Tag: martial arts

Episode #106: Why Martial Arts Are For Everyone, and Every Body

 

Sensei Ando Mierzwa is a coach, tutor, teacher, and martial artist extraordinaire. He is also the owner and director of Happy Life Martial Arts. After discovering martial arts as a teenager, Ando realized that martial arts were the key to finding a happy, healthy, balanced life, and well worth fighting for.

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Episode #83: Self-Defense, Self-Care, and The Art of The Ninja

Susie Kahlich is a Certified Instructor in Ninpo Tai Jutsu, the Art of the Ninja. She is also the founder and owner of Pretty Deadly Self Defense, a program dedicated to teaching women the art of self-defense by finding their inner strength and power through natural movements and self-exploration.

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How To Get Out Of Your Own Way

Sometimes you just have to get out of your own way. Or, more specifically, out of your mind. As someone who has been out of my mind more often than I care to admit, I understand how sometimes your mind can mess with your head. And your goals. And especially your dreams.

One of the things I learned as a brand new martial arts student was how to get out of the way of an attack. And I was really, really good at it. My technique of choice was to cover my head with my gi top and run off the mat screaming, “Don’t touch me!” Ah, yes. Those were the good old days.

Eventually I was able to get out of my head and into my body to stay engaged with my attacker and gracefully step out of the way. Soon after that, I was able to step back into my attacker and take him down. It was a slow and tedious process for me, but once I let go of my preconceived  conviction that I was going to get beaten to a pulp, magic slowly began to unfold.

Not only did I learn to get out of an attacker’s line of fire, I learned how to get out of my own way as well. Because it’s that negative self-talk, the fear that we are either going to fail, look stupid, be ridiculed, or fall on our face. Huh, been there, done that. All of the above. And yet I survived.

I have to be honest, and I have to confess that I still struggle with getting out of my own way, especially when a remarkable opportunity presents itself. And it recently did, but I’m not quite ready to talk about it quite yet. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it and wonder what I had gotten myself into.

But if we don’t keep reaching for new heights, think of all the incredible experiences we might miss out on. And that would just be sad, don’t you think?

Sharing ninja secrets: Shhhhhh……

As a card carrying ninja, I sure know a lot of ninja secrets. I spent many long, hard hours of training for 14 years in a smelly martial arts dojo with a lot of sweaty men to learn these secrets. I also spent a tremendous amount of time, money, and effort along the way as well. But, every minute and every penny was well worth it and well spent.

It is my heartfelt desire to share some of these secrets with you without violating the code of the Super Secret Society of Ninjas, so here are just a few simple tips that will help you stand, walk, and move like a ninja to help keep you safe every time you step out into the world.

After all, our body language communicates to the world what kind of day we’re having, and even how we feel about ourselves. And people pay attention to it more than you think they do. It makes an immediate (and lasting) first impression. So, we want to make a great impression each and every time we meet someone. Whether it is at a party, a business event, a networking group, or a stranger on the street.

Especially a stranger on the street. Because we don’t want to look like an easy target if he happens to be one of the bad guys. Here are a few simple tips:

1). Stand up straight with your head up. Yes, this means putting your cell phone away.

2). Look people in the eye, including strangers. Especially strangers! No, it’s not rude.

3). Have your hands free at all times, just in case you need them to sweep a flying object or an unwanted and uninvited hand out of the way. Yes, it does happen.

4). Stand with your knees slightly relaxed and one foot slightly in front of the other, just in case you need to make a fast exit.

5). Speaking of exits, always know where the closest exits are every single time you enter a building or enclosed area. Exits aren’t just important in airplanes.

Most of all, stand, walk, and move with confidence. Because that is the way of the ninja!

I’m Sorry….So Sorry. For What??

Have you ever noticed how many times a day you say the words “I’m sorry?” Especially as women, it seems like we are always apologizing for something, even when we’re not at fault, or there isn’t even anything wrong in the first place. What’s up with that? Is it just a habit (and not a good one, I might add), or do we really feel that we are responsible for everything that’s wrong in the world?

There was a time when I believed that everything was my fault, and I took full responsibility for it. Everything from world hunger to human trafficking to PMS and menstrual cramps. My fault. And it really wore me down.

But I didn’t realize what a problem it was, or how often I said it until I was 2 years into my martial arts training and I was testing for my green belt level. My partner was one of the black belt instructors who I had become good friends with, so he graciously offered to let me beat the stuffing out of him during my test. After all, what are friends for?

Every time he attacked me, I took him down. Hard. Fifteen minutes into the test, my Sensei stopped us. He looked at me and said, “If you apologize one more time for doing a technique well, I am going to stop the test.” What do you think I said? Yep, you’re right, I said those dreaded words, “I’m sorry.”

I was horrified. My partner gave me a nervous glance before he looked at Sensei, who was glowering at me and scowling. That’s never a good sign. I hadn’t even realized that every single time I took my partner down I said “I’m sorry” before he even hit the ground.

Sensei didn’t stop the test. But I learned a powerful lesson that day. I stopped apologizing for no apparent reason. I no longer said the words “I’m sorry” unless I sincerely had something to apologize for. And, when I did, magic happened. But I think I’ll save that for another day.

The Invisible Black Belt

A lot of people don’t know this, but I experienced a unique journey into the male-dominated, testosterone-infested world of martial arts at the tender young age of 47. To my surprise (and everyone else’s), I became my teacher’s first female black belt ten years later.

In the twenty-year-long history of the martial arts school, no woman had ever achieved the rank of black belt. I was the first, and I shattered a lot of glass ceilings and belief systems along the way, including my own. I have many funny, inspiring, and heart wrenching stories as my training helped me evolve physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Yes, I said spiritually. Because there is a strong sense of spirituality embedded in a high level and elite  martial art like the one I was studying. You are developing your own spirit (or character) as you learn valuable life skills which help you cope with anything and everything that comes your way, both on the mat and life in general.

In a bizarre twist of fate, I began training in Ninpo Tai Jutsu, an ancient Japanese martial art, in September of 2003. The truth is, I never went looking for the art. Instead, the art came looking for me, and simply would not take “NO” for an answer. I shocked everyone when I began training, including myself, because I just knew I would hate it.

I didn’t hate it. I fell in love with the art, the training, and the sense of empowerment I gained from training. Through my journey into this ancient, mysterious and beautiful martial art, I learned discovered a part of myself that I never knew existed. Ninpo Tai Jutsu helped me realize my personal power and unleash the Invisible Black Belt that had been buried deep inside me all along.

All of the principles that I learned in my training has helped me in every aspect of my life. I share these principles with my many audiences in my speaking engagements, workshops, and classes. I believe that there is an Invisible Black Belt in each and every one of us, just waiting to be unleashed to help us realize our personal power and reclaim our human dignity.

Let me help you discover yours!

Secrets of a Middle-Aged Ninja

Secrets….we all have them. I probably have a few more than most. And many of them are secrets that I learned in my martial arts training. I’d love to share them all with you, but then you’d know too much. Besides, it might get me in deep trouble with the Secret Society of Ninjas. So, if you ever run into one of their members, please don’t let them know I have shared my secrets.

This first secret might be a little disappointing. Ninjas really aren’t fighters. We’re lovers. We love life, our families, our friends, our homes, and our communities. We want nothing more (and nothing less), than to simply live our lives in peace and harmony. Ninjas aren’t about war, or warfare. However, we are warriors. Wait a minute….doesn’t that sound contradictory?

It’s not. Because a true warrior has a heart of compassion. For life, for nature, and even for their enemies or those who wish to cause them harm. A warrior also has a playful spirit, and doesn’t take themselves too seriously, even when they are under attack, so to speak.

Patience is a virtue. Everyone knows that, and everybody gives it lip service, but a true warrior really embodies it, and incorporates it into their daily life. Considering our fast-paced modern world, as well as the “got to have it now” attitude, patience truly is a virtue as rare as hen’s teeth.

Above all, a warrior is honest. At least, they’re supposed to be. I have met a few who proclaim honesty and demand it of others, but not of themselves. Hmm, that hardly seems fair. But, that’s when you know they are not true warriors. And those who are just smile, and walk away. No sense in engaging in a confrontation over such a silly thing. A warrior knows how to avoid confrontation at all costs.

I have a lot more secrets up my sleeve. But, I think I’ll make like a ninja and disappear for now instead. I can always share them another time.

Evade, Deflect, and Redirect: Wisdom From a Warrior Queen

Evade, deflect, and re-direct. I hear those words in my head almost every day, especially if I’m faced with a conflict. In my fourteen years of martial arts training, these words were repeatedly reinforced. You might even say they were beaten into me, so to speak.

The first thing you learn as a new student is how to evade an attack. Just get out of the way. After all, you can’t get hit and you can’t get hurt if you’re not there. It sounds simple enough, but it really isn’t. Because there are several ways you can respond to an attack.

1). You can freeze like a deer in the headlights. This is a typical response, and the outcome is never good.

2). You can fight back, which is a good strategy if you have absolutely no other choice. However, the chances of you being the victor is about fifty-fifty. It’s actually even less than that because the attacker has the element of surprise to his advantage.

3). You can get out of the way. This is a handy-dandy little trick affectionately referred to as a ninja disappearing act.

I was pretty good at evading an attack when I was a white belt. Unfortunately, my strategy was to run screaming off of the mat with my gi over my head. Not exactly the nimble reaction of an accomplished martial artist. But what can I say? I was terrified.

Eventually I overcame my terror when I saw a fist coming at my face, or a kick heading toward my solar plexus. And I learned how to move out of the way and evade an attack. And I made a fascinating discovery.

This nifty little technique can be implemented anytime you are under pressure or in the line of any attack, real or perceived. Attacks and confrontations come in a variety of different ways. They are not just physical. They can be mental, emotional, psychological, verbal, etc.

Once you learn how to use this ninja secret, you won’t get hit, and you can’t get hurt. Even better, once you step out of the way, the attacker will beat himself (or herself) up with their own negative energy. How cool is that?

Think about that the next time something is coming at you. After all, life is full of hits, both literally and figuratively. Learn to get out of the way and you’ll save yourself a world of hurt. But what if you can’t get out of the way, or what do you do once you do avoid an attack? I think I’ll save those pearls of wisdom for another day.

 

 

Sticks and Stones, and Broken Bos

Sticks and stones may break your bones. As a martial artist, I know this to be true, because I personally experienced it first hand. I once broke a bone in martial arts, but it wasn’t my own. It belonged to my partner. It’s a long story, and perhaps I’ll share it someday.

Although I love martial arts, I haven’t been training at all over the past twelve months. At least not in the traditional way, at the dojo and with partners. Between running a business, publishing a book, and keeping up with life, I’ve been pretty busy these days.

However, I have been able to keep up with my ballet training. I am fortunate to study ballet with a remarkable woman who has a strong Tai Chi background, as well as many other incredible accomplishments. The woman is amazing!

Jayne doesn’t teach a traditional ballet class. Instead, she brings everything she has to offer to her dancers, including Tai Chi. I don’t want to give away all of her secrets (or mine), but over the past two years of working with her, I could feel myself getting stronger, and more powerful. Not only in a dance-related way, but in a martial arts way as well.

I asked Jayne if that could even be possible. Her answer was “Of course it is!” She also advised me to be careful when or if I ever returned to the dojo, because I might surprise myself. I decided to put my theory to the test. The dojo was hosting a seminar based on the art of the Rokshoku Bo, which is a 6 foot long staff. In other words, it’s a great big stick. And it can be pretty scary, especially when someone swings it at your head.

However, I like playing with sticks, so I took my Rokshoku Bo and went to the dojo for the seminar. It was awesome twirling my stick and doing imaginary strikes, and it felt great to be on the mat again. We partnered up with other students to practice our strikes, which can be a bit formidable, as you can imagine. After all, one bad move could end up with a trip to the Emergency Room. That would ruin everyone’s day.

I partnered up with the only other female black belt in the school. We’re great friends, and it just happened to be her foot that I accidently broke a few years ago. Ooops. It had been a really long time since we were on the mat together, and we started going at it with great enthusiasm with a series of strikes that culminated in one final overhead strike to the top of the head. Did I mention it was scary?

She came at me with full speed and full intention. I deflected each strike with equal speed and intention. Our energy continued to escalate until she went for the final blow, the kill strike, aimed directly at the top of my head. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but I felt a surge of energy come shooting up from the very core of my existence, and  I blocked the strike with ear-splitting spirit yell and every cell in my body participating.

For a split second time stood still. Then I heard a deafening crack. Suddenly I was holding two sticks instead of one. I blocked her strike with such force I literally broke my Bo in half. I was grateful that her strike didn’t land on my head. And I discovered that Jayne was right about my power. I also realized that I was going to have to buy a new Bo.

The moral of the story is that sticks and stones may break your bones, but a ballet dancer will break your Bos. Or maybe other things if you provoke her enough. It’s nice to find your power, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but it sure makes me feel like a lady!

 

 

Feldenkrais, Survival, and Supernovas

I love the connection between martial arts and Feldenkrais. After all, Feldenkrais is based on martial arts, the art of movement, and the art of survival. Moshe Feldenkrais believed that all human beings were intended to not just survive, but to thrive in their environment. He also wanted to return to each person their human dignity. How beautiful is that?

To have human dignity, you must be able to protect yourself and have strong personal boundaries. As a martial artist, I understand that, and I always integrate the principles of martial arts, self-defense, and survival skills into my Feldenkrais sessons. I get so passionate about Feldenkrais and the art of survival that many of my clients wanted to explore this connection at a deeper level, with practical application for daily life. Some of them even talked about trying some martial arts classes, but were worried about getting their heads knocked off by over-enthusiastic training partners. After being on the receiving end of some of those partners myself, I could certainly understand their concerns.

But I also understand how empowering the practice of martial arts can be, and I wanted to be able to offer that sense of empowerment to my clients without having them risk their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I was at a loss, until I finally had a head-smacking moment as a light bulb went off in my head. Why not devote a two hour long class to Feldenkrais and the art of survival?

I chose one of my favorite Feldenkrais lessons titled “The Golden Ball.” It is a deliciously gentle but powerful lesson where you imagine a golden ball placed deep in your abdomen, somewhere between your pubic bone and your belly button. As the lesson progresses, you visualize the ball moving, rolling, sliding, and gliding as you move through the movement patterns.

Before we began the lesson, we started in traditional Feldenkrais-fashion with a body scan. However, instead of lying down and sensing our contact with the floor, we walked around my office and the long hallway outside of it to notice our connection to the floor, our environment, each other, and within ourselves. “How do you feel?” I asked them. “Do you feel confident and powerful? Or do you feel timid and unsure of yourself?”

The response was rather lukewarm until I uttered those magic words, “Go to your mat, and lie on your back….” Ahhh, the rewarding sound of sighs of contentment filled the room as I began guiding them through “The Golden Ball.” Halfway through the lesson, I stopped, had my clients slowly come to standing, and walk around the room and the hallway again. Once more, I repeated my questions: “How do you feel? Do you feel confident and powerful? Or do you feel timid and unsure of yourself?”

This time the response was a bit more introspective as well as enthusiastic. Their comments included a sense of increased awareness, feeling centered, stronger, and grounded. Interesting, to say the least. I was mind-boggled by the changes that I observed in all of the participants as the lesson had unfolded. Of course I kept my comments and my observations to myself as I had them return to their mats to prepare for the grand finale.

When the lesson ended, as I watched my clients transition from the floor to standing, my jaw dropped in amazement. The power in each and everyone of them was electric, and I had to take a step back so their combined energy didn’t knock me over. Before I had the chance to ask my three questions, one of my clients exclaimed, “It’s like a supernova! At first I couldn’t feel the ball, and then I started to feel it a little bit. But after the break, it got bigger, brighter, and stronger–now it’s all around me! It’s a Feldenkrais supernova!”

I ended the class as I always do, with a recap of the lesson and what I lovingly refer to as the “family talk.” But before we did, we had one more walk around the room and the hallway. The light and the wisdom from those golden balls just lit up the room, and it certainly lit up my heart. Because I knew that all of those people now had a few more skills to take home with them….the skills of Feldenkrais, survival, and supernovas. Feldenkrais….turning on the power for people everywhere. You simply have to try it to believe it!