Kyokushin Karate – 3rd Kyu Promotion Exam

Kyokushin Karate Test 2014I didn’t feel ready. We had, only two weeks prior, begun training with deliberation on the two kata I needed to pass – Pinan sono go & Gekisai dai. But time was up, and I need to show them what I’ve got.

It was much like most classes but much longer, more intense and with higher stakes. My senpai pushed us harder than Shihan did during my last exam; likely because he knew what we could handle and wanted to test our spirit.

He has told us a hundred times over the years, and reminded us at the start of the exam, that training begins AFTER you get tired so if he saw us conserving energy he’d fail us. I took his warning to heart and by the time we got to basic strength exercises, more than an hour into the test, my muscles were far from fresh. Even knowing that, though, I was pretty disappointed in my performance with some of our key basic exercises.

Push ups – 35
Crunches – 43
Squats – 70
Wall-handstands – 65 seconds
Bo jumps – 16

I was disappointed with the pushups, primarily. I have been training for them in particular and when my muscles are fresh I can do 55 REAL push ups (all the way up and down, not the barely-bend-your-elbows kind…you know who you are!). 60 sit ups, easily. 100+ squats. Wall handstands for 90 seconds. So, yeah, I was disappointed that on the day it counts, my numbers were so much lower. But…that’s karate.

Finally, literally THREE HOURS LATER we get to the kumite. And as luck would have it, I have video!

Round 1: Me vs. Andre the Giant (his name is Zoltan, actually)

Post Fight Commentary: After watching, I was surprised at how little I moved. Guess I was more tired than I thought. During this fight I found out that I was the only one wise enough to wear a groin cup, as we can see when I clipped him in his “buddies” (sorry Zoltan!). He got me back at the end with a nice jodan mawashi geri that hit me in the neck and threw my balance off – hence the acrobatics.

 

Round 2: Me vs Nader

Post Fight Commentary: Nader likes using his height and flexibility to score some head kicks (a lesson I remembered from our first time sparring). As such, he fights at medium to long distance so my intent here was to stay inside or just outside his high kick range and blast his inner and outer thighs with kicks while working his core with punches. I think he caught on to my strategy because I started having to sune uke his low kicks – which resulted in some bruises I’m sure I’ll have for a week.

 

Round 3: Me vs Ben

Post Fight Commentary: As is evident, Ben is an older guy. Mid 60′s I think. And he has just recovered from surgery to his right knee. Suffice it to say I didn’t go too hard on him. This was my recovery-round.

 

Round 4: Me vs David

Post Fight Commentary: David is a big guy. Nearly as big as Zoltan. But his size isn’t truly helping him here. You’ll notice at 0:11 I open up the distance but he just keeps on trying to strike without closing that distance first. From observing this he either doesn’t have a proper sense of maai, or he doesn’t mind throwing strikes and just hoping they’ll land. At 0:33 I wanted to try something he wouldn’t expect (and one I haven’t practiced) just to see what he’d do…and to have a little fun, too.

 

Round 5: Me vs Senpai Javier (Boss Fight)

Post Fight Commentary: Senpai is particularly skilled. Not only at Kyokushin itself, but at knowing how hard to push you. He looks to spend the first 10 seconds seeing how much steam I’ve got left and then goes on to pummel me right to the very end, keeping himself just above my skill level and making me struggle just to not get killed.
Knowing he likes seeing a variety of techniques I tried something different at 0:18 (and as tired as I was it one of the few kicks I could get to jodan level), for which he paid me back with a nice kick to my kidneys at 0:20…thanks senpai; I’m still feeling that one. And at least I “sort of” checked it and countered. The next 30 seconds were me just trying to not get killed and then and customary bull-rush for the last 10 seconds.

 

What a day! I am still tired from the exertion. Don’t know how I’m going to get through class tonight.

 

Oh yeah, I passed. Today I am a 3rd kyu in Kyokushin Karate.

 

Whew!

Whew!

 

Osu!

Karate is BORING!

Class begins…

Shomen ni rei!
Osu!
Otagai ni rei!
Osu!
Migi mai sanchin dachi!
Osu!
Seiken chudan tsuki! Ichi! Ni! San!…..

Every day. Same thing. Sometimes I feel like Phil Connors. Karate training has its own ebb and flow and when your regimen goes unaltered for too long it can get stagnant and boring. But that boredom can be useful – just maybe not in the way you think.

In our culture today we are used to instant gratification; push this button – get the good feels. Don’t get any good feels? Find a new button and press it! Our games, technology, entertainment, and even our politics has trained us to value what is instant over what is enduring. And this expectation will, naturally, be imbued into any student that gets into a dogi.

A while back I wrote about some new students and how two of the three had already dropped out. Some weeks later we lost the 3rd and since then others have come and gone as well. Now clearly, they quit for a variety of unsaid reasons:  because Kyokushin is a full-contact style or because they wanted something more MMA-ish or because they thought it weird that we OSU every 5.5 seconds.

But there are some who lasted long enough to get used to all that and yet still quit. And those are the ones for whom I think the tedium of training was too much. They come to the dojo hoping to learn something quickly and at the end of three weeks they don’t feel as if they can take on a random mugger. They decide that hitting the heavy bag and punching air for 50, 60, 70 reps at a time isn’t going to work. But they look at the instructor, and the senpai around them and decide that maybe the “real” stuff is after they learn the basics. So they endure…

…For a while. Three or four more weeks go by and the new student still hasn’t felt that flush of satisfaction. And more noticeably, they start to get bored with the routine: bow, warm up, stretch, kihon, kata, kumite, bow. So they quit.

This feeling of boredom isn’t limited to newbies either. I, myself, feel it as well sometimes. Sometimes I’ll find myself thinking about going for a run or lifting weights or spending my time on my heavy bag at home instead of going to the dojo where I will perform my 4 millionth mai geri or my 9 millionth seiken. And sometimes that’s just what I do.

 

So how is the boredom of training useful? In short, it weeds out the weak of heart. In our dojo we don’t have a lot of kids; and that isn’t because we’re a bunch of jerks. But rather, we just don’t cater the attention span of children. Eventually they all drop out. Same is said of our teenage students. We just don’t keep them. Hell, even adults drift away after a while (though the good ones always seem to make their way back). I don’t often wax poetic but if you look at it a certain way, then losing the students who cant handle the hard training, or the tedium, is akin to hammering out the weaknesses in steel. You lose a lot of material by the time you get from ore to sword, but the end product, the dojo, and by extension the style, is all the better for it.

 

 

Osu!

Women are SO Stupid!

Holy hell, women can be stupid sometimes. And I don’t mean “left the laundry in the washing machine overnight” stupid. I’m talking about “left the front door wide open while on vacation with a big neon sign in the front yard that reads FREE STUFF INSIDE” stupid.

Let me tell you a little story so you know where this article is coming from. I recently had a conversation with a woman very near and dear to me in which she described an odd encounter with some random guy in the Walmart parking lot. She had her dog with her when some guy approaches and strikes up a conversation about said dog, “Oh, he’s very cute…blah blah”. And after a few moments he asks her if she is alone and she replies, “Yes I am”.

See what I mean about that second kind of stupid?

For those of you not familiar with the excellent book, “The Gift of Fear” this is nearly a textbook examples of how to end up on a milk carton (do they still even do that anymore?). So anyway, after I reprimanded her on her idiocy and educating her on how she should handle a future situation should she ever get approached by strange men in parking lots in the future, I began to think about how women, wanting to be nice or friendly or being just plain oblivious, STUPIDLY place themselves in harms way. Here is my short, and very incomplete list. Feel free to add yours in the comments.

  1. Talking to ANYONE who approaches her in a parking lot.
  2. Ignoring that feeling in the back of her mind about the guy she’s talking to.
  3. Giving ANY information to strangers about where she’s going, who she’ll be with, how long she’ll be gone, and (as a bonus) whether anyone knows she’ll be there.
  4. Treating Facebook like a private diary.
  5. Getting too drunk and relying on a guy SHE JUST MET to get her home safe.

Stupid, right? Now I’ll tell you another story about a different girl I know – this one is about number 5. And this being a true story we’ll call this girl Jen. Some years ago Jen was a college freshman and it was the first big party of the school year. She was eager to meet new people and make friends and, being an exceptionally cute girl, had no trouble getting drinks despite being only 18.
Well as the night wore on Jen ended up meeting another college freshman from out of town and the two of them began chatting while the party raged on. She liked him, but she made it clear she had a serious boyfriend and had no romantic interest. He was nice, paid attention to what she was saying, and had a sense of humor. In fact, the more drunk she got the funnier his jokes became…at least until the point where she was too drunk to really get the punchlines. And when she announced that she was going to head back to her room he offered to help her get there. She declined at first but, not wanting to be rude to a new friend, eventually accepted. Besides, as he pointed out, she could probably pass out in the grass half way to her room and she didn’t want rumors to start about her so early in the school year.

So as they walked back, Jen told him all sorts of information. She told him her major, class schedule, and that her roommate would be out late. Ten minutes later there they were, standing at her dorm room entrance while she fumbled with the keys in the dark. The door opened. They walked inside.

She didn’t even remember his name.

 

At this point you could assumed this true story ends with the rape of a naive college girl. And it easily could have. Fortunately for her I was the guy she met at this party and after I helped her get her shoes off and put her to bed, on her side (with her clothes on), I sat down and played Mario Kart 64 while I waited for her roommate to get back so she could keep an eye on her.

 

Again, see what I mean about how INCREDIBLY stupid women can be?

“Now hang on, Brett, that’s not fair”. “Don’t be sexist!” “Men do all sorts of stupid things”. “Blah blah blah”. All of this is true. And all of this is irrelevant. I’m talking about YOU and YOUR life.

I’m probably wasting my breath, though. Odds are very good you’re so busy being angry that I would broad stroke your entire gender into one category just because of two dumb girls that you are missing my bigger message (incidentally, that is a very stupid thing to do). You’re probably shocked that a guy in today’s day and age would go as far as to call you stupid when every other man you meet just bobs his head like an idiot to anything you say.

Good. I hope you’re angry with me. Because that’s what every woman needs.

You see, on the internet, rage is to viral spread as dry grass is to fire and what is important is getting my message out. Because the women who read my blog are all martial artists and already know how NOT to abdicate personal responsibility in the name of fun or ignorance. It is the women who are not trained to think about their safety I want to reach. See, I need you to be angry so that you’ll forward this article to every militant feminist you know, blow up my inbox with hate, and lambast me as some kind of misogynist in the comments section. They, in turn, will spread this to every one they know. I want you all pissed off and paying attention so that, God willing, some drunk girl somewhere won’t be stupid enough to trust a guy she just met to walk her home.

 

 

Osu!

Ever Missed a Day of Training?

No? Me neither. Like you, I am the quintessential martial artist – I live and breathe this stuff. So it should come as no shock when I say I would SO much rather do push ups and get kicked in the thighs for 90 minutes than go to dinner with my wife. Right?

Riiiiiiight.

I know it isn’t really fashionable in the martial arts world to admit to having interests that fall outside the dojo (in fact, out of every 10 martial artists I meet only about 2 will admit that they sometimes miss training days in order to keep life in balance) but let’s be real. As Rick Matz once told me, “Martial arts is supposed to enhance your life, not replace it. So,  injuries notwithstanding, we must acknowledge that we all have jobs, families, and responsibilities that will sometimes necessitate skipping a day.

And yet, I still feel bad when I am lounging comfortably when I know my dojo-mates are being run ragged by our senpai. So over the years I have tooled around with forming a quick routine that would still let me do something of value but not much has stuck until I went back to basics. Here is my off-day short routine…

10 sets of the following:

  • 1 kata at half speed (for control and detail)
  • 10 pushups
  • 10 squats
  • 10 each: crunches, leg lifts, oblique sit ups, superman lifts

And then I finish off with leg stretches to improve my jodan mawashi geri. It is basic – and it’s supposed to be! It keeps me loose, keeps me in practice, and it ensures that I get to work on whatever kata I feel needs polishing.

 

What about you? What do you do on an off-day?

 

 

Osu!

10 things I wish I knew before starting Kyokushin Karate

It is said that “fools rush in”. While this has certainly been true of many of my ventures (and my decision to join Kyokushin Karate), but I have always found that too much analysis breeds paralysis. Still, sometimes a little forethought is a good thing and can keep us out of trouble. So on a recent road trip I had time to think about what I wish I knew before I decided to train. Here is the short list:

 

Kyokushin Karate

My money is on the barefoot kid. He looks hungry.

1. Bruises will become a way of life (and a conversation starter!).
“Oh my god, Brett! What happened to your arm/thigh/chest/hand/ etc”. Karate training, and most martial arts in general, involves hitting some part of your body against solid objects. And this results in colorful exclamations from your friends and family when they see you partly covered in grapefruit sized green and yellow bruises.

2. Knock-Down karate is a little different.
(Note: I said “different”, not necessarily “better”) Back in the day I trained in Combat Hapkido (which is basically a distilled form of Hapkido without classical weaponry, forms, and most of the ceremony that goes with). Combat Hapkido was very heavy into the technical aspects of technique training. I would often be partnered with a fellow student and we would drill on maybe 5 techniques for the entire class. And while we did have warm ups and some calisthenics, body conditioning wasn’t a focus.
Kyokushin has proven different. My first year in training I was always out of breath and it wasn’t just the heat. Learning how to take a body shot, how to properly block a kick with your shin (which always hurts anyway), how to protect your head, and how to keep fighting without showing pain are all a central part of our training. In many ways it is night and day from my previous training experience.

3. People won’t understand.
Not that I go around telling people, but casual acquaintances who happen to find out that I train in Kyokushin Karate tend to just chalk it up to a weird hobby – like an adult who plays “Dungeons and Dragons”. That’s fine though, I don’t expect them to understand. After all, even though this contributes to what I hate about martial arts, most of the general public is so easily distracted by new fads that they think that MMA is the only effective style on earth. What I have learned is that they wont care to hear about our belt test, tameshiwari accomplishments, or how we perfectly performed a textbook technique at full power in kumite and why that is even special. And a lot of them are even uncomfortable with the fact that we fight people as a hobby; though they’d never admit to being intimidated.

4. It will take 5 to 10 years to reach black belt (and I probably wont make it).
I didn’t ask how long it would take to reach my black belt when I first walked into my dojo – it just wasn’t that important to me. But now that I am 4th kyu I can look ahead and recognize that I’ve got another 4 year’s of training, at least, before I can even test for shodan. 8 years before I am recognized as a student of any consideration. I could have earned a PhD! But what is the biggest reason I probably won’t make it to the coveted black belt?

5. Life will get in the way.
Life seems determined to screw up my training regimen. And not just me…every martial artist will get married, get divorced, have children, lose parents, lose a job, get sick before a tournament or hyper-extend a ligament and be out of the dojo for weeks or months while it heals. The bottom line is that I’ve learned that the path is NOT going to be a smooth stretch of highway with no speed limit. It will more be like a narrow, twisted, nighttime mountain road with a lot of potholes and no guardrail.

6. Everyday something will ache or hurt.
Take a hard fall. Get tricked by a feint. Knuckle pushups on concrete. Get called for a demonstration by your Shihan. There are a thousand and one ways for us to get bumped, battered, skinned, contused, and concussed. It will hurt. And it will hurt tomorrow, too. And before that finishes healing, something else will get injured or bruised. Kyokushin karate is not unique in this way, but I wish I knew the extent to which this would be true for me.

7. For every pound of confidence gained, I get an ounce of doubt.
This one was kind of hard to acknowledge, for me. I’ve been a martial artist enthusiast my whole life, and have actively trained since my late teens. And yet, I still occasionally wonder if I am just a house of cards, waiting to be blown down.

8. It will be boring at times.
Line up. Seiza. Bow. Stand. Warm ups. Kihon. Kata. Kumite. Seiza. Bow. Dismissed.
Everyday will be like this. Everyday the same. The Truth is in the training, I know. But sometimes I find myself wishing that dojo-busting was still in fashion just to shake things up a bit.

9. It is expensive.
On this one I can’t exactly claim ignorance since I knew the monthly cost when I signed up. I also am among the lucky few who pay well below market value for martial arts training. But still, month-to-month dues, association fees, testing fees, uniforms, travel, tournament entry fees, patches, pain killers, etc. It all adds up and it means that a lifelong endeavor into martial arts is going to cost you.

10. Sometimes I just want to quit.
The elephant in the room. Everyone knows it but no one talks about it. For me it isn’t because the training is too hard or that I don’t like my instructor (quite the opposite, really). But that karate training is not only a physical test, day in and day out, but a mental one as well. Look at #8 again. When something you love becomes monotonous, it can drain your enthusiasm to endure the push ups and punches and after long enough, you just have to take a step back.
I used to beat myself up over this, but I learned that to do so is stupid and unproductive. Instead any time I need a few weeks away, I’ll use the break to spend on the areas of my training that I feel are especially lacking. Best of all, I’ve found that by making strides to bridge a skill gap, it reinvigorates my enthusiasm to go back to the dojo (even if only to try things out during kumite).

 

What about you? What do you wish you knew before you started your martial arts career?

 

 

Osu!

 

Women in Martial Arts (Part 2)

It has been several weeks since I began writing the previous article, Women in Martial Arts (Part 1) which sought to explore the experience of women in martial arts, and in the interim we have sadly lost from our dojo the young lady that inspired the article. This loss, however, again spurred more thought and I began thinking about what causes a woman to stay in a martial art, and what causes them to quit. And once again, I needed to call on Sue, Alexis, and Felicia - but this time I wanted some help a Kyokushin fighter. For that, I have reached out to Evergrey. And for this article, I’ll be stepping back and letting the four of them have the mat to themselves.

Women in Martial Arts

Sopio Tkebuchava – Champion among women in martial arts

Just like before, while I wish I could simply copy and paste each of their responses, the confines of space have necessitated me to try to distill their words while staying as close as I can to the heart of their messages. Any mistakes are my own and will be addressed in the Comments section. Please direct all hate-mail to me alone. Now that that’s out of the way let’s get on with things. I had only two questions for these ladies this time…

 

1. As a woman, what has been the most important thing for you to remember as you undergo your training?

Evergrey: For me, it has always been important to be patient with guys who believe they can’t hit a girl. This really bugs me because it treats me as “always the victim”, as if I am helpless and at their mercy simply because of my gender. This isn’t domestic violence, it’s knockdown karate! These guys are usually helped through their mistaken beliefs by taking a few hard hits by a woman – sooner or later they realize that they have to fight back, then see that we’re not crying and we’re not made of glass. Women in martial arts also need to be careful of the rare guy in the dojo who feel the need to really prove that it is a “boys only” club; they can be dangerous.

Felicia: The most important thing for me to remember is that being a woman does not mean weak. And while I can do a lot more than people think I can do, I constantly remind myself that I am here for me and I have nothing that I must prove to anyone – which is easy to forget!

Sue: It depends on why she is training. If it’s for fitness or just a hobby then there isn’t much I can tell her is critical. However, if it is self defense that she is training for then there are many considerations to make:

  • Does the instructor understand that women are not smaller men with breasts?
  • Does the training reflect that?
  • Is there a mixture of male and female students (important because women are likely to be attacked by men, not other women)?

Also remember that while WSD (Women’s Self Defense) courses will usually focus on the exact areas a woman needs, they are usually short term so women in martial arts need to make sure they choose a good dojo to keep their skills sharp.
It is important that women in martial arts maintain their own agenda and to keep their goal in mind. Oh yeah, and enjoy the training!

Alexis: You are going to be outnumbered by men. You will also deal with men who are afraid to hit you during sparring. Do not let this deter you from your training.
Also, as your rise in rank, you will run into some (mainly older men) who have entrenched beliefs about exactly how much women in martial arts can accomplish. Sometimes this will be expressed as casual sexism and sometimes overt disrespect. Once again, do not let this deter you. You earned your rank and your instructor believes in your skills. If you feel the need to reply to these fools, then let your training answer for you. And if you stick with it someday YOU will be the senior or the sensei and you’ll have the privilege to shepherd a young nervous girl as she makes her first forays into the martial arts.
Lastly, remember that you are a student in a school. This means that if the instructor or another student is making unwelcome sexual advances toward you then you leave that dojo immediately. This is non-negotiable.

 

2. Have you had any experience of being a female martial artist which has caused you to nearly quit training? What made you stay?

Evergrey: Nothing about my training as a female karateka has ever made me feel like I might want to quit. But the first time I ever observed a tournament, I nearly did. The men were the entire show – their names and school were announced when they fought and their fights were one-at-a-time, every man being on display. The women, however, were sequestered to a small mat in the corner, shared with children. They were not announced, and their matches were not celebrated. They also had to wear a LOT of padding, which is an insult to almost any Kyokushin fighter. I was outraged…and dispirited. And my outrage led me to tearing my ACL when my anger took control during sparring one day.
And to be honest, the chronic pain I endure has in the past made me question whether I should continue if I am only going to cripple myself. But a karateka is who I am, so how could I possibly abandon it?

Felicia: I have bad experiences on the mat – many times it is just stupid or sexist crap that falls out of the mouths of idiots. But none have made me want to quit. I have had two terrible instructors who did necessitate a change, though. The first of which was very insecure about his knowledge of the martial arts, which showed in his instruction and approach. And the second, while he was a skilled instructor was way too jacked-up. In both cases the change required was that THEY had to go, not my art. I continued to live the life of a martial artist because that is who I am and no one can take that from me.

Sue:  No, I’ve not experienced anything that would make me want to quit training but then I’m quite a tough old bird! (editor’s note: Sue’s words, not mine!)

Alexis: Yes, I nearly did quit at one time. When I was very new in my dojo there was a senior female who was just plain jealous and nasty towards me. Her overt malice got so bad that it was difficult to share a dojo with her. I needed to constantly remind myself that I am here for me and no one else. I also had the support of my instructors and seniors when they could tell I needed it. This made it possible for me to focus on everything I loved about my training, and ignore the “noise”.

 

So there we have it. I find it noteworthy how often I heared “I train for me” echoing in their responses. This, to me, speaks to one of the unique characteristics of martial arts – in many ways you are alone. Even though you train in a room full of people, have the help of your sensei and senpai, and for the fortunate, have crowds of people cheering you at competition, whether you step on the mat and go toe-to-toe with an opponent or get in line for kihon and kata, you are alone. This sets martial arts apart from other intense physical activities in which you have a team or a cooperative partner.

Perhaps one of the key indicators of whether someone sticks it out in martial arts is not their physical toughness, but their ability to withstand the unique isolation that martial training enforces.

(Once again, I’d like to thank Sue, Felicia, Alexis, and Evergrey for their help in writing this short series. If you’d like a greater picture of what women in martial arts think about their training, then hop over to their blogs; you won’t regret it.)

 

 

Osu!

Women in Martial Arts (Part 1)

Women in Martial Arts

In my dojo we have recently had three new students try out – two boys and a girl, all in their late teens. And after two weeks the guys have dropped out. As I do with all new students I’ve been keeping an eye on the remaining newbie, trying to figure out whether she will be in it for the long haul or whether this is just going to be a flight of fancy and as I’ve observed her I have started to think more and more about what the female experience might be in dojos around the world.

Women in Martial Arts

By Eric Langley [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Let me begin by saying that as a man, I have no idea what it is like to be a woman (shocker!). However, having been around the block a few times, I am privy to many common beliefs, both wrong and right, when it comes to women in martial arts. So I wanted to explore some of those thoughts and for that, I reached out to three fellow martial artists Sue, Felicia, and Alexis.

Before we begin, though, let me tell you that I’ve read quite a few articles written by fellow male martial artists on this subject and they all generally have the same, safe, “there is no real difference between men and women” tone. Some seem to even pander to female readers – I will not name names but I find it suspicious how often I read, “women are more technically proficient than men”. As a reversal to common sexist attitudes, this might sound good on the outside, but it is a canned answer (sexist it its own right, to boot), does not acknowledge that our genders are actually different, and it avoids having a meaningful discourse on the subject.

So here is what I’m aiming for in this article. I want to, with a little help, examine some of the more overt common beliefs about women in martial arts and see if we can get just a little closer to the truth.

*Caveat: Given the confines of space, it was necessary for me to distill much of the thoughtful responses I received from Sue, Felicia, and Alexis. As such, while I have tried to keep to the heart of their message, I may inadvertently misrepresented their positions. Any mistakes are my own and will be addressed in the article’s Comments section. Please direct any hate-mail to me alone.

 

Common Belief: Men shouldn’t hit females during sparring/ Men shouldn’t hit women as hard as they should hit guys during sparring.

Sue: Intensity has less to do with gender and more to do with the size and skill level of your opponent. In the dojo control is critical and that means that men should be maintaining a level of intensity that will enable their partner to be challenged and move beyond their comfort zone.

Felicia: Control is as much a part of training as power and speed. In the dojo you fight to help your partner, not incapacitate them. While none of the men I have fought have gone super-soft on me, I have fought several who will flatly refuse to “get beaten by a girl”, and this is the mark of an amateur, not a real martial artist. And as for not hitting a female sparring partner, this only robs them of realistic training. If men refuse to hit us in the dojo then we will have no way to prepare for taking a hit in real life!

Alexis: This is a huge misconception based on painting all women in martial arts with too broad a brush. If a woman has been training for a long time and is relatively young, perhaps under 40, then odds are good she doesn’t want a man treating her like shes made of glass. That said, new students, and older students will need time to build their physical confidence before they are comfortable with taking hard hits from men. So as a general rule, men should re-frame their mindset and fight someone based on their skill and size rather than their gender alone.

My take: On this one I will generally agree with the common assumption. Most women I encounter in my training are smaller, lighter, newer to the art and thus less skilled, and less aggressive. And I would be an asshole of the highest order if I fought them the same way I fought heavier, more skilled, or more muscled opponents. However, and this is the lynchpin here, the considerations I am making have nothing to do with gender. It is about my opponents size and skill, and aggression level. I make these same considerations when I fight the 13 year old boy in my dojo.

 

Common Belief: Having women in the dojo tends to slow down the class.

Sue: Having fat bloated middle aged men or whingy teenagers may slow down the class!

Felicia: No one in my dojo has had the courage to say this to my face (editor’s note: this does not surprise me, Felicia is a tall lady!). What slows down a class is NEW students, not female students, and those concerned about being slowed down should think about how they can help their newer students get up to pace.

Alexis: Never the case in my experience. Even with new students their enthusiasm gets them through, regardless of gender.

My take: Women, specifically, do not slow down a class. Uncommitted, or unable students do. In my dojo we train the adults right next to the children. This means that when an uncommitted child doesn’t take care with his/her kata, or has to be coaxed along in kihon, only then does the training of others suffer. Same goes for the lazy teenager who is just going through the motions and gets corrected repeatedly during class or the guy who is much too old and out of shape for a hard knock-down style.

 

Common Belief: When it comes down to it, women don’t want to do the same level of training as the guys (skip to 8th paragraph for the reference): knuckle pushups, kumite, pushing yourself until you nearly throw up, etc.

Sue: Women like to “train smarter, not harder”. Men will train until they puke because of machismo and a “gung-ho” mentality.

Felicia: The only people who could ever say this are those who have never trained with a serious female fighter. Women who are serious about their art will push their bodies to their limits, no different than men.

Alexis: This is a case-by-case situation. Personally I love tameshiwari and other tests of spirit. I love pushing my body harder and further every year. Most women, I think, who stick around in the martial arts tend to really get into their training.

My take: This one is highly individualized. I’ve seen early quitters in both men and women here. I will be honest and say that I tend to see it, per capita, more in women than I do in men. Why? My guess is ego and culture.
Ego: My first day of Kyokushin was the hardest I ever experienced. It was July in Florida and we trained without air conditioning. I put myself into full-on heat exhaustion (exhibited all the symptoms, even experienced tunnel vision) just so I wouldn’t appear weak. Simply put, I placed myself at serious risk just so I wouldn’t look bad. A very stupid thing to do.
Culture: I’m an American and in my culture, and most Western cultures, there is a much stronger emphasis, in sports, on men to not “wimp out” and to keep up with those around you than on women. So even when you remove personal ego, there is still a tail-wind behind most men to press themselves harder. And you know what? This is a good thing. In fact, this is something I think should be equally applied to women as well. Our society, and women as individuals, would be better served if our culture placed the same “push yourself harder” under current on women as it does on men.

 

Common Belief: Women in martial arts are usually lesbians. (Or the only slightly more benign) Martial arts training make women unfeminine.

Sue: Most women I have met in martial arts are married family types. As for being “unfeminine”, training in martial arts does not make someone any less feminine than when they began; unless a woman were to participate in some of the more “macho” subsets of martial arts training.

Felicia: It is funny, and sad, how women in sports are often portrayed as either “sex kittens” or “gay”. I, myself, never feel less feminine when I punch, kick, and sweat than I do when I am at work, giving the bird to that jerk who cut me off on the way home (editor’s note: lol), or taking care of my family and pets. You are what you think you are, and I always think I am a woman.

Alexis: As transparently untrue as it is, I am always surprised by how many people think that women in martial arts are lesbians; I have only known two in my 20 years of martial arts experience. Femininity is another challenge, however. For example, I am exceptionally strong – have beaten men in arm wrestling, give hard handshakes, and often feel like the proverbial “bull in a china shop”. And this, to most, implies a lack of femininity. This however, does not preclude me from expressing my femininity in other ways (one being that I often train with a flower in my hair) so I don’t let such notions cloud my mind and distract me.
It can be true that your idea of who you are and what kind of woman you are may be challenged by martial arts training. But you have to remember that training is just one aspect of your life, and perhaps most importantly, you are training for yourself and no one else so there is no need to worry about what others think.

My take: First off, aside from being patently false, there is nothing wrong with being a lesbian, so that kind of BS doesn’t even warrant a response when heard. Second, the idea that martial arts training makes a woman less feminine is purely subjective. To my grandfather’s generation, seeing a woman shouting, punching, and doing push ups might have made her less appealing (and certainly for some of his generation, just the opposite). But to many in mine, seeing a woman who is sure of herself under pressure and fierce when needing to be is a big plus over a dainty garden flower.

 

 

Wrapping Things Up: So here is the part where I am supposed to tell you that these three bad ass ladies are an example of what women are really like in the dojo and that the only thing holding women back are the expectations of their male counterparts. But to tell you this would be canned answer and I said I would not stoop to that level in an effort to stay politically correct.

The truth: women are people (again, shocker). This means that they will have varying degrees of interest and commitment to all things they do – including martial arts. For every bad ass like these three there are those like my wife who’s interest wanes and waxes and who quits her pushups before she hits her limit (man I hope she doesn’t read this!).

 

So what do you do?

Advice for the Fellas: The woman in front of you is an individual and it will take time to learn what she wants out of her training. Once you know, it is your highest responsibility to give that to her. You are merely her partner in training so do not disrespect her by assuming you know her right out of the gate. Remember, though, that being in testosterone soaked environment may intimidate some female students (and a lot of male students for that matter) and she may not feel comfortable telling you to hit her harder/softer or go slower/faster so YOU NEED TO ASK.

Advice for the Ladies: Some of you are brittle, while some of you never break. Guys have no way of knowing where you are on the spectrum until you show us. Yes, we will judge you – just like we judge each other. And sadly, if you prove to be harder than us, a small minority of us may mock and deride you. But you are here for you. And at the very least, don’t forget that you are in the one place where you will get a chance for some payback on the patronizing ass who thinks you should be “in the kitchen”.

 

That’s it for the common beliefs, section (even though I think this just scratches the surface). Next, I’ll find out what these seasoned female fighters think a woman needs to know if she wants to make it in martial arts.

 

 

Osu!

East Vs. West

In your training have you ever tried to ask a question of your sensei or your senpai only to be rebuffed or criticized for rudeness? Have you ever had a student who liked to ask lots of questions and would look at you in puzzlement when you told them that their understanding will come in time?

 

The following article was born out of a conversation I had via message board regarding whether it is acceptable for a kohai to question, or comment to his senpai or sensei when they see something that might be a mistake. And further, whether it is appropriate for the student to ask “Why” when it comes to the rationale behind certain training methods and techniques. And for clarity, I will be expounding from the point of view of the student and kohai since, at the time of this writing, I am only 4th kyu in Kyokushin Karate.

 

The Split

On this subject there tend to be two camps: a modernist camp, who typically believe that it is natural to ask questions with regard to training and even to question techniques and training methods when they seem inefficient, outmoded, or possibly dangerous. And a traditionalist camp who typically believe that a student’s primary concern should be to learn the material as taught and only when sufficiently mastered should be reexamined or questioned. And whether in the dojo or via the internet most conversations between these two camps tend to fall along these lines:

Modern guy says: “Of course it is OK to question and comment to higher ranks”.
Modern guy means: “Honest, humble, and respectful questions are a part of learning and help everyone grow”.
Traditional guy hears: “Even white belts are experts! You should shout comments during class instruction!”

Traditional guy says: “How can you comment on techniques you haven’t even mastered?”.
Traditional guy means: “It is best to perform the movements as instructed because your Sensei understands the questions you have with the techniques; as he has taught this to countless students before you and knows that understanding comes through practice”.
Modern guy hears: “Be a lemming! Blind obedience is the only true path of the martial artist!”

 

A Little History

To those of us not born in the East, all this traditionalist thinking might sound strange. So where did all this traditionalist stuff come from anyway? Why do so many of the more hardcore traditionalists believe that silence is the student’s role? Part of it, to this karateka’s understanding, is because they choose to adhere to a tradition was born of Confucian thinking.

As was more expertly illuminated by Rob Miller over at the Fight Science Research Institute, if we remove vanity, pride, and over inflated senses of superiority, the tradition of “rank = respect” was born by the Confucian belief that the way of our ancestors is the best way because they have had centuries to perfect it. Or, put another way, the Way of Sensei must be better than that of the student because Sensei has had decades longer to polish his craft.

 

Why???

I, myself, tend to fall into the more modernist camp and so, during my discussion, I wanted to understand the point of view of the more traditionally minded. When I asked, many of the more traditionally minded martial artists cited “respect” as one of the reasons you shouldn’t question your teacher. And when pressed, it seemed as though “respect” meant never speaking out of turn. But why would asking a question be disrespectful?

I think I get it though – you should trust in your sensei and believe that he knows The Way better than you, knows the questions you have because 1000′s of his students have had the same questions, and knows that “the Truth is in the training”. And this means when you’re told to stand in zenkutsu dachi, you don’t talk back by saying, “How am I supposed to fight someone like this?”. After all you can’t fill your cup if it’s already full.

Ok, that makes sense, I said. If I can’t come out and say something like that then I can still ask my instructor to explain it to me. Right? Well, not so fast I’m told. If you are in a particularly traditional dojo, then this might be frowned upon as well. In many forms of martial arts there is a belief that a greater understanding of the a technique, the style, or the principles of movement are achieved through contemplative repetition, sometimes for years on end than if the answers are served up upon request. Now, whether this is true or not is debatable, but here is the undeniable rub: for the majority of people reading this we don’t learn this way.

I am a westerner, an American, to be specific. And culturally our way of learning is done by asking the “6 W’s”: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and hoW. And it is here that I think we come to the crux of the issue; and that is the clash of East vs. West.

When I put on my gi I am a karateka (when I put on swimming trunks, I am STILL a karateka, but you get my point), I say Japanese words, bow in the Japanese way, and fight in an Japanese style. But underneath it all, I am still an American. I think in English, speak in English, and when I meet a foreign concept I will probe it with questions until I understand it. To take this cultural tool away from me is to handicap my capacity for understanding, comprehension, and communication to others.

 

Moving on to the other half of the topic: what about correcting/commenting to a senpai or even someone of Dan rank on technique or application? (And I don’t mean in the middle of demonstration, in front of the class). According to tradition this is taboo too. But what benefit does ignoring a higher up’s mistakes bring?
If somehow I were to attain 9th Dan in Kyokushin Karate (for the uninitiated, this is only slightly more realistic than saying “If I could fly…”) and I had some unknown flaw in my technique then according to tradition I would never correct my mistake because no one would be allowed to tell me this. As the “emperor” I would never learn that I’ve “got no clothes” and I would go on to teach this mistake to generations of  students.

To illustrate, I recall hearing an anecdote about a student who was training in bo kata (my apologies for not remembering the source of this anecdote). During the course of the kata she along w/ all her classmates, many at shodan and above, would jab the end of the bo into the ground at one particular step. Well one day this dojo received a highly ranked visitor who had asked why they were all doing this. They replied that they had, of course, learned from their late sensei to do so. The visitor, who knew the late sensei, had a good hearted laugh and explained that the reason his bo jabbed the ground was because he was so short!

Years of practice, all wrong, just because no one wanted to ask a question.

 

Bridging the Gap

Now, the internet can be a pretty dubious place and I don’t have any real way to tell if the people I have been speaking with about this subject are actual martial artists or merely keyboard warriors. So I thought I’d ask Matt, over at Ikigai Way, for his thoughts on this. As an American martial artist nearly the same age as myself, I reasoned that he has likely probed this very issue and might be able to share a few insights from a more traditionally minded point of view and he had some interesting things to say to me about a sensei’s “mistakes”. The long and the short of which was that what can appear to be an error can very commonly be the sensei exploring some of the potential behind a technique; altering it slightly to consider further possibilities and expanded utility. This exploration is a key part of Bunkai (applying techniques from kata and basics to actual fighting) and the student who wishes to ask his sensei about this would do well to ask the question humbly and word it with a bit of caution so he doesn’t end up with his foot in his mouth.

 

What do I do?

All this history and navel-gazing is great and all but what do we do now? Here at Kyokushinblog I am bemoan to open up a subject without providing at least a little guidance, so here is my take…

For the student: Are you brand new to the dojo? Tend to keep your thoughts to yourself until you have built at least a little rapport with those around you and your sensei – unless you see something that is flat-out dangerous or illegal. By keeping quiet you will be able to see whether your sensei is open to questions or whether he wants his students to learn from experience.
If you’ve been there for a while and you feel comfortable with your senpai and sensei, then you should still broach all questions with respect and avoid “Hey, you’re doing it wrong” language.

For the Sensei: Is the student a child? If so, remind yourself that every other adult in his life encourages him to ask LOTS of questions and this will carry over into the dojo whether you like it or not. Hopefully, as a teacher, patience is one of your maxims because you will need it. So if you prefer that your students learn through experience then be ready to remind the child of this often.

 

 

Osu!

Kyokushin Belt Test

I’m the handsome one with the goatee in the back row. Second from the left.

This past weekend I tested for my 4th kyu in front of our branch’s Shihan. The test took place at our sister-dojo so that those who are testing can have the opportunity to spar with unfamiliar opponents. It was a good idea but the new environment presented some unique challenges.

First it was Kihon. This was easy enough, though with the unfamiliar floor my feet kept slipping out of proper stances. Next we started to pace up and down the dojo while performing various kicks and punches. Not kata, just patterned movements (“ito geiko” I think it’s called).

Then it was calisthenics which wasn’t too bad either. My Senpai works us harder than Shihan did on that day (though I suspect this was likely to do with all the children in attendance). One thing I am proud of is that I was able to pound out 46 push-ups in a row – a personal best. (BTW, my push ups go all the way up and down, not those crappy barely-bending-their-elbows pushups some people like to so they can brag that they can do a hundred without stopping). I could have made 50 but he had us move right along to the next exercise. Shihan did chide me for not doing them all on my knuckles, though. I got to about 25 before I had to finish on my hands – that hardwood floor was a killer.

After that was Kata. Here again the unfamiliar dojo did all it could to stymie me. Because I am used to the friction of puzzle-mats I would end up over rotating on the smooth hardwood flooring.  I also didn’t have the same visual queues to aid me in ending my kata on the same spot where I began. And not least of which were the vertical support beam right in the middle of my way that had to be avoided and adapted to. But even with all that I feel I did well, especially considering that I felt weakest in my newer kata.

 

Last but certainly not least was Kumite. I only had five 1-minute rounds but four of them were very intense. Here is how they went:

Round 1 – Me vs white belt from my dojo: I pressed him and kept him a little off balance but didn’t try to overwhelm him.

Round 2 – Me vs brown belt from another dojo: I didn’t fare so well this time. Not only was my opponent more experienced, but he was taller, heavier, and more muscled than I am. And I remember from fighting him once before that he has an excellent mawashi geri. I knew I needed to stay on the inside but that was made difficult since he would constantly push me away to keep me from working his short ribs. I did manage to blast his inner thighs a few times before the round ended.

Round 3 – Me vs green belt from sister-dojo: Again I was paired up with another opponent taller, stronger, heavier, and more experienced. And again I needed to stay inside his kicking range in order not to end up kissing the floor. I would move in and work his inner and outer thighs with kicks and knees and try to move in circles to avoid his counter. But this fighter kept punching me in the mouth which really messes with you when you know you aren’t allowed to do the same thing. (For the uninitiated, in Kyokushin, because it is bare knuckle fighting, face punches are disallowed due to the high rate of hand injuries when fighting at full contact). So after the 4th punch to the jaw I admit I started getting a little mad and gave him a vicious morote gedan suki (double low punch) right under his belt and above his groin. Mind you, as soon as the fight was over we shook hands and I held no grudge over his carelessness. He’s a nice guy off the mat.

Round 4 – Me vs blue belt from my dojo: I don’t like this guy. Not because of how he fights but because of his conduct during training and off the mat. He is arrogant, impertinent, and does not take care to correct his mistakes when Senpai takes the time away from class instruction to help him. So I was not sorry when I side stepped his mawashi geri and sent three quick hiza geri to his stomach; forcing him to stop and catch him breath. I didn’t set out to slaughter him, but I felt no need to pull punches either.

Round 5 – Me vs yellow belt from sister-dojo: Finally, someone I am taller than! At 5’9 I’m not exactly a small fry but what is the deal with Kyokushin attracting behemoths? Anyway, I could tell that he was already pretty tired and I knew that if I was to win I needed to press him hard and use up the last of his energy. He would attack and I would deliver counter strikes to his gut, trying to force his air out and exhaust him further. After a few exchanges like that I went full on and began throwing high-low-high-low combos as fast as I could in order to keep him off balance and overwhelm his ability to defend. It worked and I knocked him to the ground. The round was called right after I helped him to his feet.

 

Once that was over Shihan had us fix our lines, and brought us through a cool down, talked to us about our style, our founder, and what training means. It was a great experience and I was grateful to train with our Shihan and everyone who wasn’t testing but still came out to help.

 

 

Oh, and I passed. Today I am a 4th kyu in Kyokushin Karate.

 

 

Osu!

New Students

This week we have welcomed two new students to our dojo: Zoltan and his son Norbet. And, in proper Kyokushin spirit, by the end of the night we had all beat the hell out of each other!

Now, let me pause a moment and tell you a bit about Zoltan. He is big. Maybe 6’4” and weighs 270lb and, I came to learn later, reached blue belt in Kyokushin back in his home country of Hungary. So right after our warm up, when my instructor paired me up with him for sparring, I began to formulate my brilliant strategy of bobbing, weaving, and juking out of the way of his strikes all while delivering my own devastating counter attacks. Then we’re told that we are to only spar within the space of one puzzle mat effectively killing my perfect strategy. “Best laid plans of mice and men”, right?

Ok, so I have to brawl with a man almost literally twice my weight inside the dimensions of a phone booth. That’s cool, I  can deal with it. And so it began. Right off the bat I noticed that Zoltan had a habit of throwing long left-jabs (which hit about as hard as my right-cross) and leaning in at the waist to make up for his enormous height. I took advantage of this by throwing in a uchi mawashi geri (crescent kick) and stopping just before impact to the side of his skull. He stopped leaning forward, though, at least for a while. After that, it was basically a slug-fest: block, slam, block, slam, block, slam, slam, slam.

Toward the end of class we all sparred again. When I was paired up with Zolton again we were at least able to make use of the dojo space and could employ a bit of footwork. Here I learned that while he is pudgy and hasn’t trained on a few years, when you’re as tall as he is you don’t need to be that flexible to kick a man like me (5’9”) in the head. Fortunately I judged our distance correctly and his foot only met air, or that would have been the end of my sparring for the night!

Later I fought his son, Norbet. Norbet is a young kid of maybe 12(?). He’s quick, eager, and shows great potential. Though, given our size and experience difference, he is easily intimidated and dominated in sparring – even my opening kiai seemed to shake him. I decided, on the outset, to focus my attacks on his head since he had the habit of keeping his hands around his stomach and chest (to block in coming punches). Like his father, though, I didn’t connect with my kicks when I aimed for his head – no sense in KO-ing a young newbie his first time in the ring.

What I liked about fighting Norbet was his unorthodoxy. He threw the craziest stuff at me including and elbow ram I recognized from Mortal Kombat. I had to warn him, though, to stop putting his tongue between his teeth lest someone kick him and make him bite it off. He also had a habit of leaving his fist out after a good strike, a la Bruce Lee, which is a great way to get thrown. Still, the sheer joy on his face during kumite and his eagerness as he asked our senpai, “Are we going to spar again?” was invigorating and refreshing.

 

New students are always a mystery. Sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t. I feel good about these two additions, though. Both Norbet and his father Zoltan appear to be very friendly people; quick to smile and earnest in their training. I think they’re going to fit in very well here.

 

 

Osu!