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The end of karate

Thursday, November 03, 2011

I wrote this on my real life blog on Livejournal about a month ago and thought I would cross-post it here. Here is the original link:


Last night, I drove to the dojo to talk with Mr. Sidner [my beloved karate instructor]. "I've come to talk to you about the contracts."

He nodded. "I had a hunch you would be."

I haven't been back to class for a couple of months. The last time I attempted a class, I left after five minutes in tears.

I'm fifty-one years old. I don't like sparring; I've never liked it. After I got the black belt, I took a break of several weeks and when I got back I discovered my hard-won balance had deteriorated again [due to a permanent knee injury I've struggled with in my training]. Black belts are supposed to be able to balance during slow kicks. I have tremendous difficulty doing so, especially when I'm standing on the right leg. The knee continues to give me problems, and it's getting harder and harder to get up off the floor. I'm worried about continued injuries.

So I stayed away and thought about it. Fiona's off to college [my oldest daughter, who also has a black belt], and she feels she can't do karate at our dojo while she's doing college, even though she's in town (she does intend to investigate the martial arts club there on campus). It's not so much fun to go when I'm all by myself. Rob's tired of doing the cleaning [we've paid for our karate tuition by cleaning the dojo], and I'm tired of doing the belt test pictures [another way we help pay for the tuition].

I'm tired.

So, with tears in my voice, I told him, "I am ready for a break. Maybe I'll come back some day." Maybe. I don't know.

"You can always come back," he told me warmly. "But I could tell that you were finding this harder and harder physically. I will cancel the rest of the contracts. If Fiona wants to come back in the summer, I'll work something out with her, maybe exchanging teaching for lessons."

I realize I have put off saying anything here to you, friends list. Almost a weird sense that I would be letting you down if I walked away now. I had worked so hard to get to this point! How could I give up now? But I know deep down that's not true, of course. I know you were all so proud and happy for me when I got my black belt. And I'm pretty damn proud of myself. I achieved something positively terrific that no one can ever take away from me. I am a karate black belt. But I can't pretend that I want to continue, at least right now.

I had sensed it, when the girls and I were on our little retreat to Washington Island. It's not giving up, exactly; it's that I'm simply moving into a new life stage. I'm changing.

I don't know what the future holds.

Karate has been wonderful, but I believe it's now time to take the gifts it has given me and move on. I will always be incredibly grateful to Mr. Sidner, both for being a fantastic teacher to me and the girls and for helping us work out a way to continue when we didn't have any money. I do need to find a way to stay active, one that doesn't take a lot of money.

I gave Mr. Sidner a big hug. I came home. I hugged Rob and cried. (Many, many thanks are also due to Rob for all the hours spent dealing with cleaning mirrors and mops and Pine Sol. Love you, honey.)

And then I baked myself some gingerbread scones.

Because, you know, I'm a black belt. I damn well deserve them.

(Tell me you still love me, friends list. I could use some cheering up right now.)

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

23KAIYA 11/6/2011 3:23PM


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KARATE_KID 11/6/2011 1:08PM

    I can totally understand the sadness, but also the need to look after your health and if that means moving on so be it. Sounds like your wonderful teacher understands that too.

As others have said, there are other styles if you want to come back to a less strenuous exercise. Personally, I've never given up my tai chi routine because I know I'll be able to do that for a lot longer than I'll be able to do karate.

Be good to yourself and take it one day at a time.


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TWO_SPARROWS 11/5/2011 12:19PM

    Peg, you're not giving said it yourself: You're changing. The new you might not have room in her life for what comes with being a practicing black belt, but you accomplished something very few women in my area alone have achieved. This is nothing small!!

Both Annette and Irene said it all, so there's nothing more to add except to be proud of yourself for your accomplishment. I doubt there's one of us here that will think less of you for chosing the best path that causes the least pain and discomfort.

I will ask you to remember one little thing, though. You are never alone.

Yay YOU!!

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ASRIFFE 11/3/2011 8:05PM

    Hugs! I left my school after my black belt, for different reasons, but I can certainly empathize with the empty feeling. And if at some point you find you miss it but don't feel like your body can keep up with the demands of that style, remember - there are other styles. I ended up in kung fu because I decided if I was going to a new school anyway, I might as well try out a new style while I was at it. Hang in there.

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SENSEIIRENE 11/3/2011 10:58AM

    Peg, I can completely understand your sadness. (I'm a couple years older than you, too, btw. AND I also have a daughter who's a black belt, who's away at university, and who had to step away from her training, too... :)) I have been at it for 11 years, and have thoroughly enjoyed the journey - can't imagine not having karate in my life. Yet, if it were a matter of choosing between my physical well-being and studying karate, there would be NO decision to make. I know full well that my health and well-being would come first, and I couldn't possibly risk further injury. No one in our dojo would question that decision, either. It sounds like you made some wonderful connections and learned a great deal that helped your years become a truly enriching experience. Great on you!

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Saw my doctor today

Monday, October 04, 2010

Okay, I'm a pretty sad panda this morning.

I saw my doctor this morning as a follow up to the blow to the head I took in sparring class a week ago today, and the result wasn't particularly what I wanted to hear, alas.

Once I discussed with her what happened and what my symptoms were (I still have a headache today, a full week later), she agreed that we're dealing with a concussion here, and her recommendations were: no karate or cardio of any kind this week, no-contact karate only next week (i.e., no sparring or pad strikes), with careful assessment of how I feel after each class, and then we'll see how it goes. Frankly, she's very doubtful about the wisdom of me attempting the second (of three) black belt screening on October 22, given the sparring and pad strikes portion involved, not to mention the cardio strenuousness (the screening is about two hours long). She thinks my recovery from this is going to be at least a month. If I miss the screening, of course, that puts me out of the running for this quarter, so I won't be getting my black belt this December.

It's disappointing, but I'm okay with it if it gets put off until April (I'd do the three screenings January, February and March). As she points out, I only have one brain, and after the long time I took to get over the knee injury, I can be philosophical about it.

Philosophical, but still disappointed. Nuts.


  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

MIKITTA 10/4/2010 12:51PM

    *hugs* This too shall pass. Just take care of yourself so you are ready in the spring :)

God Bless,

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Concussion. Ow.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I got hit so hard in the head during sparring class on Monday that I'm operating on the assumption that I have a level 1 concussion.

The punch came straight to the face, by a sixteen year old brown belt six inches taller and fifty pounds heavier than me. Classic. (Obviously, I was wearing a helmet with plastic face guard). I'm a little hazy about what exactly happened, but it was mostly an accident of bad timing, I think. I just stepped in at the exact wrong moment while attempting a blitz. It rocked my head back pretty hard. I yelled and stopped the fight and pulled off the helmet and gasped, starting to cry. But within thirty seconds, I had my helmet back on and stepped back into the ring and finished the fight, at full capacity.

When the class was over and I took off my helmet, I immediately noticed pain where my jaw hinged, and my chin was tender. That was an indication of how the helmet spread the shock wave (the hit came in the center of the face, right over the bridge of the nose). I debated whether I should go to the emergency room. I finally decided not to because 1) I didn't have nausea and 2) my pupils were the same size and 3) I've spent $10,000 on out of pocket medical expenses this year and I couldn't AFFORD an ER visit and an MRI if I didn't have more worrisome symptoms. Judging from our experience with my daughter being mugged in June, (hit in the head, concussion) I judged that all they would do would be to give me an MRI and send me home with drugs. I can't afford it. Of course, if the headache had suddenly gotten worse or if the pupil size changed or if I had suffered numbness, dizziness, memory problems, I would have gone in.

It was just pain. The headache was severe enough to send me home from work the next two days. I'm better today. I have an appointment scheduled with my doctor for Monday, and I'm following her no contact rule (no sparring, no pad strikes) until I see her. I will go to class tonight, since it's a no contact class.

It's frustrating because my next black belt screening is in two weeks. But I'll stick to the cautious approach and hope for the best.


First black belt screening

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cross-posted from my livejournal:

The first black screening was the hardest thing, physically, I've ever done.

The senior screener, Mr. Worley, gave a nice little speech before we started, which I appreciated. He mentioned that many people find the first screening to be the hardest, because they don't know what to expect. Well, I knew what to expect, since I've seen my daughters both go through this. But I'm expecting the next screenings to be tougher. OMG, they last almost an hour longer. An hour and a half of flat-out effort was bad enough. The other thing he pointed out was how few of us actually get to this point. I thought back to all the people I've met over the years since I first was a white belt, and then considered how many have dropped away. He's right, and I hadn't thought of it before like that.

Then we got started.

The first section is kicking. We started out on my weaker side (the one with the knee injury), and I initially was doing pretty well. By the time we'd switched to my stronger side, I was having more trouble with my balance, but that was more due to exhaustion, I think. I've been practicing ten slow kicks on a side. Mr. Worley had us do five or six, although the last one is held for a really long time. But the fast kicks were many more than I was used to doing.

During classes, I usually hydrate two or three times. Sometimes I have to wait a little longer than I'd like, but generally, not to the point of discomfort.

After kicking for awhile at a screening, however, I find that you get really REALLY thirsty. And you don't get a break for water until the section is over, and that takes a lot longer than your body says it should. The thirst was incredible, so that your tissues feel parched and leathery. And when we finally got the water break, I couldn't drink as much as I wanted because I was panting so hard. 'I don't know if I can do this,' I moaned to my husband. I switched to orange juice to get a jolt of sugar, but my hand was shaking so badly I spilled it all down my front. Oops.

The next section was paper kicks. This, I felt was the section where I did the worst, specifically on the ten round kicks in a row to the X-ray paper. We did it three times on each side. The last time, I wasn't able to get all ten, but was staggering all over the place. I heard Mr. Worley chiding others about their knee motion (the knee is supposed to cross the center line twice during the kick). I don't know if my knee motion was correct, or if he was merely concentrating on other people.

Marching basics, I felt I did pretty well. I used the fiercest karate face I had.

Form, hmm. Not sure. I was one of the last people to finish Discovery, but I thought that was because I was one of the few who actually held the pauses as long as they're supposed to be held.

Self-defense. This is a section a lot of people fail, because they either fail to twist the back leg (when they attack as well as defend), or they fail to transfer their weight. I chose to do a knee smash--there can be no doubt that you're transferring your weight on that.

Last was the horse back riding punches. I kept my knees bent and hit hard. That was it this time: no pad strikes or sparring.

I only got two comments through the entire test, which was rather remarkable, all things considered, since the testing group was so small (and, to my surprise, I was actually the only adult of all the candidate. I've never seen a screening group that small before). Mr. Sidner at one point during the kicking section had to remind me to breathe (I tend to hold it when I'm concentrating really hard) and Mr. Worley at one point told me to lead my punch with the fist itself, rather than turning the upper body first. That was it.

I limped out of there, sat down, drank water, and shook for awhile. I felt tears welling up, not because I thought I had done badly--really, I had no idea how I'd done, although I knew I hadn't exactly shone on the kicking section. I had just physically pushed myself so hard past my limits. I felt pretty sure I had avoided the easy, stupid errors; I kept my fists tight through the entire test, folded tightly, hit hard. The question just would be how heavily they would weight my performance during the kicking section.

When I saw Mr. Sidner on Saturday, he was encouraging. He said that my technique throughout the test looked pretty solid, which pleased me a lot. He said where I was weakest was where we expected it would be: the kicking section. What we'll do is he'll watch me during the next month and then evaluate me right before the next screening to see whether he thinks I'm ready to go on. So I'm going to spend the next month doing crazy amounts of slow kicks, to work on my balance, and wind sprints, to build up my cardio stamina. I get the impression I did better than several of the others who came from our school, who probably won't be advancing on to the second screening.

So I guess the bottom line is that I passed--sort of. IF I can show enough progress through the coming month, I'll be going on to the second screening.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank again the anonymous benefactor who has made it possible for me to continue my studies in karate.


Screening for black belt

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My goodness, it's been a long time since I've made a blog post. My last was on January 2009, and I was frustrated because I had injured my knee in karate class and was walking with a cane. If only I knew.

My injury was extremely difficult to diagnose. They never really DID figure out what it was. Sprained ligament? Shin splint? An MRI ruled out a torn meniscus. I just had to wait for it to heal. I eventually stopped all training altogether, which was extremely frustrating, and I did gain weight.

But after a long hiatus and physical therapy, I started training again, building up my strength slowly. I still have shakier balance on the injured side, but I've worked hard, and now I'm ready to start the process of screening for black belt in karate. There are three screenings, each held a month apart. You have to pass each one before you're allowed to test for black belt. If you fail one, they make you start all over again at the beginning the next quarter.

Although I continue to be frustrated with the lingering effects of the injury, I still am proud of myself. I just have to savor this:

I am a fifty year old woman.

This Friday, I start screening for black belt.

Wow. Go me.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

TIGERSMUM 9/14/2010 9:35PM

    Oh my! I feel as though I'm reading my own story with slight differences...

Best of luck to you with your screenings!!! That is so exciting!! You go girl!!!

I was supposed to test for my black belt in April, but I have been plagued with back and hip problems that the doctors haven't been able to diagnose. Thankfully I don't have a ruptured disk, but the pain was debilitating. I tried PT and finally found Neuromuscular Therapy which has been a godsend for me. I recently returned to the dojo myself and hope to test for my black belt in the next few months.

Keep us posted with your progress! Show them what you're made of!!

Best of luck and health to you!!!

I can't wait to read your future blog announcing that you've earned your black belt!


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