Beauty and The Beast: Balancing Femininity and Prowess as a Female Martial Artist

Beauty and the Beast was and is my favourite movie. I still get chills from the opening scene.

A tale as old as time, it tells the story of an unlikely romance between an intelligent, yet odd beauty and a rash, aggressive beast, that a little town, a quiet village, tries to squash with fire and pitch forks.

As a female martial artist, internally I feel this same tension between beauty and beast, the conflict between outward societal expectations of femininity and the inextinguishable aggression within.

I channel the forces of both beauty and beast, femininity and prowess, always simultaneously.

These forces are always in flux, and for each of us these ratios bend and play out in different ways.

I love physicality. I grew up watching pro wrestling. My brothers and I would act out the flying feats of Ray Mysterio and the dropping elbows of The Rock off our couch in the living room.

Often when family friends would drop by, they were surprised that I, a girl, would engage in such antics usually reserved for boys, “Wow! She jumps in there, too.”

At the same time, I loved barbies, dress up, and the colour pink.

I still love those things.

But I also loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, and Hot Wheels.

Now, as an adult, I love martial arts and the prowess it expresses.

Now, as an adult, I love make-up and the femininity it expresses.

I love the feel of executing a good heel hook.

I love the feel of wearing a good pair of heels.

Females are often pressured to think that we need to choose between the two. To choose would be to deny an element that makes us whole, an element that makes us human. And, I think when we express femininity and prowess in a way that is true and complete to our nature that that’s where true beauty lies.

Enjoyed this post? Check out “A Good Training Partner Is Hard to Find“!

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Just Because You’re Injured. . .

Doesn’t mean you can’t participate.

With most injuries, you can still be an active participant in your martial arts community.

Recently I hurt my ribs, which restricts my participation in Karate, BJJ and Krav Maga.

But just because I sustained an injury doesn’t mean I can’t still participate in the community.

“The martial arts is a journey that goes beyond the cultivation of physical skill, and hones both mind and spirit.”

Instead of staying home from training, I grabbed my camera and took pictures of others working through the lessons.  This served my community by providing content for their social media feeds, aided in remembering the content presented, and my presence in the dojo allowed me to provide feedback to participants.

At events, I’ll often see my older colleagues grab a note pad and pen to take notes when there is a technique that doesn’t “jive” with their sore joints. In doing so, they can understand and remember the techniques so when they return to their own dojo, they can help coach those who are capable of such movements.

For those who are experienced enough, there’s always the option to help teach. Even if you can’t perform a technique in all circumstances, you can still talk someone through a movement or explain a concept aiding in the progression of those around you.

When you can’t physically perform a task, there’s always an option to make it an intellectual endeavor by taking notes and help instruct or a creative one by taking videos or photos.

But whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s in line with your goals. At the same time, always be cognizant of the limitations that injuries can have on you both physically and mentally. Some injuries can certainly take a larger mental toll than others, so do what’s best for you.

It’s easy to find reasons not to do something, but if there is will there is “the way”.

The choice is yours!

Enjoyed this post? Check out “Being A Good Uke; It’s Harder Than You Think”!

Bruising Easily, A Reflection on Martial Arts

There are girls out there who use filters on Instagram to make their face look better. I use filters to accentuate the colour of my bruises.

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I don’t wear this palette of black, purple and blue as a badge of honour; these spots are simply a natural representation of how the martial arts affect me.

That being:

“I face enough negative experiences to give me character, but not enough to make me callous.”

The martial arts force us to confront negative experiences on a daily basis and sometimes one experience may be more intimidating than another.

With time these experiences leave a lasting impression, or in the case of my bruises, a rather large imprint.

But these experiences are usually not enough to truly hurt us. They’re just sketches of what COULD harm us; shading that is easily erased by the next time we train.

A fine example of this may be an elbow to the face while grappling. We know such a thing could happen. We know that such a thing could happen in real life. But, when it does happen unexpectedly in the safe confines of a class, it leaves a lasting impression in our mind and most certainly on our body. However, if we were to let it affect us beyond acknowledging its possibility, occurrence and surprise, we would likely never return to the classes.

Accidents like an elbow to the face, a knee to the groin and a good ol’ poke in the eye are all common. But, it’s never enough to make us leave or feel fear. If anything it naturalizes the blows we are taught to face and the pain they can inflict, and often we even laugh in the face of it. But, unlike the real threat of violence, it doesn’t leave us callous (or at least it shouldn’t if you’re in the right school).

Receiving these ink blots of the skin builds a certain type of immunity to violence; it doesn’t hold the same influence it once did.


With time it develops our character. You learn these so-called “injuries” are only skin deep, can result from both hitting and being hit, and the sight of them is no longer a cause of concern for you.

So, perhaps my bruises are a badge of honour. They prove practice. They prove force. And, as long as they only occur on my arms and legs, it proves I’m pretty damn good at blocking.

Your body is your canvas. Your training is your brush and paint. Bruising, pain and discomfort is a natural consequence of our training and with each class you paint your own masterpiece. It is a natural consequence of the art and with each lesson the image you create becomes more vivid.

Enjoyed this post? Check out “Dojo Disillusionment”!


Friction in the Dojo: How It Can Move You Forward

Friction. . .

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It can be the thing that helps drive you forward. . .

It can be the thing that slows you down. . .

As yellow belts, my friend Tracy and I had a silent competition against each other.

Our Sensei told us that the only person we should compete against was ourselves.

“Os! Sensei!”

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In lip service, like so many still do, we professed to one another and our instructors that this was always our goal, to simply be better than we were the day before.

A selfish attempt to be more idyllic than the other.

When we stood next to each other in line, our eyes would always glance to the other.

Watching, sensing, checking. . .

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“Is her horse stance lower than mine?”

“Did she do more push-ups than I?”

“Did the Sensei compliment her and not me?”

As these thoughts and insecurities arose in me, I later learned that she thought the same.

It was the unspoken friction that propelled us forward.

For everything she did well, I was committed to doing it. . .

better,

faster,

stronger,

than her.

And with that, Tracy would double her efforts in return.

In the presence of one another, our efforts were exponentiated. Our skill improved through the silent desire to be the best in the dojo, better than the other.

But. . .

One day, Tracy stopped attending classes. So, I was left  alone to to find another “Frienemy” to silently compete with.

As the years passed, there would be others. . .

Watching, sensing, checking. . .

Better, stronger, faster. . .

Wash, rinse, repeat. . .

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But, they would all eventually leave as well.

By the time I achieved my Shodan, there was no one left to compete with.

The Senpai above me were so far ahead, there was no competition there.

And, my students were not close enough yet to truly challenge me (although, I look forward to that day).

Without this traction, I could feel myself slowing down.

For the first time in my life, I had no one to compete with but myself.

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Where I once targeted my critical eye on those around me, I was now forced to point it at the one person I could neither defeat nor be defeated by: myself.

It was in that moment I understood what my Sensei was getting at when he said, “You should only compete with yourself.”

There is, of course, value in silently competing with those around you, as a type momentary motivation to challenge your physicality and fitness.

But, in the long run, you should define your success on your own terms. Each individual in the dojo has their own unique objectives. Sometimes people pursue martial arts for fitness, others for camaraderie, or just because they find it fascinating.

Would you want to compete against someone who is purely interested in the history of karate when your interest is biomechanics?

Of course not.

In this sense, it’s not so much about competing, but defining your unique objectives. Give yourself the recognition that you deserve. Observe the distance you’ve gone to achieve your goals. Have enough self-awareness to ask “Can I do better?” and to answer “I will do better”.

Now, when I step in line and look in the mirror, I sometimes see the gawky, awkward, teenage, yellow belt I once was and I wonder. . .

“Is her stance lower than mine?”

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Martial Arts & Swimming Alone

As a child, I was afraid of swimming in open water by myself; the vastness frightened me.

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I was afraid that the weed that tickled my feet would be the thing that pulled me under.

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I was afraid that if I turned away from the endless horizon that the shore that once harbored me would be gone.

I was afraid with no one there beside me I would slowly sink into the abyss, no one to hear my cries for help, no one to help me re-emerge.

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For many, the martial arts generate this same fear.

You could spend a lifetime exploring its depths and never fully understand it all. There is SO much to learn; the knowledge is vast. It’s easy to feel insignificant, treading water, struggling to keep your head above water against its swells.

There are many who have changed styles of martial arts because of one reason or another. Perhaps the politics and drama was too much, you outgrew your teacher’s skill, or you just didn’t see its value anymore. In these moments, you must turn away from the shore, the place from which you came—often with uncertainty—and swim towards a new horizon.

In each of our dojos, we have to fight through the metaphorical weeds: an impatient student, an overbearing mother, a self-absorbed instructor. At first, these things can seem like a threat, but the energy lost trying to avoid these weeds can be better spent by simply swimming forwards.

When you enter these open waters you can jump feet first, or you can dive right in.

But, when you do, remember . . .

No matter the distance between you and the shore, it will always be there to harbor you.

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No matter the depth of the abyss, there will always be a hand to reach to.

And, no matter the weed that tickles your feet, it will never break the surface.

But once you face this vast ocean on your own and swim further away from your shore, you’ll realize that all those who walk the path also swim the same ocean and reach for the same horizon.

But know now, the rewards that lie on the horizon just beyond your reach and your fear…

Will. Be. Glorious.

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Thanks for reading!

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You Invested In The Wrong One. . .

You know the one. . .

A Student

A student who showed so much promise. . .

With the ability to pick up movements with ease and grace,

An ability to strike and kick as if it was second nature, leaving you with the feeling you have found a prodigy.

You know the one. . .

A Teacher

A teacher who showed so much promise. . .

With skill and knowledge so far beyond your own.

A paradoxical ability to challenge and encourage you, leaving you with the feeling you’d be lost without them.

But then. . .

Something happens. . .

The masquerade ends. . .

And, something dark deep down seeps out from beyond their mask.

They are not what we hoped them to be. They never were.

You know the one. . .

A Student

A student who speaks wrongly behind your back

With the natural ability to lie and deceive;

A prodigy with the cloak and dagger.

You know the one. . .

A Teacher

A teacher who lacks moral stamina.

The ability to choose vice over virtue.

They submit to nothing, except their own temptations.

But perhaps the mask they once wore was not one of their choosing

It is a mask we projected.

We were so desperate to grasp at the hybrid of elegance and ugliness that we put what we desired most in the forefront only to watch it dissolve away, leaving you with this empty feeling. . .

You invested in the wrong one.

Post Script:

No matter the reason—whether it was simply a talented student who went off to university, a teacher who started teaching “chi- balls,” or something far more insidious—being disappointed by someone in whom you’ve made the careful decision to invest your time, energy and, dare I say, love is never easy. But, as the Buddha says, “all things are impermanent” and as that emptiness passes, you’ll find that in its place friendships with more dedicated students and respectable teachers will blossom far greater than the void that was left. Those are the people worth investing in.  

Martial Art Talks: Renshi Paul Lopresti

Welcome to Martial Art Talks! The MAT is an interview blog series where I speak with the best and brightest the martial arts industry has to offer.

This week on the MAT, I speak with Shotokan 5th dan and Aiki Kenpo Jujutsu 5th dan, Renshi Paul Lopresti. Renshi Paul has over 40 years of experience, first starting in Karate with his father at 7 years old!

Renshi Paul Lopresti

Today he shares his experiences training MMA fighters and what he will be teaching at the 2017 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku. Feel free to watch our interview or read below.

JT: What is it about KU and Sensei McCarthy’s method that made you want to stick with it?

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PL: The fact that it was eclectic. It had everything that I didn’t have in my training as a Shotokan stylist. We were good at kicking, punching, kata and kumite, but I hadn’t done a joint manipulation, strangle, any ground work or throwing; those parts of my game were missing.

And, I guess in the late 90’s, UFC had started to become very popular and I knew that the parts of my game that were missing were either going to get me hurt or get me killed if I had to use it in real life.

Overall, I felt that KU was a complete system and I needed to go in a direction that was going to give me those missing elements.

JT: How would you describe your teaching style?

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PL: As you may or may not know, adult learners are generally classified three ways: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. I find that I have a direct hands-on approach and I use all three of those methodologies when I teach in a regular class or seminars.

JT: What is the process you go through when teaching or assessing your students?

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PL: I roll with every one of my students every week. I get physical with them because I want to feel their progress, so I know where their weaknesses are. I’ll identify those whether it be in class or the next class where I’ll do something like guard passing or something I know a bunch of students are struggling with.

I also have a two-hour open forum. The first hour we basically work on technique, usually directly from or something that relates to our curriculum. The second hour is an open roll for about 45 minutes or so. Then at the end of class, I take open questions from anyone on our curriculum material or on anything they encountered while rolling that they had trouble or difficulty with. Then lastly we finish up with some conditioning. That’s a typical class, step-by-step, how I run it.

And, just like anything else, there’s no magical pixie dust that I can sprinkle on somebody, it’s just hours on the mat.

JT: Your club participates in cage fighting, how is the preparation different from BJJ or Karate tournaments?

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PL: If you look at wrestling, wrestlers are put under intense cardiovascular and strength training, dietary restrictions and then they’re wrestling. Cage fighting encompasses the same thing.

Generally, we’ll have a eight to ten week camp before a cage fight. I don’t like the cut a lot of weight for amateurs only because dehydration sets in, it’s not good for their body long term, and they lose a lot of muscle mass. I don’t really like weight cuts. I determine their weight before we start a camp, generally within five pounds up or down. Then, we’ll start a camp with a lot of cardio and strength training. I have a minimum requirement for cardiovascular stamina and speed; if my fighters can’t perform to that level, I do not let them fight for me. Their strength training has to be done outside of the dojo. They have to put in their cardio and their weight training. I’m not standing over them with their weights and cardio. However, I will work on their striking, grappling and transitional game, whether its throws, takedowns or whatever.

Generally, we work for their strengths. If they’re good at striking we work mostly their striking. If they’re good at grappling were going to work their grappling and takedowns and try to close the distance.

At the end of our eight weeks, depending on when the fight is, we have the weight, the strength, the cardio, the grappling and the striking; it all comes together.

We’ve been very successful in the amateur scene and we’ll have a few pros soon and keep going.

JT: What is your greatest strength as an instructor?

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PL: My experience. I’ve had a long career and had the opportunity to train with some of Shoto Kan’s greatest instructors in the US and beyond.

Obviously now, I’m with an international group of like-minded people and obviously Sensei McCarthy is world renowned as an author, competitor, instructor, as an instructor’s instructor, and as a practitioner!

JT: How do you acquire new knowledge?

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PL: I classify myself as a visual learner. If I can see and I can question, then I can learn. I don’t have to do it because the visual pathway for me is conceptual. If I can see what’s going on, if I can see the pathway, then once I see, I understand.

JT: What do you plan on teaching at the 2017 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku?

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PL: I’ve been asked to run over a set of drills I’ve shown a few times in Canada. We’re going to look at those as an addition to our core curriculum. We’re looking at the ne-waza material.

I also plan to marry the lessons of the other instructors and my own. I intend to modify or amplify what has already been taught for students who need to work more on a certain principle or process.

JT: How does it feel to go from a attendee to an instructor at the Gasshuku?

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PL: First of all, this is a great honour! This is a big deal. I’ve only taught in front of Sensei McCarthy twice. So, for me to be asked to teach along side him is a HUGE honour. It’s very intimidating; he’s a world-renowned martial artist. To share the stage with someone like that, it really is a phenomenal experience for me, and very enriching.

JT: What would you say is the best part of the Gasshuku experience?

PL: You’re going to get good training. You’re going to get good information. You’re going to get good learning.

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The real “umph,” the real thing you’re going to take back is the extracurricular: the conversations that you have, the people that you meet, train and share with. THAT is what’s going to make the Gasshuku. THAT is the piece you’re going to remember.

JT: If you had one piece of advice to give, what would it be?

PL: You NEED to be at this event. You really do! If you do one thing this year, come out to this event, even you are going to have Sensei at your dojo, come out and get the group experience, get the senior instructors’ experience along with Sensei McCarthy’s.

My God! How do you get that much experience into one place for five days! You have GOT to get there!

JT: Wow! That sends the message loud in clear! Thanks so much for your time Sensei Paul!

 You heard the man! Get your ass to the 2017 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku!

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