Archives for the month of: January, 2012


I did my grading on Saturday. I brought three protein bars, three bottles of water, two powerades, a big tetrapack of juice, a towel, and a (puke) bucket. I arrived at 9:30, taught 3 classes, trained for an hour, ran the demo team practice, and then my grading began. I managed to eat a protein bar and have some water just before it started. I was then asked to go into the dojo and begin meditating in Seiza (kneeling) position. Kneeling has always been an issue for me. My legs don’t like it very much (nor do I), and before this, 5 minutes at a time would leave my legs quite sore and stiff. I was left to meditate in that position for 30 minutes. During this time, people who would be involved with my grading began to filter in. This included Gord, an adult green belt I’ve trained with before, Scott, a teenage junior black belt, Mike, an adult black belt in judo, and my Sensei’s sister who is also an adult black belt in Karate. As I kneeled and tried to meditate, I had a hard time ignoring how much my legs hurt. The more I could relax, though, the better they felt. At some point, a woman (I believe my Sensei’s sister) came in and asked me if my legs were numb. I nodded, and she said to hang in there as I only had a few more minutes. Eventually my Sensei came in and told me that I could now begin stretching. But he more so meant that I may now begin stretching, as when I went to stand up (even to sit up from my feet) I found that everything below my knees was completely numb. So I moved myself into a sitting position and began stretching things out as best I could. This meant first straightening my legs. I did get things stretched out and the feeling came back to my (no longer blue) feet. I was then asked to stand up against the wall, go into a horse stance, and stay there; basically a wall sit. I’m not sure how long I stayed there for but I’m sure it felt longer than it really way. I was then asked to begin doing suicides across the dojo and back. A few times, I was asked to speed up. This concluded the non karate-specific part of the grading.

Next, I began doing combos on focus mitts. I was then asked to do combos on both Gord’s mitts and Scott’s mitts, turning from one to the other continuously. At this point the black belts took their seats in the dojo, and began asking to see particular moves.  The first move they asked to see was a jump spinning kick. Next they asked to see a kip up. So I added a kip up into a combo and did that on the pads. Next was a cartwheel and jumping kick, so my last combo was simply a cartwheel followed by a pop-up front kick. Eventually I was asked to take my gloves off. The acrobatic kicks were more tiring than more traditional kicks would have been.

Next came katas. They asked me to perform each kata, and I would repeat it until they asked for the next one. Once I had finished all  of the katas I know, my Sensei asked me which kata I would perform if my whole grading depended on it. I said Seipai without hesitation. He then asked me to perform Seipai as though my whole grading depended on it… backwards! The kata normally takes me about a minute to perform. This took about five times as long. But I did it, and I believe it was close to correct.

Then I was asked to get my sparring gear on. Scott, Gord and Mike already had theirs on. Sparring gear consists of gloves, foot gear, a padded helmet and a mouth-guard. The sparring began with each of my three opponents rotation on 30 second rounds. So I would spar Scott for 30 seconds, and then spar Gord for 30 seconds and then spar Mike for 30 seconds, and then back to Scott. This way they didn’t get tired, but I certainly did. After a little while of this, my Sensei kept two people in at a time, so it was two on one.Then Sensei let the third person in at the same time. So I was sparring 3 people at once. During this portion, my left quad cramped. I managed to continue defending myself, only throwing kicks from my right leg. After the sparring, Mike and I got our gear off. I managed to massage the cramp out of my leg and we began grappling. I haven’t grappled since my days at Dynamic Arts. I could remember one lock, and I could only apply it from a weak position (for anybody keeping score at home, it was the Key-Lock applied from the Guard). Naturally I lost all three rounds of grappling; one to an arm-bar, one to a choke, and I don’t remember the last, but it was unpleasant.

I was near the final part of my grading now. All tired and sore, I had to demonstrate my ability to defend myself. So, Sensei had Gord put me in a Full Nelson (arms under my arms, hands behind my neck), and I had to escape. So apparently, the normal way to escape this is to lift the arms straight up and drop down, then do something awful to their legs. I, being unaware of this, maneuvered Gord to the side, took my left leg behind his right leg, bent my knee into the back of his and sent my weight backwards, knocking him over my leg. He released his hold when he fell. Unfortunately, this particular method caused my cramp to come back in both legs. I dropped to the ground, as I couldn’t stand without a lot of pain. While I was on the ground, my Sensei told me to begin thinking of a self-defense from Seipai to demonstrate. My main concern was getting rid of the cramps so that I could stand. I remembered something about electrolytes effecting cramping, so I started downing powerade while I tried to get ready. It didn’t help. I wasn’t able to get up.

I heard my Sensei say to his sister, “It’s sad to see somebody fail in the last five minutes.” That was when I realized what was at stake here, how close I was to completion, and most importantly, how close I was to failing. I decided that I would not let this make me fail. I asked my Sensei if this was the last part of my grading, and he said that after this I would have to stand and answer questions from the black belts. I decided on a self-defense and explained it to Scott so that I could perform it on him. I had him stand in front of me, and with my legs still cramping badly, I stood to perform the self-defence. Just like in Seipai, I reversed the wrist grab, popped the elbow up, stepped, struck the leg, struck the jaw, struck the neck, and kicked the knee. I managed to stay on my feet. They then asked me to expand on part of my essay, and to explain why I wanted my black belt.

“Grading dismissed” was the most relieving phrase I’ve heard in a long time. I wasn’t able to drive all the way home, and I needed somebody to come pick me up, but I felt good. I had never completed anything so difficult in my life.

The next day was the graduation, which went off without many difficulties and I think the kids all enjoyed it. Before Sensei brought me up to receive my belt, he spoke about how the grading went. He said that he, and the other black belts were only there to facilitate the grading. They are there to bring the person to the point where they want to give up and that if they find it inside themselves to carry on, that is the moment they become a black belt. He talked about seeing in my eyes that I wanted to quit when my legs were cramping, and that I pushed through that pain to complete my grading. He then asked me to come up on to the stage and he presented me with my black belt.

Reflecting back on the last 14 weeks, I realize how much I’ve really done, and how much I’ve grown as a person. I’ve found a lot inside of myself that I didn’t know was there, and while it was very very difficult at times, I wouldn’t give it up for the world. I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am a black belt. And while this is an end, it is so much more a beginning.

This is, after all, only first dan.


So, here we are.

I’m sitting in my car in the parking lot outside of my dojo while I write this.
I’m very nervous. I have three classes to teach, a class to do, and a demo practice to run before I grade, which will be at 3:00. My understanding is that the basic format will be to tire me out and then have me spar. It will last at least 3 hours. I’ll have to do ground fighting which I haven’t done in three or four years. I’ve brought water, powerade, energy bars, a puke bucket, and a towel for today. Again, I am very nervous. I’ve done my best to eat and rest well before today, and I do feel good. I did some training last night so I’m not too stiff. I completed all of my requirements except for the hyper video, and I didn’t meditate enough. I still don’t know what my Sensei will say about that, but I’ll accept his decision either way. I hope I get to grade today and I hope I’m strong enough to complete it.
To anybody that’s been following my blog this little while, I really do appreciate it. I’ll have at least one more post after this to update on how everything goes, but until then, cheers.

Interview with Fire Captain Rick, a Living Hero

As part of my preparation, I was required to interview a living hero. I considered going with somebody who’d been noted for having done something heroic, however I changed my mind. I feel that a hero is somebody who regularly demonstrates heroism, and that brought me to the Waterloo fire department, and specifically to Fire Captain, Rick.

Jared: How did you get started in this business?

Rick: I live in a small town, and I joined the volunteer department there 29 years ago, and I was on there 6 months. I had a good job at the region of waterloo doing traffic signals, and I got in as a volunteer, and six months later I said this is what I want to do for a living. I wanted a change, and just the rewarding part of the job, and just everyday is different, it’s exciting.  Sometime’s there’s downtime, yeah, you pick up a book, you read, you learn something new every day. So, that’s kind of how I got into it. I’ve never looked back regretting any minute of it.

Jared: What sort of training have you gone through over the years to be able to do this job?

Rick: I’ve been up to Ontario Fire College, Gravenhurst… I can’t even tell you how many times. So many aspects of fire fighting; there’s hazardous materials, the medical aspect, high angle rescue, low angle rescue, confined space, the list goes on and on because when something goes on out there (gestures at the window), people have one number to call. They call 911, they need the fire department. The police’ job is very specific; EMS is pretty specific, meaning emergency medical services; they deal with sick people. We’re fire, we have to deal with a whole lot of different situations. Some of them; over in Wellesley We pulled a horse out of a manure tank, rescued people off silos, car accidents, you name it. It’s unlimited as to what people call you for. Cats in trees!

Jared: That really does happen?

Rick: Oh yeah. We don’t normally go unless, well the one time we did the cat had a leash on, a chain, and it was wrapped around a branch. We had no choice, so we went.

Jared: What does a typical day look like for you?

Rick: It’s pretty routine, there’s a set schedule as far as station maintenance, we set up the day’s training every morning, so its scheduled to keep the guys busy, but you never know when the alarm’s going to go, and all of that planning’s for not. We got two calls today, so we scheduled station tours for kids that come in; we show them the equipment, we get dressed in full scba gear, breathing apparatus, just so they’re not scared of… so they can see who’s under all of that equipment. It’s just us.

Jared: If you weren’t doing this, what do you think you would be doing?

Rick: I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. It’s been so long, and I don’t think I could go back to working five days a week. We work four days on, this week it is Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and then we’re off for four, and then we come in next week on Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night, and Friday night, we’re off for four. So we know, beginning of the year, exactly when we’re working throughout the year, whether you’re working your birthday, whether you’re working your anniversary, whether you’re working Christmas. We sit down, we pick holidays at the end of the year for the following year, so you can schedule those dates. But what would I be doing? Again, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else because, because when I go home I put the pager on, so its 24/7, 365 days a year unless I’m on vacation that I’m a fire fighter.

Jared: So then, if there’s a call, under what circumstances would you get called in on your pager?

Rick: Same thing. When I’m living in the town of Wellesley, medical calls, fire calls, same thing as we do here in the city. Not to the frequency that we do in the city here. Last year we ran 4411 calls here in Waterloo, and in Wellesley we ran about 70. Population out there: 2500. Population here a little over 100 000, but if you add the student population, its almost 50 000 more, so you’re looking at around 160 000.

Jared: So I imagine you’ve responded to an awful lot of events, but what do you typically respond to?

Rick: I would say 60% of our calls are medical calls. There’s a criteria for fire, police and ambulance, and they are difficulty breathing, severe bleeding, chest pain, vital signs absent, unconsciousness… EMS class their calls in code 3 and code 4, so anything code 4, which is an urgent call for them, a lights and siren call for them, or life threatening, those are the ones we get called to. So probably 60% is tiered response, medical, then there are car accidents, alarm ringing, set off due to cooking. Nowadays there’s a very small percentage of actual fires, because of the fire code regulations, better fire prevention, stuff like that. The fire marshal’s office have mandated more of an education. We go into schools, we teach them about fire safety. So they’re taught at a very early age to be careful with candles, be careful with cooking, and so on and so forth. Its changed since the 70’s and earlier. Fire retardant materials help as well, but it is mainly education.

Jared: So how often, now, would you actually get called to put out a fire?

Rick: I’m not sure, exactly, what the stats were for last year. We had a pretty good house fire in November of this past year, they just had one at the university. I would say monthly there would be a significant fire. They had a good one at Dale crescent on Christmas eve at the apartment building. So I would say once or twice a month you get a fire causing damage, a hundred thousand dollars plus.

Jared: Over the years, is there any event that you’ve responded to which sticks out in your mind as being just something really terrible, or something that was terrifying to respond to?

Rick: Yeah, last year, we were working, we were on day shift and we had just responded to an alarm down on Erb street, set off due to cooking, and as we were coming back, we get a medical call to an apartment building. Dispatch didn’t give us details over the air; she wondered if we could phone her. So I phoned her; she says we’ve got a two year old male and an adult male both VSA –

Jared: VSA?

Rick: Vital signs absent, possible suicide. And so, we had just passed the property, we turned around, we got there. We were the first ones there. The wife was in the hallway, very upset; we go in and the male had drowned his son, and then killed himself. That probably sticks out as the most upsetting one to me. There have been several others, but we’ve got a good critical incident stress team here and a process to help guys get through that, and move on to the next one. There’s nothing you can do, but it is sad. Well, it’s another human being and especially with a child involved. They’re human beings. We look after people, and we carry on.

Jared: Were there any that were very dangerous to you or to someone else on the team?

Rick: Sure. The last fire we went into, a room was fully engulfed in fire, and you just rely on your training and your equipment, each other, we have accountability systems set up, and its a command system which keeps track of people and eliminates that freelancing. Everybody is accounted for, works together. The commander, Platoon Chief, knows where they all are.

My interview with Fire Captain Rick continued; on the other hand my recording device did not. There were two things that stuck out in my mind, however. The first was that when taking account of a situation, Rick said that they will “Risk a life to save a life.” To me, that is the embodiment of a hero; somebody that will sacrifice their own well being, for the sole purpose of improving another’s even to the point that it may cost them their life. I also asked Rick whether he felt that he, himself and other fire fighters should be considered heroes. He responded that “hero” is a very big word, and that they were just people doing their job. I humbly disagree with Rick on that point. From what he told me, I would say that he and those that he works with are heroes. After the interview, I made a point to thank him for his time, as well as to thank him for doing the job he does. We’re safer as a result of his efforts, and I know that were it any of our lives on the line, he would do all that he could to help. He is completely dedicated to his work, and for that, we should all be thankful.

What Karate Means to Me

Jared Windover

Karate, literally translated means empty hand, and is thus a way of defending oneself when one’s hands are empty; a means of unarmed combat. Karate is a lone Okinawan defending his home and family, standing tall against a Samurai horde. Karate is a man striking a makiwara late at night while his family sleeps, with the threat of death hanging over his head if he is found out. Karate is the softness of yin and the hardness of yang. Karate is all of these things and much more, however, this is not what Karate means to me. To me, the meaning of Karate can be found in three things; a staff, a belt, and a pair of shoes. These are what Karate means to me.

The staff is often the first weapon a student learns, and it was the first weapon I learned. However, I was never attracted to it for its potential as a weapon. I was attracted to it for the way it moved. It combined power and grace, speed and control, and it allowed the person using it to transcend the confines of their body and become more than they were. I would sit there and watch while my Sempai practiced, hoping that one day I’d have the chance to use it. The class in which I first used the staff was the most exciting I’d ever had. I learned to strike forward, and to perform the four corner strikes. At home I started practicing those strikes on the street in front of my house, and I would practice for hours. I practiced until it was too dark to see what I was doing and I had blisters on my hands. Then one day, after a demo team practice, I was asked if I’d like to learn the more advanced staff techniques under my Sempai; an apprenticeship of sorts. Ecstatic doesn’t begin to describe how I felt at that moment. I learned everything I could about how to use the staff while I had the chance. The fervour that I had for the staff, I believe, is the spirit of Karate. It is practice and practice and practice, not because an instructor is telling you to, but simply to improve at your art.

Another symbol of Karate for me is the belt. Not just any belt, but the Karate belt. The first time I wore it I had no idea of the significance it would one day hold for me. In fact, when I first began Karate I intended to quit at black belt. At the tender age of 9, I did not realize the irony in that. Regardless, it is now something very important to me. I know very little about the origin of the belt, but one thing I do know is that when the belt went on I was a different person. I was focused, and I was there to train. When I’m wearing my belt, I’m not only representing myself, but I’m representing my dojo. Not only am I representing my dojo, but I’m representing an entire history of martial artists leading up to me; others who have worn the gi and the belt and have called themselves Karate-ka; others who have lived and died by their art, and those who have passed it on to the next generation. When I wear my belt, there is a certain protocol with which I’m supposed to act, and a certain role which I’m supposed to fill, and it must honour all of those who have gone before me. Eventually, as is the way for many things in life, the belt ceases to be the reason you act the way you do, and you take that action into the rest of your life. Similarly, I have heard mastery described as the point at which you forget all you’ve been taught. It is not forgetting in the sense that you no longer know; it is forgetting in the sense that it is no longer conscious, but subconscious; no longer what you do, but what you are. For me, this is embodied in the belt. I am a Karate-ka when I wear it, and I am a Karate-ka when I don’t, and for this reason it symbolizes all that I am as a Karate-ka.

Lastly, a pair of shoes; two shoes put side by side, evenly, against the wall, with a bunched up sock in each. This is the last thing I saw before entering the dojo on more days than I can count. It is a practical step, as training in bare feet develops strength in the feet and begins to condition them. As well it helps keep the dojo tidy, as you’re not tracking dirt and mud in. When students first begin, they remove their shoes hastily and rush into the dojo to begin their training. Sometimes students are reprimanded to tidy their shoes so that there’s room for everybody else. It takes time for this to develop independently, but it does, and it did in me. I now take a small amount of pride in making sure my shoes are put neatly in their place before beginning my training. I spent a particularly long time, however, rushing to remove my shoes and begin training, and this was evident in other parts of my life as well. I was reluctant to make my bed, do chores, or tidy my things. It all seemed like time that should be spent more effectively on other things. Eventually, however, and I feel this was due to my training, I began to examine these habits, and realized that they were not in the spirit of Karate. My previous Sensei had a saying, which I’m sure others have said before: “It is not practice that makes perfect, but perfect practice.” By being haphazard with the things in my life, I was reducing the value of my life. By rushing from one thing to the next, I was losing the lessons that could be learned from those things. It is this, more than anything, which now characterizes my training. My goal is no longer to learn something new, it is, rather, to gain as much value from what I am doing as I can extract; whether it be a kata, or simply putting my shoes away.

Karate is an art, a philosophy, and a way of life. As such, its meaning to me cannot be adequately summed up in an essay, nor a book, nor an entire library. It is something that has penetrated to my core, and will be a part of me so long as I live. It has realized fervour in me, taught me responsibility, given me a sense of community and history, and taught me to look for value in all that I do. It has changed who I am, and for that I am forever indebted to my Sensei, my previous Sensei, my Sempais, all of my classmates, and an entire lineage of martial artists. To make it perfectly clear, it has made me who I am today, and I can no more define what it means to me than I can define myself. The three items are images that, for me, are indelibly linked to Karate, and while Karate is much more than the sum of those parts, Karate can also be seen in the slightest of things; a punch, a breath, or the eyes of a master. Or a pair of shoes, side by side, with a bunched up sock in each.

Well… this is awkward.

I burned out.

I was going strong as of my last post, but gradually pressures built. My posts stopped, but I managed to keep most of my workout intact, and I finished my push ups and sit ups. I also finished my random acts of kindness, kata, and sparring. Then as soon as my work term ended and preparing for Christmas began I stopped all of it. I wasn’t at karate enough, and instead of spending my time fighting sparring partners, I spent much of it fighting with my girlfriend. I became completely undisciplined, and convinced myself I was just taking a breather. I wasn’t.

It’s not something foreign to me, and it’s not the first time it’s happened. It is however a weakness in myself that I must do everything to correct, even more so than a weakness in form or a failing in my technique. I have too long neglected the mental aspect of my training, and this is evident in how poorly I kept up with my meditation. Perhaps had I continued, I wouldn’t have lost my motivation, but, alas, I did.

I have since found it again.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish my grading, as the way I’ve acted is not at all the way a blackbelt should act. I have, however, decided that I will complete the requirements to the best of my abilities, because that’s what I should have been doing all along. I’ve since completed my jogging, and I’m meditating between 1 and 2 hours a day to make up for my lack thereof before. I interviewed a Captain of a Waterloo fire station as my living hero, and I’m back on the weblog. I considered writing more entries to make up for my absence, but I’ve decided against it. It’s not really a retroactive thing. I still have to write my essay, prepare my video for Hyper, and begin creating a Nunchaku kata, all before this Saturday which is the last day for me to do my grading before the graduation, which I also procrastinated planning and am now managing to pull together.

I regret what I feel to be a failing on my part, however I will not dwell on it. I have much work left to do, and what I’m beginning to learn as I meditate is that much of my own suffering has been caused by clouding my mind with worries about the past and future, when all I should be focused on is the present. I will complete my grading if it is at all possible and I will pull this graduation together.

That’s all for today.