Sunday, December 22, 2013

So Long and Farewell...

Today, a training partner tested for Nidan while many of the instructors I've trained with over the years came to watch. It was followed by our annual Holiday Party (called such because not everyone who trains with us celebrates Christmas) and gift exchange. A bittersweet day for all of us - but not just because it was the last class of the year. It also marked the last class at our current location.

Sensei Ed and Crew on Day One
We started at the Salvation Army three and a half years ago. From the first six students who walked in that day, we've grown to close to 50. We've trained hard in our tiny space, sweating through kihon and kata and prepping for tournaments and gradings. We've laughed as much as we've cried - over birthday cakes, farewell parties and even a few funerals.

It's been a beautiful almost-four years, it really has. But we've outgrown our space – both physically and emotionally - and will be moving to a new location in January. It's sad, but it's time to move forward.

We've truly had some great times in the Salvation Army and seen some incredible growth from our amazing students, some of whom have trained with us since the beginning. We even started an adult class that focuses more on self-defense after a parent of one of our teens suggested it because he'd always wanted to train as a kid but his family couldn't afford it and he felt sort of odd starting next to his 12-hr-old son whom he'd have to call "sir." Unfortunately, he passed away suddenly before we could get the class up and running, but I think of him every time the adults bow in.

Karate isn't something Training Partner Ed and I do a few nights a week - it's truly a way of life. Out mission always has been to pass that ideology onto others. We understand that all of them won't be training for the rest of their lives, but the hope is that a few will. Someone has to be around for us to hand the reigns of the dojo over to!

I wish we could stay - because that space has become a second home to so many - but we can't. The environment has changed as have the number of folks who are interested in what we do there each week, so we have to move along to bigger and hopefully better things. It's just time.

The group after we bowed out for the last time at the SA :-(

We'll miss you, Salvation Army. We really will.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer Grading 2013

Good news to report: our school recently promoted its first student to shodan :-)

   Meet Andrew. He'll be 20 in a few months and began karate about five years ago. We met at my old, old school (two senseis ago). He followed Sensei Ed and me to the Salvation Army about six months or so after we began. He's a wonderful young man - hard-working, dedicated and in love with all things martial, despite the slight mental challenge he has. He is, by far, one of the hardest working and most resilient folks I've ever met - often arriving early and staying as late as he can - even when he has to get to work (although it exasperates his mom - who, I'm sure, often wondered how she would drive from the dojo to his job site in the five minutes he'd given her because he wanted to get just one more kata or self-defense technique in before he bowed out and changed clothes).

Andrew is one of the only folks in the dojo who is as tall as I am (he's actually a little taller - about 6'3"). When we spar, I try to encourage him to use his length, the one thing that seems to be hard for folks with long limbs to realize is a true advantage. Like me, he tends to want to fight "small," choking his kicks and punches in order to blend in and look like everyone else. Been trying to have him extend and do what those long limbs of his are totally capable of reaching someone who thinks they are "safe" and out of striking distance. We've been saying this for a while now: when that young man learns how to reach out and really touch people, not too many folks will want to stand in front of him for kumite, that's for sure.

He worked his butt off during his three hour grading. By the time sparring was to begin, he'd been through a thoroughly cup-emptying warm-up, bunches self-defense techniques, every kata in the syllabus and tameshiwara against three boards that snapped like twigs and a cinder block that did not even wiggle when he tried to go through it. Suffice to say he was pretty exhausted - so much so that his gi was so wet from his sweat that it was dripping.

Still, he had 18 30-second to one-minute fights to get through. At one point, I had to pull him aside and remind him to conserve and reserve, because he still had quite a few folks left to spar and he was going at everyone like it was the last round. The black belts on deck were literally salivating...

Quite a defensive fighter who normally waits for the attack then counters, he was so tired near the end he could barely keep his hands up. But then a wonderful thing happened: he stopped thinking and began re-acting. Here is fight #16 - against a 9th-Dan - where he simply did what his instincts told him to do, resulting in a near joint lock of Hanshi McGrath's ankle. It was so very cool to watch because a fresh Andrew never would have seized that opportunity (and yes, that's my big mouth you hear during the round; I always forget that cameras record sound, too!).

So, yeah, a good time really was had by all - including Andrew and the 27 other students who graded that day. Congratulations to them all - and welcome to yudansha, Andrew!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

It's That Time Again

Our semi-annual grading is just around the corner. Between the bustle of getting belt sizes, spelling names correctly for certificates, drilling everyone on kata and self-defense techniques and making sure the political end is covered (inviting all the folks from the clan who would be upset if we left them out), Senseis Ed and Felicia are worn out - and we're still a month away from the action!

One of the issues we always seem to go around and around on deals with attendance. The cirriculum is specific about how long a student must have been at their current rank to be considered for the next rank, but being a fourth kyu for six months and coming to six-months worth of classes are two totally different things. Hence, when some sponges - you know, the students who absorb movements and techniques quickly - seem to have a kata down but haven't been around consistently for a minute, the senseis go a few rounds on his/her testing eligibility (and yes, Sensei Felicia is usually the one arguing for NOT moving them on - meanie!). It's a good thing we only do this twice a year...

Another problem is the question of where to put everyone. Our space is tiny and the overflow is tough to manage for the students and their parents, much less the karate folks there to support and grade. We might have to staple some chairs to the ceiling...

We've got less than a month to go. Have you been training?