Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thoughts on Sparring

Tournament is coming. As such, I have been attending Fight Club and Tournament Club to practice my sparring and my kata. Mostly sparring since I can practice my kata at home. 

I honestly had little intention of going to tournament to spar. Ultimately though, I decided it would be good experience to go and see what its like. Tournament sparing has been described to me by Nick as playing tag. And from the way the rules have been explained, it more or less seems like its going to be that way. You don't even have to make contact to score... how is this supposed to teach us anything about real fighting? You have to pull your punches, you're not allowed to make contact, if you do, it should be only light contact and you should not follow through. Whats the point? This is MARTIAL ARTS, this is learning the art of war, learning how to kill, maim and destroy your enemy, how to protect yourself and your family. You should be expecting bumps and bruises, you need to know what it feels like to get hit and have the wind knocked out of you.... anyway, enough of my soapbox.

The point is, I have been giving the matter some thought.

Fight Club last night we were going over rules, the targets that are ok to hit, among other things. We practiced sparring at 20% speed to work on less power, focusing on combinations, paying attention to fighting to the judges point of view. (This is because if you hit them to get a point, and the judge doesn't see it, you don't get the point, so you could still lose even if you technically score more points or are a better fighter)

After that we did some sparring tournament style.

My observations and thoughts are as such. If was actually kind of interesting to slow things down a bit and not have to worry about just trying to defend myself and attack at full speed. Its good to focus, to look for openings, to be able to try get your foot work down and concentrate on body movement, checking, countering, etc. Even if point sparring is nothing like a fight, I think it can still help you build some of the fundamentals and at least help you get a grasp on the mechanics of a fight. Especially if you've never been in a fight before.

Its very difficult to put into words what I am trying to say, perhaps I'll be able to articulate it at a later point, but for now, I'll just say that even though I think point sparring is for the most part... pointless. (haa) It can still have its uses. I think the trick is to make sure we do not ever confuse sparring the dojo or at tournament with a real fight. When you sparr, it is good to have control and discipline so you do not hurt your partner. I also think this will be good experience for when I want to be a teacher, being able to fight or demonstrate without hurting or overwhelming my students. 

With that said, when you practice kicking, punching, kata, etc. Do not hold back, practice your forms like your life depends on it, and if you are ever in a fight for your life, don't hesitate and don't hold back. Work on things like breathing, proper form, and power generation so you can defend yourself if you need to. Take sparring for what it is, and learn what you can from it. There are times when I want to full on contact sparr, which I can sometimes do at the dojo with my upper classmates. Sparring is sparring, a fight is a fight. They are not the same thing. Do not confuse the two, realize that sparring is nothing like a fight and do not train in bad habits and reactions from sparring. The trick is, I'm not 100% sure how to NOT do that yet... I have mentioned my thoughts, what I think you can do to help keep this from happening, but I don't know for certain.

I'm still trying to make sense of my own thoughts on the subject at this point, and how to not practice one as the other, so this post is probably a bit jumbled. But I feel like it is a step in the right direction at least. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bucket List... its never too early!

Please pardon this post, it has very little to do with Martial Arts, and nothing at all with Fitness or Nutrition in general. This another personal post about goals.

Last time, I posted some of my Martial Arts goals, which I am on my way to accomplishing. Building good practice habits, and learning more material for my Orange Belt, etc. However, I've really been thinking a lot about what I want to do with my life lately, and some things I would like to accomplish before I 'kick the bucket' as it were. This has been mostly inspired by some of the books I am reading, namely "Hyperfitness" by Sean Burch and "The Way of Kata" by Kris Wilder and Lawrence Kane, among other things. I'm not very far into either of these books yet, but they are both good so far. Hyperfitness is a pretty inspiring and motivational read. The history chapter of Way of Kata is very cool and makes me want to study harder and re-enforces the fact that I want to devote my life to Martial Arts.

Hence, I have decided to create a Bucket List. Granted, I'm only 22 and I don't intend to die anytime soon, God willing. But I still want to do it. My list is still small at this point, but I'm sure it will grow as I figure out more things I want to do and as I accomplish these goals.

Last night I mentioned this to my boyfriend, that I was making a Bucket List. He gave me this really weird look and said "You're too young for one of those." Then I gave him a really weird look and said "What?! No Way! Why wait to start doing the things I want to do with my life? I want to start working towards them now!"

My list can grow and change as I do, but if I wait, who's to say I'll get it all in before I bite the dust?!?! Granted, I could die tomorrow (or at any time) in some freak accident with none of these things accomplished. But if I don't even try, or if I just keep putting it off till tomorrow, then I'll never get any of them done for certain. That's a scary thought. I don't want to be on my death bed 60 or 80 years from now and look back and think, "Wow... coulda, shoulda, woulda...."

So, here we go, my Bucket List thus far, in somewhat of a no particular order:

1) Travel to Japan
2) Learn to speak, read and write Japanese at a more or less fluent level
3) Obtain an 8th degree black belt ranking in a Martial Art (preferably Aiki) and teach M.A.
4) Get at least one book published
5) Go to driving school and learn to power slide a car among other wicked sweet racecar/stunt diver moves
6) Swim with real live sharks in the ocean

I pledge to never look back with regret and say "coulda, shoulda, woulda...". Instead, I want to live Carpe Diem! Seize the day! I want to live each day to its fullest potential, always looking for the positive aspect of any situation and treating others with kindness.

Find out what you want from life and make it happen people! Only you have the power to make your dreams real, so do it! Don't let anything or anyone hold you back. There is no such phrase as "I can't." YOU CAN. If you want it, you can make it happen. Throw caution to the wind! Don't listen when someone tells you: you can't, or you're not good enough, or your dream or idea is stupid. If you are pursuing what you love, then you will be happy and fulfilled. Those people who have only negative things to say to you are not happy with their lives, so ignore them and follow your bliss.

~ Samurai Girl Sahara

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sitting Out

Today, I went to Kempo, but I did not attend class. This was VERY difficult for me. The reason I sat out was because of a shoulder injury, I strained my rotator cuff some time last month and have been trying to take it easy on my shoulder. If it feels good, I will work out or attend class, if it doesn't I usually still do these things, but I stay off my shoulder as much as possible because I want it to heal. I don't want to do any permanent damage to it. According to the doc a small amount of exercise is good for my shoulder, and I can work back up to normal activities, but I should be careful with it till all soreness goes away and even after continue to do my exercises for it etc. Yesterday and today my shoulder were REALLY bothering, but I desperately wanted to go to Kempo, so I took the advice found in the injury chapter of "Way to Black Belt" and went to OBSERVE a class.

I think my instructors were a little confused, but they politely agreed to let me sit in the lobby and watch. I tried to pay attention to how the instructor was teaching (as I would like to be a teacher some day myself) and also what the students were doing. How they were standing, how they were moving, etc. I tried pick one student and watch her, as is recommended. She just got her black belt on Sunday and she's one the students I respect the most in the dojo.

I found this exercise incredibly difficult. Not only because it was killing me to sit out, but I found myself paying more attention to the other students and things that I could see that I knew were wrong, trying to re-inforce or remind myself not to do them. Bend your knees more, widen your stance, drop you weight, basic things that I always find myself reminding me to do anyway.

I also think it would helpful for instructors to give more feedback. I don't know how everyone feels about this, but I like it when my instructor gives me a reminder, or pointers, or advice. I find it useful, but our instructors are often pretty quiet. : /

However, I still think it was useful, it is a pretty different experience to sit and watch instead of participating. I would like to come back and watch a class full of high ranking students, but I can't wait to get back on the floor.

Don't let injury keep you out of the dojo or from doing what you love. There is always a way to train around an injury.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Face your fears

Tonight, in honor of my dojo's Wednesday night fight club, I wanted to write about facing your fears.

Wednesday night we have a sparring class after group class.

To put it in perspective, I practiced in a Karate dojo for a few months when I was in elementary school, but right as I got to yellow belt they closed my school down and that was the end of that, I never got my gear and I never got to spar. In high school I practiced Aikijutsu at Guinn Martial Arts, where we did grappling and joint locks, but never did any full on sparring. I wanted to take Kempo to get some perspective and see what a striking art is like as opposed to a grappling art.

I recently ordered the basics of my sparring gear, which came in just about three weeks ago. I had it for about a week or so before I had things sorted out to be able to attend Wednesday night Fight Club.

The week before last was my first time sparring. Anyone who doesn't know me, I will tell you, I'm pretty small. In the adult class at my dojo, I am the smallest one there. In Aiki it was me a bunch of large guys, most of whom were brown belts. So I'm pretty used to practicing with bigger and higher ranking students. I'm not afraid of being hit or getting into a fight, or working with larger, higher ranking students. Regardless, I had managed to get myself pretty worked up in anticipation for Fight club. And it didn't help that before fight club, my classmates were teasing me because my gear was red, not black. How red makes me a giant target, etc. (On a side note, Thats not cool. You don't pick on your classmates like that. Further, you don't pick on anyone like that.) Either way, I was pretty freaked out. Freaked out to the point where I ALMOST walked out of the dojo and deciding not to spar at all. ALMOST. But I didn't.

I lined up when class started, and I did it anyway, even though I was completely freaked out and had no idea what to expect. To begin, it wasn't all that bad. I did fine with the blue belt and the purple belt, neither one were fighting very hard, which was probably good. I felt like I kind of got warmed up, got used to the gear a little bit, got a little more used to moving in really close. But it felt more like playing tag than sparring, which had me a little disappointed.

And then there was the brown belt. Jacob is a very a hard hitter. This was the first time I'd ever really had someone trying to FIGHT me. I got kicked, hard. And hit, hard. And I got the wind knocked out of me. And I fought back, as hard as I could. And really, it wasn't that bad at all. I even liked it. (Again, this seems pretty trivial compared to what I have heard from Sensei Nick about training with some of the really great martial artists and what it feels like to get hit by them, or things I have heard from friends that work security, but you gotta start somewhere I guess.)

To be very fair, and very blatantly honest with you, as much as I don't want to admit this, I will. After class, I went in the back, and I cried. Yep. I think it was the fact that I was all worked up over nothing more than anything and I had gotten it over with and I was just fine. I was relieved! My instructor asked what was wrong and if something had happened, one of my classmates piped up and said, "I think she just feels how we all felt after our first time sparring." I don't know if thats true or not, but it did feel good to get it over with and realize that it wasn't such a big deal. Even so, I was a little shaky, and a little teary. I honestly doubt this is anything at all like the 'chemical cocktail' Roy Miller describes in his book "Meditations on Violence", (which is a very excellent and eye opening read, by the way), and I feel pretty stupid about it now, even though it is kind of an adrenaline rush. I'm glad I could experience something like this in the dojo for the first time, rather than on the street. I feel like I am at least a little bit better prepared to know what to expect and how to handle it afterward if I ever do have to defend myself on the street.

I guess, what I'm trying to get at with all this is that, even if something scares the crap out of you, you need to get in there and face it, conquer it, and make it your own! Since then I've gotten to spar 2 or 3 more times, and it was neither scary nor upsetting. In fact, I find it quite fun. Yes, I've already gotten a nasty bruise and had the wind knocked out of me a few more times, but I still really enjoy it. I think, for me, at this point in my Martial Arts training, its great experience and I feel like I'm learning a lot from it. But had I walked out that door because I was scared, I would have never known that.

Don't quit! Don't give up just because something scares you! Just because that guy is bigger than you, or you think he can hit harder than you, or his belt is a different color than yours. Or whatever sort of fear or difficulty you're facing. Don't give up. Don't walk away. Face it and you can become stronger for it. You may get hit, and you may walk away with a few bruises. You may even decide you don't like whatever it was you just did and you never want to do it again. And thats fine, as long as you face it, and try it first. I could have totally hated sparring, but if I hadn't at least taken the first step and gotten in there and done it at least once, I wouldn't have known either way. As Buzz Lightyear would say "Never give up! Never surrender!"

I will end with a quote from my Sensei Nick. He has said this to me a lot recently, I don't know if I'm quoting it verbatim, but it is a good quote, I like it, and I feel like its appropriate.  "The difference between fear and bravery is the willingness to act." I like Nick's wording a little better, but I think the original quote is "Courage is simply the willingness to be afraid and act anyway." ~ Robert Anthony

Thats that everyone. This week/weekend, I challenge you to go out and do something that scares you! :D

Till next time, 

~Samurai Girl Sahara

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Way to Black Belt and My Current Martial Arts Goals

This weekend I finished reading an excellent book called "The Way to Black Belt" by Lawrence Kane and Kris Wilder. (You can find out a little bit more about them here) This is packed with great information for any martial artist, especially a beginner or anyone who is serious about really learning and seeking excellence in the martial arts. 

To be fair... if you are/were already serious about the martial arts, or have studied before, you MAY have trouble getting through the first chapter, which is essentially a pep talk. In all honesty, I really hated chapter one, I already knew I wanted to study martial arts, but it has some good information about goal setting. Chapter two was much better and could be incredibly useful to those seeking a dojo or looking for a good teacher. The rest of the book was/is awesome. It is one I will continually reference back to and probably re-read certain parts of frequently throughout my journey to black belt, and even after. (And, I very rarely re-read books within more than a few years)

Seriously, its a great book. Go read it. Each chapter has a theme packed with useful information, followed by an action plan and lots of really great sources for additional material and resources. Here are some of the questions from the first two chapter's action plans along with my answers.

Chapter One is all about setting goals, getting yourself into a dojo, taking the first step and starting on the path to martial arts. There is nothing that can stop you and there are no good excuses for not finding a way to get started. Once you get started you will need goals and motivation to help carry you to black belt. Simply wanting a black belt is not enough to get you there, so they talk about setting mile markers, and smaller goals, and really looking at your reasoning for wanting to be involved in the martial arts and get a black belt. This is where I gathered a lot of the information I posted about setting SMART goals in my first blog post.

To give you an example

The action plan questions for Chapter One are:

What are your top 3 specific, measure-able, achievable, realistic, and time-bound, short-term goals?

Mine are: - make a habit of practicing my kata every night before bed for the entire month of April and/or Practice meditation and VMBR on days when I am not in class or working out, all of April to create a habit that will carry over into the next month, etc.
- Go to at least one M.A. Seminar with my old instructor and close friend Nick Guinn by this time in 2012 (You can find his blog here.)
- Get my orange belt.
*Since these are short term goals, once they have been met in the near future, I can then make new ones. for example, once I can my orange belt I can then start working towards my purple belt.

What are your top 3 specific, measure-able, achievable, realistic, and time-bound long-term goals?

Mine are:
- Get my black belt in Kempo, which should/could take me anywhere from 3 to 5 years.
- After getting my black belt, or close to the time I get it, start training in Aikido/Aikijutsu again
- Within 10 years, I would like to be qualified to be able to teach for, and actually teaching for, Nick Guinn.

The next set of questions can help you articulate your goals

What are the 3 most important elements of your role as a student?

For me they are
- pay attention in class and take notes
- practice outside of class
- learn everything

What are the three most important things your instructor can do to help you succeed?

for me they are
- answer questions
- be patient
- correct me when I’m doing something wrong/give lots of feedback

What are three specific challenges you know that you will face?

for me they are
- smaller size and less strength than men
- possibly getting injured (again...)
- discouragement (usually from me, more than anything sadly)

What are 3 ways to overcome these challenges?

For me I can
- practice proper technique till it is ingrained into me and that is all I know how to do, NO SLOPPY Martial Arts. Technique always wins out over strength.
- Be cautious, don’t over do it in class or in physical training, and if I do get injured, take it easy and train mentally until I’m well again.
- no matter what happens, don’t give up. Seek encouragement and advice from my Sensei, or ‘those who have traveled the path before me’

What 3 indicators will serve as mile markers to demonstrate progress on your journey towards earning a black belt? (or Goals I would like to achieve before black belt)
- I am able to explain or teach something to others
- Unconscious competence when sparring/reacting - Mushin when practicing and doing kata (this is something I have yet to see from even the brown belts at my school trying to go through all their Kempos, DMs, Katas, and Pinons. I want to be able to do them all without thinking about it or having to stop and figure out what comes next or having to struggle through them)

So there you have it. Those are some of my Martial Arts goals, hopes, aspirations, etc. It really is my dream to be able to teach martial arts and help others some day. With a lot of hard work and perseverance, I'll get there.

I'm genuinely curious, feel free to comment with some of your goals, even if they're not martial arts goals. If you want to share, I want to hear them. ^.^ Take care, all

~ Samurai Girl Sahara

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Do It Till You Vomit!

Ok, not really. No one really wants to work out till they vomit. But I thought I'd make a quick mid week post in lieu of my work out this evening in which I DID almost do it till I vomited!

When you start training, it is pretty normal to feel horrible, out of breath, tired, weak, sick, nauseous, etc. I know the first time I trained with my trainer, I felt like I was going to puke, it was horrible. But, I went back for more! The trick is not to give up, the feeling will eventually go away as you get into better shape.


Sometimes, when you're working out really hard, you can push yourself so hard you can feel sick. In my case, it seems every time I do a particular exercise, High Knees, I feel like I'm gonna barf. Feeling exhausted, sore, sweaty, tired, these are all pretty typical when you're working out really hard, at least in my experience.

Pushing yourself till you really can't go anymore is fine, but at the same time be sure to listen to your body. My trainer told me what to do if you get sick today, because I definitely almost hurled!

If you really feel like you're going to hurl, then stop and walk it off. The worst thing you can do if you feel like you're going to barf is sit down because then it settles in your stomach and when you get back up and start to work out again you'll feel even worse.

If you are dizzy or light headed, then you need to sit down and take slow deep breathes. Breath slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth. To help control your exhale, you can make your lips into an O shape, kind of like you're puckering up to give a big smooch, and breath out through your lips.

To be honest, I felt pretty silly today, having to stop and walk through a gym full of people into the cardio room to get on a tread mill and walk a little bit because I thought I was going to puke. But my trainer assured me, this happens to a lot of people. She said she's even thrown up before. Do not be embarrassed! You're just pushing yourself to epic awesomeness! But on your way to epic awesome bad ass-ness, take time to take care of your body. No one really WANTS to throw up, so if you really feel like you're gonna puke, go walk for a few minutes till the feeling goes away, it shouldn't take long. If you're dizzy and light headed, sit down for a bit, drink some water and take some deep breaths.

Finally, to help prevent feeling sick, weak and tired during your workout, remember: Consume those complex carbs within an hour before you work out! Between an hour to half an hour before is best. That will help provide you with the energy needed to make it through.

Have a great week, no barfing! ^.~

~Samurai Girl Sahara

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Abs in April

The start of a new month!

For anyone, having a strong and stable core is very important. Core muscles include obliques, abdominals, lower back, and the glutes. When you have a strong core, it helps with every activity you do. Here is a list of some of the benefits of a strong core:

1. Strengthening core muscles will improve posture and prevent low muscular back pain.
Have you ever noticed how sometimes old people seem to be hunch-backed? This comes from slouching, looking down a lot (to read, to sew, to type, etc), weakening of the muscles and settling of the joints. If you maintain a strong core and good posture, you won't get a hump back when you age.

2. Helps avoid back injury.
In my case, I have a condition called Spondylolisthesis, where the lowest vertebrae in my back doesn't line up properly. If I do not keep a strong core, I have extreme lower back pain. By having a strong core and good posture, I can alieviate this pain without medication or surgery!

3. Improves physical performance
Every Martial Artist needs a strong core! Power comes from your center! Strength and posture come from our center. By having a strong core it will help every aspect your art, stance, punches, kicks, breathing, etc. Your core ties it all together.

4. Improves balance
Also essential to every Martial Artist is balance. Balance will help you perform techniques better, hold stances longer, and maintain control over your opponents in grappling arts.

So, with all that being said, here are some of my favorite abs exercises, in no particular order. Most of these can be done at home without any equipment. Be sure to to squeeze your abs during each exercise and maintain steady even breathing, in through the nose and out through the mouth. (How to descriptions courtesy of

1) Bicycle exercise *considered one of the most effective abs exercises working the rectus abdominus or 'six pack' muscles and the obliques
-Lie on the floor and lace your fingers behind your head.
-Bring the knees in towards the chest and lift the shoulder blades off the floor without pulling on the neck.
-Straighten the left leg out while simultaneously turning the upper body to the right, taking the left elbow towards the right knee.
-Switch sides, bringing the right elbow towards the left knee.
-Continue alternating sides in a 'pedaling' motion for 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps.

2)Captain's Chair Leg Raise *requires equipment, also works the six pack and the obliques
-Stand on the chair and grip handholds to stabilize your upper body.
-Press your back against the pad and contract the abs to raise the legs and lift knees towards your chest.
-Don't arch the back or swing the legs up.
-Slowly lower back down and repeat for 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps.

3)Balance Ball Crunches *Targets the six packs
-Lie on the ball, positioning it under the lower back.
-Cross your arms over the chest or place them behind your head.
-Contract your abs to lift your torso off the ball, pulling the bottom of your ribcage down toward your hips.
-As you curl up, keep the ball stable (i.e., the ball shouldn't roll).
-Lower back down, getting a stretch in the abs, and repeat for 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps.

*An alternate option, one that my trainer showed me which I really like, is to start with the ball under your upper back, do one set of crunches going only a small ways up, target your upper abs, roll the ball down to the middle of your back, doing the second set sitting up further to target your upper and middle abs, then roll the ball down to your lower back doing one set coming all the way to a sitting position, working all the abs, then going back to the middle and back to the upper abs. You will do a total of 5 sets of 10 - 15 crunches, increasing the amount of crunches are you are able. You can rest in between sets of 5 doing a total of 3 or more sets of 5.

4) Verticle Leg Crunch, also Toe Touch Crunch
-Lie on the floor and extend the legs straight up in the air and toes pointed.
-You can place your hands on the floor for support.
-Contract the abs to lift the shoulder blades off the floor, as though reaching your chest towards your feet. *You can also reach for your toes
-Keep the legs in a fixed position and imagine bringing your belly button towards your spine at the top of the movement.
-Lower and repeat for 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps

5)Reverse Crunch

-Lie on the floor and place hands on the floor or behind the head. *to challenge yourself, lay on a bench with your legs straight out, off the edge of the bench.
-Legs straight out, toes pointed, bring them straight up.
-Contract the abs to curl the hips off the floor, reaching the legs up towards the ceiling. (Bring your hips straight up, do not bring them back, your legs should not come back towards your head at all.)
-Lower and repeat for 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps.
*It's a very small movement, so try to use your abs to lift your hips rather than swinging your legs and creating momentum.

6)Plank Position

-Lie face down on mat resting on the forearms, palms flat on the floor.
-Push off the floor, raising up onto toes and resting on the elbows.
-Keep your back flat, in a straight line from head to heels.
-Tilt your pelvis and contract your abdominals to prevent your rear end from sticking up in the air or sagging in the middle.
-Hold for 30, break for 10, hold for 30 more, or do up to 60 seconds straight if you can, lower and repeat for 3-5 reps.

Enjoy your sore abs friends! Have a good week.

~ Samurai Girl Sahara