Karate is a strange creature. For the most part, people tend to come and go in weird intervals throughout the calendar year. And they can hardly be blamed. Sometimes life just gets in their bloody way and there’s nothing we can do about it. I know that for myself, I’ve had work and familial obligations that have often prevented me from attending class. I’ve often had a particular instructor ask me, almost every time he’s seen me, “Where have you been?”
This is a question that has grated on my nerves, regardless of the source, for over thirty years. For the most part, I tend to get a workout in about four to six times a week, depending on appointments, work and other life obligations that seem to slither their way into my personal schedule. But the point is that my fitness and my karate are engrained into my weekly routine, in such a way that surpasses the two classes a week that I attend.
But every once in a while, these absences will be noticed by an instructor or someone else and they always seem to consider it necessary to ask why I’ve missed the classes I was absent for. Needless to say, this is a bad idea for any student, especially beginners.
Karate (or any martial arts) is a lifetime commitment. I know guys who only studied the Way for a few months and still retain some of their lessons and apply them to their everyday lives. The overall effect martial arts can have on someone is measurable, but the emotional effect it can occasionally have on one’s life is palpable…
I’ve had times in my youth when I missed a number of classes. Either because I was exhausted, sick or just plain didn’t feel like coming out. I would often scuttle my way back into class and feel ashamed at my lapse in discipline and hoping that no one would take notice. One of the benefits of being a white belt or junior grade, is you tend NOT to stand out when you’re at the back of the class.
But as far as those periods when I didn’t FEEL like training… Imagine if I was berated and pestered about my absence back then? This might have led to my departure from class for a longer period of time. But instead, my absences were considered a time of reflection and I was always welcomed back.
In my current school, I have a particular instructor who seems to make it his business to point out and ask about any absence I may have. He does this to most students, but if I’m being honest I consider myself to have a bit of a louder voice than most.
“Where do you think I’ve been…?” I usually ask. I point out that in the period where I haven’t been to class, I’ve usually managed to work out three times, which is one workout more than the scheduled classes I have with my current dojo.
This is one of those times when it’s more important to focus on the why and not the what. We all have times when we lapse in our attendance and skip a few classes. There’s nothing wrong with that, inherently. The important part is that you go back. And if you happen to be a senior belt or instructor, do both yourselves a favour and don’t poke the beast! Take your student’s absence in stride and teach them accordingly! ☯