Benefits of Yoga for Martial Artists

If yoga had belts, I would be wearing white. I started yoga around May/June of 2013, 1-2 times a week. So I’m not a yoga expert. Yet.

With 14 years of dedication, my martial arts practice is already a lifestyle. In the true martial arts tradition, I am always looking for ways to become better. And I’m finding that yoga is a great parallel path.

tree pose

Tree pose: growing to new heights, whether in martial arts, yoga, or in life.

I started out wanting to share the benefits yoga has brought to my martial arts practice. It turned into a 4-part article exploring how yoga is helping me with:

  • Breath
  • Alignment
  • Flexibility/Pain Management
  • Anatomy

This is part 1. Read on to find out what I’ve discovered (so far) on my yoga journey! Continue reading

Martial Arts Meditation – Why Do It?

What is the purpose of opening meditation?

Beginning of test, martial arts meditation

Clearing the mind.

Many martial arts classes, especially traditional ones, begin with an opening “martial arts meditation.” During this time, students are asked to close their eyes and try to clear their minds. Its nothing crazy, and it’s not even inherently religious (unless you want it to be).

So, why do we do it?

Well, there are lots of reasons! Here’s a list:

  • Martial arts meditation helps you deliberately separate training time from rest of daily activities.

  • Martial arts meditation helps you enter a martial arts class with an open mind and a blank slate.

  • Martial arts meditation helps you to take a momentary pause from the pace and stress of life.

  • Martial arts meditation helps you to cultivate focus and a strong “martial spirit.”

But let’s talk about the “why” you should do all those things!!!  Continue reading

Chang Moo Kwan: Taekwondo or Tang Soo Do?

Taekwondo or Tang Soo Do?

What is Tang Soo Do?

What does Tang Soo Do have to do with Chang Moo Kwan anyway?

Arnis black belt

To clear up some common misconceptions about Chang Moo Kwan (and TKD in general), hit that “more” link!

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Integration in the Martial Arts

I recently read “The Karate Code,” an e-book collection of short essays from Japanese Karate masters. In it, each master picked one word to describe karate, and then offered some thoughts to help sum up karate in a word.

Not an easy task.

If I had to pick one, right now, I’d pick “integration.” I like the sense of fullness and evolution that it embodies. (It probably also reflects my age. It’ll be interesting to see what I think in five, ten, twenty years).

Sensei/YDN Caitlin doing her form at a tournament.

Sensei/YDN Caitlin doing her form at a tournament.


The more I think about it, the more I think integration is (or should be) at the heart of what we do both inside the dojo and out.

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Martial Arts Belt Testing, What’s the Purpose?

The best challenges are the ones we have a choice in. By choosing to undertake difficulty, we make ourselves stronger. –Sensei/YDN Caitlin

Pile o' belts.

Pile o’ belts.

Today, I was reading about the history of using colored belts when I came across another great quote. “Achievement of rank should be considered as a side-effect of karate training and not a goal.” (You can read the essay here if you’re interested, but it is a fairly dry [no offense to its author] historical essay full of facts, names, and dates).

Anyhoo, I agree that your training shouldn’t only be focused on achieving belt rank. That’s shortsighted, and misses the point of martial arts.

But I *do* think that testing is an important ritual in martial arts. Let me explain… (click “more”).

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Grinding in Karate, or Why Karate is Like a Video Game

Karate is like a video game. Karate is better than video games. (Sorry, gamers). In order to bust a move in karate, you will need to engage in the act of “grinding.”

The students in the picture below are grinding. They don’t realize it, but front stance straight punch is the very definition of grinding for karateka. Isn’t it beautiful?

Stanwood Karate

NWSMA youth class in action!

What does “grinding” mean anyway?

In video/computer gaming culture, “grinding” refers to engaging in repetitive tasks for a purpose, either to attain an item, badge, or to unlock access to certain features. The repetitive tasks are rarely entertaining.

Tl;dr “grinding” means to do the same thing. Again and again, a lot. And it’s not terribly exciting or fun.

Hmmm….this is starting to sound like karate! Click the “more” link to hear about why grinding is important, not just in games!
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6 Things Black Belt Candidates Should Be Doing

When I look at a black belt candidate–a high-ranked student who is getting close to black belt–I usually rely on a gut feeling to tell me whether or not they’re ready for black belt.

By black belt, I mean 1st degree. Provisional black belts are not yet black belts, they are on probation and have to prove themselves worthy of that rank. By “candidates” I mean everyone from brown belt to provisional black belt–people who aren’t yet there but are trying to get there.

The demo team bows after their performance.

The demo team bows after their performance.

Today, instead of relying on my gut, I want to try to articulate some of the things I’m looking for in black belt candidates: all brown, advanced brown, and provisional black belts.

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Black Belt Halloween Safety Tips by NW School of Martial Arts

Halloween is probably my favorite holiday, so I wanted to write up my top 10 Halloween safety tips to share with everyone!

Halloween safety tips

Do not mess with these pumpkins…

Halloween is a holiday that makes a lot of moms anxious: gobs of candy to check, gobs of candy ruining appetites, strangers interacting with your kids, and the possibility for teenage mischief-makers.

Don’t let yourself stress. Create a set of ground rules with your kids, using my top 10 as a starting place. Click “more” for my top 10 Halloween safety tips for adults and kiddos.

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Defining Progress in the Martial Arts

In some martial arts schools, progress is defined with belt ranks. Students learn new things, test, and then receive new belts. It’s a shiny process. Everyone loves receiving something new. But I’ve asked myself before, and now I’ll ask you:

Do belts equal progress? Which is more important: a pile o’ belts? Or real progress?

Pile o' belts.

Pile o’ belts.

We believe that black belts should be good at martial arts. But at a certain point in everyone’s martial arts career, the rate of technical progress slows. Progress depends greatly on the students’ self-awareness (age/maturity), effort, attendance, and perseverance.

That being said, I realize that it can seem discouraging not to move up in belt rank for a long time. So I’d like to share several other ways I define progress–ones that I think are much more meaningful than a rainbow of belts.

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The Yin and Yang of Exercise and Rest

The following is a guest post by Ali & Destrey, a husband/wife massage duo who both take Tae Kwon Do at NWSMA, along with their son. I asked them to write a piece for the NWSMA blog, because it’s nice not to have to hear myself talk all the time, haha!!

Ali & Destrey run All Mind & Body Massage in Arlington, WA. You can check out All Mind & Body on their Facebook page.

test anxiety

Is your mind/body, exercise/rest balance off?

“Lets explore the importance of balance between exercise and rest.

Exercise is bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical and mental fitness using the mind and body in motion. There are many forms of mental and physical exercise. Looking at physical exercise we may think of a martial art, sports, gardening, playing in the playground, our daily work, or the latest fitness fad. Mental exercises can include doing schoolwork, solving problems, focusing on movement, playing video games.

Rest is a bodily state characterized by minimal functional and metabolic activities. Allowing rest into a busy schedule is important. Rests helps the body and mind to rejuvenate and refocus. Taking five minutes to breath and stretch or eight long hours of good sleep will help provide energy to be healthy. Massage is a great way for the mind and muscles to be rested and repaired. The body repairs and strengthens itself in the time between workouts, and continuous exercise can actually weaken your body and mind.

Finding a balance in life is very important in return it allows us to remain healthy and happy. When life becomes unbalanced we can experience stress or become disconnected to our life. Picture the yin and yang and the harmony of supporting constant change with balance.

Look in to your life and find your balance between exercise and rest. Enjoy getting just enough of both to achieve your harmony.”