Wednesday, March 24, 2010

[Karate] The Yellow Belt Road

I've mentioned before that my whole family is now taking karate lessons at a nearby dojo. It's Mixed Martial Arts, a foundation of Kenpo onto which they've added Muay-Thai kickboxing techniques as well as a smattering of Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and, I think, some miscellaneous stuff picked up from other styles over the years. The name LaVallee's Karate goes back 35 years in the Syracuse area, with the original dojo being right here in Liverpool where we live (though the Clay dojo is even closer, so that's where we go). My wife got her ni-dan (2nd degree black belt) from Tearney's Goju-Ryu Karate back in the early 1990s, but Tearney's is way far away and LaVallee's is super-close, so LaVallee's wins. It's kind of interesting to compare the two schools as businesses, actually. They seemed to be big rivals back in the 80s when I was semi-interested in such things. My wife confirms that they always gunned for each other at the various competitions (which LaVallee's, at least, now eschews). In the 30+ years that their respective schools have been around, Tearney's has opened one additional dojo, whereas LaVallee's appears to have a dozen locations. Point: LaVallee's, I suppose.

The kids actually started training back in October in an introductory program through school. My daughter loved it, my younger son likes it, and my middle son... well, he pretty much hates doing anything that doesn't involve the TV or the PC. Refer to my daily struggle to get him to practice the guitar for further details.

We took a break for a couple of months when my wife's former company, Penn Traffic, declared that they were going out of business once and for all (after limping along for most of the last 15 years in a semi-conscious, vaguely pathetic state), but we've been back at it since early February now and it's going well. Their family plan allowed my wife and me to join at no extra cost, so we both figured what the heck. It does feel good to be back in the dojo, I admit, and I've been making steady progress in being able to get through an entire 30-minute class without needing chest-compressions and an intravenous drip. Now, it's time to prepare for our first belt test.

LaVallee's has a lengthy belt progression - long enough that I haven't even memorized the whole list. I think there's something like nine belts before black, but for the most part they don't seem to have intermediate steps between belts, like "stripes" or "tips," so it probably works out to about the same as typical progressions at other schools. The exception is the "red-stripe" belt, which is the last belt before black.

Anyway, we're on step one of this roughly five-year-long road. We need to learn the basics so that we can really begin to master the intricacies of the style and the techniques.

I found a really good site to help us do our homework, too. John Edelson decided a few years ago to get his black belt through LaVallee's at age 50. Reminds me of my mother-in-law, actually, who did the same thing when she and my wife were training at Tearney's. Anyway, Edelson maintains the blog A Black Belt At 50. Aside from his observations on training at LaVallee's, his blog offers some really great videos of some of the techniques we'll need to learn as well as the ritualized forms we'll be performing, called katas. It's nice to be able to come home from the dojo, think about what we learned, and check out a video on Edelson's site if we can't remember exactly how something was supposed to be done.

So, for yellow belt, we need to demonstrate:

Front Choke
Rear Choke
White Belt Appreciation Form

If I understand right, we'll also be drilled on basic kicks and punches during the test. We've got about three and a half weeks to get those under our belts. If we do, we'll get new belts! And the road to orange belt begins!

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