Thursday, October 21, 2010

Karate Training: The Introspective Approach

Last week when rei was done, the class stood in yoi waiting to be officially dismissed when Sensei told us to close our eyes. "I want to ask you a rhetorical question - and I want you to think about it," he said. "Why do you train?"

The first time someone asked me that question, I hemmed and hawed before eventually articulating some half-baked thought about what a good workout it was. But truthfully, it has always been much more than that.

Most of you know that karate began for me smack in the middle of radiation treatments for breast cancer. What got me onto the mat then was the need to do something other than work, go for treatment and study my graduate school lessons. Then, the actual hitting of pads (and sometimes people) helped me feel like I had at least some control over a body that had totally betrayed me - and that betrayal pissed me off to no end as I'd been a competitive athlete since I was a freshman in high school, I didn't eat red meat, I watched my fat intake and still my cells somehow decided to mutate. All that made me really, really want to hit something and scream as loudly as I possibly could. So eventually, my explanation of what karate meant to me included the "It's cheaper - and a whole lot more fun - than therapy!" line I still use today.

I had some physical problems as a result of radiation and surgery, including mobility and chording issues, but I consider myself lucky because I know too many breast cancer survivors whose treatments resulted in lymphedema and/or frozen shoulders. Knowing what I know now about how those things develop, I'm convinced that had I not thrown myself into such a physical activity as karate (which also led me back to the gym for regular weight lifting and running so I could be fit enough to train the way I wanted to), I might have had those difficulties, as well.

But back to Sensei's question: Why do I train - NOW?

Fellow blogger Sue C tackled the same question in her recent post about self-defense training. And I'll ask you here what she asked you there and my sensei asked us the other night: Why do you train?

For me, the answer is simple: I train because I can.


  1. All of the above at different times.

    But mostly's 'me time.'

  2. Hi Felicia, thanks for the link! I wrote a post a while back about enjoying karate 'simply because we can' ie because we are fit and healthy enough to do it and therefore should embrace it fully and rejoice in our good fortune. Sounds like you are fully embracing karate since your breast cancer scare. None of us ever know what is around the corner so it makes sense not to waste a moment!

  3. I love martial arts. I'm not sure why. It has something to do with the whole "mind/body" thing and the paradox of a violent art for a peaceful person.

    But if I am honest, I mostly train because I teach. And I teach for the same reason I blog: it's no use learning a whole bunch of stuff that is really fascinating and not having anyone to share it with.

    Even now that I'm off to Taiwan for 2 weeks with my teacher, I'll be absorbing stuff that I will one day want to share. Yes, while I'm there I'll be a pure student (very rare for me nowadays). I'm going to love it (I always do). But I do it in the knowledge that I'll be coming home to share it with others at some point (not till I've mastered it, but you get what I mean!).

    I do know that since becoming a teacher, my reasons for training have changed. I'm not sure I'd still train if I couldn't teach.

    Is it egoism? Passion? I'm not sure - possibly a mix of both.

    I love teaching; it validates me somehow, but it also... just feels darn good. It's great to see your students progress. It makes me feel like I've done something worthwhile.

    And I wouldn't feel good teaching unless I could also "do".

    So for me, training and teaching go hand in hand.