I’m an orange belt in Go Kan Ryu Karate, and I love it.
If you’re not familiar with the belt system, first is white belt, then yellow belt, and then orange. Green is next, and that’s the one I’m working towards at the moment.
I’ve been doing karate for almost two years now. Every week on a Thursday I trundle along to my class, wearing the ugliest piece of clothing ever invented (the white gi we wear was obviously designed by a man, for a man, because it’s not the most comfortable garment for a woman to wear), and learn new punches, blocks and other moves with the rest of my class.
Why do I do it? I’ve been doing various forms of exercise for most of my life, and it’s taken me this long to realise that I don’t like doing exercise just for the sake of it. Karate gives me exercise with a benefit. I’m also learning to defend myself. I’m also gaining confidence, fitness and strength. Together it makes a powerful package.
It’s also taught me a few other things as well. I’m more focused on doing it no matter what happens. A couple of weeks ago I had a cold. In the first year I was doing karate I would have stayed at home, and not bothered to go. Two weeks ago, I went to training. I had a sore foot a month ago. When I first started, I would have stayed home and nursed my foot. Now, I go.
Sure, I tell our sensei (leader/trainer) that I’ve got a cold or a sore foot, but I’m determined not to let anything get in my way. Both those sessions were slightly more difficult that usual, but it didn’t stop me, and I was proud of myself for pushing on in the face of problems that might once have made me curl in on myself.
I also like the repetitiveness of learning the punches and blocks and the Kata (a series of moves we learn at each of the grades). It’s about muscle memory, and training ourselves to just react, rather than thinking too much when a situation hits. But it’s also soothing to just do something physical without thinking about it, other than to ensure that you’ve put your arm in the right place, or your hand in the right grip. It’s about pushing aside the rest of your life, and resting your mind in the physical sphere. It’s a relaxing and amazing way to relieve stress.
And that’s another big reason I love it. It’s time out from the usual highs and lows of daily life. Away from the stresses of work and family, I get to just think about me, and my body, and trying to block that person who’s trying to punch me.
Plus, everyone who does the classes with me is lovely. Everyone tries to help each other, and a nice atmosphere pervades the class, helped along by the sensei who leads us all.
And what is the point of my gushing about GKR karate here? Mainly its to say that you can find cool stuff to do in all sorts of places, and it’s not always the place you expect. I have always hated the idea of hitting people, of fighting or boxing. It gave me an aversion to karate in my younger years.
But since taking it up on the spur of the moment two years ago, I’ve discovered there’s a whole lot more to karate than simply learning how to hit people. It's about discipline, dedication, kindness, community, health and fitness, confidence and respect. For me personally it's about putting myself out there in the world, meeting new people, learning new skills, and gaining confidence in my ability to get by in lots of different situations.
So make sure you look around you, try new things, break your perceptions, and above all don't just keep living the same old life, the same old way. You'll be amazed at the things you can achieve.