With so much swirling around us in the news and online this word has occupied a lot of my thoughts recently. Being a martial artist demands respect for yourself and others. Without it, you’ll fail. But what does respect really mean? 

I would never turn my back on an opponent. My well-being demands that I show them respect. I understand their strengths, and will not be overconfident. I respect what they can do. Doing the same when faced with a situation where you have to defend yourself on the streets is of tantamount importance. A healthy respect will go a long way in keeping you safe. 

So, do you respect yourself as well? I hope so. Too many times I’ve watched black belts forget the importance of humility. For me, humility and respect go hand in hand. Don’t be so certain of your abilities that you never have to work on them. A true black belt knows better. Take care of yourself, both mentally and physically. 

Value your own worth and the worth of others. Be considerate to all you meet. Show deference to those who have earned the right to be revered. Acknowledge the privileges you have and how you earned them. Continue to work hard so others want to show you deference. Do not let honor fade. Be the example that others want to follow. These are all good goals for a martial artist. I think they’re important for every human being. Think about it. 

Strike First?

Self defense. Defending yourself. That means not letting someone inflict harm on you? So how do you do that? The easy answer is kicking and punching, blocking and striking. Obviously. There’s a portion that lays under the surface, seldom addressed with karate students. That’s the question of who strikes first. This is a complex question and one I completely understand not being posed to younger students. Parents spend their formative years telling their children, “Don’t hit anyone”. Some parents take this a bit further and tell their kids, “Don’t hit anyone but if they hit you – hit them back”.

Now, I’m not here to tell anyone how to raise their children. I’ve had my hands full with the five I have. I’m not saying the advice above is bad, but be ready for what the schools will tell you as we live in a world with zero tolerance. So, having a conversation with younger students about striking first is one I wouldn’t undertake.

It’s the older, more mature martial artist (yes, I think teenagers fit in this category) who need to evaluate who strikes first. I look at it this way. And as a point of clarification, I am only talking about situations where someone wants to cause me great bodily harm. This is not a school yard scenario but an abduction attempt or something similar.

I have two options.

  • Option 1 – Let them strike me first
  • Option 2 – A preemptive strike

Let’s look closer at the options. Option 1, letting them offer the first punch leaves me in a position of having to block them and possibly being injured and less able to defend myself.  The second option, a preemptive strike means I land the first punch and take control of the situation. It also means I might have to prove that I felt imminent danger and only did so to defend myself. Another words, I’d better be positive that there were no other options available to me. I’d rather be standing there talking to the authorities about why I punched someone than on the ground, needing medical attention. Or worse.

So for me, there’s no choice. Option two clearly plays out best. Until I consider another scenario. Getting myself out of harms way by creating distance from the aggressor is and will always be my first line of defense. If I can move away from someone who wants to hurt me, that’s what I’m going to do. And I’m going to do it yelling and screaming at the top of my lungs. I don’t want to have to physically defend myself unless I have no other choice. And the, believe me, I’m going to do it as strongly and as fiercely as I possibly can. You should, too.


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.

Not this woman

I just finished reading a story about a wife who was killed by her husband. It was a sensational case about a shooting at the University of Texas. He was the Texas Sniper. Before he killed and injured 40 people he killed his wife, Kathy. She’d just turned twenty-three. If you’ve heard of the Texas Sniper case, you’re probably scratching your head, wondering why you’ve never heard about Kathy before.  That piece of the story was swept away, buried under the tragedy of the tower shooting. It shouldn’t have been.

My heart is troubled after reading this story. (Read it here) Domestic violence happens more often than we all know. It happens to your neighbor or a teacher. It happens in plain sight and in the dark hours when evil and ugliness feels safe to raise its head.

And it makes me angry. No woman should ever let someone hurt her. But sometimes that’s easier said than done. I’m an advocate for women learning the martial arts, defending themselves so they don’t get hurt. I recognize, everything changes when its a spouse or a loved one. They hold a power harder to break. Sometimes victims feel they deserve it. Sometimes they lack the confidence to stand up and say, “Stop.” A million conflicting emotions let the abuse continue. It’s wrong and it has to end. Women deserve better. You deserve better.

Women in particular need the confidence to say, “No, not this woman.” That’s what every martial arts instructor needs to instill in every single female that comes to train. Start early, when they’re young. Teach them to stand up for themselves. No one should ever touch them without their permission.

If you’re being abused, remember, you don’t deserve it. You matter. You are important. Don’t let them continue to hurt you. Tell yourself, “Not this woman. Not today. Not ever.”

Call and get help.


Commitment. Yikes, there’s a word that’ll have people running in terror. Okay, relax, we’re only going to talk about commitment as it relates to the martial arts.

First of all, we’re looking at actual training. It takes dedication and training, even when you want to be a couch potato. It means getting your butt in gear and doing your class to the best of your ability. It means not just going through the moves. Do them like you’re really kicking and punching someone. Do them like your life depends upon it. Who knows, one day it really might. 

All too often, I watch students in class lazily doing their basics and kata. They’d rather be anywhere else than in the dojo and it shows. What worries me is the muscle memories they’re creating. Do a thing often enough and that’s the way you’ll do it when you need it. Commit to your training. For most people we’re talking two hours a week. Seriously, you can engage yourself for that long. It’s two hours, people!

The next type of commitment is a little different. Now I’m talking about committing to your techniques. Did you know your leg is longer than your arm? Yeah, you just checked, didn’t you? It’s okay, most people do. Anyway, since the leg is longer a lot of times I see kids only wanting to kick. They throw that leg out there but don’t stretch it out completely and miss the kick. It’s even worse with punches. Those either fly into the air or strike their opponents gloves. Both scenarios have to do with fearing commitment. Trust in yourself enough and go that extra bit to land the kick and punch. It’s all about commitment.


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.



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.

Violent Behavior

The last of the dojo kun seems to confuse many a new student: “To refrain from violent behavior”. After all, isn’t karate about kicking and punching and inflicting pain on an opponent? Sure, when you HAVE to defend yourself. Any true martial artist will tell you, however, that you want to do everything else in your power to avoid striking someone. It’s your last recourse. It’s the thing you only do when you have NO choice.

A black belt truly practices with the hope they never have to use their martial arts skills. There are few things we learn hoping not to have to use the skills. So, it’s a unique individual who hones their skills for years on end with that kind of mindset. Perhaps, that’s one of the things that sets martial artists a part from other types of people.

As I practice, focusing on my techniques and studying body dynamics I also work on being more aware of what’s going on around me and learning to identify routes of escape, should I need to use them. Trusting in the feeling in my gut telling me something isn’t right is invaluable.

As a black belt I’d find it inexcusable if I used brute force to defuse a situation without first trying to engage the other party, using strong verbal skills to subdue the person. There’s more than one way for a martial artist to take control. Think about that the next time tempers are exploding around you. Give yourself some distance to allow your words to control the situation.

Refrain from violent behavior. Unless you have no other choice.


“To show strong spirit.” It might be third on the list for the dojo kun but I think when it comes to your actual martial arts training it’s “Spirit First”. Why? Very simply put if you demonstrate a strong spirit while doing your techniques they are going to be better. Can you defend yourself if you don’t exude confidence? Of course not. Any indecision, any wavering of the spirit will show. That’s all your opponent needs – they’ll seize on the opportunity and you’re in an uphill fight.

Isn’t that the same for every other aspect of your life, too? If you think about it, a strong spirit and confidence can take you places you’d never expect to go. Now, I don’t mean you should brag and be overly confident. Not at all. By strong spirit I mean letting your soul shine through your eyes, your confidence and positive energy flowing into the universe.

Life is going to knock you down. It’s going to happen, whether we like it or not. How we handle it, that’s the difference. “Spirit first.” Don’t dwell on the negative, find solutions, be proactive and take opportunities that present themselves. What the heck, create your own opportunities. Show strong spirit. You can’t lose.

One Step At A Time

In this fast-paced world we’ve become so accustomed to everything happening at lightening speed that we forget sometimes things take time. I watch when a new student starts training, seeing the glint of excitement in their eyes as they stare longingly at my black belt. They can envision being a Shodan one day. It’s real. It’s tangible. It’s possible.

Then the training starts. Hard work coupled with sweat and sore muscles and suddenly the dream seems just that. A dream. Not something concrete and attainable. The glimmer disappears from their eyes as they slog through their training. That’s where being an instructor gets harder. How can I put the sparkle back in their spirit, letting them renew their excitement and determination? I remember the feeling and I remember the lessons. It’s all one step at a time. Don’t think about anything other than what you’re doing. Do the best one punch you can. Do the best one kick you can. Focus on the fun each of those moments brings and before you know it you’re one rung closer as you climb the ladder.

I was thinking all of those things today as I thought about two of my students. One adult and one child. Each is at different places in their training and yet each feels as far away from black belt as the other. One just earned their blue belt and one just earned their red black belt. One is almost there. But how will they both do it? One punch. One kick. One kata. It really is that simple.

Sometimes we need to take a moment and slow down, enjoy the moments as they happen and keep remembering the lessons that you’re learning on each part of the journey. The two students that I mentioned earlier? I’m proud of both of them. They’ve both worked hard to get where they’re going. I can’t wait to hand them each their black belt, welcoming them to Shodan. That’s where the real journey begins.

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