Summer Plans

Special Announcement and Schedule Update

This summer, Sensei Lara will be welcoming a new member to her family.  She will be going on maternity leave starting at the end of June, with the new baby expected mid-July.  While Sensei Lara is out, Redwood Dojo classes will continue, taught by other highly capable Cuong Nhu instructors.  Sensei Sara Falls will teach this summer before returning to the classroom where she teaches high school English.  Sensei Sara has trained at Redwood Dojo for more than 14 years and regularly teaches classes in the dojo during her summer breaks.

During each summer, we consolidate some of our classes.  This year the summer schedule will begin on June 1st.  However, since we do not know when we will be able to return to in-person classes, we have two possible schedules.

If we are still sheltering in place, our summer zoom schedule will be:

  • Pre-Karate: Tuesday 4:30 to 5:00 pm
  • Kids (White Belt through Yellow Belt): Tuesday 5:00 to 5:30 pm, and Thursday 5:00 to 6:00 pm
  • Kids (One Purple Stripe and above): Tuesday 5:30 to 6:00 pm, and Thursday 5:00 to 6:00 pm
  • Teens/Adults (below Green Belt): Tuesday 6:00 to 7:30 pm, and Thursday 6:00 to 7:00 pm
  • Teens/Adults (Green Belt and above): Tuesdays 6:00 to 7:00 pm, and Thursday 6:00 to 7:30 pm
  • All students (ages 6 and up): Saturday 9:30 to 10:30 am

If we are back to in-person classes at Redwood Heights Recreation Center, our schedule will be:

  • Pre-Karate: Tuesday 4:00 to 5:00 pm
  • Kids (all ranks): Tuesday and Thursday 5:00 to 6:00 pm
  • Teens/Adults (all ranks): Tuesday and Thursday 6:00 to 7:30 pm
  • All students (ages 6 and up): Saturday 9:30 to 10:30 am

Virtual Sched summer
Summer schedule of virtual classes, beginning June 1, 2020.

Dealing with the Unexpected: Training in Place

Nearly two months ago on March 12th, we had our normal Thursday evening classes, with no idea that it would be our last time training in person for two months and counting.  We have not stepped foot in the Recreation Center since then, and we do not yet know when we will be able to return.

All our routines have been disrupted.  The ways we used to do things are no longer available.  But rather than just stay at home and do nothing, we have found new paths to follow.  We have all been forced to get creative.

At Redwood Dojo, we practice martial arts, something that happens in person, with a community coming together in the dojo to learn by working both individually and with others.  And now suddenly, we can’t come together.  But rather than just shutting down, we are now teaching classes online with Zoom – something that it seems everyone is trying out now!  And while it is certainly not the same, we have found some advantages in this new medium.  Rather than trying to fit a square peg in a round hole – and being frustrated that it doesn’t fit – we can notice and appreciate the new shape of things.  For teaching martial arts, now instructors can really show details up close to all students at once (just move closer to the camera), we can split big classes up into small groups (we are not limited by the Recreation Center’s available hours), and the commute has never been better!

Dealing with the unexpected is part of being a martial artist and we can continue training despite the challenges.  Rather than dwelling on what we don’t have, we look at what we can do.  Furniture can become training tools, not just objects in the way.  Family members can see and sometimes participate in our practice.  We can workout on our own, on a schedule that fits our needs.  Katas can be modified or new ones created to fit our new training environment (in fact, this was a category in Rohai Dojo’s recent online Kata Tournament – with some great and very creative results!).  While Redwood Dojo continues to offer a full schedule of (virtual) classes, we know that not everyone is able to attend these.  We also have a webpage dedicated to additional resources and ideas for training at home, including videos and printable activities for children and adults.  All the teen and adult students were also mailed a packet of training material to continue home training.

We will get through this challenge.  We will do what we can now, and be ready to continue adapting as we ease back into life outside the home.  It will be some time before life fully returns to normal, but in the meantime, we will keep training.

Click here to learn more about home training.

Steps to Sewing Stripes Securely

In Cuong Nhu, ranks are represented by colored belts and stripes.  When you earn a new stripe, you should sew it onto your belt by your next class.  A well secured stripe will last for years, ensuring that it doesn’t fray, come loose, or fall off.  Show respect for your rank and the work that went into earning it by treating your stripe and belt properly.

If you are new to sewing, no problem!  Click on the video below to watch a step by step tutorial created specifically for sewing a Cuong Nhu stripe onto your belt.


If you still have questions, feel free to post them here or ask your instructor after class.  At Redwood Dojo, we also have sewing needles and thread available.  Don’t leave your new stripe clipped onto your belt!

Injury 101: Modify to Maintain Momentum

Injury is a part of life.  While our bodies are amazingly adaptable and adept at healing, they all break down on occasion.  When this happens, we may need to adjust our actions to give ourselves time to heal.  As martial artists, this goes against our instinct to push ourselves and test our limits.  We push ourselves to work harder, train longer, kick higher, and push-up, well, lower.  We resist the idea of slowing down or going easy.

But as hard as it may be, we must learn to listen to our bodies.  We must learn to recognize the difference between pushing for growth and pushing beyond what is healthy.  And when we recognize a limitation, we must respect it.  However, respecting a limitation does not mean training needs to come to a halt.

When you first become aware of a physical limitation due to an injury or medical condition, notify your instructor in writing.  Let your instructor know what you know, including any diagnosis, planned follow-ups, and medical instructions as it pertains to what you do in class.  Even if you do not believe your in-class activity will change, it is important that you let your instructor know.

If your limitation will have an impact on your class participation, you and your instructor can come up with a plan together.  In-class modifications can range greatly.  You may do fewer sets of aerobic exercises, shorter stances, only one side, limited mat-work, etc.  Whatever your limitation, your instructor can work with you to find a plan for your class participation.  Even if your doctor advises you to have no physical movement while you heal, you can still come to class and watch; take notes and practice mentally so that you don’t fall as far behind.  Coming to class and doing what you can is always better than a prolonged absence.

In addition to having a plan for modified activity, you may need to make additional adjustments in class.  This is true for everyone, not just students with a known injury.  Your instructor’s job is to push you and the class to new levels.  Your job is to go as far as you can safely.  If you are ever concerned for your health or safety, it is up to you to act.  You can do this without disrupting the class; if you have a medical reason not to do something, then don’t do it!  After class you can let your instructor know why you made the adjustment.

Proper and smart modifications will help you get the most out of your training.  While you may be tempted to just push through the pain, this may limit your ability to heal and ultimately increase the length of your injury.  On the other hand, using any ache as an excuse to miss class means you never grow and progress.  Whether it’s a minor discomfort or a real injury, your in-class training should continue no matter what.  Injury may be part of life, but for a student of martial artists, training is too.  Come to class, train smart, and modify if needed.

The Secret to Becoming a Black Belt

When we first commit to a new endeavor, motivation surges through us, propelling us forward.  We are inspired by our new undertaking, filled with visions of success and the excitement of the journey ahead.  However, this initial high eventually wanes, and so too does our intense fervor when it becomes clear that our vision will not be so easily obtained.  There will be challenges that we did not anticipate, and our initially hazy image of what it meant to dedicate ourselves to this goal is replaced by firsthand knowledge of the day to day reality of what the hard work looks and feels like.

It is at this point that we are faced with a choice: we can either surrender to the challenges or we can persevere through them.  If we chose to continue, what motivates us must evolve.  A simple desire to achieve our ultimate goal will no longer be enough to drive us forward.  Instead, we become motivated by the process, not the end product.  We find joy in the work.  We live in the now.

In martial arts, rank progression is the initial motivation for many would-be students.  Achieving a Black Belt is a tangible and seemingly “ultimate” goal of joining a martial arts program.  But, as it turns out, there is a lot of work required to get to Black Belt!  There is even a lot of work required to earn your first rank.  A martial arts student is not able to live off of a desire for Black Belt alone.  Those who are able to adjust their expectations and embrace the practice and work itself are not daunted by this new reality.  They are able to find motivation to come to class and to practice, not just to “become a Black Belt.”  They are fueled by an internal motivation.  For those who are solely focused on the external motivation of rank advancement, there are many obstacles.  They will not feel they are advancing fast enough, will worry about the pace that others are moving, or will feel bored with practicing the same things repeatedly and, sooner or later, this goal-centric motivation will not be enough to keep them in class.

That’s the secret to becoming a Black Belt.  First, join a martial arts program.  Second, don’t quit.  But the only way to accomplish this seemingly simple task is to find ways to let your motivation grow and change with the new challenges you face along the way.  The desire to become a Black Belt alone is not enough.  What you need is a desire to do the work of showing up to class each day.  And then one day, you will realize that you reached that “ultimate” goal of Black Belt.  But now you understand that you are just beginning a much larger journey.

The Unspoken Fear: Violence Against Women

January is National Personal Self-Defense Awareness Month and this month’s blog gets into the serious, scary, and widespread epidemic of violence against women.  It is a heavy but important read for all adults and mature teens.

January is National Personal Self-Defense Awareness Month.

Have you ever had that dream where you try to scream, but no sound comes out?  You try to run, but your legs move in slow motion? You try to fight back, but everything you do is completely ineffective?

We often hear about the fight or flight instinct.  But what we really fear is the freeze response.  We play out scenarios in our heads and imagine what we might try to do.  Where we could go, how we could use what is sitting next to us in the car, what we would yell.  But we also fear that nothing we do will matter.  That they will be too big, too strong, too fast.  That we can’t possibly do anything that will make a difference to the outcome.  The outcome that we aren’t really willing to think about, let alone say out loud.

So, let me say it out loud for you.  Take a deep breath and let these terrible snapshots of reality land and settle one at a time.  These statistics condense the millions of heart wrenching stories and experiences into sanitized bite-sized pieces.  Let their real impact be felt as much as you are willing and able.

  • The single greatest cause of injury for women is domestic violence (The Journal of the American Medical Association).
  • 1 in 3 women are the target of some sort of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • A full 44% of women experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • Nearly 1 in 5 women have been raped, and of those who were, more than three-quarters of them experienced their first rape before the age of 25 and 40% before the age of 18 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • Unlike the “stranger danger” safety slogan, 3 out of 4 rapes and sexual assaults were from someone the victim knew, was in a relationship with, or was related to. Only 1 in 5 rapes or sexual assaults is committed by a stranger (Bureau of Justice Statistics).

Wow.  This staggering reality for women in this country often goes unmentioned or downplayed.  The effects of ignoring this reality have severe consequences.

First of all, we normalize objectification.  From a very young age, girls are teased and verbally harassed.  The verbal abuse increasingly eats away at what we consider acceptable.  We begin to accept being objectified by others and slowly this perception can color how we view ourselves.  We don’t step up to defend ourselves because we would spend all day doing so.  Instead we just ignore it and eventually, we don’t hear it as a problem.

Additionally, in downplaying the widespread epidemic of violence towards women, we rationalize it as someone else’s problem.  This “how sad, but it won’t happen to me” mentality is supported by classic safety advice, which puts the blame on the victim. We are told that if we don’t dress provocatively, if we don’t walk alone, if we don’t go out at night, and if we stay out of the “bad” neighborhoods then we will be safe… maybe.  And when something inevitably does happen to one of us, well, clearly, she must have been foolish in some way to invite that sort of behavior (after all, “boys will be boys”).

Here is the truth: nothing you say gives anyone the right to assault you; nothing you do gives anyone permission to harass you; nowhere you go gives anyone an invitation to touch you.  Here is another truth.  You are worth defending.  You have every right to stand up for yourself, and to feel safe.

If this is such a big problem, what can I possibly do?

Violence towards women and the justifications that lead to it are epidemics that are being fought on a global scale.  Protests rage in the streets, speeches ring out behind podiums, and social media trends with messages of solidarity and demands for change.  But the reality is, we won’t be able to eliminate violence overnight; and for many, the fear of being attacked is very real and very imminent.

In addition to fighting the systemic issue, we need to take action to protect ourselves now.  We are worth defending and we have more power than we realize.  We just have to learn how to use it.

It turns out that personal self-defense really works.  Fighting back, yelling, running, hitting, and resisting in any way you can makes a difference.  The studies and statistics support this.  The National Institute of Justice found that most self-protective actions significantly reduce the risk that a rape will be completed. In particular, certain actions reduce the risk of rape more than 80 percent compared to nonresistance. The most effective actions, according to victims, are attacking or struggling against their attacker, running away, and verbally warning the attacker (National Institute of Justice).  These are not fancy maneuvers; these are things that everyone can do.

It is also heartening to know that “women who participate in self-defense training are less likely to experience sexual assault and are more confident in their ability to effectively resist assault than similar women who have not taken such a class” (Professor Jocelyn Hollander).

Self-defense is not the same as martial arts.  It does not take years of dedication to learn how to defend yourself effectively.  Good self-defense classes focus on techniques that are easy to learn, hard to do incorrectly, and very effective against attackers.  They help you find the power you already have and learn how to access and hone it.

Reading about what to do is not enough.  Playing out scenarios in your head is not enough.  Practicing in a safe and supportive environment allows you to own it in a way that thinking does not.  You have to yell out loud to know that you can.  You have to move your body to feel what you can do.  You have to hit a target full force to really believe the power you have.  Good self-defense classes let you do this in a controlled environment.  Just one good class can make a world a difference.

Many organizations offer self-defense classes, including police departments and martial arts schools.  Here at Redwood Dojo, we have a two-hour introductory class coming up.  Click here to sign up for the Women’s Self-Defense Seminar (Sunday, January 27, noon to 2 pm).

December 2018 Schedule

We have almost reached the end of 2018!  We will have all classes as usual for the week of December 17 to December 22.  The last day of Redwood Dojo classes for 2018 is Saturday, December 22.  Our regular schedule will resume in on Thursday, January 3.  During the holiday week, all students are invited to several special classes at our sister school in Berkeley, Rohai Dojo.  We hope to see you there!

  • For Pre-Karate (under age 6): Friday 12/28 at 5 pm
  • For Kids (all ranks): Thursday 12/27 at 5 pm, Friday 12/28 at 5 pm, and Saturday 12/29 at 10 am
  • For Teens/Adults (all ranks): Thursday  12/27 at 6 pm, Friday 12/28 at 6 pm, and Saturday 12/29 at 11 am for Kata and noon for Sparring

All of these special classes are offered at Rohai Dojo (Berkeley Cuong Nhu Karate) at 1819 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, 510-526-4880.dec2018sched

Before the holiday training begins, several advanced Redwood Dojo Brown Belt students will be testing for One and Two Black Stripes on Thursday, December 20th at 6 pm.  Teen and adult students will still have class in addition to watching parts of the test.  You are invited to come at watch the test, which includes board breaking, weapons, sparring, and advanced katas.  Come support your classmates and get a glimpse of what your future training will be like!  Immediately following the test, everyone is invited to celebrate together at Redboy Pizza in Lincoln Square.

What Really Matters When it Comes to Training, Testing, and Tournaments


Training is the fundamental basis of studying martial arts.  At Redwood Dojo, we train in Cuong Nhu.  We train every day we are in class.  Training is the core of our art.  But what does good training look like?

You show up consistently.  You have a training schedule and you don’t let it get interrupted.  You don’t decide if you want to go to class each day, you just go.  It’s on your calendar as a non-negotiable.  It becomes part of your routine, just as eating breakfast and brushing your teeth are.  Now, this doesn’t mean you have to train every day.  You decide how much time you can commit to your training, but the key is being consistent.  And if something comes up that keeps you from getting to class, this should be the rare exception, not a common occurrence.  Don’t let excuses get in your way.  Don’t let yourself off the hook.  Show up to class.  Training happens for those who are present.

When you are there physically, you are also there mentally.  Martial arts training is about learning to be in the moment.  Your body and your mind are only focused on what is happening right now.  You don’t think about what happened that day at work or worry about what you will have for dinner after class.  You don’t even think about what you were doing in class 5 minutes ago.  The trick to being present mentally is not letting your mind get in the way of your training.  Your mind wants to think, to problem solve, to worry, to anticipate, to ask questions, and to talk to you.  But part of training is conditioning your mind to be present without thinking.  Your brain needs to take in what is happening in the moment, not try to guess what will happen next.  You show up mentally so that you can train your mind to get out of your way.

You push yourself to do your best.  You don’t just go through the motions, even if it’s something you have done a hundred times before.  You give it your all.  You push to make it better.  The secret is, it can always be better.  Everyone can always improve.  Those who embrace this idea are the people who actually do improve.

The training itself is the goal.  It is not a means to an end, it is the essence of what you get when you study martial arts.  You may have other things you want to get out of it, but ultimately the reward is in the training.  As side benefits, you gain confidence, get into better shape, grow stronger, learn to defend yourself, and work with those who share your interests.  But these are not what martial arts training is really about.  These are the surface aspects that you can identify and point to and tell others about.  The real reward is in the pursuit of perfection, in focusing on being in the moment, in learning what your body can do when your mind gets out of the way.  The real reward is the training.


How does testing fit in?  In Cuong Nhu we have ranks, signified with different colored belts and stripes.  You have to pass a test to go from one rank to the next.  If training itself is the goal, how does testing fit in?

You test when you are ready.  Tests aren’t scheduled based on how many days have passed or how many hours you came to class.  It’s not even based on the body of techniques that your have memorized.  Rather it’s based on your ability to consistently perform at a certain level of proficiency.  You shouldn’t try to rush to your next test.  The only way you get there is by training (with all that high-quality training entails – see above!).

As a student, you don’t need to worry about testing.  That’s your instructor’s job.  Trust your instructor.  Trust that they know what you have and have not done, know the rank requirements, know when you last tested, know what you haven’t worked on in a while, and know if you are ready to test.  They plan your classes accordingly.  You will get there if you consistently keep coming to class, working to improve, and stay focused on your training.

Testing should not be your goal.  The belt or stripe in and of itself has no meaning.  Its value comes from what you did and who you became to earn it.  If you are overly focused on testing, you miss the real benefit of training.  Inevitably, those who strive for the rank take longer to test then those who don’t.  Don’t stand in the way of your training by always looking towards your next test.

That said, when it is time for you to test, step up to the challenge.  Ranks are not given, they are earned.  A test is an opportunity to show what you are capable of.  Your instructor tells you when you are ready to test, and then it is up to you to make it happen.  The higher the rank, the more that is expected of you.  By the time you get to black belt, you are responsible for preparing a comprehensive dynamic self-defense demonstration on your own.  Your instructor makes sure you get the building blocks you need, but it is up to you to put them all together.  It’s your rank.  Your instructor will help you get there, but it’s up to you to do the work.


How are tournaments different than tests?  As with testing, if you are overly focused on gaining status through tournaments, you limit yourself.  However, tournaments can be an excellent tool to enhance your training.

Tournaments embody the “be in the moment” aspect of training.  You get one shot to do your best.  And you have the added pressure of people watching, along with the knowledge that you only get one chance.  You have to stay in the moment and not let your stage fright, nervousness, or anxiety choke you.  You strive to do your best despite the pressure.  Learning to persevere under pressure is vital in martial arts training as well as the rest of life.  Tournaments give you the chance to do this without real risk.  All you risk is not living up to your own standards, not doing what you know you are capable of.  This is a real pressure, but does not have devastating results if you fall short.

By putting yourself on the spot, ready to stand up and do your best in a single shot, you push your limits and can find out what you are capable of.  No matter what, you learn something from the experience.  It’s not about the trophies, it’s about being in the moment.  It’s about pushing your limits.  It’s about learning to compete against yourself.  Against your fear, against your complacency, against your ego, against your pre-conceptions, and against your own personal best.

At redwood dojo, we have a few opportunities each year to participate in tournaments.  When these opportunities come up, you should seize them.  Use these friendly competitions to enhance your training.  If it is out of your comfort zone, good; this is when you should push yourself.  Don’t let excuses stop you from growing.

Come to class for the training.  Don’t worry about testing and ranks.  Use every opportunity to become better.  Participate in tournaments to enhance your training.  When given the chance, step up.

Five Steps to Safety: Applying Self-Defense Principles for Halloween Fun


Halloween has always been a favorite holiday, for kids and adults.  I’ve always been drawn to the creative theatrics of the holiday.  I love coming up with weird costumes, pushing the limits of what I can make myself.  Getting a little scared, seeing the amazing creations of others, and trying to figure out “how they did it” add to the intrigue.  And to be honest, as a kid I also loved the holiday because I got to walk around at night trick-or-treating.  Candy, costumes, and creepiness, what’s not to love?

Now that I am a parent, I have a slightly different perspective.  I want my kid to enjoy Halloween as much as I always have.  But looking back, I realize that I didn’t always make the best choices when it came to safety.  For many parents, the prospect of letting their kids roam the streets knocking on strangers’ doors is the cause of great anxiety.  However, with a little bit of planning and knowledge, parents and kids alike can stay safe while enjoying All Hallows’ Eve.

Talk to your kids about safety, without laying down unjustified rules.  Be sure you have accurate information about what the real dangers are, and then help your children understand them too.  One easy way to have this conversation is by applying Cuong Nhu’s 5 A’s of Self-Defense: Awareness, Alertness, Avoidance, Anticipation, and Action.


Be aware of what the real Halloween dangers are.  The media often pushes fears of “Stranger Danger” and poisoned candy around this time of year.  However, the reality is that there has NEVER been a documented case of someone poisoning random children with Halloween candy (according to Safe Kids Worldwide).  Furthermore, abductions and abuse are very rarely from strangers, on Halloween or any other time of the year.  Less than one in five violent victimizations are by strangers in a public place (Bureau of Justice Statistics).

This is not to say that there aren’t safety concerns when it comes to Halloween.  One real danger is cars; children are twice as likely to be hit by a car on Halloween than on any other night of the year (Safe Kids Worldwide).  The reasons for this are fairly self-explanatory.  With a large number of excited kids running from house to house, knocking on neighbors’ doors (often with dark or cumbersome costumes) at and after dusk, drivers have a lot more to watch out for.


Everyone should be alert on Halloween.  For kids, this means paying attention to what is around them, especially when crossing the street.  They can’t be alert if they can’t see or hear, so be sure their costume doesn’t block their senses.  If a mask doesn’t have big enough eye holes, kids might not see the cars as they cross the street.  And if their ears are blocked too, they can’t hear you when you tell them to watch out.  Find a way that lets your child stay alert while wearing their costume.  Explain why it’s important and make sure they remember to always look before crossing the street.

Adults need to be extra alert on Halloween as well.  With a large number of kids darting across the street, drivers need to pay more attention and go slower than usual.  Be aware that kids might cross without looking in the middle of the block.  If you are driving in residential areas, be fully present and alert between the hours of 4 and 10 pm.

Teen Tip:  If you are at a Halloween party, pay attention to what you are drinking.  If it’s alcohol, know how much you’ve had and know that even a little bit will start impeding your senses and your sense.  Keep an eye on your drink and get a new one if you’ve left it unattended.  Even if you are with friends, be sure you keep your head and make good decisions; you can only do this if you are alert and paying attention.


Avoidance is one of the main principles of self-defense.  Avoid dangers by using common sense and applying what you know.  In the Halloween context, we know that car accidents are one of the biggest dangers.  We can avoid this danger by following traffic laws, as we do all the time, and by being a bit more cautious than usual.

In addition to avoiding known dangers, it’s important to stay aware of, and follow, your intuition.  If something doesn’t feel right, listen to your gut and avoid it.  A “gut” feeling isn’t just you being paranoid; your brain can process way more than what you are consciously aware of.  A gut feeling is your body’s way of telling you it saw or heard something even if you can’t identify what it was.  Learn to listen to this feeling.  If something makes you feel uneasy, there is a reason for it.  Don’t ignore this voice in your head; you don’t need to understand the “why” to avoid a potential danger.

Parents, help your kids develop good intuition as well.  Talk about it and don’t force them to do something they don’t want to (within reason, of course).  Halloween has a lot that can make kids scared.  If they don’t want to be scared or don’t want to go somewhere, respect that.  If you force them to “get over it” you are teaching them to ignore their intuition.  In the long run, this is much more dangerous.  While the uneasy feelings of Halloween may be artificially created, they represent real self-defense instincts that we want to preserve in ourselves and our children.


A little planning can go a long way when it comes to safety.  Anticipate what drivers will see when you are crossing the street in the dark; have something very visible on all costumes (for example, glow sticks, reflective tape, flashlights, glow in the dark bags, or light-up shoes).  Anticipate where you will go – don’t wander into new areas when trick-or-treating.  If children or teens are trick-or-treating without parents, have a plan in place for when, where, with whom, and what to do if something goes wrong.  Discuss it ahead of time so there are no surprises when it’s time to head out the door.

Teen Tip: Plan a way of getting around on Halloween without driving.  New drivers are at a greater risk of hitting a kid running out into the street than more experienced drivers.  In fact, per mile driven, teenage drivers are three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash (Center for Disease Control).  There is no reason to risk a tragic accident.  Also, if you will be around others where drinking may occur, anticipate a way to get everyone home safely without anyone getting behind the wheel of a car.  There are many safe ways to do this, so come up with a game plan before the night starts.


The final of our five A’s of self-defense is Action.  If there is a safety concern, DO something about it!  This may mean cutting your trick-or-treating short or taking the mask off or switching from costume shoes into sneakers.  While no one wants to miss out on Halloween fun, it is vital that you act when it comes to safety.  Parents, teach your kids that they can always talk to you, but that when it comes to imminent safety concerns, it is not up to discussion, it’s time for action.

Teen Tip:  Peer pressure is one of the biggest dangers teens face.  Doing something that goes against the group mentality can be very difficult, but often is the most important way to avoid costly regrets.  Learn to assert your independence, listen to your gut, and do what you know is right.  As hard as it can be, speak up and be clear.  If someone continues to ignore you, they aren’t a true friend and aren’t worth following.

Now What?

Now it’s time for you to take action.  Parents, talk to your kids about safety now, before Halloween night.  Use the 5 A’s of self-defense to help them develop good safety habits: Awareness, Alertness, Avoidance, Anticipation, and Action.  Talk early and talk often; discuss the “scary” topics such as drinking and peer pressure before you think your kid is old enough.  The more they have talked about it the better prepared and comfortable they will be when they do encounter it (even if you don’t know about it).

And lastly, have a safe and happy Halloween!

Cuong Nhu Etiquette: West Coast Training Camp Edition

Each year, Cuong Nhu instructors from across the country come to the Bay Area to teach classes at West Coast Training Camp. With a full schedule of classes ranging from soft-style katas to advanced weapon training, balanced with meal times spent socializing with fellow Cuong Nhu practitioners (not to mention the famous cookie break!), students of all ages always love the experience.

As you get ready for a fun filled weekend, here is a review of some of the rules of etiquette in Cuong Nhu. Cuong Nhu Redwood Dojo is a traditional martial arts dojo; the customs in Cuong Nhu help students respect each other, their instructors, and the art. Once you know what is expected, you can focus on your training. Whether you are a new student or have been studying for years, a student yourself or a parent of a student, will be attending West Coast Training Camp or not, it is worth reviewing these guidelines.


The Cuong Nhu bow is a sign of respect that is used frequently. When you are bowing to a person, both people bow to each other simultaneously. Some of the most frequent times we bow are: when you enter or leave the dojo (or training space); when you begin and end class; when you begin and end partner work; when you begin and end a kata.

Speaking to Black Belts and Instructors

Black belts are called “Sensei” in Cuong Nhu. If you are speaking to a black belt in class, weather they are your instructor or your partner, you should address them as “sensei” or “sensei <first name>.” This title does not mean they are better than you, it simply acknowledges their rank. Those who hold the rank of sixth degree black belt or higher hold the title of “Master.”

Asking Questions

There is a time and a place to ask questions, and there are lots of times in class to NOT ask questions! When you are in class, it is always best to focus on practicing even if you have a question or two. There will be a time to ask these questions, either at the end of the drill or class, if the instructor asks for questions, or outside of class time. Questions to clarify how something is done are much more useful than questions that begin with “but what if they …” Be thoughtful about your questions. Is there something you don’t understand or do you just need to try it a few more times to figure it out?

At events like West Coast Training Camp there are also lots of opportunities to ask questions about Cuong Nhu from experienced instructors who have lived much of its history. You are encouraged to attend the dinner on Friday and the party on Saturday evening to get to know the out of town guests. In these non-class setting, questions and conversations are encouraged!

Wearing Your Uniform

Make sure your uniform is neat, complete, and put on properly. You should wash it, and if needed, iron it regularly. A complete gi top includes the Cuong Nhu patch (left side) and your first name (right side). If you have a stripe on your belt, it should be sewn on and should be on your left side when your belt is tied. If you do not yet have your patches or name on your uniform, get them done before training camp!

All Redwood Dojo students below the rank of black belt wear a white gi. You may see instructors or students from other dojos wearing other colored uniforms during the classes at West Coast Training Camp.

Your uniform should not be worn outside the dojo. If there is a place to change (like there will be in the Alameda High School gym for West Coast Training Camp), you should arrive in your street clothes and then change into your uniform. Similarly, when you leave you should change back into your regular clothes. When you put your uniform on, ensure that you don’t have other clothes sticking out (for example, your shirt should be tucked in). Do not wear a watch or jewelry in class. At Redwood Dojo, since we do not have a full changing room, you may arrive in your gi pants and a shirt. You should put your gi top and belt on after you are in the dojo.

Joining Class Late

If you are late to a class, you are still encouraged to join in! Stand in natural stance on the side where the instructor can see you. Once they bow to you (you bow to them at the same time), just join the group and listen carefully to find out what is happening. If for some reason you need to leave a class early, you should let the instructor know and bow out of class before leaving.

Working with a Partner

When you are working with a partner in class, either at training camp or at your home dojo, remember to show your partner respect and focus on practicing. You should not talk with your partner. You should not instruct your partner. This is true no matter what ranks you and your partner hold. If someone is a lower rank do not assume you know more than them. It is not your job to instruct; it is your job to practice and to allow your partner to practice.

The only time you should give your partner feedback is if you were specifically instructed to do so for the drill or if you feel unsafe. If your partner is doing something too hard, you may ask them to lighten up. Similarly, if you are practicing and your partner asks you to go lighter, then go lighter! Safety is always of the utmost importance. Do not let you or your partner become injured.

Learning a Weapon

West Coast Training Camp gives you exciting opportunities to learn weapons and other techniques or katas that would normally be beyond your rank. While you should absolutely take advantage of this opportunity, you need to understand and respect the weapon.

Treat the weapon as real even if it is a practice (or blunted) weapon. Do not play around with it, hold it inappropriately (for example, by the “blade”), or hit it against anyone or anything. You will learn the proper way to use the weapon in class, and this is how you should use it at any time. Practicing outside of class is great, but not to show off or goof-off, especially with a weapon.

During Breaks

Keep in mind that if you are in the dojo, the expectations of control and respect always apply. Break times do not give you permission to run wild and ignore the rules. Be aware of what is happening around you. If you see something that needs to happen, take responsibility for it. This can be anything from cleaning up spills or helping set up chairs to reminding kids to not run in the dojo.

Parents Watching Class

Parents, you are a big part of your child’s training and we thank you for it! The classes for children at West Coast Training Camp are great and taught by highly skilled and experienced instructors. As is true at Redwood Dojo, you may either stay and watch or you may leave your child and come back to pick them up at the end. If your child must leave before the end of the event, please be sure that their instructor knows when they are leaving.

If you are staying to watch, please keep in mind that your child should be focused on their instructor. Do not advise or coach your child from the sidelines. Similarly, your child should not just leave class to go to you. If they need something, they must get permission from the instructor before stepping out of class.

Please keep in mind that the we are teaching your child that the dojo is a place of respect. You can do a great deal to support this lesson; while you are in the dojo, model respectful behavior and help other children or visitors do the same. If you have younger children with you, ensure that they are not disruptive and please refrain from loud conversations during class.

When in Doubt

If you have questions about etiquette, the safest bet is always to do whatever is more formal. You can also ask a senior student (brown belt or higher) or an instructor outside of class time. In Cuong Nhu, we have many rules and traditions to follow. If you make a mistake, simply fix it and move on.

West Coast Training Camp is about learning new things, getting to know other members of Cuong Nhu, meeting talented instructors, and enjoying a great workout. Review these guidelines before you go, and then allow yourself to focus on the fun weekend of training!

Register for West Coast Training Camp.