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 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).

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!