Tuesday, August 29, 2017

More Big Bird

As the Brown belts get closer to their test (on 9-8) I couldn't help be impressed with their knowledge and skill and feel a bit chagrined about my relatively modest learning curve.  I don't have to remember as much as they do, but after working on my new kata and adding a few more steps I realized this is going a very difficult couple of years.  I need to learn 7 more kata and still have to learn all the bunkai that goes with it.

The third bird is called Haku tzu ru no onna.  I'm probably not spelling that very well, but it's a lot of low cat stances and odd bird strikes.  I'm only half way and ran into some transition issues right away which is entirely normal for me.  I kept up, but realized that my learning felt slow and had to stop at one point because I couldn't absorb the info fast enough. 

Part of the issue with learning from some of the other high ranking black belts is that they have a tendency to talk about the esoterica.  So, whereas I need to practice over and over again, they will start talking about some small aspect that needles the crap over some small function.  I don't want to be rude, and it's interesting, but not right at the moment.  Thankfully Reed doesn't do that at all and he can match my learning speed pretty well.  During the after class a new guy showed up to work out with us.  He's working on his fourth degree, but like many in the martial arts life, he has an odd interaction style.  I used to think it was because so many folks that stick with karate have home school backgrounds and consequently don't have great social skills, but I'm starting to think it's a personality quirk. 

For instance there is a tendency to forget social niceties.  Like, I don't recognize you, so maybe we should introduce each other and give each other a frame of reference.  In last night's case I was pulling teeth to get the info from new guy.  And he ends up working with me on my kata for about a half hour.  A lot of this time seemed like it was filled with thinly veiled humble bragging, but he moved beautifully and tried to help me as much as he could.  I'm not know sure why his behavior rubbed me wrong, probably the heat.

Regular class was basic and had some celebration prep.  This usually means I'm getting punched and kicked by the kids.  Reed had me assist and correct as much as I could. It's a recipe for confusion since the kids are watching him and I throw off the sequence to get them do the move correctly. 

Hopefully my embroidered belt will be here on Wednesday or next week!  I'll take a pic and show it off here.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

I'm A Big Bird Three

Last night was an alternating Wednesday so we were going to be working on sparring.  With the additional material from Sensei's weekend seminar the content of class has become very interesting.

The class is broken into different groups after warmups to address the various levels of skill.  Last night the two brown belts were pulled to work on their test preparation.  They have a month or so before they go and they look pretty good to me.  I'm not sure how they'll do in the test, but they appear really confident and skilled.

While Mark worked with them I helped Reed with the kids on sparring drills.  The kids never seem to get to sparring because they are working on the new drills.  I'm fine with this because the drills are so awesome that I enjoy learning them with the kids.  Each one builds on the previous and before you know it we are working on a sophisticated drill that cuts through the basics of point based fighting. 

This is of great interest to me.  We never broke up sparring between point based and reality based activity.  I always wondered why I had such a rough time at the tournaments.  Each time I learn something new I just sit there in amazement about how much I missed. 

My favorites are:
  • a punch must be followed by a retraction
  • a leading jab will almost never be rewarded with a point no matter how awesome
Those would have been nice to have known. 

My "help" consisted of me being the Uke so the kids could see what they were supposed to do.  I got a lot of taps on the jaw and thumps in the belly which always makes them pay attention. 

After than I went over to help the Browns. They were supposed to try to complete a test in forty-five minutes.  Good luck with that one.  Basically, they have to do everything once and fast with no waiting between each component.  It doesn't leave a lot of time to breath or catch your breath.  They seemed pretty good about the whole thing though.

After class was held at Reed's house again.  This means sitting in traffic for twenty minutes and enduring a feeling of endless detours, but the worst party is getting home to my wife who gets grumpier than me if she doesn't eat something by that late.  I'll be happy when they move the after class back to my neck of the woods.

I was practicing my two bird katas so Daniel Sensei was given the task to start me on number three, Haku ichi Ryu no onna.  I'm not sure I'm anywhere near the spelling on that one, but it's much like the others.  The big issue for me is going to be able to keep them separate.  This kata removes all the time breathing and changes the strikes once again.  Instead of eye pokes or punches I'm now doing palms to the heart.  You'd think they could have mixed these together. 

At least when I'm doing them I feel a long lineage of people doing these things since the first days when some guy practicing the kung fu version taught it to the first Okinawan guy.  The kata feels so unlike a Japanese thing and so much like a Chinese thing that I still get a chuckle from time to time.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Family We Adopt

Earlier in the day I received a text from Reed saying that Morris Sensei had passed away without further detail.  He'd been afflicted with Parkinson's for some time so it appeared the accumulative issues that go with it were finally too much for his system.  Morris Sensei was Reed's principle teacher.  They had met around thirty years ago.

I'd been under the impression that he and Reed were fairly close so I wasn't sure what the impact to the normal flow of things was going to be. At the end of class Reed told a Zen story that was a favorite of Morris.  While he was doing this he became choked up. He was not ashamed of being emotional, which I thought was pretty great.  He was showing the kids that it was okay to be open about it. 

Class warmup was more of the new sparring exercises which focus heavily on movement.  It's a lot of fun to move around in odd shapes and patterns, but it'll take awhile before any of that becomes second nature. 

While the rest of the class focused on sparring and drills I worked with Sarah on her Black Belt test.  I'm usually a bit dubious about providing oversight, but she looked great and all the questions I had turned out to be moot when we reviewed my questions with Reed. 

From what I understand from Reed, folks rarely pass their first test, but from what I saw her doing she seems leaps and bounds better than other folks I witnessed.  Of course everyone is different at their test, so that remains to be seen.

After class was held at Reed's house which turned out be to be a twenty minute drive in traffic.  Thankfully my car had air conditioning.  I worked on my two bird katas with Daniel for about a half hour before my time ran out.

We were able to process a bit more about Morris' passing.  Fifty years of teaching and touching possibly fifty thousand lives.  I kept wondering about his wife of 30 years.  Being left alone at that point in your life seemed horrible to me.  I don't know anything about them, but I hope they had good friends and family.  I don't believe they had children so I hope there are some extended family to help.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Post Seminar Fun Time

I think I might have mentioned before that Sensei has tried to make a consistent schedule which requires each Wednesday to be either self-defense or sparring.  The challenge being that the kids are literally being brought up from the beginning so putting them into the ring is taking awhile.

Last night we took a pleasant left turn.  Reed was able to get into a very elite training with Elisa Au Fonseca this last weekend.  She's the third top sparring champ in the world if I understand correctly and is definitely shooting for the Olympics in a couple of years when they do the demo for Karate.

Reed was able to get an invite and picked up seven pages of sparring exercises.  His normal follow up from that kind of thing is to immediately make everyone practice it so he can remember, but he locked himself down and followed the syllabus.  He did use new warm-ups from the training which was a nice change. 

As per usual, I got the four girls and had to work on Pinan Godan.  I feel like I might have done something bad in a previous life and it's coming back to haunt me.  The first few run-throughs went well, but then it descended into madness.  Once the girls start giggling there is no coming back.  They basically block me out and just do whatever.  I have to keep trying to get them to focus, but I'm apparently easy to ignore, sigh.  I constantly feel the trap.  We are trying to get them to participate in a focused endeavor, but most of them clearly can't concentrate on the work for more than a few minutes. 

Let's just put it this way.  I can celebrate when we finish that section of the class and move on to sparring work.  Unfortunately, we went to a new exercise which wasn't bad, but I would have liked something a bit more hard. 

The exercise

Someone stands behind you and taps various limbs.  You are basically a marionette and every limb that's touch strikes out.  After we mess with that for a few minutes we place an opponent in front of us and try to fight remotely.  It was interesting limiting and frustrating.  Hopefully, we'll working on that a bit more in the future.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Super Death Killer Extreme

I ran down the hall to my wife with a big smile of childish glee, clutching my prize in my hand.  My wife was processing tomatoes for canning and had her hands full literally and figuratively so her response to my glee was a bit subdued.

"Honey!  Guess what I did?!"
"Hmm,  what?" she replied distractedly.
"I kicked a green fly out of the air and killed it!"
I held out my hand to show her my prize.  The fly was slightly pulped and had one broken wing. 
"Uhuh, that's nice," she replied laconically.
"I know right!?" completely ignoring her lack of interest. 

Due to the amount of fresh vegetables in the house we're bound to get some bugs, but the unexpected birth of so many green flies was new to both of us.  As a consequence I ran around with a fly swatter killing as many as I could, but one errant fellow got out ahead of me so I lashed out with a beautifully timed front kick.  The top of my foot stunned the poor fellow and flung him into the air where I followed up with a messy side kick and sent him to the nether world. 

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Class last night had the full spectrum of students.  And by that I mean it was mostly children.  Because there is twelve children, any hope of getting direct education is out the question.  And, as suspected, Mark and I were pressed into service to work on test prep.  I led the warmups while Sarah and Mark got a quick lesson on what they were going to teach.  Sarah is Reeds' wife, and while she is a green belt she is the most organized person I have ever met and can run circles around Mark and me when it comes to dealing with kids. 

After a couple of exercises that went very well, we were given students to work with.  I got Grace and we had to work on her self-defense techniques.  She is a yellow belt and the two techniques are based around escaping from a full nelson.  My gut feeling is that she will never had to experience this in her life because who in the hell would use this? But if they do I hate to think of the pain they'll experience. 

I weigh about 100 more pounds than her, and didn't think much of the escape to be honest.  Grace placed both her hands on her forehead, stuck her butt out, circled her hands downward and then looked up.  My mistake here was to intertwine my fingers tightly.  Both Grace and I heard all my fingers popping and cracking since they couldn't go anywhere and were now being pulling apart by a small amount of leverage.  God! the pain!

After we practiced that enough that I could no longer pick up anything heavier than a feather we moved on to the throw.  This turned out perfect for having someone heavier and taller doing the grabbing.  Instead of breaking my fingers, Grace reached back and grabbed my head,  she then dropped to her knee while pulling my head further.  And I went flying.  After three times I grabbed a few stretching mats to ease my way on the landing. 

I was walking stiffly last night and it'll be worse today as the day goes on.  Just a reminder out there - take your throws often so it's not such a surprise to the system.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Keeping it 100

I could feel my teeth grinding at one point. 

When Sensei's eight year old daughter is "done" with class she only gives the very least in effort.  I can't imagine what she's like at home, but I imagine they feel more free to address her behavior.  Unfortunately, when I have to teach the young folks she is often an issue because I have to devote so much attention to her.  That means the group suffers.  I imagine I should just ignore her, but when she is partnered with another person they both get less done. 

Last night I had four girls of varying ages and experience trying to get through two exercises.   Each having less and less interest in the work as time went on.  On a good night everyone is pretty much on the same page, but as the time stretched on I seemed plagued by several issues.  The daughter and her partner started giggling which is a sure sign things are going down hill.  Then they started shoving each other.  In the other pair, one girl asked a question about every move; plainly thinking none of it made sense. 

We are told to take questions about martial arts seriously and she waits until we are done the move, but at one point I was thinking, "just shut it and do the move."  Years of training helped me keep my internal dialog inside, but I was tired from juggling both teams.

After I got home I realized that day of dealing with personal issues was pushing into class time.  Normally, I seek refuge in the process, but my fuse was short last night. 

That morning my Mom informed me that my Father had cancelled some care that took me a lot of effort to set up.  I didn't think about it in the morning, but I sat down and processed a bit with my wife before I left for class and that was my error.  I was a bit angry with no outlet.  Kata practice was fine, because I didn't have to interact with anyone, but then their seems to be a murphy's rule for this kind of thing. 

"An area of failure will be exploited at the exact time where the impact will be greatest."

Although in my case nothing happened, but my internal exasperation was at a 100. 

A nice side event was that I finally got my order for my embroidered belt started with Sensei.  Trying to find a good translation for my name was a challenge, but he stepped in and saved me the headache.  I'll try to remember to take a picture when I get it.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Depression Stuff

My Buddy Colin Wee who runs Traditional Tae Kwon Do in Perth, Australia is an enterprising guy by anyone's standard.  So I was pleased when he approached me and several other martial arts folks to create some articles so that he could explore areas and how they relate.  I chose depression as a theme because of the issues I've been dealing with parents.  Below is the article I wrote for him and here is his.

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Depression, Symptoms And Its Treatment From the Martial Arts Perspective

Generally speaking, we all have ups and downs throughout the day, week, and season.  Most folks are not usually aware of the moods that pass by if they are fleeting and mild. We tend to become aware of our emotional state when it starts impacting our quality of life.  Because of cultural influence, this article focuses on the Western male.  I can’t speak to other cultures but I can imagine in most patriarchal ones the emotional response is similar.

Although the polar opposite of depression is mania, we’ll focus on depression because it’s generally considered to be the more impactful of the two.  That’s not to say that intense periods of mania aren’t destructive in their own way, but for the most part, it’s not generally considered bad during the initial stages.

In contrast, depression has noticeable symptomology that can be sometimes confused with a physical problem.  Some symptoms can be a lack of energy, an inability to empathize with others, lack of appetite and disrupted sleep patterns.  

Depression traditionally comes from one of three sources; environmental, physical or psychological.  For people living in the North, the environmental effects of being in a situation where there is little to no light for long portions of the year can cause depression.  Physical causes are usually attributed to head injury, but other neurological problems can cause the same symptoms.  The final cause is psychological.  The traditional reason is that there is an issue that is avoided, so it  manifests in some form.  In many cases, this turns out to be depression.

The ability to treat depression can be very difficult. Traditional therapies include medication and therapy.  The therapy is conversation based analysis and can often take a long time for the patient to develop insight into the cause.  If the patient is introduced into the process through doctors visit, the first thing that’s evaluated is the amount of sleep and activity the person has.  If they are seen as a deficit in these areas, the doctors will prescribe medications to allow for sleep at the very least.  Currently, those who have been diagnosed with depression will also be referred to therapy.

Another difficulty using a talking analysis is that a majority of men in Western culture have some degree of difficulty describing their emotions.  It’s not only not having the self-knowledge and vocabulary that slow the process, but culture itself teaches the male (and some females) to suppress outward displays of emotion seen as negative from a very early age.

A common example is the response to ease the pain of a child.  The child is placated and often told to be quiet. There is nothing wrong with that, but the trait strays into a possibly dysfunctional area when the suppression of the child’s emotional responses are continually reinforced.  Examples of this might be, “suck it up” or “boys don’t cry.”  

The counseling experience becomes difficult when the male has to learn to express emotions and emotional states that have been closed off since childhood. The counselor is challenged when the patient can only provide the response, “I’m sad.”  While the client takes the time to learn to emote and explore his emotions, the depressive cycle will continue.  Thus feedback on the counseling experience will be less than satisfactory.

If the patient (in this case the person experiencing medium to significant depression) can physically motivate themselves, activity is used to help moderate symptoms.  The use of exercise is preferred to encourage the person to resume a healthy sleep cycle.  The more the person has a habitual physical routine the better they are going to do during the recovery, which will shorten the process by lessening the symptomology.  

Here is where martial arts excel in the treatment of symptoms.  Running, bicycling, swimming and lifting weights are great for a person, but in each case, when a plateau is reached, the time to spend thinking gets longer and longer. If a person is healthy, then this time is productive in the sense that they have time to sort and process.  If they are not healthy, this time is where cyclical, negative spirals in thought patterns tend to foment.

Martial arts, on the other hand, provide much of the same activity of the other sports, but adds a feature, the requirement to be present mentally.  It’s a rare thing where the practitioner can participate in regular class work and think about much else.  In schools with more conflict based practice, there is little more to focus on than what is occurring at the moment.

The depression sufferer can find a few hours of solace from symptoms and in time can realize a positive feedback cycle in time.  The more practice the better they are going to feel.

In time, depending on the severity of the depression and the ability of the sufferer to address its cause, the lessening of symptoms will continue.  However, it should be known that the path to recovery is always studded with set backs and pitfalls.  The constant to this process should always be regular physical activity.  The course of treatment may be irregular and even when the counselor and client believe they've come to a logical conclusion, further visits may be required to address emerging issues.

The best thing about a good martial arts school is the sense of shared activity and a feeling of a second family. Taking advantage of that environment to shore up one's emotional state is always recommended.  


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Potatoe Fist was a marriage and family counselor for ten years.  He doesn't miss it all.  He went into IT for a good reason.  Thank god for all the beatings he took in his old school to help him through the hard times.

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