Category Archives: Karate

Out With the Oldest Keeping the Newest

I finally threw out something I worked hard to get.

As I gear up for the final few days before school starts, I’ve been using my last couple free days to slowly clean up bits of the house. (This is what I do when I’m babysitting.)

One of the things that had to go, besides old clothes, was 75% of my karate belt collection.

I’ve written before how I started studying karate soon after I came to Japan and mentioned how my style has only a few belts for adults. Because I’ve earned only a few belts and because I have the hoarder’s tendency to cling to sentimental objects, I kept all the belts I’ve earned. My original white, my brown, my black belt and my 4th level black belt.

I'm only keeping the one on the far right. The kanji is, sort of, my name.

I’m only keeping the one on the far right. The kanji is, sort of, pronounced like my name.

However, that sentiment takes up space so I decided to clean out a drawer and get rid of the oldest belts. It was cool getting the black belt, but it was cooler getting the 4th level black belt and a black dogi. If I’d continued studying (that’s another post) I’d have black belt with a red stripe and a lot more kanji on it.

The only catch in this plan was She Who Must Be Obeyed. She often complains about the lack of space in our apartment. However, right as I announced I was throwing something out, she immediately questioned the decision. On some occasions when she’s done this she has persuaded me to change my mind. That said, I suspect it is one of those signals I don’t read very well. She actually wants the stuff gone.

This time I was very clear the belts had to go. I don’t really need them and the last person to use the white and brown belts was a rugby coach back in 2004.

Pride Goeth Before the Sprain

In my defense, the kick looked really good right up until things fell apart.

Yesterday I described how I’d sprained my knee by letting over-confidence become no confidence become pain. That all happened at the end of 2001 and I spent the next couple months limping around on a sore left knee. Finally, my knee healed but I’d gained a lot of weight and felt well, I believe the technical term is “blah”. I decided I should start studying karate again. I contacted my karate sensei from Niigata and he put me in touch with a sensei near where I lived.

The dojo was small, basically sensei, another student and me. I got a lot of personal training that way and picked things back up pretty quickly and my confidence returned.

Then, sometime in mid-2002 we got another student, let’s call him Mr. O. The day he started I had to show him a few things like basic punches and kicks, and then watched while my advice was corrected by my sensei. Then we did katas, one of which put lots of stress on my knees.

However, because I was no longer the new guy, I had a burst of confidence that gave way to over-confidence. Eventually, I was told to move off to the side and practice on my own while sensei worked with Mr. O. I took the opportunity to practice kicks.

After several basic kicks, I started working on my high mawashi-geri kicks. The first few, with my left leg, looked good–at the time I could have kicked someone my height in the head–as did the first couple with my right leg. On my third or fourth high kick, my left knee twisted, made a sickening “crunch” sound and gave way. I ended up on the floor swearing at myself for being stupid. (Thinking about that sound and feeling still makes me cringe.)

I sat out the rest of the lesson.

However, me being stupid, I never bothered to go to the hospital to get things checked out. I also stayed in karate for another 13 years which didn’t help my knees much. in my defense, the knee mostly healed but has become a classic “trick knee” that occasionally gives me fits.

I ended up retiring from karate for a while until I can get my knees checked out and worked on. Since I stopped doing karate, my knees have felt great and I haven’t felt the need to rush to the hospital.

But that could just be over-confidence and we know where that leads.

‘Tis the Season to Humbug and Complain

I usually don’t get moody during the holidays (that’s usually reserved for October) but I’ve been out of sorts lately. A lot of odd little pressures have added up.

One of the pressures was the karate test that was scheduled for tomorrow. I’d practiced some, but not enough and after a careful assessment of my skill level and my quantity of practice, I decided to withdraw from the test in the most clumsy manner possible. Although I’d made up my mind in my gut (so to speak) to withdraw very early on, I still held out some hope/denial that I’d pull things together. Then, right at the last minute, I withdrew. Part of it is that I haven’t been having much fun with practice this year–lately it’s started to feel like a job–and I can’t help but feel I’ve got as good as I’m ever going to get at it.

(I also need to teach my sensei how to use Gmail on his phone AND his tablet which would have helped the clumsiness. Long story.)

The other stresses have involved family and work. I’ve said before that I’m tired of not working where I work. Recent revelations have made that a bigger issue, or at least made me think about it more (it will take a long post to explain all that). That said, some of the revelations have been positive and it’s still a pretty easy job.

I’ve also got a sneaking suspicion that She Who Must Be Obeyed wants to move back to her hometown. Mother of She Who Must Be Obeyed has been doing well after her surgeries, but the thought is always there nagging away at her. I think it would do the girls good to be out in the middle of nowhere with some land to help maintain. (Actually, it might do me some good too, now that I think about it.)

That said, I’ve also learned never to make long term decisions when I’m in a mood like this. Next year, I’ll go back to karate practice, or I won’t. We’ll move to Nou or we won’t (probably not until our oldest finishes junior high), but I’ll decide that when I’m less moody–a period which lasts for five minutes every couple of months.

The Awful Very Bad No Good Crappy Day

No matter how you look at it, today was a crappy day. The best thing I can say about it is it could have been worse (in a loss of limb, loss of life sort of way).

Whatever happened, my crankiness level still would have been at 11.

The crappy day actually started last week at karate. I was hoping to move practice to Saturday (yesterday) so that I could attend the girls piano recital today. Instead, before I even got to ask the question, my sensei announced that Saturday would be a special practice for the higher level student (who is also taking a test) and that I wasn’t invited. To make matters worse, Sunday practice would have to be early because the athletics center was shutting down at 8:00.

This meant I couldn’t attend the piano performance and then rush to the station at the last minute as I’d planned to do. I either had to cancel the practice or skip the performance. With my test next week, I couldn’t skip the practice.

I told She Who Must Be Obeyed about this and she was not pleased as it meant she would be in charge of the cameras. The last time this happened, she failed (after a comedy of errors involving an unattended child and a dropped program) to get a video of our youngest’s rhythmic gymnastics performance. She was relying on me to run the video this time. I told her I couldn’t go and she went “Hmmm” which is Japanese for “this is going to end badly” and “I must break you”.

Then, soon after I woke up today, I got my migraine spot. I popped a couple aspirin, drank some extra coffee and waited for the pain. I wouldn’t be able to practice as much as I wanted.

She Who Must Be Obeyed tried several increasingly angry approaches to convince me to change my mind, even suggesting I could see part of the performance and use a taxi to get to the station. Unfortunately for her (and for me) the migraine had already made me sociopathic and cranky. I said, once again, that I couldn’t go, and suddenly became He Who Disobeyed She Who Must Be Obeyed. (aka MUD)

My morning was spent listening to She Who Must Be Obeyed trying to get a teenager and a nine year old ready to go somewhere. (Not a good thing when you have a migraine.)

I practiced karate some and then took a much needed nap after the girls left. Unfortunately, when I got to practice, I pointed out there was an entire section of my test that I’d never actually practiced. The result was two hours suffering through a migraine and an hour of being shouted at for being incompetent.

My crankiness took over right at the end of practice and I’m surprised I didn’t get the punch I probably deserved. Luckily my “I stopped giving a shit 10 minutes ago” quote was in English. (All they heard was “I stop blah blah shit 10 blah blah blah.”)

Tomorrow the migraine will be gone and I’ll feel human again. Until then I can only hope She Who Must Be Obeyed managed to get some video or my name will be a lot worse than MUD.

Slow Slow Fast Faster Never

Now that I think about it, I have to blame acting for my struggles in karate.

I was pretty good at acting in university because the nature of the way actors prepare for plays suited my learning style.

When  you first start working on a production you’re given your script and start memorizing your lines. As you do this, you work up your character and start filling in the history the play doesn’t give you.

After that, you are walked through the blocking and told where to stand and when to turn and as you do it the director is making changes.  It’s fair to say that for the first month you’re memorizing stuff but none of it is expected to be perfect. The perfection comes later and culminates, if you’re lucky, in a crappy dress rehearsal that panics everyone and usually produces a good result on opening night.

It’s a slow process that I actually like because it gives time to learn things carefully and to learn any changes.

Unfortunately, in sports, and especially with my karate sensei, you’re expected to get things perfect after only a few tries. Any more than that and you’re wasting time. With my sensei it’s “Watch one; Watch one again; Do one; Screw one up; Do one again; Patience is lost.”

This is especially true as we approach my belt test. If I do badly, it’s  reflection on him. Me emphasizing “no, really, I suck at this” doesn’t help. I also have a hard time practicing techniques by myself. Sure, I can practice the basic moves but it all falls apart at speed. It’s the difference between learning your plays in basketball and actually running them in a game.

The other issue I’m having is that December is a bad time for belt tests as I’m marking exams for my job. On the other hand, the May test is bad because it comes after March exams, Spring break; and the start of school.

Luckily, I’ve had some time this weekend to review and a couple weeks to memorize. Now if I can just convince my sensei a bad dress rehearsal is a good thing.

That Thing You Know Is Not What You Need Now

Today in karate class I spent most of the time relearning the routine I didn’t learn last week. I didn’t learn it because what I did this week is not what I learned last week.

Confused? So was I.

On December 21 I have the test for my sixth level black belt. This involves four katas (two basic and two that cause pain); several seated defenses against punches, kicks and knife attacks; defense against knives when the person’s up close to you and holding your lapel; defense against knives when two people are up close and holding your lapels; defense against punches when being held by two people; counter defense when the guy you’re attacking with a knife messes up his defense and you get the upper hand; knife versus knife fighting and, I think, but I’m not sure, defense against swords.

All this wouldn’t be so bad except, right when I think I’ve got it down, the plan changes. For example, last week I practiced eight seated defenses that start with me sitting in a chair when I’m attacked by a standing opponent. I thought I did pretty well and practiced those moves all week. Then, this week, I suddenly had to do different moves.

I don’t know if this is a deliberate technique of the style but it seems to have happened each time I approached a belt test, learn this, practice it, then do something else. Granted, technically I should be able to do any move or routine when called upon to do it, but it’s the equivalent of being told you’re having a test on subtraction and then suddenly being thrown into an algebra pit. (Which really does exist, I’m pretty sure.)

Next week, it will probably all change again. I’m feeling much more confident this time around than I did a couple years ago when I failed the test. I still make small mistakes that, added together, hurt my chances, but I have most of the basics down.

Now I just need to work on my leg strength by next month so the painful katas are a little less painful.

Me One Me Happy One Me Seventh Wheel

I had the unusual experience of being a lowly fifth level black belt in a group of experts today.

In addition to my sensei (an 8th dan) and the assistant teacher (a 6th dan) we were joined by an extra 8th dan and three extra sixth dans. They were all visiting our dojo/gym to practice for tournament that’s taking place in two weeks. Since it’s for sixth dans and higher I’m not invited which means I was at practice today to, well, pretty much take up space.

I mostly practiced basic moves and katas and then played practice dummy for one of the sixth dans. Basically I got to hold a sword vertically in front of him as if I were a killer taking time to explain that my victim should be honored to be split in two with an original Hattori Hanzo sword that is so sharp God will be cut. While I’m talking the defender does a couple simple moves with his arms that block me from cutting him. He pushes me back and then pretty much avoids my next three swings with different techniques. The entire sequence ends with me at his mercy.

I got to try the sequence a few times and did okay, although was making some small mistakes. The temptation is to push with your arms but the trick is to push from your stomach and legs. We are instructed to make life as difficult as possible for the defender. When he forgot to use his right hand to control my arms, I stepped left and showed him I could elbow his face and then remove his head or a good portion of his internal organs. When I tried using my arms to push, he stood fast and didn’t go anywhere.

Later, I got to watch the high level experts practice. They were doing one defender versus two swordsmen routines. The only rules are you have to do at least five moves and can’t repeat a defensive technique; you have to be aware of both attackers at the same time because they can slash you if they have a chance; and the attackers can’t help you by pretending you pulled them down. If one of the sensei’s thinks you’re just faking, they will replace you and see if the defender can still do the techniques.

it was interesting to watch. The problem is they make it look easy.


A Small Burden of Duty with Pajamas

Today I ended up being seen but ended up not doing very much except change clothes.

Today was the Capital Region Junior Karate Contest for my karate style. The competitors are as young as fourth grade elementary school and as old as high school seniors. Earlier this year I committed to attending and serving as a judge. In fact, I marked it on my calendar way back in April or May and have been reminded of it several times, including last week at practice.

I didn’t really feel like going, and almost called to cancel four different times this past week. With the girls away, I thought a couple days to just relax and be alone would be more interesting. However, given all the reminders I’d been given, I thought I’d better go. I packed up my dogi and caught a 7:15 train and went down to Tokyo. I decided, though, I would use the girls’ absence as my excuse to abscond as early as possible. To offset this, I arrived early and helped set up–which mostly involved moving and setting up chairs and tables.

Imagine my surprise then, when I discovered I wasn’t scheduled to judge any events.

I don’t fully understand why this happened. No one in our dojo was scheduled to be judge, including sensei. Despite this, I put on my dogi and sat down to watch.

Because this is the largest junior contest, there seems to be a certain amount of politics involved, especially for those of us with black dogis. Sensei once explained that once you’re an official sixth level black belt, karate becomes more like a job. (I’m still not official.) Also, unlike lower levels, it’s also possible to lose a degree and have to retest. This is mostly a big deal if you want to have an official dojo and train adults.

Being seen at the contest is therefore a big deal. Those who haven’t played the politics well can find their dojos unable to officially train adults. (This happened for a brief time to my old dojo in Itoigawa a few years ago when they didn’t play the game well enough.)

I played spectator for a while. The high school kids were especially good, even impressing my sensei.

At lunch time I changed clothes and ran away. I don’t know how politically savvy that was, but it was more fun than playing spectator whilst dressed in black pajamas.

Practicing By Myself is Futile Resistance

I haven’t done a sports related post in a while as I had a month long hiatus from karate whilst I babysat a teenage daughter who has few skills other than eye-rolling, tweeting and thinking she’s being sneaky and getting away with something when she’s not.

I’ve been back in the groove for two weeks and things are ugly. Although I try to practice on my own, I’ve found cases where I practiced a kata for two weeks then had to relearn it when I found out I was doing something wrong. The katas are especially nasty during belt test time because I typically have to do five of them. This involves a lot of low stance that starts to make your thighs beg for mercy after the second kata. (Hold a half squat for two minutes. Keep your back straight; don’t bend over. Rest 15 seconds. Then hold it for two more minutes. Rest one minute. Hold it for three minutes. Every now and then punch and kick.) What makes it hurt is that the different moves are slow. It’s like doing 10 slow pushups with the down move and the push up each taking 30 seconds to perform.

After I get the katas down–or sensei just gives up on me for the day–we switch to the fighting routines which start out one on one but eventually evolve three to five attackers. What makes these hard is situational awareness (the people behind you are authorized to grab you and/or slash you a good one with a wooden sword) and that several of the moves have to be done with technique only and no strength. This is especially hard to do when you’re trying stay ahead of three to five attackers. Also, you’re not supposed to repeat a technique which means you eventually have to do something you suck at.

I’ve also found it difficult to practice the fighting routines by myself. It’s one thing to image train and pantomime a move, it’s another to actually grab the dogi of a person who’s resisting and pull him down without clinching his lapel in your fist. Instead, we’re supposed to use slow moves and leverage so that even a 70 year old woman could defend herself with the moves against a strong attacker. Great theory; hard to accomplish when adrenaline is flowing.

Luckily, I wasn’t the only one stinking things up tonight. All three students stunk the place up at least once.

Drunken and Bitten in German

A third late one as a result of a work related party. One of these days I’ll have to write about the Japanese version of networking. Until then, hostesses.

Back when I still lived in Niigata, my karate senseis would hold an annual New Years Party with all their students and several parents. The food was usually pretty good. However, because my friend Charles and I were technically adults (behavior not included) we were invited to drinks and more at a Japanese “snack bar”. A snack has little to do with food and a lot to do with alcohol and women.

Basically, a snack is a hostess club that doesn’t charge an entry fee but instead charges a fairly hefty two hour rate that includes basic appetizers and some drinks. The hostesses, or in this case the hostess, is usually attractive and/or charismatic and pours drinks and flirts with the customers to get them to spend money on drinks not included in the service charge. The idea is to get the customers drunk enough that they start spending money on drinks for the hostesses (which are not included in the fee) and on premium extras.

There is a fair amount of cleavage involved, dangerously shorts skirts and a few soft-core “Basic Instinct” moments. Now, because Charles and I weren’t paying, we tended to have a lot more fun than we should have. At one party, for reasons I still don’t understand, I ended up with a 1.8 liter bottle of premium Kubota manju sake to take home. (Note: if you can find a bottle of Kubota, grab it. It’s one of the best on the market.)

However, the evenings were not without their odd moments. Apparently the first time we went, either Charles or I sang the German version of “Genghis Khan” and the second time we went, I was expected to sing it. This request had two minor obstacles. 1) I didn’t actually know the tune and 2) I don’t speak German. Somehow I managed to blast out an impressive version that impressed the hostess. (Something tells me, though, I could have farted out the song and she’d have been impressed.)

At one point, Charles and I took turns slow dancing with the hostess–who, it should be added, spoke English well–however, at one point the hostess, for reasons that, well, for reasons, bit Charles on the neck hard enough to draw blood. At another point she slipped me her address and told me she wanted to see me again. (I don’t know if she did the same with Charles, or if the taste of his blood put her off him completely.)

Either way, I never called her up as I expected there would be more costs and bloodletting involved than I wanted to pay. To this day I wonder how much our senseis actually spent on all that. I also wonder, well, I just wonder.