Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Parent-And-Tot Class

I just got in from my first ever parent-and-child karate class. It was great fun, and reminded me of how excited I used to get when my dad would play in the parent-and-child hockey games when I was young. The class was just run like a normal kids class--no tailoring it to be more suitable for parents. I think more clubs should try this type of event. It shows the parents how hard their kids work and why they like to go to the classes in the first place. It's both humbling and a good bonding excercise.
(Now, after class, my son is wiped out and fast asleep in bed. And I'm sure I won't be awake much longer.)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

i'd rather quit...

I encountered, this summer, a teacher who made me think: If I had to study under this individual, I'd likely quit the martial arts. That has never happened before. I don't know what this says about me, but I do know what this says about the way this sensei taught. His skills were excellent, but he was belittling and arrogant. He made you feel your attempts were insufficient even when you were trying your best. And although it was all done under the guise of jest, it was still enough to impact the lesson in a negative way.
It takes a lot for me to say something this strong, but the truth is, that I wouldn't want to learn from someone who cares so little for the feelings of his or her students.
Maybe this is a poor attitude on my part, but it makes me appreciate the other teachers and fellow students I have encountered along the way. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Greed: is it good?...

Yesterday I attended a class on point sparring. It is not something I spend a lot of time doing, so I took the class for that reason, and was quite fortunate in the caliber of instruction I had during the session.
We did a lot of counters, especially from reverse punches and roundhouse kicks. I caught on fairly well, largely due to the direction given to me from the highly experienced fighter I was paired up with. It was a good workout and we had a laugh as well.
But of all the help I received yesterday, one of the most memorable comments came from the teacher's uke/assistant instructor, who strolled around the training area, offering bits of advice and guidance.
"You're doing it fine," he said, going over the form and movement of my counter attack. Then he hesitated, and his face became animated. "But you need to be greedy. Take the point by being greedy."
And he demonstrated--with speed and decisiveness--what it is he meant by these words. The block and punch were all in one motion, and it looked like his will itself was overpowering the attacker.
Sure enough, he seemed, well, "greedy."
I paused for a moment, thanked him and bowed, and returned to the drill to try emulating this greed: a state of being we normally associate with bad behavior; a way of acting we usually feel needs to be suppressed or ignored.
But he summed up, really, what can make the difference between two combatants in the cat-and-mouse game of sparring: The desire and will to just, "Take the point."

Friday, July 26, 2013

a good dose of humility...

My knuckles are blistered from hitting the focus mitts...
I tanked out during class with exhaustion...
My muscles are so stiff I can hardly lift a fork...

(Welcome back to summer training, a good dose of humility goes a long way.)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tao Te Ching - 77

"The Tao of heaven is like the bending of a bow.
The high is lowered, and the low is raised."
                                                           -- Lao Tsu

I like thinking about this one.
It has the "meek shall inherit the earth" feel. The Way, or Tao, balances all things. It reminds me of breathing and drawing chi energy from both above your head and up through the soles of your feet. It reminds me of a Heaven and Earth throw where the head comes down to earth and the feet go up to the clouds. It reminds me of finding peace with the lower nature of the Mind and that of the higher.

He goes on:

"If the string is too long, it is shortened;
If there is not enough, it is made longer."

We adapt. The universe provides. We adjust our balance, whether it be our energy, mind, or body. Regardless of the actions of people on earth, the Way will remain intact and unyielding. For the Tao, Lao Tsu continues, takes from those who have too much and gives to those with not enough.
He says: "What man has more than enough and gives it to the world? Only the man of Tao."

This is why the sage "works without recognition," and achieves "without dwelling on it."

And there is no need to flaunt skill or knowledge. Just a bending of a bow.

Monday, July 1, 2013

summer changes...

Usually, this time of year, I am ready for some down time. The dojo shuts down for a large part of the summer, and the time is used to heal, relax, and think about what comes next.
But this year I don't feel ready.
To start, my training time has been sporadic this year, down significantly from previous years due to a variety of reasons. I also used to attend another dojo--a different martial art--but have taken time away from doing this in order to focus on my main style (which as I mentioned has been neglected somewhat). And it seems as soon as my focus began returning and I became fired up for some serious training, it was announced that the dojo would close for an even longer time this year. And sooner rather than later.
So now I have to figure out how to channel my new-found enthusiasm despite this news; how to turn this negative into a positive. But is it even enough time to bother trying a new style? Is it worth going back to the other dojo even though I had made a decision to take a break from training there?
I dunno... But I'd hate to let this enthusiasm go to waste...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

being timid...

I often leave seminars with a feeling of ambivalence.
And this is exactly what happened last week as I attended a really good self-defense clinic about an hour away from my home.
The good feelings are usually first. They are a result of having just learned some great stuff, having met with some great martial artists, and having tons of exercise-induced endorphins pumping through my system.
What’s not to be happy about? Right?
Well, the second emotion that hits me is usually frustration with myself. And not because I’m overly critical with my technique--because I know that it is not perfect. Rather, the feeling is because I am upset with how I react to different training partners than those I am used to. As I have mentioned before, I train in a very small dojo, where one becomes very comfortable with one’s instructors and/or peers. When I am at a seminar, I train with many, many different people, and my reaction to this is very inconsistent. With some people, I feel immediately comfortable, and the mutual learning goes smoothly. With other partners, it is neutral, and likewise, the training remains solid. However, for some reason, with just a few, (and here is the crux of the matter), I get shy and even a bit intimidated at times. And not so much physically intimidated—the environment is always friendly--but rather socially intimidated. I start to feel awkward with my partner and am overly apologetic and/or overly polite. I get quiet and uncomfortable, and I'm generally a guy who is comfortable in most social situations. And this doesn’t go by rank, either. It could be while working with a white belt or fifth degree black.
I guess I just worry about what ramifications this could have outside the dojo. Could it hurt my confidence in real life...? Could it make me a weaker person in a real confrontation...? 
Or is it all just good for me. The whole overcoming one’s comfort zone etc. But it’s difficult to totally overcome, especially since opportunities for such group settings only come up every few months or so.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

more lessons on weapons...

Despite my wavering (and likely naive) opinions on weapons as of late, I decided to jump right in and go to a seminar on classical Japanese sword technique.
And, well, I loved it.
 The instructor, who I have attended sessions with in the past, is truly one of the best I have seen. His breadth of knowledge is immense, and his ability to simplify seemingly intricate techniques is incredible. To top it all off, I got to work on what he showed us with my own sensei for the entire three hours.
And while many realizations were had during the course of the afternoon, two things really hit home with me this time.
Firstly, although I have always known the link between weapons and empty hand exists, this was one of the clearest examples of this concept for me. I could see how the difference between the two could seemingly dissolve, and how the bokken, or wooden sword, could truly become an extension of one's body. (I am not claiming to have mastered this... I am claiming an understanding of how one could master this...). Likewise, I could further feel how one's body could feel more weapon-like, and how the two could in fact be melded together.
Second, and one of the most valuable things I am getting out of my recent foray into the world of weapons, is an intensified view on the importance of timing. On the battlefield, life and death could be reduced to a millisecond, as a technique would work or fail based on the same. This instructor really conveyed this concept, and as a result, he made the techniques seem very real to me. (Of course, this extreme awareness of timing is, once again, transferable back to empty hand.)
Don't get me wrong, I still have a sense of awkwardness in comparison to my normal comfort zone of training. I can feel my shoulders are still stiff and I overthink most aspects of the techniques. But my mind is, in fact, being slowly pried open. My brain is absorbing new material and adding it to my previous knowledge base.
And yes, it was fun this time too.....

Thursday, April 4, 2013


My last class was one of my most important to date. I entered the dojo (I was the only student at class), my sensei and I bowed, and he asked me to sit down on the floor. And for two hours we just talked about martial arts. I learned a lot, and thanked him for such an insightful class... some of the words i will carry with me for a long time...

Monday, March 11, 2013


Belts have always been a bit of an area of indifference to me... i get it, but i work out in a very small dojo where everyone knows each other's abilities (three students is often a busy night)... sometimes, when we travel to another club or attend a seminar, it helps out with the teaching/learning match-ups... but belt standards are different in each dojo, plus, i go to maybe three such events a year, so for the most part i don't think too much about it.
however, my five-year-old son recently received his orange belt... and it was great to see the effort and energy he put into attaining it... even at his age--or especially at his age--i could tell he needed a boost and/or something to focus on... and so did his sensei... it was a huge motivator, and he earned the belt through so much hard work...   (and the great part at that age is there is absolutely no ego involved; the belt is just as exciting as getting a gift at Christmas, but there is little concern for what other kids are doing or achieving...)
so,  i learned that however indifferent i may have become, i got a real kick out of his acheivment, and i can see how it encouraged his growth as a little martial artist...
the only down side is that dad still ties his belt, and new belts always find a way to fall off during class... it took us more than a year to break in that yellow one...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

awkwardness and incompetence...

lately, i've experienced epic amounts of awkwardness and incompetence while trying to learn new sword, stick, and staff techniques. aside from one bo kata, i've spent very little time using these weapons, and believe me, it shows.
 i am a total beginner again; it's amusing and frustrating all at once.
i guess, in the past, i have always avoided weapons training (empty hand defenses notwithstanding). i've always felt that i'd rather spend the time on basic self-defense than on something i'd never use, like a sword. but lately, well, it's been kind of pushed on me.
my initial reaction was to just to do it and get it over with. smile, learn a few techniques, then return to empty hand drills. but after being forced to spend more and more time at it, i knew this was not the right way to look at the situation. don't get me wrong, i still am ambivalent, but i am trying to balance out my point of view.
so i'm looking at the weapons training as a way of expanding and exercising my brain; i'm looking at the link between empty hand techniques and those of weapons; i'm further understanding combat mechanics and how a weapon can be an extension of your body; and i'm getting a bit of a history lesson when i think of the countless soldiers and civilians who were once trained in these arts.
and the beginner's mind is good, after all.
it's just that sometimes i need to be forced into it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

the zen is mightier than the sword....

maybe i'm not a true warrior... i don't possess "killer" instincts; real violence makes me ill; and i tend to train more in my brain than in the dojo as of late... in fact, some of my best lessons have come from friends while drinking beer and smoking cigars, or just laying in bed staring up at the ceiling...  (is this traditional?)
i guess i have never been orthodox at anything in my life--sports, academics, career, etc....
yet i feel driven; i feel purpose behind my actions... and i know warriors come in all forms and fight all kinds of battles...
but can "killer" be cultivated? and if so, is that something i want to attain?
i think i have to push past this notion of violence... past this notion of petty contradictions...

Monday, February 4, 2013

the dark ages...

it's been a tough couple weeks in my martial arts brain.... classes have been few and far between, and to boot, i have had a recurrence of very bad back pain... stabbing daggers bad.... i keep telling myself that all martial artists train with discomfort of some sort, and i, too, have always been banged up to a certain degree... yet pain is a great tool for making one humble... albeit grumpy, as well....
in fact, the amount of physical pain that manifests itself as mental struggle is amazing... it's not, "all in your head," but there is a definite battle that takes place there... one loses sight of which hurts more--the thought of being hurt or the pain itself.... it reminds me of a native north american saying that was written on a piece of art given to me many moons ago: "...Änd the shaman gave us the wisdom of the bear and the orca. First the bear spoke saying: Seek strength, not to be greater than your brother, but to fight your own greatest enemy... yourself. Then spake orca: You must live your life from the beginning to the end, no one else can do it for you..."


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

oh yeah...

*art by fernando Degrossi

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


I am happiest when there is diversity in my training.
While repetition is important, it can be done by revisiting the same techniques over time, rather than two hours each class just hammering the same lesson over and again (there is a time and place for this, don't get me wrong).
The past week is a good example of  what I like doing. Class One: stretches, kicks, strikes, once through all katas, and a fairly lengthy lesson on swords. Class two: stretches (with push ups, sit ups, etc.), focus mitts, light sparring, blocking drills, joint locks/take downs, and a session with the sticks. It was a great mix, and my brain feels like it worked out, too.
We all know that martial arts takes years of repeating a concept, not just specific classes where one technique is repeated endlessly. For example, I have likely done thousands and thousands of wrist throws over the past five years alone, yet never have I spent a whole class just on this one technique--not that I wouldn't. I just think diversity helps, keeping things fresh, and thus allowing greater focus on learning.
Maybe this is just me and my attention span. However, the repetition, if I look for it closely, is still there, just over years instead of hours...
I repeat, instead of hours.... hours... hours...

Monday, January 14, 2013

too much violence...

A high school hockey teammate—who I haven’t seen in years—made a friend request on my Facebook page just days ago. It was a nice gesture. It made me summon up the faces of people that hadn’t entered my mind in years.

On the weekend I learned that he was beaten and stabbed with a broken beer bottle on the street. He was found lying in his own blood. He’s now on life support; I think he will likely recover, though.

Aside from the coincidence of the Facebook contact, I am writing this because it just won’t leave my head. It makes me think of so many things--namely his family and friends. It also reminds me that there really are people out there that will do something this violent. I guess I am sheltered; I live away from the city where there is some crime, but enough time in between events to forget that horrid pit-of-your-stomach feeling that accompanies tragedy of this magnitude.

And moral questions arise. Speculation about the nature of evil creeps into the thought process. (Should we truly pray for those who inflict such harm on others? Should we desire revenge? Is evil just a result of maladjusted emotions? Is evil only  to be seen as evil because we fear the pain ourselves?)

Too much in my head. It seems we often turn these things into being about ourselves. Human nature, I suppose.

But the world, at times, seems twisted and the path shaded by dark actions. I normally focus on the good; on the Spirit.

But shit, this experience can be heavy some days.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

...Just thought this fit well today, don't know why...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

the broken buddha....

Years ago, a friend of mine was going through hard times. We were young. He left the city where we lived and went to stay with his folks for a year before he moved away once again for some further education.
He lived in a basement. He wrote a book of poetry. He met me sometimes for a chat or to throw around the football.
Pain is a strange thing, as most of us know. Enlightenment can truly arise from its depths. Don't get me wrong, any of us would trade away the anguish in a second for some calm and joy. And his trials would pass, in time.
Anyway, one of my best glimpses of Zen came from those days--in the shadowy basement of a suburban bungalow--in a city just like any other. I guess my friend had ordered Chinese food, not wanting to cook one evening, and the food had arrived with one of those cheap scroll calenders that most customers throw out. You know, the ones that say it's the year of the tiger or whatever and then have a calendar beneath this info with a giant business card ad... i.e. the true motivation for giving the calendar in the first place. (Phew... I'm out of breath now). Well, this calendar hung on the wall for the whole year in my friends room.
Yup. The words and images faced the wall. And in tiny writing, barely discernible on the otherwise blank back of the scroll, was a barely legible sentence. It read: "Time does not exist."
And to this day I am sure that my friend was right.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A cold January evening...

Sitting here tonight, looking out the window at newly fallen snow, my mind leads me to places I have been over the past year. It was more eventful than I thought; I trained with some good people who I can definately call my friends.
A highlight was a wickedly hot summertime seminar. I was too broke to go. I said I wasn't going to make it. But my buddy decided I was meant to go and paid my way. It ended up being mind blowing, and it, to this day, has expanded my mind in countless ways when it comes to martial arts. I took part in classes on close quarter clinch work, traditional swords, traditional karate, chi work, joint locks, and a really horrible bo form. (I find it amusing now... in a way). It was so damn hot I can hardly describe it now, sitting, as I said, amid the frost of a January night in the north.
Then there was a seminar on come-along techniques. Good stuff, although I questioned at the time ever having to use any of it, that is, until I was in the pub afterwards and some guy--drunk--refused to leave the place after being asked many times by the lone female bartender. Oh crap, I thought to myself. What are the chances... is this a test? Really? (As it turned out the guy finally left on his own accord, and I received no post-seminar review... phew!).
But mostly the year was about the insight attained at regular classes. A lot of hours and a lot of work. While sometimes I felt like my wheels were just spinning in the mud, I think if I am honest with myself I can consider it to have been a solid year of training and honing my technique. And the friendships, as I mentioned above, are always key.
As for resolutions.... I don't think I'll make any formal obligations. I just look forward to the little insights and improvements that I hope to achieve in the upcoming months. The good classes and/or seminars; the further understanding of an old technique or the discovery of a new one.
Who's to say what's to happen, really...?