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,


Friday, September 16, 2011

Birthday Pictures.

 Me with cake and candles
Danny, a white belt and an awesome friend
 Danny again
 Master Eric and I
 Sensei and I
Spike and I

I know its taken me forever to get these up, but here are the pics from my 22nd birthday party at Equa Do

Formal Training Week Nine Part Two

As I posted in my blog earlier this week, I have received permission to test for my white belt. In anticipation of my testing day, which is tomorrow, I went with Chad to his lesson last night to get in a little more practice. Master Eric was in the middle of class when we arrived, so we put our stuff away and I went to play with Spike for a bit.

At 7:30 we bowed in, and waited for Master Eric, who was still a little busy, to begin our lesson. After a few minutes it kinda dawned on me that I am almost a white belt. I know the basic warm up sequence by now, and seeing as between Chad and I, I technically have seniority, it becomes my responsibility to lead warmups in the absence of an instructor. We did:

* 100 half-jumping jacks
* wrist stretches
* side stretches
* back stretches
* neck stretches
* arm circles

Then we moved into technique review.

We reviewed:

*Wrist grabs (cross hand and same side)
* Wrist locks (center, and s lock)
* Brush trap strike
* Knife hand, ridge hand, punches, palm strikes, and elbow strikes

At this point, we had reached the end of what Chad had been formally taught and I went to Master Eric for guidance. He said I had done very well, and when I asked how to proceed, he actually asked for my input. I suggested moving to working on choke escapes, both from the front choke and the rear naked choke. Surprisingly, Master Eric suggested I begin teaching just that, and I did. When Master Eric came over to see our work, he suggested a few other techniques.

For the two handed front choke, he suggested sweeping over with one arm to the open side, without necessarily grabbing and peeling, as just the momentum of me moving my body and dropping the shoulder will force them off. He also had us striking vulnerable points to cause them to release, or sweeping off and then going to an arm bar. Using brush trap strike on one of the arms as it came toward us proved successful too.

For the rear naked choke, Master Eric had us extend our awareness, so that when we saw the arm start coming around our neck, we could throw up the arm on the elbow side of the choke to prevent it from fully constricting our airway. If they do get in too quickly for that, and they are clamped too tightly to use the standard peeling off maneuver, wrap both arms vertically around the arm, and pull down to create an airway, then peel off.

The choke work led into practicing striking at an opponent who is behind me and not directly visible. We practiced striking over the shoulder. Both with a backfist, and a new strike called the Ox Jaw strike, where the striking surface is the back of your wrist when the wrist is curled in toward the elbow. Elbow strikes were also covered.

We spent some time going over vulnerable striking points that can help put your opponent at a disadvantage.

* Eyes
* Infra Orbital Nerve
*Brachial plexus
* Solar Plexus

We defined the three areas of space, moving outward from the closest, which is directly around our chairs and bodies, is Personal Space.  Next outward is known as kicking range, and is Public Space. Anything further doesn't lend itself to anything other than verbal confrontation, and does not require the use of our martial arts skills.

The last thing we did before calling it quits was to discuss what to do if our opponent has a weapon and we don't. In the case of an automatic gun, we need to distract, and then grab the gun itself to stop the loading mechanism from functioning. From there we can turn the attacker's wrist over and use the pressure point on the underside to disarm. A knife is different, because in order to prevent it from being used you must disable the hand that controls it as it has no automatic mechanism. From there, the process is the same.

Then it was time to finish the lesson, and Master Eric also gave Chad permission to test. Given how well last night went, I know we are ready. I will update tomorrow with how my actual test went.



The Forest of Spirits: Duty

Each animal in the Forest of Spirits has a duty to those of not only their clan or species, but the forest as a whole. Similar to how humans are trained in a trade, the animals are trained to follow their destined path until they can manage on their own. There are many diverse paths one can follow. Some of the more common ones are a Healer, a Guardian and a Warrior. The Healer and Warrior paths are self explanatory. The Guardian path is for those that will watch over the young in each species that need supervision.

I had a particularly difficult time finding my path, because at times I am drawn toward each of these roles. Finally I approached Great Bear for advice, and he responded: "One cub may walk many paths". Therefore I took his advice and chose the two paths that called to me most, the Healing and Warrior paths. This means I am a Protector. My job is to heal and nurture any that need it regardless of species or age, and if called upon to fight to protect my home, my skills as a fighter will be called into service. Balancing my time between learning the intricacies of both paths will be a challenge, but Great Bear and Sensei seem to think it is something I am capable of accomplishing. My teacher for Healing will primarily be Owl, and for the Warrior path it will be Great Bear, with Sensei helping and working with me where he can.

A month or so ago, a young black panther was being chased by one of the nameless dark creatures that lurk in a place called the Void, a barren black wasteland in the midst of the Forest. I shielded him while Sensei and the panther's father made quick work of the attacker. Frightened and lonely, as his father has been hunting the creatures ever since, I stepped into my role as Protector, and brought him to the Bear Den with me. This was Onyx, my "adopted" panther cub spirit. Physically, thanks to training from Sensei and myself, he is much stronger, and mentally his focus improves every day. Soon he will rejoin his clan, and be a true credit to them for the rest of his time in the Forest.

I only hope I can make Sensei and Great Bear as proud as Onyx has made me.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Formal Training Week 9

This week was very strange. Everything has been very out of sorts, and it almost didn't surprise me when Sensei beat me to Equa Do. Sensei lost a close friend this week, and so he wanted to spend time talking with Master Markus and Master Eric about it. He also allowed me to comfort him as much as I was able. In addition, Sensei, like me, sees Equa Do as a second home and thinks of the instructors and other students as family. For both of us, Equa Do is somewhere we go to heal and regain balance.

I ended up in the back office for a bit, snuggling with Spike because if I wanted to be totally honest, seeing Sensei so lost and hurt is hurting and scaring me. Sensei and I then took a short walk and by the time we got back it was time to prepare for class.  Unfortunately, Anthony was not there, so that meant Sensei had to lead class, as the highest belt there, despite his personal situation.

Sensei worked with me on the stuff I need to know for Saturday's belt test, once we had done our usual jumping jacks and stretching. For the full list that we covered, see " Formal Training Week Eight Prologue". Near the end of the session, Master Eric came over and showed us a proper choke hold. Because of my chair, I would have to choke from the side, one arm slamming into the back of the neck, the other coming across the collarbone and against the throat. However because it was near the end of class, and because its so close to testung, we did not really practice the new skill.

After our usual end of lesson routine, we were given the schedule for next session, and those who were ready to test were asked to fill out the proper forms. I did, and then said goodnight.


Monday, September 12, 2011

The Forest of Spirits

So much of my blog lately has focused on my physical training, yet as the title of this blog implies, training in the martial arts is never a purely physical process. Martial arts requires training of both the mind and the body, as well as the discovery, understanding, and cultivation of the link between the two. Those of you that either began reading this blog in the beginning or have actually bothered to go back and read my older posts will remember the post I wrote about the process of finding my totem animal.

The forest I envisioned when I made that discovery is really another realm. Here dwell the spirit guides, ancient teachers for those brave enough to walk the path to find them. Sensei has been teaching me to use the Forest of Spirits as a mental resting place, and now it is somewhere I go every night just before I fall asleep.

Just because my totem animal is a bear does not mean I learn only from "my kind" so to speak. Each of the animal clans in the forest have valuable lessons to impart. I will become a well rounded and well taught individual if I heed them all. Obviously if I learned from a different animal each night, I would learn a ton, but there is a difference between simple learning and true internalization of a concept. So as a result, I've been working closely with three animals right now.

Grizzly Bear: This is almost a "duh". While Sensei does sometimes come with me to the forest and teach me there, the majority of the lessons from the grizzly clan are taught by Great Bear. Great Bear has been the head of the group of grizzlies in the Forest of Spirits for what seems like eternity to him. While he can get a bit strict, he is that way because his lessons are almost always about survival skills.

Owl: Just as is depicted in folk tales, Owl is very wise. Owl teaches me patience and wisdom, showing me how to analyze a situation from many different points of view. She recently became mother to several nestlings, one of which watches over me when I go out into the forest alone.

Otter: Otter doesn't teach lessons so much as allow me a respite from them. He embodies the childlike piece of us all, the part that feels emotions deeply. However, unless I've been threatened I rarely see Otter upset or angry. Instead, he embodies innocence, cleverness, mischieviousness and joy. It is Otter who teaches me to appreciate the simple things in life, and trade my fear for open curiosity.

There are others I have learned from but my time to study at length with them has not yet arrived. And for those readers who are wondering, when I am in the forest I take the form my spirit embodies. I am a small, chocolate brown bear cub, like a miniature version of Sensei's spirit form, though his bears the scars of a warrior.

And if I learn my lessons well, I know one day I'll grow big and strong like Sensei.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11: Redefining Freedom

As I lay in bed tonight, I find it difficult to believe that it has been ten years since the Twin Towers collapsed, ten years since the Pentagon had a gaping hole ripped into it, and ten years since the passengers of United flight 93 found the courage to stand up to those who had suddenly taken control of their plane and seemed on a collision course for Washington DC.

There is no denying the heroism that first responders to the World Trade Center and Pentagon tragedies showed. The policemen, firemen, paramedics, and later search and rescue volunteers and canines are owed a huge thanks for the risk they took to save others. Indeed, some made the ultimate sacrifice.

Yet it is not about those who were in uniform that day I wish to write. Over and over again today my mind has gone to the passengers of Flight 93. I do not think I need to rehash a timeline of events. The passengers of this plane knew from actions already taken by the hijackers that they were in great peril. Then they learned the attackers had taken the cockpit.

So many people at this point would have given up, and resigned themselves, allowing their fear to rule the fight or flight response. As far as we know none of the passengers on that flight knew how to fly an aircraft. Yet they made the choice to take action against what they knew to be a threat, and perhaps try to land the plane safely. As we know the hijackers resisted and all passengers onboard unfortunately perished when the plane crashed in a field outside Shanksville, PA.

They knew the risk, before making the decision to try to fight. They called their families, if they could. And they stood up and fought. That to me, is freedom. The ability to choose. And honor and bravery come in standing up for what you know to be right, even when the stakes are high. All of those passengers died with dignity. They are American heroes, just as much as the first responders and volunteers.

Yet why is it we rarely mention "the fourth plane"? Yes the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were devastating. But speculation among experts and the general public has formed the likely conjecture that Flight 93 was headed for the White House. Yes, the tragedies that occured that day were earth shattering, life changing, and heart breaking. But if not for the bravery of a few strong people, it could have been so much worse.

May we all learn from the actions of those who took the chance that faithful morning. They acted to protect the others on board, thought for themselves came later. They reacted, but had a clear plan before engaging their attackers. That plan changed, I am certain, once the encounter began, but they had an idea and they tried it. This is the same thing Sensei and the other instructors at Equa Do are teaching me. Even if it doesn't work the way we hope, we are better off doing something than nothing. If we do nothing, then all hope is certainly lost.

This post is dedicated to all those who perished or were injured in the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001. Your bravery was unparalleled, your courage indomitable. What happened will never be forgotten. You all are American heroes, who gave much for our freedom.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Personal Test

It is rare that I would share information about another person's health conditions in such a public setting but tonight I feel I must. My fiancee Chad has a condition known as epilepsy. This means he is prone to having seizures, which are caused by an overabundance of electrical activity in the brain. I have been dating Chad for a little under four years now, and have been fully cognizant of this diagnosis the entire time. Up until today, Chad had been seizure free for over two years.

However, today when I was sitting in the cafeteria eating lunch with Chad as well as our Computer Club advisor Jim Papp, Chad suddenly grabbed my hand. I looked up and asked what was wrong, but there was no response. I noticed his eyes were very unfocused and I just asked him: seizure? When he nodded, I was instantly scared stiff.

Thankfully instinct took over and I wrapped my arms around Chad, making sure to support his head and neck. For the first few moments, he was lucid, but very disoriented and shaking slightly. He was still talking to me and I did my best to reassure him. Then suddenly his eyes rolled back in his head and he went into a full seizure, which lasted just under a minute.

When it stopped he sat up, blinked a few times, and was able to indicate yes and no to simple questions. Within another thirty seconds or so, he was talking and fully coherent. </p>
<p>This is not the first time I have seen Chad have a seizure but it was by far the most frightening occurrence. For one thing, this is the first time it has happened in public since I have known him, and with him obviously going haywire I had to take control. Many of those who witnessed Chad's seizure were inclined to try to help in some way which made my job of monitoring him harder. Someone also called the nurse,despite Chad obviously being fine, and both him and myself asking that they not be notified.

So clearly all of a sudden I was responsible for ensuring Chad's safety, reassuring those around me, and monitoring the medical status of a loved one. For those of you who are wondering what the hell this has to do with Hapkido, allow me to elaborate. When a crisis occurs that provokes a stress response, we all know it releases adrenaline, which causes us to either prepare for fight or flight. Prior to my training in Hapkido, had this event occurred in this manner, I likely would have panicked. Instead, my vision stayed focused on Chad and I used the techniques Sensei and Master Eric have been teaching me in order to extend my awareness and ensure that no one around me further interfered or complicated the situation.

Did I break down? Of course! That is a natural response to the sudden drop in adrenaline level that one feels after a crisis had been averted. But I was able to guarantee that Chad was safe before I gave into that and when I spoke to Sensei he said I had behaved incredibly well.

I'm just relieved Chad's alright. I never wanted my strength tested this way.


Formal Training Week Eight

Week eight of training at Equa Do. My how time flies when you're having fun, right? No school Monday and Tuesday this week, because of Labor Day, although I still arrived at the dojang early. Even though the lights were on and the door was unlocked, no one was visible inside. I soon figured out that Master Eric was there, but in the back office/equipment area. I went back there to say hello but unfortunately I found out that that is just about the one place in that building that is not wheelchair friendly. Miss Linda came in and said hello while I was extricating myself from where I had gotten stuck and I returned to the front waiting area.

I got a few minutes to relax and then Master Markus arrived, and as is proper when greeting another martial artist, particularly one whom you respect, we bowed to one another. Then I got the surprise of my life. Not only was Master Markus genuinely interested in how I was doing, he wrapped me in a one armed hug. Looking back at what I just wrote, I am ashamed that I am still so surprised and awed when I receive praise or affection. Perhaps my wounds go far deeper than I realize. I am proud however, to report that I actually leaned into the hug. Shortly after, the Tae Kwon Do class which meets before ours began, and Sensei arrived.

He knew what a difficult weekend I had, so he made sure to snuggle me, and tickle me a few times to make me smile. Then he decided to walk over to the dollar store around the corner from Equa Do, so I took a walk with him. I purchased 3 Bic Lighters, to use for meditation purposes. Sensei and I then came back, and prepared for class.

Class was a little different last night, since Anthony wasn't there, and there was a higher ranking black belt than Sensei present, so he led class instead of Sensei. I found this difficult to handle from an anxiety perspective because the person leading class was focusing mostly on exercising the lower extremities, something I cannot really do from my chair. I was also unsure how to modify the exercises so I spent part of warm ups just sitting there. I still stretched when I could, and did half jumping jacks.

Then we paired off for the night. I was lucky to be paired with Sensei. The first drill we did was a simple punching/blocking exercise, where you and a partner face each other and spar. One hand, usually dominant, throws strikes, the other focuses on blocking the strikes thrown by your opponent. This is something Sensei and I have worked on before, and so it wasn't long before we drastically increased our speed. The objective to this obviously is for neither partner to be hit. It also helps you learn to divide your attention and stay alert.

Next, we did ten repetitions of Brush-Trap-Strike on each side, for each person. I was doing very well, and found myself naturally responding with not only precision but speed. I believe Sensei's words to Master Eric were "I feel bad for whoever decides to piss her off and try something stupid." :)

Finally, we moved onto our main technique for the night, which expanded on the Brush-Trap-Strike --&gt; arm bar. I learned to bring the opponent all the way across my lap, then reach around over the arm, grabbing the head and taking down the opponent. A variation was also added by Master Eric. He showed me if I have access to the ear, striking with a cupped hand will cause the ear to pop, rendering the subject temporarily deaf and also disrupting the opponent's balance allowing me to roll them off my lap.

That was really all we did in class, though once the others had been dismissed, Sensei and I did show Master Eric the modified Tiger's Maw combination that I had been taught the day before. Sensei asked Master Eric if he felt I was ready to test for my white belt, and I was officially given approval.

I have so much to look forward to.


Formal Training Week 8 Prologue

Kind of a funny title for a post isn't it? As those of you reading this may or may not know, I typically go to the dojang on Tuesdays. Ever since I met Sensei however, he has been giving me private lessons on Monday afternoons. Most of these are fairly informal, held at the game shop where I play Dungeons and Dragons. This is one of the reasons I haven't really been including them when I post in this blog.

This past Monday however, was Labor Day, which meant the game shop was closed. This disruption in routine combined with a rough weekend led me to ask Sensei to please give me a lesson at my house. That meant my routine would somewhat normalize and the panic disorder would be brought under control.

Sensei agreed and so we picked him up from his house about 3:30 on Monday afternoon. Once we were in the living room, which is the area we generally use for training when it has to be done at the house, Sensei followed the same routine we use at Equa Do, which meant we began with stretching and half jumping jacks. This threw me off a little, because I'm not used to Sensei being this strict unless we are in class.

Then he asked me what I felt I needed to work on and I confided that even though we weren't yet sure if I would be testing on the seventeenth, I wanted to be prepared. Therefore, he began taking me through a mock belt test so that I have a good understanding of the procedure before I actually go in to test. As opposed to other disciplines and perhaps even other schools, the Combat Hapkido testing doesn't rely on memorization. Instead, each technique the person is being tested on is demonstrated once, and the person testing is then expected to perform the technique. I'm actually really glad about this, because it will help prevent me from blanking or freezing on test day and having a panic attack subsequently.

Sensei ran me through:

* All strikes
* Openhanded and wing block
* Wrist releases
* Wrist locks
* Break falls
* Brush Trap Strike
* Arm bar
* Elbow joint break
* Brachial Stun
* Cross body throw after rear shoulder grab
* Throw following a grab at my clothing from in front
* Two handed front choke
* Rear naked choke
* Knowledge of basic/common pressure points
* Technique modification
* Improvisation (weaponry)

As far as technique modification is concerned, Sensei did take me through a modified combination for Tiger's Maw. The actual strike is applied under the chin and the chin is raked forward using the fingers, priming the opponent for a quick backfist to the face and an elbow strike (Vertical). This can then be followed by a hammer strike to the top of the head. Painful, is it not?

Is it any surprise this lesson took an hour and a half? The good news is, Sensei gave me his opinion as soon as I was done with my practice test. He said as long as I perform as well and respond as quickly as what I did with him there is no question in his mind I will pass. We also talked about the distinct possibility of me skipping white belt altogether and being granted my yellow belt. The only negative to skipping a belt level is that when I become an instructor and either work at Equa Do or whatever school Sensei opens, I would need to display my belts and if they are not all there, it could look like I faked the training and I would lose credibility.
Needless to say by the time Sensei left I was sore and exhausted but I definitely feel prepared to test.