude and persistence.

Persistence. Practice. Repeat.

I was thinking about this the other day – how karate affected my writing. Both writing and the martial arts share the need to practice. You’ll never get better as a karate student if you don’t do punches every day and you’ll never become a better writer if you don’t spill words on the page everyday. Consistency with both seems to be the key. I’ve watched students who have struggled day in and day out. They never gave up. Each practice made them a little bit better and brought them a step closer to their goal. I’ve seen the same thing happen with writers that I coach.

Persistence. That undying attitude that makes you get up each day and say, “I can do one thing and I’ll do it the best I can.” Both writing and karate demand that. It’s funny, it wasn’t until this morning that I realized earning my black belt is why I finally wrote a novel. I know, one thing doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the other, does it?

When I started karate, I didn’t say, “One day I’ll be a black belt”. I just wanted to have fun and earn my yellow belt. That was it. Plain and simple. Each rung on the ladder brought me a little closer towards black belt. Until I finally got there. It was the same with the novel. Usually I wrote short stories or books for kids. Novels took too long. I couldn’t commit myself. Then I wrote one chapter. Followed by the next. By focusing on each chunk of it, taking small bites of an idea and sharing them I trudged my way through to a finished novel. I’m confident now I can do it again and I can do it with other things, too. I can do anything I set my mind to.

So can you. Throw one punch after the other. Practice your karate watching yourself in your bathroom mirror. Get into stance and walk down your hallway. Catch in the small minutes of practice and before you know it you’ll have climbed another rung on the ladder.

It just takes practice. We aren’t born knowing how to do karate. Or how to write. Whatever you dream, go out and do one small thing, bringing yourself a step closer to making it become a reality.  Persistence. Practice. Repeat.

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