Posts Tagged ‘aikido

01
Jan
15

A Thousand Strikes

A Thousand Strikes

women-boxing

 

Having been nursing a miserable cold over the last week that has left me a sniffling, sneezing, foggy-headed wreck, I’d almost lost sight of the looming New Year. Sure, I’ve been aware of it—and have even felt myself in an interregnum of sorts eschewing anything particularly new, or when it comes to writing, even engaging in anything more rigorous than pithy “all my best wishes of the season” notes on holiday cards.

Now that the first day of 2015 has arrived, I can certainly say that I have been busy for a good portion of it taking care of chores (laundry, cleaning up the kitchen, and attending to social media), making New Year’s Hoppin’ John (the vegetarian version—an anathema, I’m sure, to the memory of my mother-in-law, and anyone with southern roots for that matter, who’d have surely had a fair amount of fat back added to it), continuing to nurse my cold (finally, seemingly, on the mend, though I’m still pretty foggy), and even catching a bit of a bowl game with my husband.

With all of that done, along with a few naps, it’s time to tackle the real part of my day—which is to ponder the boldness that a new year can bring to one’s life, along with the grand gestures that can punctuate one’s entry into them.

A Thousand Bokken Strikes on Rockaway Beach 01012015Whether it’s a thousand word blog post, a thousand strikes with a Japanese wooden bokken on Rockaway Beach, a thousand folded paper cranes to commemorate peace, a thousand jabs to start off a trip back to the boxing gym, or a thousand crisp cramp rolls on a tap dancing board, embracing the things one loves, by doing it to the count of one thousand is a brilliant way to begin or reaffirm one’s commitment to it.

Let’s face it, our lives get away from us and with rare exception most of us are at least tripled up with commitments at any given moment—not to mention our feelings of disappointment, angst, grief, anger and guilt at our inability to put the time in to the things that we consider are at the heart of what’s important to us.

Given the year I’ve just had, which was nothing short of miraculous when I consider that I published a book on the sport of women’s boxing, not to mention having reengaged in my own boxing pretty much every week all year—oh, and taken up tap dancing too—there were still the bits that I hadn’t done, such as blog regularly, work consistently on my next book and ensure that my family is taken care of in the way they should be.

With the New Year though, I have the opportunity to sort through those things that have meaning and the things that can be jettisoned, and having distilled it down—my thousand “somethings” are the thousand words of this post which constitute my way of saying writing’s the thing.

Blog posts about women’s boxing and whatever else catches my fancy, poems, essays, diatribes, and yep, “the book” are the purview of my reaffirmation to wordsmithing. And not just writing, but also finding the fun in writing and dare I say it, the joy of writing because, yes, it is a joy. A tremendous I-can-say-anything-I-want, action of plucking goodness knows what out of my thought processes and having it translated onto the page through fingers that dance and clickety-clack over the keys of my laptop.

Yes, JOY damn it! Writing can be joy—not a chore, not working to a deadline, not what the editor says or wants—but writing for the sake of it, because one can, because words can bring out ideas one never knew one had, because words have a magic and are, in my estimation as potent as anything an alchemist can conjure up. And importantly, because this year I am sixty, and if I can’t embrace the go-where-my-mind-wants-to-take-me journey that writing can be now—then when?

And, at least for me—and perhaps for all of us—that is the point, isn’t it? If not now, then when, whatever one’s passion, be it pottery, politics, winning a world championship belt (the way Sonya “The Scholar” Lamonakis did this past year) or being the best-damned cramp roller in the world.

All of these things amount to wonderful journeys—akin in some ways to the great pilgrimages. One sets out on a journey from point A to point B and through that process one can experience each point along the arc of A to B as transformative. Perform a jab a thousand times, and one begins to feel what it is like to really throw a jab. One will also have the chance to notice that jab number 10 will be different than jab number 860—tiredness aside, one will have a fluidity of action, an ease, a sense of accomplishment and the momentum to carry on forward to one’s goal.

For each one thousand “somethings,” one can journey on to the next one thousand or to whatever constituent sets one decides upon, but one will have already made one’s start, one’s leap into the thing that gives energy and joy and a myriad of other emotions and feelings that commitment can bring.

One can also find how those things tie in together. For me while writing is the thing, boxing and tap dancing are the physical embodiments of letting words unfold on the keyboard. By learning to maneuver in the ring with my trainer, Lennox Blackmoore, or by learning new tap dance sequences and steps from Michaela Marino-Lerman, I’m enacting ways to trust my instincts and my ability to do so with fluidity—all of a piece when I think about it, because for me writing is an exercise in being bold, brave and fearless without which, the writing process ends up being a lot like cheating at solitaire.

If I can offer anything, it is to say that if one possibly can, do attempt to embrace the things that have meaning, and then do it a thousand times!

31
Dec
12

Of endings and beginnings …

Of endings and beginnings …

2012 USA Women's Boxing Team

As is inevitable for this time of year, we relive our triumphs and disappointments and much like the wisdom espoused by the rituals of the Jewish High Holidays, may even set about examining those aspects of our lives we are most proud of and those we may be at a loss to explain.

In considering my own 2012 I certainly ran the gamut from graduating with my master’s degree to emerging from surgery on my shoulder with a pathetic wing that has taken months to set right.

Meanwhile, my own highs, lows and in-betweens are graced by the luxury of lots of comfort, a loving family and a Brooklyn home that experienced nary a sprinkle during Hurricane Sandy.

I’ve also gotten a book contract, my straight right back and a husband who even squired me to the movies two days running over the weekend!

Counting myself among the luckiest of the lucky, I also keep in mind the triumph and trials of my pals at Gleason’s Gym, the thirty-six young women who courageously took up the gloves to box at the London 2012 Olympic Games and another year in the history of women’s fight for equality whether it be in the boxing ring or the hope that a bus ride home in New Delhi doesn’t result in a brutal gang-rape and death.

Maybe it’s the latter that saddens me most.

I’ve been around a long time and the fact that a woman still isn’t safe whether it’s in New Delhi, Johannesburg, London or the Bronx reminds that me that for all our female bravura at embracing martial sports, the fact remains that there is always some part of what we do that is informed by our need for self-defense.

Talk to my thirteen-year-old about it and she’ll regale you with how to leg sweep a potential attacker or such street savvy stratagems as using big glass store front windows to check on who is walking behind her. The operative thing here is that she is thirteen and has already experienced men saying gross things to her on her short walk between school and home. And while her martial art, Aikido, is defensive in nature, it hasn’t stopped her from figuring out that sometimes the best defense is offense: that and the sense to scream, act crazy and run like hell.

So if we are talking New Year’s wishes, mine is to end assault with the first toll of midnight … that said, keep up the fight to claim the boundaries of the ring as your own, whatever your ring happens to be.

Happy 2013!

 

24
Aug
11

Wordless Wednesday – 8/20/2011

Wordless Wednesday – 8/20/2011

Aikido in motion, August 20, 2011

Wordless Wednesday is a group of bloggers who give words a rest once a week.

12
Jun
11

Of villages, gyms and dojos

Of villages, boxing gyms and dojos

My daughter successfully tested for her next level in Aikido yesterday wowing us all with her prowess, strength, sweet laughter and compassion.

Compassion is perhaps a strange way of describing acts of tossing her “Ukais” from one side of the dojo to the other — but was just that as she worried her way through this person’s hurt back and that person’s smaller stature all while performing the complicated forms she has come to master with such grace.

It got me to thinking that my daughter’s art — as it has become since she donned her first Gi at the age of 5 turning 6 — is so many parts herself, but also many parts her Aikido teachers who have patiently, and sometimes not so patiently, taught her the large and small points of placing her body in this or that posture.

The more important lessons though have had to do with taking responsibility for herself and for how she comports herself through the rituals of the culture of Aikido.  Along the way she is finding moments of body-mind union — where she loses her self-consciousness to act in a kind of unison. This last is the hardest, and yet as I watched her yesterday, I knew that she was well on her way.

It got me to thinking that her dojo has become her village filled with all the nuances of a community each playing a part in helping her to grow into a young woman.  It also got me to thinking that boxing gyms seem to have that same effect on young people. They learn an art — essentially an art of violence, and yet what they learn is not violent at all. What one sees is an inculcation of gentleness, sure not all the time, but the intimacy of learning those arts does give rise to the village life for those kids — seen scampering around, their heads jostled as they imbibe the skills of honing the body and the mind into a kind of harmony.

And its not just kids.  Adults can find that subtle part of village life too.  A community within a community where you work your butt off  — and afterwards just hang around for a while to chit-chat with your friends and cheer on others as they put in the work too.

19
Mar
11

Why I love women’s boxing!

Why I love women’s boxing!

Afghan Women Boxing, Credit: AFP/Katherine Haddon

I came across an amazing piece about young Afghani women training for the 2012 Olympics entitled, Afghan women boxers eye Olympic knockout!  We’re talking from the Taliban to the ring — in a country where girls and women still struggle for the right to leave the house or attend school, never mind don boxing gloves to learn the intricacies of the sweet science.

As Katherine Haddon put it in her lead graph, “In a gym at Kabul’s main stadium, where the Taliban used to publicly execute women accused of adultery, female Afghan boxers hoping to make it to the London 2012 Olympics are practicing their jabs.”

This is why I love women’s boxing.

Sure there’s the “game” side of it and the frustrations of attempting to make it as a professional — but at its heart any woman who boxes has an opportunity to push herself past all of the crap of gender construction in whatever society she is in to work it all out on the bag.  As a case in point, pick any ten random videos of a female boxing match on YouTube and read the vitriol, if the comments aren’t sexualized then they are some nonsense about how women “shouldn’t fight …”  And those comments are written here, in the U.S., so what’s that saying???

Meanwhile, back at the gym, girls and women box anyway because they have figured out it’s a beautiful way of moving beyond that sort of thinking into a realm of physical and mental strengthening.  And whether it’s an Aikido dojo, Tai Chi in the park or young Afghani women with an Olympic dream, taking those steps — and providing opportunities and encouragement for other women, young or old to take those steps is what will ultimately knock down the barriers that still keep so many women locked up inside.

YouTube also has a link, however it will only play on their site.  I recommend it highly!  You can find it here.

22
Jan
11

Boxing day

Boxing day

Now that I’ve gone to a once a week training schedule for boxing, I find myself getting really excited by the time Friday comes along.  The daily fitness routine I’ve found that can work with my schedule these days is based around early morning yoga, but it’s the thought of boxing that gets me pumped up and ready to go.

My Saturday morning boxing routine begins with dropping my daughter off for her Aikido practice, after which I take a nice long walk over to  Gleason’s Gym. By the time I get there I’ve logged 2-1/2 miles at a pretty fast pace so I am nice and loose.  About a 1/2 mile out, I start pumping my arms a bit so that by the time I hit the gym I feel ready for one of my two favorites:  three rounds on the double-ended bag or three rounds of shadow boxing using the slip-rope.

For those who don’t usually practice, the slip-rope is real old-school consisting of something as simple as a clothes line tied between two poles or across the ring around 15 feet apart at about chest height. The object is to move forwards and backwards along the line and “slip” under as practice for slipping a punch. The slip-rope is also great for practicing upper cuts under the line — or for simulating jabs to the body and jabs to the head.  By around the third round, I feel loose enough to dance around the slip-rope going forwards, backwards, and circling.  Having the rope at chest height not only helps to “remind” me to slip, but also gives me an approximation of where to place body versus head punches.

Alternatively, I’ll use the double-ended bag for warm-ups starting with a round of lefts and finishing the second two rounds with combinations and a lot of hooks or upper cuts off the jab.

If I can train with Lennox Blackmore, we’ll do three rounds of pad work — with an aim of getting to four rounds by the end of January, five rounds by the end of February and six rounds by the end of March!  Once we’re done with the pads, it’s back to the double-ended bag for three rounds to work on punches and combinations that Lennox and I focused on during the training session on the pads. This helps to solidify moves, especially slipping punches to counter — a Lennox special. After that, it’s on to the speed bag for three rounds and then a whole lotta’ abs!  I’ll add that if Len isn’t around, I might work-out for three rounds on the heavy bag in lieu of pad work, or add in an extra three on the double-ended bag.

By the end I’m exhausted, but happy — and ready for the quick walk back over to pick-up my daughter.  I hope to keep this going for about three months so that by April I’ll be fit enough to get back into the ring for some light sparring.  We’ll see!

28
Dec
10

Making it count

Making it count

 

Brown Belt

 

Having achieved her brown belt, my daughter’s Aikido Sensei gave her about half a minute to rest on her laurels before starting the push towards her next goal.

She is ranked at 2.5 and must reach a 0.5 level before she will be invited to test for her Shidon or first rank Black Belt under the rules of the the Aikido World Alliance, the parent organization for her Dojo.  That will take three to four years, and given her age she will then wait at her 0.5 rank for some time before the AWA confers their invitation.

Her Sensei figures that as she is on her road towards a Black Belt — she is now not only an apprentice trainee with respect to all of the techniques that she must master, but more importantly she must also begin to learn the responsibilities of achieving the rank.  That is all pretty heady stuff for an 11-year-old, and yet, having been thrown to the front of her class to lead the warm-up, she has become cognizant of how difficult it is to command the attention and respect of a group of people long enough to actually get something done.

What she’s also learning is that small things matter.

In Aikido, stance is everything — much as in boxing — and finding the balance means a lot not only to her practice, but in her role as a novice teacher, to those of her students.  Thus she now sees when something is wrong and has begun to correct the tiniest of movements.  This process of breaking it down is helping her to ascertain the faults in her own practice — at least that’s her Sensei’s ingenious plan, though this last is perhaps the hardest to achieve.

Sometimes it is not really possible to articulate what happens beyond the realm of the pure mechanics of a particular set of movements.  In Aikido, that might mean the execution of a series of moves with a partner — pretty difficult stuff in that both partners must also act in a kind of harmony with each other even as the one may be attempting to toss the other to the ground.

Boxing offers something similar — a remarkable improvised dance executed by two well-skilled fighters balanced for ability and for that little something extra that comes from the heart.

18
Dec
10

A mom’s delight

A mom’s delight.

Okay, I admit it, I am officially kvelling!  My daughter has been invited to test for her brown belt in Aikido today!

We are all enormously proud of her achievement — not the least of which is because she has done so much of this on her own through a combination of hard work and true passion.

As with any martial discipline, it a lot takes courage to stand out on a mat and get pounded. In her case, she flies through the air, does break falls any WWF wrestler could be proud of, and can toss a grown person twice her size with ease.  She’s also learned a thing or two about self-discipline, mental focus, and what happens when her “monkey mind” gets in the way.

What’s most impressive is she understands that in testing for her belt today, she’s not only taking a moment to acknowledge her efforts, but committing herself to further studies and the responsibilities that come with her new rank.

To all the parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, or fabulous honorary aunties and uncs, do consider guiding the child in your care to studying a physical discipline such as boxing, aikido, or judo or any of the other recognized martial arts.  Having watched my daughter and her friends over the past years has given me an appreciation for how much these kids gain from this sort of practice.   It’s something I know I’ve written about before, but having observed the confidence and maturity these kids exhibit I can attest to the fact that these sorts of disciplines add an extra dimension to their growth and development that should serve them over the course of their lives.

So, congratulations to our fabulous girl and all her friends who are testing today — all of you deserve rounds of applause and a minimum of two scoops of your favorite ice cream a piece!

 

25
Nov
10

The gym is closed?!?

The gym is closed?!?

What?!? I’m off from work and the gym is closed?!?

How often have you asked yourself *that* question on a holiday when you’re itching to get out of the house and you’re overcome by the sudden onset of your exercise “mojo”?

Funny how that always seems to happen at 8:00 AM on Thanksgiving morning or better yet, at sometime around 2:00 PM on Christmas day.  And oh the shock and surprise when you remember that the gym is closed!  You’d think that there had been a murder with all the carrying-on that happens.  The “oh man, it’s closed? But I *really* want to work out *now*!”

It reminds me of speaking with Rabbi Richard Chapin formerly of New York’s Temple Emanuel about the meaning of faith.  He talked about the religious experience as more than what one often feels are mandated appearances on High Holy days.  Rather, it is the sum total of all of those Friday night services and the attendant repetition of ritual that can give one the chance to glean meaning.  And so with boxing or running or yoga or aikido or any of the host of activities one does at a gym or dojo or on a running track.  It is not the ritual “appearance” on a holiday that give meaning to work and sweat, it’s the every day.  The daily something.  The things we repeat over and over as a mantra to the places we want to go and the person we want to become.

As an advocate for boxing, I’ll always talk about the ring as a place to take care of those sorts of longings, but really it doesn’t matter.  The point is to find those things have meaning to you and to give it a whirl in a way that makes sense and is achievable.  And no, you don’t have to go 15 rounds your first day or promise to run 12 miles or do 200 sit-ups or 10 sets each on every apparatus in the gym.  Nor do you have to suddenly remember that you haven’t been to the gym in a while (shall we say weeks or months?) and figure the best day to start is at 7:30 AM on New Year’s Day.

So enjoy your Thanksgiving Day — and if you really feed the need to move around, I’d suggest dancing the Superbad Slide (and because it’s James Brown it’ll link you back to You Tube).

06
Nov
10

Women’s boxing seminar

Women’s boxing seminar.

USANA Pink Gloves Boxing Seminar 2010

My daughter turned 11 yesterday.  Her very excellent day included the evening session of a three-day Aikido seminar sponsored by a local Brooklyn Dojo.

It got me to thinking about how supportive these types of events are.  In the Aikido world, master teachers train participants in new techniques, general practice concepts and offer opportunities for augmenting learning, including special sessions for kids.

A women’s boxing seminar might work equally as well, perhaps beginning with a half-day event.  I know that there are fantasy camps around, but in the seminar concept, a gym facility could be borrowed on a Sunday and trainers as well as experienced boxers could lead participants in a variety of drills, boxing techniques, boxing exercises and sparring.

An hour or two could also be devoted to kids and/or invite girls of 11 or 12 on up to participate in the day’s  activities.

The seminar would have to be self-funded in order to pay for facilities and trainers, but with enough interest and a reasonable fee it might well work out.  It’s also an especially nice way for women boxers both novice and experienced to feel as if they are part of a larger community.

I know that in boxing in particular, training is often one-on-one and the relationship between the boxer and her trainer is sacrosanct. The seminar or clinic concept can augment that relationship by teaching new ways of thinking about the sport and providing a supportive atmosphere for trying out new techniques, not to mention  the chance to meet up with old friends and a place to make new ones.

Please contact me if there is any interest out there in planning and/or sponsoring such an event.  With the Olympics looming on the horizon in 2012, now might be a great time to start thinking about these kinds of sports clinics if nothing else than to build momentum and a fan base.

 

***P. S.  How’s this for timing!  It seems that Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, NY will be sponsoring an All Female Boxing Clinic and Show on April 21, 22 and 23, 2011!

30
Oct
10

The power of art

The power of art

My daughter started studying her martial art a few weeks before her 6th birthday.  As a young one on the mat she was an absolute mighty-mite executing perfect forward and backwards rolls that were the envy of the Dojo.  Now entering her 6th year as she turns 11, she has become a mature Aikidoist with a love and appreciation for the art and physical prowess of the sport — and for the confidence, mental discipline and sense of accomplishment it has given her.

As a discipline for young women, Aikido provides a clever alternative for girls to learn an art where size and weight are less an issue that one’s ability to execute well-timed defensive moves that takes advantage of an opponent’s forward momentum to land them on the floor in awkward positions (and the chance to run away from trouble once they’re down on the ground!).  Aikido also offers training in weapons to include the “Jo” (long-stick) and the “Bokken” (modeled after a Japanese sword).  With such moves Aikidoists become skilled in the defensive possibilities of such weapons and of the adaptive possibilities of broom handles and mega-umbrellas.

Whether it’s boxing, aikido, karate, Tai-Chi or any of the other martial arts, a brief course of study for a young women can offer a taste of the possibilities for personal defense and their own physical power.  I know that in my daughter’s case, it has given her a confidence in her physical capabilities that has translated itself into the schoolyard where she can hold her own with the best of them physically and mentally.  That’s not to say that she’s ever been in a physical fight, but the mental toughness of her martial art has given her the confidence to walk away from confrontations and the sense of self necessary to keep the mental taunts of the bullies out of her head which can be just as devastating if not more so.

I’ve also watched as other girls and boys for that matter in her Aikido classes and at places like Gleason’s Gym have transformed into clear thinking young people who are cognoscente of their abilities and mindful of the responsibilities of the unique skills they’ve garnered through the disciplined study of a martial art.  Sure, it’s not for everyone, but offering the opportunity to young girls in particular means raising a generation of women who will grow-up understanding the possibilities of their own physical prowess.




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© Malissa Smith and Girlboxing, 2010-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Malissa Smith and Girlboxing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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