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”!


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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The Road Less Travelled Is Not Always A Road

“There are many paths to the top of the mountain. . .”

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One night, I had a dream that I slid down a mountain and I was about to fall into the ocean. Before I hit the water, I caught onto something and started to climb back up. At this point, there were other people around me—most of which were people I loved and respected—and they were climbing faster than me and with bigger loads on their back; some were even carrying other people as they climbed upwards.  I was constantly losing my footing and slipping; I was afraid to fall, anxious to get to the top and frustrated that everyone else was doing better than me.

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Then, I noticed a river flowing down the mountain beside me and a long time friend said to me, “Let’s swim up, it’s easier that way.” He jumped into the river and swam up, reaching the top before anyone else.

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I was afraid to follow because the current flowed downwards, but because I trusted him so much, I jumped in anyway and began to swim. I wasn’t sure in what style to swim in, because my friend reached the top with front stroke, I tried his way, but I went further down. So I started swimming doggie paddle; still didn’t work. Then, I went with breast stroke and found that I reached the top before everyone else.

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Although unorthodox, I realized that by jumping into the river, I didn’t have to be afraid of falling anymore, because one cannot fall while in water. And even though I had to fight the current in the river, it was easier to flow upwards than if I had followed the methods of the people around me and I need not compete with them, because it is only through my own technique that I may reach the top of the mountain.

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“. . .But there is only one moon to be seen for those who achieve its summit.”- Chinese Proverb

Martial Art Talks: Sensei Darrin Johnson

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, we speak with Koryu Uchinadi Shidoin, Sensei Darrin Johnson. Sensei Darrin has 35 years of martial arts experience, a 6th dan in KU, is an avid researcher, and has pursued other martial arts such as, Muay Thai, Aikido, Kobudo and holds rank in various styles of karate.

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In our chat he shares his controversial opinions about martial arts today and how he integrates KU and Muay Thai into his weekly practice. Feel free to watch our interview or read below!

 

JT: How did you get introduced to Koryu Uchinadi and Hanshi Patrick McCarthy?

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DJ: When I was growing up in Spokane. Sensei McCarthy would come to tournaments and I would see him in the divisions and he would always win! And, as I was growing up through the martial arts my instructors would always have a Patrick McCarthy story, so I knew him before I even knew him!

JT: What about KU made you want to stick with it?

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DJ: Well, for me, it was the answer! I had spent my entire martial arts career looking for a style, a technique or a kata that would give me the answer. I couldn’t tell you how much I spent on videos of kata that I thought would give me that.

Then, I get with Sensei McCarthy and started looking at these things called tegumi and two person drills; they were so realistic. For me, KU had everything I needed and there was no reason for me to look any further.

That being said, there are things that aren’t really in KU right now that I like in Silat, Kali or Bagua, but I can bring it in because KU isn’t a style, it’s a methodology. I can bring anything I want into that methodology that works for me. I like impact, so I bring in Muay Thai, which is already similar to what we have with our Heishu Waza. For me, there’s just nowhere else to go. If I want to grapple, I grapple. I don’t need to go out and become a BJJ Master. I can just work that within my Koryu Uchinadi practice.

JT: Based on your experience as a martial arts business owner, what is the most important thing you have learned? 

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DJ: Don’t go into business. If you want to run a daycare, then yes, own a business. For me, I enjoyed myself much more when I was a club or a community centre or practicing at home. The market right now is just little kids. That’s why I started teaching Muay Thai, because that’s what people wanted. People would come in and ask “You don’t wear gis, do you?” and I’d say “No.” Then, they’d say “Good! Because, we wouldn’t want to come here if you did.” They don’t want the gi. They don’t want the belt. They don’t want the ranking system. They just want to train, like cross fit or tennis, just train.

If you want to do it as a business, you’ve got to have your ducks in a row, and you’ve got to make sure the kid market is there. If you don’t want to teach kids, you’ve got to have something else that’s going to bring in adults on a regular basis.

JT: You mentioned that you don’t use the gi, could you elaborate on that?

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DJ: I wouldn’t wear a kilt or a suit of armor to workout in; it’s irrelevant. That type of uniform and training methodology was meant for the 1890’s and early 1900’s Japanese because that’s what they wore. People today wear hoodies and t-shirts. If you go down to Florida, they wear flip flops and tank tops. Your training methodology should match the culture you’re in.

JT: How would you describe your teaching style?

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DJ: My teaching style is stern, but fun. I’m not going to spend a lot of time fixing everything, every second. I’ll mention it and move on. I’ll come back, fix it again, and move on. I might skip it for a few weeks and then come back to it.  If you just focus on correcting the entire time, than the student won’t get the overall lesson plan.

JT: Take me through the step-by-step process you go through teaching or assessing your students.

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DJ: There’s no step-by-step process; it’s a feeling. Every student is different. There’s no cookie cutter method for me. Sensei McCarthy uses the term mitari geiko “to watch and learn,” but sometimes I’ll have them do a technique and if I see a pause, I’ll just pull it out and work it until it doesn’t pause anymore, so it becomes functional spontaneity.

JT: What do you think is the most frustrating part for you as an instructor? 

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DJ: It’s time, meaning that I wish I had more time to teach. I wish the student’s had more time to learn. People don’t practice at home like I used to, but most people don’t have that type of time or dedication to it. There’s always so much to teach. I wish I could do more grappling, more throws, more chokes and strangulations; I just don’t have the time.

JT: What is the most rewarding aspect for you as an instructor?

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DJ: It’s not money. It usually costs me more than I make on it, that’s for sure! It’s rewarding when you have somebody come in that’s timid, shy and not very athletic, then six months to two year later, they start to look good and they feel the difference and that’s the most important thing.

Having someone train with me, it inspires me. They want so much knowledge and I have so much stuff to give. It’s fun to give that knowledge and watch people accept it and enjoy it, it makes you feel worth something.

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

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DJ: I am an impact guys. I love to smash! I make jokes about being “hulk smash” or “smash mouth”. We’re going to work on impact drills. If somebody grabs me by the throat, I’m not going to try a joint lock, because that’s hard, they don’t stand still for you. Smacking them in the face is quick and easy, that’s what I’m going to teach.

JT: How do you plan on going about teaching it?

 

 

 

DJ: Usually, you start with the HAPV or a mutual confrontation situation where you square off. In this case, I like to use focus mitts, Muay Thai pads and boxing gloves, because it allows the person to really extend their power through and get the idea of what it’s like to hit something. As well, the person holding the pads gets to feel what it’s like to get hit, without getting hit. It’s safe, yet they’re learning what it feels like to get smashed with fists, kicks and knees.

JT: What do you think is the best part about the Gasshuku experience?

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DJ: The gathering is always nice and to get like-minded people together, to see old friends again and meet new friends.

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

 

 

DJ: Whether you’re a beginner or if you’ve been around for seventeen years, the idea is you don’t know it all, never think you know it all.

JT: Thank you so much Sensei Darrin Johnson for taking the time to speak with me. I look forward to working with  you at the Gasshuku!

Want to learn more? Check out the Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku Facebook Page!

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Karate and The Sunk Cost Fallacy

The sunk cost fallacy is when you make a decision based on the desire NOT to see your past investment go to waste, rather than on the best outcome.

Nowhere else do I see this phenomenon as much as in karate.

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I have listened to many karate students and teachers explain to me that they are disenchanted with their current karate practice:

“The application practices are unrealistic.”

“The body movements are mechanical.”

“The teaching style is too militarized.”

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Yet when I ask, “Why don’t you quit or switch styles?”, there is always an excuse. Sometimes, they quote loyalty to their instructor or peers.

OR

It’s just the way they’ve always done it.

Denial-san at it’s best!

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The real reasoning is they cannot bear the thought that they’ve invested their entire life for a method that is now or always has been worthless.

It’s a security blanket that is worn, tattered and useless!

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I’ve also seen long-time students make no meaningful commitment to training, but show up for the last 15 minutes of class once a month, do a kata and leave, while claiming they are still passionate about martial arts. It is obvious their interest has faded and they’d be happier somewhere else.

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Why do they continue to come to a class when they aren’t getting anything from the class mentally, physically or even socially?

They hold on by their fingernails because they fear that if they completely stop, that all those years of real commitment and work will have been a waste.

As Julia Galif explains, “whatever you have already spent is called the sunk cost. It’s gone no matter what you do going forward.”

The irony is that the desire to not see your past investment go to waste makes you waste even more time clinging to something that you no longer enjoy.

My advice is to not waste any more time pretending martial arts is something you actually want to do. Put yourself in a place you want to be, even if that means leaving the Dojo behind.

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For instructors who are disenchanted, find a methodology that truly fits the outcomes you want to achieve. It may mean biting the bullet and starting over again from the beginning, but once you realize you are on the wrong path, the only option is to correct the course you are on.

For the students who have lost interest, your time hasn’t necessarily been wasted. The benefits of pursuing the fighting arts are far and wide and the lessons you’ve learned will always be with you. Remember, it’s better to have loved and left than to have never loved at all.

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