About The Following Blog

The following blog has been written purely for those wanting a first hand knowledge of what it is like to step into the dojo for the first time as a complete beginner as a Martial Artist. Through practising a Martial Art, you will gain many things such as self-confidence, self-respect and life-long and good friends. I hope this helps you to see into an amazing world of which you have never seen before and that I have had the privilege of belonging to and knowing.
Although I have not put my name or any name to this blog, it does deserve a dedication- a dedication to those who help people to train, who teach, reassure and most important of all- those who never give up, no matter how many times they hit the ground or a mental brick wall, with themselves or others. But above all- those who are ready to begin their own journey, it begins with one step….

Friday, 11 December 2009

Chapter 52: Mental condtioning: Strength from within...the reason I keep going

During the past three and a half years of practising Aikido, I have learned alot in terms of the technical elements of Aikido, shed blood, sweat and occasionally tears- not all at the same time, and the tears definitely not on the mat. Have I noticed any changes in myself you may ask? Yes, I think I honestly say I have. Nothing I can fully explain- I've experienced the usual physical changes in terms of building muscular definition and developing better fitness.

But the one thing I thought I had fully experienced was mental conditioning. Not quite so as it turns out-I'll explain in a short while. I always say the first six months are the hardest you will do as any Martial artist-the first month especially so. Its not just the discipline and etiquette that you have to become akin with- its also the hard graft of physical and mental training you will endure. You're a complete beginner, and whilst you stand at the end of a good session having worked hard, with lungs heaving for oxygen, sometimes Sensi will call to a bout of Ninandorri or tanto practice. You stand there thinking 'How can I do more? I haven't got anything left to give!' But here's the thing you do- and you go back the next week and the week after that and the week after that...for more!

At the moment for some reason I've been finding training especially tough, I sometimes do as I have a minor bowel condition which makes balancing getting enough calories with training hard. But I have to say- whoa! I've not experienced anything like this before. I don't know whether training seems tougher as there is less of us at the moment and so we get less breaks- I seem to remember I got one two minute break in two hours once. I swear I wouldn't have got through it without sport drinks.

What this got to do with mental conditioning? Well I will be very honest- at the moment sometimes I could happily curl up in a corner of the mat and cry. The only reason I haven't scummed as yet is because most weeks I'm really the only woman on the mat. I feel I have to uphold my 'honour' as a woman not to break down. So I don't. I also suspect the reason why I felt this way recently is because I've come down with a kidney infection, and its taking an absolute age to shift-so I'm feeling a little blue at the moment. So, yes I finding that I really have to dig deep inside to keep going.

However, having said I'm really finding Aikido difficult at the moment. I'm still really really enjoying my training. You may ask- why you crazy woman? Why don't you do flower arranging or something instead of putting yourself through this?

The answer is...I don't know. Aikido has always (and I suspect it always will) fulfilled me in a way I can't explain. I sometimes go to training being mad at something or someone at work and come away feeling at peace with myself within. Nothing else can do that for me. So will I be going next week? Kidney infection or no kidney infection... Oh yes, yes I will.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Chapter 51: As grading time comes around again...I ponder whether I should try for my ShoKyu

Hmmm...again I come to the same question I asked myself about a year ago. Do I grade or not and if so for what reason?

This time, its for my brown belt- a bit of a jump from blue. Normally, I would be stuck whether I should grade or not. But this time I have come to a decision-I will grade.
I don't know why I've been able to make a positive decision like this, maybe its because with a little bit of polish, I actually feel ready this time.

I really want to grade. Not because I prefer brown to blue (actually I much prefer blue as a colour) but because I really think I'm ready. Which is odd, considering I normally run a mile from a grading, and I HATE running.

So, which brings me to the ever eternal question- why do martial artists grade? Traditionally the origin of the black belt derives from the idea that your Obi or belt absorbs your Ki and therefore it is bad luck to wash your belt as it washes away your Ki. Therefore the belt isn't washed-thus it would get blacker the longer you trained, hence becoming black. Martial artists grade to get to black eventually as this is the highest grade you can go.

I've decided to grade as I believe each grade gives you new challenges at each stage and I think I'm finally ready to face the challenges of brown.

However, you can grade for the WRONG reasons. Although with grade, comes a nice new belt and the next lot of challenges for you to conquer for you next belt-there also comes responsibility. A strange idea this may seem but each grade you reach, I believe you are responsible for helping the grade below you learn and develop as you were once helped. Therefore, just because you've eventually reached Dan grade doesn't mean you've become the best there is at the martial art that you practise. You shouldn't forget that you were once a white belt too.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Chapter 49: Why oh why is it you pick up injuries when you have an important event coming up?

The most recent development in my Aikido training is learning when to quit. I say this as I currently have two injuries- both large toes in fact. What is even more annoying is that only one of these inuries is Aikido related.

The first injury occured about three weeks ago on my left large toe. Those of you who read this blog will know that I'm an Irish dancer and so a toe injury is NOT good. I could barley walk after dancing one evening so I decide to pay a visit to my GP as I was afraid it may be a bunion forming- Irish dancers are prone to them. Happily it turned out it was only a sprain. Ok thinks I, I will just be very very careful and not do any jumps or kicks for a week or two. Ha! Well, its taking longer to heal then what I anticipated. As we have a large show coming up it means it only has about five weeks to heal.

The second injury is Aikido related I have to say. I spilt my right large toe nail down the middle of the nail bed at the last session. So in the end, I went to a Chiropodist to make sure that the nail bed was trimmed down correctly and stop infection. Now, I don't like people looking at my feet- they're all callused and rough from my dancing, we dancers are not too kind to our feet. The first thing she remarked on when she saw the state of my feet was to ask me if I couldn't be a couch potato instead? Um, no was the answer to that question I'm afraid. Anyway, the nail trimmed back ok and should grow back about Christmas time.

I say I've learned how to quit because I have to have one toe taped up to stop the nail splitting further and figured a way of strapping part of my foot up to support the toe without hindering any movement. Therefore I find that I have to be patient with myself and allow time for these two injuries to heal. So basically this means still training and dancing but training and dancing carefully. Fatio!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Chapter 48: What does your Aikido mean to you?

So, what does your Aikido or if you participate in another martial art mean to you?

I ask this question as I've recently attended a weekend course and had a chance to attempt another grading. It was very tempting, for quite a few reasons, and I have to say all of them wrong reasons for grading. I will be very honest when I heard that people I knew were grading, I really wanted to join them on the mat at least to try.

But I decided not to. Its not that I don't ever want to grade to brown and eventually (I hope) to black- it just feels wrong at this moment in time. It feels too soon, it feels wrong somehow to even think about grading when my last grading was before Christmas.

The point is, I didn't grade because I've come to realise whats important to me about my Aikido- and its not to grade. I never started Aikdo for the much desired black belt- I started for self-defence reasons and to give myself a little self-confidence boost. I only started grading because it seemed a good way to remain focused on my training.

However, its now become clear to me that I don't do Aikido so I can grade, I do Aikido because I find it fulfils me in a way in which I can't explain. In fact, I'm finding that I sometimes get more enjoyment of working with the new beginners and lower grades- its a great feeling if you're training with someone who is relatively new to Aikido when they manage to use a technique that they have been struggling with and put you to the floor.

Thats when it hits me- I've often wondered what my Aikido is and I think I finally found it. My Aikdo isn't necessarily about always wanting to reach the next belt- I now much prefer to help others along the path...just as three years ago my Sengpai helped me.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Chapter 47: Why do people think female martial artists are violent and can't call themselves a lady?

Well, where to start? First of all,an awful lot of stuff has happened since my last post.

Firstly I got engaged at Easter and secondly the Doctor has finally sorted my IBS with the right medication which means for the first time in a good six months I am able to train without painful bowel spasms. Joy!

I also think that my attitude to training has changed somewhat. I currently train at two different clubs, one slightly more formal than the other and I'm finding that my self-discipline has (I like to think anyway) improved some what. I stay more focused on the point in hand and have developed a very scary drive to training.
Since getting my blue belt in January, its like I've grown a new skin, I've become more fluid and graceful in movement but at the same time have developed a hard attitude against the little voice in my head, you know the one says 'you can't do that' and ignore it completely - in fact I rarely hear it anymore.

Now I'm getting to the point of my post. It's really interesting how people view you as a martial artist. I've been told that 'I don't look like a martial artist'. I'm sorry, but what is a martial artist supposed to look like? A hard faced killer?
I was at a demo recently for sports and it was strange how people do a runner when they see people in Gis, especially the girls my age. It was also interesting how many people didn't know what Aikdio was or how the principles may be applied against an attacker.

What really annoys me though is how some women think that being a martial artist makes you less feminine, less of a lady. In fact, I have been labelled a 'heretic' to womanhood in the past just because I thought short hair and fingernails were more practical for doing sport. I don't know whats the issue here, its like people think I don't care about my appearance or something, but you will find that in many changing rooms all female aikidocca are discussing 'beauty' tips. Well, more about moisturing and curing Gi burn really. So you see we do care about our appearance. In fact, for nights out alot of the men I train with are amazed that we make such an effort - well, they see us at our worst, all sweaty and horrible so its our chance to show we can scrub up well I suppose. Sorry, I should scrap that sentence, I should say 'horses sweat, gentlemen perspire, ladies merely glow'. What a load of rubbish!

In fact, I was talking to someone about this a few months back at a course. Yeah, okay I now have short hair and I did enjoy having long fingernails but it was so time consuming to do your hair and look after your nails (maybe I was just lazy). We also got talking about why young women don't do martial arts - and the only think we could think of was that they maybe think they will develop into muscular amazons or something and get huge, but the reality is we don't have the testosterone for it! So yeah, out has gone the long hair and nice fingernails, but I've gained so much for a supposed 'loss of femininity', for one thing- without Aikido, I wouldn't have met my fiancé. I met him on an Aiki night out!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Chapter 46: Why is it no matter how hard you train, something always gets the better of you?

Well, thats it- I've done something I've never done... I had to ask to be excused during a training session. There was a good reason (honest).
The fact is, my Irritable Bowel (IBS) is getting the better of me during training. Its flared up again, which makes some techniques like Gedan-ate difficult to work with-basically because it hurts when someone catches me with it over the their leg. I had to sit out towards the end of the session even though I really really didn't want to because I knew the technique we were working on would only make me feel worse.
I was a little ashamed to tell you the truth, because when you get to blue belt training is about mind over matter right? You're not meant to whimp out! Sensi understood I needed the 10 minutes but I still feel a little put out that its preventing me from participating fully in training at the moment. Still, all part of the learning curve right?
Anyway, hopefully things will settle down soon. Apart from the old IBS rearing its ugly head again, I find I'm enjoying my training more than ever. Japanese terminology no longer seems alien and now I've started learning the higher grade katas I've come to appreciate the beauty of the circular movement involved in Aikido. Why did I not see this before?

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Chapter 45: Two months into my new grade...there's no heating at the club and its the coldest winter we've had for a long while...

Yes thats right, our heating system that was on the brink before Christmas has packed in.
Well, whats the big deal you may ask? Okay, I have Raynauds which in basic terms mean that I have very bad circulation in my fingers and toes. Usually the basic movements that we do as part of a warm up helps to get the circulation going, but this time its not working. The other downside of having no or little heating is that our mats which are usually as hard as rocks to breakfall on have stiffened up, so basically this means that breakfalling would be easier outside on a concrete pavement then on the Tatami.
Strangley enough, this isn't really bothering me. Since reaching my next grade (blue) things like this aren't putting me off training like they used to. Its almost as if I've toughened up since last winter.
But don't get me wrong, as soon as I get changed and feel the cold hard tatami under my feet and my feet and hands go numb- I still feel that a gi that its own heating system would be a distinct advantage for me if only for the warm up (and only during winter of course).
Since getting my blue belt, I think something has happened to me, something's changed-I feel more confident during the free practice and fitter then I've ever been. I'm also contemplating entering for Randori this time in competition rather than just watching. Its a very odd feeling, whether its because I graded somewhere different and thus my grading really feels like an achievementthis time I don't know...but its a good feeling that I really feel that my training in Aikido is working for me (if only in a 'feel good' way).
Even though I feel good about my new belt I know that there is no room for compacency. The training and standards expected of me have really stepped up- there is no room for slacking. The next year in which I train for my brown will be the real test for me in Aikido, can I do it? Can I get my brown? Can I overcome my nerves and inward fears that still lurk within? I may decide not to even grade at the end of 2009, who knows? I will have to face whatever the training and life throws at me and see.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Chapter 44: First week back...including the usual aches and pains, and gulp! -Grading result!

Well, this is the first week back after Christmas and usually the one that I find the hardest. The problem is is that you feel extremely unfit (no matter what your good intentions were regarding eating half of the chocolate tin) and don't really feel like going out into the dark and cold.
This year however, it wasn't that I was feeling unfit or out of shape particularly, it was the fact that the first night back was results night was what was making me nervous. Back in December when I did my blue belt grading I didn't feel that I had done well, I didn't really expect to.
So, we line up, kneel in seiza, and wait nervously for Sensi who kneels in front of us with a small turns out we all passed.
The fact that I'm now a blue belt hasn't really sunk in yet and I don't think it will for a couple of weeks. It feels a little unreal to me still-the fact that after three years of Aikido training, I now a blue belt. Needless to say though I am ecstatic...I don't think I will be grading for a little while!
I want to savour the moment for a while you see...because I never thought I would get this far.