Finding Balance

Finding balance. That’s a tricky one. It’s something I struggle with in my personal life, for sure. I want to do everything, and help everyone. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible and more importantly, it’s not always healthy. Finding balance means taking time for yourself as well as others.

What does this have to do with karate? For me a lot. I’ve had to juggle a business, a family, and various creative passions all along side my karate life. The things I just mentioned have a way becoming roadblocks to your training. It just happens.

The other day I was thinking back to when I wanted to return to karate. I’d had to stop and take a break due to both my work schedule and I’d had a new baby. Juggling an infant along with training was nearly impossible. I went back to training when he began his karate journey. And I made my husband a promise. Karate would not take over my life. Again. I’d maintain balance. Anyone who knows me now, knows I lied. Sort of. Achieving my goal meant training literally morning, noon and night for a while. But just for a while. After I earned my black belt I made sure to cut back on my training a bit to make time for my family.

The tough part of teaching the martial arts isn’t giving the instruction – it’s the hours you have to keep. You teach when students can come to class, which means evenings away from home. No family dinners. No family time. For me, finding balance meant I didn’t teach late every night. Just most. And I get to teach with my son now, which means we spend lots of time together. That helps.

Finding balance. That’s the key. I”m still a work in progress. In both my personal and professional life. But martial arts has given me the focus and determination to keep working to make that happen.

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Body Connection

Oh my goodness, I was in seventh heaven last night. I was in a class where the instructor focused on using the hips and body connection. It’s such an important part of the training process, but not covered often enough. The hips are the key in martial arts. Maybe some of you will disagree so if you like I’ll temper my opinion just slightly to say that In Shotokan karate how you use your hips (and if you use them) is vital to your training.

As a white belt we seldom see hip movement with punches and blocks but as the students progress and their learning increases we see it happening. By the time a student has reached an advance training stage they should not only be using their hips when punching but should understand the value that brings. Hip vibration. Oh gosh, how I love when I can teach a student to relax and  let their hips do the work. The look on their face when they see hip vibration in action is amazing.

Last night the students learned about body rotation – direct and reverse It took some longer than others to get the concept, which is to be expected. Those who understood it improved their training by incorporating those concepts. Some floundered but will get it eventually. Let’s face it, we all learn at different rates.

You can’t chop down a tree without using your hips. Nor can you knock a baseball out of the park. Body rotation. Body connection. That’s what makes me as strong as the guys. Gotta love the concepts when you see them put into action.

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.

Confidence

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.

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