Reader Question: What Can I do to Prevent Knee Issues?

My name’s Steve, and I’d really like to begin training in karate again.  That being said, I’m way overweight (5’11″, 290), and have hurt my knees running a 5K, throwing kicks and not pivoting correctly, etc.  Is there anything I can do to prevent knee issues and/or address them after the fact?  Thanks for any advice!

I’m more of a sports bra aficionado; knee braces are outside my realm. I have noticed that knee problems seem to be the status quo for older karate-ka. So, I sincerely hope there’s a way to prevent knee problems.

Well, fellow karate-ka, what do you know about knees and knee problems? Give your best advice in the comments below. $5 Starbucks Gift Card for one random commenter (using the excel spreadsheet method). We’ll give away the gift card during the first week of June.

Reader Question: Go Back Now? Or Wait?

I started karate at a young age and ended up earning my third degree brown belt.I trained in Kensho-Ryu Kenpo Karate (Ju Jitsu) for about eight years. I stopped right before testing for black belt because we had moved too far away from the school and it was too much to travel there daily.

For years I’ve been wanting to go back, but was not able to locate my Sensei. Just recently, I located a Kensho-Ryu school near me, and learned from the owner that my previous instructor had passed away from cancer in 2011.

I was extremely sad and I sat here crying for hours staring at his obituary picture saying over and over again that I was sorry. I’m mad at myself because I know I let him down. He wanted me to get my black belt, he knew I was ready, but I felt that I wasn’t. I never got to say thank you.

The guy at this other school trained with Sensei, and actually has videos of him which I can’t wait to watch. I want to go back and earn my black belt, not only for myself, but as a way to say thank you to my Sensei… even though he will never actually see me earn it.

The thing is, I’m very overweight. At age 16 when I earned my 3rd degree brown belt I was about 190lbs. Today, I’m 24 years old, 5 feet 275lbs and I’m embarrassed. Having an addiction to food combined with thyroid problems is a nightmare.

This man wants me to wear my brown belt because I’ve earned it. Honestly, I’m scared of what the other students will think when a fat girl walks in in a brown belt and needs to start re-learning material from white belt. It’s not my rank and the level I need to learn from that’s truly bothering me, it’s my weight.

I want this more than anything… but I’m scared. I hate being judged… especially because people don’t know me and the real reasons behind my weight issues. Do you have any advice? I’m going to be starting classes the first week in April and I’m thinking about backing out. Thanks for your time. I look forward to hearing from you!!

First, I’m so sorry for your loss. I don’t know if boys/men have the same type of relationship with their sensei but, with girls, it’s very much like a father-daughter relationship. To lose him, and not get to say goodbye, must be very painful. Again, I’m sorry.

You’ve been waiting so long to go back to karate. Please, don’t let a little thing like weight stand in your way. I’m not going to lie. You’ll meet some haters along the way. But the martial arts community is mostly close-knit and very supportive. All that matters to us is that you have a passion for your style.

Here’s a favorite video of mine: About halfway through, Joy Nash starts talking about how you shouldn’t wait to lose wait to do stuff you like. I’ve honestly watched this video like a hundred times. It helped when the voices of the haters (or the mean ones in my head) got too loud for me to hear what was in my heart.

Guys, please take a moment to give Heather a few words of encouragement in our comment section. Any advice to help her get over her fears?

Reader Question: Quest to Buy Women’s Karate Shoes

Hi – I am a 43 year old female who has been studying Karate for about two years. I love it! I am on a quest to find women’s karate shoes (mostly for kata and practicing). Do you know of anyplace to purchase them? Thanks!

oct11My only experience with martial arts shoes are the Ringstar sparring shoes and I’m not a huge fan. They look and feel like something Run D.M.C. would have worn (like from “Tougher than Leather” era or earlier). And, they make your feet really sweaty. However, if you have a broken toe (or just think that maybe you might have broken your toe), they are much more tolerable. In fact, with an injured toe, they are AWESOME.

I also keep some lyrical dance slippers in my karate bag. They’re nice when you have a ripped callous.

I don’t know of a karate shoe specifically for women. But, if someone does make women’s shoes, they’ll cost twice as much as the guy’s shoes.

At my dojo, the Adidas SM II is popular.  My understanding is they are in men’s sizes. So, in the US, that means you just subtract 2 from your normal size and you have your size in men’s shoes. For example, I typically wear a 9, so I would order a 7.

What do you think? Do you use karate shoes? And, if so, what ones would you recommend?

Reader Question: Why Don’t More Women Compete and What Can Be Done?

BFF Teri and Stacy at Holiday Tournament, Dec. 4, 2011, in Gary, IN. Although Teri and I
attend “sister” schools, we met for the first time at a tournament.

A reader sent us this email:

I am a brownbelt and have been urged by my classmates and blackbelts to compete in tournament fighting.  I am 42 and feeling some sense of “now or never” setting in.  I have heard (and seen) that “not that many women sign up” and find this kind of sad. … I am curious on your thoughts of why more women don’t sign up and what the event coordinators can do to encourage more women to sign up.

I wish I knew why there aren’t more women in competitive karate. In the little kids’ divisions, the girls often outnumber the boys. Then, when the age divisions go up, the number of girls participating goes down. Interest in karate seems to decrease as a girls’ interest in boys increases. There’s probably a mathematic formula that shows the relationship more definitively.

For adult women, maybe it’s because involvement in fighting arts is viewed as “unseemly” or “inappropriate.” Also, as women, we’re trained to put our desires away so we can help our children, husbands (or partners) achieve their desires. Money is always tight. Why would we take money from the family budget for something as selfish as going to a tournament in St. Louis? Why should we spend good money on an entry fee for a tournament when our kids want to go to Anime conventions or the mall?

But what do I know about what motivates other women? All I know is that I started because, if I kept doing what I was before, I was probably going to die. I love competition and tournaments gave me the motivation to keep moving and get in shape.

One way for event coordinators to bring more women to tournaments is offering free admission for women who pre-register. That way there’s less of a monetary risk for the women who wish to go (without knowing if there will be a large division). The number of women who registered early can then be used to attract more women competitors.

I know what you’re thinking, Stacy wants to compete for free. OK, sure, who wouldn’t?  But there’s a bigger issue here.

When an event coordinator takes care to make sure that all competitors (or as many as possible) have a positive experience, he is improving the tournament for everyone. If you have an otherwise great tournament, but only 3 adult women show up, three of your competitors will tell other martial artists, “It was an OK tournament, I just wish the divisions were larger.” It taints the experience.

I’ve been to a few tournaments that had a large number of women competing. (And ones that didn’t offer free admission to women. It was just one idea, guys!) The first one that comes to mind is the Silver Sun Showdown in St. Louis. The year I went, there were ten women in the senior division (35+). TEN! OK, for sparring, there were three of us. If I remember correctly, however, IHOF (Isshinryu Hall of Fame) tournament had several women fighters.

What do you think? How can tournament coordinators attract more women competitors, particularly fighters? Is it even their responsibility?

PS – Go ahead and sign up for a tournament. If there’s no one in your division, you can ask to spar up or go with a different age division. The judges don’t always let you; sometimes they come up with other options. Be open. And, sometimes, when there’s a lot of competitors, you still only get to spar once.

Reader Question: Should I Work My Way into My Gi?

A reader sent us this email:

I just joined karate with my 8 year old son and my husband and I love it. I was inspired by a larger lady there doing karate with her family, so I joined as well. What a great way to get rid of stress and pounds. Problem, my gi doesn’t fit yet. I don’t know if I want to spend the money on one or keep working until I fit in the one they gave me. I don’t mind wearing my sweats and t-shirt to class and the instructor doesn’t seem to mind. What do you think? I’d like to work my way into it but feel a little out of place going in my sweats.

OK, I’m a little torn over this one.
Part of me says, if it doesn’t matter to your sensei, then it doesn’t really matter what you wear to class. What does matter is that you’re learning and moving.
But the other part of me wants to urge you to buy a gi that fits now. But, before I explain my reasoning, let me preface this by saying: I’m a blogger. As a blogger, I’m prone to navel gazing and finding deeper meaning where (probably) none actually exists.
How many times have we told ourselves something like: I’ll go to the gym when I “can” wear a pair of shorts, I’ll buy a sequence tank top when my arms are thinner? I don’t understand why we keep doing this to ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, I do it, too; I still don’t understand it.
Let’s just stop.
Let’s buy gi (and sequence tank tops) that fit us now. Don’t hang your gi in the back of your closet next to that dress you bought on sale two years ago because you’ll fit it someday. Your gi deserves better.
I’ve lost 96 pounds since I started this blog. And, in most of the pictures in which I’m wearing a gi (or part of a gi), I’m wearing the one I got when I first started. It’s my favorite one. It’s kind of grey, but it’s soft from constant wear and washing.
It’s also the gi I wore when I started karate. And the one I wore to my first tournament.
If the cost is not prohibitive to you, buy a gi that fits you now. When you lose weight, you can always take out the smaller-sized gi and wear it to tournaments, promotions and other dressier occasions. I guarantee you, no matter what size you start at, the gi you start with will mean the most to you.
What do you think? Am I over-analyzing everything and totally off the mark? Tell me what you think about whether this new student should shell out the bucks for a gi to wear now or work her way into the one she has.
PS – This is to all the Fat Karateka out there (whether you’re into karate, kung fu, tae kwon do or mixed martial arts). When you decide to change what you’re doing and step outside your comfort zone, it’s not just your life that you’ll change. You never know who’s watching you at the dojo or at the tournament. It could be someone else who’s been waiting to change her life, too.
The reader who wrote this letter was inspired by a woman taking karate with her family. And, the writer will probably go on to inspire someone else. You can be an inspiration, whether you you intend to be or not.