Thursday, June 07, 2007

Usagi Yojimbo, you know him?

I can almost hear Mat scrambling to his Japanese-to-English dictionary, trying to translate the terms, Usagi Yojimbo. That is if he doesn't already know about the Rabbit Bodyguard... :)

Yup, that's what it means, Usagi means Rabbit and Yojimbo means Bodyguard. And where the heck have I found such a term you may ask? In the comic book series of the same name, written by Stan Sakai. The series has been going on strong for more than 20 years now, starting way back in 1986. It relates the story of a ronin (i.e. masterless) samurai who has become a bodyguard for hire. To help you understand, I'll simply repost the wikipedia entry for Usagi Yojimbo:

Set primarily at the beginning of Edo period Japan (early 17th century), with anthropomorphic animals replacing humans, it features a rabbit ronin, Miyamoto Usagi, who wanders the land on a musha shugyo (warrior's pilgrimage) occasionally selling his services as a bodyguard. The character of Usagi has been inspired by the famous swordsman Miyamoto Musashi while the tone and inspirations of the stories are heavily influenced by Groo the Wanderer, Lone Wolf and Cub and the films of the acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa.

The books consist of short stories, and occasionally novel-length stories, with underlying larger plotlines which culminate in long extended story lines. The stories include many references to Japanese history and Japanese folklore, and sometimes include mythical creatures. The architecture, clothes, weapons, and other objects are drawn with a faithfulness to the period's style. There are often stories whose purpose is to illustrate various elements of Japanese arts and crafts, such as the fashioning of kites, swords, and pottery. Those efforts have been successful enough for the series to be awarded a Parent's Choice Award for its educational value. The series also follows the standard Japanese naming convention for all featured characters: their surname followed by their given name.

So yeah, Usagi is a rabbit fighting with all sorts of other animals. Bad dudes can be rhinoceroses or wild cats or even moles. It is very cool and a lot of fun.

I'm currently reading book 2 of the collected series and while I loved book 1 a lot, book 2 is really where it picks up steam and explains a lot of stuff about Miyamoto Usagi. It's told as a sort of flashback story by Miyamoto Usagi himself, going back to how he was trained to be the samurai that he is now, and also how he came to be masterless.

The way it's told, you can tell that author Stan Sakai, a third generation Japanese-American who was born in Kyoto Japan but grew up in Hawaii and later in Calofornia, has done his research well. You can read and interview with him here where he tells about how he does his research and how his mom who was born and raised in Japan is his best source of information. Everything as authentic as one would think that feudal (early 17th century) Japan would feel.

Even better, it's a good read for kids too, at least for kids as young as 9 I would think. Sure there is swordfighting but the fights are not real graphic. At the same time, there's plenty of great teachings present in the books. The first example is how his teacher thaught him at first. He asked him to get wood and water and everytime he'd be close to him, he would bonk him in the head with a bambo pole. At first Usagi didn't understand why, until he started getting wary of the bambo pole and started always behind aware of his surrounding cause he would never know where the teacher would be to bonk him in the head. Behind a tree, at the corner of a clearing in the woods, right behind a door, etc. That part had a pretty strong Mr. Miyagi feeling to it where you'd look at how his sensei is teaching him and you'd wonder where he is going with it, then it hits you. Very cool.

There are also great teachings through the words of his wise teacher. Such as these gems: "As a samurai, you must strive for perfecton in body and spirit. Duty and honor are the essence of bushido, the way of the warrior, and should be preserved at the cost of your own life."

Sure, the same would probably not apply today, but remember, we're talking about early 17th century here. It fits...

Then there's more: " A samurai's body is the manifestation of his spirit. To have a strong body, you must have a strong spirit. So your inner self must be cultivated just as much as your outer shell..... The sword is the sould of the samurai and his badge of station. To appear in public without it is a disgrace. But behind the sould is the spirit. When you strike, first strike with your spirit. Look into your adversary's hara into his center being. Know how he will strike, before he, himself does. Often the duel is over before the first blow is even struck. reach out for your spirit. Feel for the hidden dangers lurking..."

And with that, as Usagi was walking under a tree branch loaded with snow, the teacher lightly tapped the branch above his head and before Usagi realized it, he was covered with snow. :)

And then even better, something I too take for my own self: "Every day of our lives is an education. You must strive to learn something new every day."

Sooooo simple, yet very true.

And there's more, this time relating more the what it's about to be a samurai: "The sword is not just a weapon. It's also a mirror. It reflects the soul of the samurai. It is the soul of the samurai. Just as the blade can be tarnished, so can the sould be corroded. Swordsmanship is a discipline and a way of strengthening one's inner self. So keep your soul sharp and clear. Remember... a true samurai does not look for a fight... but tries to avoid it. The best souls are those kept in their scabbards."

So much of that can also apply to us as martial artist. You too should not look for a fight but try to avoid it.

As you can see, these little teachings can even be understood by kiddos of around 9 to 12 years of age. And I'm sure they'll enjoy the samurais splitting flies in two with their swords. :)

I've read that this book is sort of difficult to find. I bought my copy from (especially good for Canadian readers) but I see that also have a few copies in stock.

I'm sure many smaller comic shops might have copies of it lying around, but I have found that indigo and amazon (either .ca or .com) are the cheaper ways to go when buying trade paperbacks of comic books.

Back to twice a week

As for my karate training, I've gone back to my previous twice a week schedule for the Summer. I used to take an extra hour of class on Wednesday nights, but a coworker of mine told me about the 30+ soccer league he played in and that kind of rekindled my old love for the round ball. To the store I went, bought some cleats and shing guards and played my first game yesterday. I'm sure it'll do wonders to my overall fitness to be able to run and exerts myself in the open and in the long run, my karate fitness will only be better.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Most of the class was spent working on something I feel like I need the most to work on: throws.

I'm beginning to get a feel as to what I can do once I've blocked the first strike. I can do a sequence of counterstrikes, add in one of maybe four different locks and end it with a sweep pretty easily, but every time I work up the courage to end the sequence with the most basic hip throw, it turns out ugly.

I've found that as a beginner with throws, sometimes the throwee is almost as important as the trower. With that I mean that if somebody who's about to be "victim" of a throw decides that he will lock and push himself backward in anticipation of the throw, since he/she really knows the throw is coming, well it makes it twice as hard to effectively throw the person. I was lucky to be paired with a black belt young lady yesterday. Not only was she able to throw my whole 206 lbs big body over her hip, she especially knew how to take the fall that comes from a throw. Sure, we don't drop anybody to the floor as we hold on to them as the throw happens, but somebody who's not feeling safe with their falling pretty much always makes it tough for the thrower.

Yeah, yeah, I know, if I had to throw somebody in the street, he wouldn't let me do whatever I want and take my sweet time positionning myself, but still, I'd probably have some surprise effect to my advantage. That surprise effect is pretty much absent in the dojo and getting to work with her yesterday, I was able to build some confidence in my throws, so much so that after the class, I felt much better with them.

I even learned a good lesson from that class. Boxer shorts are not good for a karate class. That landing on the ground has tendency to squeeze some parts that are meant to only be sqeezed gently. :D

And before you ask, no, it wasn't me but the guy whom I threw over my hip that suffered. He took a long walk and was fine afterward, don't worry. :)


Friday, May 25, 2007

That feeling of being watched

Being a higher belt comes with some responsibility, a bit like Spider-Man, you know, with great power comes great responsibility. :)

Well, not so much responsibility, but that feeling that people can look up to you, that they want to see how you do a certain technique. It happened to me in last night's class. It wasn't the first time it happened, but it had a special feel to it.

We started class with a very solid cardio warmup and followed it with a review of our "fall" technique, you know, how you break a fall. First to the right, then to the left, falling forward, or backward. We then moved on to rolls, forward and backward. The forward roll is a great to "roll with it", as it's name implies, when you are falling forward and you don't want to hurst yourself. I think I have linked to the Aikido Ferret in the past to demonstrate the forward roll, but here it is again.

Up until then, we were still all in a big group, two rows of students. That was a class for intermediate and advanced students, i.e. blue to brown belts with even one black belt. Some of the newly graduated blue belts seemed to be struggling with their rolls, and not only the backward roll which can be tricky, but even with the forward roll. It's only when our instructor asked us to all line up at the back wall that it took an interesting turn. He asked us to do a forward roll ending with a tap to break the fall, meaning he wanted us not to get up after the roll but simply tap and stop right there. The kicker was, he wanted us to do them one by one, starting at one end of the line where mostly blue belts were up to the other end where the brown belts, yours truly included, were. The first few went and had indeed a bit of problem, which I know was just normal. Then my the turn of a brown belt came right before me and he too kind of struggled. Then my turn. I felt like I had 15 sets of eyes watching me. For some stupid reason, I didn't want to disappoint them. That thought didn't last very long in my mind. I told myself I was doing karate for my own self, not for others, and the roll went very well. Still it was very interesting to feel the tension, sort of, that other people were kind of looking up to me to see it done properly. Interesting in the sense that I have done that so many times. Watch how a kata is done by a higher ranked student and you learn. Watch how they do a certain technique and you might learn something. There is just so much to learn by simply watching, and listening...


Monday, May 21, 2007

2 minutes to midnite

Well, not really two minutes, more like 105 minutes, but still, in the grand scheme of things, it was close enough. Stay with me...

The weekend started out well with a gorgeous Saturday. Nice weather, all sunny and bright. Had class at 11:15, a class where only 5 students were present. I hope the attendance won't drop too much for the Summer session because I wouldn't want the school merging the class with the 10am one where they are already 15 to 20 attending. Going from being 10-12 (during the Fall and winter sessions) to 20-25 could be rough.

Anyway for now, we enjoyed a semi private class. We reviewed basics starting with Cat 3, down to Cat 2, and finally Cat 1 and then we asked if we could review our KC. Instructor pinpointed stuff to correct. Always good to be corrected but then also to realize that you are working on finer points. A hand here, a strike there, finally a stance to adjust slightly...

We ended class with a session of the circle of love. It went well although I'll have to work on my hip throw. Still too robotic to my liking.

Andrew had class at 12:15 and I stayed in the room next to his class and I practiced for a good 30-40 minutes. I went over sushi no kon sho two or three times, adding a bit more flow and intent to it, trying to part with the robotic way of doing the kata, you know when you think before you make a move. I also did all my 36 self defense techniques from the perspective of both a right hand but also a left hand attacker. Went smoothly. The cold is out and I can feel my head working much better.

When I finally got back home, it definitely was a gorgeous day but I still reminded my wife that if she wanted to practice, I'd be ready when she would be. She said it was too nice a day to practice inside and that she would practice when it would rain (rain was forecasted for Sunday). I didn't mind so much as it was indeed a nice day and I got to work around the house and vacuum the remaining dirt from the bottom of the pool.

Sunday was a really bad weather day. Strong winds, hard rain all day. I had the duty of grocery shopping and got home around 2:30pm at which point I again reminded her that if she wanted to practice, I was all hers. She told me something along the lines of "I feel so lazy, my head says I should, my heart is telling me to go lie on the couch". *sigh* I told her to do as she wish but that she shouldn't complain after her next class that she didn't remember a thing from a week ago. She simply nodded.

We watched some TV from 9 to 10 and before going back to surf the net a bit, I told her she still could practice if she wanted to. I wasn't really pressuring her, don't worry, and it's probably why she replied with "hey, I feel like it now actually". It was 10:15pm on Sunday night, thus the 105 minutes before midnight. ;) And so we practiced. We reviewed everything she'd learned over two weeks. She vaguely remembered what she'd worked on, or more the sequence of things she'd worked on during her two classes, so it was easy to put it back together. We covered the basics of three punches she'd seen, three kicks, and three self defense techniques (Checking the storm, Battering ram, Downward hammer).

It was cool and lasted all of 30 minutes. 30 Minutes during which I never lost my patience (I'm known for that when she asks me to teach her something computer related). I was kinda proud of that from some weird reason. She seemed to appreciate the time spent working on it and me, well I was just happy that she cared enough to even think about practicing. Baby steps as they say, baby steps.

Today is a holiday in Canada, Victoria Day they call it. It's not a mandatory holiday and for some reason, I'm at work while both kids and mommy are relaxing at home. I will be taking a class at 7 tonight, but that's normal for me. What will not be normal is that I reminded my wife that there's a beginner's class on Mondays at 6 and that maybe, being that she's at home today, it would be a better idea for her to go to class today instead of tomorrow for this week. So, she wil be taking a class right before mine tonight and I should get to watch the end of her class. I'll try to make myself tiny and hide in a corner, cause I know she'll feel overly self conscious... :)


Thursday, May 17, 2007

So, what's your gameplan?

I'll tell you, if there'S one thing from my wife hat irks me more than anything (other than her tardiness), it's her coming to me on a perfect Saturday morning, as I'm relaxing, drinking my coffee and reading the paper, and she asks me the death sentence question: "So, what's your gameplan for the weekend?"

My whole work week is planned by the minute. There are meetings to attend and deadlines to meet, tasks to finish, and then sport events not to forget in the evenings. When the weekend comes, I don't necessarily want to plan out every little thing that I will do around the house. I mean, some things are set in stone, like our karate classes in the morning, or soccer/football practices, and while I usually have a pretty good idea of what I will do around the house, I don't plan it all on Saturday morning, minute for minute.

She knows it irks me and she sometimes has fun pushing it to me. I used to get mad (well somewhat mad) but we now laugh about it as she tries to find subtle ways of asking without same the G word. :)

Why am I telling you this? Well yesterday night, as we were getting ready to go to bed, she turned to me, all dead serious and well, here's the exchange that took place:

HER: Now listen to me.
ME (in my head): huhoh...
HER: I have stuff I want you to work on this Saturday.
ME (out loud): What? it's only Wednesday night, what
HER: Yeah, things I really want you to do. I'm setting up your gameplan in advance.
ME (in my head): oh no, not that word again...
HER: It's very important and I want you to do it Saturday.

By then, I was getting skeptical as she didn't look mad or anything, almost playful, with a funny crooked smile growing up at the corner of her mouth.

ME: What's so important you have to ask three days in advance?
HER (with a huge grin): I want you to help me practice what I have learned in karate so far.

I stood there speechless with my lower jaw dropped open on the pillow. :D

I'm not completely sure if she was really serious, but I think so. She sorta complained after her Tuesday class that she didn't remember much of what she'd done a week ago. I had told her, yet again, that it was the reason why I advocated taking two classes a week, that or practice at home.

I guess she's going for the private classes at home. We'll see on Saturday. :)


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

feeling off... and on

It was not my best class of karate last Monday. I felt off. Maybe it's the cold I'm still fighting but when our instructor took us through the 36 self defense techniques, I often had to think hard about how one would start and such things. I even did a totally different technique than the one asked, only to realize it when he called the next one. I was not reacting to what he was calling, but trying to do them in the order I though they would come. Really not my best.

We then worked on some deflecting and it went a bit better. By deflecting, I mean if someone is attempting a lapel grab and I just do that, deflect him and get out of his way in such a manner that he's left grabbing air. Was very interesting.

That cold I just mentionned is kinda going away, but I have decided that I would not take a class today. Next class will be Saturday.

One who seems to be enjoying her karate is my wife. She was disciplined enough yesterday to leave work at 5pm sharp in order to attend her second karate class. Not sure if you remember, but I must have mentionned in the past about my frustrations with her not always being able to be home on time for me to leave for karate. Well to see her dedicated to not missing her class is absolutely fantastic to me.

And even better, she seems to be digging it. She told me that last night's class wasn't so much cardio work, but that she could feel how she worked her abs by simply having to hold the forward stance for a good part of the class. She was just like a kid as she got home and I asked her what she'd learned. She quickly replied "don't say it, don't say it, it goes like this!" and she demonstrated to me a well done KC #1. Way to go momma. :)

Meanwhile for Andrew, since he's done almost enough class in advance not to have to go more than maybe 8 to 10 times this Summer, I decided that we would start skipping his Tuesday class and go back to a two a week schedule. He asked me why and I I explained it to him, reminding him how he usually stops for a few weeks during Summer time. He told me that this Summer, he doesn't want to stopp for too long. He added "cause I love karate, dad!". That's my boy... :)


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Tired kata and the circle of love

Our instructor had us go through an intense opening of class Saturday. After going through our usual stretch/warmup routine, he first told us to go through Pinan 1 to 3 in a stretch. After that came 25 pushups and then he asked for Circle of the Tiger and Statue of the Crane, again without a break, followed by 25 more pushups. After that came Cat 1 and Cat 2 and another 25 pushups only to finish the run with Cat 3.

His intentions were simple: to show us what it is to have to deliver our katas when we're tired. You just can't concentrate on your tiredness or else you delivery of the kata goes by the wayside. We have to thank the three black belt hopefuls for that tough lesson. :)

And I can thank them for the pain I had in my arms today while vacuuming the swimming pool, ugh... What doesn't kill you makes you strong they say...

We then worked on some bo work but not really sushi no kon sho as a kata per se, but more on the basics of striking with a bo the traditional way. See, in open forms, when you start a strike with the bo next to your right ear, the left hand will go to your left hip and the right hand will slide up the bo to remain parallel to the floor. In traditional strikes, the left hands kind of extends forward when the bo is chambered close to the right ear and it will also go to the left hip, but then will be closer to the lower part of the bo. The right hand will then slide down as you strike, leaving you with a longer part of the bo available for a longer reach. I hope this is clear enough, but let me say that to me it's a big adjustment. I've been taking open bo classes for two years now and while I can spin and throw it a few different ways, I've never really taken much time to work on traditional bo strikes. I'm getting to it though... :)

We ended class with 6 of us forming a circle around one person which we ended up attacking alternatively and he/she would have to defend with anything he/she could think of, trying never to use the same defence twice and incorporating some locks and throws in there. To add to the challenge, our instructor distributed a couple clubs and a knife to some of the attackers. That simply added a bit to the love felt in that Circle of love. :)

Defending against weapons is a whole other though. You can back off against a knif, you have to block the arm at its highest point and always keep control of the arm that has the knife. We had a good example of what not to do when a tall 14yo kid, black belt hopeful, blocked the knife attacker at the forearm, stayed in control and all, until he decided to unarm his attacker and grab the knife as if it were a club, i.e. straight by the blade. Err, ooops. :D


Friday, May 11, 2007

And how's the FrogMan doing in all of this???

With that gazillion updates out of the way, here's a bit about how it's going for me.

Well, it's going quite well thank you. Ever since my mother in law has retired at the end of March, I've been trying to take three classes a week. It was kinda tough not to miss one at first, for many little reasons, but for the last five weeks, I've effectively clocked in three hours of class a week and let me tell you, I've never felt better. Dang I love how it's going on right now. I feel my abs getting ever so tighter with every class (no six pack showing yet, give me a break ;) ), my moves feel more natural although I know I still need to perfect everything.

There was a time where I thought, or could I say feared, that I would be asked to take the pretest for the black belt. It came the week before said pretest. My weeknight instructor, after we'd finished working on self defense techniques, addressed us, a group of brown belts. He reminded the two people who'd already been booked for the pretest that they had to keep working hard but it's when he turned to everyone else that I felt personally singled out. He went on to say that the others, well they are the next wave of black belt hopefuls and that we always had to work hard because, well, you never know if one of your instructors is not gonna come to you before/during/after a class and tell you that oops, he might have forgotten to put you on the test. I took a look around and dang, I was the only 2nd kyu in class. How could I not feel that being told to me directly???

Anyway, the pretest was on May 2nd and it has come and gone without me on it. I heard it went very well for everyone involved and nobody was turned down, i.e. everybody received their 1st kyu and will go on to test for the black on June 17.

Now what?

Could there be another pretest for people who were borderline ready at the time of the first pretest? Maybe.

Would they consider me borderline ready? Who knows, maybe.

Could they ask me to test without taking a pretest? I have no clue

Do I even consider myself ready? I will never really think that I'm ready, I'm like that. Only by comparing myself to the others who've been confirmed to the test can I try to assess my level of readiness. And that's where all of this wondering comes from. In that regards I'd probably say that I could be ready for June 17. I know all of the curriculum quite well and my freestyle self defense is improving greatly on a weekly basis.

I have no clue what could happen between now and June 17. I'm guessing that the only time I'll be sure I'm not on the test is on the 17th if I'm sitting at home and not stressing it out in a crowded dojo with many other black belt hopefuls. What can I do about it? Not much but train and train and train some more, do as if I was scheduled to be on that test. That's one of the main reason why I plan on going three times a week until mid-June and why I do a lot of vizualisation at home and during breaks at work. If anything happens and somebody comes to me telling me "we think you could be ready, do you think you'd be ready?", I wanna be able to answer confidently with a "yes, I am".

Anyway, in the grand scheme of things, it's not as if taking more classes now will be a total waste of my time. I'm having fun and it's not a chore for me to take more class. Why not keep it that way?


Quebec Open review on

Wanna know what the Quebec Open was like this year? Then hop on over to and read their review. Or should I say glowing review as they seem to have had a lot of fun in Quebec City...


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Three down, one to go...

Picture this. We're maybe 15 minutes before the start of the Quebec Open Saturday night show and my wife turns to me to ask me this simple yet weird question: "Can someone take on karate classes, yet remain a white belt forever?"

Huh, say that again...

She caught me off guard, I had no clue why she was asking me this although she explained eventually. Turns out she was starting to feel like she's a bit out of shape and she's seeing how I like it, how Andrew likes it and especially how Andrew and I were marching up the four flights of stairs that led to the competition site that day without really slowing down our pace (we did wait for her at the top ;) ) while she had sort of a bit of trouble walking on up and was more than just a bit out of breath after moving up the stairs. She then revealed to me that she might be thinking about taking karate lessons. Her that has said quite a few times in the last four years that no, karate was not for her, she was thinking about taking up karate classes but she said that tests were making her nervous. I simply told her that they only ask you to test when they know you are ready, and well, a belt test is simply you going out there and showing stuff that you already know and giving out your best physically. You start your classes and if they ask for 15 pushups and you can do 4, well that's your starting point. Maybe in a couple of weeks you'll be able to do 6, then 8, then maybe you'll top at 10, but those 10 will become increasingly easier to go through...

We left it at that for the Saturday evening. On Sunday, I had already thought about asking how much it would cost when I'd go to the dojo for my Monday night class, but little did I expect her to specifically tell me to ask and see what the schedule would be. She was serious about enquiring about it, woah...

I asked about it, came back with some prices and a schedule. Price was not an issue to me, whatever sport she wants to do, she will be allowed to do, short of weekly bungy jumping, but I know it's not her style :) The schedule though would be a toughie. Even though they say you can sign up at anytime of the year, May is not a particularly well viewed time to start up a new activity like karate, what with Summer coming up and all. There are usually many beginners class around September and in January, but they often get merged with biger classes as the months go by. I know from experience as I started in April four years ago and I was in the middle of a bunch of yellow and orange belts.

Anyway, she though about it, then about it some more until this past Monday when on the phone at lunch time she told me "okay, you sign me up tonight, I'm gonna start tomorrow". Say what again??? The Tuesday night class is at 6 and it's a tight fit to make it from work to the dojo for her, so I signed her up one day in advance and she made it on time Tuesday for her first class.

She decided to start on a once a week schedule for a 12 weeks session, "just to see if I like it". Weird thing, I feared that she'd hate it. Don't ask me why, I have no clue. I so wanted her to like what I (and Andrew) like so much, what we've made our passion. Funny thing, Andrew had class at 7 that Tuesday night, so we walked in front of the big window of her classroom. I was not staring at her, but she saw me, waved and then quickly shooed us away. Reading John Vesia's post titled Looking Good, I see him describing her (and me too) in her first class.

Right after her class, in the hall of the dojo, I asked her how she liked it. Her first answer was simple: "man it's complicated" but she quietly looked like she'd enjoyed it. Back home, she told me she'd learned a sequence of moves but had forgotten the name of it. She wouldn't show me at first, "I'm shy, you're gonna laugh at me". Dang, why would I? She took a deep breath and showed me, inward sweeping left to right block with the left hand, followed with an outward sweeping left to right block with the right hand, a kick and you walk out of it. She'd just learned Checking the Storm... I almost cried of pride. Honestly, I was very happy that she was getting into this.

She then went on to show me how she'd learn to do low sidekicks and dang, she's got a way better weight transfer than I used to have not so long ago. She showed me another technique she'd partially learned and I immediately recognized Battering Ram, a technique against a lapel grab. It was far from perfect, but she was able to see the effect of the different strikes as I explained them to her.

She kept on talking about her class, enthusiastically I must say, for another 30 minutes. I think she's hooked. She's not super fit physically but I kept telling her that the most important thing is not to be able to do as much as the other, but to compare yourself to yourself alone and try to outdo yourself from class to class.

Sure, it's only once a week, for now.

Sure, it's only for 12 weeks, for now.

I'm hoping she sticks to it in the long run.

As I titled this post, three down, one to go. The one left is not even three and a half and they don't take kids before they turn four. I've asked him a few times, if he's gonna take on karate lessons when he turns four and the answer is pretty much always "oh yeah daddy"...


Quebec Open videos

Here's a compilation of our fours katas in the order they happened. Your comments are welcome, as always.

Read the previous post for the story about the whole day...


Quebec Open on April 28

Saturday April 28 was another big day in our karate life as the Quebec Open was happening that day. For both Andrew and I, it was our second time competing in that international competition. We both entered in only two classes, weapon and traditional form.

Since we'd registered Andrew before he was even asked to test for his brown belt, he competed with his green belt. He came in fifth place out of eight with his bo form. I didn't see him perform live, as I was competing myself, but after watching the video, I thought he did ok. He might lack a bit in his stances and with his attitude, or aggressiveness so to speak. My wife commented to me that some of the other kids were really acting like little warriors. I'm pretty sure that Andrew's presentation with his bo form suffered a bit compared to others due to the fact that he "only" had one hour a week of bo while I'm sure some others in this kind of competition must take 2+ hours a week, sometimes in private classes. Andrew was happy this Winter concentrating on his traditional karate which paid off with a brown belt, so I was all right with it.

They were something like 20 to compete in his traditional form category and from my calculations/assessment, he probably came in right in the middle, say about 10th. He did a good rendition of Cat 1, a kata he had to know to pass his brown belt, but that he didn't fully learn until maybe a month before testing. That's definitely not the same as when he was presenting Circle of the Tiger after almost a year and a half of perfectionning it. Still, I thought he did well with it.

Way I see it with every competition that Andrew (or even I) enters is this. I ask myself "is this the best he's ever done it?" or "has he given it his all?". Then if the answer is "YES", the end results in terms of placement matters very little.

As for me, I was signed up to compete in both weapon and traditional forms too. Well, guess what, I dropped my bo, again. :( A tiny little tip to my knee as I start a figure eight and whoops, there it goes. They still gave me second place out of three competitors. Just as for Andrew, I have not had as much of a chance to train with my bo. If you remember, the schedule was jumbled a bit after the Holiday break, leading to me losing some valuable bo training spot and let's just say that at minus 30 celsius, training outside was not an option this Winter. :) I come out of this thinking that if I had not dropped it, I could have come out of it in first place.

The good result, the one that really made me proud, came in the traditional form category. I had the pleasure meet Marc, aka MrX, who was competing in that same category and took third place, but that's not what I'm so proud of. I presented what I thought at the time was a good kata, even though everytime I watch the video I keep finding things I could have done better, but anyway, I came out of it in second place out of eight competitors. As I said, I worked hard on my Cat 3 for maybe the month prior to the competition. I felt good with it until the morning of the competition where I had trouble making my back kicks. You can see it where I lose balance with my first back kick and severely slow down the second one in order not to lose it again. I have since found why. The flooring on which I always train at the dojo is a very cushy kind of carpet. We're talking about a kinda dense but also kinda soft two inch thick mat. As weird as this may sound, I have found my balance on that kind of flooring but just could not find it back on a harder floor. I will work on that in the future.

Anyway, it was a great day. Competition ran quite smoothly. I was able to shake hands with Mr Akarien, Mrx, and even a commenter on my blog, the friendly Myrika. Hi all, it was real nice talking to you all. The Saturday evening show was just wow after wow, a great show, enjoyed by the whole family, my wife included.

I'm just a bit sad that it was quite certainly the last time I will compete there. By April of next year, I will quite probably be a black belt. As an adult brown belt, you compete against other adults who've been doing karate for about the same time as you have been doing it, anywhere from 3 to 5 years. As a black belt, in the 30-39 category, well, it is wide open. There are no category for the shodan or the nidan, or other dan if you seem where I'm going. At 37 next year, I could be against a 31 year old who's been doing karate for the last 27 years of his life. Ouch... I will probably dedicate my Quebec Open experience to following Andrew around and watching the Saturday night show. :)

Yeah, you heard me talk about videos, I'll get to them soon but first a little picture slideshow... Look at those smiles :)
Picasa SlideshowPicasa Web AlbumsFullscreen

As for the videos after testing it a bit, I'll post them in a new post, as the picasa slideshow seems to be making it choppy a bit... hang in there, we'll be right back...


Way to go kiddo!!!

Almost a month ago to this day, I reported that Andrew was set to test for his brown belt. Not only did he test for it on Thursday April 26, four days after the inter-satellite competition, but he passed it with very positive reviews! One big ATTABOY for my Andrew!!! :)

Here's a little picture of him with his instructor and owner of our school. (she only came for the end of the test, thus explaining not wearing her gi, she felt bad about it but I insisted for a pic...)

I'm sure you can see how proud he looked, but also how pink his cheeks were. They worked him out pretty good for a couple of hours. :)

The instructor who was in charge of evaluating them was my weeknight instructor and as I said, he gave me good comments about Andrew. He told me that his strikes were good and precise and that he knew all of his curriculum without fault.

I know on that picture you can't see my face, but I had, and still have, a proud smile on my face... :)


Inter-satellite competition on April 22

On April 22, our school held a local competition only for kids 14 and under. They call it the "inter-satellite" because it's really meant only for kids from the main school or from one of the 8 or 10 satellite schools that are affiliated with us. These satellite schools are usually no more, no less than kids from surrounding town taking classes once or even twice a week in the gymnasium of their regular school. These classes are given by instructors who come from the main school.

I think satellite schools are great because they allow kids who live maybe up to 45 mintues from the main school, kind of into the country, the chance to learn a bit of karate. I also think that the "inster-satellite" sompetition is better than great, as it allows all these kids a chance to see what a competition is in a more informal setting. One tiny thing I didn't like about the setup, but I'll get to it in a moment.

Andrew entered in both weapon and traditional forms and in kumite. I came in 3rd place with his bo form almost tied with the second place kid. He's devoted much more time to his traditional karate since the Christmas break and I couldn't be much happier with the delivery of his bo form with the kind of practice time (only one hour a week) he was able to put into it.

As for his traditional form, he came in fifth place out of 11. It's as per my calculations since they only gave out trophies and medals to the top 4 finishers. This is where my "bickering" comes. The top four finishers were all kids who are either part of the "sports & school" program, where they condensed regular classes in order to allow the kids the chance to train four afternoons in the week, or to kids who are part of the heavy competition rotation (about once a week, or 3 out of 4). The "sports & school" program means that these kids get to train in karate for about 3 hours a day, four days a week. Other than regular training, these kids are also regularly competing on a regional and provincial level.

If the goal is to give a chance to kids who don't usually compete, well it was not met in that class. I talked about it to my weeknight instructor on the following Monday. He happens to be part owner of the school with his wife (thus also in charge of the satellite school program). He told me he'd heard the same kind of comment not only from other parents but even from some instructors who were acting as officials during the competition and that they would probably change the format next year.

Anyway, it was a nice day, sadly ending with Andrew losing his only fight in kumite and hurting his ego in the process. Tears of sadness flowed down his cheeks, poor kid. Still, I reinforced in him the fact that he presented two strong forms and only because of that, I was immensely proud of him.

Funny thing happened as I was watching Andrew warm up about 30 minutes before the start of the day. My weeknight instructor walked by me, wearing his dark red "official" t-shirt, and he asked me "so Steve, you gonna officiate with us next year?". hehehe, all the officials for the tournament, all 20 of them (four rings, five officials per ring) were all black belt, you get it? I thought it was a nice wink on his part. :)


PS: I have videos of his two forms but I have yet to transfer them from mini-DV to the computer. I'll eventually get to it...

sooooo, what's up doc?

Man, what's this thing I got here? a blog? Hrm, what's that again? Oh, yeah, right? I used to post about my training here, and sometimes my son's training and learning... Now I remember...


Sorry for the lack of updates, I've been kinda, sorta busy in real life, but more than anything, I kinda, sorta needed to get away from the posting, didn't feel like it. Oh sure, I relayed the information to my good friend TK, because she's always online to chat (wave hand, hi TK!), or to Mat and Mrx, because they harrased me via email (not really true, I was proud and happy to chat with 'em) but never felt like posting a formal thing on here. Again, I sometimes see this blog as too formal. I want every post to be perfect, so I end up posting nothing, heh. I'm strange like that...

Anyway, there'll be a few posts in the next few days, maybe all coming today, about a bunch of things that have happened lately in my (our) karate life. Interesting stuff, at least to me. Hope you'll like them too...

See you soon...


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Go get 'em son!

Ayup, takes some big news to bring me back to posting it seems. And this once, the big news isn't about me but about Andrew. My boy has been picked to test for his third kyu on April 26th. Go Andrew!!!!

The week after I passed my 2nd kyu (which was also a third kyu or brown belt test), we'd been told that another brown would come "soon". That was back in mid February. Since then, I'd heard good comments about Andrew, that he was working hard, that he knew all his techniques to test, that his katas were coming along nicely, so much so that it crept to the back of my mind that he could be getting close to testing. Because of that, I gotta say I was not completely surprised yesterday when I heard his name being called, even though, I didn't really expect it either. :)

When he last tested, for his 4th kyu (brown stripe on his green belt) back in December, he'd been told that his testing had been delayed because he wasn't chambering his fists at the hip when punching and had a bit of a case of lazy stances (forward and horse stances mainly). He had in fact tested way later than most of his friends of the same level, with whom he's been going to class for a long while. That had not seem to bother him much at the time and I've never put any pressure on him to achieve anything as far as belt progression goes, as long as he puts the effort in every class he goes to. And effort, it seems he's been putting it since the Christmas break and now it's paying off. I remarked to him yesterday that this time around, he was the first of his friend to be picked to test. That just shows me, and him, how hard he's worked.

That brown belt has a little magic in it, it comes with a black stripe on it. I remember when I got mine, almost a year and a half ago, he went all "woah dad, black stripe means black belt is the next big step" and now he's the one thinking about testing for that same brown belt. Needless to say I'm very proud of my boy. :)

If there's only one little thing that bothers me with that test, it's the timing of it. April 26th is only two days before the big competition that is the Quebec Open, the biggest competition in the area, arguably one of the bigger ones in the Country and one of the big ones in North America. Getting that brown belt on the 26th will have him move from the intermediate to advanced underbelt class, being the lowest ranked brown belt. Advanced is brown belt only, but you can spend anywhere from 1.5 to 2+ years with your brown belt. There's no arguing that a kid who just got his brown belt is nowhere close to where a kid who's had it for 2 years and his a month away from testing for his black belt would be. Sure this kind of thing happens in other categories but the advanced class is the roughest of the underbelt categories. In lower classes, there's a real difference in color between the belts, i.e. intermediate is blue/blue with green stripe/green/green with brown stripe, while brown is brown with either one, two or three black stripes. Still and again, you can spend a full year with only one stripe (symbol of being a 3rd kyu) before testing for your 2nd kyu, just like I did. There was a world of difference between the Steve of January 2005, right after I passed my 3rd kyu, and the Steve of January 2006, right before I was to test for my 2nd kyu. The one good thing I'm seeing in Andrew is that he's turned his focus from going to karate in order to get ready for a competition to simply going to better himself, paying more attention to what the instructor is showing. Almost every week in the car on the ride back, he would answer my questions about what he'd worked on with some new self defense techniques he'd learned while before he was sometimes a little vague, kind of a sign that he was not always paying full attention. This has definitely changed...

That being said, him being in a tougher competition class becomes kind of secondary. I think he'll just be too proud of that brown belt achievement to ask for a delay so he can compete in a lower class. :)

And how's daddy doing on his side of things?

Very well thank you. In fact, I'd almost say extremely well. I like how I'm progressing within the art, how I see things now that I didn't see before. I like how I'm not so flustered when put into a situation of improvised self-defense. I like how more natural my katas seem to flow.

Am I perfect? God knows I'm not, and even better, I know it too. But I'm progressing and what's more, I'm enjoying it.

Would I be ready to test for a black belt now? I don't think so, but as I have been told, one never really thinks he/she is ready for a black belt test until it's over. Last I heard, the black belt test was set for May 26 and anybody selected to take it would have to take their 1st kyu test (aka black belt pre-test) prior to it. Given the fact that these 1st kyu test are usually one month prior to the black belt test, that would give me very little time to put the finishing touches to my training. I know my cat 3 kata is ready, my club and open hand self defense techniques are all coming out quite good and my freestyle self defense is better than it's ever been.
I'm just thinking out loud here though, nobody has approached me and told me to be ready for the test, I just happen to realize that I'm getting closer. And as I said in this post, my Monday instructor's atttitude is giving me (possibly false) signals that he looks like he expects me to be ready. I get this feeling he speaks directly to me whenever he asks us to go and work on some randori, and the little corrections he now gives me on Cat 3 are now the very subtle ones (i.e. more twists of the hips, more snap of the fist to the hip, in the blocks, the punches, etc...).

One thing I still need to work on is Sushi no kon sho, the bo kata. I know it, but it's still kind of robotic. But the moment I decide to really get myself into it, I know I will put it together and nail it after a while. I guess that's just being self confident...

I hope I'm not coming off as too cocky, I simply like how it's going on right now. I'm in maybe the best shape I've been in the last couple of years and while this may not say much compared to other youngsters in our classes, I can feel it when our instructors push us. When I could only do 12 pop-corn jumps while others did the whole 15, now I can do the 15 with everybody else. While I had a hard time holding the second 30 seconds sesion with my feet six inches off the floor while on my back, now I can do two and three sessions, interspersed with crunches or situps. I feel good.

Training, training, training is the word of the moment.
Fun, fun, fun is the feeling of the moment.
Be ready for anything is the attitude...


Friday, March 23, 2007

Martial arts inspired comics

Seeing how I really got to enjoy watching the NBC show Heroes, I just got interested in checking out comic books, or graphic novels as they're often referred to nowadays.

I've never really read any of the common superheroes books (i.e. Spider-man, Superman, X-men and the likes) when I was young but the way that Heroes show depicts ordinary people with extraordinary abilities had me looking for more of the same.

I found more than a few and will be happy to share them if you want to hear about it, but this searching through comics also led me to a few martial arts one.

I have decided to read only one for now, a webcomic called No Need for Bushido. It's been going on for a long while and I've just started reading it. It's pretty funny with some swordfighting in there, check it out.

Another one that I want to get to someday is a series called Blade of the Immortal. It's a manga (i.e. Japanese for comics and print cartoons) style comic but looking at some previews, I found that the drawing was less cartoonish with big eyes than your usual Japanese mangas. I like the background story for the main character, basically the setup for the whole series: "Manji, a ronin warrior of feudal Japan, has been cursed with immortality. To rid himself of this curse and end his life of misery, he must slay one thousand evil men! His quest begins when a young girl seeks his help in taking revenge on her parents' killers...and his quest won't end until the blood of a thousand has been spilled."

I'm not a fan of manga comics that read right-to-left but this one is translated from Japanese by the publisher and put into a more North American setup of left-to-right reading by using some cutting and pasting of the panels. The series has been going on since 1996 and there are tons of trade paperbacks who usually collects five 32 pages issues in one book for cheaper reading.

Are there any martial arts inspired comics that you read? If so, share theme in the comments, I'd be interested in checking them out...

And yeah, I know I'm still a little kid. ;)


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sir, you are making me nervous

Was a good, borderline great class last night. Not so much in the whole of what we did but just how it's going.

Warmups then worked on kicks and I felt good with them. My sidekicks, while not super high, are coming into form more and more, as do my back kicks.

We then worked a bit on a simple strike/block drill. Nothing super special, two by two, one attacking the other with various strikes and you just had to block the first strike and counter with one punch, just that, one punch. The rapid sequence at which we went was great to help me see and decipher what's coming and simply get out of the fire.

We then kept on working by doing the strike/block sequence but also adding one lock to end the attack. I'm feeling better and better with how how I can see the attackers hand once I've blocked the first strike and get back to it to grab and lock it. Still much work is needed.

We then were sent to practice on our own with my group of three higher brown belts to work on Cat 3. I was the only one who knew it all so I kind of led the way and helped the other two in filling in some blanks they had with it. I'm feeling better and better with that kata. I remember when I presented it in competition and even a bit afterward, I kept having to think a whole lot during it. Now, it's coming a bit more naturally. Still need to work on the back kicks, gotta stop losing my balance, but it's much better now than it was only a couple months ago. Our instructor had us present it to him just as class was ending. I punched with the wrong hand and one point in the kata but otherwise, I felt it went pretty well and that was also his comment about it. He told me that technically, my interpretation of the kata is sound and sincere although I still look like I'm thinking during a couple of tiny sequences. He really liked my double kick that happens toward the end. He always likes to put the emphasis on the fact that the double kick should be linear, more horizontal than vertical and he told me he thought I nailed that aspect of it during my kata last night. That was a huge ego booster.

Class was done just after my kata so we kneeled down and meditated and he talked to us a bit. He went on talking generally to "those of you getting close to the black belt" all the while looking in my direction. Sure there was another 2nd kyu next to me, but I felt like he was looking at me. ME??? Hold on there mister, I'm in no way, shape or form getting close to a black belt. Sure, closer today than I was yesterday, but never close enough.

On the other hand, will I ever be close enough, at least by my own standards? Probably not. And then, maybe he didn't mean anything more than "keep working on it, someday it'll be your turn". That's what I intend to do, keep on practicing for the fun of it...


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Stepping back

Wow, it's almost been a month since my last post here. Have I stopped training? Nope, not at all, in fact I enjoy it just as much, if not more than before. I just ran into some weird self inflicted fears. The fear of not writing anyting important and the wanting to impress people too much with my posts.

I'll start posting again, but I'll try to keep most posts relatively short and most of the times without a big morale to them because frankly, I practice kenpo for my enjoyment, not to try to fulfill some big holes in my own self. :)

Anyway, training's not been very special lately, although I've found it to be very entertaining. We've worked on locks and throws a bit during almost every hour of class and I like that. We even did a "circle of love" drill, where people make a circle around one person and each of us attack him one after the other. I got out of it okay, feeling much better than I would have only a couple months ago.

The next few weeks might start getting tougher for our Saturdays as Andrew is supposed to start his soccer training camp on Saturdays.

My Monday evening class that was for advanced students has been merged with the intermediate class and is now one hour earlier. That bummed me a bit, since having a class full of brown belts was very nice. Not much I can do about it though. The silver lining is that with the class being from 7 to 8 now, I'll bring my bo and should be able to sneak in half an hour of practice until 8:30.

We had a snowstorm last Sunday and we didn't even venture ourselves outside the house. I'm making up for that class with a special appearance in tonight's class. :)


Monday, February 26, 2007

At (rubber) gunpoint

What would you do if a gun was held to your forehead? I can tell you what I would do. I'd probably shit in my pants. Heh...

We worked on some gun control techniques last Saturday. Good thing it was only a rubber gun or I guess I would have died a few times. Seriously, how many times will one have a gun pointed straight to his/her forehead or temple? I certainly hope it will never happen to me. These techniques are all cute and everything and would certainly be the very last recourse, but I at least got to work on some locks and takedowns.

That's probably the biggest thing I'm seeing in my karate practicing these days, the increasing ability to first deflect a blow, second find myself in a position to grab a wrist on a hand, and third be able to twist that wrist or hand in a way that will lock it, not simply give it a gentle handsake... It's still all at the very beginning of the learning curve, but at least I'm aware that it's there now. I see stuff, can visualize the lock or the takedown...

If you've learn the tiniest thing about me, you should know that any event can be good to teach a lesson. We had another good exemple of that during our lunch break on Saturday. About halfway through our one hour lunch break, a kid came walking down from the upstairs classroom. I figured he was from the beginners bo class as the other class was an advanced traditional one and he was an orange belt (out of white, yellow, orange...). After a few minutes, I see that he's sit down in the dressing room and seems pretty upset. As the good father that I am, I go and ask him if everything's all right. His only reply is "I hate my instructor". I asked him if there's a particular reason why he's feeling that way and he repeats that "I hate my instructor, just hate him". See this kid is maybe 12, but that's some childish behavior, the kind I don't see very often in Andrew anymore. Trying not to be rude, I ask him again and I get him to tell me that he cursed in the class and he says that his instructor told him to go to the dressing room.

Make a long story short, what I later learned is that he indeed cursed, one of the bad ones, in class. Instructor heard him and told he would not accept it and he told him to do 25 pushups. When the kid told him he could not (or would not, I'm unclear on that) the instructor agreed with him that he would do 25 situps instead. Now, when sitting down, the kid cursed again, maybe even directed it toward the instructor, which prompted the sending off. I had a good talk about it with Andrew. While I highly doubt that he would even curse in class as he's a very respectful kid, we also talked about the respect you owe to grown ups in general and to your leaders in the various activities you take a part in. Would that be your soccer coach, your karate instructor, or your teacher at school. You owe these people some respect. It's kinda sad that parents have a hard time teaching that to their kids nowadays...


Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Thanks Mat for giving a name to that thing I kept calling "free style kind of self-defense practice". Yep, randori it is, or at least it seems close enough to what we do. It's especially of the aikido kind that wikipedia talks about, in which "the attackers are not allowed to resist or attempt to counter the defender's techniques."

And yup, yesterday's class, only two days removed from the test, did include a good portion of it practicing randori. We concentrated first on footwork, to get out of the way, but also to position oneself to block and then counterattack and then control, with a lock. Was fun and I'm definitely looking forward to doing more of it...

We also spent some time on Cat 3 which is now the latest kata we have to make better. I do know it from start to finish, but there are tons of subtleties in it that I never saw and will have to master before it's even near being ready to present at a black belt test. That's how it is, keep training and someday you'll have learned something...


Monday, February 19, 2007

Always expect the worst

Yup, always go into something that makes you nervous thinking that it will be way,way tough. Once you're in it, it turns out not so bad usually...

Test went great, I'm now officially a second kyu in kenpo karate!

The day started with a class which I took more seriously than I told myself I would. I mean, I practiced hard and even though I'd told you I would take it easy on the cardio bit, I ended up working myself to a good sweat.

That class was a good wake up call though. We'd started reviewing our brown belt techniques, the 12 most advanced ones, kind of in order that we learned them, when a fellow more advanced brown belt who was with her kid offered to call them up for us. Not knowing we were working on advanced techniques before she got to us, she went and called a fairly basic one. All four of us practicing froze. While I was able to regain my composure when I realized I had to expect anything, my training partner had a brain freeze, a good one. For a couple more techniques, he looked at me blandly repeating "I don't remember anything, nothing is coming to me". I thought he was going to suffer a meltdown. I simply stayed calm with him and gave him simple hints to jig back his memory. He got back to it soon but was a bit freaked about the blank...

I had an hour and 15 minutes to kill between my class and that just was not enough to go back home so Andrew and I hate a sandwich as we usually do. There was no way I was going to go into that test without at least a little something in my stomach and Andrew had a bo class as per our usual schedule.

I was kinda surprised to see so many people show up as the time of the test was coming up. More and more people kept appearing, so much so that we ended up being 19 in the test. While three of them were kiddos who were testing for their blue belt or so, the rest was divided evenly in eight persons testing for 3rd kyu and eight more testing for 2nd kyu. To my knowledge, this was one of the biggest most advanced kind of test to have ever taken place at our school. Even more interesting, of the 16 more advanced candidate testing for 3rd or 2nd kyu, eight of us were adult candidates (4 for 3rd kyu, 4 for 2nd kyu). And I'm not even talking young adults, all of us over 30 (or very close to being 30) and even one fellow who's getting close to 60. Now you're talking!

Still, that left 8 kids full of energy and you know how it is, they have to burn them too, meaning burning us at the same time. I did sweat a lot, but I expected that. I'm not so sure my wife expected to see me with my face all red though. She came to pick Andrew up after his bo class, so it was about 45 minutes into our test, basically right at the end of the more cardio portion. I was indeed sweating like a pig and in between two reps, I saw her face in the hall. She looked genuinely concerned for my well being. :)

But I was fine and I survived that section first, then the one with self defense techniques, then we hit a wall with the free style self defense. The way our curriculum is build, more emphasis is put on pre-programmed (I'd even say almost choreographed) techniques up until you've received your 2nd kyu, so I knew that free style self defense (get attacked and defend yourself almost no matter how) would be a weak point. The test just confirmed it. The thing is, it pretty much confirmed it for everybody else too. If we got one good thing of that test, other than challenging ourselves to our limits, it's that our instructors acknowledged it and we should see more free style type of practice on our way to the black belt.

We finished the test with our katas. I felt mine went well. There was some sort of misunderstanding as to what was requried of us. For the last month or so, we practiced Cat 3 regularly in our classes even though we knew it was not required. What I had understood from my instructors was that if enough people had it, they would ask to see it. But then when the test came, our head instructor asked to see Sushi no kon sho, our bo kata, which we had not practiced in a little while. Not that I didn't want to practice it, but we were not really told to practice it by either of our two instructors. That was kind of odd. And frustrating, since I knew it quite well before the holiday break and with only a little practice, I would have been able to present it...

The test ended on a good, heartfelt word from our head instructor, a 5th dan lady. She told us that she was very proud of seeing such a big group of advanced belts like that. She added that while it will we will feel it as a great accomplishment to get a black belt, and we are getting ever closer she added, it will also be a great feeling for all of our instructors to see us graduate. She added that while plenty of people start as beginners every time they do an open house activity, not that many people grind it out all the way to the black belt...

Anyway, that was a good test. A test that leaves me a little sore, but not too much. Even bigger news is the fact that for the first time ever in any belt test, I did this test without a big brace on my right knee. I think I've explained in the past that I had injured my knee a couple years prior to taking on karate. I hyperextended it, leaving it a tiny bit unstable and wanting to bend sideways when I exercise and I'm really tired. Weak knee ligaments can usually be compensated for with a better control of the calf and thigh muscles, but when you get really tired, that control can tend to go out the window. That's the reason why I had always been nervous about tests. In classes, I usually wear a simple sleave. I thought about it long and hard and thought I'd try the test with only the sleave. The knee held superbly, no weakness in it at all. This was maybe my biggest win of the day. That, and that second black stripe on my brown belt. :)


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Today's the day

This has been a somewhat frustrating week...

It all started on what should have been a nice almost semi-private class. There were only 5 of us in Monday's class. Furthermore, three of the five were set to test today, so our instructor decided that we'd go through our katas step by step. While some pointers helped me, at one point I almost felt depressed by how many "little" things I had to correct to make them perfect. It started to make me doubt that I was even ready to test. That stance there, that strike here, that move there, aaaaarrrrggggg! Information overload!!!!

I tagged along with Andrew on Tuesday and while there's usually not much room available on Tuesday nights, I was able to find a little corner and I practiced on my own. I was able to get my groove back, do my katas "by instinct", how I feel them and I thought they came out okay. That went a long way to put my mind at ease towards the test. I also went through my techniques, all 36 open hand ones and 15 club ones and I feel they are all coming out fine.

Then came Wednesday. I don't know how it was where you live, but here a storm started hitting us around supper time. I had planned to go take a class at 7, but I feared they could the road between the school and our house so I didn't chance it, skipping what would have been the last more intense class before the test. That bumme me out but oh well, what can I do?

Comes yesterday. My wife asked me if I was nervous. Quite honestly, not really. I mean, what's the worst that can happen? I know my stuff, know how to deliver that katas, I've tested them in competition. I only need to calm down and everything will come of itself.

I have class this morning but I will take it easy, mostly using it to review everything and make sure there are no glaring holes anywhere...

Wish me luck.


PS: how cool is it that this post, on the day of a test, is my 100th post on this blog... :)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Well, the couch won...

They know when to push you, hard. Yep, instructors know. Last Saturday was our last Saturday of "real" class before the test. yeah, I say "real" class because while I (and many others) will be going to the class next Saturday morning, the day of the test, I will not push myself super hard during the cardio portion of it. I'll use that class to mostly review my stuff and warm myself up a bit for the test coming up in the afternoon.

So, with this in mind and seeing how many of the people in class will be on the test next week, our instructor gave us a preview of said test, not that we didn't know what would be coming our way. ;) It all started with a good aerobic warmup. As part of the end of that warmup, he told us to do a stationary jog and be on the ready. He started calling KC's, but kept telling us to keep on jogging in between each of them. Once the 20 KC's had been reviewed, 50 jumping jacks, then we got to self defense techniques. Aspiring brown belts (or 4th kyu testing for their 3rd) need to know 24 while my group (3rd kyu testing for their 2nd kyu) need to know 36 of them. We kept doing them, always going back to stationary jog in between. When we got to the last 12, the aspiring brown belts were asked to keep on doing their 12 highest ones. I'm happy to report that I felt good with them. They came and flowed pretty well with only very minor screw ups on my part.

Our instructor then paired us up two by two and we went to self defense techniques facing a club attack. Again, it went well. I could be a bit closer and I'll try to remember that for the upcoming week.

Then came katas, and that's when being tired, in a crowded room, facing in a different angle that we're used to hit me. Pinan 1 went well but pinan 2 was a disaster. I was out of synch and felt completely lost. I started with some moves of pinan 3, continued with some of pinan 2 and then finished with some more of pinan 3. Seriously, it was not pretty. The good news is that I know why it happened. I was just not focused on what I was doing. I caught a reflexion of myself in one of the mirror just as I started and instead of concentrating on what I was doing, I looked at the reflexion. The even better news is that I acknowledged that it was a screw up and was able to put it in the back of my mind and simply forget it. When our instructor asked us to go with the pinan 3, I nailed it. We kept on going, Circle of the Tiger, then Statue of the crane, then Cat 1, Cat 2, and even Cat 3 which is not a requirement of the 2nd kyu. I think I did them quite well and if I can do them that way on the test, I'll be very happy.

He'd had us do 25 crunches in between the Crane and the Cat 1 kata and we got back to some abs work after Cat 3 with that nice ab workout where, two by two, one person is laying on his back, head in between the ankles of the other person who's standing up facing toward the feet of the other person. The person on the floor then lifts his legs while the person standing up pushes them back down. We did 40 of those. I usually tend to die, not tire, die, at 25, but this time, I did the whole 40 reps. I'd say I'm ready to test. :)

I don't think I need to tell you that my 36 year old body was a tiny bit tired following that class. We got home at about 12:40 and had dinner then. The WKA competition was starting at 1pm and I wanted to go, after my parents were going to leave from visiting us. Only, I sat down, only for a few minutes on the couch to relax and watch some TV. Well, you guessed it, the couch won and KO'ed me. That nap sure did feel good though... :)

When I woke up, it was already passed 3pm and I didn't feel like going outside, so I passed on the WKA, too bad. But I felt rejuvenated by the nice workout and ensuing nap...


Friday, February 09, 2007

Making the best of it

Remember when I talked about Emilie Paquet and Elymaud Samson and how well they did at the WKA world Championships last November? well the cycle starts over again, meaning the Quebec qualifiers are coming up this Saturday and they will be in Lévis, maybe 3 minutes in car from where our school is.

Thing is, this time around our bo instructor is entering them and because of that, our bo class of this week as been pushed back to the end of our 12 weeks schedule.

Now I find myself with a free Saturday afternoon and I'm thinking, why wouldn't I recharge the batteries of the videocam and pay a little visit to that competition?

So this is what I think I'll do tomorrow afternoon. Competition starts at 1, our traditional class ends at 12:15. Enough time to grab a quick bite and head on out there.

I'll try to make some videos available to you next week. Hopefully I'll be able to catch our instructor in action...


Thursday, February 08, 2007

some pre-pre-pre-testing...

...or "you're always being tested anyway".

That's how I go into most of my classes. Heck, it's how I live most of my life. There's alway somebody evaluating you. Be it in your work, or how you educate your children, there's always something putting a virtual score on what you do. The thing is, it's even mor prevalent when you get close to a belt test.

It's been over a year now since I passed my 3rd kyu so it's been a little while since the last we went into that pre-test mode, but I remember it clearly. 3rd kyu in our style is clearly where the intermediate vs advanced line is drawn. Not that I considered myself all that much more advanced after being handed a brown belt, but I trained quite hard for it and indeed felt like I had accomplished something. I'm getting that vibe again. Come February 17, not much will change other than I'll have a second black stripe on my brown belt, but I'm training with a renewed focus now.

The last couple of classes, Monday and Wednesday, have been expecially focused on the test requirements. From KCs to higher katas and self defense techniques on Monday and techniques again with some rolling yesterday. I'm starting to realize that quite a bit of what we do is based around aikido stuff. Not so much the curriculum stuff but the extra-curriculum one, like the locks I talked about in a previous post, shionage et sankyo. And now the rolling. We did some forward rolling, just like the Aikido Ferret is demonstrating here and also some backward rolling. Doesn't look like much but when you think about it, rolling is a pretty good way to break a fall.

As for how things are coming, I felt good about it yesterday, real good actually. The curriculum self defense techniques are pretty much all coming out without thinking about it and I like that.

Andrew update

Marc (MrX) was aking about Andrew in a comment on my most recent post. Andrew is doing well, quite well actually. The regular schedule for him would be traditional classes on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, but for some reason, he's missed one per week the last couple of weeks. He's also been having class with the owner of our school, Dgina, a 5th dan who's very good with kids. Funny story from last Friday. As I got to pick him up after his class, he came walking and she was walking behind him, telling me over his shoulder that he was a lucky fellow that day. Apparently, there was an odd number of student and when they got to practice self defense techniques, she paired up with him. His beaming smile told me he had worked hard to impress her. When I asked her aloud how he'd done, she nodded telling me he knew just about everything he needs to know to test for 3rd kyu. He only needs a couple more self defense techniques against clubs and he'd have it all. Sure, there's a time limit to go through, but still I was impressed to hear her say that. The most pride came just when he went downstairs to change in the dressing room. She added in a whisper, so I'd be the only one to hear: "he's growing, maturing, your big boy". Yeah, he is growing. We see it everyday but it's always nice to hear. Sure makes a daddy proud. :)

He too won't be competing this weekend. I asked him if he wanted to, that I would support him and go cheer for him, but he said he didn't feel like it. I figured if he can keep on enjoying the karate, the competition is not necessary. He also seems to enjoy practicing with his bo once a week. I can't ask for much more from him to be honest...

Speaking of bo class, I'll be out of it for a couple of weeks. This Saturday, our instructor is competing in a big competition in Lévis so the class has been postponed to later and next Saturday, well, I'll be testing during the time of the class, so...


Monday, February 05, 2007

stuff's happenin'

Yep, it's not because I'm not posting that I'm not training and that stuff isn'T happening, so here goes with a hodgepodge (my new favorite word) of karate stuff...

Let him pick a side

Knowing that February was coming fast and with it, supposedly a test, I asked my wife to be home on time on Wednesday so I could jam in an extra hour of class. She did make it and that class was nice, even better than most Wednesday night class in that it wasn't too crowded. We worked on punches for a little while to warmup then went on to work on locks, namely shionage and sankyo.

Quite honestly, I felt god with the two of them, better than I expected. Facing either a lapel grab, a hook punch or a direct punch, I was usually able to block/deflect the punch or get out of the grab and then put myself in position to follow it with either of the two locks. That was a feel good moment.

we ended by working on the locks out of a crossed wrist grab. Imagine an attacker grabing your right wrist with his right hand, a bit as if he was shaking your hand. Thats where we the one playing the attacker had to pick a side, either pull to his right, or to his left. Depending on which side he takes, shionage or sankyo comes just naturally. No need to think about what the name of the lock is, or to fight his pull, just let him pull and go with the lock. He pulls to his right, my left, it's sankyo. To his left, my right, it's shionage. Realizing I was able to simply do it, without even thinking, was another feel good moment.

So February as started

So yeah, we get to Saturday morning and the first thing our instructor tells us, in the middle of the warmup session, is that the test date has been set for February 17. I guess I feel good about that date. I mean, could I use more time to get ready? Well, who wouldn't? Still, I feel like stuff is coming along nicely and that I will be ready, or at least, I won't be doing much worse than any other 3rd kyu who will be on that test. You know, it's not that I compare myself with others so much, but you never want to be the one doing the most mistakes in a test...

That class was a good one though and it actually is the main reason why I'm saying I should be ready for that test. After doing some stance drills, we paired up to work on our self defense techniques. Our instructor asked us to do facing both a right (the more natural one) and a left handed attack. My partner and I decided to do them one by one, right then left and as such were going through them a bit slower than other paires who did all techniques right handed and then left handed. At one point, when we heard the other two pairs calling much higher techniques than the one we were working on, she told me something along the lines of "woah, we're slow". I didn't care much and told her we were learning to work them properly. When we got to the end however, we finished about 3-4 minutes before the other pairs, as it became obvious to us that they were finishing their left handed versions of the techniques.

Quitre honestly, the techniques were coming and flowing quite well. I was very happy with how it went. Two more weeks like that and I'm sure we'll be good to go.

Sad not to compete, but...

Yeah, not competing in the upcoming Levisien Open is kinda sad, but I've discovered that I've started enjoying "playing" with my bo so much more. While there's something to be said about having a bit of pressure to spice things up, too much of it is never a good thing. Without having to think about a competition coming up, I get to experiment stuff, try learning that new trick I saw, finally simply enjoy the escape of practicing with the bo. I practice martial arts for myself, to evade from the everyday stress. There's no need in making myself nervous about it. There's that, and as you know, the lack of practice time.


Monday, January 29, 2007


The last week has been one of suffering blows, physically, although pretty minor, and figuratively.

It all started last Monday. After warmup, we did about 35 minutes out of the hour on revising stuff we knew like katas, self defense techniques and KC's. That part went fairly well. I drew a couple of tiny blanks on some mid-level and advanced techniques but otherwise, it went well. We finished the last 10-15 minutes doing some freestyle selfdefense two by two, i.e. one attack the other without telling in advance and you need to defend with something different every time.

I was paired with a 4th kyu student while the class is usually only 3rd kyu and up. It went well for a while even though the guy was freezing a bit when defending and sometimes not controlling all of his strike. First came a shot to the solar plexus that made me go "ow!". Nothing to break bones, but a good reminder to watch for myself. I guess I didn't watch enough since only a few minutes later, he got in close and pulled up a ridge hand that should have been stopped short but wasn't and he hit me in the jewels. ow ow ow ow ow!!! I did tell him to control his strikes, loud enough that our instructor came to see and talked to him with tricks on how to gauge the distance. It wasn't bad, as in I didn't get any black and blue but it really was not a pleasant experience.

As much as you don't want this to happen, it's bound to happen. Strikes will touch hard and injuries can happen. I spoke up to him only to make him understand it was not the first time (because it's happen more with him than other people with whom I practice way more often) and that I felt he neede to work on his control.

Then the next day came the figurative blow. Looking at the schedule, I saw that there was a semi-private traditional class for adults during Andrew's traditional class. I was pretty sure there was room for me in that class and was bout to enquire about it right after Andrew's class would end. Little did I know, they have decided to move that class to Monday night, at the same time as my own Monday nights class. Heh, so much for trying to make something out of the driving Andrew around... I would offer my service to suit up and help Andrew's instructor in his class, but that's a 4th kyu and up class and since I'm only 3rd kyu, some/many kids would be higher in grade than me and I think I would feel more inadequate than anything else...

Finally came Saturday. The morning traditional class went well. Lots of work done again on self defense techniques and katas and KC's and yay, no blows in that class. :)

The afternoon was different however. It was the first bo class of the new session. I have pretty much given up on the idea of competing in February and I have found that this thought has kind of made me enjoy my bo more. The class was cool and I got to work on techniques and new moves without putting pressure on myself. Our instructor gave all of us a challenge, a different one for different people. My challenge was to spin the bo around my wrist, similar to what I do in my kata (right before the throw) but this time over my head and then throw it in a horizontal rotation. I had tried it before and had missed badly. He told me to work on it and I went to work. Well, that'S when the third blow of the week came. At one point, I was getting better and better and I tried applying a bit more speed to my bo. Bad idea. The thing swirled and hit me on the lip, leading to a nick on the inside of the lip from hitting my tooth. Not bad, no stitches needed, still not pleasant. I kept on practicing and even was asked to try it while lying on my back. Try to picture this: me at about 200 lbs, on my back spinning my bo, then throwing it copter style from my right to my left hand. I was getting pretty good by the end of class and never hit my head again. His way of thinking when asking us to work on stuff like that is that if you do a spin thing that's way tougher than your usual, when you'll go back to your regular thing, it'll simply seem so much easier. I kind of agree...


Monday, January 22, 2007

Lack of updates

Sorry everyone, a few not so special circumstances have led to me not posting so much lately. By "not so special" I mean simply that work has been a bit hectic and that well, there's not much new to report.

It's been mostly working on already known stuff in order to be ready for the belt test whenever it comes. I'm feeling better about it with every hour of class that I have. There are always little things here and there, well everywhere, but we'll get around to them with time.

The whole new schedule we're going with since the new year is bumming me a great deal though. Gone are the Wednesday night practice hours for me, there's no room for me to practice when Andrew takes his midweek class, now on Tuesday at the Dojo. Also, due to some reorganization of belt levels in classes, his Friday night class is now the one going from 8 to 9 and then again, there's no room for me to practice with my bo. These two lost hours have practically now reduced my bo practice to one hour a week, the group class we will have on Saturday afternoon.

These bo group classes start next Saturday which meant we had three free Saturday afternoons before they'd start. I had booked three semi private one hour long class for me and Andrew, alone with our instructor. As I posted earlier, we turned the first of these three into a free practice. The second hour was nice, with the instructor and all, but quite a bit intense in terms of stuff to correct. When in instructor is asking me to do my kata at half, or even quarter speed, and is stopping me 5 or 6 times with some more and more technical things to correct/change/improve, my head has a tendency to swell up. Not that I mind being corrected, I actually appreciate it and thought it was a great class, but I needed time to practice what I was being shown. And that time as kind of disappeared. Because of that, I asked our instructor to cancel the third hour of class and we turned it into another 30 minutes of free practice, me and my boy. We had some joyful moments in that practice. At the very end, I told Andrew that we'd do our kata 2-3 times and we'd go home so I take place and he is by my side. I could see him by the corner of my left eye as he lined up with me. I started my kata, concentrated on what I was doing but couldn't shake the feeling that I was being followed. I, well we got to the end of the kata and I turned to him and asked him: "you were trying to do it synchro weren't you?" Be smile a huge smile. We did it twice after that and it was indeed pretty cool to do the kata next to my son, in almost synchronized fashion. :)

Finally, With this new schedule, as well as the test coming up and my wanting to concentrate a bit more on learning, I'm putting in question my participation to the Levisien Open on February 11. No final decision has been take, but it'S quite possible that I won't do it and hold on until the Quebec Open, scheduled for the end of April.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

ranking and helping out others

Had class yesterday, a good, get back into the groove kind of class. Prior to it happened something that I just made my day. As I settled to the floor near one corner of the room to stretch a little, as I usually like to do prior to the start of my class in which we will stretch anyway, I saw a purple belt practicing with a white belt maybe 5-8 feet away, looking to me with an inquisitive eye. Turned out the instructor was helping out at the other end of the room and they needed some help of their own on an intermediate self defense technique. The purple belt, a young man (maybe 20yo) actually asked me very politely if I could help them sort out the sequence of moves in a couple of techniques. That might be silly, but I felt very good being asked to help and did help them to the best of my knowledge. They certainly seemed to appreciate it.

This is one thing that's quite particular to martial arts, you wear your rank. I don't boast about it and would neverput down a "lower" ranked belt on something he would say to me just because I'm a "higher" ranked belt. I just hit me that the more I see other adults coming up through the ranks, the more I sometimes see them looking at me with somewhat different eyes. Maybe it's all in my head, but I remember seeing the brown belts when I first got to practice with some of them when I was a purple belt and I was impressed by how they moved and would look up to them for any tip or hint they could give me to improve my technique. Now if I can give back that little bit to someone else, to the extent of what I certain of, meaning that I don't give false advice leadning others down a wrong path, I'll try to do it. I also realize that this means I am far from done from learning. I have to listen even more closely to what my instuctor tells me, practice harder, if I want to be a better exemple, a better "teacher"...

I think that from now on, whenever I'll have a chance to on these Mondays, I'll try to get to the dojo a bit more ahead of time. Don't want to impose myself, but if I can help anybody improve, that will only make me a better martial artist... Even better, if there's no need for my help, there is some available space in the room next door, and in that case, I'll practice on my own. That should definitely make me a better martial artist.


Monday, January 08, 2007

There will be 28 days in February

First things first, let me wish you all a very happy new year, if only a bit late. May 2007 be healthy more than anything else. Seems the more I grow up, the more I seem to hear about people getting ill left and right and the more I realize that our good health is something we often underappreciate and take for granted. With good health, everything else comes together fine, be it happiness, prosperity or just about anything else, really...

As for our karate life, well, I have not posted since Christmas day because well, there was not much to post about. I did not practice once over the holiday season but I feel it was a good break. It allowed me to heal whatever was bugging me in my left shoulder and I feel new and rested, although a bit bloated, even though I didn't overindulge in food too much. Okay, okay, maybe once or twice, but not too much. :)

We had our first class back last Saturday. It went well, mostly reviewing what we knew before the long break. Say what you will, the human brain is made to forget, although I felt pretty good with how it went. I had no real blanks on my forms and was even able to do Cat 3 fairly confidently. We did learn something before the class had even started. On one of the 28 days of February, there will be a test for 2nd kyu for those of us at first kyu. We'd heard it would be after the holiday break but to get some sort of confirmation that we will have January to get our body back into shape and get our mind to top speed was nice. I will be ready for that test, whenever they say that the time has come.

We were supposed to have a semi-private bo class in the afternoon but when our instructor failed to show up some 5-10 minutes after the supposed start time of our class and we called him, we learned that he was still sleeping and his groggy voice told us he was sick (although he admitted having completely forgotten about the class). He lives some 25 minutes away from the school so we told him not to bother and Andrew and I ended up practicing on our own for 25 minutes. I actually was not too mad to not have that class as I was more looking forward to getting some free practice time more than being scrutinized by one instructor on our first day back. That way, we got to get reacquainted with our bos without having to pay for a private instructor.

Surprisingly, I did not feel as sore on Sunday, or today, as I thought I would, even though our instructor took us through the squat on tiptoe routine and had us do a good bit of abs work. Glad to be back too...