Lessons From Outside the Dojo

DSCN4410We often hear about how lessons learned in the dojo can be applied to life in general.  Beginner that I am, even I preach that message.  But what about the opposite?  What can we bring into the dojo from life outside the dojo?  Plenty.  I’m going to focus on what I bring to the dojo from my other fitness classes and activities.

140311_DexRock2_MREvery morning my cute little dog gets me up for a walk.  We usually get in a good hour of exercise.  This is my time for a kind of meditation.  I try to leave problems behind and appreciate my surroundings.  Sound familiar?  It’s a bit like meditating at the beginning of Karate class, where we leave problems behind and appreciate the fact we’re gonna learn some cool stuff.  Appreciation of my surroundings means I need to be aware of my surroundings.  This is easy because usually there are beautiful and interesting things to look at.  More importantly, awareness leads to being alert to potential danger.  This is key for self defense!  In the dark of winter mornings, I rely more heavily on my dog to alert me to the presence of other people or animals.   My dog is my exercise buddy, which means I have to be sensitive to what he’s doing, what he’s telling me, and what he needs or wants.  In the dojo, we need to be sensitive to our training partners too.

Before my M/W/F exercise classes, I do a bit of “rock” climbing on the YMCA’s climbing tower.  It’s a new skill, and the facilitator had me start by getting comfortable with descending using the belaying system.  The importance of perseverance is being reinforced as I strive to conquer each route.  Every karate student who has earned at least one belt knows the value of perseverance, the more so for each rank earned.  As soon as I reached the top of the easiest route, it was time to set a new goal and build on what I’d already learned.  Just so with Karate – each rank comes with more things to learn, and what one has learned before applies to what one will learn next.  With climbing, as in Karate, the whole body has to work together, and there’s a good bit of balance and coordination involved.  My biggest challenge has been learning to take what I call “leaps of faith.”  Those are the places on the wall where one can’t rest, where one has to quickly push and stretch and pull and use the momentum of one’s body to get from point A to point B.   One has to make split second decisions, keep moving, and to think ahead – just like in sparring.

M/W/F evenings I do group exercise classes – basically these are conditioning classes.  There are three different instructors and each has a different approach.  The movements are easy to learn and most everything is self-paced.  The instructors try to make it fun with upbeat attitude and snazzy music, but let’s face it – this isn’t as fun as Karate.  It’s a good exercise in toughing out things that aren’t really all that fun but are good for us.  That said, I’ve learned to appreciate these classes.  It’s a luxury to be allowed to have a water bottle and take frequent 30-60 second breaks.  It’s perfectly acceptable (and even encouraged) for me to be goofy and play air guitar and lip-sync along with the music while we do wall squats.  There are some exercises I’m tougher than anyone at, but… there are some that I’m still sweating over.  Everyone has something to work on, and that’s probably one of the most important lessons I can learn from these classes.  I’m also learning good exercises for warming up my fellow karateka if I happen to be the ranking student and Sensei’s stuck in traffic!

Until recently, when I dropped it in favor of more Karate practice, I was going to a Zumba class on Saturday mornings.  Prior to that I went to a similar class that featured Bollywood music and incorporated some Indian dance moves.  In these classes, I dealt with learning  fast-paced movements without anyone slowing down and showing me what to do.  This is exceedingly challenging for someone who is directionally dyslexic.  I challenged myself to not get upset and to keep trying.  It took me three months to get comfortable with Bollywood Fitness and perhaps another month before I looked pretty good doing it.  With Zumba, I had to start all over again – that’s OK, it’s good to review how to be patient with one’s own learning challenge!  There are times in Karate seminars when things are a bit over my head and nobody can slow down for me.  I always try hard anyway, and usually what ends up happening is I learn something.  If I don’t learn, let’s say, the kata itself my takeaway from the seminar might be that the method used to teach that kata was very cool and resulted in me actually remembering some of the kata the next morning!

Whenever I can schedule it, I take one of my children swimming.  I hang out while my child plays.  I keep my water fitness skills fresh in case I’m called to substitute teach again, but I don’t do the full workout – I do just a few reps of each movement.  I stretch, maybe do some underwater swimming, and I get in tune with what’s going on with my body.  I try relaxing muscles – my shoulders are a particular problem.  I massage, stretch, or gently work sore spots.  Hopefully this is building awareness of my body.  One useful thing I have learned from the pool is that if I’m immersed up to my neck and in fighting stance, my heels come up naturally.  I think it means if I reduce my weight and strengthen my legs, fighting stance should get easier.

Maybe I’m a bit obsessed if I’m finding things to apply to my Karate in everything I do.  On the other hand, one of our guest instructors at Gasshuku did say that any physical activity will help Karate.  Aside from which, I simply enjoy the variety.  I do still practice Karate every day – anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the day of the week.  I probably could replace everything else with more Karate practice if I knew how to get electricity out to my garage and rat-proof the garage door.  But somehow I just can’t see myself doing nothing but Karate.

Now let’s see if I can put my money where my mouth is at the end of this month when I take up (of all things) square dancing.  My husband is keen on it.  He is an excellent lead and one thing I regret is that we didn’t dance much after we took a ballroom and country western dance class together in college one semester.  But square dancing is a whole ‘nuther ball of wax and, well, to tell the truth, I’m trying not to be a spoil sport.  It won’t encroach on Karate time or anything else I do.  But still…  Square dancing?  Groan…  I’m trying not to think of it as a fate worse than death.  There’s got to be a Karate lesson in it somewhere for me.

Grab yer pardner Smash his face Bring yer leg 'round Turn in place Side kick left and Side kick right Do-si-do Hammer fist To yer right!
Grab yer pardner
Smash his face
Bring yer leg ’round
Turn in place
Side kick left and
Side kick right
Hammer fist
To yer right!


Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

12 thoughts on “Lessons From Outside the Dojo”

  1. Nice one! Actually when I messaged you about the body conditioning class I am using as a poor substitute for my Wed night kumite class while the dojo has been usurped I forgot to say that I did learn an excellent stretch for adductors which I was able to pass on to our senpai (who struggles with this as he’s very tall!!) who was grateful for the tip!

    Karate does make you a bit tougher I think….It’s a mind thing. Mind over matter eh? If you don’t mind then it doesn’t matter!

      1. You can bet that if I’m smiling during square dance class it’ll be because I’m thinking of how to incorporate Karate… Groan, bad pun!

  2. Very fun, Joelle! I know that I can equate just about anything and everything to my martial art, and I enjoy workouts outside the dojo and the lessons that my martial arts training provides me both within and without the dojo walls.

    1. LOL, Andrea – I remember you did very well indeed with my hamburger challenge 🙂 I’m glad you share so much of what you’ve learned on your blog!

  3. Thanks, Ando!

    Swing yer pardner to the ground
    Stomp the groin and kill-face down
    Allemande left and do si do
    Turn to yer right and bow to Ando!

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