I’ve spent the past week writing about a short, four-question interview I’ve been providing to a lot of the key people from my karate background. If you haven’t been reading these posts, they’ve included a surrogate brother, friends and colleagues. The list has by no means been exhaustive, and there are a number of key people who simply haven’t responded, as of yet. Not least of these is Sensei. But as I’ve been transferring these answers from whatever messaging platform I’ve received them to the blog, it’s dawned on me that i should likely take a moment to answer these questions myself. Here we go:
- Why did you join karate?
I started studying martial arts in general at a very young age, but started karate specifically at the the age of ten. My health wasn’t the greatest. I had been diagnosed with Type-1 Diabetes a few years’ prior, and had suffered through a number of Diabetic comas in a short number fo years. Due to lack of education and these accumulated complications, my doctors predicted I wouldn’t live into my teens. My body had severe insulin resistance, which, since a Diabetic needs insulin to survive, wasn’t a happy combination. Doctors had no answers and basically started prepping my family for the possibility that I would die before reaching adulthood. imagine being a 10-year old kid and being told you’re going to die. That’s what I had to deal with. I wasn’t satisfied with that potential outcome and felt I had to do something to take control of my own health.
I was also significantly bullied. I was always a bit of the “different” kid in every class I attended. And I’m not talking about the modern, “snowflake” version of bullying where people’s feelings get hurt. I used to be cornered by three of the school’s “popular” hockey players, where they’d take turns punching and kicking me until I either passed out or someone came along to help. I once had an instance where a bunch of guys grabbed me and threw me into the gym showers, fully clothed. I spent the rest of the afternoon going to classes, soaking wet. The icing on the cake was having busted my face and lips on the tile flooring when I landed.
For all those reasons, I chose to step into a karate dojo and begin training in karate. I needed to improve my health, increase my chance of surviving long enough to experience life and I needed a way to properly defend myself as I had learned from a young age that the strong will often prey upon the weak.
2. When did you join karate?
I would have joined karate in 1989, when I was about 10 years old. I was introduced to Sensei through Guillaume, whom you would have read about here.
3. How many years have you been training and are you still doing so?
At this point, this year marks 33 years of studying Uechi Ryu karate. It’s been a bit of a bittersweet journey, since my departure from my home Province means that I haven’t grown and progressed to the point I would have liked. If I’m being honest with myself (and with my readers), there may have been times where I’ve taken a “break” but I’ve truly never stopped.
4. What have you gained/hope to gain from karate?
I think the first and most important thing I gained from karate is perspective. People join the martial arts for different reasons, some good, some bad. Within a matter of months, my insulin resistance improved, my blood sugars started to regulate and I started to get into shape (much to the amazement of my doctors. Once my health started to improve, I began working on being able to defend myself. Since I was somewhat certain that taking my health in hand had accomplished what my doctors seemed unwilling or unable to do, now I had to make certain I could walk confidently without having my peers take advantage of me or harm me.
It all came to a head for me when I had one of my bullies try to come at me with a pocket knife. It sounds like something out of a bad movie but unlike a bad movie, it wasn’t a long, drawn out affair involving dodging and weaving, knives flashing as high-octane music played in the background. It was all of ten seconds; five seconds for him to come at me and sink the blade into my wrist and five seconds of my throwing him and breaking one of his bones. The irony is that once we received medical attention and the smoke had cleared, I was sent home for a week for “starting a fight.” No one stood up to explain I hadn’t started it. Que sera.
I tell this story as something I gained from karate because it provides two very important details to my story. The first is that I learned quickly that I wasn’t proud of what I had done and was frightened beyond reason. Fighting someone who means to do you harm is a scary thing. But more over, I learned that I wanted nothing to do with harming others. This is where the Buddhist aspect of me kicked in, believe it or not. It was in my teen years that I recognized the existence of suffering and my need to try and eliminate it from my own life, well before I had even started studying Zen.
By the time those different aspects of my youth had been addressed, I found myself in an existential black hole. Now that I had ensured my improved health and self-protection, I needed to discover who I was as a person and what mark I wanted to make on the world. Most of the years that followed involved trying things and trying to discover my inner self. I eventually did, but I also discovered that once I started I couldn’t stop. I’ve been doing karate and martial arts in general, ever since.
By the time I reached adulthood, I had gained/developed discipline, motivation, focus, strength, concentration and the drive and ambition to accomplish anything. More than that, I joined a fellowship that would stay with me for the rest of my life. The people I’ve met, places I’ve been and the dedicated students I’ve trained/trained with are all counted among the most important of things that I’ve gained from the martial arts. Even now, being as far from home as I am, those connections remain intact.
In closing, I’m going to ask a question of myself that I didn’t provide to the others. Maybe I should have. That question simply this: what does the future hold for me? When I look back at everything I’ve been through in my 33 years of karate, I acknowledge that I wouldn’t be alive today, had it not been for my training. That applies both to my personal and professional life. Karate continues to flow through my daily life in almost every aspect. I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t know what the future may hold.
I’m inclined to believe that my days of training hard for hours on end may be dwindling away. These days, you can find me training as a guest of the Regina Institute of Kempo Karate. The great, white hope is that eventually my sons will snap out of it and choose to step into the martial arts world, as well. My youngest is certainly showing some affinity to it. At the end of my journey, passing on this knowledge to my children will be the final step I take as I lay down my belt for the last time. ☯️