Martial Arts Blogs A Journey to Shodan: 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My nemesis - Hangetsu.

Well, I guess the time had to come – and to be perfectly honest, I really haven’t been looking forward to it. It’s time to learn Hangetsu.

I really love kata, and I’d even venture to say it is my favourite part of Karate. Despite the many challenges they present, and no matter how frustrated I am while practicing them, I’m always eager to tweak the details and make them look as good as I can. I personally think they can be a thing-of-beauty to watch - with the exception of Hangetsu. In my years of training, this is the one kata I have never enjoyed watching, and have actually avoided learning until absolutely necessary – and much to my chagrin, it seems that time has come. CURSES!

It’s the leg positioning. Simple as that. From the waist up I anticipate it will be somewhat enjoyable to learn, but I’ll certainly need to get over the foot, and leg position. Not that I won’t be able to do it, it just looks…well…not right. Legs staggered, toes pointing in, knees together… it’s meant to defend against a kick to the groin – but I don’t know. It just looks wrong; I’m all about the aesthetics.

This is going to be one of my biggest challenges yet. I really enjoy karate, and of course kata, and to practice something repeatedly that I don’t like – I will have a hard time with that. It is a necessary part of my Shodan grading, so I foresee spending a lot of time on it, who knows, maybe it’ll grow on me.
Only time will tell.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

1st Kyu grading.

Well, my long anticipated 1st Kyu grading is now complete; it's an experience I will never have again, so I'll record the good, the bad and the ugly here for prosperity.

I went in feeling really good after deciding the best way to approach it was to look at it as just another class. I wasn't about to be asked to do anything I wouldn't normally encounter in class, so my nerves didn't get the better of me.

The Good: I was prepared! I am so glad I stuck (as best I could) to my resolution and practiced my kata. I was asked to perform all of them, and without that additional practice I'm sure I would have stumbled or lost my way here or there. I was able to start and finish each with the confidence that I knew what I was doing.

The Bad: I was the only one grading for 1st Kyu, so I had to do Kanku Dai on my own, in front of a generous size crowd. I messed up after the third move (forgetting my kick), however, I was allowed to start again, only this time I had to turn around and do it facing the aforementioned crowd. Typically I get super confused when asked to do a kata facing a different direction (luckily I'd practiced that too), and nervous when people watch me – but I managed to put on my kata mask, focus, and with the help of a little conscience on my shoulder yelling at me to punch and turn, I did just fine - although it did forget to tell me to kiai once :-/
So, I guess this part can be considered 1/2 bad, but with a good ending.

The Ugly: Admittedly there were a few ugly parts – such as doing Bunkai for Jion with only a few moments notice. It wasn't pretty, but I fumbled my way through it. That was actually the first time I'd really been in the middle of a bunkai, and if I was being graded on that alone, well, there is no way I would have passed, I admit, it was pretty ugly.

I didn't display perfection, but I did my very best and am proud of my effort and the result...I passed!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Shotokan resolution - an update.

It has been brought to my attention that I've been remiss in writing an update on the progress of my Shotokan resolution, although I've been meaning to do so for a few weeks now. Thanks to Terry for the gentle reminder - so here goes...I'll lay it all out there.

To recap the resolution:
  1. Arrive to class early enough to practice two kata of my choice, on my own.
  2. I will practice each kata once on Saturday and Sunday morning.
Resolution number one:
Update: Admittedly, this has been difficult to maintain.
Excuse: Arriving to class early has proven to be a challenge for me - 45 minutes after arriving home from work, class starts - most days this feels a bit rushed.
Reality: My dojo is 4 minutes from home - I need to try a little harder on this one.

Resolution number two:
Update: I'm happy to say, hasn't been as difficult as number one. I have a small personal dojo in my basement and I've been practicing my kata...ok, maybe not each of them as the resolution specifies. Why not? Shoot, what's my...
Excuse: I can't really think of one. Recently I've been focused on my grading kata for my promotion coming up this Friday night, so Kanku Dai has been top of the list, with secondary focus on Jion and Basai Dai to keep them top of mind. So yes, I've been practicing, just not all of them.That's something right?
Reality: I might be asked to do Heian Godan or one of the other lower level katas in my promotion, who knows. Am I ready for the unexpected? I think so, but that's not good enough. I need to be confident that I can do any kata asked of me without falter.

Back to the resolution. This time I'll do it. Really, I will. Starting by showing up early for class tomorrow.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Let your conscience be your guide.

Am I ever glad I went to class this morning; I learned so many new things, including how to sing.

Now, one might think singing has nothing to do with karate, however, by doing so today I learned a valuable lesson on how to breathe properly during kata. When you sing a song as you do your kata you will be forced to breathe, rather than hold your breath which many people do. Most of the time I find I have the opposite problem, I breathe out on every move and before I know it I am completely winded, this exercise really helped me to control that. Another unexpected benefit, was that while singing, I wasn't thinking about every move I was doing, and my body did the kata rather than my head. FINALLY! 

Eventually this lesson evolved into 'singing the kata' so as Sensei stood behind me, saying "Turn, hit, hit, block, punch, breathe, go now!" like my conscience sitting on my shoulder, I felt inspired to really push myself. I think my kata today improved exponentially. Wow, that conscience of mine can really light a fire.

Tidbits to remember:
  • Kanku Dai - remember the new leg/foot positioning when dropping down to the floor.
  • Kanku Dai - finishing move is no longer crossing arms - left hand stays on hip, while right blocks - then finish. 
  • Sing every kata.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hands up.

“Hands up if you think you’re ready to be graded”.

Well, that’s a tough one. In terms of basics, yes, I think I’m ready. There are a few things I will brush up on before next Friday night, but I’m confident that I know what I’m doing. To get through this portion of the test successfully all I need to do is listen and focus, and I’ll do just fine.

Kata is a different story. Kanku Dai – the longest kata in Shotokan Karate – is my kata for 1st kyu, and no amount of practice will make me feel like I know it well enough for grading. Take last night for instance – in the very first move my foot was out of position, repeatedly. This would be frowned upon in a grading, in fact I frown upon it the second I feel myself doing it. I expect a lot from myself and I want to know it well, and perform it well. On the other hand, if I wait until I perfect the Kata I’ll probably be at 2nd kyu indefinitely because there will always be more to learn.

I suppose if the grading is based on how much I have improved since my last promotion, then yes, I’m ready. I am confident I have done that. I know perfection is not sought by my Sensei's, nor is it expected. I put that on myself. If this is the case, ask me the question again and I’ll put my hand up without hesitation.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Proper punctuation, ; ! .

Like any writer, sometimes I get hung up on punctuation. First I write, then I fuss over the details. Did I use a semicolon where a comma was more appropriate? Did I really complete that thought, or should I remove the period and add a few more words? It can be tedious, but in the end, I'm usually happy with what I have written.

It's interesting how something like punctuation can be present in kata. I'd never thought of it that way until the idea was presented to me in class this past Friday night. It's important in kata to pause (comma) in just the right places, know where to insert a Kiai (exclamation point), and certainly to end strong (full stop/period). When I break it down like that, I know there are sections of my kata where punctuation doesn't really exist, simply because I'm busy trying to get through it without making mistakes (reference the many entries I've written about self-confidence). Now that it has been explained to me in a way I can relate, I look forward to seeing my skills improve in that area.

Kata shouldn't be one long run-on sentence; proper punctuation will take it to the next level full stop

Friday, November 19, 2010


My arms are sore and a rainbow of unflattering colours blot my forearms – here we go again, it’s bunkai time.

For the second time this year, I find myself on a bunkai team gearing up for a Shodan grading. On one hand I am learning a lot, it is certainly preparing me for the day I must assemble and train with my own bunkai team, on the other hand, I find it quite stressful with so many things to remember. Thankfully I’m only in four different katas, but still, timing, distance, and accuracy all play a part in bringing them together, so lots of hard work and many hours of commitment are involved.

The most difficult part for me is focusing on the kata itself. At times, I find myself thinking ahead to my own next sequence and I lose track of the kata – then I scramble to keep up when it’s suddenly my turn. More than anything, this is the part I need to practice – being in the moment, not ten steps ahead. If I can get that under control everything will flow a little easier for me.

Now, if only we’d stop changing the moves – agh. For now though, it’s a good thing I’ve got my notebook to remind me what the heck to do, otherwise I’d be on the losing end of a few exchanges, guaranteed.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Crazy man's kata.

Last class we were taught a new kata, one that doesn’t exist in any Shotokan syllabus. I’ve never done Heian Shodan with agi uke stepping backwards, or shuffle stances when turning, by the time class ended I still hadn’t mastered the movements. I left confused and tried to mentally erase what I’d ‘kind of’ learned.

I suppose I’m relatively close minded when it comes to this sort of thing – while I enjoy a challenge, I enjoy one that will improve my skills and technique. I have an inherent resistance to learning something I don’t absolutely need to know, and my walls immediately go up. I am currently focused on practicing the nine kata required for my 1st kyu grading next month and I just can’t stuff anything new and obscure into my memory at this point in time. The grading list involves specific items, and this particular kata isn’t one of them. Walls officially up.

This has really been bugging me; in fact it is so annoying that I can’t stop thinking about it. I find myself randomly visualizing the sequence of movements – as I try to fall asleep, on the bus, during the day at work…if I’m alone I try to piece together one or two of the turns. Away from the distractions of class, I’ve had time to slow down and think about what I am doing.

Perhaps the point was to get me thinking.

I think it worked.

Darn it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Go punch yourself.

Of the thousands of punches I've thrown in my years of training, none have ever felt perfect. I often wonder if I was ever in a situation where I really had to haul off and punch someone in self defense, would it actually do damage? Surprisingly, the answer is yes.

This past week has been a great lesson for me regarding just that. Last Friday I was shown a secret: an effective punch is more than just hip rotation and muscle. Now each time I throw a punch, whether it be in kata or basics, I feel a marked difference.

In another class, we were told to go practice punching ourselves in front of the mirror. Watching myself revealed a lot, mainly the difference between how I thought it would look and the reality of how it really looks. This gave me the opportunity to study myself, and of course from there, learn where I can improve. For me, the improvement comes when I punch in the same space - simple yet effective. This, combined with the secret from the previous week (I'm still not telling exactly what that is), has taught me something very valuable and I am excited that my technique is improving.

So, no more going through the motions, I've been given this new tool, and I intend to use it.
Another secret? It works for blocks too - such a nifty and versatile little technique.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Shotokan resolution.

Some months ago, after mental blocking on a few katas during class, I decided that the only way I was going to really build them into my body memory was by practicing each kata once every morning. I envisioned myself soaring through kata, never stumbling, finally doing them with confidence and feeling, beginning to end, no mistakes - I would practice my heart out and reap the benefits. This sure sounded like a good idea at the time. Actually, it was a good idea, but have I done it? No. Well, I did a few times but then my early morning enthusiasm faltered. I liken it to a new years resolution; one has high hopes and all the heart in the world – for the first two or three weeks.

This utter resolution failure came to light last night when I had a mental block during Bassai Dai and Jion, both katas I know well. Or so I thought. As I stood there wondering what the heck comes next, I thought to myself – if only I’d stuck to my resolution and practiced my kata once every morning, I wouldn’t be in this position now. I hate that feeling, standing clueless in the middle of a kata - I get disappointed in myself and extremely frustrated. I was able to finish each kata on my own, after everyone else had finished, but you can bet your last dollar I went home and repeated each of those kata until I worked past my blocks. As it turns out, I was inventing a new kata: Bassai...Nidan. What???

This got me thinking: how does one stay committed to a resolution? What it really comes down to is self-discipline, so it's all up to me. I'll have to work through my excuses, the main one being that I don't have enough time...if I'm serious, I'll make the time.

So - I have two new resolutions:
  1. Arrive to class early enough to practice two kata of my choice, on my own.
  2. I will practice each kata once on Saturday and Sunday morning (caveat: morning = after I get up, if that happens to be noon, well then, that’s when I’ll do them).
I'll report back in a few weeks.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Notebook.

One of the many things I have learned about myself in my years of Karate training is that I learn through repetition. Doing specific moves over and over to build them into my cell memory seems to be the only way I am able to retain information. If I only do something two or three times, forget it. Literally.

Take bunkai for example. Everyone on the team has a part to play, and those parts come and go quickly which doesn’t really afford time to embed them into ones memory. If you practice one section over and over, the rest of the team is left waiting, so generally sections aren’t repeated more than three times before moving on. For me personally, by next class I won’t recall what my specific movements were, and if you mess up in bunkai, you risk taking a shot square in the face. Enter – the notebook.

At first I was shy about bringing my notebook along with me to our bunkai training sessions. Instead I would excuse myself, take my notebook out of my gym bag and write feverishly before I forgot what I just did. When that became inconvenient, I brought the notebook with me and left it nearby to jot things down as necessary. People would tease me for using it, others wondered what the heck I was doing, and one of my Sensei's once threatened to burn it.
The truth is, that notebook got me through my first bunkai group last April. I could reference my notes, practice my sections at home, and arrive to the next class prepared. I didn't have to re-learn everything the next time our group met.

Being on two teams now for a December grading brings the pressure of remembering four different bunkai, but this time, I'm not shy about bringing my notebook. I've learned its value and apparently so have others. Now, when the team forgets what we did last week, they are actually asking me what the notebook says.

These days, I don't go to class without it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A new approach.

With another promotion night looming in the near future, I find myself once again thinking of all the things I need to focus on – basics, kata, timing, technique, stances, and posture to name only a few.

This time however, I’ve decided to approach the grading differently – dare I say – with confidence. Not an arrogant confidence, but through the simple act of believing in myself. It is time to put self-doubt aside and enjoy the journey. I know my list of requirements; I’ve trained them repeatedly. I know there are things I need to work on, and I do. Every time I take class I learn something new and finesse my technique, so my skills are constantly evolving. So too should my strength of mind.

Now, lets see if this works.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The common purpose.

Every time I attend class, I am reminded that each student (including myself) learns at a different pace and excels in a different area. Where one person performs Kata with fierce determination, another will routinely land an admirable front stance. In short, each student brings his or her own unique quality to the Dojo.

Gender aside, first and foremost I am a Karateka. I am dedicated, I focus my energy, and train with passion every time I enter the Dojo. This is my journey and my motivation is to better myself, not to be better than anyone else. I believe we are all training in a sport we mutually enjoy, and we should afford each other the respect we deserve for simply being there.

Next time you enter your Dojo, take a moment to look around and appreciate that everyone, regardless of their gender, age or physical ability, is there for one common purpose.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ignoring the voices.

Some nights I need a little motivation to get me to the Dojo. After 10-hour work days, I often arrive home and would love nothing more than to lie on the couch and close my eyes 'just for a minute'.  There begins the struggle to ignore the voice in my head: "If I don't go tonight, for sure I will go on Thursday", or "I've been going a lot lately, I deserve a night off."  Surely I'm not alone in this experience.
Sometimes that voice gets the better of me, and when it does, I spend the rest of the evening feeling guilty and wishing I had gone after all.

If I had listened to that voice last night, I wouldn't have been reminded how to avoid a narrow stance while stepping through a shuto. I also wouldn't have had the opportunity to help Daniel Bunkai Jion and Empi in preparation for his Shodan grading in December.

When I do manage to ignore that voice, I'm always glad I did.
I'm seeing a pattern here though – voices in my head disrupting my focus during Kata, and trying to talk me out of going to the Dojo...someone is trying to sabotage me. Who would do that?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

There once were three raccoons...

..because of their mischievous nature, these poor raccoons were blamed for something they didn't do, as a dog sat unnoticed under the car eating the missing wieners.
But, you see what you see.

Not following? Well I'm sorry, but you missed a stellar class this evening.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Bring the darkness with you.

I talk a lot about Kata in my blog, and the reason is that I know it gives me a fair share of trouble. Rare is the class that I leave on a high note after doing Kata.

My body doesn't seem to have too much trouble with kicks or punches, and I think I do a good job of letting it take over through basics. I am able to maintain focus and make my way through without over-thinking everything – I dare say I feel somewhat relaxed with these elements.

Kata is different. I am so busy thinking 'don't lean on the next kick', and 'don't fall into another Kata', that I only go through the motions to reach the end. I don't put feeling into what I am doing. Perhaps this is because I'm not confident enough to really put emotion into it – throwing a lot of emotion into a Kata that is sure to be full of that would just look silly. Bassai Godan anyone? "But she looked like she really meant it...."

The most helpful piece of advice I have received regarding this obstacle, is to put on my Kata mask and bring the darkness with me. Not so much literally (although it helps for the purposes of a good demonstration, and makes for a class people wish they hadn't missed), but more figuratively. With my mask on I can transform myself into someone truly ready to kick ass. In the darkness I don't have to feel self-conscious and worry about making mistakes, I can do the Kata full of emotion, purpose and forward momentum.
The trick is to remember to bring my mask with me, and to mentally turn off the lights before each Kata. Tune everyone out and not care what they think, because they make mistakes too. 

Imagine how great it would look, if everyone did Kata with their masks on.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I'm in control...kind of.

One of the many things I enjoy about Karate is that by nature, it is an individual sport. I have a choice in how far I take my training, and how fast or slow I progress. If I choose to stay late and continue training after class has ended I personally benefit. If for some reason I choose to not give 100%, I am the only one affected by my actions.

For a sport that I love so much, sadly there are some things about it that do not appeal to me, and ‘performing’ in front of a group tops the list, in fact, I feel so strongly about it, that it takes the top five places on that list. My friends would find this ironic, because I am someone who has spent a great deal of time on stage performing: acting, improvising and singing. After a few minutes, the audience disappears and it’s just me out there, but for reasons I cannot explain, Karate is different. When asked to stand in front of the class and ‘perform’, I unravel. I really do not like all eyes on me, watching my every move. Maybe the belt I wear puts pressure on me to prove that I have earned my rank, or maybe it is that I don’t want to let my instructors down because they have spent so much time working with me; if I make mistakes it appears that I haven’t been paying attention or taken my training seriously.  
One thing I do know:
On the spot + Karen = a performance I surely will not be proud of.
Stop looking at me and I'll do just fine. Really. I will.

Perhaps over time this will change, but so far, no such luck. It is part of who I am.
It's actually a wonder I've made it through any promotions at all with such a thorn in my side.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mistakes are the most important part of learning.

Kata is something I need to practice more often, and tonight was certainly confirmation of that.

I still find myself thinking too much, and being too critical of myself during the kata – the second I start to think "shoot, my toes pointed up on that sidekick" BAM, I've lost my focus and I immediately mess up. In turn, I am frustrated with myself for making a mistake, and there is simply no recovering from that, as I find myself standing on the sidelines watching a yellow belt complete the kata that I couldn't - which is a very humbling experience indeed.

I've mentioned this many times in my previous posts: supposedly the day will come when I stop thinking and my body will take over and get me through the kata thoughtlessly. Tonight wasn't that night. Repetition is the key for me to learn something inside and out, so if I only do Heian Godan once a month, I cannot reasonably expect my body to know what to do. I know exactly how it will play out: my mind will take over and think "It's been a long time since I've done this one. How does it end? I hope I don't mess this up..." It will be over before I even start.
Tip of the night: Practice all of my kata. Often.

If mistakes are the most important part of learning... well, I did many very important things this evening.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Getting the 'Goodies'.

Some of my friends like to tease me for going to Karate on Friday nights (what, doesn't everybody?!?).
These friends of course are not Karateka, and do not understand why I have such a passion for this sport.  The truth is, I learn more in one Friday night class than I do any other night of the week - the class is two hours long and attendance is generally lower so there is more opportunity to focus on details. In short, I go to class on Friday nights to get the 'Goodies'.

This past Friday night I worked on my front stance. To the non-Karateka, practicing a front stance for 20 minutes might seem like an odd way to spend an evening, but this is the kind of focus I need for things to sink in. I still need loads of practice before this feels natural, but I'm slowly getting better.
Front stance tip of the night: Forward and down, let gravity settle you into your stance.

I also worked on Kanku Dai for over an hour - all the little bits that bring it together and elevate me from just going through the motions, to performing the Kata with skill. Paying attention to the movements within the movements...or...the Goodies. I'm sure my head will still be in this Kata for the foreseeable future as I remind myself every step of the way that there is only now. Ichi go, ichi eh.
Kanku Dai tip of the night: too many to list here! I just hope I can remember them all.

Some people say practice makes perfect, but that's a pretty lofty goal, so for now I like to say:
practice makes me better than I was yesterday.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Room for improvement.

Each class I attend I do my best take something from it, big or small, I take something. Tonight's class was no exception.

It makes sense that at this point in my training I should recognize things within my own skill-set that need improvement, and consciously work on them at every opportunity. The trouble is, there are so many things that I know I need to work on - basic things - where to start!?
  • Don't lean
  • Relax my shoulders
  • Stances! Knee over toe
  • Stances! Hips rotate to open the stance, not the knee
  • Kata - keep the forward momentum
  • Shuto - don't tuck my elbow so close to my body
  • Don't 'place' my kicks
This is just my short list of things that continue to frustrate me; I'm sure I'll come up with more things to add after next class.
With all this to think about, it's a wonder I'm not tripping over myself constantly. Supposedly there will come a time when my head will stay out of it, and my body will just 'do'.  I guess there is another one to add to my list - Don't overthink.  Aaagh.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The same but different.

So, here I am in Rome Italy fresh from my first international Shotokan experience.
It would seem that no matter where I train, I will receive the same comments:
1) Relax
2) Don't lean
Both are things I have been told repeatedly, but still manage for some reason to elude me.
I will also notice differences such as stances, various movements in Kata and although all commands are in Japanese, if the instructor has an accent (as was the case for me here in Italy) - even a simple word like Rei, doesn't sound like the word I am used to.

I arrived at the dojo at 7pm, ready for the 7:30pm start - only the class didn't start at 7:30, it started at 8pm - slight change in schedule, but after waiting for 45 minutes, I was sure it had been cancelled and actually packed up my things and went to change out of my gi!  Luckily I passed a gentleman in the hall wearing a gi (who didn't speak English) and I managed to mime my way through a conversation, and learned that class would begin shortly. As it turns out, the summer sessions are much the same as they are at home - sparsley attended due to vacations etc, so it was myself and two Shodans training for the evening. 

Sensei Castellani is very kind, however I can imagine that in a fully attended session, he would be a very firm instructor respected by all students.  He speaks English well, but is much like Sensei Lindsay, he doesn't actually need to speak in order to teach, one can understand simply by watching.
The session lasted just over one hour and was extremely hot, I think the hottest I've ever experienced while training and I felt nautious. I didn't want to be the wimpy foreigner, so I sucked it up and manged to last the entire class without passing out! I learned afterwards that some students actually do, so I wouldn't have been the first.
The floor was well padded - about three times as thick and soft as Olson's - which caused me to trip up a few times which was slightly embarassing, but overall I think I did OK, didn't embarass myself TOO much and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Next time I travel, I will absolutely search out a Shotokan dojo and request to join in.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Moving forward.

Kanku Dai.

Until now I've not been focused on learning this kata because it has been beyond my rank level. For me, it is a personal decision of which some do not agree - in fact I have had many a friendly disagreement with a dear friend of mine over this very issue - I choose to learn rank appropriate kata and focus on doing them well. I am not easily bored with repetition - this is my journey. 

Now that I have reached 2nd Kyu, it's time for me to begin the process of learning Kanku Dai, so on Friday night I did just that. The blocks and strikes are familiar, but the sequence is completely new, so focus is key in this kata. Repetition and focus - oh, and a little something that can't be taught - patience. That's on me.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Well, it's been almost a week since my grading and I haven't found the time to actually sit down and capture the experience here.

The short version: I passed!
The long version: Where to begin...well, I went in feeling I was as prepared as I could have been; I really put in the time and practiced on my own - a lot.

The grading itself lasted about 1.5 hours and started with quite a number of elements I have not practiced in - lets see - 10 years! After receiving my Brown Belt oh so many years ago, I took a loooooooong break. When I finally arrived at Olson's, I immediately went to work catching up on lost time, but basics in full stance have not been touched on - until the test. Not fair - but they warned us to expect the unexpected, and I was definitely not expecting that. I fumbled through and breathed a sigh of relief when that portion of the grading was over.
Sensies 1. Karen 0.

My basics were half decent, but of course I messed up here and there. What can you do? I wasn't anticipating perfection - I did my best and I'm happy with my effort.

As it turns out, I only had to do two Katas out of the nine I had been practicing, but I'm glad I had them ready, I didn't want to be caught off guard and mess up on Heian Sandan or anything crazy like that.

When all was said and done, I think I did OK. Of course there are things I know I still need to work on, but that will always be the case.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Don't overthink, just do.

I don't usually go to class on Monday nights, but with my grading coming up on Friday, I thought I should get in as much training as possible - and with the way I felt about my stances this evening, it's a good thing I went. I clearly need to keep working on those.

That darned open stance has been a thorn in my side since day one at Olson's, it just feels wrong, so tonight, with some help, I finally go it feeling... well, not quite so wrong. With each move made, there is so much to think about: are my feet pointing in the right direction? is my stance rooted, too wide or too narrow? are my shoulders relaxed? The more I focus on one thing, the more the rest of it falls apart. Sheesh.

Something to remember: use your hips to open your stance, NOT your feet. Easier said than done, but again, with enough practice I'll stop over-thinking every single movement and just do it. I look forward to that day.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Take it with you when you leave.

Tonight was dedicated to Kata, and it is interesting that it took almost a full hour to go through four Kata plus the 'bonus' (Taikyoku Sandan) for good measure. I enjoy the details, and there were plenty pointed out this evening: posture, balance, timing, stances. Come to think of it, I'm sure I've heard all of this somewhere before... hmmm.

Tonight's lesson learned:
Heian Godan - take that Oi Zuki with you when you leave, and load it!

Again with the little things, I'm starting to see a pattern.

It's the little things.

Once upon a time I learned a series of Kata named the Heian Katas. Sometime after that, I'm not sure when it happened, small portions of each slowly left my memory, one by one, until somewhere within each Kata lies an area of uncertainty. This grey area prevents my body from doing the Kata with confidence, as I think three steps ahead wondering if I'm going to mess up once I reach that point of uncertainty. When you lose focus and think too much, you'll always run into trouble; my most recent class confirmed that.

What did I learn? or should I say - what was I reminded of? Mostly little things.
Heian Sandan - don't bend your wrists.
Heian Nidan - relax your shoulders and DON'T bring your feet together for the yoko geri.

Losing focus on all these important little things is a direct result of the areas of uncertainty. Regardless of how frustrated I felt after that class, it has pushed me to become more invested in what I should already know. So now, with my slightly obsessive personality, I have been repeating the patterns in my mind - on the bus, at work, as I try to fall asleep at night - and jumping into each Kata at every opportunity which includes the grocery store aisle when nobody is looking. I should be at the point where my body does the Kata, not my head, and I'm not quite there. However, with this recent reality check, I'm actually getting there, and I look forward to the day that I can post, without hesitation, that I know what lies at the end of Heian Nidan - a gedan barai, age uke - NOT two shuto ukes! Yes, it has happened - more than once.

Practice. And the little things will fall into place.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Get out of the school zone and onto the highway.

I focused on Jion for 1.5 hours tonight - the perfectionist in me doesn't like to move on until I've learned how to do everything just right, but let me tell you, it'll take more than 1.5 hours to get Jion just right. Sensei Lindsay enlightened me and pointed out why I lose my balance and why I over rotate - not just in Kata, but all around; I'm moving too slow, trying to get everything in place before the next move.
So after plenty of repetition it became apparent that when I move faster, I don't lose my balance. When I move in the direction of the attack, I don't have technical problems. My upper and lower body need to work together, faster. I need to stop thinking so much and let my body take over.

Tonight I learned the secret to Karate - connectivity.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Karate is practiced from the ground up.

Practicing Karate is like riding a roller coaster; some days leave me feeling sky high on adrenaline because I'm doing so darned great, and others I can't wait to get the hell out of there and forget the experience ever happened. Tonight was one of those nights.
The main difference is that when I come barreling towards earth on a roller coaster, I'm usually waving my hands in the air, screaming with reckless abandon. My emotional plummets in Karate - not so much.

I was feeling OK about our Bunkai tonight, until we had to perform in front of the class - then one wrong move and it all went down hill (a very steep hill). Yes, I KNOW I messed up, and I was frustrated enough with myself that it certainly didn't help when my Senseis pointed it out for the class to see - I understand, it's a learning moment for everyone. I usually don't mind being the centre of attention, but this was not one of those times. Enough already, I know I sucked!

I guess I need to keep reminding myself that I am there to learn. I am fortunate to have the ability to practice a sport I love, and the ups will come with downs. I just have to understand - I mean really understand - that I'm not going to be perfect - oooh, I can feel my eyes welling up...I repeat, I am not going to be perfect. That is one of my biggest challenges on this journey.
Deep breath.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Some of you are confused.

Ah Kobudo. Not my favourite form to practice at the dojo considering Karate means Empty Hand - hmmmm. Anyways. I didn't bring my Bo Staff tonight and of course it would be the night Sensei decided we practice Kobudo. Note to self - always bring your weapon!
With a full class of swinging Bo Staffs, I found myself ducking every now and then to avoid taking one to the head. Even with that distraction, I felt pretty good considering the Bo Basics are relatively new to me - I'd never done them prior to joining Olson's, and they aren't easy! I am slowly catching on and don't have to look at the students around me to see if I'm doing everything right - a major accomplishment from when I started at Olson's two years ago. I might not look as sharp as I would like, but at least I'm getting the hang of the moves and direction.
Patting myself on the back.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Starting to reflect.

Since returning to Shotokan Karate in 2008, after a rather long break (7 years), I have found a renewed passion for this sport. It took me the better part of a year to finally remember what the heck I was doing and reach the point of actually progressing.
Although it was a frustrating year, I am proud of myself for overcoming that obstacle and sticking with it. If I had started this Blog to document my progress back then, it would certainly be an interesting (and probably humourous) read.

While attaining the rank of Shodan is not my main goal, I thought it would be interesting to record my experiences along the way. I'm sure to have ups and downs along the way, and what better way to reflect on my journey than to capture it here.