Saturday, July 14, 2012

Four Lessons I Have Learned From Karate

Here are some bits of wisdom I've gained from karate:

  1. Always Get Up-  You will get knocked down.  Or you'll fall down.  No matter what, get up.  It's always difficult to get back up, but if you are ready to accept that fact, it's actually easier.  Nowhere is this more important than when you must fight an opponent. You cannot defend yourself or even change positions if you are defeated.  Always get up, however you must.  DO NOT GIVE UP!  In real life, when crap knocks you over, you have to keep going.  This can be painful, but it's a reality that you will never get past whatever it is that is trying to beat the snot out of you.  I've seen this reality played out over and over in the dojo and in real life.   Although friends and loved ones can give you a helping hand, they can't do it for you.  You have to stand up.
  2. Never Turn Your Back-  Just today, I was reminded of this lesson.  I was practicing weapons with another woman at a Shorin-Ryu dojo.  This particular exercise actually involved hitting and blocking with a bo staff.  She saw that I was having a problem and, in the context of helping me, she asked me to physically switch sides with her, as there would then be a mirror facing me and I could see what I was doing incorrectly.  So, okay, I walked straight over to the other side, giving her my back, thus exposing myself to a possible attack.  Her point was never to show my back to my enemy. (She was kind enough not to actually attack me!)  While this is a survival truth, I also took to heart the fact that I should never show my back to my friends either.  I should never turn on them or turn away.  Facing my friends (and my enemies) gives me an awareness.  If I "turn away" by ignoring what my friends are going through, how can I possibly help them when they need me.  Fortunately, I do not have any true enemies (thank goodness!), but I am aware there are individuals who are not my biggest fans.  By facing them, I show them my true self and, who knows, perhaps they will change their minds about their negative feelings toward me.  If not, I can only be who I am and nothing more.
  3. There Will Always Be Mysteries- In karate, as in most martial arts, there are many, many scores of things I do not know and I may never know.  In learning kata, it is important to study the applications of the movements.  As a colored belt, I would often be frustrated by the fact that I just couldn't figure out what my movements meant.  As a black belt, I STILL don't know some of the interpretations, but I know way more than I did.  There will always be things I don't know; some things won't be revealed until I attain a higher rank; some things I may never know.  This does not mean that once you reach black belt, that a "veil" is lifted and you just know stuff.  You learn things gradually just as you do when you are progressing through the colored belt ranks.  Plus, the less you know, the more things you have yet to learn and that's exciting!  Secondly, there should always be mysteries.  One of the coolest things in the world is that there are things that even with all of our advanced technology, we still don't know!  When I was young, I would sometimes look in the sky and see little smudged-looking rainbows during the day.  I thought that was so awesome!  I had no idea what they were, but they were my "rainbow thingies" and they always made me feel good when I saw them.  When I got older, I found out that my "rainbow thingies" were actually something called sun dogs that occur when sunlight is reflected off of ice crystals formed in high cirrus clouds.  And while that is really nifty, I believe I would have been a bit disappointed when I was younger to have had that explanation for what I believe were my own special "rainbow thingies" (and yes, that is what I called them!)  So enjoy the mysteries of life...if there is a mystery that is solved then it is usually solved for you when you need it and not beforehand.  It's just part of the magic!
  4. Things Are Always Hard, Then Easy- When you learn new techniques in karate or a new kata, it's almost always difficult, then easier.  Once something is mastered, it may get changed slightly ("now do it this way") to reflect your growing understanding.  What you are taught as a white belt may look a little different as a brown belt.  Then it gets hard again...and then easy.  Well, real life is like that too.  Sometimes life is just freaking hard...and then it eases up.  But yes, it will get hard again and then easy.  I would just say that when things are easy, enjoy it and be happy.  Just because things get hard does not mean that it will be sad or devastating (though we must realize that sometimes life does get that way), but it does mean that things will eventually get better and easier.  It's all part of a cycle. Embrace it!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

DO Drink the Water

First off, unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere, it's summer and unless you are a camel, you need to worry about hydration before, during, and after exercise or any strenuous activity.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but actually, you should worry about hydration year round, but I'll save that post for this winter! 

I'm one of those people who carries a water bottle just about everywhere.  I enjoy water (except the kind out of the water fountains at work- NASTY!) and so, I drink it regularly.  When it's super-hot, as it has been in my neck of the woods lately (high 90s, 100s), hydration is even more important.  A rule of thumb is to drink around 8-10 oz of water approximately 10-15 minutes before you exercise, the same amount every 15 minutes or so during exercise, and be sure to drink around 20 oz of water after exercise.  This is just ONE rule.  My own personal preference is to drink water shortly before exercising, but in actuality, I try to drink water throughout the day.   In addition, and I'm sure you ladies can back me up on this...too much water beforehand can make you want to pee and any high impact activity combined with a need to pee...well, you get what I'm saying and it ain't funny.  If I am exercising for longer than an hour, I will sometimes mix a sports drink, like Gatorade, with water...I personally don't care for straight Gatorade, to replenish those electrolytes.  If it's super-hot or I am sweating a great deal, then I might mix a bit of Gatorade into my water anyway.  After exercising is also the time to replace electrolytes, but I also want to eat a little something, preferably carbs and protein, as just a sports drink is not advisable. 

Okay, so those are some tips, but the reality is that there have been cases of people drinking too much water and dying.  Who'd a'thought you could do that?  The problem lies in the fact that the sodium in the blood is not being replaced and the balance is disrupted...hence, the need to sometimes drink a sports drink or eat a salty snack, to ensure that you don't totally deplete your sodium.  Oddly enough, the symptoms of drinking too much water (hyponatremia) are very similar to dehydration, so it's extremely important to monitor your own responses to heat, urine output, etc., to avoid such a thing happening to you.  Granted, hyponatremia is rare and is more often seen during endurance events, such as marathons, etc.

The really awesome thing is how portable water has become (again).  Back in the olden days, people had to carry their own water with canteens, waterbags, or barrels.  Fast forward to the modern times and with things like convenience stores and water fountains everywhere, unless you were going on a hike, you didn't really consider toting your own water bottle.  Now that hydration has become more popular and with nifty things like backpacks that include its own water reservoir, and water bottles (BPA free), and even these really nice collapsible water bottles (for pets, too!), there really is no excuse for not drinking water.  If you don't like the taste of water (which I can't imagine unless it's that nasty "work" water at my office), there are very low-calorie additives that will give you different flavors.  Just make certain that the sugar content doesn't override the benefits of your exercise!  In other words, don't add Cheerwine to your water, as that would kind of defeat the purpose!  And yes, I knew someone who did that!  In fact, the ratio of Cheerwine to water was about 20:1!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Living the Way of Truth

A very important tenet in my study of wado ryu karate has been the principle- "Live the way of truth."  I have given this principle a great deal of thought, as something that sounds so simple generally isn't.

This principle sounds the most obvious of the dojo precepts, right?  Boiled down to the basics, it means "don't lie."  Right?

Haha!  Wrong!  I think this principle, next to the one about patience, is the most difficult.  I decided to write about this principle because I personally know an individual who demonstrated this concept.

One of my fellow martial artists (I'm keeping his name confidential), recently had a situation in his workplace in which another individual (who is subordinate to my friend) was placed at risk of great harm by one of my friend's colleagues.  His colleague physically attacked the subordinate and was quite literally choking the subordinate.  My friend was forced to intervene to ensure that the subordinate did not get any more seriously hurt.  In addition, once he was asked by his superiors what happened, there was an assumption by his colleagues, at large, that he would take his colleague's side.  He didn't do his own integrity required him to "live the way of truth."  He experienced some grief for his decision, at least through the grapevine, as he heard grumblings that he "should have" backed up his colleague, even though his colleague was clearly in the wrong.  His superiors did the right thing in ending his colleague's employment.  My friend never even considered lying for his colleague, though clearly his peers felt he should have done so. 

As a martial artist (especially the super hero kind!), we are, again, held to a higher standard.  Now, I happen to know that my friend is a very spiritual individual and is very open about his faith.  Needless to say, while this quite likely influences his decisions, my friend had to deal with a very difficult, very physical situation in which a life could have been lost.  He chose to "live the way of truth" in a way that reflects not only his Christianity, but also, I believe, the embodiment of his belief in the dojo principles. While I believe that I would have chosen the same path that he did, we don't really know until we are tested. 

So, living the way of truth isn't just about what we SAY, but is also about what we DO.  It reminds me that if I cut someone off in traffic, or get upset because something doesn't go my way, or I yell at my waitress because my food isn't just right, that I am demonstrating my integrity (or rather the lack, thereof).  My friend, who I have always admired because he's an awesome guy, just increased my respect for him tenfold.  I can only hope to live out the same example he gives me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Don't Get Angry?

Yet another tenet of my karate training involves the idea is "Do not lose self-control or act in a violent manner."   Being that my work involves dealing with people, generally those in crisis, and just like everyone else, my outside-of-work-life is just chock full of stress, this is yet another difficult principle.  Taken literally, one could assume that you shouldn't get angry and "go off" on people, in the manner of a Jerry Springer guest.  While you should never pattern your actions after people on tabloid style talk shows, (and yes, people actually do take their cues from pop culture and act that way...even in court or the middle of Walmart), the root of this principle has little to do with BEING angry.

Violence is never a good idea.  (Well, duh...)  I have never seen a violent act turn out well for anyone.  Karate training means that one is learning techniques that could injure someone (or yes, even kill someone) using just our own hands, feet, elbows, etc.  We train, not be violent, but to learn to protect ourselves from the potentiality of violence.  We can only be responsible for ourselves, therefore, if someone else chooses to act violently, then we must counter their violence in order to avoid injury to ourselves.  Ok, that explains the second part of the principle, but what about the first part?

People have the general idea that being angry is a negative reaction.  Well, naturally if you are Dr. Bruce Banner, anger is always a bad thing, but for us individuals who don't have enormous green guys living inside of us who pop out after provocation, ripping up our clothes (Man, I really liked that shirt!), and smashing cars with our bare fists, anger does not have to be horrible.  Anger can actually serve as an impetus for change.  If I am angry enough at a situation or event, then maybe that is what spurs me to action in order to make things different.  Many successful protests against unfairness have resulted in changes in society, whether initiated at a sit-in or a peaceful protest.  Anger can also be "righteous indignation."  Now, the important part of this is that anger can be used to promote positive change.  If, indeed, positive change is not being promoted, then perhaps this anger is heading toward negative reaction.

Alright, so anger is okay, when used positively.  Even Jesus got angry at the money changers in the temple.  Self-control is an integral part of avoiding falling off the edge of the precipice.  If you are angry, you lose self control, and you, the karateka, knowing a great many, or even one or two, self defense or karate techniques, react REALLY negatively and harm someone, then you are wrong.  Self control is imposing the will on oneself, as opposed to imposing your will on someone else.  If you lose self control, then your reaction is likely to be violent.  As students of a martial art, we must be held to a higher standard.   To quote Stan Lee, "with great power comes great responsibility."  While we aren't Spiderman, knowing things that could hurt, or even kill, another human being imposes a responsibility to see that we do not use what we know against someone, particularly in anger.

So, number one, if you get angry, keep a lid on it.  Number two, don't be violent, even when you want to be.  And finally, number three, you aren't a super-hero, but you can still have a super-hero attitude.  (Just don't jump off any buildings because you think you can fly.)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Waiting for Patience

One of the foundations of studying karate in our dojo is "Perfecting the mind of patience."  This is very likely the most difficult of the five principles for me.  I have never been a particularly patient person, although age and maturity do tend to go a long way toward mitigating patience in general.

Patience is a much more Eastern concept, as we in the modern Western world tend to want things to happen NOW, not later.  This makes martial arts a somewhat difficult endeavor for many.   Some of the techniques that we learn, while simple to do, can take years to master.  So, for us Westerners who need to see results immediately, the thought of spending that much time attaining a goal can be a chore.

Patience is more than a concept in martial arts; it is a cornerstone.  Patience means taking the time to really learn a skill or technique before moving on to the next.   I confess to being in a hurry sometimes when I'm learning something new.  I want to "get to the good part."  Realistically, when learning, what part ISN'T the good part?  In our competitive world, however, we always push ourselves to be better or THE best.  Perhaps this will sound a bit mean, but honestly, giving trophies to children who participate in a sport just because they participated I believe can eliminate the drive or determination to work toward anything.  I can see the reason for the is powerfully important to ensure that children grow up with self-esteem and self-worth, but if everything one does is just GREAT and THE BEST EVER, then why try to improve?  One of the most difficult parts of being a leader in my karate school is sometimes telling a student that he or she did not do well enough to promote to the next belt rank.  I do this not to hurt them, but because we expect all students to earn their belts.  Patience is a great teacher; I have personally witnessed students that we have held to the same rank be promoted at the next test because they had patience and did not quit!

I am the world's worst example sometimes of patience.  I've noticed that many of my training partners are the same way, even in other areas of our lives.  I attempt to play the bass guitar and have for a couple years.  Well, darn it, I should be really, really good at it by now, surely!  Unfortunately, I have a long way to doesn't help that I know many incredible musicians and am constantly comparing my skills to theirs!  I also am training to swim, bike, and run (all in one day) and, gosh, I just KNOW that I should be a better swimmer/biker/runner  than I am. After all, I've been training since January, for crying out loud!  I've recently learned the kata, Chinto, and I should definitely have those crane stances perfectly balanced, right?  That'd be a big, fat, hairy "Nope!"

Fortunately for me, the concept of perfecting the mind of patience is the only perfection I need to worry about.  If I am patient, progress will be made.  I can say that I'm already a better cyclist now than I was a few months ago.  This concept is the one also that makes me willing to take a few risks and learn new things at my advanced age of 40+!  While learning patience has been a life-long endeavor for me, and I dare say that I will never fully reach the pinnacle, martial arts as a path to patience has helped me get further along the road than I would have otherwise. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Run, Rabbit, Run!

Although running is not my favorite activity (Ok, I mostly hate running), it serves me in so many ways and helps keep my fitness levels up.  I'm a bit more focused on running at the moment due to the Ramblin' Rose Women's Only Triathlon in August.  I used to have a better relationship with running, as I took off about a year and a half from martial arts and used running as a way to stay somewhat in shape.  During that time, I trained for three half-marathons and before that, I dipped a toe in the waters by doing a full marathon (walking) in Alaska.  Moving oneself for a really large distance through only the use of one's feet is possibly one of the coolest things ever!

Although I am far from an expert, I learned several things about running. First off, unless you are running for competition or running, literally, for your life, running can be just as slow as you want.  If you would rather train for speed, there are a plethora of training plans involving speed work and assisting you with completing a certain distance within a certain time-frame.  For those like myself who just need to cover the certain distance without worrying about winning, the best way to train is to start out sloooowly.  Instead of training for distance, train for time.  In other words, plan to move your body for, say, twenty minutes and then increase the time over successive weeks (not days!) until you are doing a set amount of time.  A good goal for a slower runner is to aim for running for 40 minutes at a time.  In general, if you can run for 40 minutes, you can cover a 5k (3.1 miles).

A second concept I finally got through my thick, mostly over-comptetive skull, is that you don't have to run the entire time.  In fact, it is thought now that mixing running and walking, particularly for beginners, but even for more experienced runners, can actually assist in a better quality workout.  There are a multitude of training plans for running/walking also.  The most popular and the one for which there are several really decent apps is the Couch to 5k program.  Generally, most of the apps now will let you have your own music, but I started using Robert Ullrey's plan several years ago, and that served me well.  (Admittedly, I would rather run to my own music!)  There are cues for when to walk, when to run, as well as time at the beginning for the warm-up and cool-down.

One other tip that I got after many years is that you really, really should invest in some actual running shoes, preferably at a running specialty store.  I discovered, after much pain, that my arches are really high (who knew?  I thought everyone's arches were high! Isn't that why they are called ARCHES??).  This resulted in a horrid case of plantar faciitis that pretty much made running and martial arts extremely painful.  In addition, I tend to wear my running shoes only when I'm working out or when I feel I need some extra cushioning for my poor little arches and I'm going to be walking a great deal.  You don't NEED the tech t-shirts or fancy running shorts, but it is true that these items offer benefits that your old cotton clothing doesn't.  That being said, if you can afford it, go for it.  If not, you can add items like this slowly (maybe as a reward for completing a couple weeks of running!).

Finally, running supplements martial arts and vice versa.  Cardio training is an important aspect of martial arts training, and if you don't think so, let your kumite go to the mat and try to get out of a hold while flat on your back.  Trust me!  You need your cardio!  In addition, from a purely practical standpoint, it is better to have at least gotten your body used to actually running before you really have to run from an attacker.  Adrenaline can take you farther than normal, but always assume that your attacker knows how to run.  If they don't and you do, all the better for you, but if they do, you want to be able to use your adrenaline and your training.

Here are some really good books about running:

Mina Samuels- Run Like a Girl

Claire Kowalchik- The Complete Book of Running for Women

And for you guys...

Bob Glover- The Runner's Handbook

Finally, Runner's World magazine is perhaps the seminal publication on all things running for beginners to experts.

Why are you still sitting here reading this?  Go run!!

Thursday, May 24, 2012