Week 4: Going Inward and Downward

Week 4 of black belt training shifted us back to beginner material that we are practicing more intensely than when you first learn the content.  So we worked the beginner forms: Chon-Ji (nineteen movements), Dan-Gun (twenty-one movements), and Do-San (twenty-four movements); the beginner defense for white, yellow, and orange belt; as well as, beginner strikes, kicks, and ten-point blocks.  My training group also came up with a plan that after our training sessions on Tuesday evenings, we are going to spar and after our training sessions on Thursday evenings, we are going to break.  This leaves the total committment for those nights as 7:30-9:30 p.m. roughly.  This week (Week 5) begins with a Candiate Class until 10 p.m. on Tuesday night, which is going to be quite rough for me considering I am starting the week with only 5 1/2 hours of sleep last night, since it was one of my favorite (but late) night’s of the year – Oscar’s Sunday!

The Academy Awards are my Super Bowl Sunday.  I wait all year for this, and try to see as many of the movies as possible given our busy schedules.  This year, out of the many categories for nominations, I was able to see Spotlight, The Revenant, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens, Bridge of Spies, Sicario, Inside Out, The Martian, and Fifty Shades of Gray (which only had a nomination for Best Original Song, thankfully).  Not bad for a busy year, but there are so many others that I am dying to see, including The Danish Girl featuring last year’s Academy Award winning actor, Eddie Redmayne; Room, whose leading actor, Brie Larson, received the Oscar this year; and Brooklyn – but only after I read the novel it is based on with the same title because I have heard it is really good.  Here is a complete list of the nominations:  http://oscar.go.com/news/nominations/oscar-nominations-2016-the-complete-list-of-nominees.

But, back to the point at hand – black belt training!  Let’s return to…sparring.  In my karate school, sparring is taught either full or no contact for beginners, and then you build up to the contact levels that you feel comfortable with.  For example, some people may not want to be hit in the head and they can tell their opponent not to due so.  When I first started karate, I kind of looked like a dorky Storm Trooper with my brand-spanking-new gear:

I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.
Since being a beginner, I have added rib gear, shin guards, a face mask, and a mouth guard to my sparring equipment, thanks to a side kick to the face, bruised ribs, and some seriously gross shin contusions.  You need to get used to moving and breathing in your sparring gear, which is especially important on the black belt test when you are put into situations with multiple attackers.  On the black belt exam, we do not engage in the typical one-on-one sparring that we practice in our regular adult karate classes.  Most of what we need to be prepared for is the cardio endurance required to sustain a longer sparring situation.  The running that we are doing during the training helps, but it is not quite the same type of cardio output that sparring requires.  I am sure that my experience in kickboxing will only help, considering that we complete multiple boxing rounds for two-minute and three-minute intervals during class.  However, karate sparring is different from the bag rounds we do in kickboxing since you are moving around continuously, and fighting back with an actual live opponent, not just a stationary power line.

For breaking this week, I decided to work with concrete.  Originally, I wanted to work my speed break some more, but I realized that I hadn’t broken concrete in quite awhile.  While this may seem strange to some outside of the martial arts world, breaking concrete is the natural progression from breaking boards as you head into more advanced training.  Currently, I am working what we call a downward station, which is essentially concrete pavers or wooden boards stacked and balanced on cement blocks.  The break type that I am practicing is called a downward elbow where you hit the concrete with the fleshy part of your arm near the elbow bone.  I can give you a visual:

Yes, it is only two pieces of concrete…for now.
The thing is, it is an extraordinarily mental game.  It may seem macho when you see these big, burly guys break stacks upon stacks of concrete or ice in karate demonstrations.  And, yes, it takes a lot of strength to get through the material.  However, it also takes a heck of a lot of focus, concentration, and, most importantly, self-confidence.  Currently, I am a bit stuck on the self-confidence front.  I know that I can (and want to) break more than two pieces of concrete.  The issue is, quite simply, that I am afraid.  I am afraid of injury.  I am afraid of failure.  I am afraid of an audience watching me attempt the break.  I know I need to get over these fears – for myself and to grow through my training.  However, the most important lesson that I am learning is to not compare myself to others.  I know that others can get through 4, 10, 15, or more pieces of cement — and not all of these martial artists are men — some of them are women smaller than myself.  What I need to focus on is being competitive with myself — not others.  The more I compare myself with others, the more likely I will feel inadequate.  If I am able to turn my energies inward and gain the confidence to push myself, to get rid of extraneous  rumination of failure, then I will be successful.  In the end, I should be pushing myself to be the best that I can be, not pushing myself to be someone else.  That is my challenge of the week – to go inward – and to start preparing mentally – not just physically – for the challenges ahead.


Week 3: A Quarter of the Way There!

Since Week 4 of training begins in T-minus forty-five minutes, I figured I should update on last week’s adventures.  Even though it was a vacation week from school/work, time really escaped me.  One “highlight” of the week was a four-hour trip to IKEA – and then, of course, the following day when you just build and arrange everything from IKEA.  This was some quality family time!

As the pattern predicted, Week 3 of training focused on advanced material, including forms, defense, kicks, strikes, and blocks.  We also continued with our 100 push-ups and sit-ups each night, which happens after we complete the “workout” portion of the regular karate class.  The advanced defense includes movements against a stick (or bat), knife and a handgun.  These are more fresh to us since we have been learning the advanced defense for the past two and a half years.  Some of the advanced forms were a bit rusty, and ironically the one I have had the least amount of time practicing (Hwa Rang) is the one I know the best, since we just tested on it for our candidate belts.  The first night of training was just re-familiarizing ourselves with the content, and then we were able to really work on the details later in the week.

On Thursday night, I practiced my aerial break with success (a jump switch front kick), but I am still working on my speed break (spinning hook) and was able to gain some pointers on my form and positioning for that particular break.  I was able to achieve a spinning hook speed break during a breaking class last Spring, but it has been giving me a bit of trouble since.  I would really like to perform the spinning hook speed break or a roundhouse speed break for my black belt test, so it is something that I will be working on in the next couple of weeks.

The last time I saw Blue Man Group was in 1996.  I am officially old.
At the end of the week, I took Steve up to Boston for his real birthday gift.  We went to Blue Man Group at the Charles Playhouse and out for dinner.  Although Steven was not chosen to go on stage, as I hoped, my name was flashed across the screens in the beginning of the show when they are entertaining the audience before the performance begins. Therefore, I had a bunch of strangers screaming a meditation at me (about a cow in a field, nonetheless) in an effort to stop my “headache,” whereby they were chanting at me and using my full name.  The names they use in the beginning are chosen completely at random, so it was a surprise to us and hilarious.

After the show we went for dinner at a restaurant called Post 390 (http://post390restaurant.com) in Boston; they refer to the restaurant as an “urban tavern.”  I did not quite get that tavern vibe considering I had a very confusing and over-thought lobster-squash bisque topped with crème fraîche, pistachios, and a very heavy-handed pour of balsamic glaze.  What made the dining experience more interesting than the complex cuisine, however, was that we were seated next to a couple that was not only on a first date, but a blind first date at that.  Our entire dinner conversation was dominated by the man on this date, whom my husband affectionately referred to as “Foghorn Leghorn.”  Mr. Leghorn was essentially screaming at this poor young woman (who just kept ordering glass after glass of red wine) about his super fascinating engineering job and his high school glory days (apparently he scored over 1400 on his SATs).  Needless to say, we were happy to high-tail it out of there and find a cozy Italian-American restaurant to have some dessert and an aperitif.  By this time, it was only eleven o’clock, and we still had a lot of energy.  We took a midnight walk around Boston Common when it started snowing and I felt compelled to get some roundhouse kicks in.  Why not?

A snowy Boston Common at midnight.

Just in case anyone wanted to mess with us, I decided to whip some roundhouse kicks in Boston Common.  This is perfectly normal.
The rest of the weekend was spent between basketball games for my oldest son, errands, and general end-of-vacation week clean-up to prep for the major dose of reality that buzzes in with the Monday morning alarm clock.  We were able to close off a restful and eventful week with our friends for what we call “Sunday Family Dinner” at one of our favorite restaurants – Aidan’s Pub (http://aidanspub.com) in Bristol, Rhode Island where the the food tastes like home cooking and the drinks are plentiful. Very often, and particularly on Sunday nights, there is live Irish music. Now, here at Aidan’s, I was granted the “tavern” feel that I appreciate most!  Not to mention, the more satisfying feeling of being with friends who know you well and who feel like home.

Cheers to everyone for a great week — I am off to begin Week 4.


Week 2: Noses are Red, Fingers are Blue, This Week Was Insanely Cold, and Exhausting, Too.

This week’s title inspired by my son’s homemade Valentine.

Week Two of training started off with a snow day (last Monday), which meant that we were expected to attend three training sessions on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  Due to the President’s Day holiday, this week will be the same with three straight nights of training.  I definitely prefer having the Wednesday, mid-week night off, but I am lucky that this is our February Vacation from school and I have the great fortune of catching up on sleep.

Last Tuesday we had our first Candidate Class where we were required to stay for another hour after our regular training class.  The total training time on Tuesday evening was from 7:30 to 10:00 p.m.  Having to rally for two more nights of training after Tuesday night was a bit exhausting, but not anything I couldn’t handle.  Candidate Class is a time for all three instructors to observe and offer assistance on the training content up to that point.  They focused on intermediate forms and defense for this class, even though we just came off of a week training on the beginner content.  This was a little nerve-wracking because we had only one night to prepare the intermediate review – the very same evening of the Candidate Class, so we were all a little rusty.  During the Candidate Class, I basically learned all of the ways that I was doing blocks and stances wrong in my forms and the fine details of the defense that we never really practice in the regular adult class – the expectations for performance are certainly much higher, which was eye-opening.

One interesting toll the training has taken on my body is that my left hip keeps falling out of alignment from all of the kicking we do.  I know that it is out of whack when I cannot whip my left-leg kicks around as fast as usual, and I start to feel a tingly sensation in my hamstring and down my left leg.  Lucky for me, my husband is some sort of sports massage shaman and has been able to realign my hip after class using pressure points and adjustments.  One of the evenings there was a quarter inch difference in the length of my legs after training and he went to work adjusting me.  When he was done, the discrepancy was resolved.  I probably should make an appointment with an actual chiropractor, but this is working for now – and it is free!  In other training news, we are doing upwards to 150 push-ups and sit-ups a night, which is definitely transforming my upper body already.  After class, I have taken to drinking a combination protein and immunity boosting “green” shake to aid in muscle recovery and general health – especially with it being cold and flu season.  My training partner was ill and hospitalized for dehydration from a stomach virus the weekend before, so I was a little concerned about getting sick since we have been in such close quarters, but I kept pounding the Airborne gummies – which are really just glorified sour candies, let’s be real.

Lulu, our guinea pig friend for the week.

After what felt like a very long week, we had some friends over for pizza on Friday night when they dropped off our charge for the week -a guinea pig named Lulu.  The dogs are perplexed by this new friend, but all are getting along swimmingly. After the pizza party, I promptly collapsed at 9:00 p.m., but made up for it with a busy weekend.

Although it was impossible to get a run in with “feels like” temperatures registering at -33 degrees Fahrenheit, Saturday morning I taught kickboxing and was able to get in two rounds of Thai kickboxing, five kicking rounds, medicine ball ab work, and strength training, as well as practice my karate forms when I had the mat to myself.  In the afternoon we went to see the movie The Revenant with friends, which was… intense.  Do not see it unless you are up for an emotional rollercoaster and some truly realistic blood and gore. At one point during the movie, Steve turned to me and said, “So, when you are running through woods for your black belt test, just be happy there is not a grizzly bear chasing you.”  Way to keep perspective!  Afterwards, the husband/chef made an amazing Valentine’s Day dinner of porcini risotto with black truffle and parmesan and an incredible Barbaresco – all of my favorite flavors from the Piemonte region of Italy that I have never visited – but hope to sometime soon!

Antipasti of champions and Valentine’s Day dinner pre-game:  marinated mushrooms, artichokes, hot peppers stuffed with cheese and prosciutto, green cerignola olives, and piave and parmigiana reggiano cheese.

Yesterday was Steve’s birthday and he chose pub fare for his birthday dinner. We went to The Abbey (http://www.92beers.com) right near Providence College. If you are looking for a burger and beer joint with some seriously decadent burgers, this is your place.  I went for the “Wild ‘Shroom” burger with grilled mushrooms and Swiss cheese on a sourdough bun.  It was heavenly, but will probably be my last greasy hamburger for a long time.  Red meat and I do not agree with one another – ’nuff said on that note.  The occasional burger may be tough to let go of, but I’ve gone meatless before.  I can get my protein from many other sources that I love and I have never been a devout carnivore.

Tonight will begin Week Three of training and I have no idea what to expect.  All I know is that after this week, I will be halfway to the mid-point Progress Evaluation that is six weeks into training.  Tonight I am bringing some boards to class and hoping to practice my aerial break, which I currently believe will be a flying, switch, front kick.  I will have to see how my practice session goes.  Hopefully, this week won’t be quite this cold:

Frozen olive oil from…inside our kitchen cupboard.

Week 1: This Blog Post Brought to You By – Another Snow Day!

I am writing this post a bit later than I hoped to, but with the kids home from school for two snow days and helping my mom move into her new house – it has been difficult to find a spare minute.  As I write this, I sent my kids upstairs to play Monopoly (figuring an average game of Monopoly takes a couple of hours), but it sounds like they are actually playing basketball with elephants up there.  I fear my time is short!

Image by Andree Design

First, I would like to give a huge shout-out to my friend and fellow kick-boxer, Jess, from Andree Design (you can follow her on Twitter @DesignAndree) who created my NinjaSuze logo and header, along with some other fantastic stuff I hope to share soon.  Thank you, Jess, for making my blog look so much more legitimate and professional!  I could not be happier with the designs.

Training this week went quite smoothly, which was a welcome surprise.  I was able to fit in a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday evening schedule without a hitch.  Honestly, every day I look at the calendar on my iPhone and think, “Okay, I can do this!” so having the mid-week, Wednesday night off was ideal.  It was an evening to tackle the ever-growing heap of laundry in my basement, eat a non-rushed, sit-down meal with my family, and catch-up on Downton Abbey.  It was dreamy.

The candidate training plan for this week was to review the beginner forms, defense, strikes, blocks, kicks, and to complete one-hundred push-ups and one-hundred sit-ups.  This is in addition to the warm-up and calisthenics that we do with the adult class before the candidates separate for their training – so one of the evenings we did one-hundred and fifty push-ups total.  I did not notice any soreness other than my quads from holding a riding stance for at least thirty minutes a night while practicing ten-point blocks.  All I can expect from this week is continuation of beginner material.

Much to my surprise, there was a snow day on Friday; so even if my body was taxed from the run around, I was able to catch up on some rest.  Saturday was plenty busy with kickboxing in the morning, a basketball game for my oldest, and a karate tournament for my youngest. Without sounding like a braggart, but since it is karate related — I was super proud of my little guy for winning his division in forms during the karate tournament, especially since last year he came in second-to-last.  I saw a major improvement in his self-confidence. It made me proud to see how hard he practiced before the tournament – at home and with his instructors after class.

Happy about that guard stance!

Saturday we had a night out to celebrate my husband’s birthday with friends who will not be around for his actual birthday.  Despite the THREE HOUR wait, we had another delicious meal at Al Forno in Providence (http://www.alforno.com).  It is one of our favorite places in Providence, and if you have not been, you must have the experience at least once. However, be warned, they do not accept reservations for parties less than six. I recommend going on a weeknight, if you can swing it.  This Saturday evening, Providence College played Villanova AND our former mayor, Buddy Cianci (may he rest in peace), was being waked, so the city was bumping – with all sorts of personalities – including a guy who was screaming “Happy Birthday, Suede Jacket” to my husband when the waitstaff sang “Happy Birthday” to him while serving his twenty-dollar dessert.  Yes, my husband was wearing a suede-ish blazer, but this guy was off the hook!

Unfortunately, class is already canceled for this evening, so I will not be afforded the luxury of a mid-week night off and will have to train Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  It has not been super easy to get in two runs a week (as is expected) with the snowy, frigid weather, so I am planning on an indoor workout with my husband today…if I can get these darn kids to play Monopoly, maybe!  For now, it is time to bundle them up and go get some fresh air – even if it is for fifteen minutes.

This is what happens when you send your kids out to play in -1 degree weather.  Needless to say, it was short-lived.
Arlo didn’t seem to mind the cold!