I hear this quite frequently from people who don’t understand my passion for healthy living, raw food and often challenging exercise regime, so it came as no great surprise to hear it again as I left work last night. I had been asked what I was doing this Bank Holiday weekend. Clearly my face lit up as I said that I was going to the annual JKA 4 day international karate course, to train with the best Japanese instructors in the world. A weekend that has, in the past, brought me a combination of pain, elation, camaraderie and at least one hospital visit for concussion. A weekend that sees 300 black belts all training hard together under one roof. A weekend that has seen me both pass and fail gradings. A weekend that I started attending when I was a lowly orange belt back in 1994, and that I have revisited every year since, with the exception of when I was having my left knee surgically reconstructed following a bad skiing accident that put me out of training for 2 years.
What keeps me going back to this event year after year, when there is the possibility of pain, frustration, serious injury and more? My simple answer could be that I always go, and May wouldn’t be the same without it. It could be that I catch up with the same people that I see there every year, from all over the world. It could be that I like having the opportunity to train with the best in the world, especially Sensei Osaka, 8th Dan, who does not speak a word of English but doesn’t have to, because of his amazing ability to communicate through body language and facial expression. But it goes deeper than that. For me, it is a reminder that I must never, absolutely never, become complacent. I have been training in karate for 18 years, with more than half of those being at black belt level. But when I see that room full of other black belts, working diligently at their training, and the grand masters themselves, it inspires me and reminds me that I still have so much to learn, and that my knowledge of this great martial art is minimal in comparison with theirs. I can apply this to every area of my life. My knowledge of the role of food in creating health is good, but I know so little in relation to some of the great researchers and teachers. Malcolm Gladwell reminds us, in his book “Outliers”, that to become outstanding at something we have to put in 10,000 hours of practice. I have achieved this in some areas of my life, but certainly not all.
Karate attracts a wide variety of people. There are those who love the intense training; the speed, the power, the control. There are those drawn to it because they want to be able to defend themselves should the worst happen. There are others who like it because they want to have a good punch up (I have paired with these people, usually but not exclusively men, and they don’t often possess the control and respect that this art demands). Why do I like it? Because it is hard. Because it makes my brain work – my spatial awareness is poor, and I have to work very hard to make my body do what the art demands of it. I was never one to take the easy route in anything, and am often drawn to things simply because of their difficulty. But above all, I love the focus it gives me. The precision, the determination and drive that I have to possess to make myself carry on when I am exhausted. It is a great teacher for all other areas of my life.