Coming of age.

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This Thursday is the 9th of March. It marks the third anniversary of my first entering a dojo, and my entry into the world of karate.

Things are a lot different for me now, it’s true, I have a different instructor, a different style, an abundance of kata (and a love of kata rather than a fear of it), but, there is one one thing hasn’t changed, and that is the absolute completeness I feel when I am doing karate or thinking about it. That instant attraction I felt for karate in those first few classes has not faded, as some others told me would happen with the passing of years. Who knows what the future holds for me but if I am honest the attraction continues to grow rather than diminish as the months pass.

I was chatting with my Senpai today, about how it feels like longer than 3 years….that maybe my karate years are like dog years! This is due to the many opportunities I have been given, which have afforded me the opportunity to accelerate¬†my learning, the passion and patience of my primary and other network instructors, and the camaraderie of the people I train with.

I remember when I decided to try out the club which has become my home away from home (a long way from home it feels like sometimes, but honestly, I have a smile on my face the whole way to and from because I am so happy to travel the distance for something I love). I did my research and looked at the webpage / blog / facebook presence. One of the things I recall seeing (and it is still there) was: (“start training today and….) “Start Living”. I thought it was a bit over the top at the time to say that, but honestly it has become my reality and it is not a stretch at all to make that claim.

So…..Happy third (re)birthday to me! I say rebirth because really Karate has changed who I am, how I define myself, my whole perspective on life, and I have really started living.

Second Blogoversary: A Song without (many) words

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It occurred to me on the anniversary of my broken toe (and a “skelegrow” reference in a past status on Facebook ūüėõ ), that it’s been 2 years since I started this blog. Happy blogoversary to me…..I am now a toddler blogger.

I haven’t been writing that much lately. It’s partly a function of being busy as ever but it’s more than just that. There is plenty I want to talk about and say but things are getting so busy and complicated in my head sometimes that it’s hard to share things in a concise way.

I came across Plato’s quote (above) a few weeks ago on a chalk board of a cafe somewhere on my way across town. It really resonates with me because it sums up how I have been feeling in my 40s. I don’t see the meaning of “lover” in romantic sense but more of finding your groove so to speak.

Anyway….I think I will celebrate with a poem of my own. Perhaps one day it will be a song too. I really should start composing again sooner or later.

A song without (many) words.

Rachel Sag (24/2/17)

The more I learn, the more I grow,

The more I think, the less I know.

The more I see, the more I do,

The more I find the person who,

I knew was there, but didn’t know,

Or dream how far I’d have to go.

The more I seek, the more find,

The person I have left behind.

A somebody so unaware;

A someone who was barely there.

A ghostly shadow; Can you see

The shell of someone who once was me?

I recognise but don’t repent,

The hours and minutes as misspent.

The journey traversed over time,

Brought her to me and onto mine.

I now lead on with steady stride,

‘Til¬†I can join and walk beside,

The person who will look at me,

And wonder who she used to be.

Back to Basics – teaching is the new learning.

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It’s been a few months since I was awarded the title of Senpai. Being a Senpai means being a positive role model. It means welcoming new students, showing them how things work, and making them feel comfortable. It also marks the real starting point of teaching others what you have learned.

In most styles a certain number of teaching hours are seen as part of the requirements for shodan. Personally, I think this is very fair. Even if you have no aspirations of being a martial arts instructor, or opening your own dojo, it’s important to know how to run a basic class, in the event that your instructor is delayed or ill (etc) and can’t make it. Also you owe it to your instructor and fellow students to help out…and besides, if you can’t teach a skill, if you can’t pass things on, how well do you really know it?

Practically speaking, teaching is something that everyone handles differently. I have observed and experienced this from both sides of the equation. Teaching requires technical skill, relevant experience, self reflection, patience, and the ability to demonstrate, explain, observe and correct. It is also extremely beneficial if you can motivate and inspire, show compassion, empathy and understanding.

Teaching is generally a learned (or, at the very least, acquired) skill, and although the general principles remain the same for anything you want to teach, learning to teach Karate, has so far been a steady learning curve for me. Fortunately, I have been eased in to the teaching role. This is possibly because I am not the head student, nor a shodan, but it has given me time to get used to the whole concept, which frankly I initially found kind of daunting.

Currently in my training, I have reached the point where I have been shown most of the technical skills (basics) in our style. This does not mean that I have lost interest in basics by any stretch of the imagination. What it does mean for me is that I can concentrate my own practice on the finer details, the refinement, the effectiveness, the breathing and the minutiae of small things that I (unwittingly) overlooked due to necessarily giving priority to gross motor function, coordination, (and yes, knowing which hand I was meant to be using), when I was first leaning how to block and punch. I often can feel or see for myself what I need to work on, so practicing outside of class time has become easier.

Obviously I am still learning myself, and it’s much easier for me to have senior students and instructors, who observe ¬†my practice, give me pointers on what to fix and how to fix it, and make me aware of areas I hadn’t noticed were a problem or had known were a problem but couldn’t fill in the gap. This leads me to the second point. With a degree of automation now at my disposal with respect to performing basic techniques, I can also focus on what is being said when I am corrected, or when others are corrected, and start observing things that others are doing that could be improved, and start to remember what helped me improve those things.

So, far from the automation letting me “switch off”, it has allowed me to engage my brain in a different way. I tend to observe more, talk and write less (hence the blog has been quiet- ¬†sorry if you wondered what I was up to). I have noticed is that even my journal entries for general classes are far more perfunctory with respect to what we have covered in class. I no longer need to write down each and every stretch or warm up etc, because I am familiar with the basic routines (and even lead them sometimes). I do include more detail on what was helpful in learning, or correcting, or teaching a particular technique, whether this teaching was given to me, or by me. I guess I am doing two kinds of learning at once now, one is for my own personal betterment as a karate-ka and one is for being able to pass on what I have learned. I am quietly putting aside an arsenal of strategies and actively preparing myself for the event when I will have to do more teaching.

Mostly my teaching responsibility has been in the form of leading stretching and or warm ups at the start of class, helping demonstrate techniques, and helping kohai individually or in small groups with basic drills and kata. Lately we have had a new student, and I have really enjoyed the experience of working with someone, who, like me, has started from scratch, as an adult. I can relate to how she feels as she struggles through the basics, and can be inwardly, and openly, and most of all, HONESTLY empathetic. I really hope the new student stays on, because seeing people grow and learn and improve, is the most rewarding part of teaching anything.

Looking back and looking forward. (A year in review.)

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Just a little bit excited about our trip to Tokyo (and Japan)!

It’s nearly time to wrap up 2016 and start a brand new year. Joelle over at¬†A beginner’s Journey¬†has reminded me I ought to be doing a year in review post…..because that’s what you do.

Although, as social media feeds keep reminding me, 2016 has been a year of losses¬†(even in the last week), 2016 has been a pretty good year for me personally. A lot of the people who died were from the world of music and arts. One¬†of that number hit much harder than the others, and was way more confronting, because they were a friend and musical colleague of mine, and they were of my generation and it was way too soon for them to leave. In perspective, I see it as a reminder that (1) we don’t live forever and that is part of the beauty of life, and (2) we should make damn sure we do and say everything we need to today and not wait for tomorrow, just in case….

To be honest I don’t know where the year went. Life has been crazy busy. I have had lots of music commitments, I have continued to work in an ever changing and challenging (often to the point of being frustrating) environment, I have been helping my kids learn various life skills, I have been experimenting in the kitchen, and I have been holiday planning and travelling.¬†In addition to being a musician, a professional, a mum and a wife, I have been training (Karate) fairly intensively this year. So I guess the old adage “Time flies when you are having fun.” is probably a reasonable explanation to why this year has felt so short (when actually it had a whole 24 extra hours!!).

MUSIC

Musically speaking, I have been involved in several performances (both choral / vocal and instrumental) with Lumina and Lyrebyrd and also done some singing and playing just for fun. I have not had time to write anything new but I had one of my works performed again in the fringe and to top it off it was voted by the audience poll as the most popular piece in the concert, (which was an absolute honour, especially considering the programme included some absolute gems).

WORK

I am not at liberty to say much about work but despite its frustrations (mostly related to IT issues), I am grateful for my job and my colleagues and continue to be challenged by my clients (in a more positive way than I am challenged by the IT issues!!). And besides working pays for extras like presents and karate lessons!

PARENTHOOD / FAMILY

I have said it before and it bears repeating: Being a mum (or a dad) never really gets easier; it just gets different. I am a fairly practical mum. I feed my kids, I try to teach them right from wrong, I cuddle them, I read them stories, I give them band-aids (if there is blood), I cough up money for teeth, I make their birthday cakes. I help them learn about the world through experiences, by spending time with them, and leading by example. I try not to shelter them and I am honest when they ask questions (even where others may perpetuate a myth).

I am probably not ever going to be one of those mums who sacrifices everything for my kids. If I was, I don’t think they would ever learn that I am important too, that I should (and do) respect myself, and that I deserve respect. If they don’t learn that, I don’t think they will learn to be independent, or confident, or respect themselves. I love my kids to the moon and back, even though I have moments where I would like to¬†send¬† them to the moon and ask them not to come back for a while.

The more my kids grow up the more their personalities and preferences, strengths and talents shine through, and the more I realise that despite the fact that they have, by and large, been parented in the same way, they are so different from each other.

My big boy¬†is a very academic and almost pedantic individual, who likes to think, at least when it comes to things like information and concepts. He doesn’t think a lot about feelings (other than his own at times). He struggles to control his moods, and he struggles with the world not being all about him, which has found him¬†in all sorts of strife, particularly at school. He is all about pushing boundaries, and saying no, and he is very stubborn, (like his mum), but hasn’t yet learned to channel that stubbornness into drive.

My baby girl¬†is the more empathetic and caring of my kids. She is artistic, musical and often socially adept beyond her years. She can also be stubborn but generally she uses this rather better than her big brother. She is competitive. If her brother has it, she wants it, especially if it is a skill. She just decides what she’s going to do and practises determinedly until she gets it. This was particularly noticeable when she wanted to swim, and when she wanted to ride a bike. I think at least some of this tenacity and confidence has come about through training Karate, which she really enjoys.¬†She struggles with so many things at school, and because her big brother is (and was at the same age) so far ahead of his peers in things like writing, maths, and spelling, it’s hard to accept (for her and sometimes for us), that she’s normal and not really too far behind behind. I think she has now decided it’s really time she could read properly (and I am all for it) so she’s been struggling her way one letter at a time through books with me.

FOOD AND COOKING

My adventures in the kitchen have been more about making good food in large batches quickly (at least in terms of preparation time) than about making lots of fancy things that take forever to make and 5 seconds to eat (or having the small fry take a look and refuse). I would love more time in the kitchen (and the last 2 days I have had the luxury). Usually though, with work and training and all the other stuff, having meals planned and ready to go in 5 minutes is essential. That said, I have been enjoying some more relaxed meal preparation and catering over the Christmas and New year break while we are all home and unhurried. I have made some old favourites and tried some new ideas. I even made vegan Bailey’s tonight for me and my husband, after he suggested it as a way to use the vast and static collection of whiskey that has now moved house with us about 5 times without much disturbance! (It was delicious and way too easy!)

Another thing I have been playing with is the lowest common denominator approach to cooking. I have several friends with food allergies / sensitivities and other dietary preferences. I have enjoyed the opportunity to prepare fodmap friendly, gluten free, nut free, (insert any other requirement) vegan food, insomuch as it presents as a problem solving activity and an art of deception. I made a lovely pesto yesterday which had to be gluten free (ok), vegan (ok), and garlic / onion free…..difficult but succeeded….and it was made primarily from homegrown ingredients picked fresh from the garden!

Apart from these aspects….the other thing I have been trying to¬† do is make¬† use of food / by-products and minimise waste. Of course technically we don’t waste any kitchen scraps since we compost them (or at the moment feed them to the chickens next door), but if there is more I can squeeze out of something before it goes that direction, I will. I have even tried to make my own cleaning and “beauty” products, using things like orange peel, coffee grounds and other things one normally just throws away. I have learned how to take advantage of aquafaba (the liquid left after boiling pulses – eg in the tin or the pot), made my own apple cider vinegar and orange vinegar, invented lots of ways of using up almond pulp from almond milk making and am currently in the midst of inventing new ways to hide¬†use zucchini in recipes, as the garden is going nuts.

TRAVEL

Planning a holiday overseas with 2 kids was fun but difficult. When you are a couple, you hop on a plane and play things by ear when you get there. You can’t really do that with kids. Although I didn’t plan our Japan trip down to the last second, all accommodation and internal transport arrangements were confirmed and booked (mostly independently) before we left. This involved lots of late nights because the kids like to interrupt or suggest the same thing a zillion times while you are trying to arrange things. On the plus side, travelling with a mobile router made life easier and allowed us to be somewhat flexible with the itinerary within an area. Overall the holiday was a success and my only complaint is that we didn’t have enough time. There will be a next time though. I am determined.

KARATE

I have written over 1000 words and only mentioned Karate in passing…..OMG….how did that even happen? This year has been a pretty big year for me. I have learned so much, and gained so much. Sure there have been the observable gains in skill acquisition, but the internal changes and the things I have learned about myself and what I can achieve, were the bigger gains as far as I am concerned.

At the end of last year, my instructor helped me to “step up” my training. To be honest I was pretty perplexed about what “stepping up” would look like since I was already training more days in the week than I wasn’t, but, I went along for the ride, because I love Karate, and to be honest, when it comes to Karate I trust his judgement of what I am capable of (even if that occasionally initially surpasses what I think I am capable of)!

The year has been punctuated by various events of significance and interest, some of which I have written about in other posts throughout 2016. (You can catch up here on Karate posts.) The year was punctuated by several network and wider MA community events, which I had the privilege of participating in, including open and invite only workshops, a tournament, the annual gasshuku in Queensland, and my first 2 network panel gradings. Whilst all of these were enjoyable, informative, and fantastic learning experiences, I would have to say that my happiest times were at regular classes in my home dojo, just learning, learning to teach, and helping others learn.

Training has been full on, and I figured out by the middle of the year (if not before) what “stepping up” involved.¬†By half way through the year it became evident that the plan was for me to do a double grading in November. This initially freaked me out somewhat if I am honest. I knew I would “get” all the kata and the physical requirements in time, but I wasn’t sure I could “be” a second kyu, especially not without having dipped my feet into the muddy (ie brown) waters at 3rd kyu for a good six months. It also meant going things alone for sections of the grading (since the rest of my “team” of purples were grading to 3rd kyu). November came and I was prepared. It’s been 6 weeks or so since I passed 2nd kyu and was awarded a Senpai title. With all my other belts, it took little or no time to get used to the new rank. My brown belt with it’s 2 black stripes, not to mention being referred to in social media and email and text and especially in person as “Senpai” has taken until about the last week or two to feel real and intermittently “comfortable”. At least I actually respond to Senpai now.

In terms of the more personal achievements, the stuff that is perhaps harder to see on the outside, I have been able to move on from some of the mental barriers and stereotypes that had been holding back my mind, and grow in confidence. I have had some support in this process, and there were times where it wasn’t easy, but time and reflection have helped a great deal. In a nutshell it has mostly been about extending and melding my personal attitudes into Karate and vice versa. Given that Karate is really a part of me, this has been a natural progression to some extent, but the “growing up” has been made easier by my “big brothers and sisters” having been there before.

After the excitement of our November grading, which saw us undergo a big colour change and my Senpai and 2 other Senpai at the sister dojo I train with, achieve their shodan, I had a great time helping plan and arrange our dojo end of year Celebration. I felt it was particularly important to arrange something to Celebrate our achievements as a club this year, because, as you can see, it has been big and exciting year, and not just for me personally. That said, at the dinner, I received the inaugural MIK (Most Improved Karateka) Award. I know I have improved but it’s hard to see yourself the way others see you. It was a proud moment for me (if not a surprising one), but not as proud as the moments I have had seeing others in the dojo achieve things they never thought possible.

THE END OR THE BEGINNING OR BOTH

So this is the end of looking back, or is it? Whilst we probably shouldn’t dwell on the past, I am sure that I will look back on this in future, as a reference point at the very least. Looking¬†backwards doesn’t necessarily mean going backwards. Looking backwards can be a stepping stone to looking forwards.

2016 has been a blast. I don’t want to forget it, but I am really looking forward to 2017. I don’t really do resolutions anymore, they are too rigid. My aim in karate and in life remains open ended: To be better today than I was yesterday, and better tomorrow than I am today. With hard work and dedication, this is achievable. I’m up for that.

Left to right:

Top: Dragon fly in Kyoto, Temple Gates (Tori) Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto

Middle: Me and Kyoshi after 2nd Kyu / Senpai Award, medals from the 2016 TJKN National Championships, Me and Mini Me at the Championships.

Bottom: Mini Me and her flag sparring medal from the kids tournament at Gasshuku, Selfie at the summit of Mt Misen, Miyajima, Hiroshima, Tofu selection at the supermarket, Kyoto (I think).

 

 

Name change, game change, blue skies, and new pies.

A lot has been happening at our dojo in the last couple of months. There have been lots of changes, all positive. Everyone has been heads down, tails up, busy, working really hard, and as a result there has been much success and cause for celebration.

A couple of weeks ago, and off the back of 2 weeks of in house training and grading (for higher kyu and juniors), we had our 2nd and final panel grading for the year. This was a particularly exciting event, since my Senpai and 2 other Senpai from the other club where I train regularly, were graded to Shodan (black belt). Alongside them were a team of purple belts (myself included) going for brown belt. It was a pretty intense morning / afternoon (which took about 4 hours) and it was lovely to share some more relaxed / social time afterwards with everyone when most of us (including the rest of the club who had come to watch and support those grading) went out for lunch.

Everyone was successful in achieving their next rank. I was so proud to see everyone progressing, especially some of my cohort (affectionately known as the Green Team and more lately team aubergine) who started out  thinking they would not, but, through hard work proved themselves wrong in the best possible way.

The following Monday we were all presented with our belts and stripes….and lo, the¬†big¬†colour change occurred. This took quite a long time since there were 18 students, and our instructor (as handed down to him by his instructor) personally ties on our new belts for the first time; a very beautiful tradition in my opinion.

The other thing that happened that night, was that a few of us were awarded with Senpai titles. Although of late I have assisted with various tasks related to the running of the dojo,  helped my kohai learn their new kata, or assisted running parts of class at times, these have been things I wanted to and was more than happy to do. Being formally recognised for this, and being given a title of Senpai was a very special moment for me.

It was a moment I hadn’t really even considered before about a few months ago. To be honest, 2 years ago, I had never even considered the possibility of making it to this point; to being a Senpai, to earning my 2nd kyu, to thinking ahead to shodan…..and beyond….(because honestly, that is where this is all heading)….I felt proud. I felt humbled. I felt grateful. I felt emotional. I felt empowered. I felt a tiny bit scared and perhaps even a little overwhelmed. I smiled a big smile, because overall I was incredibly happy that I had made it to this point, and more¬†importantly because¬†I realised how incredibly fortunate¬†I have been to have¬†such a great teacher to get me there. I didn’t cry on the outside, but I think I did on the inside – tears of pure joy.

It’s all been a little¬†bit surreal, and although I am starting to remember that the brown belt with its 2 black stripes in my bag is actually mine, and although I am starting to really step things up a notch, to notice more, to hone my skills, to learn to teach effectively…… every time anyone refers to me as Senpai, I still look over my shoulder…..for the other Senpai…..or nearly forward the message or text, to the Senpai who were and are my Senpai! When you get the name Mummy you¬†usually get 12 months or so to get used to the idea of answering to it…..this name change was instantaneous!

My 5 year old who trains with us likes to call me Mummy Senpai but I have made it abundantly clear that noone else is allowed to do that (it’s cute from your own 5 year old but after that….not so much the image I am after). My husband refers to the Senpai as the “pies”; a vestige from a time when Ms 5 (in pre-training days) couldn’t pronounce the term; he wanted to know whether I was an apple pie or a cherry pie. I told him I thought of myself more as a “humble ‘pai”.

We now have 3 new Senpai in our dojo, making 4 all together. One is the new Shodan, my Senpai (in rank) and my Senpai (in title), one is me, and the other 2 are my 2 immediate Kohai. That’s a¬†lot of people being called Senpai. It¬†can get a little confusing, but hopefully we’ll all get the hang of it soon. The kohai seem to have adapted to the name change better than the new Senpai, that’s for sure!

Going around in circles.

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I had a rather big week last week. I was getting over a minor illness, I had lots of stuff going on at home, lots of stuff going on at work, lots of karate training, and too many late nights and early mornings. It was a challenging, yet very productive and exciting week.

However, by Thursday night, driving home from training, I was emotionally, cognitively, and physically exhausted!¬†I had started “running¬†around in circles”. There was so much stuff churning away in my head, I had some physical hurts, and of more concern, I was feeling so unsure of myself, doubting I could achieve my goals.

And then, BANG!: I¬†hit a wall. I think this was not only related to my busy week but the resulting “growing up” it forced me to do. To help me move on though, what I needed was rest, nourishing food, long walks on the beach, reflection time, time to heal (physically and mentally), and maybe even time and space to cry. I also needed a good hug, and a chat with someone reassuring. Fortunately I managed to get most of what I needed¬†over the next few days, and now, consequently, I have¬†almost returned¬†to normal programming. ūüôā

Going round in circles is usually something associated with doing much, yet achieving little. However, when we conceptualise the journey of¬†life, we see it as a cycle, and, more pertinently, when we consider the path to enlightenment, the most important learning journey of all, we don’t think of¬†a linear¬†path, but a circular one. Perhaps the way to enlightenment is more¬†like a spiral with an unattainable central point than a closed circle, but the point I am trying to make is that learning cannot be linear. Perhaps this is¬†because in order to progress, you need to see clearly where you have been before. You don’t need to dwell on the past, but you do need to revisit places easily, seeing things¬†through a different set¬†of eyes, and with a new outlook. Ultimately you need to always be the beginner, no matter how much knowledge and insight you have collected on the way around….this time….or last time….or the time before.

The last couple of weeks have seen me reviewing¬†things that were familiar and yet not, learning how to do things in different, better, and more efficient ways, and revisiting previously familiar¬†concepts whilst incorporating new insights. If I hadn’t seen learning as a circle or spiral I may have missed the memo completely and written off seeing these things I had “learned” before, mentally bypassing them as things that I had already checked off my list. Learning quickly is a great skill to have. Forgetting slowly is an even more valuable one. Building on and refining past learning is vital to mastery, and passing on mastery is ultimately the most important tool one can have.

So, going around in circles can ultimately be a productive operation, if you go around it the right way (pardon the terrible pun). Perhaps the reason I hit the wall on Thursday because I was so busy ploughing on straight ahead that I didn’t see I was on the ring road after all. Fortunately¬†I am back on the merry-go-round again and until the music stops again I will keep riding on around looking at the changing scenery as I go.

 

 

 

#monthofkarate – My attempt at letting a picture tell a thousand words.

 

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At the end of last year my longtime IRL and online friend, and fellow soprano, Beth, of This mixed up life, challenged me to participate in a photo a day project, hosted by Chantelle of  fat mum slim. I am not much of a photographer but I wanted to make sure I took some photos. After all my kids are growing up, I live in a place that gets great sunsets, I like to experiment in the kitchen, and so the list goes on. The main reason I took the project on, however, was as a mindfulness exercise, and an exercise in awareness and appreciation of the wonderful life I have.

So since the 1st of January 2016, I have been posting a photo every day, inspired by a specific daily prompt word (or in the case of July, letter or number). Because of my karate obsession many of my¬†photos have been of or related to karate. I had some comments from fellow karate-ka, and even my instructor to the effect that they liked seeing posts and photos related to karate…..so I set myself a little challenge, because just using the prompts was starting to get too easy (um….well….not exactly, but starting to get comfortable at any rate….and we know how much I like staying in my comfort zone….not). So this month, (August), I¬†have tried to relate each prompt to something about karate and martial arts. I have done my 28th post¬†today. A walk in the park, it has not been; a mindfulness exercise and a period of reflection, (and even personal growth), it certainly has.

I had actually been thinking of doing something similar even before all this…..although probably I would have used words and not photos because words are more my thing. Ever since I read a post by Joelle at¬†A beginners Journey¬†which was relating a hamburger to karate (inspired by another martial arts blogger, Andrea,¬†The martial arts woman,¬†who implied that ANY¬†topic¬†could be related to martial arts), because, frankly, I agree with Andrea’s perspective.

Here are the prompts:

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and here are my photos (and often overly verbose posts), so far:¬†#monthofkarate. I have the last three to go….I think 29th will be easy…..I may well have to get creative and tenuous with the last one (have done that a few times this month…..so sue me).

Not drowning, but waving: Engaged not Engulfed.

A year ago today I wrote with excitement and anticipation about a series of advanced workshops being¬†led by visiting instructors. I also followed up on¬†the actuality of the experience.¬†We aren’t having any visitors anytime soon, but I have plenty to look forward to this year (more on that later). Whilst it’s great having other instructors come and show us something a little different, I am secretly not all that unhappy that this winter so far looks to be a bit quieter than last year¬†on that front.

Reason: I have more than enough on my plate right now in terms of my learning journey, and frankly I just want to keep my head down (so to speak), stay in the zone, and work on what I need to work on, without any distractions or interruptions.

An online acquaintance shared her experiences (which I totally relate to) in her post last week.  I feel I should follow suit, and record how I am feeling now so I can look back on it next year and reflect. Indulge me if you will!

I am currently ¬†training harder and more than ever. Regular classes have fallen into¬†somewhat more of a predictable pattern, which has allowed me a chance to really consolidate basics and work on incorporating these into kata and kumite. It isn’t that I disliked the type of classes we used to have, but the new structure has given me different opportunities for growth.¬†Apart from attending classes more days in the week than I don’t, I am also practising whenever and where ever I get the opportunity (this sometimes attracts a few strange looks or comments but generally my colleagues and family are used to it now!).

I am at a stage where I want to know and do everything all at once. I am patient (as realistically I know this is going to take time), but at the same time I am not (mostly because I want to do everything while I am still well enough and young enough to manage it). I have also, of late, developed rather an obsession for kata, which is probably not a bad thing considering how many kata our style actually has!

Kata is something that fascinated but scared me until about a year or so ago. Well to be specific, learning kata scared me. And practising kata on my own also scared me because I was never sure if I was doing it right.

In the last 18 months I have been introduced to more kata than I have fingers and toes to count them on. Trying to retain and improve the ones I know best, whilst ingraining the newer ones is still hard work. However, because I have now been through the process of meeting a new kata for the first time several times before, I know what to expect.

I know I will feel like it’s going to take ages for me to get it. I know it will sometimes feel like I won’t get it. I know that it will be a while before I can get the pattern enough to work on it confidently by myself. However. I also know that I have a strategy, I have a system, and I have support. I know that even though the kata keep getting harder, the time to get things moving and shaking isn’t necessarily more each time, because the more I learn the more associations I can make, which, in turn makes it easier.

And this is why I keep asking for more. Even though I am being given more without having to ask, and even though I sometimes feel out of my depth, and even though I get the feeling I am about to bite off more than I can chew let alone swallow, I still ask for more. So if you happen to see me look like I am in trouble, remember this: I may not be doing the crawl with perfect breathing and strokes but I am treading water madly. Right now I am overjoyed, not overwhelmed; I am engaged, not engulfed, and I am most definitely waving, not drowning.

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High 5!

 

 

Anniversary of New Beginnings.

Just over a year ago, when I was¬†on the cusp of making an important decision, I wrote a poem called¬†At the crossroads. It was a stressful time for me because I live in a small place, in which the karate world is smaller still, and I didn’t want to hurt anyone, or tread on any toes (figuratively speaking…..at the time I did it literally on a semi regular basis).

The decision to train Karate was virtually¬†made for me. My husband found a local club for my son, I came, I saw, I joined in, I didn’t hate it, actually I rather liked it…..a lot. The decision to keep training was a conscious choice and a habit. The decision to keep training where I started was similar, but also a matter of comfort and convenience, and probably a measure of¬†naivety.

Eighteen months or so ago that naivety started to change¬†somewhat. I started to branch out and train with another instructor. I met all the network instructors by and by through network events and through my original instructor, and so I had met this¬†instructor a few months before I first visited his dojo. I really had no conscious thought when I bowed in there for the first time¬†that this would be anything other than extra training (particularly since my home dojo had long breaks for school holidays) and my intention had just been to go once a week or less. That idea went out the window pretty quickly and by about the end of January I was going at least twice a week, by May I had been such a regular fixture that I was invited to cross grade with them, and by June I was attending all three classes each week, giving up yoga (which had served me well for 7 or more years), in order to get to the other¬†class. I just couldn’t get enough of it, and my instructor, so obviously¬†passionate about karate and about teaching, was happy to quench my constant thirst for knowledge, patiently¬†answering my stream of questions. This was a joy for me.

Meanwhile I was still going to my original dojo each week also and another one too (yes, self confessed karate addict!) I was still enjoying training in general, it was challenging (sometimes really challenging trying to keep up with style differences as a newcomer to karate), but fun.

The way the new dojo made me feel though, was different. Even as a guest, I was made to feel part of the dojo, and a very welcome part of it at that. It felt¬†like having a second¬†family, and in that atmosphere, it was so easy to learn and grow. Things¬†still weren’t natural¬†for me (and still aren’t a lot of the time) but it was ok to struggle with things, and I didn’t feel slow or stupid, and there was constructive help so that hopefully, over time the struggle would lessen. The formalities and style differences took some time to pick up but everyone was patient (can’t not be when it’s part of your rules!)

As the months passed, I got a little more street wise, and certain things became clearer. Eventually the time came to get serious about where this whole karate thing was heading and where I wanted to go with it. It was clear that it was more than just fun, more than just exercise and more than just self defence. It had become a passion, and it had become an integral part of me as a person. It had broadened my horizons and let me look at things in a whole new way. And from someone who used to only make decisions one dimensionally, based on logic, I found myself going with not only my head, but my gut, and my heart too, (and not chiding myself for it). This surprised even me! So when it came to crunch time, the decision was obvious and felt right.

A year ago today I made that choice. I decided to change instructors, change styles, and join a different Ryu ha (lineage). The transition has been easy  in someways and difficult in others, but I have always felt well supported. Not only has consciously deciding on a path, and choosing to begin again, really helped me develop and move forward with karate, but it has facilitated great personal growth and assisted me to remain positive and motivated. My decision is definitely something I have never regretted.

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Tango “Kihon Waza”

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I would like to preface this post by saying that Karate is not Tango (or any other type of dancing) and Tango is not a martial art of any sort. Now that that is out of the way, I can hopefully progress without treading on any toes (pun intended)….and without upsetting any karate instructors.

I have now been studying karate for 2 and a half years. I am getting to the stage where I am occasionally feeling like I know what I am doing. It’s taken a long time and a lot of patience (on my part and my instructors parts) to get me to this point. A month ago, on the night I don’t train, I decided to try something new and completely different……because you know that comfort zone escape thing I have…..Anyway, I started going to a beginners Argentine Tango class.

OK so it wasn’t quite new, I did take a few classes (with the same instructors) about 12 years ago for a couple of months with my husband, but I remember being really, really bad at it. My balance was poor, my “following” skills were hopeless, I was completely awkward, fairly socially inept about dancing with anyone other than my husband, but mostly I was just a really slow learner who ended up stepping on too many toes. In the end we stopped going. I probably got busy with singing commitments and decided to stick¬†with my strengths.

It was new for me this time in a sense, though, because I approached it as a complete beginner. I had forgotten absolutely everything anyway so why not start with a clean slate?

Tango is a partner dance that requires (at least of the follower – generally the woman) one skill that most of us learn before we are 2 years old: WALKING. OK so how hard can it be?…..one foot in front of the other…..It can be as simple or as complex as your partner decides to make it.

Tango¬†is un-choreographed and thus, the spontaneity of the dance¬†requires you, as a follower, to react to your partner’s cues and be in the moment. It requires you to be comfortable in someone’s personal space and to be comfortable having someone in your personal space. It requires a level of trust in your partner. The timing of each move or step is more internal than reliant on the music or any prescribed beat and this applies to both partners.

Hmmm……some of this new learning is feeling a bit familiar…..it may be slower but there is something mildly reminiscent of¬†¬†jiyu kumite with the whole being in and responding in the moment thing and feeling comfortable being in close. It may not be individual but the rhythm and timing is a bit like kata. It may be different patterns but learning the steps and flourishes isn’t unlike practising kihon. The names of different moves may be in Spanish rather than Japanese but (as is the case in karate) they generally aren’t fancy talk, they are merely descriptions of what the steps look like.

Studying¬†karate has given me a positive outlook and more determination than I ever had. It has given me a new attitude on mistakes and the definition of success.¬†Learning new skills is not daunting now but something I crave. Karate¬†has improved my physical condition (strength / endurance / balance / reaction times) and it has opened up parts of my brain that I don’t think I was accessing before. So learning new skills feels quicker and easier for me than it ever has.

Consequently at the end of this short course in Tango Kihon Waza, I already feel like I am starting to know what I am meant to be doing (as a follower), and I am ready to learn more. I will continue for the next month and see where it takes me. And incidentally РI have not trodden on any toes in class!!! Yay me!