Full Circle

Tonight’s a big deal in the dojo. Dignitaries coming in to celebrate a new crop of black belts. They will each receive their official certification as a black belt – exciting stuff for a martial artist. I remember being handed the frame with my certificate in it. A heady experience I’ll cherish as a special memory for the rest of my life.

It meant I’d done it. Yeah, so did putting on the black belt, which happened after the actual test. But there’s something different about receiving the piece of paper. Maybe its because there’s been some time to absorb what it means to have stepped into the Black Belt Club.

As I thought about the students each about to receive theirs tonight, I remembered them as new students. Eager white and yellow belts in my class trying to master the basic skills.  And then reality nudged me back into the tasks at hand. I needed to finish the poster for the celebration tonight and the centerpiece. Those were my duties. Work to be done, no more daydreaming about karate.

Smack. It hit me. My daydreams had inspired what would sit on the table. A container of different colors, each a belt they’d climbed on their way towards Shodan or Shodan ho. Starting with white, then traipsing past yellow, orange, blue, green, purple, brown and red until we ended at black. Almost. The very top layer would have to be white. After all, that’s what getting your black belt means. Now, its really time to learn. Back to the basics. As you move forward.


The First Time

Lately, I’ve been paying more attention to the new students in class. The ones trying out karate for the very first time. And the students getting their very first belt. The white belts. I love the joy in their eyes as they experience their initial lesson, getting to kick and punch and there’s nothing like the expression on their faces when you tie on the belt.

I still remember my first class. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. That feeling of newness, of unwrapping a fabulous gift. Something sparked in me and even all the sore muscles and aching joints couldn’t keep me from the class. Martial arts gets in your blood. It becomes a part of who you are. Yeah, even when you’re ‘only’ a white belt. It’s kind of funny, I had that very same feeling when I put on my black belt for the very first time. Of being ‘only’ a black belt with so much to absorb.

I knew that the best was yet to be and the learning had just begun. Never stop learning. Never lose the joy that the first lesson gives. I can’t wait to get to the dojo today, put on my gi and see what new thing I’ll learn today.

Ego and the Martial Artist

  1. a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.
    “a boost to my ego”
    the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.

Okay, now that we’ve defined what it means, how does the ego affect the martial artist? We all have an ego, whether we realize it or not. In this day and age, whenever ego is mentioned it’s always with a negative connotation.

A good martial artist will have an ego that allows them to understand their abilities and limitations. They will know that there is always someone bigger, stronger and more capable than they are. Part of knowing that is what fuels the martial artist to keep practicing and growing in their art. That’s the good part of the ego.

Unfortunately, all to oftenb the ugly part of the ego takes over some black belts. Its normal and natural to stand on the training floor going through your kata, moving your arms in moves such as inside blocks or punching. There’s a sad truth about most of us. We can’t recite the moves to a kata to you, we have to do them – not all out full on kata but a quieter, moving through the motions. When you see a black belt absorbed in themselves doing the moves chalk it up to them thinking part of the process through, figuring out a way to teach it or just learning a new kata. And that’s all good.

It’s the black belt who feels the need to yell and scream making sure everyone in the room is looking at them. That’s the martial artist with an overly large ego, overflowing with self-importance. I cringe every time I see it happen. I know that what could be a good karate student (we are always students) isn’t as good as he or she can be because they are looking for attention. Karate isn’t about that. Humility is the key to progressing. Always understanding that you have much to learn. If you just want to show off, my suggestion is to go and do community theatre. Come back to the dojo when you understand what being a martial artist is all about.

Humility. Sincerity. Honesty. Respect.


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.



It’s Been A Very Long While

Here I go again. Another May and another resurrection of my blog. I’m ashamed of myself for letting it languish without attention, yet, I’ve been so incredibly busy which is why I haven’t posted. That’s part of the story, anyway.

I let it slide after I made Shodan, because, well, I’d reached my goal. I think that’s like a lot of martial artists that I know. You get to where you were going and you’re done. Luckily for me, it was only the blog that stopped. I’ve still been training. More importantly, I’ve been learning a lot as well. And isn’t that what matters?

As I thought about what my first blog post would say I also contemplated changing the name. You see, I’m not a Shodan any more. I’ve climbed one more rung on the ladder and learned a little bit more so I’m a Nidan. Why do I make it sound like I haven’t learned too much? Simple. There’s so much still left to learn. Just like reaching Shodan is the real beginning, Nidan is a baby step in the scheme of things. I have a lot more to learn. About martial arts. About training. About teaching. About spirit. About body connection. And those are just the things that I can think of off the top of my head.

Being a martial artist is a lifelong journey. I’ve been training a very long while…and I’ll be learning for the rest of my life.


Today is the day…

I didn’t need to rip the page off of my calendar to realize what today was. I knew the second I woke up. I hadn’t even opened my eyes yet and I was already reciting my answer to how do you defend/protect yourself. The words rolled over and over again in my mind. “You recognize the situation. You evaluate what is going on, checking your distance and looking for escape routes. Then you react by increasing your distance and using your voice. After that you defend yourself by making a preemptive strike or a defense strike.” Those words have been repeated in my mind so often, I hope that they roll off my tongue easily tonight.

I’m doing kata in my mind, repeating moves, developing strategies about sparring. My brain is in karate overload. I just can’t believe that the day I’ve dreamed about, fantasized about has finally arrived. Its surreal. I’m strangely calm on the inside as I run through everything over and over again. I think part of it might be years and years of training, knowing that some of this will just be second nature and come to me. Not over thinking it, perhaps some of it not thinking much at all, just letting the muscle memory take over and letting my body do what it knows to do. The other reason I think I’m calm is that I still don’t truly believe that its real. It can’t be. I have so much more to learn.

When I have my hand on that belt tonight, tears streaming down my face I think I’ll be looking ahead to my next training session, to improve on what I did tonight and to reach a new rung on the ladder. There might be a new black belt standing in our dojo tonight but she is definitely going to feel like a novice student, eager to crack open the books and learn all that there is to learn. Tonight I plan to take my first real step along the shodan path.