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What Karate is Teaching Me

I decided to start Kyokushin karate as a 46th birthday present to me from me with all my love… Let me tell you, of the various types of karate, Kyokushin is not for the weak of heart! It is tough!

After watching my boys gain new skills and move up in belts for a couple of years, and once I realised just how many parents of other kids also did karate I figured what the heck? I had always been more of a team-sports-like-volleyball-person or one who was out there running around and jumping as in figure skating or track and field. Karate? I had never even considered!

That said, since April 19, 2010, I have kicked, punched, run; done push-ups, crunches, squats; broken wood (and my arm, but that’s another story!), sweated, stretched, flexed and fought my way up to my brown belt. Yay me!

After the warm-up

After all the tests

Yep… after all we had been put through to get our brown belt, this is what I looked like! 1 hour written exam, 2 hour work-out, katas, break wood, 10 fights….

Let me tell you, it IS a really tough martial art. Sissies, need not apply! BUT! If you are willing to gain some self-confidence, muscles, flexibility (both of body and of mind) then by all means, do come! We promise you will not leave “empty-handed”.

Our master (Shihan Pierre Cataford) is the same age as my hubby and me; actually, his birthday is smack-dab between the two of us! He’s been doing karate for over 30 years and has seen and done much along the way. He is a Five-dan black belt, is the holder of many world records (such as ice breaking with his tibias) and, while some may have found him cocky or a braggart at one time, he is, in fact, merely stating facts today. Oh, he admits to being cocky in his youth but has since matured and is now wiser and no longer feels the need to “strut his stuff” as he once did! You know a person is comfortable in his skin when he becomes matter of fact about his own history. He uses his achievements as examples of what a person can do when they have a goal and when they work hard. He stresses that our achievements are our own and not his. His job is to teach what he has learnt so far and continues to learn so that the student may surpass the teacher. We are judged on our own personal curve. A 49-year-old with 3 years of karate under her belt will never be compared to a 20-year-old black belt with 10 years and many competitions under his belt!

Over the years Shihan has given us many speeches and, though many times we just want to get out of our soaked kimonos, pop a few Advils, take a hot shower and crawl into bed, we sit on our knees (or legs crossed when he takes pity on us) and we listen. We know that what he says will inspire us and light a fire under our sore butts. He can get angry when we are lazy or are going through the moves half-heartedly and though he understands we all have those days (himself included) where we just go through the motions without energy, he still wants us to give it our all. We all have lives outside of the dojo and not all of us are planning on becoming competitors – in fact, most of us are not! What he does want for us, however, is that when we do cross the threshhold of the dojo and give our official greeting of OSU! (pronounced OSS! – long O,) that we leave our problems, work, and whatever may be taking up space in our brain, behind us for the time we are in the dojo and be totally present. As he likes to tell us, our hour of karate is an opportunity to get the junk out! To release the negative energy and fill ourselves with the positive; to empty our brains of the daily crap and fill it with challenge – and trust me, when the average kata requires a minimum of 18 positions, your brain is way too full with trying to remember which foot to put forward and how to place your hands, arms, head, butt, feet, legs… to think of anything else!

Osu means I am ready, I am present, I understand; it also means patience, determination and perserverance and every time we say it, we remind ourselves of it.

So those days when our Osu! is not up to par and our movements are not done with conviction, he calls us on it. As he says, it’s when we are tired and not feeling our most energetic that we have to dig deep and give it our all. In the end, the result will be that in our everyday life we will walk taller, feel (and look) more confident. It will help us deal with the little and large issues of life.

When I come home with new bruises and need a bag of ice on some portion of my body, yes, my family and friends think I am totally nuts to put my body through this. They hate seeing my bruises and many try to convince me that maybe I should take up a milder activity. I just smile, tell them that eventually I will learn to get out of the way and the bruising will diminish! Which is exactly what happens. Shihan says that if we pay attention, we will note that the ones who say that we are crazy are the ones standing there with an oversized gut, smoking a cigarette, beer in the other hand and totally out of shape. Who is really the crazy one?

I totally suck at combat, by the way. Yes, I do punch hard but that’s ’cause I am strong and have my weight and height behind me but I’m not so good at technique. It’s all fine and dandy when we just work on the techniques solo but put these moves into action whilst being punched and kicked? Not so good! I tell my feet and arms to move but they don’t always listen! So, I have a choice. I can quit and say I gave it my best or I can keep on going and say I will learn from my fellow karatekas and keep on practicing until I don’t totally suck!

You could tell yourself that you are competing with the others in the dojo but the reality is, you are competing with yourself. You can stagnate if you choose or you can accumulate a few more bruises as you learn how to get out of the way and – egads! – actually get a good kick or punch or block in when it counts!

In our dojo, whether you are a white belt starting out or a 3-dan or more black belt, you are part of the family. A common saying is a black belt is a white belt who didn’t quit. I’ll never forget being told upon getting my orange belt (first colour belt in Kyokushin): “Congrats! You’ve earned your first colour. The white belt comes with the kimono, this one you earned.” Thank you, Sempai Yves!

And to think I’ve gone from white to orange, to blue, to yellow, to green and now, brown! We never even thought we’d get so far, hubby and me! We were aiming for the green, figuring, at our age…. Bah! One of our guys got his black belt at 61! Why should I quit now?

This is my hubby and me with our master, Shihan Pierre Cataford.

Proudly wearing our new brown belts

Proudly wearing our new brown belts

When you are given your belt, you are one-on-one with your teacher who lets you know what you need to improve on and what you did really well. The thing that stuck with me was that the consensus between all the Senseis and Sempais (Teachers and Assistant-Teachers) who evaluated us is that they found my attitude was great during the whole ordeal… no, not ordeal, TEST!

THAT is how I choose to live my life. With great attitude!

13 thoughts on “What Karate is Teaching Me

  1. Wow, Dale! Though you had mentioned your karate, I had no idea what it took to make it to each belt. I kept thinking – this is mindfulness at its very best. You cannot be thinking about inane BS when you’re getting kicked and hit! I’m rather, ok horribly!, uncoordinated, but the way you tell your story makes me want to go out and do something like this.

    The best part, to me, was that you get to share this with your husband. Even when CJ and I were not happy campers in the public schools, we always said, “Hey, we really get what each other is saying.” We truly understood what the other was going through. I much prefer the positive we-share-this story like this one! 🙂

    • Thanks Tammy! Yeah, I never realised what the hell I was getting into! I just thought it would be a good way to work out (I so get bored with the whole gym scene). I never, ever thought I would get so into it that I actually cared. They don’t call it a martial art for nothing. You can always improve. What is OK for a white belt to do is never what is expected of a brown! I look back 3 1/2 years ago when I kept turning in the wrong direction during the first kata! I thought, this is ridiculous, I used to figure skate for goodness sake! How hard can it be to learn this bloody routine? Indeed.. not time for inane BS even during this. I never thought you could work up such a sweat doing this stuff.

      And yes, the best part is definitely being able to share with Mick. We looked like quite the pair last October when I fractured my arm and he his foot! We agreed to tell all who asked that we had been in a car accident – way easier to accept than the fact that we were breaking wood with our bare limbs and, well, didn’t do so well!

      • Oh no! Sorry to hear of your fractures, but what a funny explanation. Yes, it’s so funny…the car looks perfect, Bob. What a manufacturer _________ (Honda, Ford, Mazda) is! Tee hee hee!

        I am going to try breaking some chairs in the coffee shop this morning and see how long it takes to get thrown out. 😉

        • Ha ha! It was crazy – in all the years our master has been teaching, he had never had 3 (another girl also fractured her foot!) people fall apart like that!

          Love it! Let me know how many it takes! Just don’t forget to use proper technique! 😜

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