Every Saturday when my wife and I leave the karate dojo we head across the street to pick up horse grain or chicken feed or other necessities for our little farm. We wait to change until we get home, so I’m still wearing my gi pants and tee-shirt emblazoned with East-West Karate when I head into the store. I always stop, though, to remove my black belt before I leave the car. At first I removed it because I was embarrassed by my low color belt (and I shouldn’t have been) but now I do it because I don’t want to appear to be showing off.
I’m proud to have earned that belt, and the second stripe on it that means I have a second degree black belt, and I’m going to be proud when, a few years from now, I test for my third degree black belt. I recognize that being proud is not necessarily something to advertise in a public space, which is probably why I don’t talk about martial arts much here on the blog. In point of fact, though, martial arts are a huge part of my life. I spend far more time writing here about solitaire gaming, which I’ve only recently managed to get in once a week. Whereas I’m at the dojo at least twice a week working out and almost always three times, something I’ve been doing off and on for fifteen years.
I started training in my mid thirties and had to stop for about five years (owing to getting busy and followed by a knee injury) but I was still regularly at the dojo taking my children for their own training. When I joined back up I rediscovered just how good it was for me. I already knew it had been a tremendous boost for my confidence — for instance, I haven’t been chased in my dreams since shortly before I earned my first degree. Round about the time I got my brown belt, which is about three years of experience in Shotokan Karate, I started to be able to block sparring attacks without having to pause and think about which one to use. I haven’t been in a real fight since I was a kid and I don’t expect or desire to be, but it’s a heckuva raise to your self esteem knowing that if some ugly event happens and someone comes at you with a punch you can instinctively knock it out of the way — and know how to swiftly and efficiently counter.
I look and feel more fit, and I seem to be a lot more limber than other men my age not with me at the dojo. After training with one particular upper level kata with a lot of crane stances (where you’re on one leg) my balance has improved as well.
That’s not to say I have fully escaped some age related issues (one troublesome knee, for instance, or an occasional creak as I climb out of bed, or the seemingly inevitable onslaught of love handles) but I can’t help wondering what those issues would be like if I wasn’t working out. Take for example the concluding calisthenics at the end of our stretching regimen every workout day — 25 leg lifts, 25 situps, 25 pushups. I remember that when I first started those 25 pushups were excruciating. After years of effort, those 25 pushups are a breeze and now I’m up past 50. (In fairness, the last 3 or so are a challenge). It’s been slow, steady progress with occasional back sliding, but that continued effort has paid off.
No, I couldn’t take on a horde of ninjas, nor am I ripped like a movie star when I pull my shirt off, but I feel pretty comfortable with who I am, what I look like, and what I can do, which is something I honestly never expected to be able to say, and that’s just about priceless. I hope that if I build these muscles in these middle-age years while it’s still possible to build ’em, it will be far easier to maintain myself in the next phase of my life. While some of that improvement has to do with the additional exercise I do outside of the dojo, I have a hard time believing I’d keep with it if not for the excellent instruction, encouragement, and discipline I’ve learned at East-West Karate.