Friday, January 7, 2011

The Trip of a Lifetime

I was born and raised in England for 22 years, lived in Germany for 1 year, Japan for 3 years and now the United States for over 10 years.  I have traveled throughout Europe and also South-East Asia.  As you can see I have been very fortunate so far to have had the opportunity to visit so many places and experience so many cultures.  Many of these trips and experiences were both life-changing and inspirational but I can say with complete honesty that the ‘trip of a lifetime’ for me is still continuing to this day, and that is my study of karate.
This trip, or maybe journey would be a better word, started on a cold January morning in 1982 in an even colder dojo in North-East England.  I was 8 years old at the time and could never have known what a huge impact karate would have on my life, and to be honest, it probably took about 10 years of training before I really began to understand the impact and some of the benefits that karate had already given me.  However on that cold evening I didn’t know what to make of the lesson or of the experience, and I almost quit after the first lesson.  To this day I still can’t figure out what made me go back, but I’m certainly glad that I did because what I’ve gained in the years since is immeasurable.
The goal of this article is not to give you a blow by blow account of my own experience in karate, but rather a perspective on what lies ahead.
What lies ahead is a very difficult journey, full of success and failure, a journey of self-discovery and ultimately a journey of honest introspection.
Let me start by telling you that I have failed a grading 4 times, I failed my Green Belt as well as each of the three Brown Belts once.  It took me 6 years to get my Black Belt, when it should have only taken me about 4 years on average.  Despite being top of the class at school, I was NEVER top of the class in karate.  Why am I still doing karate?  Why am I still wasting my time?
...because I understand the value of karate.
Karate is not about being able to beat somebody up, karate is not about being able to kick high, karate is not about back flips, karate is not about aggression or anger, karate is not about weapons, karate is not even about keeping fit and healthy (despite that being a side benefit).
Karate is ultimately about fulfilling your potential, it is about developing the discipline needed to deal with daily life in a consistent manner, it is about friendship, it is about harmony with others, it is about never giving up, it is about being true to yourself and others, it is about testing your limits and constantly challenging yourself.
There are three main aspects of karate - Kihon (Basics), Kata (Forms) and Kumite (Sparring/Partner Work).  These aspects can be applied to everyday life.  The true value of karate is found in how the different components of karate are relevant to everything that we do.  It might sound strange to think that our everyday life is made up of Kihon, Kata and Kumite, but it really is.  Kihon represents those things that we do day in day out such as going to work or school, making dinner, brushing our teeth, organizing our day, Kata represents the set routines that we follow everyday, such as the order in which we do things in the morning when getting ready, the route that we follow to school or work, the school schedule or the work routine and Kumite represents how we apply our basic movements and our set routines to have an effective, successful and productive day.  As you can see it is necessary to repeat the basic techniques of our life again and again, we will constantly follow set routines and will always add new routines but our success ultimately depends on how well we apply the things we have learned on a consistent basis.  I believe that karate can help provide the disciplined structure to ultimately improve our lives.

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