A year ago today I stepped into a Dojo for the very first time. I am not convinced that I even knew what a Dojo was before that. That day I really had no idea I would be training, let alone still training now; I just came to bring my (then) 5 year old and watch what he was doing. Fortunately for me the Sensei invited me to train with the group that day and fortunately I said yes. The rest is history.
I had no expectations of what Karate could do for me; no preconceived notions of what it was about, although I was pretty sure the breaking board stuff was just for show. I didn’t know there were so many different styles. I didn’t know what a kata (form) was. I didn’t know what any of the Japanese meant. I had no idea about Dojo etiquette. And even though I was more than double the age of the majority of the other students, I felt like a naive child. Did any of that matter? Nope. Not a bit. Why? Several reasons I suspect.
1. Respect – everyone there showed respect for everyone else to the point where even if I made a complete stuff up of things (which I frequently did and only slightly less frequently still do), people wouldn’t make fun of me or laugh.
2. Beginners’ mindset – of everyone there including me – ask me in 10 years if I still feel the same but to me it comes across that even people training for 30+ years are still learning and still on the same path.
3. You are the only person you are really competing against so essentially there is nothing to lose.
During my first year of karate I have:
1. Been fortunate enough to have access to the 3 wonderful Sensei in our local network and even though they all have different styles (potentially confusing) they have been incredibly helpful and giving of their time to answer my questions and further my understanding.
2. Had the privilege of attending a workshop with a visiting Shihan from interstate and had the pleasure of reading some of his books.
3. Graded (twice).
4. Participated in a tournament.
5. Learned a fair bit of karate-related Japanese and generally understand what is going on now. I can also recognise quite a few Kanji (it helps to have a sister who is fluent in Japanese).
6. “Learned” (in inverted comas because it’s a continual process rather than an endpoint) 4 kata and am learning about 5 or so more in other styles (which can prove confusing at times but I am doing it to help me with the process of learning kata which I have found challenging to say the least).
7. Participated in kumite (sparring) at every opportunity and discovered that whilst I lack in skill, I make up for with courage; this was a surprising personal discovery.
8. Whilst it is an ongoing battle with myself and my “directional dyslexia”, I think I have actually improved and feel less uncoordinated in class (mostly!).
However, the “side” benefits of karate for me have been immense.
1. I have found myself more focussed, calm and productive in my everyday life.
2. I am able to take in large chunks of information, deal with them and learn more effectively.
3. I notice things more keenly.
4. I am more confident and decisive.
5. I am more positive.
6. I am less easily frustrated.
7. I think more about things, though not in an obtrusive manner.
8. I am more open minded and less argumentative and confrontational.
9. I see more parallels.
This is not an exhaustive list but merely examples that spring to mind. Overall I would say I am happier and feel like I am at one with my world.
I hope I can keep training for life because Karate Do (the way of the empty hand) is a way of life rather than just a martial art or a sport. There is plenty to learn and polish and plenty of time, I hope, to turn this rough bit of coal into a diamond or this pile of dirt into a dorodango, at the very least.
PS My profile picture (above also) shows me holding a dorodango I made for my Sensei. If you are curious about dorodango, google them. Making one was a fascinating exercise with many parallels to life and training.