Tag Archives: martial arts

Practice Makes Perfect

Thanks Melinda, for that fabulous introduction! And thank you Rayna, Melinda and Kathy for inviting me to blog along with you on Attacking The Page.  I must admit I struggled with what I would post for my first blog until Kathy said, just be yourself and you’ll be fine. So here goes…

The other night, after karate class, I spoke to a fellow student who mentioned that when he performs a Kata, a series of karate moves, before the teachers in our dojo, he’s never frightened. Wow. Admiration for his self-assurance and poise raced through me. I told myself what I’ve found countless times to be true: practice makes perfect. The karate student I spoke to has been studying longer, so naturally, his skills are more advanced.

On my drive home, I considered how dedication and perseverance not only allow me to trust myself as a writer, but push myself in karate training. These qualities are what keep me going. But this was the clincher for me: assurance and poise are the qualities that have helped me find my true writing ‘voice’, and I never realized they’d been in my artillery all along. For me, it was an Oprah, ah ha moment. So I sat back and smiled, knowing that in time, assurance and poise will enter the dojo with me. Until then, I will continue to work hard, and remind myself that everyone learns at their own pace. My Sensei told me, if karate was easy, everyone would be taking class. How true. The same can be said for the publishing world. If writing a good book were an easy task, everyone would be published.

In 2004, I started my writing journey. After publishing a children’s non-fiction book, library sales dropped, so I turned to writing romance and I haven’t looked back. In 2011, I began studying Issinryu Karate, and one year later, I feel empowered and confident. I believe practice does make perfect, and although our journeys are diverse, and may spread over different spans of time, odds are, just like me, you have qualities you aren’t aware of, and your Oprah, ah ha moment, is waiting for you too if you trust in yourself and look deep inside.

Because I’m a vertically challenged woman, on a good day I’m five feet tall, I began karate as a means of self-defense so I would feel safe whenever and wherever life took me. It’s turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. One year ago, fear would have riddled me helpless if someone approached me in a dark venue with the intention of hurting me. Now, I’m tenacious and self-assured, and God help the man waiting for me in some dark, parking lot…because I guarantee he’ll be the one running for help, not me.


When in a confrontation, a cobra makes itself larger by rising up and spreading its hood to intimidate its prey and prepare for a swift attack. A mongoose rises up and makes its fur stand on end to appear larger to intimidate its opponent. Both animals show their fangs/teeth and make noise.

Many animals posture instinctively. People need to train for it.

Posturing is making yourself appear confident, strong and intimidating to your attacker so they lose their will to fight before the confrontation even begins. It is both a fighting position and attitude.

Perhaps you’ve seen someone about to get into a fight stand a little taller, puff out his chest, stick out his chin, shout, swear or flat out take a fighting guard. This is posturing. And it could help you defend yourself.

Sensei Advincula tells a story about a two hour self-defense class he gave in which he taught a woman what to do if grabbed: “Jump back, scream and get into a position and act like you know what you’re doing. Give them your meanest look.” In other words, posture. The next day in an airport a man grabbed this woman. She jumped back, screamed and postured. The man ran away. Why? Because an attacker is looking for a victim not an opponent.

Remember an attacker fears two things: getting hurt and getting caught.

A fighting stance and attitude may be all it takes to avoid an attack – for your characters or for you.

~K.M. Fawcett

Writing Fight Scenes

I’m deep in edits right now so thought I’d share a post I wrote 2 years ago on writing fight scenes. Enjoy! I’ll let you know how the revisions go when they’re over.

A few weeks ago a writer friend asked me for some help with her fight scene. She gave me her chapter, minus the fight, so I could get an idea of what was happening in the story. The chapter was good, but I couldn’t help her with the scene just yet. I needed more information.

To begin with, I had to know what she wanted to accomplish with the fight. Did she want the hero to knock out the bad guy? Maim him? Kill him? What are the hero’s and the villain’s experience and skill as fighters? We’ve already learned from a previous post, Perfection of One’s Character, how important characterization is. Therefore, knowing the Hero’s background is key. A boxer fights differently than a karate man. A karate man fights differently than a grappler. A grappler fights differently from (insert your style of choice here). Do the characters have police or military or combat training? Know your characters!

I also wanted to know what kind of an exchange she wanted to have happen. A quick exchange of a few blows or an all out brawl? If she wanted to knock the guy out quietly, the hero might put the villain in a choke hold until he passes out. If she wanted a lot of action and movement, then she could choreograph a fight scene with punches, blocks, kicks and throws.

Was there a weapon involved? In this case there wasn’t, but remember in a fight anything can potentially become a weapon, even dirt in the eyes to blind the other guy, sticks, garden gnomes, you name it. Just because there is no obvious weapon like a gun or knife doesn’t mean you can’t improvise one. More on improvised weapons in this post.

What is the setting? Is it day or night? Are they indoors or out? What is the lighting? The weather? The terrain? Take all these things into consideration when planning your scene. If your characters are outside a home, they can throw each other into the side of the house, a tree, a car parked in the driveway, the rose bushes, a swing set. This is your chance to create an exciting and unique fight scene. Have fun with it.

Pay attention to the character’s distance from each other. If they are further away, they might use kicks (See Melinda’s post on different types of kicks). When in striking distance, they can punch and block and slug it out (See Melinda’s post on punches). If they are in very close, they can uppercut under the chin, into the neck, into the solar plexus, or into the groin. Maybe a character takes the other guy down and they start grappling (wrestling). Arm bars, locks or chokes can be used either on the ground or standing. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination.

Just remember that a fight scene needs to be important to the story, not gratuitous. The fighting must be within character and believable. And if you aren’t sure something will work, get out of the chair, find a willing partner and experiment with your fight choreography together.

~KM Fawcett

The Difference Between Men And Animals

“Do not forget that karate begins and ends with rei.”

This is the first of twenty principles passed down from the father of modern day karate, Gichin Funakoshi. Funakoshi brought his Okinawan martial art of self-defense to mainland Japan, which contributed to its introduction to the rest of the world.

If you’re wondering what karate has to do with the difference between men and animals, stick with me. You’ll soon understand, Grasshopper.

Rei means respect. Respect for others and respect for ourselves.

We demonstrate this respect in karate class every time we bow…onto the dojo floor, to our sensei (teacher), or to our workout partner. The bow is a sign of esteem, respect and courtesy. The bow signifies our willingness to learn and our appreciation for being taught. It assures our partner of our desire to work together to advance both our training; we are not facing off in combat.

Though anyone can go through the motions and bow when they are supposed to and at all the correct times, if they do not have a sincere heart, they do not possess true rei. As it states in The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate by Gichin Funakoshi, “True rei is the outward appearance of a respectful heart.”

In this book, Funakoshi guides us in the spiritual aspects of martial arts. Yes, contrary to what most American’s think, karate is much more than striking, punching, and kicking. Karate-do is a way of life. A philosophy. And these philosophies are not only meaningful in martial arts, but in our everyday lives. These principles encourage us to take a deeper look at ourselves, at how we live and how we treat those around us.

By now I’m sure you’ve made the connection between the title and the blog post.  Only man can show respect and courtesy. Funakoshi’s book states, “The difference between men and animals lies in Rei. Combat methods that lack rei are not martial arts but merely contemptible violence. Physical power without rei is no more than brute strength, and for human beings it is without value.

All martial arts begin and end with rei. Unless they are practiced with a feeling of reverence and respect, they are simply forms of violence. For this reason martial arts must maintain rei from beginning to end.”

I believe everything must maintain rei from beginning to end, whether its school, career, religion, relationships or time for fun. If we treated everyone and everything with reverence, respect, and courtesy, the world would be a much nicer and safer place to interact.

Are you living your life with true rei? Do you treat yourself and others with courtesy, esteem and respect? Do your characters? What changes can you make right now to demonstrate the rei in your heart? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

FOR FUN: What Spider-man quote relates this statement from The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate by Gichin Funakoshi? “The difference between men and animals lies in Rei.”

~K.M. Fawcett

Fight Scene Questions?

Do you have questions about your fight scenes? Or about writing action? Or how to create believable martial arts characters? Maybe you’re wondering what your heroine would do if the villain grabbed her from behind.

I’d like to dedicate today’s blog post to answering any questions YOU may have about your fight scenes. Leave your questions in the comments section.

~ K.M. Fawcett

Would You Fight Back?

Erik and I on Tsuken Island (Okinawa)

Recently, I had read a post on another blog about self defense, and something a commenter said struck me with surprise. She felt that if attacked, she could never fight back, as she could never hurt another mother’s son.

Wow. That’s a pretty noble statement.

Now she didn’t state her reasons for this. It could be her religious belief, or her moral code, or perhaps she recently gave birth and couldn’t imagine hurting another mother’s child. I don’t know. But it did make me think…

And my conclusion?

Yeah…umm…no…I could never be that noble.

While I’d like to believe I have high moral principles, I know absolutely, without a doubt that if I were attacked or threatened, I’d fight back. There is no turning the other cheek for this girl. I’d punch, kick, claw, bite, poke out eyes…anything to get away. No, I’m not normally a violent person..really…but if the situation comes down to my life versus the assailant’s, you can be sure I’ll fight for mine with everything I’ve got.

So my question for YOU is…would you fight back or not? If you would fight back, is there anything that you wouldn’t do (like biting or poking out eyes)? If you wouldn’t fight back, why not? I’m curious to know your thoughts, and whether or not you have martial arts or self defense experience.

Stay Safe!

~K.M. Fawcett

Experiencing Martial Arts – Okinawa Part 3

Lead by the #1 tour guide, Sensei Advincula, our group set off on a walking tour of Agena, Okinawa. The Agena dojo was where Shimabuku Tatsuo (our style’s founder) trained my teacher’s teacher, Sensei Advincula (did I mention he’s the #1 tour guide?). Sensei spoke of how the dojo helped the local economy, as Okinawan and American students bought gi (uniforms), weapons, and makiwara from local businesses. Though the dojo and businesses no longer exist, it was important for us to see and document these old historical locations related to Isshinryu Karate.

Tenchi Dojo Instructors in front of the Isshinryu World Karate Association Headquarters

We walked to the town of Gushikawa to the Isshinryu Karate World Headquarters dojo, where Shimabuku’s first son, Kichiro is now the head of Isshinryu. The dojo was closed so we couldn’t see inside.

In the same town, we were able to locate the property of Shimabuku’s first dojo, where he officially named our style, Isshinryu (one heart way or whole heart way). When Shimabuku’s top student asked him, “Why such a funny name?” Shimabuku replied, “Because all things begin with one.” This is so true for any venture, be it karate, writing, or even a relationship. You have to start somewhere. You must take that first step.

Heather, Sensei and Scott at Shimabuku Tatsuo's Tomb

We drove to the tombs of  Shimabuku Tatsuo, and his second son Shinsho (who had been instrumental in passing on his father’s karate) to pay our respects. On the way back, the group got to see livestock, a dam, and a garbage dump. Twice! Both our navigator and driver (*cough*Scott*cough*) told us that it was intentional, as they wanted us to see ALL of Okinawa. The #1 tour guide and the rest of us didn’t quite buy it.

Shimabuku Shinsho (Ciso)'s Tomb

Okinawa Prefectural Budokan

Also during our trip, we visited the Budokan, a huge martial center, where the Okinawan Karatedo Kobudo World Tournament took place. The first floor of the three story dojo houses a weight room and a karate dojo, kendo is on the second floor, and judo is on the third. There was also a small cultural room but it was closed.

Kendo floor of the Budokan

Our group also had the honor of training at the Ryukonkai dojo under Grand Master Iha Kotaro and Iha Mitsutada Sensei, the 2009 Okinawan Karatedo Kobudo World Champion in bo (6 foot staff). Ryukonkai is a kobudo school, meaning they teach traditional Okinawan weapons. The dojo, located on the second floor, had no air conditioning…oh yeah, and it was August. You bet I was dripping in sweat before I stepped out onto the hardwood floors! We learned some of their kata (forms), which uses a much deeper stance than we were used to. Good leg workout! Iha Kotaro Hanshi’s favorite quote is “You should not love to fight, but not, even for a moment, forget to prepare for fighting” by Miyamoto Musashi, The book of Five Rings.

The Codes of Conduct posted in the Ryukonkai dojo state:

  • Be civil, courteous, disciplined and well behaved.
  • Aim to train your mental and spiritual power as well as your physical power.
  • Endurance is the key to success.
  • Respect your seniors and love your juniors.
  • Regard every member of the dojo as brothers and sisters and treat them as such.
  • Try to master the most efficient skill of self-defense; preparing for the emergency.

Did you notice the first code of conduct? In Okinawa, everything comes back to courtesy.

~K.M. Fawcett

The Isle Of Courtesy – Okinawa Part 1

Gate of Courtesy at Shuri Castle

Last month Scott (my husband) and I along with a few other karate friends had the opportunity to travel to Okinawa, Japan – the birthplace of karate – with Scott’s sensei (teacher) and his wife for a Cultural Martial Arts Tour.

Did you notice the word Cultural before Martial Arts? There’s a reason for that. Though we did indeed have an opportunity to train in a dojo there, the number one reason for the trip was to learn more about Okinawan culture, customs, history and traditions. And by doing so, I have discovered more about myself, as well as my country’s culture and history.

Many people (especially Americans) believe karate is only about fighting or self defense. That is simply not true. Karate-do (the way of the empty hand) is a way of life. A philosophy. And you cannot truly understand The Way, if you fail to understand the culture of the people who developed it. The founder of Isshinryu karate, Tatsuo Shimabuku, stated in a 1960 interview in the Okinawan Times, “Even if we cannot promote friendship between Okinawa and America through karate, my true hope is that if karate becomes popular in the United States and Hawaii, then Okinawa would also become more well understood.” Since 1994, his student, AJ Advincula, has been carrying out the vision and wishes of his teacher by conducting these cultural martial arts tours.

Okinawan man stopped gardening to tell us stories of the old dojo

Okinawa is known as the Isle of courtesy. The people are friendly, polite and go out of their way to help. For instance, we were taking a walking tour of the area where Tatsuo Shimabuku’s first dojo was. The dojo is no longer there, but we wanted to find the property. An elderly couple out for a stroll pointed us in the right direction, but soon we came to a crossroad and took a wrong turn. They followed us and corrected us before we went too far the wrong way. I ask you, would you follow a group of foreigners to be sure they arrived at their destination? Then there was the man who lived across from the property we had searched for. He stopped working in his garden to talk with us and tell us stories about watching the foreigners (American servicemen) training at the dojo.

Another day, our car’s battery had died. Fortunately, we spotted a tow truck stopping at a red light at a nearby intersection and my husband ran to the guy and asked for help. The driver asked if we were members of whatever organization he worked for (Okinawa’s version of AAA?). Scott said no. The light changed and the tow truck made his left turn away from the parking lot and our car. A few minutes later, after going around the busy city block, he pulled in our lot. The man jump started our vehicle, and refused to charge us. We happened to have a nice bottle of awamari (Okinawan liquor) in the car and gave him the presento as a token of our gratitude.

Higa Bridge - We met a woman nearby who took time from her busy day to talk history.

I don’t speak the language, and only know a few phrases, however, the people we had come in contact with were patient, friendly and helpful. There was no anger toward us foreigners. No one yelled, “You’re in Okinawa, learn the language!” And it made me realize that Americans can stand to be a little more polite and offer a little more assistance to those in need. We can’t allow rudeness and disrespect to be the norm. It is my hope that one day America can be known as the Land of Courtesy.

Click here for Okinawa Part 2 – Courtesy, Kings & Castles, Oh My!

~K.M. Fawcett

Martial Arts: Sport for Life

There are reasons I’m addicted to martial arts.  It’s an awesome workout.  I don’t know about you, but I’m awfully busy.  I don’t have a lot of time to spend exercising.   The movements in karate require use of the entire body, making the workout an efficient all-over toner.  Joints are kept flexible with regular stretching. Plus, hitting bags and pads releases stress better than any other exercise or sport I’ve ever tried.

The sport is as mentally engaging as it is physically challenging.  Not only do students learn self-defense skills, but they also develop confidence that makes them less apt to attract the attention of bullies and other predators.  The self discipline foster by martial arts benefits students in all areas of their lives.

It’s  beautiful thing to see a timid, unfit person gain self-confidence as her body hardens and her skills sharpen.  The student who wouldn’t say a word in her first class is belting out Kias (the spirit shout that adds core power to blows and kicks) with everyone else six months later.

Despite its physical nature, martial arts can be adapted for injuries and age.  I’ve worked out with people aged 12 to 70.  Perhaps because of the strength,flexibility, and mental acuity honed by their style, I’ve seen aged martial artists who looked nowhere near their actual ages.  The Phillippino Arnis masters that visit our school are still lethal well into their 80s.  Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Master and creator Helio Gracie (photo) was on the mat, teaching and training, 10 days before his death at age 95.

I’ve no doubt martial arts is healthy and helps lead to a longer and fitter life for those who practice it.  I leave you with a short video of Helio giving a lesson at age 91.


Same Mat, New Martial Art

I’ve mentioned before that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can be a good martial art for women to learn. It’s all about using leverage, enabling a smaller person to successfully defend against a larger individual. I recently had the opportunity to try the sport out for myself. I’ve only been to two classes, but so far I’m having a great time. Even in just two lesson I’ve seen how a smaller person can use this martial art to their advantage.  The class is mostly men with the exception of Melinda and myself so it was inevitable that I would have to practice with one of the guys. It’s really cool and a confidence booster when you perform one of the techniques on a male partner and, woohoo, it works.

One of the first things you’ll have to do before you step foot on the mat is set aside all of your personal space issues. With Brazilian Jiu Jitsu you are going to get up close and personal with both friends and probably a few strangers. You will get sweat on, have to wrap your arms and legs around someone and vice versa, pin, and be pinned. If having your personal space invaded in this manner freaks you out, BJJ may not be for you. But, if it doesn’t bother you you can have a blast.

It’s interesting to go from one martial art where you work mostly from a standing position to one where you spend the bulk of the time rolling around on the floor. You engage a whole different set of muscle and employ a somewhat different mind set. For me, karate is almost like a dance. Learning a kata is like learning the choreography of a dance routine. The movements of the various techniques flow. One rolls into the next then into the next. BJJ is much different. You really can’t flow. The movements are much less artistic, especially since you’re twisting each other like pretzels. In our last class, we focused on passes. They are exactly what they sound like techniques that allow you to move past your opponent and they turn the tables on them. All of these techniques start with your partner in the closed guard position. In closed guard, you are flat on your back with your legs wrapped around your opponent and your ankles are locked together behind them. So there I sit with Melinda’s legs wrapped around me (and we thought we were close before. LOL!). I’m now expected to break the grip of her thighs using the pressure of my elbows, hook my arms under her legs, bend her in half, duck under her legs and pin her to the mat in side mount position. Easy right. HA!  I kept forgetting intermediate steps and wind up in the wrong position. It was often comical and less then graceful, but I eventually I got the hang of it. Sort of. I did discover that it’s easier to work the techniques on a person larger then you then smaller then you. An opponent with a slighter build can be much tougher to maneuver because it’s much harder to brace against them.

The instructor ended class by grappling with some of the advanced students. It’s really fascinating to watch.  It’s much slower paced then I would have expected. With karate it’s fast pace, fast reaction the whole way through. With BJJ it’s periods of quick movements interspersed with periods of slow adjustments as you set up for your next move. There is also an unexpected gentleness to it. I know it sounds like a contradiction,  but it’s true. When the instructor and his assistants grapple they aren’t slamming into each other or using brute force. It just goes to prove the point that you don’t have to be the biggest or strongest, you just need to be smart and use your body to your best advantage.