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.



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…


Friday night means another kyu exam. Sitting on the board, watching students  perform their katas and basics, giving all that they have in their pursuit of their next belt can sometimes be an emotional task. I know it will be tonight. A special child in my life will be testing for the first time – striving for their orange belt. To those who’ve traveled the road to black belt it may not seem like a lot. Others will understand. The feeling of stepping onto the mat and testing for the first time is nerve racking. It can be scary and intimidating. That’s where confidence comes in.

This young man will test for the belt then take off halfway around the world, moving to a new country where he knows absolutely no one other than his parents. Taking this test will send him off with a sense of accomplishment and, more importantly I hope, with the confidence that he’s ready for something new. That working hard and staying focused has its benefits. It will also be a reminder he’s connected to his karate family in Southern California. He has a home to come back to and people who believe in him whether he’s near or far.

I’m proud of this young man. Proud to have been his instructor and to have known him outside of the dojo, too. He’s my beta reader for my middle grade books and my current hero. You’ve got this, ‘P’. Adventure awaits. You’ll have to write me stories and tell me all about it.

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.

Black Belt to Black Belt

This morning I went into the dojo to do a bit of extra training. I’m working on a couple of katas and wanted the floor space to really be able to move, instead of shoving the couch out of the way and battling the dog who thinks she’s part ninja. My son wanted to go in and work on katas as well, which was pretty cool. We ended up working together, not as mother and son, but as black belt to black belt. This little kid who rolled his eyes and groaned when he was told to pick up his socks or to write neater has grown not only taller than me but he’s evolved into my peer.

Even though I outrank him, he’s always willing to lend me some help when I need it. He offers the help with humility and a quiet confidence. To be honest, he’s one of only two people who can talk me through a move when my brain simply refuses to allow my hands or feet to do what I want them to. It pleases me that the coaching works both ways. Today I coached him through three katas and with each suggestion and instruction he listened and changed. With a student just learning it’s usually bigger things to fix, like “use the other hand” or “change your feet”. At the Shodan level (and higher) it becomes the tiny finite things. Training like this can sometimes feel like you’re being inspected under under a microscope. It’s hard and occasionally frustrating, as though you can’t do anything right. Perhaps that’s why I’m so amazed at what happened today. He listened. He processed. He changed. No eye roll. No arguing. Not once did I hear, “I didn’t do that”.  He put his trust in me and I helped him use his body dynamics to improve his power and strength.

I’m proud of him. His execution of the moves was great. But that’s not what makes me proud. He demonstrated the attitude and spirit a black belt should strive for. A chip off the ole block…it’s in his blood, I guess. I’m looking forward to more moments working black belt to black belt.

Training Through It All

Life happens. Vacations crop up, homework intrudes and lethargy holds us hostage on the couch with an oversized glass of lemonade and a NCIS marathon to watch. Seriously, there are a million and one reasons to not train. “I’ll do it tomorrow,” is the lie all martial artists tell themselves at one point or another. Even black belts. How do I know this? I said those very words yesterday. And I didn’t train. There were too many client projects to get finished. Work comes first, especially when it helps to pay the bills.

But training still has to be high up on the list. I will train today and I’ll realize how much I missed it yesterday when my tootsies hit the mat and sweat puddles up on my brow. Perhaps that’s the difference between a black belt and just another student. Somehow, its become a part of us. Well, not somehow – through hard work and persistence we’ve trained our muscles and our minds and now, without karate, we’re a little bit lost in our everyday lives.

I tell students I’m just like them. They tend to look at me as if I’m half crazy. They have a tendency to see the belt and think I’m different, special in some way. I’m honest with them. There are days I just want to stay home. Days I’m feeling too lazy to put my gi on. But I do it, and the moment I start either teaching or training there’s no place else I’d rather be. I’m no different from them. I’ve just kept my feet walking on the path, one step at a time. They can do that, too. The other part of what I tell them? They can pass me up – they’re younger and have more time. The student in turn becomes the teacher, it happens all the time. But most of the time I tell them how much I’m looking forward to presenting them their black belt one day. The sparkle in their eye and the belief that they can do it motivates them on. I believe in them. They should too.

Humbled and Excited

Oh my goodness, what a plethora of emotions charging through me today. Tonight there’s a Dan exam with five students each standing to take their Shodan or Shodan-Ho test. And I’ll be sitting on the panel, watching and commenting on them. That, in itself, is quite the humbling experience. I remember so vividly my Dan exam filled with butterflies and nerves.

Even more exciting to me today, though, is the fact that I’ve watched each of these children from the time they first walked into the dojo as white belts until now. They have each been in my classes. The have listened and grown both figuratively and literally. Last night one of the parents called me over after class to show me a picture on his phone. There I was presenting a yellow belt to his son. His son, who tonight tests for his black belt. What changes there have been in this young man! He’s always been studious, serious about his karate, but now he has more confidence and experience. He’s grown into the black belt he’ll earn tonight. Plus, now he towers over me. It’s an odd feeling, watching kids that I’ve helped to train walk the same path I’ve traveled. I’m honored to have been a part of their lives.

The best of luck to all five black belt candidates. You walk in the footsteps of others, on a path few dare take to the end. You’ve got this. May you be as humbled and excited as I am.

Spirit First

Today, as sadness ripples through the world with the bombing of Manchester fresh in our minds and thoughts, spirit is the word that comes to mind. Spirit first. Technique second. Someone told me that once, relative to training. I’m struck today by how many times in our lives that can same concept can apply.

Let our spirits be strong today in the face of adversity and pain, knowing evil lurks waiting to hurt innocent children. Spirit first as we stand up and say this must stop. Spirit first as we tell each other –  human to human –  we all matter.

Spirit – that indefinable something separating us from every other living thing. We can channel it, and control it and use it to make a change. As I hold the citizens of Manchester in prayer my spirit screams into the universe – no more of the madness. Let your spirit speak and walk alongside your words. Make a difference in the world. One person at a time.

It’s Been a While

The belt is starting to get a little more broken in and I don’t get that really strange, ‘who the heck is that?’ sensation when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror much any more – I must be starting to feel a little more like a black belt. Maybe?

But what does a black belt really feel like? If they feel like me then they feel like someone who reached a goal but realizes at they pull themselves up to that rung on the ladder just how high the ladder is and how much harder they need to work to get to the next level. They feel like someone who needs to study the tiny little things that need to change, absorbing all there is to learn. They feel like someone who really needs to give back to the other students so that they, too, can reach their goal.

There’s a huge responsibility that goes with being a black belt. I’m feeling the weight of that now.

I wonder how long it takes to get used to responding when someone calls you Sensei. Now THAT I still struggle with…

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