I grew up around a lot of ‘roid heads who would constantly pound their chest and brag about their athletic prowess. The joke is that many if not most of them would go to practice once a week and call themselves an athlete. Considering that my home town is in Northern New Brunswick, that usually involved hockey. Hockey and I have always had a bit of a love/hate relationship. Maybe it’s because they always thought they were the kings of the school. Maybe it was because many of them became bullies. Maybe, just maybe, it was because most of them made fun of karate but were still crazy enough to try out…
By the time I had improved and progressed enough that I was starting to teach newcomers, I had the pleasure, cough, cough,… I mean the responsibility of showing these bulky bastards why karate may not be for them. Not all of them, mind you. Just the ones that were known to be bullies. Sensei had no tolerance for that shit and I had even less, especially since I had at some point been the object of their bullying attention. But I’m digressing pretty bad, since the subject of today’s post isn’t bullying. I’ll save that one for another day. Today’s post is about calling yourself an athlete when you go to a one-hour practice, once a week. That thing.
Karate, and in fact martial arts in general, is a very special creature in terms of the kind of commitment you need to provide. If you show up to karate once a week for a one and a half hour practice and then call it a week, you may CALL yourself a martial artist but you’re a far cry from what that term really implies. One of the most important aspects to learning martial arts properly is showing up for every class. Early. And every time.
I remember a particular summer, I think it was 1995. I was 17 at the time and had my own vehicle (self-purchased, thank you very much). It was a particularly hot summer afternoon and a few friends and I decided to grab a swim in a location known to us as the south-east forest. There was a cold river with running water, which was perfect to fend off the summer heat. We had gotten there in the late afternoon and had a blast. Swimming, laughing and joking around, it was the very picture of what a teenage summer should involve. Then, I checked the time…
I noticed that karate class started in about an hour and a half. It would take about a half hour to get home and grab my gear, followed by fifteen to twenty minutes of travel time to get to the dojo. Pair this with the fact I always tried to be in class at least thirty minutes early to stretch, warm up and assist white belts, it made for a sudden urged panic to leave the river and get going. My friends were not impressed. In fact, the girl I was dating at the time was visibly angry at the fact I was cutting the pleasant outing short, just to go to class. The worst part is she was in karate as well. Go figure.
Consistency and commitment are key. This applies not only to karate but to all martial arts and in fact, any sport or hobby you choose to undertake. When I moved to Regina and joined the local Kenpo school, I made a point of attending every class even when it felt tedious, the classes may have been boring or not in keeping with what I wanted to be working on. And that’s what it takes to be a martial artist. You have to be consistent and show up. Every class. Every time.
I have no regrets. I know that a lot of the people I knew spent their free time out with friends, drinking and partying, enjoying their youth before the rigours of adulthood dropped a weighted veil across their eyes and stunted their freedom. I chose to spend my evenings training and building myself up. In a lot of ways, I believe that had I failed to do so, I might have succumbed to Diabetes a long time ago.
Sensei’s classes had a very specific way of running. Students would show up thirty minutes before class, stretch and warm up. Then, the class would be two hours. TWO HOURS! No water breaks, no washroom breaks, no checking your damned cell phone! Your ass was grass from 6:30 pm until 8:30 pm. Some beginners were permitted to leave at the one-hour mark, but all the same restrictions applied, regardless. When class ended at 8:30, many of us would stay in class for at least another thirty minutes, asking questions and practicing techniques.
The most committed of students spent a minimum of three hours in class, three times a week. This was paired with jogging, cycling, weightlifting and practices on the beach on our own time. We were true knights of the martial way. It was glorious. Hey, that sounds like it would make a great movie intro. But seriously, it’s a far cry from the students I see these days that walk into the dojo a minute before opening of class, finishing their Tim Horton’s coffee and chatting on their phone, muscles cold and lagging as they start. It’s a sad state of being. You gotta be committed. Every class. Every time. ☯