This is the first of what will be a semi-regular series (and some of those posts may be along the lines of omigodowthathurts) charting my travails/travels with Karate. I’ve done a fair amount of martial arts over the years – Judo as a kid, some Karate and Kickboxing in my teens and three flavours of Kung Fu in my twenties, along with a term of Muay Thai at Uni taken by students who seemed barely more skilled than me.
I’ve been training about a month now in Goju-ryu an Okinawan style formalised by this gentleman. It’s a style I feel has an awful lot going for it (grapples, throws and groundwork as well as the usual arsenal of kicks, punches and strikes. It also has a kata* system that actually makes sense to me).
OK, first question is why go back to martial arts now? Glad you asked. There’s a variety of reasons – I’ve not trained seriously in too many years and swimming, my other main healthy activity is seriously fucking boring**, leading me to miss the hitting. A lot. My brother and several friends have acquired black belts and that’s an itch that I feel the need to scratch (which, I know is ego talking rather than a good reason per se). Most importantly it’s really, really good fun, I enjoy it and it’s good for my fitness both physical and mental.
Why Goju? Because the local Krav Maga school never got back to me about a free taster session, and a good friend (one of aforementioned black belts) offered to pick me up on the way through to training. Since then the class has proven to be a) fascinating – I feel like I’ve learned more in these four weeks than I did in my last full year and a half of training b) extremely supportive and generous in nature c) led by a sensei who is both astonishingly good and engagingly demented d) bloody hard work*** e) bloody good fun. Full of win therefore.
What am I hoping to achieve? That, unfortunately is an excellent question to which I don’t have an excellent answer. I’d like to reach at least shodan (first degree Black belt), but getting through the grading system is less important to me than being good at it, and if reaching shodan is analogous to having acquired the basic vocabulary and grammar of a language, I’d like to be able to construct some short sentences, maybe even a haiku. The problem is I don’t yet have a firm conceptualisation of what ‘good’ means in this context, and suspect I won’t ever get to the point I’m happy or comfortable with what I achieve anyway. Hopefully writing about this will help crystallise this for me. I suppose I’m looking to get fitter, improve my technique, conditioning, actually give at least as good as I get in sparring, develop a load of skills****
*First time I’ve ever had why I’m learning this set of moves explained coherently rather than just as formal things to be learnt to get a belt/sash. The kata also link to bunkai, (applications) so there is a real sense of how the system can be used outside the dojo.
**Herein lies a lesson in the non-transferability of fitness – last year I swam 5k every day over 5 days. Seems to count for very little in Karateworld.
***Although I’m already feeling a difference in my fitness going from struggling with four rounds of pad-work to doing seven and keeping my work rate up for all of them. I also have the residual aches from hard work and pains from getting lamped that I remember so well. Perversely I rather like them, not in the way Leopold von Sacher-Masoch would, but as evidence of having done something.
**** Including things that I haven’t really touched on in over thirty years – groundwork, seriously, wtf? I mean yeah you sort of lie there, but you’ve got to think about the position of your backside, shoulders, hips, legs, arms, the curvature of your body and OHMYGOD THERE’S AN ENORMOUS MAN PUNCHING THE CRAP OUT OF ME AND NOW HE’S CRANKED MY ARM ACROSS HIS BODY AND IS IT SUPPOSED TO BE AT THAT ANGLE?..