I Got to Meet an Olympic Judoka

No, not that one. I got the opportunity to train with and meet Olympic gold medal judoka Kayla Harrison! She is going for gold again at the Rio 2016 Olympics in August.

She showed us a few basic judo throws and talked about her experiences training at the elite level. I asked her if she trains any other martial arts aside from judo, and she grinned and said, "Not yet."

Look out, UFC women. If Kayla decides to head into the octagon once she retires after Rio, it's going to be incredible to watch.



Training All Day, Then MMA All Night!

Our training was just slightly shorter today because tonight, our friend, fellow student, and instructor Isaac is fighting in his second MMA fight! He won his first fight by unanimous decision, and it was so much fun to go see him and cheer him on. Win or lose, it's a good feeling to know you've got your crew supporting you.

We did a lot of fitness and sparring today, rotating around the room to spar with different partners. I pushed some of the junior warriors pretty hard today. I know they have more to give, and I guess nursing my injured knee has me a little bummed out that I can't fully participate in some elements of training. I want them to understand that they have so much potential within them, and while they are young and they don't have any physical complaints, they should take full advantage of it. Get sweaty! Get uncomfortable! Get focused!

Shihan showed us a sparring technique that he has kicked all of our butts with countless times. Like, literally, he has kicked every single one of our butts with it! Usually he throws in a Bruce Lee-style shout while he does it. That's how you know he's really feeling it. (Every student who reads this will know exactly what I am talking about.)

Katas, Katas, and More Katas!

I love katas. Even if I'm not that great at them, I love training them. They're beautiful and fierce, exciting and intense. All the things I love about karate.

We worked on many katas today. I remember learning Heian Shodan for the first time. I was so frustrated with myself! It seemed like I always turned the wrong way, with the wrong leg leading, no matter how hard I tried to pay attention and get it right. Over the course of training since then, and in watching other people learn this kata for the first time, I've come to realize that I wasn't as much of a dummy as I'd assumed. It's not unusual for people to have trouble learning the early kata. It's all such a completely new experience, and it feels awkward and weird to try and remember all of the moves and direction changes. You're worried about what you look like trying to do the moves, and you're worried you'll never get it right. All that worry just holds you back in the beginning. It prevents you from expressing the spirit in the kata.

Now do not get me wrong: I am in no way, shape or form a whiz at kata. I'm just not. I still get frustrated, and I still make lots and lots of mistakes. I don't feel like I am very graceful, or very agile. And I most definitely still have trouble remembering every kata I have learned. But despite all that, I'm fascinated by kata, and I love doing them, even when I screw them up.

But that said, lately I have had some glimmers of kata genius, where I actually felt like I was just learning kata at a quicker pace. How cool is that? This is what black belt is all about to me. I have all the time in the world to just work on perfecting kata. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon! I've trained enough now that things click and make sense. I can "feel" kata more easily now, and my body has a better sense of what probably comes next in the pattern.

And the best news? There are still plenty of kata to learn. If Sensei Tony gets his way, I'm sure Unsu will be on the menu after black belt test is over. Remember how I said I'm not very graceful or agile? Well, check this kata out. (And keep in mind as you watch -- he placed second for this performance.) So much more to learn!

The kata UNSU performed by former World Champion Luca Valdesi of Italy. He placed second. Visit http://www.karatebyjesse.com for more info, videos and the blog!

Black Belt Pre-qualification Day

We took the show on the road. Down to a local schoolyard with a baseball diamond and lots and lots of empty space. Running laps (I sllllooowwwwllly jogged with my wonky, wrapped knee), doing sprints, bunny hops around the baseball diamond (why?!), wheelbarrows, fireman's carrys. It was a day.

Shihan told me I am crazy, but I'm just doing what I can. It's too close to not at least try. Yes, I would probably heal faster if I took a break, but if I took a break, that's going to negatively impact my conditioning, and I need that conditioning for the test. It is what it is.

Seeing the junior warriors push through pre-qualification was inspiring. It's not like we all love to run -- some do -- but they didn't quit. When teenager Anthony needed some extra cheering, we all folded in around him and helped him wrench that last bit of effort out of his body. Everybody kept going, and everybody passed.

It was a good day.

If It Can Go Wrong, It Will Go Wrong

I'm injured.

I've been injured for belt tests before. I took my brown or brown II test with a broken hand that was the result of some overzealous board breaking. I refused to go get it checked out, thinking that if I did, the doctor would probably tell me something I didn't want to hear. So I dealt with it (I have another hand), and went to the doctor after I made it through the test. Seems reasonable, right? Don't answer that.

This time, it's my right knee. My right ankle and instep were already giving me weird issues, but this is a different beast. In krav maga, a melee turned a bit squirrelly, and one of my (large, male) training partners fell in an odd way and landed on my leg as I tried to get out of the way. My knee bent sideways, and I heard a kind of creaky noise. Not a loud pop like the ACL horror stories I've heard, but more of a stretching sound. I think I went with the fall enough to preserve myself from a major, sidelines sort of injury, and I was able to finish the class on adrenaline. The next morning, though, I couldn't walk, and I called in to work to let them know I was working from home.

Total panic set in. What did I do? What can I do? Get the ice on it, get the ibuprofen, get it elevated. It's March! The test is in May! Pre-qual is in a couple of weeks! This cannot be happening!

I kept it iced and elevated all that first day, then I decided to try to go to work the next day. It wasn't a great decision. When I finally made it to my office on the East side of Manhattan, after fighting off the hordes of commuters trying their darndest to shove me up the stairs, my boss and coworkers immediately told me to stay home the next day. Kind of funny if it wasn't happening to me.

Again, I steadfastly refused to go to the doctor. I just knew I would be told to stop all training, and frankly, it's not an option. I have another leg. I have two arms. I can do things, I just can't do everything with that leg. I ordered multiple knee braces and wraps on Amazon Prime that first day home so they would arrive as soon as possible. I found a set that I liked, and realized that as long as I didn't pivot on my knee, I could stand on it and bend it to a degree without pain. I'm limping, but I'm walking. I can't extend a kick, but I can raise my knee. It's not so much that I can't handle the pain, I just don't want to cause additional damage that would put me on the sidelines.

All in all, it's just Murphy's Law. If it can go wrong, it will go wrong. One of these days, I was bound to get injured, and it just happened at the wrong time. But either I can accept that, and drop out of the test, or I can accept that and push through to the best of my ability. So here we go -- I'm deciding to push through. Let's see what happens from here.