Tag Archives: shorinryu

Mental Strength for Martial Artists

Mental strength for martial artists

and coping mechanisms

Poor Idris

this training video made me think a lot about strength and pain and mental health.

Repetition of exercises creates muscle memory. And being able to withstand pain absolutely make you stronger. And in some ways, it makes martial artists much dumber when it comes to taking care of ourselves physically and emotionally.

We strengthen our spirit but if we do so without balance, we sacrifice our emotional intelligence and health. And if we are under stress and have no coping mechanism, how do martial artists react? Do we yell? Do we drink? Do we over exercise? Do we cope in unhealthy ways?

My dojo mentor Sensei William Christopher Ford said very simply before we opened the doors of the new Togisala Shorin Ryu dojo, think longevity. And he was clear that as he approached 50, he needed to adjust his own physical health and training regimens. With all the change and stress in my life, I see I need to adjust my physical self care and my emotional health. One day at a time…

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.



The Basics are Everything in #karate

The sun shone brightly on that clear Fall morning. Obviously, no one had informed the sun that it was October 26th, as the temperature had already reached the low 70s by 9:30am. I reached for my Maui Jim’s as I started the car and noticed my hand shook a bit. Nerves brought a chill to my bone, not autumn weather. The belt promotion test day had arrived and eight karatekas would face the physical and mental challenge of testing their abilities: perform kata – open hand and with weapons, spar against multiple opponents simultaneously and display working knowledge/practical application of martial arts techniques. This must occur after enduring an extremely physically challenging work-out. Each karateka must able to execute self-defense techniques, translate Japanese words and phrases and articulately respond to questions about training.

When I thought about the physical part of the test, I wasn’t worried. I had complete faith in my current fitness level. My training included cardio, hula, and karate. And the fundamental blocks, kicks and punches came back to me, just like riding a bike. Sensei Richard Rabago always said, “The basics are everything.” We would drill our blocks, kicks and punches for 30 to 45 minutes a night before the actual work out would begin.

The one thing that made me nervous was wondering if it would be hard for me to control my emotions. The last time I talked to Sensei Rabago about training, I had mentioned that I was ready to come back, as soon as my work life settled down. He responded, “Good. We are ready when you are. You should have been a black belt by now anyway.” That was about three years ago, when my manager at work became unexpectedly “separated” from the company and I suddenly found myself burdened with triple the workload and no additional resources at work or at home. Before I knew it, two years had passed and Sensei’s health had slowly begun to deteriorate. The dojo may always be ready for me but it never dawned on me that Sensei Rabago would not be there to guide my training.

Back in the day, I spent four days a week in the dojo. My week revolved around working out and sweating on the dojo floor. I would pack food to eat in the office at 5:00pm so that I would have enough energy to burn. My wardrobe consisted of long sleeved blouses and long skirts to hide the bruises from blocks and practicing techniques. I loved training so much, it was the best part of my day.

Those evenings would go a little something like this: A sempai (brown belt) or more junior black belt would lead warm up exercises. Military style jumping jacks “1-2-3-ONE! 2-2-3-TWO!” and so on, for at least three sets of ten. We would then stretch for 10 -15 minutes, and not some light head-shoulders-knees-and toes baloney, we would loosen up our quads, hamstrings, calves, knees, ankles, groin and move into splits before working on the appendages of our upper body. This would start the perspiration before any sort of kicking or punching was even mentioned.

Once we were sufficiently warmed up, if Sensei Rabago would walk out on to the floor we all kind of took a deep breath in and side eyed each other. We knew we were in for a work out. Two sets of ten punches each chudan zuki – middle punch; jodan zuki – upper punch; gedan zuki – low punch, with ten push-ups between each set. When you do the math, that adds up to a lot of push-ups. Follow that up with triple punch sets to work on speed with either squats or sit-ups in between each. Between karate, hula, tennis, volleyball and basketball, my knees have suffered abuse for my entire life. We followed the same routine for blocks: jodan uke – high block; soto uke – outside block; uchi uke – Inside block; and gedan barai – low block. Then we started kicks: Mawashi Geri, Yoko Geri, Mae Geri, etc. My favorite kick is the roundhouse, mawashi geri, because I feel like I can get so much power out of turning my hip over and adding the pivot. It always felt like a combination of throwing a baseball and doing a dance pivot, thrown with the intention of breaking an opponent’s femur. I also enjoyed the gedan barai – low block because the best way to block is to try to make yourself the smallest target possible and that means turning your shoulders and bending your knees. Something about that motion always felt like a dance move to me.

Training in the dojo taught me about much more than just self-defense. Sensei Rabago emphasized that women and girls learn to defend themselves against attacks. But when I think back to my training, I realized that my career success and life accomplishments can be attributed to the self-confidence and self-respect that Sensei instilled in all of his students. We represented more than just ourselves when we wore that gi or competed in tournaments. We were committed to training to improve ourselves. We were dedicated to perpetuating the tradition of Okinawan Shorin Ryu through our studies. We were warriors. I am a single mom of a biracial child with multiple learning disabilities and I hold down a demanding career, that makes me a working warrior.

Martial arts training teaches self-reliance and independence because you are the only person who can perform the kata or defend in kumite. However, Sensei Rabago nurtured his students in a way that can only be described as a family environment. The young students had to complete their homework before they could train. We weren’t allowed to walk outside with our gi on, and definitely restricted from wearing our belts outside. Sensei always said, “it doesn’t matter what color your belt is, all it does is hold your pants up.” This, from a 7th Dan Master. Humility and hard work, that was the biggest lesson I took away from Sensei Richard Rabago.  His philosophy on the dojo, “Money is important, but we don’t live our lives by it.  We want to keep the doors open, train dedicated students and make good people.”
On May 8, 2003, in Sensei Richard Rabago’s dojo, I broke a board for the first time with a reverse punch. He told me, “Good job, Girl. Pi’i, if you can break a board, you can break a bone”. I’ve kept it in my office to remind me that I can achieve anything if I’m willing to work hard (and I can break someone’s bone if they deserve it). Bam.

Today, I am lucky to study under Sensei Butch Togisala, Sensei Rabago’s number one black belt. Sensei Togisala has more trophies than one can count and has been a black belt as long as I have known him. I see the same family spirit in his new dojo. Even though he isn’t as hard on the kids as Sensei Rabago was, I love watching him teach. Sensei Togisala knows who to push hard, who to encourage and who to nurture. And I appreciate that he doesn’t train me “like a girl.” He trains me like a Warrior and I push myself to be a better karate-ka every day, in everything I do, starting with the basics: Punch-Kick-Block. The basics are everything.

May 25, 2012
Sensei Richard Rabago, 7th Dan
Sensei Richard Rabago was born August 14th, 1943 on the Island of O’ahu and raised on the garden isle of Kauai. As he was growing up on the Islands, Rabago Sensei had the opportunity to experience and study many different forms of martial arts. Rabago Sensei martial studies included: Judo, Aikido, Kempo and boxing. After completing high school Rabago Sensei moved to California in August of 1961. Then, he began his training in Shotokan Karate under the instruction of Tsutomu Oshima and Hidetaka Nishiyama.

Rabago Sensei trained and studied the principles of Shotokan until 1968. In
1969, he began his study of Shorin-Ryu Karate under Senseis’ George Terukina and Seikichi Iha. He progressed through the years and earned his title as “Sensei”. Rabago Sensei then opened his own dojo and for the past 30 plus years taught Kobayashi Shorin-Ryu and specialized techniques in use of force in Torrance, California.

Rabago Sensei has the experience, training credentials, and Budo skill to have earned the right to be called “Master” several times over. If you call him that, however, you’ll most likely get a roll of the eyes, a slightly embarrassed laugh, and the words, “just call me Sensei – that’s enough”. A throwback to the age of Budo and Honor, where a Karate-ka earned respect through skill and dedication, not by self-given titles, Rabago Sensei measures himself against a higher standard than is commonly used in martial arts today. Rabago Sensei has learned his most important lesson. “The basics are everything”.


Sensei Richard Rabago, 7th Dan



Me, 4th Kyu