Friday, May 20, 2011

Belt Tying Tutorial

Just for Fun!!!

Aside from having a serious passion for Martial Arts, my day job is a Graphic Designer. I LOVE the arts and being creative, reading, writing, drawing, etc. Even more, I like combining my passions whenever possible. This summer I am taking a web design class so that I can learn to be able to code what I design. Right now we're just making small projects to get the hang of using code. I did a tutorial on How to Tie Your Belt. I still have a few tweaks I want to make, but you more or less get the idea.

Just wanted to share. +^.^+

Follow your bliss everyone!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why I want to excel at Kata

I have started reading Kris Wilder's "Way of Kata". There was one part in particular (thus far) that really struck me. I wanted to share it.

" Not only are many secret techniques intentionally obscured in kata, but also some are not even shown at all. There are frequently hidden applications (e.g. ear slap, eye rake) between the movements in kata. Watching a skilled practitioner go through a kata can be magical. The more you know about the kata, the more magical the performance becomes. The key to what the kata artists do is often what they are doing when they appear to be doing nothing.

Confusing? Think of it this way-- in music, a pause or rest between the notes provides emphasis for the notes that follow, giving these subsequent notes their moment to shine. Without the rhythm and the rests, all the notes would be smashed together creating an unpleasant stream of noise. The same concept applies to kata. Mozart said that it is far easier for a musician to play well quickly than to play well slowly. Many people rush through kata in a hurry to show power and speed. What Mozart said about music also applies to kata. A pause in the kata gives the technique that follows a moment to shine.

Look at your own kata and ask yourself if it is a blur that is unintelligible or if it is a beautifully composed story of speed, power, technique, and understanding. As you practice, it is important that you take your time. Start with the most basic form you know and slow it down. You will probably find many areas that need improvement and it will take a while to actually complete each form. Remember to look for the forgotten nuances that one cannot always see at full speed.

Do not change the movements, however. Hidden applications between movements should be shown with your mind, not your body. It is all a matter of intent. This is extremely subtle and somewhat difficult to explain. Suffice it to say that watching a very experienced practitioner doing even the most basic kata looks nothing like watching those who have only been practicing a few years."

Yep. Its like magic. I want to be able to do that magic.

Practice, practice, practice.

Just wanted to share. Thanks Kris Wilder and Lawrence Kane for writing such great books!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My First Tournament Experience

Oh tournament. The event was more or less like I expected, however the experience was not.

My day, started pretty well. I was actually excited to go, even though I had been secretly dreading it all week.

My first event was sparring. Sparring. Dead last place. Yep. There is no good way to put it. I choked. Not in the sense that I didn't do my best, but in the sense that I let the situation overwhelm me and I held back. Having never been to a tournament before, and having no idea what to do, and being up to spar first, I listened to the judge. He said to just relax and take it easy, he just wanted to see what we knew, little to light contact, he didn't want to see anything overly aggressive at all. Well.... I'm a very aggressive fighter. After that I was completely freaked out and worried that I was going to get in trouble for excessive contact or being overly aggressive.

I'm not making excuses. I have a lot of thoughts about what to do differently if I do go to tournament again. Because tournament sparring is a completely different beast from combat. Its a whole different type of objective and tactic. I get that a little better now, I think. Even though Nick has told me on many occasions that tournament sparring is like playing tag, you don't really understand how much so until you go do it. The judges can also only call what they see, so if they are on the far side of where your hits land, they cannot call a hit, etc. Watching the way people in my division were sparring after I was out, it was pretty ridiculous.

I was discussing it with a friend of mine, and he said that point/sport/tournament sparring, or really any sport fighting (he mentioned fencing) is pretty lame in the fact that you have to do unrealistic things to win. Things that would probably not work in real life, at all. So I have decided to work on practicing some pretty ridiculous tactics in order to freak my opponent out and secure a victory. However, I do this full well understanding that this is NOTHING like real violence. (Normally my one issue with sparring, the fact that it really doesn't prepare you for real violence.)

Anyway, so sparring was a learning experience. Not one I really liked, but I did come away with some ideas.

After sparring, I was a little upset, I was VERY disappointed in myself. I don't know if it was nerves, or what, but I felt pretty sick. And after I bit, I went to the bathroom and barfed. : /

After that, I went to my kata ring, and competed in kata. I placed second! Which was pretty good. Then I threw up again.

And again in the car on the way home.

I cannot tell if it was nerves that had me so worked up all day, or what. But I'm not eager to go to tournament again. I probably will, just to see if I can get over my fear a little more. And probably learn something else. But it was an experience.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Respect vs. Rank

I read Felicia's post on respect a few weeks ago (R-E-S-P-E-C-T). It was good, I thought about whether we had problems in our dojo and I really didn't feel like it was an issue beyond some of the kids I have seen. I haven't really seen this problem in adults, we all have fun and respect each other. Well, that is, until last night.

Any dojo you go to will have different rules and traditions. When I studied under Sensei Nick Guinn, we just came into the dojo, put on our belts, and hung out till class started. Once class started, things were serious and formal. We bowed in very formally, going down with the right knee first, then the left, right hand on the floor, then the left, then you bowed your forehead to the floor, and when you say up you brought your right hand back to your lap, then your left, stood with your right leg first, then your left. There was a specific reason for the order you did everything in, etc. I don't know if he still does things that way now, but I really liked the formality of it. It definitely got you focused for class.

At my current dojo, they ask that you kneel down when putting on or taking off your belt, and if a black belt of any degree is putting on their belt that you also kneel down out of respect. We didn't do this at my old dojo, but I make every effort to do it here, because that is their tradition. I don't like the way we bow in at my new school as much. It feels very casual compared to what I am used to. (If you bow from the waist you always bow lower than your superiors, at least according to the Japanese culture, etc etc) But, I do it their way because that is their tradition at this dojo. 

What I am getting around to saying is that last night, after class, it was late, there were only 2 students left in the dojo, a green belt and a black belt, they were talking in the lobby and the instructor and instructor in training had just stepped back into the office to have a meeting. I bowed before I left the dojo floor, and took my belt off in the lobby. I forgot to kneel down.

The green belt made a point to tell me that I hadn't done so and that I was disrespectful. (As a side note, anyone who knows me knows that I take martial arts VERY seriously and I do my best to respectful to students and teachers a like, and to follow tradition when applicable.) She tried to flick me, but I flinched away and gave her a look that said, 'Don't touch me'. She moved in closer and flicked me hard on the arm. So, I gently swung my arm out and tapped her with my belt on the leg in response. She then proceeded to try to kick me. I blocked, and remained on the defensive while she kicked and punched at me. I did not attack her back. At one point she was able to grab the back of me neck, as she had backed me up into one of the dojo's display cases, and bend me over. At that point the black belt stepped in and said something and broke up the fight.

The green belt then said something along the lines of she couldn't believe how disrespectful I was, starting a fight with a green belt. 

Excuse me, but you, miss green belt, are NOT my instructor, it is not your place to scold me or punish me for not following dojo etiquette. And in addition, escalating the situation from flicking and tapping to full on kicking and punching is not ok. What I said was "I think you're the one who started it." I gathered my things and I left the dojo. 

What this brings me down to is this: Who's responsibility is to reprimand students? And, are underclassmen required to show respect to disrespectful upperclassmen?

My opinion: 
Upperclassmen are there to assist and to guide their lower classmen. I feel that punishment and rule enforcement should be left up to the instructor. Granted the instructor was not present at the time, but a simple, "Next time you should kneel when you take your belt off." without the flicking would have easily sufficed. Upperclassmen should be there to set an example for the lower classmen. I do not mind them gently reminding students of etiquette or tradition, but it is not their responsibility to enforce the law.

Respect is earned, not given. Obviously, common courtesy dictates that we should be polite and respectful to everyone as often as possible. However, if someone is blatantly rude to you, or disrespectful, are you required to continue to be respectful to them, especially when they outrank you? My stance, no. (Nick has a post that somewhat touches on this topic as well. You can find it here) I'm not sure I really believe killing people with kindness is always the right approach. I had one instructor at my current dojo tell me (when I was a white belt having issues with a yellow belt in class who just wanted to talk instead of practice) that I am only required to be respectful as far as the dojo rules go, which means I kneel down when a black belt is putting on or taking off their belt, and I am not allowed to teach anyone anything unless asked to do so by the instructor. That was it. Obviously I don't want to be a complete ass-hole to them and curse them out or go out of my way to try to hurt them during training or something equally mean like that, but I am not necessarily required to be friendly and respectful to them either.  

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not encouraging people to start smart mouthing each other and being rude, but I am also not going to allow myself to get walked on either. It can sometimes seem like a difficult line to walk, but you should not allow anyone to use their position to bully you around in any sort of situation. Ever. If you do stand up for yourself, people will possible accuse you of being a bitch, or having a bad attitude. I have had this happen. Which is why its important to stand up for yourself with tact and grace instead of sinking to their level and being rude in response, but be firm. Do not give in. 

Upperclassmen have a responsibility to guide and protect lower ranking students, not bully or punish. (However, as always, I'm sure there are some exceptions to this opinion. Sometimes people just need to be put in their place by a fellow classmate and not the instructor, however these situations are probably pretty few and far between.) Upperclassmen should be setting an example by being polite and respectful to both their superiors and their lower classmen. 

Lowerclassmen should be respectful to their upperclassmen, they should be attentive to feedback, but they should not have to tolerate bullying or disrespect just because the color of their belt is different. (or the same). 

I'm sure what happened with me last night could have been handled in a more tactful way, but sometimes things happen very fast and we don't think about it until after the situation is over.

Has anyone had a similar situation? How do you stand up for yourself without being overtly rude? When these sorts of situations happen, should you take them to the instructor or deal with them yourself? I'm curious to see how other people have dealt with it in the past and what other perspectives people have on the issue of respect versus rank. Please share with me! There is always a better way to deal with something, and I am always looking for ideas, things to think about, and things to help me out as I make my way through the ranks and eventually with when I become an instructor and need to guide and mentor my own students.  

Thanks for listening. Looking forward to your comments. 

~Samurai Girl Sahara

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hygiene in the Dojo

Martial Arts is fun. The dojo is (or at least in my opinion should be) a safe, healthy, worry free environment to learn and practice your art. To help keep it this way most dojos have rules or guidelines to follow to help keep all the students from getting hurt. I cannot stress enough how important it is to follow these rules! Find out what your dojo rules are, make a point to read them, and a strong effort to follow them. They are there for a reason.

In addition to these basic rules, there is the basic courtesy of hygiene. You'd figure this would be a given. But apparently, its not, so I'm going to take some time to go over some basic dojo etiquette. Rules will, of course, vary from dojo to dojo. Regardless, due to recent events, here are some things that I feel compelled to mention:

Some traditional basics:
- Take off your shoes when you enter the dojo
- Bow before stepping onto the mat, when entering or leaving the training area, etc.
- Kneel down when your instructor or a black belt is putting on or taking off their belt
- Kneel down to put your belt on or take it off
- Be respectful and polite to everyone, higher and lower ranks. Give a little, get a little.

Some safety basics:
- Do NOT wear jewelry in class, of any kind. Not only is this a danger to yourself, but others as well. If you have something like an earring that you cannot take out, Tape it up. It takes two seconds and you forget about the tape once you get going in class. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, when people stand around before class, just waiting for class to start, and refuse take off/out their jewelry. I have offered people tape for their earrings when they told me they didn't want to take them out and they tell me "No, it is too much of a bother." To all of you who who cannot be bothered to take out, or even just tape up your jewelry, I hope you get your earrings ripped out someday.
- Trim your fingernails and toenails. No one likes being scratched, even unintentionally. It hurts and can make people bleed. While you might think blood on your Gi and the dojo floor might be cool, or epic. I assure you, its not. I am not squeamish in the least, but after I was stabbed by someone's toenails when our feet accidentally smashed together as we stepped in at the same time. It was hard enough to leave a bruise and cut the bottom of my foot open to the point where I was bleeding. I was sliced open by someone's dirty toe nail, and that fact grosses me out just a little bit. I can understand a girl having long fingernails, I understand sometimes you can get scratched on accident, but if you're going to practice barefoot in the dojo, trim your toenails!!! For everyone's sake.

Some hygiene basics:
- Do not bring food or drinks into the dojo, (other than water in a water bottle with a lid) (Crumbs attract insects while pop and juice when spilled make things sticky and unpleasant. If you have a medical need, such as if you are a diabetic or hypoglycemic or some such, then you are an exception.)
- Wash your Gi on a regular basis. You may not need to wash it after every class, but please wash it before it starts to get... ripe.
- Wear deodorant and/or shower/bath regularly please.
- Brush your teeth or have a breath mint before class. I keep mint gum in my car and gear bag so if I forget to brush before class I can at least freshen up my breath a tiny bit on the way to the dojo, that way, my partner doesn't have to smell whatever I ate for dinner every time I'm exhaling during a strike or kick or whatever.

Seriously. A little bit of consideration for your fellow dojo mates and self respect enough to take care of your body and your Martial Arts equipment goes a long way.

Please and Thank You.

~Samurai Girl Sahara