Sunday, August 26, 2007

So, That's a Black Belt Test

Congratulations to L, our newest (and first!) Shodan!

Thankfully, since L was the trailblazer, I got a nice preview of what's likely to be on my plate in another year or two. What he was actually asked to do didn't look to terribly scary (for the most part) - however the way he did it was damned intimidating.

L does great kata. He's incredibly fast and powerful. He puts every ounce of his energy into every move, and it really shows. Of course, it also caused him problems. His breathing is not terrific. He's been working on it hard, and it's much, much better, but he's still putting out too much energy for the way he breathes. He had to take at least a quick break after every kata to recover, and twice left the mat to get some water and stretch. (Though the stretching was because he pulled a hamstring doing the jump-kick in Chinto.) None of the breaks was more than a minute or two, so not too bad. Six months ago, he was having trouble getting through more than five or six of the empty hand kata before completely pooping out, simply because he didn't breathe enough.

Sanchin was impressive and a bit scary. Sensei borrowed four TKD blackbelts and had them test the kata ("Let him know he's being hit"). There were no boards or bos broken on him, but he took a lot of solid thumping on torso, arms, and legs. Afterwards Sensei called across to K and I (the two adult san-kyus) "I won't go easier on the ladies!" As long as they don't go harder, I think I'll survive - but I doubt I'll enjoy it much. My friends' opinions to the contrary, I'm not that much of a masochist. L stripped to the waist for Sanchin. We'll have to do the same, except that we're allowed a sports bra. Yay - nobody wants to see me do full-frontal nudity, trust me. Everybody still gets to see my stretch marks, but if I keep losing weight/getting in shape at the rate I have been, the muscles underneath won't be anything to sneeze at by then.

Self-defense was just the nine presets - no freeform, which surprised me. Four of us (three TKD blackbelts and me) took turns being the attacker. Sensei wanted me in the line-up because preset #4 involves a takedown with a kick to the knee, and he wanted someone who knew it was coming and wouldn't get their knee busted. I was also called up for #9, but had to trade with one of the guys, because #9 has an upper chest strike, and L flinched rather than actually hit me in the breasts. Which caused a general chuckle.

There was no kumite, which surprised me. Every test up to black has kata, kumite, and a combined technique/vocabulary test with Sensei calling out instructions in Japanese, and the testee having to decipher them and do what they're told (though you will not fail for asking him to repeat in English). The knowledge portion is usually done verbally, but for black you have to write three essays: What is karate to you? In your opinion what is a black belt? In your opinion what is a sensei? I'll be working on these over the next year. I'll likely post them here when I've got satisfactory first drafts, looking for feedback.

Overall, I think Sensei's comment before the test, that the Brown Belt test was going to be physically harder is probably accurate. I don't have to get pummelled through Sanchin, but I will have kumite and breaking, which I think will make up the difference.

Breaking for brown, btw, includes punching through a 12"x 10" board, breaking a haydite (light concrete) with a hand technique of my choice, and punching out a candle with each hand. Punching the board isn't a problem, but does anyone have any suggestions on the others? The haydite makes me nervous, though stomping one for green was no problem. I'm thinking about using a tetsui for it. Punching out candles is likely to be the biggest problem though. Even L had problems with that way back when, and while my precision is as good as his, I lack his speed and snap.

I know all the information I need for brown. Now it's a matter of getting the techniques right. And then it's on to prepping for what L just completed.

Congratulations Sensei Johnson!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Had an interesting sensation tonight. We have a new student (yay!), a little girl about Robbie's age, already a soccer player, and delightfully enthusiastic about karate. We split up into pairs tonight and worked on kata, and I ended up being her teacher. Lots of fun.

Anyway, she's too new to really get into her first kata yet, so we worked on stance, blocks, punches and kicks - all the basics. But she wanted to know what the others were working on, so I explained kata, and then demonstrated Taikyoko 1 for her (this is our first basic kata, 1 of 3, that we teach to white belts - they're not an official part of the Isshinryu set). I guess either the improved energy, improved fitness, or perhaps the sheer amount of practice time is kicking in, because it felt...different. More connected, more powerful, like everything from my heels to my hairline was involved in every move. It's a dead simple kata, and one I could do in my sleep, which also likely contributed, but I don't know, it's never felt like this before. Before when I tried to be powerful, I was waving my arms about more strongly, or sometimes improving my mechanics, but the feeling of power came from my simply being a fairly large, muscular person. This time it felt like I could have punched through the wall, and I wasn't particularly trying harder.

I was intensely dissappointed that instead of switching up partners so I could try a more advanced kata and see if I could duplicate the feeling, we pulled out the tape and played foursquare for the last half-hour. I want to do it again! That felt like L (our brown belt, who does really impressive kata) looks.

And next class, no kata either - drat. I'm going to have to find a large enough spot somewhere to do some serious practice this week. Though I can't complain about the lack of class time - L goes up for his black belt Friday. I'll gladly donate kata practice time for that.

Monday, August 13, 2007


We're in our second week of 100+ degree weather this week. The kids started school on Thursday, and they cut both days short because the school air-conditioning couldn't keep up with the temperature. Today they're doing a full day, but one of the other mothers just called me to say they're letting the kids outside for recess. She found out when they called her in because her older daughter was in the nurse's office for overheating - and then when she went in, she discovered that her younger daughter (in Aaron's class), was out on the blacktop for recess. We will note that it's currently in the upper 90's with an air advisory, and that her younger daughter has asthma and had not been given a dose from her inhaler before being sent out. I know the school needs to run the kids around somehow, but if they're going to send them outside when it's this hot, they need to be very careful about it. Particularly when there's an air advisory. This is the Ohio River Valley, we have a high level of asthmatics. I wouldn't be surprised if a good 20% of the kids at the school have some sort of breathing trouble(asthma, pollen allergies).

We're supposed to have an outdoor combined class on Thursday, but a bunch of us spoke to Master Bertrand (dojo owner, and TKD head) at the pool party on Saturday and he agreed that if it doesn't cool off at least a little, we'll have class inside instead.

In other news, we're building a new dojo! Master Bertrand made the announcement at the pool party. It's about a mile down the road from where we are now. It's going to be about double the space we currently have, and in a more high-traffic area. About the only downside is that we need a lot of new members if we're going to pay for the new place, so we're all being asked to be proselytizers for KMA. I love karate, and I do talk it up as a great thing, but honestly I'm not going to start strong-arming people in the door. It would be lovely if we could add 5-10 people on the Isshinryu side of things though. We suffer a little bit from a lack of variety in the people we work with. All the adults (except the newest guy) are very used to each other by now, and it limits our ability to adjust to somebody new quickly. Plus we added only one new white belt in the last year, and she left again after about a month due to problems with our dojo manager. We had a largish batch of new students start last summer who have all stayed, but nothing like that has happened so far this summer. I guess we're like my friend B's UU church - the retention rate is excellent, it's getting them in the door that's the problem.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Medical, Medical

We've been spending this last week at my in-laws. Rob's Mom is sick, and has been for a while, so we went down to help for a while. We got there to discover that my MIL, who was already underweight at 105, had dropped to 90 pounds. She's been sick for 4-6 weeks (intestinal), but only saw a doctor for the first time about 10 days ago. Our being there helped, but she was already in such poor shape that her internist admitted her Friday - official weight at intake was 86 pounds. At least at the hospital they can sit on her - give her food she should be eating (she designs meals around Dad's dietary requirements and ignores her own), supplement her food and fluids with IV's as necessary, and keep her from trying to do things she shouldn't. She already sounds better just having had intrevenous fluids - she was so dehydrated going in that they had to use a chest vein to start an IV - and that was after a week of us pushing fluids on her! We don't have a diagnosis yet, but the doctors appear to think she'll recover, as long as we can convince her to take care of herself.

I had my own check-up this week (had to scoot up to Louisville from Nashville and then back down again, but they had no open slots for rescheduling). The Crestor has done wonders, my cholesterol is down 70 points. Liver and kidney functions are both fine. I've lost an official 16 pounds since Febuary (total of 29 since last Sept.), and my blood sugar levels are fine. The lab forgot to check insulin levels though, so I'm now in possession of the funniest lab order I've ever seen. All the usual things are checked off, but on the line for other tests, "Check insulin levels" is written in all caps, underlined, exclamation pointed, and starred. Rob took a look at it, and said "I'm surprised they didn't tattoo it on your arm!"

The MRI showed no changes in the adenoma since January (yay!). cortisol was normal, though it bops all over the map, so one normal reading is pretty meaningless. The only real change was that TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels have risen, though thyroid levels remain the same. Because of this, I've been put on Synthroid. Which has been an experience. I started yesterday. Today I was sweeping the kitchen floor, and suddenly stopped dead. I had realized that thus far I had unpacked from Tennessee, done some laundry, done a load of dishes, unloaded a storage crate, gathered together our school supplies and checked them off the list to see what we still needed to get. It was about 2pm, and I wasn't tired.

Now you have to understand - I'm always tired. I don't wake up in the morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I'm already tired when I wake up, and it doesn't get better. There is never a moment in my life where, if someone presented me with a bed and said "I'll take care of everything, just rest", I wouldn't happily crawl into said bed and take a nap. I've been this way, not only my entire adult life, but for as long as I can remember. I know what bright-eyed and bushy-tailed feels like because it's happened to me twice. One day in the spring of 1997, and once in sophomore year of high school, I actually woke of feeling energetic and rested. That's it - my entire life experience of not being tired.

Until today. I accomplished approximately three times as much today as I usually do - and I'm not even feeling energetic - just not tired. It's a really strange and subtle thing to experience. I hope to God that it sticks and that it's not just an effect of adjusting to the Synthroid - 'cause I could get used to this really easily.