It’s Okay To Skip A Step…

I hate cardio. This probably comes as a surprise, coming from someone who believes that if you aren’t dripping in sweat when you’re done, it wasn’t a workout. And the truth of it is, I do enjoy cycling. But that’s mostly because it allows me to get outside, reconnect with nature (to a degree) and keeps the cardio aspect buried in the background. The best of both worlds. But to say that I’m heading out for a run or doing cardio for the sake of doing cardio would be a stretch.

Cardiovascular endurance training is important for one’s health. According to an article posted by the Mayo Clinic, cardio exercises help to strengthen your heart and muscles, burn calories, help control your appetite, increases sleep, promotes joint movement and helps to manage Diabetes. Cardio can be a long-term or long-distance thing, like long-distance cycling or swimming 30 laps in a pool, or something incorporated into a weight or resistance workout, such as jumping rope.

Jumping rope is an easy, convenient way of including some light cardio into your workout routine. I’ve kept a jump rope in my gym bag for the past ten years, and I make use of it whenever I get the chance. Jumping rope can burn a wicked amount of calories; several hundred calories in a 15-minute period, in fact. It can help improve overall balance and coordination, not to mention that the heart benefits are the same as with traditional cardio. And although it can be taxing on the knees and leg joints, doing it properly is considered a lower-impact than something like running.

I like to incorporate it by using it with circuit or interval training with karate techniques. For example, I’ll do a minute of front kicks, followed by a minute of high-speed jump rope. Then a minute of the next kick and a minute of high-speed jump rope. So on and so forth. Sometimes I’ll simply use it as a warm-up or a cool down. A good quality jump rope is portable, convenient and low-cost. You can stuff it into any gym back or backpack and all you need is about a 25-foot square of space.

As much as I dislike cardio, it is a necessary aspect to proper health and fitness. And there’s no denying that it also helps with the blood sugar control and sleep quality required for someone with Type-1 Diabetes. If the last time you used a jump rope was during a spirited game of double dutch during your school years, you’ll want to start slow and ensure you do it on a stable surface. Avoid grass or carpet as it can snag the rope or catch against your footwear. ☯

Chishi! Gesundheit!

The martial arts can incorporate some pretty eclectic training techniques that can often appear strange or unusual to those who don’t use them. Often, certain techniques or training tools may remind us of the Karate Kid’s Mr. Miyagi, teaching Daniel karate by having him perform yard chores. Although I wouldn’t recommend trying to do karate against an opponent simply because you’ve been waxing your car or painting your fence all summer, there are some atypical things that traditional, Okinawan karate styles employ. Enter: the Chishi.

And no, despite my comedic title, it’s not the sound of someone sneezing. The Chishi is an Okinawan training tool used in Hojo Undo, which basically means “supplementary exercises.” It covers strength, stamina, muscle tone and posture by using a specific set of prescribed exercises and some rather arcane looking training tools. In fact, the makiwara, which I’ve written about in a few previous posts, is used in Hojo Undo for conditioning of the wrists and knuckles.

Example of a pair of Chishi

The basic construction of the Chichi consists of a lump of concrete attached to a wooden pole. That’s it. Pretty straightforward, right? There’s little more to it, especially if you’re making your own at home. You’ll need to get a few screws or solid nails through the end of the pole that sits in the concrete, to make for a stable setting. These weight clubs are used in Okinawan karate as a means of strengthening the fingers, wrists, hands and arms, as well as the shoulders. If you’d be looking to make your own at home, there are several really good DIY videos on YouTube that show you how.

If you’re like me and you’re a little on the cheap side, you may not want to buy a bag of cement simply to make a couple of these. After all, you can easily train in karate without them, since most modern dojos don’t use them. But if you’re looking to change up your training routine and get back to karate’s roots, a chishi can definitely be the way to go. You can easily recycle old materials (wooden pole, screw or nails) and go easy on the concrete.

The best I’ve found is a 10-pound bucket of “Quikrete” for about 20 dollars, which is a small bucket of quick-drying cement. And since you probably shouldn’t start with anything more than 5 pounds per chishi (since it’s a weighted lever effect, it will feel like more than 5 pounds when using it), this small pail can provide you with exactly what you need to start out. Or you can be a stubborn practitioner and do what I do… Use a fuckin’ sledgehammer!

The ending portion of a chishi exercise

In the photo above, you see me using an 8-pound sledgehammer as a makeshift chishi. The handle of a traditional chishi would usually be shorter than the handle of a sledgehammer, so some adjustment usually needs to be made. But here, you can see me doing an exercise where I’m in a seated horse-stance position, and I’m thrusting the hammer out and bringing it back in towards my chest in repeated succession. The balance of the weight at the very top, combined with the movement of the arms, feels a bit strange at first.

In this next photo, I’m doing an exercise meant to strengthen the forearms and wrists. You can tell I’m getting fatigued at this point, since my horse-stance is starting to rise and the positioning of my right forearm and wrist isn’t where it’s supposed to be. But I can tell you that after repeated reps on each side, 8 pounds starts to feel like 80!

In this last photo, I demonstrate how a sledgehammer can also be used for some more traditional weight lifting exercises, with an added twist. The photo above is the starting position to a dozen squat thrusts, using the sledgehammer as a bar. I drop into a deep squat, followed by pushing the bar out in front of me as though I were doing a chest press, bring the hammer back to my chest and rise to my feet. Not only do I get the benefit of squats, performing a thrust with all the weight on one side and nothing on the other adds a certain amount of muscle confusion, which is great for working the core and some of the stabilizing muscles we often neglect.

This isn’t something that’s all too easy to purchase. For the most part, most practitioners make their own or use a substitute, like I do. Plus I get to feel a little like Chris Hemsworth, holding that hammer. But the best I’ve managed to find online are some shitty-looking units on Amazon or from the UK that range anywhere between $20 to 30$ (before shipping and all that good stuff). I’m certain there’s more out there, I just haven’t dug too deeply. Since that small, 10-pound pail of Quikrete I mentioned earlier costs about $20, you may consider it easier to simply order one online. To each their own.

There are all sorts of stabilizing and weightlifting exercises that you can do with a chishi. It allows you to incorporate whatever’s needed during your workout with a traditional feel, while remaining true to the roots of your art, presuming your art is Okinawan karate! But even if it isn’t, any practitioner can benefit from the exercise one can do with a chishi. Since you’re dealing with a heavy, concrete weight levered at the end of a stick, you just want to be mindful that you don’t bash your head in or drop it on any of your limbs. And as usual, consult your medical practitioner or at least an experienced Sensei before starting any new training regimen. ☯

Clothes Don’t Make The Karateka

I’m wearing a worn, black pair of gi pants and a Star Wars t-shirt. Far from formal dojo apparel. The sweat has rendered the grey t-shirt black and droplets coming off my forehead splash on the unfinished concrete floor. I just finished a set of shadow boxing and I’ve been using an 8-pound sledgehammer as a workout implement for the past fifteen minutes as my son watches in fascination from the corner. My muscles and joints are all screaming for me to stop, and my knuckles are throbbing from the use of my newly-installed makiwara post outside, but I’m only half way through my workout as the next hour will bring a minimum of three of each of my katas…

Clean, emptied out garage makes for a decent training area

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been using my garage as a makeshift dojo. The floor is bare, unfinished concrete and is pock-marked everywhere that something heavy or frequent traffic has damaged it. I fastened a padded punching square to the south wall and have a jumprope, an 8-pound sledgehammer and a small table to hold my water, phone and small training implements as may be required for any given session. I have a small incense burner to provide an ambiance to the environment, but with little to no ventilation inside the garage short of opening the large overhead door, I keep incense burning at a minimum.

When people hear about the martial arts, they have some pretty stereotypical images of a dojo in their heads. For the most part, people imagine a polished, hardwood floor, tatami mats in the corner, punching bags and kanji banners across every wall. Or at least, over whatever walls don’t contain photographs of the style’s masters or some the weaponry associated with the style. It’s clean and pretty and usually oozes a “karate movie” feel. But in fact, most traditional dojos (unless they’re the head of the school) never look like that.

The small table in my “dojo” holding everything I need and nothing that I don’t

When I travelled to Japan and Okinawa in 2001, one of the things that surprised me was the venue in which we spent most of our time training. Unlike the expected image of a karate school, or dojo as it is properly referred to as, we trained in a variety of different locations, including but not limited to the beach, on rocks, in school gyms, in garages and in back yards. One school we trained at the most was owned by my Sensei’s instructor and was located above his house. It contained some of the fancy elements, such as a hardwood floor and his training certifications, but little else.

There was nothing fancy. The entire ambiance was created by the efforts and energy put forward by the student body. And what energy there was! We didn’t have a single morning or evening where we weren’t drenched in sweat and felling pain along some or most of our body parts. But we learned a lot. I recently sent photos of my garage to one of my friends back home in New Brunswick and identified it as my “dojo.” His response was to laugh at the appearance. The sad part is, he’s trained in my style of karate, as well.

After only two weeks of use, my makiwara (just outside the garage door) has already shifted and has had to be adjusted. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing…

The point is, you don’t need a fancy or expensive location. You don’t need tons of equipment or have your training area look like something out of a bad 50’s samurai movie. In fact, if you study traditional karate, you can perform the majority of your (solitary) exercises within a 1-square metre space. That’s it! You can perform your katas, bunkai and kumites as well as a huge score of exercises too numerous to list out, including every push-up variation, squats, lunges and shadow boxing.

You reach certain limitations once you incorporate a partner or students, but let’s be honest: at that point, you may be using a local school gymnasium or go outdoors to a soccer field or something of the like. Some of the most traditional karate schools in Okinawa are tucked away behind a single, unmarked door in a back alley. Karate is a free-floating art, which can literally be practiced anywhere. ☯

Give It Some Style! 🥋

If you don’t run in martial arts circles, all the terminology and the different forms of martial arts can be somewhat overwhelming. With more than a couple of hundred different styles/types of martial arts from all around the world, divided by style, type, school and sub-styles, it can all get a little convoluted. You have striking styles, grappling styles, weapons styles and uncounted numbers of hybrid styles. Without delving too deeply in how some styles are descendent from another and so forth, let’s focus mainly on the style I’ve been studying all my life: Uechi Ryu Okinawan Karate.

First, let’s cover off some basics so that we’re all on the same page. Karate is an Okinawan martial art, not to be mistaken with a Japanese martial art. Yes, yes, I know… Okinawa is part of Japan; a prefecture of Japan, in fact. For those who don’t know, a prefecture is a sort of jurisdictional division, like a country, Province or state. And although some descendent styles of karate were founded in Japan, karate owes its roots to Okinawa. Hence, the distinction.

Karate, or Karate Do as it’s meant to be pronounced, means “empty hand” with the latter term meaning “way of the empty hand.” The fighting style came about when the original masters returned from China where they had learned a number of different styles of Kung Fu. In the case of my style’s founder, he fled to China in order to escape the military draft. But hey, nobody’s perfect!

Originally, martial arts in Okinawa were referred to as Te, or “martial skill. Once the inclusion of Chinese Kung Fu came about, it was renamed Tode, or “Chinese Hand.” For the most part, Te was used as a fighting art for law enforcement and the rich and generally included the use of a sword or other edged weapon. Te is also way, WAY older than Tode. This is why the true origins of karate as I know it come from Tode.

Once karate made its way to Okinawa, it became divided by three separates schools or “styles” (although they never referred to them as separate styles): Naha-Te, Tomari-Te and Shuri-Te, after the three main cities on Okinawa. To some extent, every traditional style of karate, including the subsequent Japanese styles, can trace their roots to one of these three original schools. In the case of my style, (Uechi-Ryu) it got it’s humble beginnings in Naha, making it a part of Naha-Te.

In the beginning, there were no differing styles. Karate was karate and students from those three cities would train together with no discerning difference in techniques and style with the exception of small, cosmetic aspects. As specific “styles” began to emerge due to the inclusion of specific forms and techniques, most were named in honour or remembrance of their founders, which is the case for Uechi-Ryu, which was so-named by students after Master Kanbun Uechi’s death in 1948.

The only real distinction that could be made amongst the three styles were that Tomari-Te and Shuri-Te were pretty linear styles with Naha-Te being more of a circular style. But in speaking with some of the original masters way back then, most of them were surprised and even indifferent to the prospect that people were referring to their karate as “this style” or “that style.” For them, it was all just karate.

One of the things that makes me sad is that Uechi Ryu is not a mainstream form of karate like many of the more recognizable styles, like Shotokan, Kyokushinkai or Goju-Ryu. Ironically, Goju-Ryu is Uechi-Ryu’s sister style and is almost identical to Uechi-Ryu. Same katas, same circular blocks and movements, same original background. But this means that if you try to see Karate’s family tree, Uechi-Ryu is often not included.

You can check out Uechi-Ryu’s full background by reading the Wikipedia entry, which I have to say is pretty accurate and complete. But today’s face of karate differs quite a bit from it’s humble beginnings two centuries ago. Many popular styles of karate are simply hybrids or combinations of previous or traditional styles. The aforementioned Kyokushinkai, for example, is a hybrid combination of Goju-Ryu and Shotokan karate. And new schools and styles seem to emerge with every passing decade. At the end of the day, karate is karate. A punch is still a punch and a kick is still a kick. Finding the style that works for you and that you can commit yourself to is the key. But knowing the roots that started it all will open the door. ☯

Fumio Demura

I just got through watching both seasons of Cobra Kai, which are now available on Netflix. The series follows the exploits of Johnny Lawrence and Daniel Larusso, respective antagonist and protagonist from the 1985 original “Karate Kid.” This time around, Lawrence is the focus as he struggles through a failed marriage, an estranged son and bringing back his Sensei’s failed karate dojo, which is Cobra Kai. It’s a fantastic martial arts series, focused on karate. I can’t wait to see what Season 3 will bring.

It got me feeling nostalgic for the original Karate Kid movies, which included two sequels and a rebirth with “The Next Karate Kid.” You’ll noticed I haven’t mentioned 2010’s remake of the The Karate Kid, starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith. Although it was a decent movie, it’s based on Kung Fu, not karate and was basically a slap in the face to the original. But through that nostalgia, I started researching and falling down the YouTube rabbit hole and discovered some interesting facts about the film series, including the involvement of Fumio Demura.

Fumio Demura is a well-known martial artist who studies Shito-Ryu karate and kobudo. I came to find out that Demura played the stunt double for Pat Morita’s “Mr. Miyagi.” This came as a surprise to me, since I knew of Demura through his books. Demura wrote a series of books in the 1980’s covering a number of weapons used in Kobudo. Since joining Kempo Karate in 2016, I’ve slowly introduced the bo staff and sat into my training regimen.

Since there’s a limited amount of coaching time on weapons in the dojo, I decided to order two of Demura’s books, Bo: Karate Weapon of Self-Defence and Sai: Karate Weapon of Self-Defence. In these books, Demura covers a number of basic concepts for both weapons and includes several photos and diagrams. They’ve been helpful, despite the fact that I don’t focus heavily on weapons.

It was cool to read about his involvement. We’re all aware that movie actors use stunt doubles, but it was neat to find that one of my favourite movies included a stunt double that I’ve read and studied about. If you study karate or kobudo, I highly recommend you search “Fumio Demura” online and see what you can find. Any of his books are definitely worth a read. ☯

A Shout Out To My Style

I just finished writing a post some days ago about different styles of karate and how I often regret that my own style, Uechi-Ryu, doesn’t get more attention when the original Okinawan styles are listed. In fact, if you look at most “family trees” of karate, Uechi-Ryu is rarely included, despite being Goju-Ryu’s sister-style and comparable to Shotokan and a few others.

That’s when I came across this YouTube video posted by Jesse Enkamp. Enkamp is a reasonably well-known practitioner of karate who has studied in Okinawa and in Sweden under the tutelage of his parents, who are karate instructors. As quoted from his website, Enkamp is “a best-selling author, entrepreneur, traveller, athlete, educator, carrot cake connoisseur and founder of Seishin International,” which is a fantastic line of martial arts apparel featuring karate gis.

He also has a YouTube Channel that I recently subscribed to, and he has some really great perspectives on karate and martial arts in general. We different on some of the perspectives, but as the old saying goes, “variety is the spice of life.” It’s unclear as to what style Enkamp actually Studies. This is because he claims he studies karate and not so much any specific style. I can’t say I entirely agree with his way of thinking, but he has pretty good reasoning behind this concept.

Regardless, he recently posted a YouTube video entitled, “The Best KARATE Style For Self-Defense,” where he talks about a traditional style of Okinawan karate that winds up being Uechi-Ryu. I had a pretty good idea that this was where he was headed (since the kanji symbols for Uechi-Ryu were in the title), but it was nice to have someone outside my system actually show some love for one of the best circular systems of Okinawan karate ever founded.

Enkamp’s YouTube entry on Uechi-Ryu

I don’t usually share or link YouTube videos as I consider someone’s video submissions to be theirs and theirs alone. But like I said, this one hit close to home and got me excited that someone was ACTUALLY talking about Uechi-ryu. This just goes to show a style is never really dead, so long as there are people willing to talk about it.

And Jesse, if you’re reading this, I hope you’ll like and follow my blog as I follow your YouTube channel. We karate practitioners need to stick together. ☯

Don’t Change Your Routine

I remember training for my black belt in karate, and doing my very best to prepare for it in a Rocky-style format. I used to get up at five in the morning and run five miles, followed by an hour of intensive shadow boxing and forms. Without getting into the specifics of the test, I knew that I would be facing the challenge of my life, and I wanted to do everything I could to ensure I would be successful.

The last class before the weekend of the test, I attended class and tried to blend into the background, which wasn’t easy considering I stood at the front as one of the senior students. I didn’t speak to anyone about the upcoming test I would be subjected to, over the weekend, as was the custom in our dojo. Test dates were kept private until the student walked into the next class with a new belt colour around their waist.

After that last class, Sensei and I took an hour together and discussed the test and what would be involved. We went over some of the material that I knew I had some mild difficulty with, and I made a point of explaining that I planned on having a light meal and getting to bed early, in order to get some extra rest. Sensei smacked me in the back of the head and spoke three very important words: Don’t. Change. Anything.

Essentially, Sensei explained that despite being faced with a very important and very physical test the following day, I should have the supper I’d usually have. I should follow it up by having the evening I would usually have and go to bed no earlier than I usually would. The idea was that altering my usual routine would cause a disruption in my rest as opposed to helping it, and potentially increase my test anxiety.

Change and variety are good. Of this, I have no doubt and there is no question. But when it comes to facing something out of the ordinary, it’s important to remember that we shouldn’t alter our routines. We need to trust our gut and follow our usual routine. trying to do anything out of the ordinary will only stress and tax your body further and increase one’s anxiety. Stick to what you know. It’ll serve you better in the long run. ☯

I Don’t Know, And That’s Okay…

As people, we have a propensity to think we know everything. Especially in any specific area, where we think we happen to be experts. Sometimes it’s a point of pride, sometimes it’s vanity. But uttering the words “I don’t know” usually evades us. Or we avoid them. Whatever. But there’s nothing wrong with lacking some knowledge. Vulnerability and not knowing is okay.

After graduation, I moved on to college and chose to study computer programming. I spent my entire life around computers as it was my father’s addiction, so it felt like a reasonable step to pursue it further. One thing that didn’t help was that I was convinced to attend a french college. Even if I’m fully bilingual and can speak French, it didn’t change the fact that computer terms that were three inches long in English were found to be ten inches long in French. I’m exaggerating, of course. But it doesn’t change the fact that taking the course in French, despite it being a primary language for me, caused untold difficulties. My college years were some of the most difficult I’ve ever faced, for this reason.

I learned the hard way that computer programming wasn’t for me. I may have enjoyed playing the games and watching my father code, but trying to delve into the complicated world of computer programming proved to be the wrong direction for me. It didn’t help that I had a karate belt test pending during my first year of college, and my priorities were fixed on karate as opposed to college. I did, however, learn to play a network game of Duke Nukem 3D in college. But I digress…

I had a slew of college professors; some good, some bad. Some of my professors walked in, delivered their lesson plan and walked out without making any real connection with the class. Some professors considered every student to be a “buddy” and focused on being a friend more than teaching the curriculum, which was almost worse. Picture a college professor showing up at lounge nights to have drinks with students. Not great, right? But out of the shadows emerged a professor who was the happy medium; part teacher, part friend, all learning.

Because I was having so many difficulties, I asked a lot of questions. I mean, a LOT of questions… If you’ve never experienced being around a French guy who won’t shut up, consider yourself lucky. Picture that boring staff meeting where you’re hoping everyone will keep their trap shut so that the meeting will end sooner, just to have that ONE guy constantly bring up another point. That was pretty much me, in college. But I couldn’t help myself. I hate failing. And I hate quitting.

Most of my professors would either make something up (that I would learn was false later) so as to not look as though they didn’t know their own material. Some would ignore the question and tell me that my answer was in the learning material. But this one professor would make it a point to admit it when he didn’t know something. He had no problem saying, “You know what? I don’t know the answer to that, but let me look it up and I’ll get back to you in tomorrow’s class.”

That’s class. That’s professionalism. Admitting one’s lack of an answer shows a specific vulnerability and humanity beyond what most people are capable of. He was one of my most trusted professors, and my only regret is that I don’t remember his name. Hey, come on! Give me a break! We’re talking almost twenty-five years ago! I’m getting a bit on the older side, I’m expected to forget a few things…

Realistically, I remember this professor BECAUSE of the humanity behind the teacher. Even if you’re teaching something, it doesn’t mean you’re expected to know EVERYTHING. I started studying karate in 1989 and am still learning new things, even now. And if the day ever came where there was nothing new to learn, I’d be greatly surprised. Honestly, I don’t believe it’s possible. But the point is, I learned from that professor, and have found myself often telling my students, “Give me time to try it out” or “Let me look into it.”

And being able to do that is important, because it engenders trust. Your students will trust you and believe what you tell them way more if they understand that you’ll be honest and admit when you don’t know. I’ve applied this concept in almost every area of my life. If I don’t know, I say so. Not only does it engender trust in others, it prevents making me look like a damn fool because I tried to make something up. Important food for thought. ☯

Strike The Proper Board

Quarantine and self-isolation have had a positive effect on the Canadian population, as many people have chosen to take some of the downtime to start new hobbies, clean out their homes or begin renovation projects that they may otherwise have never considered. It’s definitely a positive thing, and has kept lumber yards, home improvement places and retail locations in the black during this whole mess.

Although I’ve been dealing with small projects like growing a lawn in my back yard and selling my car, I haven’t really tackled anything that’s taken serious effort. But since the basement of my house is damaged and the whole thing will need renovating, I’ve found myself without a workout space. Oh sure, I’ve been able to continue doing things like cycling and I even did my Marine workout in the garage, last week. But I’m losing the striking pad I had mounted on the current basement wall. I needed a solution.

Some of the materials I started with

Since I didn’t consider it safe or in anyone’s best interest for me to attempt basement renovations on my own (I’m great with a sledgehammer, that’s the limit of my renovation capabilities), I decided to construct my own makiwara board for the back yard. I’ve mentioned this training tool in previous posts, but a makiwara is a padded board typically used to condition the knuckles and strengthen your punches. It’s thought to be Okinawan in origin and is mostly used in traditional styes of karate.

Polyester cord to wrap around the makiwara as a striking surface

Most properly-constructed makiwaras can run anywhere from one to several hundred dollars in cost, especially if you factor in the shipping and handling to have it brought to you from whatever distributor you purchased it from. But if the Okinawans can build theirs from scratch, I figured “so can I.” I had several 7-foot lengths of wooden board that was left over from our house’s previous owner. I started by trimming two of these boards to an appropriate and matching length.

The free lumber was definitely a solid start and is potentially the most expensive aspect of the project. I brought my son Nathan to Home Depot, where we purchased a half dozen 6-inch iron bolts with matching nuts and washers. I also purchased a 100-foot length of polyester cord, which would be wrapped at the top of the makiwara as the striking surface. Polyester is a water-resistant material, so it would be best-suited for an outdoor training tool.

Nathan hard at work, screwing the bolts into place

Nathan and I duct-taped the two boards together so that they were flush, them I drilled 3/4-inch holes at five-inch intervals through both boards. I hammered the iron bolts through the holes and Nathan screwed the washers and nuts into place. Once all six bolts were firmly in place, we were able to remove the duct tape and move on to the striking surface.

The wrapping of the makiwara

I left the top strip of duct tape and used a staple hammer to fasten the end of cord to the board, followed by twenty minutes of fastidious wrapping and tightening of one hundred feet of cord. With the exception of Nathan complaining he wasn’t allowed to do this part (and climbing over and under the project while I worked), it went reasonably well and I used the same staple hammer to fasten the other end once the cord was all wrapped.

The completed striking surface

The makiwara was now complete. The next step would require digging a two or three foot hole in the ground, placing the post and filling the remainder with some firm, affixing soil. That was over a week ago. The entire project took a little over an hour and Nathan and I were already tired. So we decided we’d put off the installation until we were able to get some rest and start digging when we were fresh.

Our long-weekend was cut short due to unforeseen circumstances. So on Sunday, Nathan and I took two shovels and a metal bucket and started digging. I didn’t take any photos of that part of the project, since Nathan and I were up to our elbows in dirt. The soil in Regina is a clay composite, which is what’s caused the damage to my basement. It sucks (royally) but it DOES have a benefit for this particular project. Nathan and I reached about twenty-eight inches, which was adequate for the makiwara.

We lowered the post into the hole and packed the remaining space around the pole with the dug up soil. We packed it down after every few shovelfuls, and the clay soil held the post firmly in place. I followed it up with a short length of board to firm up the bracing, placed at an angle at the back. The end result came out quite well, and Nathan and I are quite proud of the job we did.

The finished product!

All said and done, a training tool that would have cost several hundreds of dollars wound up costing less than fifty dollars! Now I just have to find the motivation to get outside to use it. My neighbours have all seen the post and seem to understand the concept behind it, since I explained what it was for. But it may be interesting to see their reactions once I start striking it. There you have it! My do-it-yourself project. ☯

The Magic Mistakes

Fear of failure is a very real thing. Most people have it, whether they realize it or not. If you think carefully on your past, you’ll likely find one and/or many instances when you were afraid you wouldn’t succeed at something. Maybe it was a potential job opportunity or an important exam at school. Whatever. At some point, you would have been worried about the prospect of making a critical mistake or failing at something.

This phenomenon is very prominent in martial arts circles, especially given the strict discipline and structured requirements that come with traditional martial arts. I even remember myself, three decades ago, standing at the back of the class trying to move through my techniques without error and trying to avoid Sensei’s gaze. It didn’t matter if I was screwing it up, I was just afraid of doing it wrong. This effect wore off as the years melted away and I increased in skill.

People are afraid of making mistakes. For some folks, it’s about pride. Some people are too proud to admit that they can make a mistake. Others are afraid they may cause disappointment in others, parents, instructors or otherwise. Some are afraid of the windfall that comes from failure and facing the potential consequences. For myself, I was mostly afraid of people seeing me do it improperly.

Whether you’re a newcomer to martial arts or even if you’re experienced, or maybe you have some other endeavours that you’re tempted to try out, I’ll let you in on a little secret: mistakes are an important part of the lesson. The only way you’ll learn is by making mistakes and having them corrected. We all start from the same place; the beginning. And like anything else in life, you need to make the mistakes in order to learn the skills.

It’s like learning to ride a bike. You may fall off a couple of times, you may even get skinned knees. But the important thing is to climb back on and keep peddling. The same can be said of any skill, martial arts or otherwise you may be trying to learn. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Don’t be afraid of being corrected or asking for help. It’s the only way you’ll learn. And grow. ☯