It was a very good year.

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It’s the last day of 2015. Where did the year go? It has certainly been busy and eventful and overall I would have to say that 2015 has been a fantastic year for me. There were some absolutely fabulous things that happened this year and some big achievements. It was not without challenges and disappointments but part of what made it fantastic was being able to overcome these and turn them into positive learning experiences.

I have noticed on social media that many people have been posting daily gratitudes. The reason I have resisted is that I am grateful for most things in life, every day, and I wouldn’t know where to start. I am (usually silently) thankful for my life and all the people and experiences that enrich it. This post will be a more public gratitude summary as well as a year in review.

January:

I started the year with my first overseas travel in more than 6 years (and my first solo voyage overseas since my early 20’s), leaving my little family on Christmas Day 2014, to fend for themselves for nearly 2 weeks. My destination was beautiful New Zealand to attend the very special wedding of some dear friends. The wedding was wonderful, and I met some lovely people (having come only knowing one of the Grooms) but New Zealand itself was such a renewing place for me. I was able to be outside and in nature a lot, with time to think and reflect, while I hiked and biked and swam. Fortunately the weather was stunning and allowed for some great site seeing, both on my own and with the group. I took hundreds of post card worthy photographs, and more importantly made some wonderful memories.

Soon after my return, I started back at training karate with whichever dojo were open, since mine was still on break for nearly another month. In the latter half of 2014 I had made the acquaintance of another Instructor in the network when he came to visit our club. When I noticed on Facebook that his dojo was opening for the year, I went and tried some classes there. It was really different at first but I enjoyed it and kept coming back even after my dojo opened again. Little did I know, but this was the start of something much bigger.

February:

My home dojo started back and the same day, we held a joint birthday party for our kids (which I catered – a challenging but enjoyable operation as to allow everyone to be able to eat everything it had to be gluten free, vegan and nut free).

I was training karate 4-5 times a week in total in addition to being fairly energetic in between. I started attending the advanced class at the new dojo which unbeknownst to me included, among other things, kobudo (weapons training) (more on my introduction to nan chaku).

All was ticking along ok and then there were a few bumps in the road. The first came in the form of a summons to be a juror in March ( Being Courted: Part 1) and the second came in the form of a rather annoying fracture of my right pinky toe (right before my first introduction to a Nan Chaku!). Whilst neither of these challenges were insurmountable, they did cause me some stress while I worked out how to deal with them. ( How to be your own Spin Doctor) The toe put a bit of a dampener on my training for a few months but didn’t actually stop me completely. And the timing of the jury duty (which started about a week or so after I broke the toe) was actually fortuitous in a way since it forced me to stay off my foot for long periods. The other thing that eventuated as a result of my temporary reduction in mobility was this blog. So all in all breaking my toe was not such a bad thing.

March:

March was something I was unable to do for most of the month for obvious reasons! March was a long month for me. I was under an incredible amount of stress (particularly related to the jury duty – The Jury Rap), I had a lot of commitments, and a lot of things happened. There were times where I just wanted to crawl under a rug and wait for April to march along and rescue me, but with training, a little support from my friends and family, I got through. Apart from being a juror, I also performed in the Fringe with my singing group (Check out some of our music here ), I celebrated my one year anniversary of starting Karate (One Year On) , oh…..and we bought a house…..as you do! Thankfully at the end of March I had a short but relaxing break away in the middle of nowhere, with my husband for his birthday, I spent much of it asleep or contemplating the view.

April:

April was a busy month too. I went back to work. We moved into our new home and started unpacking ( Thinking outside the box) and started getting our old home ready to put on the market (More about that here). My daughter started dance lessons. My foot started feeling better and I was able to get back to things like walking for exercise and fairly normal training with less pain. I was invited to cross grade at the new dojo in May ( Read more about my experiences cross training and grading here)  so I started getting more serious about learning things properly.

May:

I graded at the new dojo (with my first instructors approval), watched the senior grading later that week (little did I know that is what was what I will be doing next May!) and then started training for a tournament with all 3 dojo. ( Reflections on a busy week of training and grading) We put our old house on the market and sold it in about a week.

June:

I ran into some trouble with making my blog de-identified enough (reflections on that here) and took some posts offline.

I tried hard to tame my oven and started planning some serious kitchen renovations and new cooking equipment. Lots of baking happened until the oven went…..the door to the kitchen went first though, and it was very drafty; the oven was effective for heating the kitchen at least!

I started training really hard for the tournament with all 3 clubs. I did a mid year review of my karate resolutions ( here ) and found that I was on track except for getting enough rest…..still working on that one!

July: 

Our Kitchen renovations started in earnest, which led to some very creative cooking on a toasted sandwich maker, slow cooker, kettle, freezer, food processor, and camp stove; the invention of some really good recipes resulted (check out the food section). Mid July was the tournament in which I ended up competing for all three clubs! ( reflections here ). Shortly after that I made a decision to change clubs for various reason. It was tough at the time (my thoughts here) but fortuitous as it turned out and definitely for the best.

I tried to distract myself from work as much as possible due to the change in policy with the new financial year causing much chaos and confusion. Training was a useful tool for this.

August:

We had several visiting instructors taking workshops this month (reflections here) and also started preparing a new kata as a surprise for Sensei’s Sensei’s grading in November. Not to mention preparing ourselves for our own grading the week before in November. I reflected on some similarities between music, which I later published here and here. I celebrated my half year blogoversary (here) and also reflected on (and got past) some of my learning blocks (here) and the busy-ness of my life and how I managed to fit things in (here).

September:

My original home dojo closed its doors as I had kind of suspected might happen for some time (hence changing clubs). I trained with them every Sunday for more than a year and a half so it felt a bit like the end of an era. For my reflections read: The End of the Beginning but not the Beginning of the End.

At the end of the month we headed off on a family holiday, ahead of my son and me attending our first Karate Camp.

October:

More holiday and culminating with Karate camp: just what I needed after 2 weeks with the kids. And then coming home to training (which I missed even for the 2 weeks I had been away)!!

November:

I celebrated my birthday with my dojo twin and my family and made up some yummy mocha cake recipes in the process (see food section). I went away for some quiet celebration with my husband too. On our return, I bought my second kobudo weapon with some of my birthday money (more on “Beau” here) .

I also graded again at my “New” club this time as an official member. Reflections on preparation here.

December:

Most of this month has actually been about winding down and spending time with my family. Training finished for the year half way through the month and so did work. I have had  time to prepare lots of meals fresh (rather than eating batch cooked meals on the run) and have enjoyed spending time in the pool or the garden and generally staying close to home and family. This has been very renewing and I think I need to make more opportunities for this in the new year.

I guess I should think about some general resolutions for 2016. I mostly just want to be kind, positive, healthy and happy and radiate this to others around me. I also want to make the best life I can for my family.

My karate resolutions have kind of been planned out for me this year, and I am OK with that, because leaving the planning to someone who has been there before and can see the road somewhat more clearly than me, leaves me free to get down to the nitty gritty of achieving it!

My last karate goals, while small and achievable (though ongoing) were general goals. There is nothing wrong with that; I couldn’t be more specific when I set them anyway, because I didn’t have ideas about my direction or what was possible in the chunk of time we call a year. I had no idea in January that I would be training in another style or under another instructor or have achieved the level I have managed at this point. I think the real lesson in all of this is that going with the flow and rolling with the punches is the way to find where you should be heading.

Rainbow Salad

It’s been really hot here the last week so I haven’t felt like doing a lot of cooking or eating much in the way of hot food. We have been eating a lot of salad and a lot of fruit. Getting fruit into my kids is NEVER an issue. I practically buy out the fruit and veg shop and still run out before the end of the week most of the time. Getting them to eat conventional salad….and even getting my husband to eat conventional salad, not such an easy sell!

When you are feeding kids, it’s all about pitching it right. If I had served this up and called it “quinoa salad”, I don’t think it would have had the same response. Call it “Rainbow salad” and I get a request for a repeat performance (which happened today) and a declaration of the fact that I am the best cook in the world. Rainbow salad is an honest name for it as you can see by the ingredients so I am not hiding anything.

Quantities are completely flexible. I have put recommended quantities and vegetable types only. Just used what you have and adjust the dressing accordingly! I never follow recipes so why should I expect anyone else to!

RECIPE (serves about 6-8 with the quantities I have used)

INGREDIENTS:

About 2-3 cups cooked (about 1 cup raw is needed), cooled, quinoa (I used white but mixed or red would work fine) – to cook quinoa put 1 cup quinoa to 1.5 cups water in a pot (after rinsing if desired) and bring to the boil then simmer 10 minutes and then let stand off the heat for 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork.

  • 3 carrots, grated
  • 1 large cucumber cut in cubes
  • 1 large stalk of celery, diced
  • 2 spring onions or 1/4 red onion, finely chopped
  • 4-5 radishes finely sliced
  • 1/2 punnet of red and 1/2 punnet of yellow grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 10 snowpeas, sliced into small pieces
  • 1 green capsicum diced
  • 1/2 red capsicum diced
  • 1 cup basil torn
  • 1 cup baby spinach or cos lettuce roughly chopped.
  • 3/4 cup stuffed green olives, roughly chopped (I only put these in today but they were a nice addition)

DRESSING

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 rounded teaspoon shiro miso paste (you could use soy or tamari if you don’t have miso)
  • about 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

ADD ONS / SPRINKLES

  • Pine nuts / peanuts / pepitas (any or all)
  • humus or baba ganoush
  • hot chilli / garlic sauce (because I put that stuff on everything!!)

METHOD

Put all the salad ingredients in a large bowl and combine well. Stir through dressing. Serve in bowls and top with add ons if desired.

 

Satay Porridge

“Hmm”….I hear you say.

I know right. It probably sounds a bit weird. But weird is the new normal.

My kids enjoy porridge for breakfast on a fairly regular basis. I put Miss nearly 5’s recipe muddy puddle porridge on the blog several months ago.

I am more of a smoothie person when it comes to breakfast (this is still my current favourite) and my husband favours cold cereal most mornings. My husband and myself often (particularly when it’s cold) enjoy porridge for supper though. He tends to go for the conventional version with fresh or dried fruit and nuts.

I like to mix it up a bit. One night I felt like something savoury, spicy, and warm but didn’t have anything quick to hand. I had some of my friend Sarj’s satay sauce (this is her blog which has excellent Asian fusion recipe ideas) in the fridge though, and thought perhaps it would work in porridge….after all congee (rice porrige / gruel from Asian style cooking) is savoury. Since then (and since I finished the sauce in the fridge) I have been enjoying satay porridge on a semi regular basis but creating the satay sauce element in it as it cooks. I just made it so here is what I put in tonight’s batch.

RECIPE

1/4 cup quick cooking oats

1/2 cup water

2 teaspoons natural crunchy peanut butter (you can use other but I like the real deal)

1 teaspoon soy

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon coconut essence or 1 tablespoon desiccated coconut.

1/4 teaspoon each of: turmeric, cumin, corriander powders. Ginger would also be good I just didn’t think of it until now.

1/2 – 1 teaspoon (ie a squirt) Sriracha (chilli / garlic hot sauce) – if you prefer it less hot you could substitute a tablespoon of sweet chilli sauce instead.

dash of maple or rice malt syrup (may be omitted especially if using sweet chilli sauce)

METHOD

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and microwave for 90 seconds. Stir and eat hot / warm. Sorry no photos…..I just ate it! *For a super simple version you could just used the oats, water, sweet chilli, soy and peanut butter and it would still be delicious.

Little Bo Peep gets aquainted with her Beau.

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Earlier in the year, in Way of the not so empty hand: letting go of fear to gain control., I reflected on starting my journey into Okinawan Kobudo. Since that time I have been steadily building up a small (but growing) arsenal of weapons. It started with a pair of Nan chaku (similar to the one pictured at the top of my first post) and has since seen the addition of a Bo, purchased with some birthday money I got from my Aunt and Uncle. There were some rather interesting text messages on my birthday as I explained what a Bo was and what one does with it…..some of the messages included pop culture references to TMNT…..but I digress…..

Anyway, at the point where I was starting to feel a lot more in control of my Nan chaku, having had the opportunity to practice with my own at home, rather than waiting a month between classes, I eagerly turned up with my chaku and found myself poised a la Little Bo Peep, with a rather long stick in my hands instead. By then the concept of being outside of my comfort zone was so familiar that being outside my comfort zone was starting to feel inside my comfort zone…..so I didn’t really panic (much).

I had heard of Bo although knew very little about them, other than that they were a type of staff (of which there are a few in various lengths). I had also heard Bo was easier to learn / control than Nan chakuBo are an all-in-one unit rather than being 2 sticks joined together with a string, so surely that should be the case……well perhaps for some.

Acquiring a Bo was a little quicker and easier than acquiring a Nan chaku had been. This was only partly due to my growing enthusiasm for being a TMNT (Tough Mummy Ninja Type). To explain: Nan Chaku need to be purchased by someone licensed (which I am not) and you can only legally carry them from your home to and from class with your licensed instructor. A Bo, on the other hand, you can just walk into a martial arts shop, grab one, hand over your money, and presto you are armed and ready to go. Apparently, no one minds if you carry a big long stick around, and there is no law against it.

So, in I went into the Martial arts shop in town, armed with my birthday cash and out I came, a short while later, armed with a Bo. There were only a few to choose from (in terms of materials) and I had been given a heads up about what to select so it was super easy shopping (the only kind of shopping I actually enjoy).

My daughter was highly confused; she thought I was buying a pretty bo(w) (for my hair). My son was disappointed; he thought I was buying the kind of  bo(w) you use to shoot arrows. My husband was equally underwhelmed; he thought my purchase looked like something I could have got with the curtain rods at Bunnings (his favourite hardware haunt). However, I was happy with my new Bo and that was what counted!

My Bo is tall, slim, fair, and handsome – at least he was the day I met him (he’s taken a bit of a beating lately and is looking more rugged). He is made of rattan which is about as light and flexible as you can get in a real (as opposed to practice) Bo. He’s also the softest Bo in our dojo, which explains why he’s so easily bruised. My training buddies wanted to know if I had named my Bo. Surprisingly, (given that I am a self confessed word nerd), I couldn’t actually think of anything more original or witty, so he’s still just “Beau”, which given his aforementioned attributes and characteristics, is, at least, appropriate.

Although it was love at first sight, (for me, at any rate), Beau did not want a bar (pun intended) of my controlling nature. He did not want to be an extension of me, like my Sensei told me was the aim. He did not want to cooperate, and, although flexible in a literal sense, figuratively speaking, he refused to bend, let alone let me be the boss of the relationship. At times there was even a degree of domestic violence between us; we bruised each other in equal measure. In short….that stick just plain gave me stick! To say our relationship had a rocky start would be fairly accurate. I had moments where I had doubt things would ever work out between us. However, although it is early days still, things seemed to have turned a corner.

Beau and I have been together for 6 weeks or so now, and I take him out for a spin whenever I get the opportunity. Because he’s so tall we need to work where there is plenty of space and head room and he’s not so good around small kids, so we need to avoid them too. He’s been to a few playgrounds with me and  my daughter and we’ve done our thing while watching her play from a safe distance. He comes outside with me; at night time after the kids are in bed asleep. We’ve been trying to learn our form (kata) together in class, with gradually increasing success. We’ve even done some sparring drills with the other Bo in class, and although he’s come away somewhat more bruised than me or the other Bo on these occasions, he has not complained.

Beau is coming around to my way, and I to his. He has given me strength of body and spirit that I never knew I had in me. I have given him an exciting second life beyond the palm forests of Taiwan where he grew up. We are able to have some sort of synchrony with the basics and we don’t beat each other up quite so much now. I am starting to understand how he can help me and how I need to help him, and I get the feeling our relationship will become more and more harmonious with the passage of time; we just need to keep working on it.

 

 

 

Kumite: A fighting Chance.

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This week training seems to have been all about kumite. Of course, when you think about, it it is always all about kumite, even when it doesn’t feel like it is….but this week, it was, for me, decidedly and overtly all about kumite…..And, at least at this this end of the week, my body is certainly letting me know that it was kumite; I am experiencing that unique yet satisfying kind of soreness that seems to come with the territory.

Karate is a bit of a conundrum. It is simple and yet complex. It is hard and soft. It is violent but beautiful. Karate means different things to different people. People train for different reasons, like different aspects of it, and get different things out of it. In all probability, like me, they won’t even be able to fully  express exactly what it is they get out of it or why they keep training. There is a fighting chance though, that at least one of the reasons relates to having a “fighting chance” if push literally did come to shove (ie self defence situation).

To be able to defend yourself, you need to be able to react without thinking but firstly consider; ie think without reacting. You need to be able to perform under pressure when there is no pressure to “perform”. You need to be able to have a fighting chance without taking a chance in a fight.

It appears to me that people like to compartmentalise sports kumite (ie point scoring), from dojo sparring, from street fighting / self defence scenarios, but to me it seems like they are all on the same spectrum.

Sports kumite is confined to a “ring” (ok, so it’s generally a square, but you get the idea), and is stopped every time someone scores (or looks like they scored) a point (ie when someone gets hit / tapped, depending on contact rules). It’s timed and the match is over as soon as someone gets the required number of points. Even though it is very “safe” there is still an element of fear which has to be managed. There is still the need to be free flowing and react to a situation which is not entirely within your control. Depending on who you are fighting there is also likely to be some endurance required (of the physical contact, and general perseverance variety).

Dojo sparring (jiyu kumite) is also confined to a greater or lesser space, depending on how many other people are sharing the “dance floor”*. It is continuous (though generally timed) and there are less rules. Techniques that are not allowed in sports kumite are allowed so there appears to be more variation in technique. Also, in a way, it can be more friendly, since the main purpose seems to be to learn and practise, rather than to get points or really nail your opponent.

In both Sports kumite and dojo sparring, we practise important elements for self defence. Things like: how to read a situation, how to manage your response to fear, physical contact or personal space invasion, how to have a clear head under pressure, how to be flexible and react appropriately and quickly to a potential threat, and how to be controlled in your reaction. Obviously the level of contact is going to be way more controlled in sports or dojo kumite, but control is still important, even in a street setting, from a legal standpoint if nothing else.

Street self defence scenarios are obviously about getting out of the situation intact. Therefore, your response goal has to be one of self preservation; if the person is trying to harm you, you do what is needed to get away, even if that means hurting someone. This is where it all hopefully comes together for you, so you have a fighting chance.

Let’s face facts for a minute. Karate isn’t like craft group. People do get bumped and bruised a bit. That is something you need to accept as part of conditioning. Conditioning of the body and the mind are important. In real life it’s important to be able to “roll with the punches” in the fullest sense of the cliché. You don’t have to be addicted to pain or immune to it. You do have to control your reaction to getting a bump, and you do need to learn to control your inner response to a stressful or frightening situation. In a street scenario you don’t want to let any weakness or vulnerability show, lest it be quickly turned against you. By the same token you don’t want to give away your next move lest it be thwarted.

Having said that Karate isn’t like craft group, the injury risk is probably less in Karate, than in other contact sports (and perhaps even in craft group, when it comes down to it, depending on how many Stanley knives aka box cutters and hot glue guns are involved). We often hit our friends; it’s part of training for all the reasons mentioned, but naturally we don’t want to hurt them. However, in the heat of the moment, accidents can and do happen. There has been blood on the “dance floor”* more than once in my training memory, mostly cuts on the feet or hands and blood noses; nothing serious…..and mostly not my blood either….but it still jolts you a bit when it happens as it reveals how vulnerable we actually are. Confronting? Yes, but it certainly puts your little “achievement marks” (one of my “younger sister’s” affectionate terms for bruises) into perspective.

* by dance floor, I am actually referring to the training space. We don’t do dancing…..:) A running joke in our dojo. Please Sensei don’t give me push ups…..I need to recover first 🙂 lol