Ronin Martial Arts Center

(formerly MBC)

Over 30 years teaching experience

 

Children, Teens & Adults

 

"There is no sex (gender) in the dojo!"

When my Sensei (who is also my husband) said that to me, he was trying to make the point that the dojo is a gender neutral zone.  Everyone trains the same, the rules and expectations aren't different based upon what parts are under your karate uniform.   That equal treatment philosophy is part of the appeal of karate training to me and I am a huge fan of the gender neutral training philosophy at our dojo.  

However, I still take exception to that statement.  See, as a woman and a dedicated karateka I have trained through all nine months of two pregnancies, up to and past my due dates (both were late - of course!).  I have trained holding my infant daughter, just doing stances and foot patterns when she didn't want to be put down.  I have had to leave class when my son would push his play gate across the dojo floor to get to me.  I have bowed out mid-class to change dirty diapers and feed a baby their bottle, and once a month for the majority of the past 13 years I have trained through the discomfort of bloating and cramps (sorry guys!).

 I do not leave my gender at the threshold when I bow at the waist and step onto the floor, I wrap it around me and embrace it like a suit of feminine armor, because I am a woman, wife, and mother who is also a karateka.  I bring all those elements with me onto the floor the same as when I step outside, I carry what I have learned in the dojo with me.   I want my son and daughter to recognize and respect the dedication and drive it takes to continue to press on even when your physical state or life circumstances require you to modify your techniques.  Just because something becomes more challenging doesn't mean you quit - you find a way to persevere and try to figure out a way to use it to your advantage if you can.

The study and practice of karate has made me a more confident and assertive person.  This has helped me tremendously at work and also in following through with my convictions where my kids are concerned.    When I was in labor, I correlated it in my mind to a belt test for rank.  By the time you get to sparring you are physically and mentally exhausted, but you dig deep and push through it - stopping is not an option.  I heard my dojo family in my head urging me to "finish strong".  Thirty-six hours after labor started I held the best reward ever when my daughter was (finally) born.  Conversely, when I'm intimidated by something in the dojo (like a jumping scissor sweep) I think about how I pushed out two babies and if I can do that, I can certainly handle a new technique!  Physically training has helped me stay strong and flexible into my 40's, which is good for chasing the kids around on the playground.

Having a family did change my perspective and the way I train.   Rank and physical coordination are still important, but I've slowed down my progress.  They are only young once, so I'm making sure I balance time on the dojo floor with time spent doing activities with them.  I learned that even when I was 9 months pregnant and physically unable to do certain things, it was no excuse to stop - I just learned to adapt and move on.  That's part of the reason I love karate, I know it will be there for me no matter what limitations may arise.

So, respectfully, I say there IS sex in the dojo.  Not in the sense my sisters and I should do fewer push-ups than our dojo brothers, shorter rounds, or lower expectations.  That would be disrespectful.  But rather in the sense there is tremendous value to bringing your life experiences and who you are as an individual into your training, including gender.   The same goes when you leave the dojo, as you will benefit by bringing the lessons you learned in training and apply them to your everyday life.   Which brings me to another thing my Sensei says, "EVERYWHERE is the dojo".  That one, I agree with 100%.

 

The whole family wrapped up & ready for bag work - One Size Fits All!

The whole family wrapped up & ready for bag work - One Size Fits All!

"Practice Courtesy to All Mankind" (and ice cream vendors)

"Wow - your kids were really polite - I was surprised! You’re doing a good job raising them!"

That was the comment made by the woman behind the counter at Royal Crown, a popular ice cream shop in town. I thanked her, but mixed in with my feelings of pride over my kids was a little sadness that what I consider a bare minimum of courtesy and ordinary manners would illicit such sincere praise.

It also got me thinking that all the kids at the dojo also demonstrate manners equal to, if not better than, my own children.  I give credit to all parents that make courtesy an expectation and set a great example themselves.  Now are my kids always fabulous?  Of course not!  There are times I poke and prod to remind them to say "please" and "thank you".  They sometimes run enthusiastically though a door so eager to move on to another adventure that they forget to hold it open for the person behind them.  However, more often than not, they do remember on their own.  The gratitude they receive goes a long way to reinforce the good behavior and the occasional lack of acknowledgement for their kind deed is a reflection of the state of the other person's mood or mind and they just shrug it off.

What does this have to do with karate?  "We shall always practice courtesy to all mankind" is part of the karate credo and are not just words recited at the end of class. A friend of my son's came to the dojo once, observed a class, and declared, "I will not bow to anyone!"  He didn't understand the custom, tradition, or the significance of bowing.  But all students learn that bowing is done out of courtesy and respect, not subservience.   You bow stepping onto the dojo floor, to your teacher, and also to other students.  Listening and following directions, not goofing off when you're supposed to be working - demonstrating respect to others in general - are critical elements of training. That can be challenging as most kids are delightfully rambunctious bundles of energy.  The skill of self-control does not come naturally or easily to all students, and it is developed through time and practice as much as any of the kata or self-defense technique.  

So why are most karate students so polite and respectful, even when they first start training - is it coincidence?  I don't think so. I believe that parents who appreciate the value of their child learning a traditional art are already teaching their kids good manner at home.  Can you have a polite child that doesn't train?  Of course!  But the traditional discipline of karate serves to reinforce those parental lessons.  This is just one of many valuable elements of karate not readily visible to a casual observer.  

There are many lessons learned by practicing karate beyond punching or kicking - including codes of conduct - that can and should be applied in everyday life...including at the local ice cream shop.

Karate and the Aggressive Child: Hitting is NOT Nice!

Some of my friends tell me that they worry about introducing their "aggressive child" to martial arts because it may encourage their natural tendencies.  While I didn't start training in karate until I became an adult, as a former "aggressive child", I'd like to share some of my own experiences and insights on the topic.

I was raised in the 70's to be polite and respectful of others.  My parents didn't use spanking for discipline and I grew up believing violence was never the answer.  However, my natural inclination was always on the aggressive side.  I think my dad recognized this early on, and he showed me how to hit a heavy bag; even got me my own gloves, but I was heavily involved in dance classes, mostly ballet, and the bag hurt my hands.  Much to the horror of my mother, I liked watching The Three Stooges reruns and poorly dubbed martial arts movies.  I can still remember her telling me (repeatedly) that if I played too rough I wouldn't have any friends.   Ironically enough, she was a boxing fan, but told me that kickboxing was "barbaric”.  One time in grammar school a couple of girls thought it would be funny to trap me between their arms.  Confined and restricted, I felt fear, panic, and rage well up inside me.  To escape, without thinking, I instinctively bit down on one girl's arm.  Immediately afterward I felt bad (sorry Jen), and in the principal's office a nun looked at me with utter disgust and called me an "animal", which only made me feel worse.  

Fast forward to my late teens, living outside the city of Trenton, NJ.  I had been hanging out with a group where fighting was common and violence was not restricted to the guys.  It is not something I am proud of, but it’s a necessary part of the story.  At the time my self-destructive behavior included surrounding myself with people who had quick tempers.  In that crowd rage issues were commonplace any my own anger was well-controlled by comparison.  But as I began to mature, I recognized that nothing good would come of those associations, distanced myself from that crowd, and went away to college shortly thereafter.  

When my roommate suggested I come with her to a few self-defense classes hosted by the Karate Club on campus, I jumped at the chance to learn some basic moves.  I figured knowing some self-defense techniques might not be a bad idea for those times that I did go home.  For weeks after the class I walked around asking family and friends to grab me so I could try out some of what I had learned. 

It wasn't until years after those first self-defense classes in college that I made the decision to seriously start learning karate.  My former instructor was now my husband and he took me to study under his teacher, Sensei Marty Manuel.  The karate school had a big open floor with a small kickboxing ring set up in the back corner.  At the end of my first class Sensei put me in the ring with a black belt and told me to fight.  I laughed nervously, unsure of what to do, and made some halfhearted attempts at punching and kicking until my opponent made light contact as he easily landed a few shots on me.  Suddenly, all those years of holding back my nature fell away as I found myself alert, engaged, and fighting back.  That was the day I discovered that I am a counter fighter at heart.

Since that time I have learned that sometimes, it's perfectly okay to hit (at the dojo or on a heavy bag), and to channel my natural aggressiveness into assertiveness.  Not only do I still have friends, I am now part of a whole martial arts community.  My extended family come from a diverse assortment of backgrounds and personalities, and they are interesting, talented, and a generally great group people to be around.  

So what would have happened if I had started studying karate as a child?  Well, I can tell you first hand that having an outlet for my nature, where I learned to control my temper instead of just condemning it, has made me a happier, healthier, individual.  I believe it's less likely that I would have struggled with those self-destructive tendencies or hung out with a violence-prone crowd.  I think my self-esteem would have been boosted and the camaraderie aspects of karate would have given me a good support system of positive role models who would have enriched my life a little sooner.  However, I would do it again (mistakes and all) to wind up where I am now. What I do know with absolute certainty is that my aggressive nature did not go away on its own just because I studied ballet instead of karate.

Life will inevitably throw challenges at us, the discipline of practicing traditional karate has taught me how to control my emotional response and respond with a level head. I truly believe there is incredible value in these lessons for students of any age and temperament.

(And again, really sorry about the arm-biting thing.)

Why Karate Students are So Darned Loyal

A co-worker was surprised to hear that I have been training with the same people for 10 or more years.  She asked me, "Why are karate students so loyal?  I mean, what do you all get out of it?"

At first I was dumbfounded - I mean, who wouldn't keep training for 10 years?  A decade is a drop in the proverbial experience bucket of many students and masters I've met over the years.  My mouth may have actually dropped open in cartoon-like fashion before I realized most adults don't stick with any activity that long, let alone one that is so demanding.

So below is my list of reasons.

Top 10 Reasons for Karate & Kickboxing Loyalty

1) Physical conditioning - The stretching, strength, and balance attained from training allow dedicated students to do all kinds of physical activities without injury or fatigue. I can keep up with (sometimes even outlast) my kids and seasonally kayak, roller skate, and bowl with ease. Thanks to routine training, I am physically able to do those things at will and can still walk the next day. Last summer we hit an entire  water park and climbed about a billion steps in one day, plus I also ran my first 5k at age 40 without actually preparing for it (not saying that was smart & yes, that one did leave me a little sore).

2) Health benefits - We all know that regular exercise is beneficial for cardiovascular health, maintaining muscle and bone strength, weight management, and keeping limber.  So much of what we do in class involves core strength, which helps prevent back injuries that plague so many adults.  Flexibility and balance are also key components of training.  When I worked in an assisted living home, I saw the difference in independence that flexibility made when a limber 80 year old could bend over to put her own shoes on versus others that needed someone to do it for them.  I have every intention to keep training for as long as I can.

3) Reflexes - This didn't happen right away, but I very rarely drop anything these days. Something gets knocked off the kitchen counter and I have already caught it before I even consciously realize it is falling. I look down and I'm surprised to see it's in my hand (however, not so good when it's a knife). Not gonna lie, the first time it happened I felt a bit like a superhero, but no cape needed - I've just developed keen reflexes. These good reflexes especially come in handy when driving in NJ, with any sport involving a ball, and I have also caught my kids on a few occasions.

4) Confidence & Assertiveness - It's hard to intimidate students outside the dojo, physically or mentally.  And I'm not just talking about people, obstacles too. With full contact kickboxing, at some point, even with control and protective gear, you will get hurt. Hopefully it's nothing too serious, but those bruises teach a lesson. How to overcome, how to push through limits and barriers, and keep going. Sometimes it means getting up after being knocked down (literally). Other times it's pushing past fear and anxiety to compete, test, or fight. Traditional training fortifies the student.These are not lessons you can learn from a DVD in your living room or a cardio class.

5) Stress relief - I appreciate deep breathing and meditation - but only after I have spent at least 30 minutes trying to decimate a heavy-bag.  This may say more about me as an individual - I'm not very calm and patient by nature - but I know I'm not alone.  I can only seem to find my center, relax, and think "deep thoughts" after I have physically released whatever aggravation, despair, or excitement that I am holding on to and nothing helps me do that better than hitting a heavy-bag.  I truly think my family, friends, and co-workers get a better version of me after a kickboxing class.  

6) Knowledge - Traditional karate is handed down through generations. That kind of ever evolving wisdom is simply not mastered in a couple of years.  The true essence, the deeper meanings come with time, repetition, and experience.  These lessons can't be manufactured in a "one size fits all everybody is a master in three years" kind of training. There is an additional responsibility to learn about the history, culture, and lineage of your art. Besides the physicality, a serious student will expand their understanding by reading books about the philosophy and history of martial arts. There is always more to learn.

7) Preparedness - As part of regular training, we learn self-defense techniques.  When practicing on each other, we have control, and modify the techniques to prevent serious injury.  However, we also learn real-world applications.  What level of force is necessary and where to strike to disable someone, permanently if necessary,  who intends to do you harm.  No one ever wants to be in that position and I do my best to avoid putting myself or my family in situations that could be dangerous, but better to have the knowledge and not need it, than need it and not have it.  "Chance favors the prepared mind" - Louis Pasteur.

8) Everywhere is the dojo - This is one of my Sensei's favorite sayings.  You don't leave what you have learned behind when you bow and walk off the floor, it becomes a part of who you are. You internalize what you have learned and look at everyday life in a different way.  You try on a pair of pants and think, "Would these be good for kicking?".  I work in insurance, and when someone showed me a segment of burst pipe caused by freezing - my first thought wasn't about the claim, it was that it would make a great weapon for stick fighting. If a decoration is dangling from the ceiling, my natural inclination is to wonder if I could reach it with a jump kick.  Sometimes in the checkout line, I find myself sizing up the person in front of me, ("Hmm, they look strong, I'd have to try to take out their legs first").  Now of course I wouldn't DO that, but it is fun to let the mind wander.

9) Anger Management - Contrary to the common perception that kickboxing and MMA athletes are brutal savages, you actually have to learn to control your temper, keep focus, and maintain a level head when sparring.  I have seen several students not pass belt testing because they failed to do so.  This carries over to the real world - you learn to think before acting out of sheer emotion.  

10) Family - Fellow students are referred to as dojo brothers and dojo sisters.  Over time a unique bond develops with fellow karateka, we see each other at our best, most glorious, and also in despair, frustration, and defeat. Friendships often extend beyond the dojo and I'm honored to have been included in weddings, baby showers, and sadly, funerals. It's not just that we all share a common interest, but we are committed to a passion that involves a path of lifelong learning and practice, that many people don't understand. I have met some of my favorite people through the martial arts community. When it really comes down to it, this may be the most surprising, but biggest factor in why people are loyal to the art, it is the extended family you gain.

Before she asked me,  I had never really considered why students like myself are so loyal. When I began this list my intention was to jot down a "Top 5 list", but I found i just couldn't contain it to so few reasons.  Part of what I love about my martial arts family is the incredible diversity of people.  If you train, I'm betting you can relate to most of these reasons and can probably even think of a few that I missed.  If you don't train, perhaps you have found something in your life that hits these same points.  Either way, I hope I have shared some insight and offered a small glimpse into why the martial arts are a beloved lifelong pursuit for so many, including myself.

This picture was from 2004.  Ten years later most are still actively training students (some not pictured), and the ones that have moved out of the area still come by when they can and are always welcomed 'home'.

This picture was from 2004.  Ten years later most are still actively training students (some not pictured), and the ones that have moved out of the area still come by when they can and are always welcomed 'home'.

For "Older" Students Considering Karate or Kickboxing (aka take your excuses & put them in the trash)

If you are reading this, I’m betting you are (like me) over 40. If not – you are still welcome to keep reading- it’s not like 40 has a monopolyon feeling aches & pains, but it sure seems to be one of those milestones that has earned a reputation for being a threshold to middle age & all the joy that comes with it. 

So – if this caught your eye, it’s probably because you have some old injuries, some arthritis, maybe even put on a few pounds over the years.  I have heard so many adults stay, “I’d love to come work out, but I have to get in shape/lose some weight first”.  Horsepuckey (keeping it PG here)!  The way you get back in shape, the way you lose weight, is by starting a physical activity that interests you – something that will keep you motivated and engaged. 

In college, students over a certain age were referred to as "non-traditional", but let me tell you a little something – MOST of the adult students I train with are over 30 – many over 40 (I usually stop asking age at that point). In their 20’s people are often restricted by finances, work/college schedules, social lives, young children etc to train routinely.  But once you hit your 30’s & 40’s you need an outlet and can usually carve out a few hours a week – I can think of no better place to spend those hours than in the dojo (but obviously I’m biased).

So here are a few tips for starting classes whether you are ‘coming back’ or brand new! 

1.Talk to your doctor (sorry – gotta go there).  As with any exercise program, best to get checked out and discuss any medical concerns you may have with your doctor.  He or she should be able to help you outline a sensible fitness plan.

2. Contact Sensei Del Ross to discuss what you are looking to get out of karate &/or kickboxing.  Let him know about any limitations you have and he will work with you to find alternatives.  You are super tight?  He can show you techniques to help increase your flexibility.  Hip or knee issues?  You may find that a front kick works but a round kick doesn’t – that’s okay – you can substitute.  No cardio endurance?  In the beginning, you may need to take a round ‘off’ by slowing down the pace, we understand.  Foot/ankle issues?  While class is traditionally barefoot, you may need to wear a brace or special foot gear – that can all be accommodated.

3. Recognize your limitations, set realistic goals.  Too many students pressure themselves to be the athlete they were at 20 or are concerned that by modifying a technique that they are ‘wrong’.  Nonsense!  None of us have the body we had at 20 (some are even better), but that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve strength and physical conditioning. In my late 20’s & early 30’s I trained through 2 pregnancies up to my due dates –  gained over 50 lbs & with a giant belly do you think I didn’t have to modify my work out? Of course I did!  Now I’m 41 and have all sorts of aches and pains, but I work through them and continue to modify my techniques as needed.  Sensei Manuel (Sensei Del Ross’ instructor) was a championship kick-boxer who was later confined to a wheelchair.  He continued his study of martial arts by learning and teaching from his chair.  Anytime I am feeling too achy/tired/injured to train, I remember that he never stopped and suddenly all my excuses seem trivial.  When I put things in perspective, I feel very privileged to have control over my achy limbs and a responsibility to use them to the best of my ability.  The only true sin would be to completely quit or never start.

4. Balancing Training and Family.  I am including this one only because so many people think of family obligations as a limitation, but it doesn’t need to be.  Some parents opt to train with their kids during the children’s karate classes.  Others bring older kids to the kickboxing classes.  My kids sometimes just sit at the desk and work on homework (or play video games – they are addicted). Smaller kids can color or watch videos.  With that being said, carving out a couple hours a week is very realistic & doable for almost everyone.  (Side note: we are located next to a wonderful Chinese restaurant/sushi bar – you can order before class, pick up after class – viola – dinner is served on training nights!  My family does that once a week).

5. If you are really hesitant about starting a class, come in and check it out.  If you are still unsure, consider a few private lessons.   While this is not a necessity, it is an option.  Maybe you trained before and want a few one on one refresher classes to get you back up to speed or maybe you never trained before and would feel more confident learning some basic moves beforehand.  You can contact us to discuss private lessons, but again, this is not necessary, just an option if you are truly concerned about starting off with a regular group class.

6. Don't kid yourself, you will still need to eat a healthy balanced diet.  Just thought I'd throw this out there.  Karate & kickboxing are both great workouts - you will burn calories and will likely give your metabolism a boost, but you still have to put in the right fuel in to get the most benefit out of training.  Eating right will help increase your energy and endurance which leads to better performance in class, and will help you get the best results.  

Did I miss anything?  Are you still reading this thinking, “Yes, but…” – well let me know! You can also call Sensei Del Ross with your concerns; he has taught students of all ages with various challenges –advanced age, wheelchair bound, hearing impaired, and cognitive disabilities.  Anyone that wants to train CAN.  It really is that simple.