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Posts Tagged ‘wax on wax off’

Empowerment Self-Defense seminar in Oakland

Here’s a thing that’s . . . well, not directly related to the Arisia mess, but not unrelated, either.

My fellow Book View Cafe author Nancy Jane Moore, a highly experienced black belt in aikido, will be teaching a free self-defense seminar for women and non-binary people in Oakland on November 17th. It’s being sponsored by Fodada, and is in honor of International Women’s Self Defense Day. You can go here to register — but it’s limited to 15 people, so if you’re interested, make sure you act soon.

for the edification of others

The other day at the dojo, our sensei had us punching bare-handed against bags (the flat pad type that another person holds onto). I wound up punching mine a few more times with a little more force than was strictly wise — because of course I did; I’m a writer and I was curious to see what it felt like, and I’m unlikely to go around getting into fist-fights just for research.

Since my hand is still complaining at me a little bit today, I figure I should share what I learned with others, so they don’t have to do the same thing. 🙂

The actual impact stung a fair bit, and increasingly so as time went on, of course. But I was good about keeping my wrist straight, so the impact went up my forearm in a direct line; you can really mess yourself up if your wrist isn’t straight, because then it will buckle under the impact and you’ll probably sprain something. (And I really do mean straight. Mostly straight = not good enough.) My knuckles turned visibly red, and I got a small mark in the webbing between my ring and pinky finger, like I’d chafed the skin or something. Fortunately I didn’t persist to the point of really doing myself a mischief, because near the end I subconsciously flinched from the sting of impact; my wrist buckled, but there wasn’t enough force in the punch for that to do any damage, and then after that everything I threw was complete crap. I imagine that adrenaline would have carried me much further in a real fight, but odds are good that it would also have made me more likely to use bad form and hurt myself that way.

My knuckles stayed faintly red for the rest of the night, but were back to normal the next day, and the mark faded about as quickly. The lingering effect is in the soft tissue between my metacarpals: I still feel an intermittent ache there, and if I use my left hand to shift those bones around, I can tell there’s tension and stiffness. So the moral of this story, I think, is that if you’re going to talk about punches leaving a mark on the one who threw them (and you should, unless your character is a hardened bare-handed brawler), the problem isn’t so much in the knuckles as in the hand itself. Or the wrist, if they threw a stupid punch and sprained something. Or, y’know, all over the place if they were really dumb and dislocated a finger or broke a bone. But the palm of the hand is going to take a beating even if nothing more severe happens elsewhere.

So now you know. And don’t have to pound your own hands to find out.

The Littlest Black Belt Gets Dressed Up

After my test back in March, Shihan gave me a plain black belt to wear.

My real black belt had to be ordered from Okinawa, you see. Which takes a while — and then I vanished for three months, on account of house-buying and travel and house-moving and the dojo’s annual summer break. But tonight I went back, for the first time since early May, and this was waiting for me:

my karate black belt

Mind you, the really real symbol of my achievement won’t come until the dojo party this Christmas. As Shihan has pointed out, anybody can go online and buy a black belt — even one with their name embroidered on it in Japanese. But you can’t buy an enormous diploma signed by a ninth-degree black belt in your style, which is what I’ll get in a few months.

Still and all . . . it’s good to have the belt. 🙂

The Littlest Black Belt Crosses the Starting Line

After seven and a half years of practice, two months of really hard work, a couple weeks of rather gruesome stress, and fifteen minutes of actual kata . . . .

. . . I am a black belt in shima-ha shorin-ryu karate.

In a way, the test is more ceremonial than anything else. Shihan’s been watching you the whole time; he cares more about your general level of skill than how you perform in a single, specific moment. I screwed up the footing at one point on jitte — knew it even as my feet were moving into place. But I still passed. Because I don’t always screw up the footing on jitte, and even if those weren’t my best performances of each kata — my performance in a test is never my best; nerves get in the way too much — I showed that I know what I’m doing, well enough to qualify, at least.

My sister-in-law, who is a sensei at the dojo, said something very useful to me about two weeks ago: as much as we want to feel like we’ve earned our black belts with the test, her take is that you earn your belt after the test. The test itself is a formality, a thing to get out of the way so you can go back to working on your karate and growing into the belt you now wear. Her words of wisdom did a lot to help me stop stressing (well, stress less). And now, with the test over, I know exactly what she means. Shihan gave me some esoteric tips on movement; now in class, rather than running all my kata back-to-back in order to build my endurance and learn how to pace myself, I can stand there wiggling my shoulders and sticking my knuckles into my ribs and doing things that won’t have an immediate effect on my kata, but will make me a better karateka in the long run.

Because the thing to remember is: as much as outsiders think of getting your black belt as “graduation,” as having arrived . . . it’s really the starting line. All those belts below black are more recent inventions, a way to let you see the progress you’re making on your way to, not mastery, but basic competence. I have now achieved basic competence. Yay! Time to really get to work.

. . . no really, time to get to work. Because my test wound up being scheduled for a Wednesday afternoon, I have class tonight. I’m looking forward to sticking my knuckles into my ribs and seeing what happens. 😀

Stats for the stat god

Neither Shihan nor his wife were at the dojo tonight, which meant I felt comfortable asking the sensei who teaches on Wednesdays whether he was okay with me keeping my Fitbit on during class. He said that was fine, so for the first time, I have stats for what goes on with my body during practice.

I was surprised at how few “steps” it recorded, to be honest. Sure, we spend the first twenty minutes or so on various warmups and stretches, most of which won’t register on the Fitbit. But it only recorded 1500 for the whole hour, which is equivalent to about fifteen minutes of normal walking at my usual pace. I thought the various punches and blocks would add up to more. The real interest, though, is in the heartrate tracking: I can see where we finished the warmup and started doing basics, and I can see what happened when I ran seven kata back-to-back in preparation for my upcoming test, which is a thing I’ve been doing at every practice for about a month. Turns out that I do indeed spend most of the class in the zones generally classed as “cardio” or “peak,” and topped out the scale at 185 at one point during that block of kata. (It would be amusing to see which kata work me the hardest, but since I was only allowing myself five breaths’ pause between them, there’s no hope of differentiating one from the next via the stats.) 185 is what the American Heart Association considers the usual “maximum” for my age, so I feel safe in saying that I’m working pretty damn hard when I do that kind of set. 😛

I wish Fitbit had a way for me to save that data and label it “karate,” so that I can add it to my stats for the day any time I go to the dojo. But I also wish they made them waterproof enough to wear while swimming, and that they could make the actual unit thinner; I can’t get everything I want.

another fundraiser — this one more serious

I posted a while ago about one of the stops on my book tour, an event hosted by the Oregon Regency Society. During that weekend, I met a lovely lady named Nora, a friend of Mary Robinette Kowal’s.

Last week, while on a trip with her husband to celebrate their anniversary, the two of them were in a horrific car accident. As in, the sort of thing where they’re lucky to be alive, and Nora is still in the ICU. (Her husband Bob was there, too, until recently.) They have insurance . . . but not a lot, and this is major enough that it’s going to blow through their coverage. It won’t help them with the months to come, during which neither of them will be able to work.

There’s a fundraiser underway to help them. And to sweeten the pot — not to mention create some spots of brightness in what is otherwise a dreadful moment — Mary is organizing Acts of Whimsy, as sort of milestone bait for the fundraiser. You can check out her blog for the full list, but my contribution is that I will perform a karate kata in the Victorian dress I used during the tour. I don’t promise to perform it well; in fact, it would be more honest to say I promise to perform it abysmally, given the constraints of the dress. But you will get to see it. And when that goes up, I’ll write a post about what I learned about trying to perform martial arts in Victorian clothing, for the edification of all who might write such a scene one day.

Please do contribute if you can. I didn’t get much chance to talk to Nora that weekend, but we did meet, and it’s appalling to look at the photograph of their truck (in the first update; click and scroll down to see it) and think of her going through that. The fundraiser is about 60% of the way to its goal right now; that’s fabulous, but there’s a lot more to be done.

The Littlest Shodanho II Enters the Home Stretch

(Actually, owing to a clerical error, the card on which my class attendance is recorded lists me as wakashodan II. Which would make me ~two belt ranks higher and twenty years younger: the wakadan are the black belt kids. But whatever. <g>)

I had another belt test on Friday, 11 months after the last one. It would have been a good deal sooner, were it not for ankle surgery intervening; one hopes I will not face such an obstacle again this year. Because at this point — having attended class last night — I am 59 classes away from being able to test for my Real True Black Belt. Actual shodan, instead of shodanho, the “probationary” black belt degrees that in our dojo precede the thing itself.

There are three classes a week that I can attend. 60 classes at three a week is 20 weeks, or roughly five months. Except there are holidays; there are times when I’m out of town; there are nights when I’m sick or just plain don’t feel like going. My goal is to test for shodan by October, which will be the seventh anniversary of my first class. That’s eight months away: gives me a realistic margin of error for the classes I’ll miss, while being tight enough of a timeline to motivate me to get my lazy carcass to the dojo.

It’s a long, long road to a black belt, at least where I study. (Longer when you have two ankle surgeries along the way.) But the end is finally in sight.

The Littlest Green Belt Goes Back to Kobudo

I haven’t been to a kobudo class since Okinawa, i.e. late July. But there’s a seminar this weekend, and although I’m only going to one part of it — I figured I should stay away from the bit that’s going to be done on a basketball court, on account of the brace I’m still wearing makes slipping on the floor a high probability — I decided it would be a good idea to start going back to class.

(Haven’t been to a kobudo class since July, haven’t hit the minimum required classes for the next test, and despite that I got told I would be testing for my next belt the first Friday in November. Possibly it’s just as well that I’ll be at World Fantasy then and can’t possibly come. Except that the next test will be in December, which is also when I’m likely to be doing my next shodan-ho test in karate, and holy Mary mother of god I am not doing those tests back to back. I may just have to admit that to Shihan’s face and beg for mercy, i.e. postponing the kobudo test until January.)

I’ve never felt like I’m that good at kobudo. It’s unclear to me how much of that feeling is because of the disparity between my karate and kobudo skill levels: I felt like I was a better karate green belt than I am a kobudo green belt, but I also had less sense of what I ought to be doing back then, and therefore less awareness of how I was falling short. It’s clear to me, though, that I’ve got more skill than I thought I did — and not just because I still remember the kata sequence. I’ve had other periods where, for one reason or another, I missed kobudo for a long time, and when I came back I always felt really clumsy and off. This time, though, I’ve been gone for two and a half months, and when I came back . . . I felt okay, actually. Not 100%, because my footing is still less than entirely secure, and worrying about that distracts me from what I’m doing. And I’m definitely on the rusty side. But I didn’t feel anywhere near as incompetent as I expected to, which means more of the technique has gotten embedded in my brain than I thought. It’s pleasing to know that.

Exhausting night, though. Class isn’t constant exertion, but even so, two hours on your feet doing stuff will take it out of you — and god knows the senpai who ran the kobudo class wasn’t taking it easy on us. We basically ran every kata twice, saijutsu kihon gata ichi and ni, kiyan no sai, nakandakari no sai, then we switched to bo and it was donyukon ichi, donyukon ni, and then cho un no kun sho not twice but three times, with very little breathing time in between any of it. That’s fifteen kata, yo. That’s tiring. Especially when you aren’t used to it anymore.

But hey: it’s the only way I’ll get used to it again. 🙂

The Littlest Shodan-ho Enters the Inner Circle

I started up with karate again last week: my first time back since the seminar in Okinawa. As with the previous surgery, I’m not up to full speed, but even just getting to move around is a good thing.

It also paid an unexpected dividend. As shodan-ho — a term which means “probationary black belt” — I’m on the border between “black belt” and “not a black belt,” neither fish nor fowl. I was the only shodan-ho at the seminar (most of the other dojo in our organization apparently don’t use that ranking), so when Shihan said “black belts do X; lower belts do Y,” I had to ask which group I ought to go with. He initially sent me down with the lower belts, but then changed his mind and moved me to the other group, which is how I ended up learning kusanku way earlier than I expected to.

At home, my liminal state puts me in an ambiguous position where classes are concerned. I had told myself I wouldn’t ask until I was out of the ankle brace and more or less recovered . . . but as it turns out, I didn’t have to. On Monday, I was informed that I am now permitted to attend the Thursday class — the black belt class.

Sadly, I won’t be able to make it this week, because I already have plans for Thursday night. 😛 But it’s official! I count as a black belt! It really does feel momentous, even though I’ve been to the Thursday class during the vacation periods where it’s open to all belts, so I know it isn’t actually anything special. And I’m glad that it happened this way, with Shihan telling me, rather than me asking. There’s an element of etiquette to how these things get handled; me being patient and not pushing is the way it’s supposed to go.

Presuming I can avoid any other surgeries or suchlike, I should be able to test for the next degree of shodan-ho at the beginning of December. Then it’s sixty classes (minimum) to becoming a Real True Black Belt, with no ambiguity. Five or six months, but probably longer given that there are holidays and I miss classes and so forth. But it is entirely plausible that I’ll be shodan before 2015 is out.

I’m looking forward to it. 😀


This is less coherent than I wanted it to be; I blame the narcotics. 😛

I went to Okinawa! As many of you know. The main purpose was a karate and kobudo (weapons) seminar; there was also time built in for sightseeing, which is relevant because Shihan’s planning to do another seminar in three years, but that one is intended to be all training, all the time. It is also possibly intended for a different time of year, because yare yare, the heat and humidity. I said I was going to be training in an un-airconditioned budokan; this turned out to be mostly not true, as Shihan got them to turn on the A/C for most of our scheduled training. But we also had one unscheduled afternoon block — about which more later — with nothing but a couple of very inadequate fans, so I got to experience something more like the full misery for at least a couple of hours. More than enough to be grateful it wasn’t the entire time, I can tell you that! (Though even with A/C, it was quite warm. Japan, unlike my home state of Texas, does not feel obliged to chill every indoor space to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.)

The prefectural budokan is an odd place: concrete walls studded with random bits of stained glass, highly functional but with lovely hardwood floors in most places, and then the exterior looks a bit like a stylized samurai helm. Our first day we shared the place with a swarm of children there for a tournament; we also saw a number of kendo groups come and go. It clearly gets plenty of use, and has three separate training halls as well as a weight room and a konbini and so forth. As for the training, it was both very intense and not. Each block was two hours long, usually without a break, and sometimes I was doing things like learning kusanku that drove me into the ground. But periodically Shihan would stop everybody to expound upon some point of technique or history, so you did at least get breathers. I suspect the experience was a bit more valuable for the people from Germany and Denmark and Spain and so on; people from our dojo get advice from Shihan on a regular basis, and are taught by people who are still being trained by him directly. The other RBKD dojo are a bit further removed, and so get that kind of guidance much more rarely. But it was very nifty to see them all, and to realize we truly are part of an international organization for the promotion of shorin-ryu karate.

Where sightseeing is concerned . . . I realized a while ago that I kept saying I was going to Okinawa, not to Japan. The difference matters. Those islands were only added to Japan in the relatively recent past, and culturally speaking, they have a lot of influences from Taiwan and China that make them distinct from the home islands (not to mention, of course, the indigenous Ryukyuan culture). We went to Shuri-jou, to Naminoue-guu, to Fukushuu-en, to the Churaumi Aquarium to see the whale sharks. We went to a small island called Kourijima, and that wound up not really working at all: I don’t know what happened, but we had nowhere near enough space for everybody who came. Shihan told us monks sleep on only one tatami mat; well, the American contingent had fourteen people in an eight-mat room, with no futon or even pillows. (Half the group ended up sleeping on the wooden porch; one of them got bit badly enough that he ended up going to the hospital to have the water blisters lanced.) So Kourijima got cut a day short, which is why we were back in Naha for an extra afternoon of training. But we were there long enough to have “beach training,” which Shihan ought to have called “ocean training” instead: he literally marched us into the water and made us do kata there. (It turns out that you can do the upper-body half of naifanchi shodan quite well while treading water.)

As instructed by my sister, I ate spam fried rice. I ate chanpuru (though not with goya). I ate Okinawan soba; I could not have avoided it if I tried, because it got served as a side dish with practically every meal I ordered. We got to see traditional Okinawan dancing at the welcome dinner; Shihan’s wife Tomoko-sensei is to Okinawan dancing what he is to karate, basically, though health issues mean she doesn’t practice regularly anymore. We bought CDs of traditional Okinawan music and also heard the same group sing “Let It Go” in Japanese. All in all, an excellent trip . . . except for the Kourijima part. 😛

And oh yes, there are pictures. Expect to see many of those in the days to come.