Yes, of course I’m thankful for the usual – friends, family, good health, my country… But this blog is about my Karate journey, right? So here is what I’m thankful for in Karate.
I’m thankful for my Sensei. The word “Sensei” is both the singular and the plural form of the word that means “one who has gone before” (i.e. teacher). Because there have been changes in my home dojo (school) and because I do visit other dojos and assist with the college PE Karate class, I’ll just lump everyone in together – “Sensei” and “you” can be both singular and plural so I’m going to run with that. Sensei – I appreciate the time you take to make sure I understand what to do. You’re very patient with my flaws and you always take the time to tell me how I can improve. I am thankful that you truly appreciate the art we study because a teacher who loves what he or she teaches is the best kind of teacher to have. Your encouragement and instruction mean a lot to me. Thank you.
I’m thankful for my Sempai – those who are higher ranked than I but aren’t black belts yet. Again, this is both singular and plural, and I’m going to run with that. I am thankful for your help. You have invested your time in me and have helped me succeed in climbing even to your own rank. You push me hard when we’re paired up in class and I appreciate that. You serve as good examples to me and you’re my companions on the journey. Thank you.
What about those who are the same rank as I am? Well, most of them are senior to me and I still call them Sempai. So… That leaves one person who promoted at the same time as I did (a couple of months ago). I am thankful for her as a person and I am looking forward to training more with her in December.
I’m thankful for my Kohai – those who are lower ranked than I am. Yep, both singular and plural. Thank you for being my guinea pigs. I am not now nor will I ever be a perfect teacher, but I am improving my teaching skills because of you. I’m learning how to figure out what you need from me at any given moment. Some of you think I’m a hero and I’m learning to look past my discomfort with that and channel it right back to you by showing you the way to be a hero too. I love seeing you stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new things – that is truly heroic. And yes, two or three of you are teaching me a lot about staying patient and encouraging, but don’t worry about that – it’s good for my character. I am truly thankful that you forgive me my flaws. Just like you, I’m still in process and I will get better.
I’m thankful for my online acquaintances – I’ve never met you in person. I’ve never trained with you. But you’ve been there cheering me on. You’ve often given me valuable tips and you’re always encouraging me to be my best. I have a blog because two of you encouraged me to start one, and as I “grow up” in my art, I appreciate having a record of what I’ve been learning along the way. Thank you.
I’m thankful for my job and my co-workers. No, I don’t get paid to do Karate. I’m an office assistant for the International Student Programs office at the local college. I’ve written about the connection of my job to Karate here. I’m funding my Karate expenses with this job, and that alone is something to be grateful for. I very much appreciate it that my supervisor flexes my hours so that I can assist with the college Karate class. I am glad my co-workers don’t run away screaming when I mention Karate for the umpteenth time in a day. And it’s always fun at the beginning of every quarter to see the look on international students’ faces when they realize who is making them do push ups (it’s that lady from the ISP office!) or who is telling them they need to fill out a form to see an advisor (it’s that crazy Karate lady!).
I’m thankful for kihon (basic movements). Building strength, building endurance, learning finesse… Kihon has all that and more. There’s always something to refine. Combinations of kihon are like puzzles to solve. How do I make my body transition from this to that? Yes, I’m thankful for what many consider to be “boring.”
I’m thankful for kata (forms). Ohhhh yes, even the kihon kata have a lot to offer. I’m constantly telling myself that I shouldn’t look like a white belt (no rank) doing kihon kata: I should look like someone my own rank doing it. I’m thankful that any given kata takes time to memorize and loads more time to refine. This means I’ll never be bored because there will always be something to work on. I love, love, love bunkai (interpretation of kata). This movement could shatter a joint, or it could be a block… Wait, what if I do this with it? I love the showmanship that goes with performing kata in tournament. Part textbook, part war dance, part pounding lethal movements into your muscle memory… Kata is all that and more. I often find that practicing kata helps me let go of negative emotions – it’s like a moving meditation.
Even though I get hurt sometimes, I am thankful for kumite (sparring). I used to be terrified of sparring, particularly against anyone more highly ranked than I am. Now I welcome the chance to be pushed beyond where I think my limits are. Sure I get trounced quite often, but I wouldn’t learn anything if I were constantly top dog. I’m learning to conquer myself, really. If I undermine myself during sparring with negative thinking I stiffen up, miss opportunities to score, and I might even find myself hyperventilating. I perform better and reduce my chance of injury if I calmly assess my opponent and wait for or create opportunities to score. I’m thankful that I’m starting to take baby steps in understanding that a good chunk of kumite is about conquering oneself. I’m also thankful that I can pass along that knowledge by sparring with my kohai – even if it means putting my hands behind my back to let the most timid person in class gain confidence to go ahead and hit.