Black Belt Thesis – Jessica Stewart

We are proud to kick off our new Black Belt Thesis category with the newest Black Belt at Bob White’s Karate Studio – Ms. Jessica Stewart. Ms. Stewart is not only a tremendous martial artist, but a fantastic teacher and friend. Congratulations Ms. Stewart and we hope you find her thesis as inspirational as we did.

Andree Scanlon

 

Peanut Butter with Diamonds

Jessica Stewart

Black Belt Thesis, August 17, 2013

 

 

Peanut Butter with Diamonds is the mnemonic phrase that I use to remember Protection, Balance, Weapon and Depth, the four essentials needed in order to properly execute your kicks. Kenpo Karate, and maybe more simply life can be broken up into the same four essentials. I believe you can sum them both up using this mnemonic phrase: Peanut Butter with Diamonds.

Protection:

Protection is a fundamental principle in Kenpo. Our primary focus is to avoid being hit. Miyamoto Musashi said that one’s defense is weakest when only focusing on offense. This is why protection is the most important aspect of martial arts.

When setting up for a proper kick, it is imperative to ensure that your hands are in the correct guard position. The way to remember which hand should be up is that it is the one on the side closest to your opponent. For instance, in a front kick your shoulders do not pass each other so you guard would remain constant (i.e. fighting right foot forward your right hand would be up in guard position). If, however, you were to throw a rear leg roundhouse kick you would immediately change guards since your shoulders would switching.

All Kenpo techniques are counters off attacks; Ed Parker American Kenpo system is essentially built around the idea of protection. One should never sacrifice their protection in order to go on the offense it defies logic.

Translating this into everyday life is simple. We often take for granted minor moves that we automatically do in everyday life. A minor move in Kenpo fills the gap for preparation. Couldn’t the same be said for clicking yourself and your children into a car with a seatbelt, or perhaps looking both ways before crossing the street? It is human nature and instinct to protect yourself and your family. In Gavin DeBecker’s book, Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers safe (and Parents Sane), he calls it the wild brain. He states, “the wild brain obeys nothing, conforms to nothing, answers to nobody, and will do whatever it takes. It is unfettered by emotion, politics, and as illogical as the wild brain may sometimes seem, it is, in the natural order of things, completely logical.”(1) We are all born with a sense to protect ourselves. As a person becomes a parent, that same brain is already hardwired to protect their children.

On a personal note, I believe this raw natural sense of protection is what hooked me onto studying Kenpo Karate. As a young adult, there were countless times that my father encouraged me to take lessons. I had never been interested. It was not until I was a mother of two that I decided to have that first lesson. The first lesson was so empowering; the idea of not only being able to protect myself but my children, if necessary, was a mind-opening experience. As I take the next steps in my martial arts journey, it is this same eager sense of protection that drives me forward.

Balance:

Balance is important in executing your kick because, without proper balance, your kick is immediately in jeopardy. The way to maintain balance is to make sure that your base leg is bent. Keeping the base leg bent lowers the center of gravity, by doing this you will maintain your balance.

Another way to ensure balance is to breakdown the kick into four parts. The first part is bringing up the knee in a compressed manner. For a front kick, the knee will be brought up bent and pointing towards the target; a round house kick, the knee will be bent compressed on a horizontal plane also pointing towards the target; a side kick, the knee will be bent compressed with the knee directly in alignment behind the weapon (i.e. the heel of the foot). Secondly, you deliver your kick (either in a thrusting or snapping motion). Thirdly, the knee is retracted back to position number one. This retraction allows for maintaining balance. If one drops their foot from position number two, gravity brings you down without purpose, and hinders balance. When retracting the knee, this allows for the person to either be set up to kick again, or to purposefully set down their foot in a manner in which they can have greater mobility.

Balance in our martial arts training is essential as well. Mr. White often breaks down our training into three equal parts: Basics, Forms & Techniques, and Sparring. Each part contributes to each other. For instance, the lack of good basic skills hinders the ability to execute our forms and techniques at a high level. By practicing the forms and techniques, the student is taught pre-set movements which can be translated into sparring. For example, yellow belt technique Delayed Sword, can be translate into an entry technique for sparring. By practicing forms, techniques and sparring the student is further practicing the basics that were needed to begin with. It’s a wonderful cycle of constant improvement. Mr. White also often says, “Be a Martial Artist not a Partial Artist”. What he means by this is do not limit yourself into certain aspects of your training, be balanced in your art.

To translate this into everyday life, and specifically my life, I think balance is an essential ingredient in living a happy and healthy life. There is a balance to everything in nature. It is hard to always find balance as an adult: spending too much time at work, not enough time with the kids, too much time focusing on others. Even for children balance is important, spending equal time on school, sports, friends and family. Finding and maintaining that balance is important for self-preservation.

During parts of my martial arts training, I have found that I have been over-zealous in my training. During this zealous phase, what I didn’t realize was that I wasn’t seeing the bigger picture. I was so eager to get to the next belt I wasn’t soaking up the ideas and principles that I could have been. Strangely, backing off the accelerator helps to re-focus and see things that were right there all along.

As a mother and a wife, it’s always a concern: Am I spending enough time with my children, am I being a good wife? I believe women ask themselves these questions often, and often times it’s because they’re doing something for themselves. I think women often believe if they are not doing something in service to their families then by definition they’re not being good mothers and/or wives. I think of a blog post written by Andree Scanlon on her website www.kenpowomen.com in October 2012. She writes about “Finding Balance”. She writes “The guilt involved with not doing what I set out to do is enormous, but what can I do about it? How can I manage my need to do something for myself, my body, my sanity, without jeopardizing the responsibilities I have as a parent and wife?”(2)

I think being in service to yourself, your family, and your community helps a person lead a balanced life. My Kenpo Karate training helps me to be of service to myself and my community. It has become an integral part of maintaining my personal balance.

Weapon:

Weapon is a critical part of executing a proper kick. The weapon for a side and back kick is the heel of the foot. The weapon for a front kick can either be the top of the foot or the ball of the foot. The weapon for the roundhouse kick can be the ball of the foot, the top of the foot, or the shin of the leg. Knowledge of a person’s target areas is critical in making sure you present the correct weapon.

Interestingly enough, presenting the correct weapon can be correlated with protection. Kicking someone in the knee without proper foot position (i.e. the ball of the foot) can result in damage to your toes and perhaps foot. By injuring yourself during the kick you could be setting yourself up for disaster for the rest of your fight. By having the knowledge of anatomical positions and proper foot position you are “protecting” yourself.

Having the knowledge of targets is also important in presenting the correct weapon. In Ed Parker’s Infinite Insights into Kenpo #5: Mental & Physical Applications, he states, “[Targets] are the vital areas of the body which, when struck effectively, result in helplessness, pain, paralysis, or even death. Thus, having a thorough knowledge of these areas serves a dual purpose you will know which areas of your own body to protect, and where to strike to obtain maximum results.”(3) For example, the liver is a large target and knowing where it is on one’s opponent can determine how you would use a kick to deliver a crippling blow. I would say, ideally, using the shin since it has large surface area would be the best weapon to present if using a round house kick.

How do weapons translate into real life? Education is our main weapon in life. We don’t live in a society where we often have to present a weapon, so it is important to have the knowledge as our weapon. Having the knowledge and flexibility in your approach to protecting yourself is as critical as having flexibility in changing the weapon in your kicks.

I was raised with education being a major part of my life. Getting good grades and going to a well respected college was something that I was brought up thinking was of utmost importance. Good grades and going to a good college is not near as important as retaining and continuing your education. Being a student of Mr. White’s we are so blessed because he never stifles our learning, he is constantly inviting different instructors to share their knowledge. One of his constants is that there is always something to learn. This same mantra should translate into our everyday life. It is often said that “Knowledge is power”; I would assert that continuing to learn and to obtain knowledge only adds to our arsenal.

Another way to add to our education is to teach. I’ve never had the opportunity to teach until I started Kenpo Karate. I find it fascinating that once you teach someone a technique you learn something new or different from that technique. It is no wonder that a black belt in our karate studio is considered a teacher. Most school teachers are life long learners. Education and continuing education is life’s best weapon.

Depth:

Depth in most of our kicks is determined by our base foot. The depth for a front kick is determined by the tucking of the hips forward towards the target. Another important aspect of depth is contact with the target. Kicking the target too early or too late will hinder the effectiveness of the kick. If you try to kick too early, your opponent may be able to jam you, and if you extend your leg too far there is no power behind the kick. It is often taught to kick your opponent when your leg is extended at seventy-five percent extension, this way you will have twenty-five percent more extension to have your kick go through your opponent.

Depth in a person is easy to see. A shallow individual stands out like a sore thumb, but a well balanced person is easy to spot as well. People gravitate towards people who are humble, accountable, respectful, caring, and genuinely nice. The depth of a person is not easily quantified; unfortunately, most times it isn’t quantified until that person’s passing.

In the karate studio, we spend a lot of time with our peers. Whether in training, at tournaments, doing community service or just recreational time we spend a lot of time with each other. Quite often a person’s “colors” or depth become evident during this time spent together. I’m proud to say that ninety-nine percent of the people I have met at Bob White’s Karate Studio are people of depth and are people who I know I can count on at the drop of a dime. These people are teachers who volunteer their time to educate others in our art. These are people who tirelessly work to raise money in support of children they will never meet. I am proud to surround myself with people of depth, people I want my children to learn from. What will be our legacy when we leave this earth? It will be how deep of an impact we have had on our family, friends and community.

While depth may be last in order of importance in the four factors of a kick, I would argue the depth of a person’s heart and character is the most important.

I would like to first and foremost thank Mr. Bob White. He has taught me the importance of unconditional friendship, and the true meaning of being a teacher. I’ve never been exposed to a teacher who takes their teaching to such a heartfelt extent. I’ve heard him many times say that he feels he is the one at fault if someone is not learning something correctly. He holds himself accountable as a teacher, and by doing so has taught me to become accountable to myself. Through his actions and stories I have learned countless lessons of compassion, forgiveness, and selflessness. I aspire to follow in his footsteps as a martial artist and a person. Our families have become bonded, and I am blessed to call him my teacher, mentor and friend. Mr. White I’m grateful to have you, Mrs. White and your families as apart of my life.

Mrs. Barbara White, thank you for being one of my inspirations. You hold yourself to such a high standard, not just in the karate studio or in training, but in life. I have seen you run out of the karate studio doors when you thought a dog was hit, and I’ve seen you counsel people in their times of need. The work you do as a full time nurse and in the karate studio as a teacher, and the volunteer hours at the Royal Families Kids Camps makes me marvel at your energy and passion. I’m proud to have a strong woman like you in my life, for me to learn from and for my girls to look up to.

Mr. Vishal Shukla, thank you for never settling for anything but the best. You’re a tireless champion for our school and for the RFKC. Your unselfishness in the time you give to others is a quality I hope to one day be remembered for as well. I have never once asked you for help and have been denied. Your leadership and dedication to your friends, makes me honored to call you a friend. I appreciate all of the time you have spent with me and I look forward to many more years of our friendship.

Ms. Andrea Pfefer Solow, when I grow up I want to be like you. From the moment we met, Ms. Pfefer and I became friends; it’s as if we had known each other our whole lives. Thank you for always being there for me. You have always made time to impart your karate knowledge with me. Every time I’ve asked for help you’ve been there, every time I’ve called frustrated with my learning you’ve listened, and before every belt test you’ve checked in with me to see how training was going (even if you weren’t even in this state). I cannot wait to the lifetime of memories we will have together with our families both in and out of the karate studio.

Alia Cass, Andree Scanlon, Karen Schuster and Heather Flessing, you’ve been my Kenpo Women role models. Alia I will never forget when I first started karate I watched your black belt test montage on YouTube, I sat and cried because I never thought I would get to that point in my karate education. You have been a catalyst that has driven me to this point in my training. Andree, you’ve always checked on me throughout my training, I thank you for always being there with open arms. Karen, there has never been a week that you have not asked how my training is going. I will always remember Defying the Storm because of you. You were helping me with a belt test and you said “defy, defy, defy.” Thank you for being a role model and friend. Heather, I’ll never forget when I was a yellow belt and was practicing short form one; you graciously came over to help me when you saw that I was stuck on the left side. I have always appreciated you taking the time to help me whenever I’ve been stuck.

Mr. Bartomolucci, Dr. Rod Smith, Mr, Tom Camman, Mr. Gordon Alexander, Mr. Eddie Downey, Mr. Paul Dye, Mr. Chad Gundlach, Dr. Jeff Weitz, Captain Sanchez, Mr. Dan Price, and Mr. Steve Cooper: thank you for always taking the time to answer a question, show me a technique, or just give me a hug. You have been integral part of my education thus far at the karate studio. I am certain that I would not have been successful without your help. Mr. Sean Scanlon and Mr. Ed O’Neil—thank you for allowing me to be in your black belt forms. It was the first black belt test I had ever been apart of, and it helped fuel the fire to get me here today.

There are so many other black belts that I want to thank that have helped mold and shape me into the martial artist I am today. It has to be noted that my first experience at Bob White’s Karate Studio came many many years before I actually became a student. My younger brother, Michael Wilgus, is a student of Mr. White. He started in 1997 when he was just four years old. I would often come to his karate lessons, and when I started driving I would often take him to the karate studio and sit and watch. This was the time when Mr. Jesse Salinas, Mr. Jamie Matthews, Mr. Rob Fenton, Mr. Jim McClure, Mr. Pat Salantri, and others were teachers at the studio. It was a different time, but the intensity and passion these men have has stuck with me and I often think about their commitment to high levels of training when I’m at the Karate studio. So while I haven’t had a lot of one on one time with them their history and presence really have affected the way I view my training and the standard to which I hold myself to.

Lastly but certainly not least, I’d like to thank my family. My husband for his unconditional love and support, whether it was watching our kids for the hours I was at the studio training, or at a tournament; to the empathy at the bumps and bruises along the way; to the motivation to get to each finish line. To my daughters thank you for being my inspiration to educate myself on protecting myself and them, and for motivating me to become a strong woman so that they can one day so the same. To my brother, who trekked the path first. Thank you for always being my punching bag, for always being there when I had a question, for always showing up at the studio or tournament when I needed you. It’s hard as your older sister to say, but I’ve looked up to you as a black belt so thank you for always being there. To my mother, who initially didn’t support my training. She never understood why I would show up to get hit. She finally accepted my journey and has always been there when I needed her.

To my father, who since I was twelve years old, always knew the strength I had within. He waited patiently and pushed gently for me to open my eyes and realize my own strengths. He has been my biggest cheerleader (it’s not often you see a grown woman’s father come to watch her train), and has tirelessly been by my side for everything. His constant belief in me and my abilities have been second to none. For that I am eternally thankful.


(1) DeBecker, Gavin, Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers safe (and Parents Sane), (New York, Dell Publishing, 1999) page 7

(2) http://www.kenpowomen.com/2012/10/09/finding-balance/#sthash.xVelgw5M.dpuf

(3) Parker, Ed, Infinite Insights into Kenpo #5: Mental & Physical Applications, (Los Angeles, Delby Publications, 1987), page 200

 

4 Responses to “Black Belt Thesis – Jessica Stewart”

  1. professor ricky forrest says:

    Sister Jessica
    Perhaps the most beautiful Thesis I have the honor of ever reading. It has taught me many things and showed me many things. It went very deep into my heart and into my mind, thank you very much for sharing your knowledge. congratulations on your well earned black belt.
    with much love and respect Professor Forrest.
    welcome to the elite black belt club of Ed Parkers American Kenpo under master Bob white.

    • Jessica Stewart says:

      Thank you Mr. Forrest. I am glad that you enjoyed it

      Also thank you to Andree Scanlon for publishing my thesis, I’m honored.

  2. Mayuko Fukino says:

    To Ms. Jessica Stewart,

    My name is Mayuko Fukino from Arnott Kenpo Karate in Pasadena, also I come to Master White’s school time to time for the seminars. I read your thesis right before I went in for my testing for purple yesterday.

    I would like you to know that not only your thesis encouraged me and inspired me but also it made me think where I came from, why I have started practicing Kenpo, what I became and how I want to become.

    I went in for my test with unexpected injury, very very minor, but your thesis , which brought me to think about who, what and how I want to become, helped me tremendously to get through my testing with my wonderful Kenpo mates.

    Nobody is going to walk my journey in Kenpo for me but I am very blessed to know you through Women in Kenpo blog and have the loving Kenpo mates to walk my Kenpo journey by my side.

    Thank you again for sharing your knowledge and congratulations, belated though, on your well earned black belt!

    with respect,
    Mayuko “Pippi” Fukino
    (a student of Arnott Kenpo Karate in Pasadena)

    • Jessica Stewart says:

      Dear Mayuko,

      Thank you so much for your kind words, I’m so humbled and happy that it helped you. I never imagined that it would be of help to anyone, and the fact that you used it to push through makes me overjoyed!

      Congratulations on your new belt, I’m sure you were so happy to have earned a new belt and to start the next leg of your journey. I’m sure having an injury made your test that much harder, perseverance is such a wonderful quality to have and that you’ve found it within yourself now is to your benefit. I’d love to hear more about your journey. Mr. Arnott trains with Mr. White, should you want my information I’d gladly ask Mr. White to pass it along.
      Best wishes for a wonderful journey ahead!

      Respectfully,
      Jessica Stewart

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