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.

Shadow of a Legend

Yesterday I had the distinct honor to have lunch with an eighth degree Shotokan black belt. We talked about his life, his teaching career and how he fell into the martial arts. He shared ideas and let me grill him with questions.

Days like yesterday don’t happen often. I was particularly honored since this man sat on the board of my second degree dan exam. He’s pretty much a living legend in the martial arts world. And we had lunch together discussing a project we’ll be working on together.

Yes, I got up this morning and pinched myself. And no, I’m not going to say anything more about him. You’ll have to read the book. Yes. It really is going to happen. An amazing life that will inspire you – and totally worthy of a book. Stay tuned.

It’s all in the hips

Last night I had a great conversation with my son about karate. We were sitting there waiting for my writing students to show up and our talk turned to the martial arts, as it frequently does. I’m astounded at how much he’s learned, but I’m even more impressed with the advanced concepts he can explain in a simple, understandable matter.

For me, body connection and spirit while training are huge. If you focus on those two things so much more will follow. I was explaining to him about a student I worked with last week and how he almost had the body connection down, but not quite. He was missing the hips. That comment spurred an entire new conversation about using the core and different techniques to explain that to students. Exercise bands stretched and pulled to demonstrate the hip rotation outward was one suggestion my son made. A great idea I just might incorporate. We chatted about the power of punches and how that comes from the reaction hand and again – from the hips.

I’ve spent a good amount of time lately studying my own techniques. Slowing them down. Speeding them up. Punching from the hip to maximize the power. It all matters. It’s funny to me, but when I teach my women’s class and say “The power’s all in your hips,” they get it quicker than any other set of students. Maybe its something women inherently understand. Hmmm…. but that’s a topic for another day.

For now, I’m going to bask in happiness. Nothing like having a conversation with another black belt who is as passionate about teaching as I am. Especially when it’s your son.

 

Persistence

Every so often I have a conversation with a parent that goes something like this. “He (or she) is giving me such a hard time about coming to train. All he wants to do is play video games.” Sometimes the parent will confess that the child doesn’t even want to change into their karate clothes. Ahhh….I know that feeling well.

I’m quick to share the fact that some days I don’t want to change either. Sometimes I just want to stay home and vegetate in front of the television or take a nap. There are days when getting my lazy butt up and into the dojo is a major undertaking. Senseis are human, just like their students. I’m always astounded when I see the look on the child’s face as I make this confession.¬†I am just like them. Of course, I’m honest and make sure I tell them how happy I am once I change into my gi and start to teach or train.

Karate has no seasons. Not like baseball or soccer or other sports children are enrolled in. Karate is day in day out – winter, spring, summer and fall. It’s okay to take a day off once in a while. Relax and regroup. Then come back and train hard the next day. Heck, I plan on doing that tonight. One night to spend at home with my family, hanging out and doing the things that families do. The next night when I train I’ll be twice as excited to get back into the groove of kicking and punching.

Persistence. Sticking with it even when it gets hard. That’s what makes a black belt. It’s putting on your gi even when you don’t want to that makes all the difference.

I think I can, I think I can…

A little while ago I was sitting in a coffee shop chatting about writing and life. One of the things that came up in conversation had to do with that confidence you had as an 18-year-old ready to venture out into the world. You believed you could do anything, that you’d conquer the world and nothing was going to stop you. Somewhere along the way life or reality or some strange mix of those things started slowing you down. You questioned more. You wondered if you could. You didn’t blindly leap into a situation confident that things would work out. At eighteen you had less to lose, or so it seemed.

Driving home I kept thinking about our conversation, trying to put this confidence thing into some kind of perspective. As we age and experience life we realize some of our limitations. We know life isn’t the fairy tale we imagined it to be. We cannot do some of the things we thought we could because our jobs take over or we don’t make enough money or some other barrier that we place in the way gets in the way.

I couldn’t help but wonder why I thought I could do karate as an adult. I’d had four kids before I ever put on a gi. I wasn’t the same girl I’d been when I lettered in tennis in high school. Maybe I hadn’t gotten the memo that I couldn’t do it. I did it because I thought I could. So I did. And every single day I went in the dojo trained I believed I could do it. The funny thing is, I still think I can.

Last night the class was given a drill to do. Kick your partner in the head with a front leg round house kick. Physically I struggle to get my kick that high but I can still do it, just not for extended periods of time. Watching the class a plan popped into my head. I’ll set up a stretching device in our garage and work on my flexibility. In no time at all I’ll be doing as many kicks as the kids. I still believe I can do it. And because of that, I will. Yeah, I’m not as young as I used to be but I’m only as old as I let myself be.

“I think I can, I think I can…” Believe in yourself, whether you want to earn a black belt, write a best seller or climb Mt. Everest. Let’s face it, you’ll never do any of those things until you believe you can. Be confident. Make a plan and take it one step at a time. You can do anything you set your mind to. How do I know? Because I did. And I still am.

 

Differences

Yesterday I had the pleasure of riding on a Fourth of July float in our local parade. It’s always fun to participate in community events. I loved watching the faces of the kids as we tossed candy and waved. I was doubly blessed that a local karate school was marching directly behind our float.

While a different style, I could appreciate the enthusiasm of the students as they went through their katas and practiced their combative skills. I couldn’t help but notice the differences between their knife hand blocks and ours. While our katas are similar, there were strategic differences. But what was fun about it was seeing how the differences, each brought us to the same goal. The students were focused. They were dedicated. They had passion and strength.

Sometimes I think we look at differences as one being wrong and one being right. That’s not really the case. Not in karate and not in life. I appreciated watching them and could see some instances to incorporate moves in my own self defense.

No, I’m not changing styles. Shotokan runs through my blood, and has infiltrated the very fibers of my being. But I can still appreciate the different styles, learning something from each. That’s one of the hallmarks of being a good black belt I think – always learning. I wonder what I’ll learn today…

In the Stillness

There are moments when my passions intersect, unexpectedly and deliciously. Today, one of those collisions occurred, bringing me another step forward in my karate training. Let me back up and explain, just a little bit. Last night, I was teaching my creative writing class, explaining to students the value that stillness brings when you’re trying to create tension. The story zooms along this thing and that happening to your hero and then, in the quiet, the reader absorbs it all and tensions are amplified. For example, the phone rings in a horror movie. We all scream “don’t answer it,” but of course, the actor does. Tension has started mounting in us but doesn’t come to fruition until the “hello” is met with silence. Who’s there? What’s going on? Tension mounts.

And poof, I went from thinking about this to an instructor I used to know. He ran around the room bellowing at the top of his lungs, a constant barrage of words assaulting the students. The words bounced around, deflected, creating a false sense of energy, none of it generated by the students. Oh, believe me, I know and appreciate the value my voice can bring to a class. That’s actually my point. Ramping up the energy, getting the students to move and respond. I can be as loud as the best of them. But I also need to give my students moments for their energy to fill the void. To let them settle into the stillness, reflecting my words. To do the best karate they can do. In the stillness.

Some of the hardest classes I’ve ever taken have been a quiet study of techniques. Holding them for long periods of time. Studying the hip movement associated with a solid punch, the hip vibrations, as the punch settles on its target. Inside blocks. Outside blocks, all the same thing. Up blocks, the twisting and turning of the torso to maximize power. These moments come when I focus on me. Not on the instructor. They happen in the stillness.

An instructor who fills every atom of space with their voice demands the attention be on them, instead of focused on the karate. The best karate happens in the stillness of time and space, when the student becomes one with the technique. That’s how I see it, anyway.

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