Category Archives: okinawan shorin ryu

What’s Your Ikigai (Reason for Being)?

Wikipedia lends the following definition:

Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]) is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” It is similar to the French phrase Raison d’être. Everyone, according to Japanese culture, has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is important to the cultural belief that discovering one’s ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life.[1] Examples include work, hobbies and raising children.[2]

The term ikigai compounds two Japanese words: iki (wikt:生き?) meaning “life; alive” and kai (甲斐) “(an) effect; (a) result; (a) fruit; (a) worth; (a) use; (a) benefit; (no, little) avail” (sequentially voiced as gai) “a reason for living [being alive]; a meaning for [to] life; what [something that] makes life worth living; a raison d’etre”.[3]

In the culture of Okinawaikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning”; that is, a reason to enjoy life. In a TED TalkDan Buettner suggested ikigai as one of the reasons people in the area had such long lives.[4]

The word ikigai is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. Secondly, the word is used to refer to mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable. It’s not necessarily linked to one’s economic status or the present state of society. Even if a person feels that the present is dark, but they have a goal in mind, they may feel ikigai. Behaviours that make us feel ikigai are not actions we are forced to take—these are natural and spontaneous actions.

In the article named Ikigai — jibun no kanosei, kaikasaseru katei (“Ikigai: the process of allowing the self’s possibilities to blossom”) Kobayashi Tsukasa says that “people can feel real ikigai only when, on the basis of personal maturity, the satisfaction of various desires, love and happiness, encounters with others, and a sense of the value of life, they proceed toward self-realization.”[1][5]

My Ikigai is to stay active and perpetuate the rich API culture through my hobbies – dancing hula, paddling outriggers, and teaching karate.  Working out in the dojo taught me more about surviving and thriving in Corporate America as a single mom than any self-help seminar or MBA could have.  Recently, I opened a karate dojo as my passion project.  We focus on the values of Respect, Discipline, and Self-Confidence to help our students find their Ikigai.

Ikigai JaeRequiro

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#TeamTogisala #togisalashorinryu #fitlife #GirlPower #respect #discipline #focus #selfconfidence #selfdefense #dojoOhana #ikigai

#TeamTogisala visits www.thekaratedojo.com

 

Here is how Social Media works in a positive way. Sensei Brian Pena and Sensei Butch Togisala re-connected after twenty years thanks to Facebook. These two men competed throughout the 1990’s all over the world. Sensei Brian and his family visited California and Togisala Shorin Ryu during Easter break and, a little over a month later, Sensei Butch was graciously invited to attend the Carolina Martial Arts Open tournament in South Carolina.

On April 24, 2016, Sensei Brian Pena published the following announcement via Facebook:

“EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT:

We are excited and honored to announce that multi-time NBL World Champion and Japanese / Okinawan Karate Legend: LELAGI ‘BUTCH’ TOGISALA of Torrance, California is set to be at The Karate Dojo in West Columbia, SC for a seminar, private lessons, and to receive a special award on May 14-15, 2016 to coincide with the Carolina Martial Arts Open.

Sensei Togisala is a Japanese Kobudo and Kata MASTER that holds the record of winning the NBL World Title in Japanese / Okinawan Kata for 5 straight years through the 1990’s until he humbly bowed out to his team member Marcus Young at the 1998 Super Grands World Games.

Please make plans today to meet, greet, and LEARN from a great friend of mine, and the single most prolific Japanese / Okinawan Karate & Kobudo competitor of the past 25 years – PERIOD.

Email me at Sensei@TheKarateDojo.com with Seminar interest or to schedule Private Lessons, and stay tuned in the coming days for further information.”

On Friday the 13th in May 2016, before the sun had risen, Sensei Butch and I boarded a flight to ATL to catch a connection to CAE.  There was a level of excitement in both of us bubbling and Sensei Butch had lots of questions regarding the weekend.  We knew that a greeting at the airport by Sensei Brian and a sushi dinner with some of his black belts were on the Friday evening itinerary.  So, we planned on checking into our hotel, resting a bit, getting our gi pressed for the weekend and just going with the flow.

I had cooked up a fresh batch of Kalua pork for Sensei Brian. He really enjoyed that when he was at our house for Easter.  A couple of pounds of frozen Kalua pork were one of my carry-on items. In addition, I packed some healthy snacks for the long flight across the country.  

Early morning flights usually mean a plane full of passengers who are either trying to sleep or overly sparked on caffeine.  We both attempted to catch some Zs after take-off, to no avail.  Because our seats were upgraded to Delta Comfort, we had access to free movies and he selected the film, “Invincible” starring Mark Wahlberg.  Sports-themed movies usually contain messages about hard work paying off, enduring monumental physical challenges, and overcoming adversity.  These themes were threaded throughout the film and I saw many parallels with what Togisala Shorin Ryu is experiencing.

We sat next to each other, sharing earbuds (yes, we looked like “that couple”) and enjoyed the inspirational true story of lifelong diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan Vince Papale. Coach Dick Vermeil called an open tryout to boost interest in the flailing Eagles.  Papale realized his wildest dream, survived try outs, and became a squad member.  The movie shows Papale’s tenacity, grit and heart in a mature and relatable way, beyond Disney’s usual animated fairy tales.

“Invincible” touched our hearts and there must have been quite a bit of dust circulating in the plane, as I had to keep wiping tears away.  No comment about Sensei Butch’s “allergies”.  The feel-good story focused on the importance of hard work and the responsibility of individuals to support their friends, neighborhoods and more importantly, their families. Competing in sports played a critical role in developing both of our personal core values around Respect, Discipline, and Courage.  He and I are athletes who have competed at various levels throughout our entire lives.  Sensei Butch leveraged his raw talent for karate and his incredible support from his father and surrogate father, Grand Master Sensei Richard Rabago, to “pull himself out of the ghetto.”  Disciplined training became a way of life and that led to a successful sport karate career that took Sensei Butch all over the world.

When a competitor sees someone who consistently performs at the level to achieve world champion status, that person impacts him/her in profound ways.  Sensei Butch has fans around the world and social media has connected him with other martial artists that used to compete with him. This is what brought Sensei Butch to South Carolina.

Friday afternoon we landed at CAE airport. Sensei Brian Pena greeted us with some of his senior students:  two of his black belts and one of his brown belts. The Karate Dojo welcomed Team Togisala with warm smiles, open arms, and deep bows of mutual respect.

We felt hungry but wanted to see The Karate Dojo before checking into our hotel. The facility was incredibly impressive. I had never seen a dojo as large as this one. The main floor also housed weight machine that looked more complete than most hotel gyms I train in while on the road. In addition, there is a smaller, more private training room and a large space perfectly equipped for child care and fun. But as impressive as the physical space was, even more impressive was the spirit and atmosphere inside the dojo. The floor, the walls, the equipment all looked pristine. But on the interpersonal level, everyone  from the  staff to the students showed immense respect to Sensei Butch. We heard, “Yes, Sir” and “Yes, Ma’am” in every response.  Such a simple behavior, using consistent and respectful manners, exemplifies the way a karate-ka should hold him- or herself.

Sensei Brian graciously allowed Sensei Butch to use his beefy, tricked out, and gorgeous Expedition.  He drove us to Downtown  Columbia, dropped the car off with the valet, and Sensei Butch spotted a man walking.  He told me, “Babe, that’s Coolio.”  I dismissed him and said, “Leave that man alone.  It is not Coolio.”  What would Coolio be doing in Downtown Columbia?  We checked in, unpacked, and grabbed a nap before dinner.

Friday night – sushi dinner in South Carolina.  That was not a sentence I ever imagined saying out loud.  We pulled up to a shopping plaza and found a restaurant called, “Inakaya Watanabe.”  Sensei Brian had reserved the private room with tatami mats and when we entered, there were two HUGEMONGOUS  sushi boats on the tables to greet us.  Sensei Butch felt a bit apprehensive about sitting on the floor throughout an entire meal but thank goodness, the tables were built over a sunk-in floor.  The food tasted fresh and I devoured the fresh yellowtail sashimi while Sensei Brian requested rolls like soft shell crab, chef specials and some terrifyingly hot roll with a mystery chili pepper of some sort.  Eating that hot scary pepper thingy roll was a rite of passage for Sensei Brian’s black belts.  Since I am deathly allergic to peppers, I did not have the opportunity to taste that mystery torture roll. Thank goodness.

 

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At the end of dinner, Sensei Butch presented a special gift to Sensei Brian.  We had a brand new set of rope kama made  by Tenth Degree Weaponary in Southern California for Sensei Brian.  Rope kama are Sensei Butch’s signature weapon and there are multiple videos of him swinging them in sport karate tournaments all over YouTube.  Sensei Brian appreciated the gift and we were delighted to present it to him.

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 May 14, 2016, Saturday morning, Carolina Martial Arts Open tournament day.  When we arrived at the The Karate Dojo, the building was bursting with competitors and their family members.  Sensei Brian treated both of us like honored guests in his dojo and asked for the opportunity to introduce Sensei Butch to all of the participants.  We didn’t know he also had a big surprise in store for Sensei Butch.

And then, Sensei Butch had me bring up another gift for Sensei Brian. It was a vintage heavy weight Team Togisala competition gi, complete with gashes in the back of it from Kama blades. I thought that this one of a kind, irreplaceable gift would be something that Sensei Brian would appreciate. Material gifts can’t beat sentimental gifts, in my opinion. We can all buy “things” but no one can replace memories and experiences. 

A wide variety of martial arts schools were represented by colorful gi and t-shirts.  The number of competitors could have felt overwhelming but the order and precision that Sensei Brian exemplified in running simultaneous divisions impressed me.  Sensei Butch and I split our time between walking the floor and resting and reviewing the seminar format together.  Jet lag crept in every hour or so, we tried to catch cat naps throughout the morning. While out on the floor, we met an enthusiastic competitor.  She cheered everyone on in the rings by yelling, clapping, and sending tons of positive energy.  I pointed her out to Sensei Butch and he said, “She’s an awesome hype man.  We should bring her to all of our tournaments LOL.”  Her enthusiasm was noted by others and pointed out to Sensei Brian.  He recognized her by presenting her with a special “spirit” award.  She found us at the end of the tournament and asked to take a photo with both of us.  Look how her spirit shines through in her smile.

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This tournament had numerous examples of how martial arts influences young lives.  The atmosphere felt supportive and loving and still competitive throughout the day.  It struck me that martial arts tournaments should always feel family-friendly, rather than cut-throat competitive.  We work to build character in our students through discipline, respect, courage, and fun.  Becoming a tournament champion does not have to be the outcome in order to build up our students’ character.  World Championships, trophies, black belts…none of that makes a Champion.   Students living their lives by showing respect for others, acting with integrity, and staying physically fit is the ultimate goal.  Martial arts training never stops.

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As the tournament wound down, I heard tid bits of stories of first-time adult competitors making their debut at the Carolina Martial Arts Open and examples of children showing love and support for one another.  Sensei Brian referred to his event as an “investment in the future.”  A father of one of the participants wrote a “thank you” note to Sensei Brian because his son was crying at the end of the  tournament.  This young competitor was overcome with tears of pride because his sister had won Grand Champion.  Sensei Brian recognized and rewarded this young competitor with a trophy, as well.  But in fact, what that young man gave all of us was a greater gift.  Love and support for our family members and dojo Ohana is the ultimate goal.  Sensei Brian encouraged all spectators to cheer for all competitors and the dojo roof was raised by all the positive energy and Aloha throughout the tournament.

Next up, was the karate seminar with Sensei Butch Togisala.  About 20 or 25 students attended the seminar on Saturday.  The game plan consisted of a brief stretching session to prep the participants for the first activity – stances.  Strong, low stances are a signature for Togisala Shorin Ryu and the foundation of our style.  Having a low base is critical to executing our kata correctly.  Sensei Butch selected Pinan Godan as the kata to teach during the seminar.  And we wanted each student to be able to learn the entire kata during the seminar, regardless of belt rank, and be able to perform it.  I will note that Sensei Butch thought I was being too strict during warm-ups but I protested that as I conducted a very short stretching session to prepare their hips and legs for doing basics, just as I do in our dojo every night.  But I digress..

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I have written about one of the mantra of our Sensei, the late Grand Master Sensei Richard Rabago, “Basics are Everything.”  The stance is the foundation for karate.  Not all Japanese karate schools take as a low of a stance as Togisala Shorin Ryu.  But I believe that the beauty in kata is taking a low stance.  It might be from my years of studying hula kahiko, my Kumu Hula taught us that our energy comes from our classmates and from the Earth.  Being connected to both improves the spirit or mana in a dance.  The same can apply to kata.  When the karate-ka applies the movements within a kata, it is a self-defense technique or offensive attack.

Sensei Butch began the seminar with running the participants through exercises to practice:  kiba-dachi (horse stance), zenkutsu-dachi (forward stance), and neko-dachi (cat stance).  We had students as young as six years old, all the way up to adult aged and yellow belts up to second degree black belts participating.  Everyone worked hard to adjust to the style of Togisala Shorin Ryu to learn a new kata, Pinan Godan.  This is a required kata for advancement to purple belt in our dojo but it isn’t taught at The Karate Dojo so it became a nice addition to their kata toolkit.  One of the black belt students in the seminar stated, “So very impressed with Sensei Togisala.  He captured my family with his calm yet strong patience.  He led a seminar with a 6 year old all the way to us older folks and NEVER lost our attention.  We all left not only being taught a kata but also being taught a lesson in humility and strength.  Thank you sir for graciously giving us your time and energy this past weekend!  Deep bow of LOVE and RESPECT!”

Personally, I learned a lot through the process of helping to teach our kata during the seminar.  In addition, it became clear to me that Sensei Brian teaches all of his students how to be Champions in life.  His dedication to teaching the martial arts is a gift.  Sensei Brian runs The Karate Dojo as a very special school, filled with exceptional students.  I humbly bow to him.

After the seminar, Sensei Butch and I went to the Club Lounge to relax with appetizers and a glass (or two) of wine.  He felt pleased with the outcome of the seminar.  We chatted with the lounge hostess, a student from USC (Gamecocks, not Trojans) and discovered something that Sensei Butch found amusing.  A big old school hip hop concert was held nearby and Salt N Pepa stayed at our hotel the night before.  They were hot during the early 90s, the height of my clubbing days.  Sensei Butch and I sang a bunch their songs, most of which the hostess had never heard of because she was an infant at the time.  And, unfortunately, it was revealed that Coolio was also staying at our hotel! BThat means Sensei Butch did see Coolio the day before and he reminded me over and over throughout the rest of the weekend that I blew a fantastic photo opportunity for him.  Ugh.

At dinner time, we walked about a mile down the road to a restaurant ironically named, “California Dreaming.”  It came highly recommended by the nice man sitting next to me on the flight from ATL to CAE, that recommendation was co-signed by our lounge hostess and others.  They were right!  We had a fantastic walk and a lovely meal.

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After dinner, we called Uber so we wouldn’t have to take the one mile walk uphill.  A tricked out GMC SUV on 22″ tins rolled up, bumpin’ some hip hop. We looked at each other and laughed. Our driver was so chill, we talked about USC (Gamecocks, not Trojans) being on summer breaks. Then we asked about the concert and I had to hear how I blew an opportunity for Butch to take a pic with Coolio. Again.  They both laughed at me about that. Every person we encountered in Columbia, SC was gracious and welcoming. We had such a lovely time.

On Sunday, Sensei Butch was in his element, working one-on-one or in semi-private groups with students on their kata.  His innate talent for performing kata spills over into the incredible gift in customization and teaching.  Sensei Butch excels at making subtle shifts to sequences and moves that suit the individual’s strengths to transform a dojo kata to a winning sport karate kata.  Let me have some of the participants speak for themselves.

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“What an incredible experience to be instructed by Sensei Togisala, honored to have the opportunity, I hope to see him again one day to Thank him once more (or a thousand more) for helping me with my competition Kata.  He is an exceptional man.”

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The photographs above are from a semi-private lesson with two black belts.  They perform the same competition kata but Sensei Butch provided direction for each of them to customize a section of the kata to make it their own.

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“Very cool to have met someone I’ve only ever heard about (and seen in kata videos).  Sensei Togisala embodies who a leader and instructor should be – knowledgeable, caring, and patient.  Respect!!”

Sensei Butch started the morning off with a private lesson refining a kata specifically for competition.

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In this private lesson, Sensei Butch shared a few tricks of the trade to make this Sensei’s competition kata really stand out.  His strength could be amplified with a few tweaks at key points in Go Gi Shi Ho, which happens to be Sensei Butch’s signature open hand kata.

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Three private lessons were with junior colored belts.  Each of these students worked very hard and earned a lot of praise from Sensei Butch.  He reinforced the importance of basic stances and precision in strikes for competition.  As intense and serious as all these photos look, there was plenty of laughter and smiles during these private lessons.  Best of all, each of them asked questions when necessary, took the gentle criticism to heart, and applied their learnings in real time.  It was a delight for me to watch.

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The last lesson for the day was a semi-private session with two junior blue belts.  Each of them paid close attention to Sensei Butch.  Their high energy sustained him as he closed out the long day of teaching.  These two are well on their way to a bright and shining career in sport karate competition.

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Sensei Brian’s Team Dojo will “Never Give Up.”  The future of karate lies in our children continuing to learn and train from experienced instructors and competitors like Sensei Brian Pena and Sensei Butch.  Being open to new lessons and learnings was my key take-away from the weekend. Hard work is nothing to shy away from in karate or in life. As instructors, we need to be open to receive the lessons that our students teach us every day. On behalf of Team Togisala, I send a deep bow of respect and gratitude to Sensei Brian Pena and all of his students, staff, and parents at http://www.thekaratedojo.com.  We were honored and humbled by the experience we shared with all of you during the 2016 Carolina Martial Arts Open karate tournament.  Sending much respect and Aloha to Sensei Brian Pena.

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Belt Testing with Our Martial Arts Ohana

Pre-rank test photo on December 6, 2015

  
Togisala Shorin Ryu had an awesome day for our belt promotions on December 6, 2015. I’m so proud of Team Togisala! My fellow students all showed so much heart and dedication. Sensei Butch pushed everyone very hard during the rank test but I know we made him proud. Oss!
Personally, I wanted to send an extra big Mahalo Nui Loa/Domo Arigato to our esteemed black belt panel. There were a total of twelve black belts on the review panel. We had a wide variety of martial arts styles represented, world champions, esteemed expert teachers, and, to my delight, three women. When I starters training, there was only one Black Belt who was a woman that taught us on a consistent basis. To have three women sitting on the panel, made me feel honored and humbled that day. I wanted to kick ass on my test and earn my rank. 

But there were also Sensei on the panel who studied with Sensei Rabago. I felt a bit worried that my performance wouldn’t live up to Rabago Shorin Ryu standards. That was just my own insecurity and abnormally high performance standards. If one of them mentioned Sensei Rabago, I would have cried. At my core, I am a sentimental sap. 

Another lesson from my training is that as an individual, I have power and control over my life if I stay focused and disciplined. In 2003, Sensei Rabago brought in boards for some of the students. The physical part of breaking boards isn’t difficult, what usually holds students back is over thinking it. The idea of breaking a solid board seems intimidating and perhaps challenging. In fact, all one needs to do is focus the power of the strike past the board. 

  
When I asked why we didn’t break boards more often, Sensei Rabago said that boards don’t hit back. I giggled. 

All of these lessons stay with me. And even though I don’t train to spar anymore, I use the ideas and principles of being disciplined and focused to spar during my belt test.  Despite being physically tired, I knew that the fighting wouldn’t last multiple rounds like a UFC match. My experience has taught me that sparring during a belt test is more about heart than strength. I’m confident in my heart and passion for training.  What I didn’t expect was to fight a brown belt from another dojo. Check it out below:  

  

 I wound up with some gorgeous bruises. 

The best part of this test was having my little dojo brothers and sisters give me high fives after I sparred. 

How Brown Gets Down 2nd Kyu Karate

  
(I never know where my blog postings are going to go.  I wanted to write about my brown belt test and instead thoughts of my two divorces pounded out on my keyboard.  The idea of having two failed marriages sounds a bit humiliating but you know what, it is a part of my life story and I am ok sharing it.  I am definitely not the same person I was 20 years ago when I started karate, fourteen years ago when I got married the first time, or even two years ago when I went back to my martial arts training at Togisala Shorin Ryu.)

December 6, 2015

Today, I passed a test.  It wasn’t a test written on paper.  It wasn’t a compliance eLearning module from work.  And I certainly have no need to take a pregnancy test.  The test I passed consisted of challenging physical exercises, open hand kata, weapons kata, and sparring against two dudes at once.  At my vintage age of 45, I went through a grueling physical challenge to earn my 2nd kyu rank in Shorin Ryu karate, better known by lay people as a brown belt.

You might ask why an old lady like me would want to train in martial arts. My dojo classmates are between the ages of 6 and 35.  I am fairly certain I am the oldest colored belt ranked student on the dojo floor.  Even my Sensei is a year younger than me.  I started training in my 20s, I worked out diligently for a few years, four days a week.  But when birth control failed and I found myself pregnant, I had to stop training.   Unfortunately, even though I was about to test for my green belt, Sensei Rabago had me stop at purple because it would be a huge liability for him to test me while I was hapai (pregnant).  I still trained four days a week until my belly started to show at four months, just like I played softball with my co-ed work team until I hit five months preggo.  They all yelled at me every time I ran the bases because my favorite way to slide was face first.  “Run!  Don’t slide!  Don’t slide!  Don’t’ slide!!!” they yelled at me as I turned toward second base.  Ha.  I still slid feet first for a couple of games.

So why now?  Why am I back on the dojo floor after twenty years?  Simply put, I love karate.  Lessons from my Sensei, the late Richard Rabago, gave me more tips about surviving and thriving in Corporate America as a single mom than any self-help seminar, book, or MBA could have.  Unfortunately, despite trying to go back to Rabago Shorin Ryu intermittently, raising my daughter alone and having a demanding career trumped the hobbies in my life.  While my daughter was very young, dancing in halau gave both of us a sense of ohana.  As she got older and I earned a better salary, I could afford to pay for childcare while I went to outrigger practice.  Now, she is almost out of high school and becoming more independent.  We both dance hula and I feel comfortable and confident going to the dojo three times a week to train now, without feeling guilty about doing something without my daughter.  The best part is, she gets along with the students and parents at the dojo so sometimes she comes to hang out and talk story with everyone while I practice.

Today, I sit in a very different position in life and at work.  Personally, I haven’t had much success with personal relationships, as I’m twice divorced.  Both relationships were based on strong friendships but not much romance or heat.  The first marriage ended when he decided that drinking the boys was more fun than spending time with his wife and stepdaughter.  He wasn’t going to stop drinking and I wasn’t ‘going to let him hurt me or my daughter.  I sure as hell wasn’t going to let him abuse me in any way in front of my daughter.  But he left without ever looking back so we both knew the marriage wasn’t meant to be.

In my experience, it is pretty much impossible to have a serious relationship while holding down a demanding corporate job as a single mom.  I never had a problem being asked out on a date but having a significant long lasting relationship became an elusive thing for me.  Because of the nature of my work, I am on the road about 25% of my time.  Planning dates and building a foundation of a relationship takes quality time, face to face.  The whole “free time” thing has felt like a luxury to me for most of my life.  Dating without a lot of free time doesn’t work out very well.  And, most of all, being a mother surpasses anything else in my life.

My second marriage looked perfect on paper.   Once we walked down the aisle and signed the actual papers, it all fizzled into complacency and a wonderful roommate situation.  He was neat and kept to himself.  He even bought his own groceries and laundry detergent separately from us.  Has anyone heard of a marriage like that?  Sad.  We had shared friends, and grew up with a common culture.  It should have been an easy relationship to nurture.  But he kept himself separate in so many ways, it was easy to say goodbye.

Why do I bring those failed relationships up?  I learned after my recent divorce that I needed to focus on my own happiness as an individual.  Tying my happiness to someone else or something else wasn’t going to bring lasting contentment or love.  And karate is an individual sport.  Karate taught me discipline as well as self-defense.  In my opinion, karate fueled my independence and nurtured my self-confidence.

When I started training 20 years ago, I worked out four nights a week and would  often stay late with Sensei Travis when his friends would come in to spar or work grappling or just do my kata.  I am quite certain I was in the best physical condition of my life.   I felt great.  Karate became the perfect supplement to hula and the values I learned through both reinforced all the lessons I learned from my parents and grandparents.  Family first.  Be humble.  Work hard.   Help others.  Give back.  Your actions represent your family, your halau, your dojo so act accordingly and don’t be a douchebag (ok, maybe I adjusted that last one a bit).

Sharing personal values with the values that I learned on the dojo floor made it very easy for me to train.  And, the more I studied and developed as a martial artist, the more I felt an obligation to give back.  Quite often, I would train as the only woman on the floor.  It was a rare occasion when I saw a female black belt.  Today, things are different but 20 years ago, I did not see many as many women at tournaments or teaching.

My rank test for 2nd kyu symbolized much more than just improvement in my training and/or martial arts skills.  It brings a large obligation to my life as I learn to be an instructor.  Although Sensei Rabago always emphasized that the color of someone’s belt is less important than their integrity and commitment, the average person will make judgments on the basis of what color a karate-ka wears.  And, research shows that people base 90% of their judgments on others based on the 10% that they see.  So, to gain credibility from one glance, a black belt earns it more quickly than a colored belt.

The rank test I passed on December 6, 2015 symbolizes one tiny step in my training.  My physical condition is excellent because I had trained to run 19.3 miles over a weekend for the RunDisney Infinity Gauntlet Challenge.  My mental condition stays strong and focused.  Much of that must be related to the miles and miles of running that I invested to prepare for both the races and my belt test.  But the best part is, my spiritual condition feels grounded and secure.  And that means my body is healthy, my heart is at peace and the possibilities ahead of me are endless.

 

 

Training with my new sai without a *sigh* Falling in Love Again… #martialarts #okinawanshorinryu #karate

May 10, 2015

Just one week ago today, my sai arrived. The week prior, at our monthly beach workout, I had requested some minor custom modifications to the shape of these weapons, based on my very limited experience with sai. The shape of the factory delivered sai prongs felt too square, were spaced too wide, and looked too generic for my feminine hand. Apparently, the baton fit my arm perfectly since I am not built like an Asian waif. The pair I chose felt heavy, like they had substance and heft to them. I didn’t want the hybrid material tournament versions of the sai, they felt much too light and not durable at all. I wanted to feel the solid weight of the metal and hear the loud “clank” when they struck each other. If I am going to train, I want to do it like a badass.

When Sensei Butch brought my sai to our dojo last week, my face lit up and I beamed like someone had just handed me a five pound bag of red, white, and green gummy bears (my favorite flavors and the only ones I eat) that were zero calorie. It felt exciting to have my own weapons to train with and to use in competition. The faster I started training with them, the faster my mana would become a part of these sai. Mana is energy, power, and strength. We learn about mana as a concept in hula. Wearing the same practice pa’u (skirt) to dance rehearsal allows your mana to permeate the pa’u. Dancing low to the ground draws  mana from Mother Earth. Extending your arms shares your mana with your hula sisters dancing next to you. There is power in working and sweating together towards a common goal and a shared mission. Weapons training is an individual task and the mana in my sai will come from my own hard work and dedication and sweat. And I am all for that right now.

A few weeks ago, Sensei Butch had shown me how to flip and twirl a sai (singular, we only had one to practice with in the dojo, totally not sure who walked off with the other one) but we hadn’t started working on an actual kata yet. I’ve already committed to entering the weapons division in an upcoming tournament, representing Togisala Shorin Ryu so I cannot back out now. Since I have never competed in a weapons division and implements complicate things in terms of needing better coordination (something I feel that I lack), nerves and uncertainty filled my head and heart. This would be a multi-pronged challenge for me:  physically, mentally, and much to my surprise, emotionally. Neuroscientist tell us that adults need to work different parts of our brains to continue developing and growing. Throughout this year of great turmoil and change at work, karate serves as my mental WOD by helping me stay grounded and giving me focus.

When I worked out at his dojo in the mid 90’s, no one in my class trained with the sai. My Sensei, Grand Master Richard Rabago told me that sai were one of his favorite weapons. I didn’t even know how people held them much less used them to strike or do kata. In my eyes, the sai looked like clunky and over-sized shrimp cocktail forks. While studying weapons training with Sensei Richard, we all learned the bo kata first and many students moved on to the kama afterward. But I clearly remember Sensei Richard wielding the bo, the kama and the tonfa. He always showed so much discipline in his weapons demonstration. Discipline plus power and speed, like a badass Jedi. I asked him about the sai and whether he thought they would be a good weapon for me to learn. Sensei looked directly at me and took a long pause, a painfully long pause, which made me wonder whether I should have even asked the question. He simply replied, “You have to be strong to learn the sai.” I still wasn’t sure if that was a yes or a no and stared back at him, blankly. Sensei followed up with, “Finish the bo and I will teach you the sai. You’re plenty strong.”

My weapons training ended abruptly when I discovered I was pregnant and I never finished learning my basic bo kata. Thankfully, Sensei Richard’s words rang true, I was plenty strong as a single mom. I know the discipline and self-confidence that training in the dojo taught me has served me well in my career, my life and in motherhood. I feel like I learned so much from my martial arts training 18 years ago and not all of my learnings were evident to me at the time.

Although I’ve begun training for a competition at the end of June, these sai mean more to me than a pair of tournament weapons. Training with the sai works my brain and my body, reminding me how much I love karate. I am rediscovering the joy in training, just like I felt when I was studying with Sensei Richard. Class was always physically demanding and I was in the absolute best physical shape of my life because of karate. My body was strong, lean, and super fit. Today, karate grounds me and provides a sense of emotional security. I’ve had a lot of heartache and let-downs in my life: a boyfriend physically abused me, an ex broke into my house to steal jewelry, and my car, and more recently, I had an unexpected near death experience. That shit is real and that shit truly impacted my heart and emotional health. Trusting people is really hard for me and learning how to trust is a part of my emotional development from karate. I still work to Live Aloha and give to others and leave the world a better place, unconditionally. But I have a very hard time letting people help me because of all the broken trust I have endured.

I feel love when I train on the dojo floor. That might not make sense to you, especially if you don’t work out in martial arts, but it makes sense to me. What made me realize this strange “love” fact happened on Mother’s Day, while I worked with Sensei Butch on my weapons kata.

I already had a keen awareness of how much I had respected him as a teacher when I trained with Sensei Richard. Sensei Butch consistently won tournaments and travelled the world to compete. He could have been an arrogant ass but totally wasn’t. He always showed so much patience and humility with students. Sensei Butch worked especially well with the kids in class and pushed them to improve without making anyone cry or want to quit. But I never had a chance to work with Sensei Butch other than when he dropped in to teach an occasional class or came to serve as a judge for belt testing days. I definitely never had a private lesson with him, one-on-one. Even when he teaches our group classes now, I haven’t felt this way. This epiphany didn’t strike me until today but because of it, I feel blessed to study karate again. That is the only way I can describe what I experienced. I realize that I trusted Sensei Butch’s skill as a teacher and I also trust him as person who has been in my life for almost 20 years. Sensei Richard held Sensei Butch in very high esteem. And when Sensei Richard regarded someone at that level, it felt natural for me to feel similarly.

Now I feel even more excited to continue my training. Sensei Butch has said that this may be the time for me to earn my black belt to start teaching. He trusted me enough to say that to me and I don’t take that lightly. I hope to continue to feel safe enough to trust and I never lose that feeling. I would like to encourage and nurture students to love martial arts in the way Sensei Richard and Sensei Butch have inspired me.

Interestingly enough, my competitive nature does not drive me to beat others or to win, I only want to beat myself and see improvement in my own performance. So it is easy for me to support others and cheer, I don’t feel compelled to be the star or win the trophies and take home all the ribbons. Sensei Richard instilled in me the belief that the only purpose of a belt is to hold up your pants. A true martial artist doesn’t need to be called “Master” and the color of one’s obi does not reflect one’s skill level. I allow student’s performance and drive to shape my opinion of them, not the color of their belt, just as a person’s behavior, not appearance, should influence your opinion of them.

Despite all of this, I find myself being hypercritical of my own progress and training. Why can’t I show myself the same grace that I show others? When I watch Sensei Butch with the sai, I want to be able to flip, spin and manipulate them the same way he does. But today, instead of getting frustrated with myself, I relaxed my wrists AND my attitude enough to follow the simple directions that Sensei Butch gave me. I found myself so open, more-so than I have been in months and maybe even years, like my heart was exposed and I trusted that Sensei wouldn’t let anything hurt it. And my sai flipped and spun properly. Even when I dropped the sai, I didn’t beat myself up with negative self-talk or discouraging words. I laughed, quickly moved my feet out of the way, and picked my sai to try again. “Fall down seven times, Stand up eight” applies to my weapons flying out of my hands, too.

Speaking of inspiration, I bought a simple 3mm silver band for myself last week and it says, “dream”.

dream ring

My thought was that the ring would be appropriate to wear during the summer months while I work out and I wouldn’t have to worry about a diamond falling out of the setting in one of my more fancy rings. It certainly wasn’t clear to me last week why I selected this ring. The other choices were words and phrases like “believe”, “friend”, “forever”, “be strong”, “never give up”, “choose joy” and “peace”. “Dream” isn’t a sentiment I thought of much in my younger life, I was all about “work” to handle my business and make enough to live the lifestyle that I want for myself and my daughter. Today, after karate, I was compelled to purchase two more silver rings to create a custom Pi’ilani set. The second ring is another tiny 3mm band that simply states, “love”.

love ring

And the third one, an adjustable silver ring, 1/4” wide, with two hearts, a half moon and a star. The inside of that ring reads, “I believe in you”. This set of rings is a lovely reminder for me to train hard because I truly love karate and I believe in myself.

i believe in you ring

ring collage