Rambling On…

2nd Degree Black Belt — 01/24/2017
kicked — 10/03/2015
Black Belt — 08/03/2013

Black Belt

After 16.5 years of doing martial arts, I finally got my black belt a couple of weeks ago. I am still a little shocked, but it is very exciting. I’ve been very close a few other times and have a collection of brown belts, but I had mostly given up on getting a black belt. I love doing martial arts no matter what color belt I am wearing, but after 12 years of wearing a brown belt, it starts to seem like you have reached the limit of what you can learn.

I am a slow learner. It can get discouraging when you are learning something with other people, and at some point, they all pass you and move on. Sometimes people who you used to teach become your teacher. Sometimes things are extra frustrating because no matter how hard you try, you can never make it to the next level.

After leaving my first school (Tuyê’t Tan dojo in Berkeley, CA) due to a change in medicine making it too hard to go to night time classes, I tried a few other schools. It is the teachers that make the school. There are many styles of martial arts, and people will always argue about which one is “the best”, but I really don’t think it matters in most cases. I think that no matter what martial art you are doing, having a good teacher is the most important thing.

I think if I kept doing Cuong Nhu, I would have gotten a black belt. Cuong Nhu is awesome in so many ways and I am very lucky to have stumbled into such a wonderful dojo with such amazing people. Those people are still my friends and I thank them all for being so patient and helpful to me for so many years.

Had some not so ideal experiences with a few other schools, but didn’t find another great school until we moved to Baltimore a couple of years ago. Palanzo Martial Arts in Pikesville. Seemed random at the time, but turns out that Karen and several of her friends passed through there at some point while they were growing up.

Once again, I was very lucky. Mr. Palanzo’s school is awesome. Mr. Palanzo, aka Mr. Joe, is awesome. Every instructor I have had there has been both a really great martial artist and a really great teacher. That is a very rare combination, even though you would think it would be a requirement in order to work at a karate school.

Mr. Joe thought I could be a black belt, and I did not completely believe him. I didn’t think he was lying, but that he really didn’t have any idea how bad I am at learning. But he found ways to teach me, just like my teachers at Tuyê’t Tan did. It takes a special kind of teacher to figure out ways to teach students who do not learn in the standard way. Just being willing to try to figure it out is a big thing, and the appreciation I feel toward these people for doing that is really more than I can express in words.

Thanks to Mr. Joe, Mr. Chris, Mr. Marcos, Mr. Tom, and classmates at Palanzo Martial Arts, and to Master Allyson, Senseis Amy, John, Raimi, and Anastasia, and Lavina and other classmates at Tuyê’t Tan. Special thanks to Karen, to my family, and to TC for above and beyond extra special awesomeness.

A Special Needs Girl with a Special Need to Kick Some Ass — 02/07/2009

A Special Needs Girl with a Special Need to Kick Some Ass

Chocolate, from Magnet Releasing, is a martial arts film from Thailand coming to theaters on Feb. 6th, 2009, and DVD Feb. 10th.

Directed by Prachya Pinkaew, this sweet, action-packed martial-arts drama features the debut of young female fighter Jeeja Yanin Vismitananda as Zen, an autistic savant who learns to kick heads by watching Bruce Lee and Tony Jaa movies.

Zen’s father, a Japanese gangster, has been driven out of the country by a rival Thai gang, so her mother has been forced to raise her alone. When her mother becomes sick, Zen goes on a candy-fueled rampage to collect debts from the corrupt gangsters that owe money to her mom.

Thanks to Rina for the link 😀

Queer Jews and Karate — 06/26/2007

Queer Jews and Karate

2007 SF Gay Pride Parade

A couple of weeks ago, I was wondering when my life would be back to normal. This past weekend, it bulldozed past normal and entered into surreality. Friday night I was still my regular self. Karen went to the dyke march and then out dancing at Mango with Lorena and Tess, and I stayed home because I didn’t want to be around so many people.

On Sunday, the day of the pride parade, I decided that I wanted to go. Not just go. I wanted to MARCH IN THE PARADE with our temple (or at least what might be our temple if we ever get around to checking it out more). I had a good time. It is actually less crowded in the parade than watching it from the sidelines. There was this Jewish youth group in front of us that were all wearing bright orange shirts. Fresh squeezed orange jews. Sorry, I tried not to write that, but I couldn’t resist. Every time the parade stopped, they would perform a same sex jewish wedding under a rainbow flag chuppah, smash a plastic cup wrapped in a napkin, and then run around in circles singing. Made me happy.
Continue reading

Back To Normal? — 06/11/2007

Back To Normal?

For the past couple of weeks, I have been feeling much better than I have in at least a year. My new meds are finally working pretty good, even great in comparison to the last 2 horribly failed experiments. I can breathe. My body is not completely taken over in every way possible. I can work. I can leave the house.

Still, things do not feel completely normal yet. This weekend, me and K went to a party to celebrate one of my Sensei’s promotion from Godan (5th degree black belt) to Rokudan (6th degree black belt, Master) and a bunch of other promotions too. Rokudan is a pretty huge deal in Cuong Nhu. There are only 5 in total and only one woman (my Sensei). I wasn’t sure I would make it, but I really wanted to go. It was a great reason to celebrate and I miss my dojo very much.

It occurred to me that the thing that would make my life feel “normal” again would be going back to class. Besides from loving martial arts, going to class was the only regular contact I had with other people. A dojo is a special place and I have been very lucky to find such a great school with the most amazing teachers I could ever imagine and a bunch of nice people in general. I have been a student there for 10 years.
Continue reading

Master Mary and Baby B — 05/16/2006

Master Mary and Baby B

Baby B was born today! Woooooooooo hooooooooooooooo! I am so happy, I can hardly stand it. Hannah Audrey is her name 🙂 Congratulations Bri and Sarah! For those who are out of the Berkowitz family tree loop, Bri is my brother, Sarah is my sister-in-law, and Hannah is my brand new niece!

It has been a very intense day. Master Mary Davis Cates died this morning. Master Mary was an amazing martial artist, the highest ranking member of Cuong Nhu outside of the founder’s family, a hero of mine and many many others, and most of all, a wonderful magical woman. It is a very sad day for very many people.
Continue reading

The road to black belt is paved with quicksand (one black stripe paper) — 11/06/2005

The road to black belt is paved with quicksand (one black stripe paper)

I have been testing for one black stripe for most of this year. It has been a crazy and intense year for me in many ways, and as usual, what I have learned in Cuong Nhu has helped to deal with many of the things that I have been going through.
Continue reading

Sensei Anastasia — 05/08/2005

Sensei Anastasia

LB, Anastasia, and Lavina after the test

LB, A, and Lavina after the test

I’ve got a new Sensei 🙂 Saturday was Anastasia’s black belt test. It was a great test and she did an amazing job. The whole weekend was excellent. Senseis Robert and Elizabeth came from North Carolina to give the test, and also taught seminars on Friday night and Saturday afternoon. Saturday night, we partied at Sensei A’s (Sensei A III, that is).
Continue reading

Brown Belt Paper — 08/16/2002

Brown Belt Paper

For most of my life, I’ve been on the wrong end of the punch. When I was younger, I got beat up daily, and even in my early adult years, I was attacked several times. My reaction was always the same. I would freeze. That’s how it appeared from the outside. From the inside, much more was going on. I would go far away. I could watch what was happening to me from a safe distance. I could hear what people were saying, but often I couldn’t feel any pain, physical or otherwise. All of my anger and pain was turned inward. Occasionally, it would build to overload and, much to the surprise of anyone who knew me, it would explode outward. Since I wasn’t much of a talker, I preferred to kick and punch things on these occasions. Usually these things were very hard solid objects and often I would injure myself.

Considering my past experiences, some of my reasons for training may seem obvious; but there are reasons that I train now that could never have occurred to me when I was younger. I train for self-defense reasons. I’m still not sure whether I could fight off an attacker, but I at least feel like I have a chance of not freezing, and possibly even reacting.

Fortunately, the only time I’ve had the opportunity to test this since I’ve been training was not a very threatening situation. Four teenaged boys were standing in the doorway of a corner store that I was about to enter. As I walked by, the smallest one stepped out of the doorway and punched me right in the face, hard enough to sting, but more scary than damaging. I didn’t freeze. My first instinct was to beat the crap out of him. But part of Cuong Nhu training is learning to assess the situation and react in the best possible way. In a split second, I decided that I wasn’t going to beat up a little boy. Another thing to consider was that his three friends were much bigger and may have had concealed weapons. Instead, I turned around and screamed at him. This paper is not the place to write the exact words I used, but they were strong and loud, and I could tell they had an effect on the boy. As I walked away, one of his friends made a threatening remark to me. I pretended not to hear him and kept walking. No one followed.

On my way home, part of me wished that I’d gone into the store and had the store owner call the police. Another part of me couldn’t really feel good about calling the cops on a kid who’s already having a pretty bad life, by the looks of him (his face was all beat up), and who probably wouldn’t be treated very well by the police because of his race and general appearance. When I got home, my neighbor drove me back to the store. The kids were gone, but I told the store owner what had happened so that he could make sure no one else got punched right outside his door. Looking back, I feel proud that I had the presence of mind to assess the situation and not freeze or react too violently. In my younger days, I would have frozen, been labeled as an easy target, and beaten up.

Now, training is much more to me than just self-defense. Training at Tuyet Tan has taught me that I can learn. It has made me want to become a part of the cycle of teaching and learning. The reason I want to be a brown belt is so that I can keep learning and eventually, pass on what I’ve learned to other students. I know that there’s a long road between now and then, but it’s nice to have the dream. It’s a dream I couldn’t have had not so long ago. I am incredibly lucky to have come upon the group of people that, together, are Tuyet Tan Dojo. My Senseis and classmates have given me enormous amounts of support and kindness over the past 5 1/2 years. I wouldn’t be writing this paper if it weren’t for them. I wouldn’t have such a nice dream either.