Well, what I’m striving towards, anyway. There are still a few bits missing or building.
I joked in the time we were winding down to close off the building completely, that if the shutdown went on long enough, I’d come back in the best shape of my life.
At some point not long after I left the building on the last day, and long before we thought it might be more than a few weeks, I decided that wasn’t going to be a joke. I’ll never have the cardio fitness I did at my peak as a long-distance runner, especially since I’m not allowed to run anymore because of a knee issue, but I can absolutely be a lot healthier than I’ve been for a while.
So I came up with the idea of the building of a real workout routine that can be done daily instead of just on weekends with the bits of it squeezed in between the various household chores and jobs I need to get done.
What I want it to look like when I’m finished ramping up:
Warm up = 20 minutes -> this consists of targeted basic movements, techniques, and isometrics (push-ups, crunches, and so on).
Kata = 20 minutes -> solo form practice that builds from basics and combinations to create a “recipe book” of applications and techniques.
Kobudo = 20 minutes -> weapons training. This is mostly bo, sai, and tonfa for me right now, with a few other weapons mixed in but in a smaller way, with a rotating focus each day.
Hojo Undo = 10 minutes -> strength and muscle training with specific equipment. This involves a lot of lifting things and hitting things.
Cardio = 30 minutes -> struggling here. The plan was a solid bike ride building up to the 30-minute mark and adding 5 minutes of cool-down walk, but I don’t have the ability to repair either of the two bikes I have access to. Working on that. In the meantime, since I can’t run, I can walk and I’m mostly turning these into short hikes.
Cool Down = 20 minutes -> what I’m incorporating here is a routine that takes in some beginner’s Yoga for flexibility (which I have a lack of) and Tai Chi.
Yes, if you’re keeping track, that’s two hours of working out. And I’m building this to be a daily workout. Yoga and Tai Chi are both new to me and in-class instruction isn’t a thing at the moment, but there is plenty of video available and if you can find something basic enough, you can follow along. You don’t need to be perfect to be making progress.
I’m not someone who can sit still at one task for long. I can’t binge-watch in the way most people mean it (binge-watching for me is 5 or 6 episodes of something in a week, not in a row), and I can only do housework for so long.
So, instead of trying to teach myself to sit still and watch something for hours or do housework or yard work for an entire day at a time, those get to be smaller parts of my day while I spend the effort on getting better at something I want to get better at.
And then there’s the saxophone mocking me in the corner.
Be well, everyone.by
So with all of this extra time, what am I doing?
Well, I did mention that there were a bunch of lists of a bunch of different types of things that I wanted to get done while I’m off with most of the rest of the province (by today’s press conferences, that’s being boiled down to essential services, whatever that means to our current government.
Occupying a significant place on one of those lists is martial arts. My primary art is karate. I’ve been studying it for a solid ten years now and I don’t see that changing at any point in the future regardless of my life situation. An injury might slow me down, but karate is never going away.
Warning, I’m about to get a bit philosophical about things.
I had occasion to think about the why of that in detail before a grading a few years ago and came up with the same reason I’ll never give up writing, something it took me a long time to understand about myself: that I’m often happiest when I’m creating something or learning something new.
Karate gives me the second one of those constantly and in a lot of ways. It gives me the second one, too, but that’s a bit more subtle.
For the learning, on the most simplistic level, there is always another kata or technique or drill to look forward to. A little deeper, you can always get better at whatever that kata or technique or drill is and what it’s designed to teach you. Smoother, stronger, faster. There is always something more that can be done, or some new application to be learned, discovered, or improved.
Karate gives me not just the opportunity to learn new things, but the necessity of learning them, physically and mentally. Physically is often the easier of the two. Teaching your body to do new things may mean just repeating a motion exactly over and over again until it seems natural and fluid. But this is just the beginner’s piece.
Continued practice may start to bring understanding on its own, but only in a very basic way. Reducing karate, or any martial art, to just a sequence of techniques robs it of its heart. While we can, and should, find great joy in the learning of new skills, new techniques, new kata, there’s so much more to the art. The mental and spiritual aspects are critical to any art. To paraphrase Sensei Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan, karate is not merely about self-defense and physical development, it’s a path for the improvement of the character of its students.
A little deeper, and coming at it from a different angle, karate is a Japanese art, so it borrows a lot of words and phrases beyond naming techniques and stances, concepts that come to us from the “old masters”, or earlier, things that sometimes we have a difficult time translating into English. We get things like shoshin, the beginner’s mind, mushin, no mind, and go no sen, sen no sen, sen sen no sen, frequently reduced in english to merely levels of awareness or timing. We have shu ha ri, the sometimes linear and sometimes circular stages on the path to mastery of a skill, and we have shido geiko, training or learning by teaching.
None of these things are new, but all of them are new to every student at some point in their training. In the years since I began my martial arts training, I’ve encountered all of these concepts and many more. Each of them, in its own way, has stirred excitement in my mind. There are so many perceptions, so many ways of looking at things, and I’ve really just begun to scratch the surface of any of them. If I take great joy in learning something new, or learning something deeper, karate promises to give me that joy for a lifetime.
But there’s still more.
Karate doesn’t just provide that learning, those concepts, it provides the opportunity for self-exploration and discovery
And more importantly, it also provides the opportunity to learn about the people around you, helping them find their way further along the path.
There’s a lot of satisfaction found when you see a small child finally make a fist properly, when you watch someone perform a new kata from beginning to end for the first time, when you can give another student a small piece of advice that makes a technique or kata just a little bit better, and realized that with every incremental improvement, every tiny change, they are walking farther down the path as well.
There is always progress and hope of doing better, for you and the people around you.
And that’s the beauty of karate. There’s always more to learn, always a horizon in the distance, and always more beyond the horizon that you just can’t see yet.
So, the joy in doing something new, the joy in learning something new, the joy in experiencing something new. And the joy in watching the same sensation awaken and grow in other people.
Ten years in, I recognize clearly just how little I know, and have only the vaguest idea of just how much more there might be still to learn.
And I take great joy in that recognition.
See, I told you I was going to get a bit philosophical.
We’ll talk about how karate is a creative art another day.
And then there’s kobudo.
And the bits and pieces of other arts that have found their way into my practice.
Be well, everyone.by
by We had a grading at my karate club recently. Every grading is important, a benchmark to test yourself and make sure you are where you’re supposed to be. It can be an exciting, and occasionally stressful, event, depending how you feel about performing in front of an audience. Because there is an audience. Family shows up to watch and it’s usually the biggest class you see every three months. But demonstrations at the end of class are a frequent teaching tool anyway, so there shouldn’t be too much performance anxiety, right?
I can’t speak for other clubs, so I’m not sure if we do things differently or not, but the grading list is posted a couple of weeks ahead of time. If you’re on it, you’re going to receive the stripe or belt listed beside your name. It’s not a foregone conclusion: I believe it’s possible to screw up the grading or something related to it bad enough to make Sensei reconsider, but I’ve yet to see it happen. Sensei is always watching and measuring (as are all of the senior instructors, I’ll bet). If you’re not ready for the next belt, you’re not ready for the next belt and you won’t get it. Oh, you’ll probably add an extra stripe to mark progress, and that’s fine, too. As long as you’re always learning.
In my case, the recent grading was an important one. Brown Belt, the final colour before black. (And grading for Shodan is a different beast, but that’s another subject entirely.) Brown belt, the one that marks you as a senior student for everyone to see. You’re supposed to know what you’re doing and it’s time to start being able to teach for real. Brown Belt is a big deal, at least for me. Yes, it’s just another marker on the path, not a step in and of itself, and I try to remind myself of that. I still have a great deal to learn, and that actually brings me quite a bit of happiness on its own.
The belt is still new. For all I know, it might squeak when I turn around too quickly. Some days I feel like I’ve earned it, and some days I wonder how I managed it. But there are nearly four years of learning and work and sweat invested in that belt and I know the effort I’ve put into it.
That also brings me a lot of joy.
And now it’s time to step it up, start figuring more things out on my own, and get truly consistent in my attendance in classes where I serve as an instructor. Note to the world: teaching kids is not as easy as most people think. Getting a group of five or ten (or more) completely different kids to listen to you all at the same time is both an art and a science, and not to be underestimated, especially when they’re younger. But it’s fun, and I’m learning a lot.
Still walking the path, and looking forward to the grueling trial that will be my shodan grading that still seems comfortably far off, but is probably only a little over a year from now.
Be well, everyone.