Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year, New Beginnings

As I lay here in my warm comfy bed, I can hardly believe that 2011 is coming to a close. This year has been filled with lots of ups and downs and definitely some adventures.

It is in 2011 that I began my study of Hapkido, and this blog along with it. I met my wonderful Sensei and my other instructors and found a surrogate family at Equa Do, waiting with open arms to bring me into the fold. I discovered that I was stronger and capable of learning more quickly than even my instructors predicted. I successfully passed two belt tests, one of which resulting in me gaining approval for a belt to be skipped. And I began my path to becoming an instructor myself.

In 2012 there is so much to look forward to. Next week I will receive my orange belt, and with it higher expectations and plans for a more intense immersive study of Hapkido. A few weeks after that I will reach my next important milestone on my journey to become an instructor, by getting to teach two sessions of the able bodied Hapkido class under the supervision of Sensei and Anthony. There will be more lessons to learn and people to educate and students to teach. And I am looking forward to it.

Wishing you all a happy, safe and blessed New Year.


"Formal Training" Week 23

This past Thursday marked my 23rd week of formal training and the last such session before the new year. Equa Do was closed due to the holidays, however the idea of skipping a week of training was causing quite a panic and so Sensei gave me a private lesson at home.

We didn't really do much due to limited access to resources such as mats or training weapons. We went through pretty much my home training routine and then spent some time talking strategy or philosophy.

Once we were done with that, and a short sparring bout, Sensei decided that had been enough training and we just enjoyed the time we had left with each other.

More in the New Year


Formal Training Week 22

December 22 marked my 22nd week of training at Equa Do and the first of my training hours toward green belt. As the school was technically closed for winter break and it had been by special request that it was opened for me, almost no one was there. It was literally me, Master Markus, Erin, and Sensei.

We were able to warm up and start class a little early as a result and Sensei chose to do so. We warmed up and then took a break so we could eat dinner and give ourselves some energy. Since it was not officially a class night warmups were kept simple and only took roughly five minutes.

When we got back in the training area from eating, Sensei asked me what I felt like working on. Again, without it being a formal class night, Sensei kind of was able to let me have free reign over what it was I wanted to do. I chose knife work. We reviewed the ten point strike, then moved onto using the knife in combat, whether against armed or unarmed assailants. The trick is to never forget you have two hands. The off (unarmed) hand should be used to assist in blocking and manipulating the opponent's body to allow you to strike at the most harmful points rather than simply slashing blindly and hoping it hurts.

I had really been hoping Anthony, one of my original instructors, would be there so that maybe he could give me something new to learn and also see how far I have come since he last worked with me. He originally promised Sensei he would be there but apparently forgot or spaced out because he did not come. This caused most of our remaining time to be eaten up by a severe panic attack and a flare up of my abandonment issues that were caused by my parents.

We did, however, have time to demonstrate my knife and cane work for Master Markus. He deemed it most impressive.

More soon.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Special Note for a Special Girl

I am a fond reader of the Chicago Now blog Portrait of an Adoption. Written by Chicagoan and adoptive mom Carrie Goldman it is a tender and honest look into the world of adoption and the many ways it alters and honors traditional family dynamics. I first became aware of the blog after Carrie posted about her daughter Katie, who had been bullied for displaying her love of all things Star Wars at school. Geeks around the globe came together in an outpouring of support to restore Katie's confidence. A geek myself, and a fellow adoptee, I have been wanting to offer Katie a message of support for quite some time, but never really knew how to do it. This past Thursday was the second annual "Wear Star Wars, Share Star Wars" day in support of Katie. Here, a few days late, is the message of support from me I feel this little girl deserves.

Dear Katie,

Hi! My name is Michelle, but my friends call me Misha. You can too, if you want. I've gotten to read all about you on your mommy's blog, and I wanted to write you a letter, telling you just how special I think you are, and maybe share a little bit of my story with you.

I'm 22 years old, but I was adopted when I was little just like you were. I have Cerebral Palsy, a disability that makes it hard for me to walk. Instead, I use a wheelchair. When I was five I had a surgery that made me have to be in a big cast, from under my arms, all the way down to my toes. While I was waiting to get better, my daddy and I watched the original Star Wars trilogy. I loved it, especially Princess Leia. And I was so happy when I found out she was adopted like I was.

But when I went back to school, I started being bullied for being different. People thought I was weird because I had trouble walking, and even weirder for liking the same things boys did. By the time I was ten, I was ready to give up, and be a typical girl. I didn't want to go to school anymore either and I liked school.

I'm really glad I didn't give up. As I got even older I found plenty of friends who liked the same things I did, and saw me for me. Unfortunately, my mommy and daddy weren't as loving and supportive as yours and they became my bullies. I moved out though, and things got a lot better.

I want you to remember that people all over the world care about you, and, like me, think you're pretty awesome. Your determination to train in the ways of the Jedi are an inspiration to me, Katie. I am a martial artist, and I recently tested for my orange belt (third belt). There aren't very many girls who study at the school where I train, but I am proud to be one of them. Martial artists, like the Jedi, protect people from bad guys and help keep the world safe. The school where I train is local, and if you'd ever like to check it out, we would love to have you!

Keep rocking your Star Wars pride and remember there is no one in this world who can tell you who to be or how to act or what to like. That's for you to decide. And whatever you decide to like, I know it will be pretty awesome.



PS: Here are some pictures of my Sensei (teacher) and I.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Belt Testing: Yellow/Orange Belt

I took my second belt test on December 15, 2011. Belt testing was a little different this time around. There was a slight mixup with the testing schedule and so belt testing for Hapkido students was carried out during their regularly scheduled class time. I was very nervous when I arrived at Equa Do so Master Markus hung out with me and kept me calm until Erin and Sensei arrived. Erin and Sensei went with me to buy dinner and when we returned, they managed to get me to drink a small cup of soup.

As soon as I was finished it was time for testing to begin. I bowed in, and headed to the corner in which we usually train. I warmed up in the usual way with fifty jumping jacks and plenty of stretching. Then Sensei asked me to come over to the heavy punching bags and demonstrate my strikes. We quickly realized the angle that I was forced to be at because the base of the bag is solid and won't allow me to get close enough, did not work. So instead Sensei put on hand pads and had me demo that way. I was asked to demonstrate: vertical punches, horizontal punches, hook, uppercut, ox jaw strike, backfist, elbow strike, palm strike, knife hand, ridge hand, panther's paw, and thumb gouge. Sensei then set a striking bag on a stool and had me show him tiger's maw, tiger's claw, and eagle's beak.

Then Sensei and Erin demonstrated some techniques for me to replicate. Techniques included were: wrist locks, chokes, brush trap strike, and each of these main techniques combined with a series of strikes aimed at subduing an attacker. After that, Sensei asked to see my cane work. I was asked to demonstrate my eight point strike and some unsequenced strikes at spots on a bag, then expected to defend against unarmed strikes, large shield type objects represented by a large hand pad, a knife, and two sticks similar to the ones used in escrima.

Sensei then had me demonstrate my proficiency in crutch work. He used the large hand pad as a target, holding it vertically on the ground and having me strike where vulnerable points would be. He also tested my knowledge on striking unarmed when necessary while on my crutches, and vulnerability points on the upper body. This section of the test also ended with a short sparring bout. Then we moved to using the crutches while prone. Blocks, strikes, and brush trap strike were all tested.

I was originally told I would not be doing knife work for my test, however Sensei handed me a knife as soon as I was back in my chair. He tested me on my eight point knife sequence, as well as the dagger grip, reverse grip, and standard grip. Then we began sparring, with Sensei armed with a knife as well. The aim was to disarm him if possible or simulate cutting him in ways that would cause him injury and prevent further attack. We sparred for a few moments and then Sensei called a halt, saying I had done very well.

The final portion of my test was verbal question and answer, just as it had been for my white belt test. The questions and answers were as follows.

Why do we study martial arts?
To learn and to grow

What is the duty of a martial artist?
To protect and teach others

What responsibility does a martial artist have toward their community?
To be the everyday hero, so to speak, and help where needed as well as setting a good example for others.

When do we use our gift?
Only in times of great need.

Then Master Eric came over and asked a few questions of his own.

So I hear a rumor you would like to begin to help teach?

Because I believe true knowledge is demonstrated in the ability to pass what one has learned on to others and have it be understood.

So you believe you have something to offer the world?

How far do you wish to take this journey?
As far as I can.

He smiled, and asked Sensei how I had done on the various aspects of my test. Sensei said I had done extremely well on all of it, including on material that I had not yet formally studied, and also that he would like to give me an extra credit opportunity. Master Eric agreed.

That's when a full sized wooden board was held in front of me, for me to break. Though I have broken boards before, they have only been about half the size. That said however, they are made of the same material. Even knowing all this, I found myself unable to break the board, no matter if Sensei or Master Eric was holding it. My hand became swollen and bruised after repeated attempts. It was finally Master Eric who came up with a solution. He pointed out that boards of that size are usually laid across cinder blocks and the person attempting the break will use the downward force of their strike to break the board. There was a bit of an issue finding enough cinder blocks to elevate the board to my striking height in my chair, but after a few minutes I was ready to attempt the break again. Apparently, Master Eric wanted a picture of me breaking the board. Unfortunately he didn't exactly warn me, and so as soon as he stepped back from setting the board I smashed through it with a hammer strike.

Everyone signed the board as usual, and when I walked over to receive congratulations from another student, Heidi, it became clear that Miss Linda wished to test me as well. Within seconds she was behind me and had me in a chokehold. I quickly wrenched her arms away from my neck and attempted to put her in a wristlock but she reversed it at the last moment, and I found myself in a wristlock. I twisted free and actually used my body weight to throw myself back into her and catch her off guard. Then I pushed one of her arms away and brought my chair around to the side, striking her ribs and working my other wrist free before putting distance between myself and her, ending the sparring match with another victory. Sensei, Erin, Master Eric, Miss Linda, and her students Heidi and Terri were pleased and surprised to say the least. Finally, I was allowed to bow out but not before the determination was made with regard to my test.

Master Eric and Sensei took me aside and told me...


Tiredly yours,


PS: Attached to this blog are pictures of the board I broke during my test.

The Path

The Path

I was carried
Led through the motions
I crawled
Was watched over
Began exploring on my own
I walked hand in hand
Still guided
But sometmes taking
Those few steps ahead
I stand independent
But still supported
Climbing hills
Forging my path
In future
I will guide others
Though their paths will branch from mine
I will help them on their journeys.

I act
With honor
I speak
With respect
I listen
With compassion
I learn
From all around me
I discover
My true strength

The path is long
And though I may grow weary
I am spurred on
By those who have made this pilgrimage before.
Someday I will stand with them
Walking side by side
For this journey is never truly complete.
I know
I am a part of an ancient tradition
One that carries
Honor, Dignity, Respect, and Duty
It is a heavy burden
But one I carry with pride
For I chose the path of the warrior
And I am making it my own.

Lesson plan: Crutches

Lesson Plan-Crutches

Combat Hapkido: Standard Class
Tuesday Evening: Winter Session

Instructor(s): Anthony Rodgers, Blaine Coplon
Assistant Instructor: Misha Golden

Intended student ranking: All

Intended lesson time: 1 hour

1. To demonstrate the adaptation and execution of Combat Hapkido techniques in situations where the martial artist experiences limited physical mobility due to injury or illness.

2. To encourage respect towards and honorable (equal) treatment of all sparring partners or adversaries regardless of outward appearance or percieved ability.

3. To promote awareness of disabled practicioners of martial arts.

Objectives: By the end of this lesson, students will:
- Understand and demonstrate the execution of the six basic strikes and three basic blocks of Combat Hapkido in wheelchairs.
-Be able to manuever on crutches effectively to assist in striking vulnerable points as well as dodging unfriendly blows.


Two-three pairs of crutches.
Floor mats for prone work.
Soft targets for strike work if necessary

Technique list:

1. Horizontal punch
2.Vertical punch
3. Palm strike
4. Hook
5. Uppercut
6. Elbow strike
7. Center (brush) block
8. Upward (wing) block
9. Downward (scoop) block
10. Brush-Trap-Strike (prone)


Warmup: Stretches and 50 jumping jacks. Ten repetitions of each desired technique for the night's lesson per side.

Introduction: Misha called up to front/challenged to short sparring match with senior instructor. Sparring match should only incorporate techniques used in warmup. After sparring match students are asked to help identify vulnerable areas Misha struck at.  Emphasis placed on Misha's ability to fight despite physical limitations and that due to injury or illness any martial artist may someday need to do the same.  Use of crutches as extension of the arm should be the focus, as should letting go of one when possible to strike unarmed. Brush trap strike on mat should be demoed. As should striking from prone and the cross block. Crutches held in x shape above body when prone.

Crutches brought out and students paired off to practice techniques, one student per pair on crutches, one standing and with no limitation. Strikes are to be light. If safety is a concern soft targets may be used for strike practice Each student should practice manuvering on crutches for a few minutes before strikes and blocks are incorporated. Balancing on one crutch should be emphasized as well, while other hand is used to strike unarmed.

Misha will circulate and provide feedback on technique execution as well as assistance to those struggling. Senior instructors will supervise for appropriate sparring ettiquite and help where necessary as well.


Recap of lesson's core goals. Physical limitations do not constitute less ability, and one can still defend themselves. All adversaries are worthy of respect regardless of ability level. Also include that those who appear physically weaker are at greater risk for becoming targets for those who are up to no good. Suggest practicing strikes leaning heavily on something or holding long stick to simulate crutches when at home. Congratulate students. Bow out.


Students should be revisiting this method of fighting every few weeks at instructors' discretion and these can be included in the techniques requiring mastery during belt testing if desired.

Lesson prepared for use at Equa Do Martial Arts by Misha Golden. 2011.

Lesson plan: Wheelchairs

Lesson Plan- Wheelchairs

Combat Hapkido: Standard Class
Tuesday Evening: Winter Session

Instructor(s): Anthony Rodgers, Blaine Coplon
Assistant Instructor: Misha Golden

Intended student ranking: All

Intended lesson time: 1 hour.

1. To demonstrate the adaptation and execution of Combat Hapkido techniques in situations where the martial artist experiences limited physical mobility due to injury or illness.

2. To encourage respect towards and honorable (equal) treatment of all sparring partners or adversaries regardless of outward appearance or percieved ability.

3. To promote awareness of disabled practicioners of martial arts.

Objectives: By the end of this lesson, students will:
- Understand and demonstrate the execution of the six basic strikes and three basic blocks of Combat Hapkido in wheelchairs.
-Be able to manuever the wheelchair effectively to assist in striking vulnerable points as well as dodging unfriendly blows.


Two-three manual wheelchairs.

Technique list:

1. Horizontal punch
2.Vertical punch
3. Palm strike
4. Hook
5. Uppercut
6. Elbow strike
7. Center (brush) block
8. Upward (wing) block
9. Downward (scoop) block
10. Brush-Trap-Strike


Warmup: Stretches and 50 jumping jacks. Ten repetitions of each desired technique for the night's lesson per side.

Introduction: Misha called up to front/challenged to short sparring match with senior instructor. Sparring match should only incorporate techniques used in warmup. After sparring match students are asked to help identify vulnerable areas Misha struck at.  Emphasis placed on Misha's ability to fight despite physical limitations and that due to injury or illness any martial artist may someday need to do the same.

Wheelchairs brought out and students paired off to practice techniques, one student per pair in chair, one standing and with no limitation. Each student should practice manuvering the chair for a few minutes before strikes and blocks are incorporated.

Misha will circulate and provide feedback on technique execution as well as assistance to those struggling. Senior instructors will supervise for appropriate sparring ettiquite and help where necessary as well.


Recap of lesson's core goals. Physical limitations do not constitute less ability, and one can still defend themselves. All adversaries are worthy of respect regardless of ability level. Also include that those who appear physically weaker are at greater risk for becoming targets for those who are up to no good. Suggest practicing strikes sitting to simulate wheelchair when at home. Congratulate students. Bow out.


Students should be revisiting this method of fighting every few weeks at instructors' discretion and these can be included in the techniques requiring mastery during belt testing if desired.

Lesson plan prepared for use at Equa Do Martial Arts by Misha Golden. 2011.

Lesson plans

A few nights ago I was enjoying my nightly phone call with Sensei when he said he had an idea, and needed my help. The idea that such a talented black belt as Sensei needed my assistance threw me off a little to say the least. But, I played along and asked what he needed.

He revealed that a number of the students that he teaches in the Tuesday class are somewhat unfocused, and the lack of focus almost borders on disrespect. When he teaches a technique, the students generally practice that technique only for as long as he is watching them, beginning to spar the moment his back is turned. I know that this frustrates him, and figured his idea would have something to do with this. And it did, in a way.

He told me the students have been made aware of the other class that he teaches at the school, which of course is my Handicapped Hapkido class on Thursdays, and are curious about how someone who is challenged in the ways Chad and I are can possibly practice Combat Hapkido. He then proposed that he wanted to teach even the able bodied students to fight in wheelchairs and on crutches. When I asked why, Sensei reminded me that anyone has the ability to be injured or sick.

Sensei explained that his dilemma came in knowing how to teach the students who were primarily able bodied how to use chairs and crutches easily. I told him I would be happy to help and he said he needed some sort of proposal to submit to Master Eric. The next day, in response to his request I drafted two lesson plans. One focuses on the use of wheelchairs in Combat Hapkido, the other focuses on using crutches. Both lesson plans have been approved by Master Markus, Master Eric, Anthony, and Sensei. That said I will be posting my completed lesson plans here.

Feedback is much appreciated.


Formal Training Week 21

Here is my account of my last week of formal training before my second belt test. From my last post, readers will know I had a rough encounter with one of the Equa Do instructors. The aftermath was so severe, that by the time I had gotten home from training that night, I was refusing to return to the school. Part of my anxiety disorder is characterized by the fact that I have places and people that my brain considers "safe" so to speak. A safe person, such as Sensei, Chad, or Erin is someone that knows about my disorder and can effectively help me during a panic attack or flashback episode.A safe place is probably best described as a place where I feel at relatively low risk to experience panic attacks or flashbacks. The reason, then, that I was unwilling to return, is because for me Equa Do was a safe place up until Miss Linda's simulated "attack".

With much cajoling Sensei convinced me to return, promising to stay nearby the entire night so that a similar training exercise could not occur without his knowledge, and he could call a halt if necessary should one occur. Before I had class again, he also discussed with Miss Linda the effects of what she had done, and elicited an apology.

I returned to Equa Do willingly, but still had not had the best day ahead of that. First, the stress of finals had gotten to me, and secondly Chad was extremely ill and we were unsure as to the cause. Just before leaving school, he let me know his neurologist had advised him to go to the ER and then I had not heard anything between that time and the time I needed to turn my phone off, having arrived at Equa Do. Sensei already knew what was going on, as I had called him from school, and he and Erin arrived shortly after I did. Master Markus was the first one I told about Chad's condition when I was there, but with Sensei and Erin's support I managed to fill everyone in and stay fairly composed. A trip to the Italian restaurant next door to the dojang didn't hurt either.

Class was started with an abbreviated warm up and then strike reps, before Sensei and I resumed working on knife technique. He taught me an additional grip (dagger style) good for stabbing and ripping. Then we continued working on sparring and real time combat with the knife. As we were working, I suddenly heard a soft footstep behind me.

Linda had snuck up on me, and was grappling me again. I immediately responded, wrenching her arms away from my neck, and striking out with the training knife that was in my hand. She noticed the weapon and continued trying to disarm me, but I kept hanging onto it. The distraction of trying to control my knife and get it away from me meant Miss Linda was gripping only weakly with her other hand, and I threw that one off, going for her toes using my momentum to steer my chair. Those two distractions allowed me to work my hand free of her wrist lock and stab her, over my own head. Remarkably, I was able to tag her directly over the sternum, forcing her to concede the fight as in real life she would have been rather injured.

Following that we were once again short on time, but Sensei asked what I wanted to work on, since he knew I had been having a rough day. I said I wasn't sure, and he went in the back to the room where our supplies are kept and grabbed the last board we had. He told me to go ahead and break it, any way I wanted. It was a board with a knot in it, which are typically much more difficult to break because the grain in the wood is not smooth. Master Eric was not sure if I would be able to break the board, but I was determined to try. I asked Sensei to hold it for me and managed to break it in one strike, with a knife hand. Everyone signed it, and it now sits in my bedroom as yet another trophy. I left feeling very ready to test.

More soon,


Formal Training Week 20

After Thanksgiving break, there were only two weeks left of classes in the Fall session, meaning of course that we were very close to belt testing. Walking into Equa Do following the long weekend I knew my training would be intensifying in order to prepare me for my test, but it did so in a way I had never expected.
Thanksgiving weekend had not been an easy one for me mentally, and the stress of being close to finals week at school meant I needed some time to just chill with Sensei and Erin when I got to Equa Do on Thursday.

 However, one of the instructors at the school had other ideas. While Sensei was caught up in looking at training tools in a catalog, and Master Eric, Master Markus and Anthony were too caught up in conversation to notice, Miss Linda came up behind me and caught me in a chokehold. Not expecting it, I responded slower than typical. She then proceeded to tighten the choke to the point where my chair was pulled past its center of gravity. This forced me to split my attention between repelling my attacker and avoiding injury. Instinct took over when Miss Linda tried to gain control of my head and I bit her hand when she got too close. Shortly after that was when I realized I would not win the sparring match and I yelled out to Sensei for help, but no one responded. I fought unsuccessfully for a few more minutes and then Miss Linda released me.
She was very sharp with me about two things: The fact that I bit, and the name that I had used to get my teacher's attention. In the style of martial arts Miss Linda teaches, she does not advocate biting an opponent because of the risk of illness. However, given my limited mobility, Sensei and Master Eric and Anthony have advocated biting as a last resort for if someone is close to taking control of my head or cutting off my airsupply. Biting creates enough distraction that an opponent will let go, giving me a chance to retake control of the situation. And as for the term I use to refer to my instructor, Sensei is a Japanese term, and Hapkido is not Japanese but Korean. This is why Miss Linda became so upset. However the Korean term for teacher is long and complicated so SENSEI is the one who told me to call him that. When I told Miss Linda that she got Sensei's attention and began to chew him out for improper teaching.

Hearing Sensei disciplined like that was awful and the anxiety it created combined with the stress of what Miss Linda had done to produce a full fledged panic attack. My mother used chokeholds at least twice that I can remember to discipline me when she felt I had spoken out of turn. I went into a flashback of those experiences as a result. It took Sensei quite a while to calm me down, and even when I had calmed down I was so shaken I refused to train.

When I finally did calm down, we warmed up with jumping jacks and our usual stretches, practicing strike reps on a few soft targets stacked one on top of the other. Once I had finished my strikes I was asked to assist Erin in learning the ones Sensei had not covered yet. We didn't go for perfection, moving on once she had the basic idea behind each strike. Sensei also had me get out my weapon at that time, and work on the eight point strike sequence I had recently mastered. I showed this to Anthony, who was very pleased, and also demonstrated my modified Brush Trap Strike for him as well. While demonstrating this, I followed up Brush-Trap-Strike with a hammer strike out of instinct, sending Anthony sprawling to the mat, and amusing Sensei.

The new material for the night included two new strikes, Panther's Paw (essentially a knuckle strike) and the thumb gouge which is exactly what it sounds like. Both are meant for soft targets. Then Sensei went and got two training knives and tossed me one. The revelation that I was ready to begin blade work excited me, especially because I was beginning to work on it about six months or so ahead of schedule. He reviewed proper technique for disarming an opponent wielding a knife, as well as knife safety, before showing me the eight point cut sequence for knife work. This is essentially the same thing as the one for my cane except each cut is actually a double slash to ensure penetration. The sequence also concludes with a jab to the soft target just under the ribcage.

We did a bit of sparring with the knife, so that I could learn to avoid slicing myself with my own weapon. Also covered were where to slice on an opponent to render them ineffective and how to allow the opponents momentum to make cuts for you. (Place blade along inside of arm as opponent punches.)

At this point it was time to end class for the evening, as the panic attack I suffered ate into class time, so we bowed out and left.

More soon,


Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Formal" Training Week 19

Week 19 of my formal training fell on Thanksgiving, so there was no actual class. However, Sensei's family is struggling financially and unable to do it there. They got invited elsewhere, but Sensei was uncomfortable attending due to family tensions. As a result he accepted an invitation to spend Thanksgiving with me.

He arrived around one thirty, and we sat and talked while waiting for dinner to be done. We had both chosen to wear our doboks, as they are extremely comfortable and being in mine helps me stay calmer because for me it is connected with the focus the martial arts requires. Tensions between me and Chad's mom were running a bit high, and I did not appreciate her badmouthing me to Sensei or badmouthing the martial arts in general. By the time the table had been cleared I was upset and in definite need of a cool down so we took a walk outside.

I literally broke down crying, as the realization that the man who is like a father to me was only able to shield me for a few hours hit me full force. Once he got me distracted and calmed down we came back inside. He took me to my bedroom that I shared with Chad to warm up and finish calming down.

After we ate dessert, Sensei took me through strike reps and basic techniques to provide the sense of routine my anxiety so desperately needs. We did a little bit of sparring to help me deal with anger and tension. So even on Thanksgiving, I got my training hour in. :)

I was more than ready to get out of my chair at that point and so Chad, Sensei and myself went back into the bedroom and watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, Top Secret Recipe, and Trick My What? The night finished off with me falling asleep in Sensei's lap following a wrestling match, while the boys played Street Fighter IV.

Not exactly the most traditional Thanksgiving, but definitely an enjoyable one.

Hope yours was too.


Board Break Week 18

As I said in my previous post, Sensei had me work on something in class that required skill, but also was a revisitation of a skill I had shown before. As a motivator, he chose to have me break another board. All he had told me prior to going to get it was "What once took you many strikes, I now wish to see you accomplish in one". Kind of cryptic but that's Sensei for you. His meaning became abundantly clear, however, once I saw what he was planning to have me do.

Over the summer when I helped out at Gurnee Days, Miss Linda talked me into breaking a board in order to improve my self confidence. It was something that I struggled with, as I had trouble understanding the concept of striking through, or past, the board. It took me around thirty or so attempts to break the board, and I was determined that would not be the case this time.

Sensei held the board just as Miss Linda had done, though instead of using a vertical hold he held it horizontally and asked me to use a downward hammer strike. I nodded, took a deep breath, and...


I was a bit shocked to say the least. As with my original board break, I was so focused I did not really see it break, and because board breaks should not hurt if they are done properly I didn't feel much either. It only registered because a small crack was heard. Even Sensei, who was holding the board for me, said he had not been aware of the board breaking and only realized it when he found two pieces of wood in his hands instead of one.

Everyone signed the board as usual, and it now sits in my room as a trophy. Here are pics.



Saturday, December 3, 2011

Formal Training Week 18

As you knew thanks to my previous post, I was struggling with my depression. That continued into last week and when I got to Equa Do I was so mentally exhausted I almost opted out of training. I wasn't very talkative before class and pushed away Sensei and Erin. Sensei knew how I felt and convinced me that a night of training might help, so we warmed up.

The week before this one, I had demonstrated skill in all of my strikes but revealed my tiger's maw and tiger's claw strikes to be particularly powerful. In response Anthony and Sensei suggested basic Iron Hand training. This would involve deadening the nerves in my fingertips slightly and forming callouses. I worked at that for a bit, and then was asked to run through strike repetitions. I started to, but then lost my focus and motivation. Sensei believes this is due in part to how much training I do on my own time.

In order to give me a break from the monotony and show me how far I have come in my training, Sensei had me do an exercise I have done in the past, but demonstrate improved skill. That, however, will have its own blog post.

Master Eric came over at this point and Sensei said he would like me to have a formal sparring match. At first I suspected he meant that he would spar with me, and Master Eric was there to referee so to speak. Boy was I wrong. When I asked who I was to be partnered with it was Master Eric who stepped forward. Needless to say I was a bit nervous. He is a fifth degree black belt after all.

We began our sparring match circling warily and Master Eric struck out first. I attempted to use brush trap strike but he is much too fast and I was forced to modify the technique. I linked my arm through his and yanked his elbow to a bent but immobilized position against my shoulder. Because I am at a lower vantage point pulling and locking him in this position gives me full access to his head with my other hand and I landed several blows successfully, including a few to his ribs and sternum as well. Master Eric kept striking for my head when he could and made several efforts to get behind my chair where I could not retaliate as easily, but I repeatedly either twisted out of his grip or allowed him to get behind me and then ran over his feet. One chokehold he did was moderately successful, and he was able to start moving me toward a wall at high speed, with the intent of simulating ramming me if I could not break free. However, I was successful and Master Eric conceded the match at that point, earning me a victory.

Just because I was victorious once however, didn't mean the sparring match was not without its own lesson. I had responded to the moving choke too slowly for Master Eric's liking and he requested that I work on it with Sensei. I did but not for very long as class was almost over. We discovered that I am able to use the momentum of my chair, an off handed push and my body weight combined to wrench my chair away from my attacker and usually run over his foot in the process forcing him to let go. I did this with Sensei and indeed ran over his foot, nearly breaking his toe.

Once that happened Sensei decided it was time we bowed out and class was finished.

More soon,


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Formal Training Week 17

I almost did not get to go to training this week, as Chad was not feeling well and I was unsure whether his mom would still be willing to pick me up. However, she agreed to do so. I have been really struggling with my depression lately to the point of being suicidal, and I was sort of looking forward to having a one on one session with Sensei, but Erin was there and at first I felt significant resentment. I was, unfortunately, very short with her and with Sensei. Sensei finally got me calmed down and I turned in my homework sheet to him. I also gave Master Eric a paper I wrote last semester about the problem of bullying in America's schools, my solution to which is the implementation of a martial arts unit in physical education classes.  He had asked to read the thesis after I emailed it to Sensei, who had thought it was worth passing along. By the time we did that and I apologized to Erin it was time for class.

Warmups this week were very different than what I was used to previously. We still did our usual stretches, but after that the routine got changed up. I was restless and asked Sensei for permission to get out of my chair and do something. Imagine my surprise when he had me get on the floor and do pushups. But not just any pushups. Sensei had me doing full, military count, pushups. I managed to get through two sets of five before my body was too exhausted to continue. In order to compensate for the physical strain he had asked of me, Sensei then asked Erin and I to make ourselves comfortable on the floor and led us through a five minute meditation. With his permission I envisioned the Forest of Spirits. Once that was done it was time to move on.

Sensei started Erin working with vertical and horizontal punches, and took me through all my strikes and blocks just to ensure continued progress. Then he had me work a little bit more on the eight point strike sequence he began teaching me the week before. He was pleased with my efforts when training at home and said it was time for me to learn something new.

Before we got started on that however, Sensei excused himself to go to the washroom, leaving me with Erin. She had been struggling with throwing solid punches, and as I have been told I am more than competent with basic strikes I asked to see what she had been doing in hopes that I could offer some assistance. She threw a couple of punches and immediately I saw the problems. Firstly, she was not turning her foot into her punch, which meant the energy lacked a smooth conduit and she was limiting her strike. Secondly, she was drawing back her arm before punching (or chambering) this is incredibly dangerous because it essentially warns your opponent what you are going to do and gives them a chance to retaliate, perhaps before you have even struck. I called Anthony over to have him help me demonstrate why and how the issues needed to be corrected, and was pleased when the demonstration helped Erin to improve. As I finished up working with her, Sensei returned.

We spent the rest of the night working with an ordinary dish towel. I was taught how to throw it and distract an attacker, and also to use it by forcing tension through it and therefore deflecting blows. By the time class was over I had become sufficiently proficient at using the dish towel, making Sensei very proud. Then we bowed out for the night.

More later.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Formal Training Week 16

Last week marked my sixteenth week of training at Equa Do, or four months worth. It definitely feels much shorter. I went to the dojang straight from school again, and was surprised to find I had arrived there at the same time as Aaron and Sensei. I went inside, put my stuff down and made sure I was presentable for class, before filling out the homework sheet to turn in for hours toward yellow belt, while catching up with Sensei, Aaron and Miss Linda. While we were still waiting for Master Eric to finish up with the park district students, Chad and his mom arrived. Before we knew it it was time for class.

Even though we had brought our crutches, Sensei decided to introduce the next part of our weapons work instead. However, before he would show us, we had to do a full set of stretches, and strikes. I completed the task easily, however Chad struggled as he tried to keep up with my speed and fluidity. He is trying to rush his training without putting in the necessary practice hours to improve, so his attempts just looked sloppy and he was called out for it.

Sensei had us make two new goals for ourselves this week: one) No matter where we are, know the location of all exits around us, windows, and be able to scan our environment for objects to be used as weapons as necessary, and two) demonstrate increased spatial awareness, especially in cramped spaces as they are the most difficult to defend oursleves in. He is having us practice by identifying windows, exits and escape routes on a blueprint of CLC.

As far as actual lesson material, Sensei moved us onto an eight point strike sequence with our weapons, using the training bags as targets obviously. This expands on the two point and four point sequences, so that by the time you finish it, you have manuevered your weapon in roughly the shape of an asterisk, striking at each endpoint. Additionally, Sensei taught us how to use rabbit punches effectively. Rabbit punches are light, rapidfire punches directed at the same spot. The repeated striking is what hurts, andd these are best used to drive your opponent back into a corner or wall, and trapping them.

By the time we had finished, we needed to bow out, and I was asked to teach the procedure to Aaron, our newest student. This would have been Chad's responsibility except that he has shown little consistency in observing ettiquite. I was praised for this contribution, as well as turning in a fully completed hw sheet, to Chad's nonexistent hw sheet. Then, we headed home.

More soon,


Formal Training Week 15

Week 15 saw me truly struggling, as cold set into the Lake County area. It was already dark by the time I reached Equa Do this week, and the cold that seeped into my bones despite being wrapped in my warm dobok was none too pleasant as it aggravated the spasms that were already present from the Cerebral Palsy. However, a hug from Sensei when I arrived quickly warmed me up, and he also used energy manipulation to reduce my pain so that by the time it was class time, I was ready to train. We did jumping jacks and minimal stretching, then got on the mats again to continue with the training using our crutches.

We went through simple striking and blocking as we had been taught the week before, and then Sensei taught us that our crutches could be used to execute brush-trap-strike, and so we learned that. Once that had been completed, Sensei called a halt to our physical training. In light of the way that Chad had been acting, he felt the time had come to give a short philosophy lesson.

During our white belt tests, we were asked what the duty of a martial artist is. Because of my extensive training with Sensei, I was able to answer easily and confidently but Chad had a harder time. Sensei reminded us of the duty we have as teachers and protectors, and then expanded that to say we should be looking for ways to assist others, and build them up, rather than tearing them down. This is what Chad had not been doing, shirking this duty by insisting that I should lie to Sensei and Master Eric for him, and basically give up all dignity. Chad knew the lesson was directed at him, and at least had the decency to look ashamed.
Following the philosophy lesson, Sensei had Chad and I up and striking at him as though sparring, incorporating movement and dodges with our strikes. This is something I had asked specifically to work on, as I had discovered the ability to do this while training on my own. Once I demonstrated being able to strike with enough force to injure, Sensei backed off and had us strike at the two soft foam targets we had used during our white belt tests.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear a very familiar voice just as I was about to begin doing strike repetitions. Anthony reappeared at the dojang! I ran over without waiting for Sensei's permission, I was so excited to say hello, but I didn't even get in trouble...Sensei was right behind me. Anthony was very surprised to see me out of my chair, and we demonstrated my ability to use my crutches as effective weapons. Anthony gave me a few tips on how I could improve, and then had to leave, so I ran through strikes with Sensei. After this, Chad got back in his chair, and I continued to work. Guess that distinguishes us from each other as students. I stayed standing even after we bowed out, intent on showing Master Eric what I had been able to accomplish, and turning in my first homework sheet. I had completed training daily, bringing my total hours much higher. Master Eric was proud of my ability to learn new things, and my commitment to my training. He was quite disappointed with Chad's lack of motivation.

More soon,


Tuesday, November 8, 2011


In my previous post, I mentioned as well as shared with you the homework sheet Chad and I were given a few weeks ago. The purpose of this sheet is for us to log training hours. You see, in order to progress from one belt to the next, the International Combat Hapkido Federation (ICHF) requires a minimum number of hours spent training, simply to ensure students are truly ready to advance before they do so. If Chad and I were merely to count the hours we actually spend at Equa Do, the path to our next belt would be impossibly long. So filling out this worksheet allows us to give our instructors documentation of the time we spend working, and have it count.

When I received the worksheet, I was very excited. To me, being given homework means I can be trusted to train without the direct supervision of my instructors. Chad, on the other hand, was much more resistant. As soon as we had come home from training the first night we got the sheets, he immediately began to complain that the expectation that we complete training hours in our spare time is unfair. I suppose it is, when one is so used to being handed things for little to no work simply because one has a disability.

Unfortunately for Chad, when it comes to training, we are treated like every other student at Equa Do. I reminded him of that, and when he whined that it was too much with school work, I was actually kind enough to call Sensei and tell him that Chad was struggling to accept the task he had been set. Sensei cut down the workload, and reminded us that the minimum we were absolutely required to do was three additional hours per week. Furthermore, Sensei said that the workout did not have to be done all in one sitting. In other words, the stretches could be done if we were bored in class, as they are fairly unobtrusive. I occasionally use my Hapkido homework as my physical warmup in theatre class, and then merely do the work with my crutches and weapon when I get home. In other words, there are options.

Despite these concessions, as soon as I was off the phone Chad made it clear that he did not intend to follow Sensei's instructions. He told me he would be filling out the sheet to make it look like he had completed the requirements and he expected me not to speak up and tell that I knew otherwise. I cautioned him, saying his right to test was on the line as it was, and that if he showed such blatant disrespect for his instructors, he would be stripped of his white belt and possibly told he should not continue coming to Equa Do. His arrogant response was to tell me that Master Eric would never let that happen, and even so, what rule said he had to listen to me?

This is where I lost my cool. Firstly, while Chad and Master Eric do have a good rapport, I know for a fact that he will not allow any student to test who is not ready, nor will he tolerate such disrespect. And as for why Chad has to listen to me, the answer lies in the hierarchy of the belt system. Obviously a person of a higher belt than the one you currently possess must be respected unless the instruction given would put you in harms way. But when two martial artists hold the same belt rank, seniority is granted to the one that has been studying the martial art the longest. In the case of Chad and myself, that would be me. I know part of the reason he struggles so much with accepting this is that I am a female, as well as younger than him but that really is no excuse. He even, at one point, told me he was deliberately trying to fail so that I would have no ride home from class (if he got kicked out) and would be unable to continue studying. He also seemed to think that course of action would cause my relationship with Sensei to deteriorate.

As painful as this conflict was, it is now resolved. Even so, Chad has been doing almost no supplementary training, so we will see where this leads.


Formal Training Week 14

The fourteenth week of training saw some significant changes in the way we trained and prepared for belt testing, so let's get started. Firstly, I was there early, as I came straight from school again. It's not that I have a problem with Robbie driving me to the dojang at all, its more that I prefer having the chance to stay at school late Thursday nights. I often do schoolwork in one of the empty classrooms, which not only allows me to get work done, but the quiet atmosphere helps me center myself so I arrive at Equa Do ready to learn. When I got to the school, nobody was really there yet except park district kids, and Master Eric was able to handle them without Sensei's assistance, so I got to spend some quality time with him. Our friend Aaron also came, having given Sensei a ride and I was pleased to learn that he will be beginning a study of Hapkido as well.

Once Master Eric had finished with the previous class, Sensei and Aaron set up mats in anticipation of us working with our crutches that night. Chad arrived moments later and we bowed into the training area, completing the formal start of class ritual with Master Eric. Chad had remembered both sets of crutches, so after 60 half jumping jacks and a few stretches we were told to get on the mat. Sensei helped me out of my chair and lowered me to the mat slowly, laying me on my back before doing the same with Chad.

He then showed us how the crutches could be used to strike upward and outward at an opponent standing over us, and ensured we could hit vulnerable spots such as the solar plexus, eyes, crotch, and throat. He also showed us that by thrusting both crutches outward in an x shape we could catch the opponent around the neck and cause serious issues for them if enough pressure was used. Once we were done on our backs, we rolled to either side and practiced striking out with one crutch at vulnerable spots like the ankle, shin and knee.

Master Eric came over to see what we were working on, surprised to find us out of our chairs. I explained that I had asked Sensei for instruction on how to fight if for some reason I needed to do so when my chair was not with me, or if my opponent got me out of my chair. So I showed him that Sensei had worked with me on my back, on my side, and kneeling. I also demonstrated how to get back up from the ground once I had my attacker either subdued or distracted enough to do so, and that once I had, my main objective would be to walk away from the encounter and get help, as always.

Master Eric worked with me on a few additional things, while Sensei helped Chad, who was struggling. Firstly he showed me that my crutch could be used the same way as the cane I typically train with if necessary. Then he took my crutches away from me altogether and had me go through blocks and strikes I have learned up til now in a kneeling position. He then had me do the same with Brush Trap Strike, and I am proud to say I was able to bring Master Eric to the mat multiple times with the force of my trap, and arm bar, remembering to launch additional strikes at the head, neck and spine once he was down.

For the rest of the lesson, Sensei had us brushing up on the fighting style he had just introduced us to. Then he let me get into my chair and do a short demo of "flow of combat" for Chad, who didn't seem able to grasp how techniques could be sequenced together in an actual fight. After we had been bowed out, Sensei called us over and gave us each a homework/reference sheet with the techniques he felt we should be working on at home.

Chad initially was gung ho (in front of Sensei) to do what was expected of him, however once we got home, it was a whole different story. That, however, is for another post. Before I sign off, let me show you the homework sheet we have been using!

There you have it!


Formal Training Week 13

Hi everyone. I know this blog hasn't been updated in quite some time, but the stress and responsibility of being a full time college student sort of caught up with me for awhile there. I have managed to find my way out of my endless to do list and will be updating this with the backlog of lessons that occurred in the last few weeks.

The thirteenth week of formal training at Equa Do was much like the twelfth. It was not intended to be that way however. I had asked Sensei to begin working, at least with me, on how to use my knowledge of hapkido if I was standing on crutches. Obviously, in order to learn this, I need to actually use my crutches. But when Chad and Robbie arrived at Equa Do they discovered they had forgotten a pair for Chad. Rather than simply alienate Chad and have him sit there and do nothing, Sensei found us an out of the way area to work on things that did not require the crutches.

We did our typical warmups, (stretches and half jumping jacks) and then continued the blocking work we had begun the week previous to this. Chad still seemed to have trouble with the concept, often using the circular motion we have been taught to use for evading grabs rather than simply brushing it out of the way. This led to him pulling the foam weapon stand-in closer to his body in most cases, and had the weapon been real he would have been injured if not killed. I stopped the session once again and corrected him, inadvertently frustrating him and causing Sensei to lecture him on taking criticism better from those with more experience.

As short as this blog post is, that really is all we managed to accomplish, and so this one will get ended here.

More momentarily,


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Formal Training Week 12

I can't believe I have actually been training at Equa Do for four months already. Yet, as you can see by the title of this post, that is most certainly the case. Last week was my second week learning to fight in a dobok, and I am pleased to say it was a good deal easier this week. But before I get to that, there are some other things I should perhaps mention.

My landlord Cindy, who struggles with alcoholism, lost her temper when we got home after the belt ceremony and in a drunken anger ripped some adaptive aids Chads mom had put up off the walls, complaining that it made the house look like crap. Obviously she was completely irrational, and when Chad's mom said as much she grew very upset and a screaming match erupted. What she said is not appropriate for this blog, but let's just say she revealed her true feelings about those with special needs. She hates them, because they don't fit into how she wants her world: perfect. Needless to say, we moved out. I had a quick meeting with Master Eric before class this week as a result. Cindy does know where Equa Do is located, since she drove me there a few times over the summer. I was concerned that she would show up there one night while we are having class and if Master Eric didn't know about the situation he could welcome her in as a student and inadvertently create a bad situation.
I met with Master Eric and he did not take the news well at all, stating that should she ever show up, he would reprimand her for what she put myself and Chad through and promptly throw her out. This reassured me, as did his acceptance of the fact that I view Sensei in a parental role. This is something Cindy was not able to ever accept, and at one point she had expressed a belief that if Master Eric knew, he would not condone such a relationship.Once he had me calm, he asked me to go take Spike for a walk outside while I waited for Sensei.

Sensei arrived shortly after the Tae Kwon Do class began, and was drafted into helping, so I didn't get as much time with him as I would have liked. Robbie arrived with Chad about ten minutes before class was supposed to start. This was the first time he had worn his complete dobok and belt, and I can tell you he looked good. But just as that thought crossed my mind it was time for class to begin.
There are three classes that meet during the 7:30-8:30 time slot on Thursdays, something that caused a bit of an issue once class had formally begun. All of the techniques used by martial artists require ample space, at least when you are first learning them, Fighting in close quarters is something that is only emphasized after someone has demonstrated true mastery of a technique. So, with that in mind, we moved a table and chairs aside in the waiting area at Equa Do and literally trained in the back corner.

We did our usual stretches and sixty half jumping jacks, which earned praise from Master Eric. Then Sensei brought over the foam blockers and I immediately knew what we were doing.Chad and I were going to be tested on our blocking. I found this very difficult to do when I was in such close quarters with Chad, but somehow we made it work. We did go beyond my initial training in this that I had done with Anthony, as Sensei worked with us not only on blocking unfriendly weapon blows, but how to take control of an opponent's weapon and then use it against them.

Chad continues to struggle with defending himself while still adequately protecting his body from auxiliary attacks. He brings his elbows too far out from his sides, and leaves his ribcage open. Sensei and I felt that he was having trouble grasping the types of consequences that can arise from making those types of mistakes in a real life encounter, so Sensei grabbed two of the training blades typically used in teaching the basics of knife combat. One was a standard knife, the other was a karambit. The karambit  is a small, curved, hand held blade, particularly effective when used for evisceration. In demonstrating with the blades exactly how devastating Chad's hesitancy and inability to multitask can be he really drove the point home.

Sensei may have had more planned for this training session, however, thanks to him teaching us about the use of the karambit there was not much time, and so we ended class by bowing out.

More soon,


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Formal Training Week 11

After the belt ceremony I mentioned in my last post, I still had class to attend. But before I did I spent a few minutes receiving congratulations from those who attended my belt ceremony and congratulating the others who had been promoted with me. I then took my dobok into the bathroom at Equa Do and changed into the bottoms, letting Sensei help me with the top and belt when I came out into the training area.

Chad chose not to change and doing so was not by any means required. I chose to change because fighting in a dobok is very different than fighting in street clothing. The pants to the uniform are specifically designed to be long enough to provide protection for the feet, and the sleeves to the top come about midway down my hand to offer concealment and protection. With so much fabric, it is necessary to adapt your fighting style otherwise you'll trip yourself up.

Once I was properly attired, and back in my chair, we moved into the training space for warmups. We did sixty modified jumping jacks, and our usual arm and wrist stretches. Then, just like the week before, we were told to move over by the upright training dummies for weapons work. We went through the same strikes and techniques we have been working with, so that Chad can improve his accuracy and so I can work on fighting with the weapon with the same fluidity both in and out of uniform.

Shortly before class ended, Sensei reviewed brush trap strike with me, as well as basic blocking. But class was cut short this week because of the formal belt ceremony, so that's why this post is so short. The belt ceremony was actually repeated in an abbreviated form at the end of the Hapkido session, so that Master Eric's son, who does photography, could take pictures of it to be posted on the Equa Do website.

More soon,


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Belt Ceremony

As some of you know if you read last week's blog post about training at Equa Do, my  white belt and dobok had arrived. I do have to write a post about this week's training session, I felt that the belt ceremony deserved it's own post.

Originally, as I posted last week, the belt ceremony was to take place at the conclusion of our Hapkido class. Meaning when I walked into Equa Do, I was nervous, but could find some comfort in the fact that I could work that nervousness out during class and be a little more calm and collected by the time the actual ceremony began.

Master Eric apparently had other ideas. As he wrapped up the Tae Kwon Do class that meets before I have Hapkido, I sort of was half listening. He finished his announcements, and I only vaguely registered him asking everyone in the class to wait. All of the sudden, I heard him ask for me and Chad, who was also being honored, to step forward. I quickly bowed in and came forward so I was standing with the members of the other class, and waited for instructions. All of the instructors at Equa Do, with the exception of Will and Anthony, were present. (Master Eric, Master Markus, Miss Linda,"Black Belt Chad", and Sensei)

Master Eric explained that I had recently tested for my white belt, and passed. He explained that what was about to occur was a promotion ceremony, which means I was being promoted from novice to white belt. He then asked me to come forward. He spoke to those assembled about how dedicated and talented I was, also noting that I was the first physically challenged student the school has had in quite awhile. He also acknowledged that I was the one to bring Chad in, and have him begin his training.

Master Eric then spoke about the significance of the white belt. He shared with us that a long time ago, martial artists only received one belt. The belt was white, but the more the person trained it would turn slowly black with dirt and blood. This then, is why black belts are so respected, because back then when you saw someone with a black belt it was from the stains on the fabric. Those with black belts had had enough experience that they were considered worthy to teach others. He also told us that a system of colored belts was implemented when people started blackening their belts artificially.

Following this, Master Eric tied my belt around me,knotting it tight enough to make me squeak. I went down the line of instructors, exchanging bows, handshakes and hugs with them. Chad went through the same process, and then joined me at the end of the line next to Sensei. Also honored was Terri, who earned her blue belt in Martial Arts for Women, and "Black Belt Chad" who had earned his second degree black belt. Master Eric called for all assembled to face those of us who had been promoted, and then had them bow to us, in a show of respect.

After we had received our requisite round of applause, I looked up at Sensei and asked if he was proud of me. I saw a slight shadow of anger flit over his face as he heard my question. He was clearly upset that I even needed confirmation of his pride. When I asked if he was okay, I got a slightly strangled yes. I looked up, only to see that he was crying! When I asked why, he answered: I'm so proud of you, little cub. So proud that you're my daughter and I get to be your daddy.

Following that it was time for class, so I used the bathroom to change into my dobok pants and then Sensei helped me with my top and belt.

Post about lesson to follow.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011


You would think, that by the time people began taking college courses, they would have grown out of their bullying tendencies, if they had any, for the most part. Well I learned first hand two weeks ago that this is anything but true.

One of my courses this semester is a theatre course. Because it is a practicum focused on acting, rather than a general theory course, it meets in the small experimental theatre at our school, giving us ample space to work.
I get along fairly well with most of my classmates in that class, and all of them know I have become involved in martial arts. In fact, several of my classmates are either currently involved in learning a style of martial arts themselves, or have done so in the past. So, naturally, when I was a few days away from testing for white belt, I confided in them about my nervousness. A couple offered to serve as sparring partners so I could practice a bit, given all the open accessible space we had access to. I agreed, and two of my friends did a little bit with me, fairly successfully. They mostly called out the names of strikes or blocks and critiqued my form as I did them.

Then one of the classmates I have been sort of wary of since the beginning of the semester arrived and noticed me working. He asked what I was doing and I explained that I was getting some practice in before my white belt test that coming Saturday. He scoffed at the fact that I needed to test for my first belt and my uniform, but said he would like to see what I could do. As I am uneasy about sparring or demonstrating techniques with someone who has no background in the martial arts I asked if he was trained in any way. He said he was a red belt in Karate. Sensei usually trusts me to use my best judgement on whether or not someone is safe to spar with. I had no reason not to trust my classmate, so I agreed to demonstrate what I knew. Now I wish I had thought twice.

I brought my hands up into the ready stance and he threw a punch, but I really didn't know how to defend against it because he lunged into it, and it started as what looked like an elbow strike but resolved into a punch. I attempted to use Brush Trap Strike but when I was trying to trap him against the wheel of my chair like Master Eric taught me, he resisted the redirection and forced me to bring his punch into my chest. He then proceeded to tease me,

"Oh, that's your defense? Making me punch you in the tits? Real effective."

I quickly figured out that Brush Trap Strike would not help me in this situation, and so I resorted to just blocking his strikes. Unfortunately for me, he found a reason to criticize me for that too. Karate uses hard blocks, where the hand arm or fist is brought up hard, to force the strike out of the way. Hapkido uses soft blocks, which means instead of using force we simply redirect our opponent's original momentum. My classmate attempted to make me use hard blocks rather than accomodating the difference in fighting style, saying

"Your technique needs work. No wonder you're nothing but a pathetic little white belt...let's see if you can defend against this. "

Okay. Ouch. Wait, what?

Next thing I know he's aiming a kick at my head. While it is possible to defend against that, I have not learned how yet, and asked him to stop but he said something about having to learn sometime. I would like to now add insult to injury. He did not have me out in the middle of the stage area, where we would have ample room to spar. He had me backed up against two rows of chairs, and most of the ones immediately around me were occupied by a classmate. Furthermore, if someone asks to spar in a controlled setting, such as a dojang, or where we were in a large open space, shoes are removed in the absence of sparring shoes. When my classmate aimed that kick at my head, it was with shoes on.

Thankfully my teacher entered the room shortly after he threw a couple kicks, which I responded to by ducking and covering. That meant "training" was over and class needed to begin, so my classmate had to leave me alone.

However, the entire incident really unsettled me , and I found myself questioning my ability to succeed in this endeavor. I ended up filling Sensei in on what had happened and he was absolutely livid. He said that my classmate did not deserve his red belt, if he was so willing to belittle and humiliate me. He might have the best technique in the world but without the discipline and respect that go with it, he is not much of a martial artist. I was still unsure, and it took over an hour for Sensei to calm me.

It has taken me two weeks to even have the courage to post this. I did test, and I did earn my white belt, but I am struggling with the torment he put me through mentally every time I set foot in that theatre.

I only hope I move past it soon.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Formal Training Week 10

Tonight was the first official night of my training for yellow belt. (Before anyone gets confused, many martial artists refer to themselves as training for the next belt level.) Our sights should always be set on the next milestone we wish to reach.

Sensei was there, and after putting stuff away it was pretty much time to bow in, though I had a chance to greet Terri, an acquaintance who is slowly becoming a friend, as well as Master Markus and Miss Linda. (Oh, and Spike too of course). Miss Linda let me know she has ordered my uniform and belt.

Once we bowed in, Master Eric gave us a quick lecture on the areas he would like to see us show improvement in before we will be permitted to test again. Actually, his list of necessities matched almost perfectly with the goals I set for myself in the previous blog post. Then, he left us with Sensei to warm up and train.

Warm ups were just as strict as I am used to seeing them when I used to go to formal classes on Tuesdays. Sensei called for half-jumping jacks. When I asked how many, his response was "I'll tell you when to stop." He stopped us at 60. Then he had us do wrist stretches and neck rolls, before beginning our actual lesson.

Much of our lesson last night was actually focused on weapons work. We were brought over to our two B.O.B (body opponent bag) units and asked to demonstrate the four point striking sequence we had learned in preparation for our white belts. We did well, but Sensei had us begin to really focus on precision and accuracy, as well as putting more power behind each strike than we had been. The areas we should be striking are L-Ribcage, R-Ribcage, the Nose and Intra Orbital Nerve, and the Genitals.

When we had each gotten about 20 reps in, Sensei worked with us on identifying vulnerability points on the body of an average height male attacker.  The ones we identified were: temples, eyes, ears, nose, sides of neck/collarbone, under the arms, under the chin (driving UPWARD) and the solar plexus. I discovered that I have an easier time striking something positioned above me if I have a one handed grip on my weapon and either drive the point into the strike zone with a jab or strike using the shaft of the weapon.

After that, we went back to the open area of our training space to work on unarmed combat. But when Sensei tried to take Chad's weapon, he resisted and kept hold, even when Sensei brought the weapon above Chad's head. As soon as this happened, I saw Chad tense, and try to regain control of his weapon by force. This is the biggest mistake anyone can make when fighting. As soon as you do that, you become easy to manipulate because the amount of energy and focus you pour into getting that weapon causes you to lose awareness of everywhere and everything else and that leaves you vulnerable.

Sensei demonstrated this scenario with me when I called Chad out on his mistake. I have made the same error, so it was a lesson I learned early and internalized. Either way I consciously tried to strong arm the weapon away from Sensei and in moments he had me pinned, weapon against the side of my neck.

So what should you do? Keep hold of the weapon, but stay relaxed and allow the attacker to try to gain full control. As you continue to move with the weapon, it will frustrate them, while preventing the fatigue that comes with trying to force your way out of a situation. Also, this easy movement gives you time to learn about your attacker. Does he continually move in a pattern, whether intentionally or unintentionally? Is he already fatigued, maybe favoring one side or one limb? If so, wait for an opportunity to use these things against your opponent. Either twist the weapon into a hold or out of their grip, or if necessary, strike. It is perfectly okay to remove one hand from the weapon and deliver an unarmed strike to cause pain and enough distraction for you to regain control. Or, there is my favorite. I enjoy taking one hand off my weapon, offering a distraction strike to divert my opponent's focus, and actually grabbing their thumb and peeling their hand off my weapon. They never expect it.

Sensei had me demonstrate these techniques as well, and when I successfully got my weapon away from Sensei I used the force of his release and slight hip movement on my part to whip my chair around and face him with weapon in ready stance when he tried to sidestep.

As I finished that maneuver, we heard a happy bark. Spike had managed to get free of whatever his leash was clipped to, and run into the training area dragging the leash. Both the currently practicing advanced Tae Kwon Do students and ourselves said hi to him, before he left the training area and Master Eric, coming back in from outside intercepted him.

After that we worked on Brush Trap Strike for awhile, as it is something Chad still needs work on. I know he has spent less time than I have involved with hapkido, but he really needs to learn to hesitate less. Hesitation, like unneeded physical tension, can be deadly. Sensei taught us a modified version of the technique, using the opposite arm when brushing rather than same side, and then striking the ribs, or back of the neck once the opponent's momentum has turned them away from you.

One of the things Sensei has been working on with me when I see him privately is recognizing opportune moments when in the midst of combat. Stemming from this will be the ability to switch from one technique to another at a moment's notice, rather than relying on the sequences we are shown in class and worrying about what flows together. Try as they might, my instructors cannot possibly teach us how to account for every possible fight pattern out there. Adaptability is key for survival.

So when we were doing the new method of Brush Trap Strike, I saw a combat opportunity. Once I had brushed Sensei out of my way, I brought my chair around so my small front wheels clipped him in the ankles and the frame of my chair caught the back of his knee, increasing his momentum. Sensei is correct in that this would be a nasty move if employed when fighting in close quarters at the top of a staircase.

At this time, Master Eric came over and called a halt to class, saying we were done for the night. He also informed us that not only had our doboks been ordered, they had come in. We will be getting them at the end of next class in a special ceremony. I know my face showed disappointment that I couldn't have it right away, as I've been struggling with being bullied at school, but at least I didn't cry.

And I definitely have something to look forward to next week.


Goals for Yellow Belt Training

I have undoubtedly come very far since I began training at Equa Do, or I would not have earned my white belt this past weekend. I am proud and honored to have finally reached this important milestone, as I have been working toward it since May. However, with each milestone we accomplish on whatever journey we find ourselves currently engrossed in, we should re-evaluaute our goals, to check ones we have met off our to do list, identify areas we are still working on, and create new ones pertaining to our newly accquired skills or experiences. In my mind, the milestone markers in Hapkido are the belt levels, which means it is time to re-evaluate my goals.

I have certainly met my initial goal of learning basic blocks and strikes, as well as my goal of uing an actual cane as opposed to a training weapon. I would like to polish my precision and speed with these techniques.

I would like to get better on fighting via instinct, and using senses other than sight. I still struggle with even the basics once Sensei has my glasses off. In partnership with this, I would like my accuracy and reaction time to improve.

Sensei has already begun teaching me to look for opportune moments in combat, and one thing I would like to improve on in this area is not showing my intent on my face when I am able to recognize these moments and am about to take advantage of one.

I would like to learn to anticipate things less, and keep my body relaxed rather than tense. Sometimes I am known to react too quickly, and I lose the upper hand as a result.

The list is long, but that's okay. And I know some of these goals won't actually be met by the time I am ready to test for yellow belt. Some of these areas simply require time and practice to improve, and I am just going to have to be patient.

I know I'm up for the challenge.


Wake Up Call

"I never dwell on my limitations. Instead, I ponder unlimited possibilities." -- Mike Berkson

The quote above is actually from a good friend of mine that I grew up with. He, like me, has Cerebral Palsy, although his is much more severe than mine. Yet, just as I have found a way to use my experiences as a disabled individual to educate and benefit others, so has Mike.

I haven't seen Mike in several years, but I know how he is doing. Why? Because he has taken the world by storm. He created a stage show about the close friendship between him and one of his personal aides, Tim Wambach. The show tells their story, and even better? You get to hear it straight from them. Handicap This! takes what might otherwise be a serious, heavy topic, and discusses it openly, honestly, and with more than enough humor to sweeten the dose of reality.

Unfortunately, I have not yet had the chance to see the show for myself, but I am hoping I can someday soon. I remember when Mike and I were younger, he was always so determined that he would someday make a worthwhile contribution to the world. Hey Mike? You did it.

Handicap This! is also associated with Mike and Tim's not for profit organization the Keep On Keeping On Foundation. This fantastic group works with local service organizations to raise money for equipment and supplies for disabled individuals in need.

If I had to be totally honest, Mike is someone I have always looked up to, whether he knows it or not. And this is why. Telling your story to others takes unbelievable bravery, and strength. Yet Mike does it over and over again. He hasn't let his disability stop him from finding a unique and creative way to give back to the community. And working to fight ignorance and prejudice the way Mike has is certainly giving back..

I too, have a similar duty. Sensei and the other instructors at Equa Do have shown me that regardless of my disability, I can succeed in learning self defense. I have been working diligently to pass this message on to other disabled individuals that I know would benefit from such training. Not only does it bring more students into Equa Do, and give my friends and I a chance to learn together, but it will empower those friends who choose to join me.

Also, Chad and I have been working to start a club to bring together people with disabilities and those who support them to discuss relevant issues and gather information pertaining to life with a disability. To this end, I am trying to arrange for Master Eric and Sensei to give a demonstration of why self defense is important and how people with disabilities can learn to defend themselves. I also want to try to schedule a performance of Handicap This! Both are endeavors I know Mike would be proud of.


Saturday, September 17, 2011


Now that all of you know I have passed my white belt test, there are some changes in the wind where my training is concerned. Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, the difficulty of the training is going to be stepped up. This is because as a white belt, I am expected to have a working knowledge of the basics. Just a few short months ago, my response to a change like this would have been to spiral into panic and self doubt. Now, I find myself relishing the challenge. However, I am not foolish enough to become cocky. There is still a knot of anticipation, and a healthy sprinkling of apprehension, when I think about what lies ahead for me.

The next big change is the fact that I will no longer be working with Anthony in regular class on Tuesdays. Master Eric has created a special class for those of us with disabilities that meets on Thursdays starting this week from 7:30-8:30. I'm not too sure how to feel about this. Don't get me wrong, I love and respect Master Eric and I think his goal of training more of us with unique challenges to defend ourselves is more than admirable. It just sort of puts me in an odd spot.

What I mean is, for most of my life, I have been mainstreamed. Meaning that when I took classes, despite my disability, I was always grouped with able bodied students. While Hapkido is heavily physical, it is still something I know I am very good at. As a result, my anxiety is more than a little resistant and resentful of me suddenly being pulled out of the regular class and asked to train in this manner. Part of it too, is knowing that Sensei has enough trouble getting to Equa Do for his own class, and now in order to continue training me, he has to figure out how to come on Thursdays as well. It makes me feel guilty and I almost, ALMOST want to quit. Now, my anxiety is telling me that Master Eric doesn't care about me as a person, but only is aware of my disability. That's not true and the rational part of my brain knows it. Master Eric has asked me to make this change because if I do, the positive effects far outweigh the negative ones.

For example, I know from Sensei that Master Eric wants him to take over teaching "Handicapped Hapkido" (ugh. Maybe we need a better name?). What kind of adoptive "daughter" would I be if I wasn't proud of my Sensei for being asked to take on this special challenge? And also, Master Eric has experience working with others with disabilities and will know how to push and challenge me while making sure I stay at minimal risk for injury. Not to mention that Master Eric has already told me that this class is designed to hopefully bring other disabled individuals to the school to train. As a white belt, I will have seniority over new students that come in. This means I will have not only the opportunity but the responsibility to assist in the training of the other novices. Given my goal of reaching 2nd Dan, where I can become a licensed instructor, I am thrilled about this.

Finally, this change may actually help me in controlling my anxiety and the physical stress I inflict on my body when I train. Previously to this week, I was getting a private lesson from Sensei on Mondays, and formal training at Equa Do on Tuesdays. From an anxiety standpoint, this was not ideal because it meant I saw Sensei a ton at the beginning of the week and not at all at the end, meaning I didn't have actual contact to help stabilize me if something happened mid week. Also, training as long and hard as I do two days in a row is undoubtedly detrimental to my body's ability to handle fatigue. Spacing the training out will hopefully lead to less pain and exhaustion.

Now that I have typed all this out, and rationalized it, I see that the upcoming changes in my training likely won't be as bad as I think. It is my duty to trust my Master's judgement, and put everything I have into my training.

For now I will focus on that.


Belt Testing: White Belt

What a LONG day! I arrived at Equa Do before anyone else, including Sensei. I ate a few bites of McDonalds oatmeal and fruit, and then Sensei arrived. He let me practice a little to reassure myself that I knew what I was doing, then when Master Eric arrived we went inside and began to prepare. Sensei made sure I drank the rest of my juice and then we talked about nonsense and cuddled until Danny arrived, who tested for yellow belt today. Then obviously we began including Danny in our conversation, but I really blocked everyone else out until we were told to bow in for a group warmup. The group warmup was really geared toward the Tae Kwon Do students, but I participated as much as I could. Once the group warmups were done we were given about ten minutes to warm up individually, which I spent stretching out a little more, and having Sensei watch my weapons work. Finally, we were all told to line up in belt rank order along the walls of our training space.

Novices and white belts in Tae Kwon Do tested first, followed by yellow belts and a few more novices, and then another group of yellow belts. Once the yellow belts were done we got a five minute break. I spent this break trying to calm myself, by talking to Sensei. After that, the higher belts (green, purple, red) tested. I was amazed by the amount that these students knew, and were able to display on command. Then we saw an Escrima (stick fighting) demo, as one of the purple belts who was testing today is being trained in Escrima. Finally all the high belts were recalled to the floor, in full sparring gear. They went through three bouts, minimal contact, two minutes each. I then suddenly understood why we had been told to make sure we were sitting against the wall. This part was absolutely brutal.

Finally, at long last, Master Eric called the Hapkido students to the floor. He had one of the white belts pair with me, to hold a soft target for me to strike with my weapon. I was tested on the four point strike sequence, then on striking with the tip and hook of my cane. Jabs were next on the list. Then Sensei stepped in front of me and asked me to drop my weapon, focussing first on unarmed strikes : punch, hook, uppercut, palm strike, knife hand, ridge hand, rake, eagles beak, tigers maw, hammer strike, Ox-Jaw strike and elbow strike. I then demonstrated wrist releases, both crosshand and same side, with and without countergrabs. Then he asked me to show him my blocks, including my standard block, scoop (low) block and wing (high) block. Next came brush trap strike, arm bars,  striking a moving limb, and striking the elbow to break. We moved from there onto identifying which hand was on my shoulder from behind, something I struggled with.

Master Eric came over at this point, and asked Sensei how my test was going. Sensei's response of "exceptionally well" prompted Master Eric to ask me to demonstrate my ability to strike at an unseen opponent coming at me from behind, and he and Sensei even doubled up on me for a minute, to force me to strike and block from multiple angles. Then I was asked to escape in multiple ways from rear naked chokes and two handed front chokes, and Sensei even threw in a few side chokes as well.  Once I had done this to both Sensei's and Master Eric's satisfaction, Master Eric had Sensei help me demonstrate blocking/controlling the opponent with my weapon. From there, we moved onto removing my weapon from an opponent's grip, either by forcing them to twist a way they shouldn't, physically removing their hand with my own etc. That first method was followed up with a counterstrike.

There was a verbal component to my test as well. The first question was asked by Master Eric, who threw various strikes in my direction and asked me what the difference was between them. Answer: Nothing! The rest of the questions were asked by Sensei.

Q: Why do we learn?

A: To find our personal strength.

Q: What is Hapkido used for?

A: Defense

Q: What is the duty of a martial artist?

A: To act with dignity, honor, and respect.

The last technique I was asked to show was what to do if someone should try to grab at my seatbelt. The first grab was non aggressive, so a gentle two handed block was all that was necessary. When Anthony came at me a second time he became aggressive, so I began to strike at his ribs, and then his head until he was so concerned with blocking I was able to take him to the ground and would have followed this up with popping a wheelie onto his feet, but I stopped when he tapped out.

Then I was dismissed and I let my pain and fatigue show again. As is appropriate, I thanked my instructors before bowing out. At that time when Sensei and Master Eric asked if I wanted to know how I had done, of course I nodded. They looked at me, smiled, and told me...


I know the road ahead of me is still very long, but I am proud of the milestone I reached today, as it is a significant one. I know my instructors are proud of me but most proud of all is Sensei, without whom I would never have begun this journey. I am excited to begin my path to yellow belt on Thursday.

More soon,