Go for what you want in Life…
Believe in yourself.
Fight for the love, blessings, goals, and dreams that matter to you.
The devil won’t be able to keep up, not even the “one(s) you know.”
Training the way you want to fight isn’t always so easy. . .but in a way, isn’t that supposed to be the point? That we train in order to potentially defend ourselves?
The tough reality is that what your muscles remember under duress – which is going to be what you have painstakingly programmed them to do in class, lessons, practice – is what matters. If you train to hand the gun back to the perpetrator – even with mindfulness and the knowledge that you *shouldn’t* – it may happen in real life. Terrifying it may be, I’ve actually heard of cases in which just that has occurred… Scary.
The other day in class, our Sensei decided to do a drill combining old school (as in centuries-old Ninpo) traditional movements with a modern-day scenario and vibe. We had to disable our opponent with a distraction or strike, get away (using those traditional techniques), get to and behind cover, and then “draw” our weapon. The drill was one of the most fun I think I’ve ever done…but I was also so incredibly excited to have another opportunity to flesh out a possible, modern situation. No matter how old movements, or kata, or patterns may be, there are gems within them that can be adapted for, and applied to the times.
I don’t carry, for one thing…so I’m not likely to have a firearm at the ready. But the idea was what was most important here, and learning to do all of those things – without the stress – was hugely valuable. What makes it stick? Repetition! Memory needs to be formed so that when we ARE stressed, we can still perform those functions. Just one day of that particular drill isn’t necessarily going to help me out if something really goes down. But…the principles and techniques ARE ones we use every day…
We learn to strike, distract, disable…that’s number 1.
We learn how to efficiently get away, and to not injure our bodies (or injure as little as possible!) as we attempt to do so.
We learn to asses for cover and get behind it if that’s what the situation requires (versus getting away.)
In practicing those things, our muscles learn on such a level that we work on “autopilot” after a point. And that’s what you want!
The difficulty in this particular environment is that we don’t have real firearms, and we aren’t truly hurting our “attacker.” On a range, in a special type of training, an individual who DOES carry can certainly practice his or her ability to draw, aim, shoot, and make the weapon safe – frankly I think anyone in a job in which carrying a pistol is required SHOULD be doing that anyway!
For us at the dojo, we are working on handling whatever is coming at us as quickly and smartly as possible – but again, there are some strikes we simply cannot do. In Ninpo, strikes can be highly unorthodox and nasty – breaking fingers, ripping ears, gouging eyes…it goes on. It’s tough knowing we aren’t going 100% in this case, but we can’t exactly… So we have to keep in mind that in real life, were our safety on the line, we can’t play the but-he’s-a-nice-“uke” (opponent / attacker) game. It’s a challenge, honestly – how do we bridge the gap, then? I’m not sure you really CAN because none of us are out to break another classmate’s limb!
This is – for me – where the repetition comes in. Learning to master even basic movement can take a lifetime, forget years! But in the daily (or as many days as can be managed!) practice helps solidify as many of the effective ways in which to handle a particular threat. There are – keep in mind – an infinite number of movements available to us, and if we could study every Art and master it in a lifetime, we’d be golden. Not the reality, sad to say! Learning to even do a handful of “go-to”s is great – learn to do them properly, to do them well, and to do them with all shapes and sizes (some techniques are really tough with a HUGE partner!) If you want a real challenge, do them blindfolded.
It’s a very “wax on, wax off” concept – the drills help our bodies to do these things as involuntarily as possible so, should the need arise, we actually CAN do something about it. We don’t always have the luxury of training exactly how we fight – this isn’t the Colosseum, after all – but we *can* do everything in our power to focus, to drill, and to get our muscles so familiar with the movements that they will come to our aid when we need them most.
If you want results, you have to work – it really is that simple.
It doesn’t matter if you are speaking about your career, your hobbies, your weak links / areas for improvement, your family… Whatever arena of life you choose, it takes work to create the life you want, need, and (frankly) deserve. Moseying along at “mediocre” means staying in the same rut your whole life, minus the success and growth that “could” be.
Don’t lose heart, though – because of the hard work you put in across the board, the results have the power to be mind-blowing. You are more incredible than you think – put your all into whatever aspect it is, and be prepared to amaze yourself.
Until a person invests themselves fully – with a commitment not only in heart and spirit, but also in the mind – his goal will remain just beyond reach. If the mindset isn’t on board, it will be a long, and generally endless road. One cannot expect change when the mind is in opposition.
Along those lines, understand that no one ELSE is going to change unless they want it for themselves.
That’s the secret. That‘s the magic. When the mind believes and is committed, the change will occur. . .but never before that. The Universe knows when you are half-assing your beliefs and / or effort.
The great news? If you DO want it…whatever it is…you can have it. You can create and choose how your story will end.
Nothing in Life worth having is free, or easy. Period.
We all have a different path, different goals, different failures and struggles… But the one thing we can have in common – if we choose it – is opportunity.
If you want it, you have to be willing to work.
Some days the journey feels insurmountable, but the results are always within reach if you keep at it. There would be no meaning, nor joy, in any of it were it not the case – to be handed what we have not earned will never give the satisfaction.
Learning Martial Arts is something you can’t do online, folks. I’ve seen a ton of programs, and even heard about people who have purportedly reached high ranks by completing and online curriculum. Really!? I don’t know…I’d be highly uncomfortable claiming a rank without the experience. It isn’t so much the being found out when you roll with someone at that level who far surpasses your skill and knowledge, but rather the inability to react quickly should you need to rely on your muscle memory in a rough situation.
You have to be in the thick of it, or you simply won’t be able to replicate the techniques the way they are intended. You might conceptually understand the movements, but without doing them – repeatedly (read: thousands and thousands of times) – those motions will not serve you as you might want – or worse, NEED – them to. It is both an injustice to yourself, as well as to the Art, to endeavor to attain ranks this way.
Books, DVDs, online seminars and video tutorials – all of those things are WONDERFUL…as supplemental tools. I use them often myself (though, more importantly, so have many of the “Greats.”) Simply put, you have to come to the Dojo and be hands on, or you just aren’t going to “get it.” Martial Arts isn’t just about a sucker punch to the gut, or a kick that sends a heavy bag reeling. And it’s definitely not about saying “hey, check out my new black belt (that I didn’t have to earn.”)
Videos are often not permitted at Martial Arts schools either – my Grandmaster (8th Taekwondo, 9th Degree Hapkido, Swordsman, knife throwing, Kumdo etc) is the real deal. And, he won’t stand for it. NO VIDEO. Period. You have to show up and put in the dues in order to progress – relying on a video of someone who you replay over and over in effort to imitate isn’t going to get you there. And, as above, on that principle it is forbidden.
The idea is that you learn in the class from an instructor, you practice what you can, and retain what you are meant to retain in that time (everyone is different.)
Each class allows you to build on previous lessons – with each one, you string more of the “words” or “vocabulary” together until finally you begin to make “sentences” with your movement (I like to refer to the movements in this way – the Art is very much a language where each small piece is a word, or a form of punctuation – once you are able to connect them into fluid meaning, you have your sentences. As with your own native tongue, the options are endless!)
While in Taekwondo and Hapkido, I relied a great deal on memory, I still had to write a lot of things down. I would also take videos of myself after learning a movement so that I could refer back when I had a question.
These days, I never show up to a class or lesson without a notebook – it’s either my Curriculum, or a notepad, and the notes are ample. There is ALWAYS a new detail to pick up, and always improvements to be made – I like to take note of any “Kuden” (secret knowledge in Ninpo / Ninjutsu), tips, tricks, or feedback on what I’m missing…not just the steps of the drill at hand.
The act of taking notes itself helps to solidify some of the details discussed, but it is also a great resource when needing to refer back. Sometimes I am the only person jotting things down – we all learn differently and “doing” may be enough for others. I don’t mind taking an extra moment with my book if I have to, though – I never feel awkward about it.
Personally, I’m a choreographed athlete – skaters and dancers create routines in advance much of the time, so we know exactly what’s coming. You show me, and I’ll repeat. It won’t be perfect, but I’ll have the broad gist, and I can recreate it pretty quickly.
But life doesn’t exactly work that way, does it? Most of the Arts are not designed to be staged (getting mugged on the street isn’t going to play out the way you might think!)
Movements are complex and are there to give you a framework that can help you deter or alter an attack, let’s say – while you need to recreate those steps, they aren’t always going to come out so scripted. It is therefore important to pay as much attention to the details so that you have as much “vocabulary” as possible at your disposal in a non-choreographed scenario. . .which is MOST of the time!
I encourage students to take the time to take notes for that very reason – if you can sneak them in during a demonstration, do it. If you have to take five minutes after class, take a seat and get to it while it’s still fresh. You won’t regret taking them…but you might regret not doing so. When you review a technique down the road that you are SURE you had before, it is incredibly frustrating to start over – with detailed notes, you can always catch back up to speed leaving room for further learning, and assimilation of more detail.
When push comes to shove – and in a rouge altercation in the street, it will! – you want to have as many neural pathways laid down. Doing is KEY – you have to be present and physically doing the activity. Taking notes while you’re there will take you deeper into the experience of learning as well, making those memories even stronger.
DEFINITELY look to additional sources of information for more angles or tips about application, failures, etc. But don’t expect an online-only course to deliver a certification that’s worth its purported weight – you need to show up first. Go the extra mile while you’re at it – you will be thankful you did.
Being a Martial Artist isn’t completely akin to being just an athlete – while both designations require a high physical demand in combination with mental focus, there is – in my own mind – a level of spiritual attunement that takes Martial Arts a step further.
I’ve been an athlete my whole life – for better or worse I have always identified myself with my athletic endeavors. Extracurricular activities were equally as committed to as my studies growing up – I didn’t train here or there, I was “on” five to seven days a week, multiple hours a day, interspersing my training with homework and school time. To many, I didn’t “have a life.” I still managed to get to sleepovers and do “kid” things, but I was up well before the group and off to the ice rink while they still caught their Zs.
I guess there were a few days I minded – in the dead of winter, 5 am looks a lot like midnight…and it feels that way too! But MOST of the time, I loved it. I had my own routine, and my own sense of uniqueness. I felt empowered, strong, and enjoyed having the physical outlet for my ridiculous Geminian energy, and my sometimes awkward way with expression (that is to say, movement was as much a language to me as English! Ask a dancer, and he or she will understand what I mean.) Other kids maybe slept later, or hung out until the wee hours when I had to be back in bed…but at the end of the day, being an “athlete” meant more to me than being like everyone else.
My circle of friends was relatively small, no question – there were days when I wondered what it was like being the most popular kid in class but. . . It was short-lived. The prospect of worrying more about what I wore to school every day didn’t really have room on my list of things to do, nor did who asked who out – I simply wasn’t on that wavelength. My best friends very much included my coach, a skating buddy or two, my parents, and a gymnast. Oh! And I had a horse riding friend also. Shocking, I know – another athlete! Life wasn’t exactly the same for us as it was our peers – the time commitment, for one, was massive. The friends I had were those who suffered the same constraints I did so we had an understanding by default (no, I really DID have to miss that birthday party because of a competition!)
Being an athlete also required an enormous physical demand – maintaining that level of training and impact at 38? Not going to happen. Eight Marital Arts classes a week, two days of HIIT cardio, and three to five lifting is MORE than enough. It was something to behold, for sure, and I am extremely proud of my body for getting me through it.
Add to those two hefty components (the commitment of body and time) the ability to focus the mind – not only for competition, but for training in general. There were plenty of days of pushing through feeling under the weather, bleeding feet, strains, sprains…even a collapsed lung. It was absolutely vital that we spent time visualizing, and keeping our mind sharp – on ice in particular, being “out of it” could be incredibly dangerous.
There was something else, though… An entirely other layer that seduced me from the get go – one that I dare say was evident when I performed. When I watched top athletes I could always see the difference in “spiritual” commitment. ALWAYS. It wasn’t that the skater did, or didn’t, love the sport – most all of us were infected with intense ardor from an early age. It was more so that some were devoted on another level... Not just mind, not just body…but soul. It wasn’t “spiritual” in an ecclesiastical way, but rather the presence of a transcendent passion. They weren’t skating to music, they were the music. That, for me, was what made all the difference. I didn’t want to just hit my elements…I wanted to string together each movement into a story that those with loss of their senses could still feel and understand.
In Martial Arts, such a level of dedication is – I’d argue – required. Being a Martial Artist isn’t just about attendance, accomplishing the moves, passing tests, or breaking boards. It isn’t just about being able to focus the mind on a task at hand, pushing through, and staying on point. And it isn’t about getting a rank and calling it quits.
You can DO Martial Arts, absolutely. To be a true “Martial Artist,” though, I (again, personally) feel as though the soul connection has to be there. So yes, in my mind, I am eliminating the guys who get in a ring a kick ass but don’t do it for any reason beyond beating someone else (at their game, or literally.)
There are plenty of sports where you can sneak by without that soul connection – even in the most aesthetically-based, such as dancing and figure skating. You can still complete the technical components, and maybe do okay with the artistic portion. The average spectator very likely won’t notice the difference. I guess in Martial Arts that can happen too…but then it isn’t really Martial Arts, it’s strictly striking, grappling, whatever…
Being an athlete is something to be proud of – it takes WORK. It’s blood, sweat, and tears…peppered with (hopefully) some laughs. Depending on the level (and the nature of the specific Art), Martial Arts requires that practitioners are athletes – the conditioning dictates it by default.
But. . .to BE a Martial Artist really means devotion beyond the physical and mental – it’s a layer (or several) beyond just saying “this is my sport.”
Being a Martial Artist is something that will permeate your Life, and remain “true” for all your years – it is a lifestyle. It is a way of being, thinking, acting, existing. The lessons we learn, and strive to perfect, belong to a pursuit that extends well beyond our age and body – one of the reasons I say to people that Martial Arts is “timeless.”
My sports and activities – figure skating, dance, weight lifting etc – those things take a toll eventually. We get to a point where we can’t continue nearly at the same level. But in Martial Arts, we somehow get better with age, regardless of having to potentially tone it down – there are so many layers beyond the “seen” that movement, ability, learning, philosophy etc…continues undeterred. We become wiser and more balanced, not just stronger, more agile, more fluid with our movement. I feel like those who have become impossibly proficient are not just skilled, they are IN it – they are tied to the activity with heart and soul, not just the desire to get better. They become the Art.
That undercurrent is very much the one that finally got me to start – I wanted to do Martial Arts forEVER but was so inundated with demands from extracurricular sports, school, and then work that it was put on the burner. For a long time.
In my early 30’s I revisited the “if I get injured and can’t dance, what ‘sport’ will I be able to continue with..?” It was a very real issue when deciding between figure skating and college – I took the later path knowing that one derailment could cause a massive ripple effect later, leaving me in the dust of my peers. After sitting with the thought a while, I manned up and marched into a Dojang – a decision that changed my Life forever.
I incidentally did get injured – through Martial Arts. It incidentally DID take me out of ballroom competition for good. But somehow I have been able to continue – no matter the modifications, I am still growing, learning, AND contributing (the most amazing part.) I will for as long as I take it and I hope – though the capacity might change – that I will forever.
The injuries I sustained would have (very likely) completely ended my career in figure skating, possibly ballet…definitely ballroom (because it did!) But Martial Arts – with its countless facets – offers me the promise of maintaining my athleticism along with mental growth, emotional intelligence, and spiritual attainment. It takes being an athlete to a whole other level and I LOVE that. I know that even when I have to do a little bit less physically, I can still reap the rewards of the sport – as a sport – without having to throw in the towel before I am ready (which will be NEVER!) 🙂
My Martial Arts and Dance album…
I recently had the good fortune to complete my 2nd Dan promotion in Taekwondo, Hapkido and Kumdo – Our curriculum includes all three Arts, though we focus primarily on the Taekwondo, and Hapkido (both of which I adore!) I hadn’t actually stepped foot in a dojang until my early 30’s – but despite zero background in Martial Arts as a whole, I maintained the belief that anything was achievable.
My personal athletic history includes classical training in ballet for a decade, competitive figure skating for about sixteen years, and competitive ballroom dancing for about seven. I supplemented my training with weightlifting and some cardio from the age of 13 on, and certainly gave other sports a try over the years (many of which, I confess, were under duress. Still, it was to my benefit, as I learned what did…and didn’t...work for me!)
The school I attend is run by the phenomenally accomplished Grandmaster Ik Jo Kang of Korea – not only an 8th Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo, but also a 9th Degree in Hapkido, as well as highly skilled in knife throwing, short stick, long stick, and nunchucks (among other things.) He’s most definitely a force to be reckoned with, and someone I looked up to from day 1.
Kwan Jang Nim (the appropriate term for Grandmaster) welcomed me warmly, encouraging me in spite of my very dancelike habits and lack of experience. He generously took me under his wing, and I spent countless private lessons trying to learn as much as I possibly could retain. Most Grandmasters at his level are no longer teaching, not to mention teaching lower belts – we, his students, are very blessed.
During one of my more intense lessons, in which we practiced nearly and hour of jump kicks and combinations (yung seuk chagi), my foot rolled into a divot in the mat, changing my athletic career in less than a second. As I took off for a spinning, jumping back kick, my knee jolted left to right, severing my ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament), tearing the meniscus, tearing the hamstring (at the gastrocnemius tie-in), and severely contusing the bones.
I literally saw stars (I describe it as the Cinderella, Fairy-Godmother-effect from my skating days – spin super fast, and that is precisely what when down!)
Kwan Jang Nim, seeing that I couldn’t move, helped me put pressure to assist with the pain (the hamstring tear was likely the most intense part – popped ACLs cause swelling, but not the dramatic wave of pain I was experiencing. In a fit of cold sweats I tried not to be sick, and to get myself to my feet. I was able to do so within a minute or two but there was something clearly amiss – athletes (of whatever kind!) get used to the bumps, bruises, and muscular pain – this was something different.
Sad to say…I was diagnosed with a torn hamstring only. The trauma within the patellar region was severe enough that the swelling prevented the Lachman’s test from divulging what was really going on (typically, it’s a failsafe – the knee pops forward and it’s pretty darn clear that the ACL is damaged, or no longer intact!) We didn’t think the MRI was required – though it was painful, stiff, and swollen, I could still bear my weight. I could still LIFT weights at the gym. I could do everything pretty much as normal except that I “felt” like something wasn’t right. There was a hair of instability that I didn’t believe I’d had prior and, four months later, without signs of abating, an MRI confirmed I wasn’t crazy. (Bottom line: YOU KNOW YOUR BODY! If it doesn’t feel right, check it out immediately!)
I read the MRI report and burst into tears… Two months prior I had won two titles at the World Championships in ballroom – I was right at a peak age, and ready to revamp my routines and push myself as far as I could go… But in the fell swoop of one, poorly-supported moment…my competitive dreams were taken away.
I was in surgery days after receiving the news. The recovery itself was the most painful physical situation I’ve been in, not to mention one of the more trying (though not the worst) on an emotional level as well. My parents are saints for having put up with me – the prospect of not dancing was already devastating, and to know that physical activity was off limits for months did NOT sit well. I lost three inches around my thigh – my quad was actually concave when the swelling subsided – and about eight pounds on that side. Let’s just say it was eye-opening.
I remember meeting my friend Roger for the first time. Roger was a Sergeant, SWAT Team member, pilot and badass Harley-rider who had been diagnosed with ALS some years earlier – he has since passed, but will ever be remembered as a hero…and an inspiration. When we were introduced, my best friend mentioned that I was a dancer. Roger’s face lit up like a sun and he smiled larger than the room (I have goosebumps recalling it.) He typed (with his eyes) into his computer, “do you watch Dancing With the Stars?” “My old teacher is on the show!” I replied. The warmth, excitement, and genuine care Roger’s face expressed nearly moved me to tears – in that moment I remembered my first day at physical therapy after my knee reconstruction…
I remember that I was asked to “fire my quad” and I couldn’t do it. Confused, I looked at my thigh, sending the message to it to contract. Nothing. It was like a dead limb…and it was terrifying. When I spoke to Roger I thought “my God…he wakes up every day knowing it won’t get better… He wakes up and something else doesn’t work, and it won’t come back.” There I was acting like a big baby…and my leg WAS going to heal.
That moment stayed with me, and it’s something I think about when I’m feeling down – I am SO blessed. He would smile and tell me to be careful, despite his own circumstance – I will never forget the bravery, nor his ever-present selflessness. He affected me so much that I agreed to do the Tri-State Trek in his honor – we knew his time was limited and I wanted to repay him for the gift of sight and perspective he gave me while he was still with us.
I didn’t have my first Black Belt at the time, but Roger and I, and one of my best friends Rick, would always share smiles and laughs about my Martial Arts training – I was determined to become a badass one day! I would say the training (road bike) ride was exhausting and I was going to kick Rick’s butt for it…adding a “KIYAH!” along with my kicking motions. Roger would always giggle and say that Rick would have to “watch out! She’s dangerous.”
The knee recovery derailed my competitive ballroom dancing…but I was as set on getting my black belt no matter how hard it would be, or how long it took to get there. When I was able to finally get up one stair – ten months after surgery – my Grandmaster allowed me to come back to the school to start training again. He was incredibly patient, and always mindful of my injury. I took baby steps and modified where necessary – while I couldn’t do everything, I still could do SOMEthing. I wasn’t giving up…
The only aspect of the Black Belt promotion I had some trouble with was snapping a side kick and breaking boards – the emotional paralysis you can sustain from traumatic injury can really stick with you, and it was quite prevalent at that moment! Fortunately, I was permitted to do breaks with my hands. PHEW! The new rank meant the WORLD to me…because it represented my persistence, my perseverance, my dedication… It represented that I could achieve anything I set my heart to – just like the 300 mile bike ride for Roger.
I continued my training with Kwan Jang Nim, eager to perfect what I knew…and to learn even more – in Martial Arts, the learning NEVER stops! I managed to tear my right knee along the way – again with a kick – but I refused to reconstruct it and kept forging ahead (despite the chagrin of my orthopedic surgeon!)
After maintaining the rank a while, students were getting excited for the next big promotion. But, while they usually occur at quarterly intervals (maybe more), the schedule shifted dramatically. Kwan Jang Nim was given an opportunity to finally shoot his Screenplay– a long-time dream of his. While we were sad we couldn’t do our promotion, we were incredibly excited for him that his dream was coming to fruition.
Within that time, though, I met the Love of my Life…who had apparently lived just yards away from my Dojang all that time… He was moving away from our town two weeks after we met and…fast forward six months, I was following him out of state too. The promotion loomed over me – I was ready to test, but I was no longer at the school to participate in classes, to practice, to learn, to perfect…
I stayed in touch with Kwan Jang Nim, eager to hear about any set dates for the testing. I practiced on my own, as I always did back home…but it was so much more important without others to work with me. My hunnie kindly “stole my wallet” many nights as he grilled dinner so I could practice my Hapkido defenses. And I never gave up the hope of getting back home to take my 2nd Degree test.
In January I got a call that the promotion was set for early February – I wasn’t sure I could get back for the actual date, so Kwan Jang Nim…very generously…agreed to meet me privately and do my test earlier. FINALLY, the day came, and I was overjoyed.
Seeing Kwan Jang Nim again was amazing – I realized how much I missed my classes, and the Dojang, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to “do my thing.” The test went amazingly – I feel like I’m still glowing from the experience. I feel so blessed, and so thankful to officially be a Kyo Sa Nim. ❤
It’s funny because sometimes people assume that getting a belt is something that you just “pay for.” There is a business aspect to many schools that allows for that to occur…but there are a lot of us who work HARD to get where we are. We get their early, do chores we aren’t asked to do, practice on our own. We go to class, ask for feedback, and repeat until we can’t move.
Some of us – MOST of us – have had debilitating injuries over the years, and we push through them with determination to reach our goals. It is EARNED, NOT GIVEN for many of us, and there is a lot of sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears along the way.
My friends have achieved incredible things – feats I look up to with deep reverence. Overcoming personal setbacks, in particular, is something I have profound respect for – whether emotional, physical or spiritual. For me, this was one of those things… I refused to give up my Arts because I destroyed on knee – it had already taken so much away. I refused to give them up when I tore the second one – my passion never diminished.
I have modified, and persisted, and kept my eye on my goal – those two stripes will forever remind me that I have what it takes, no matter what. Having the heart is more than half the battle – never give up on you, or what brings you joy.