After work and lunch on a day when I didn’t have Karate class, I found myself dreading the exercise and practice I needed. It isn’t unusual for me to fight the attractions of computer, couch, and bed, but that day it was hitting me hard. I was still sore from an intensive workout two days prior, even with a recovery day. I decided what I needed was a change of scenery. I got into the car and drove to my favorite local park.
I was dismayed to see so many vehicles, and I almost didn’t get a parking space. However I knew most people wouldn’t opt for the “primitive” trails down the steep bluff to the beach below. Water bottle in hand, I strode confidently down the wooded trail. I saw no one. I broke into a jog, water bottle sloshing and gurgling in my hand, feet drumming the bare earth.
I noticed that I was very confidently placing my feet to avoid tree roots. Years ago when I first discovered this park, I would never have rocketed down the steep primitive trail at a jog. I admit it is hazardous, and a misstep could result in serious injury. There’s vegetation to stop a fall, but… Tree trunks are hard, and underbrush scratches. Rescue would involve a specialized team, lots of rope, and a hand-carried stretcher for at least a quarter mile. I let go of my fear, trusted my eyes and feet, and enjoyed breathing in the rich forest air.
I only encountered two people on my jog down to the beach. They were young women with milk-chocolate brown skin, covered head to foot in brightly colored clothes. I must have looked very strange to them – tank top, shorts, pale as a corpse, middle-aged, muscled and sweating. Nonetheless, as they moved aside and I flew past we greeted one another with smiles and quick pleasantries.
The trail I chose had a short but intense uphill stretch before plunging down the bluff again. I sprinted up this, slowing to a walk near the top. I was disappointed I couldn’t jog the whole slope. I reckoned that last summer (July 2016) I probably could’ve done it. I got control of my breathing and told myself I was still doing well especially compared to most women my age.
Soon I came out to the paved trail and the stairs down to the beach. There’s anywhere from 101 to 105 stairs depending on how much sand is piled at the bottom of the tower. Before I knew it I was at the beach. Immediately I found a driftwood log at the perfect height for some inclined push ups. I did a few, knowing I’d do more arm work in class the next day. Then I scouted out the beach for a spot for kata (forms) practice.
I picked up a fragment of a large barnacle and stowed it in my fanny pack as a reminder to myself that no matter how frustrated I get with my weak areas, I’m not like a barnacle. Barnacles just sit in their shells all day long, never going anywhere. All they do is kick food into their mouths. Too many people are like barnacles, I mused as I jogged towards an empty stretch of sand. I don’t stay in a little shell. I don’t like being out of my comfort zone but I recognize that’s the only way I’ll grow.
After about a quarter mile I was sufficiently far from my fellow human beings so as to be more or less alone. I did a few abdominal exercises in the warm sand, then started practicing kata. I did the six advanced kata I’ve memorized. Up the beach about 50 yards (roughly 50 meters) away, a guy was on his cell phone. Down the beach 50 yards away, a mom, two kids and a dog were enjoying their day. On the water a motorboat idled by. I don’t think anyone really cared much about what I was doing.
Kata is very different when you’re not barefoot on hardwood floor or foam mats. Add a slight slope, sand, and patches of round rocks, and you bet you have to adapt. My balance was tested many times. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to pull off the kata named Rohai Shodan with only one wobble. In that kata, one has to get into sagi ashi dachi (crane stance – yes, on one leg) three times. The advantage of practicing kata on sand is that one gets to see the embusen (floor pattern). For the kata I’ve most recently memorized, I moved to a “virgin” stretch of sand. I was pleased that the marks in the sand matched the embusen I’d envisioned.
I felt good, much better than I had felt before I grabbed my car keys. I used driftwood logs for some stretches, the warm sand for others. I enjoyed the sparkle of the sun on the water, the smell of ocean in the air. Then, yes, I had to get back up those 100+ stairs and then that steep bluff trail.
The colorfully-dressed young women I met earlier were sitting on a log near the stair tower. I grinned at them and remarked, “It’s worth the walk, isn’t it?” They agreed and laughed. They commented they had gotten a little lost on the way down, and I advised them to take the paved trail back up. I wished them a good day, then started climbing.
I was going at a slower pace and my feet didn’t need much of my attention. I enjoyed the rich green smell of the forest in summer. I listened to the birds and to what they were saying about each other, about me, and about other intruders in their territories. Based on the bird calls, I tried to locate the other intruders with my ears… There! One faint voice – a woman’s. I know the trails well, so I knew approximately where we’d pass each other.
Twenty seconds later, a dog rounded a corner followed closely by a second dog. I cooed to them, then they took off up the trail, no doubt to alert their owner. Shortly thereafter, I could hear her quite clearly, and my suspicions were confirmed when she came into sight – I saw she was indeed talking on her cell phone. Her dogs had assessed me and dismissed me as harmless long before my presence registered with her. She was startled to see me standing quietly by the side of the trail even though we had been in full view of each other for three seconds.
After the lady and her dogs passed me I pushed my pace just a little harder just to get my heart rate up a little so I could practice controlling my breathing. I used the bird sounds as my guide to how hard to push, being careful not to pant and drown out even the slightest rustlings in the underbrush. It paid off. I turned my head at a rustle, stopping to see what creature was there. A squirrel and I stared at each other. He started twitching his tail, trying to decide if silence or scolding would be better. Eventually he concluded I wasn’t a threat, and so began foraging for new leaves. Tiny branches bent under his weight and he nearly slipped. His recovery was funny and noisy. I laughed and continued up the trail.
I was at the top of the bluff when I realized that I felt like the climb had been almost effortless. I was stunned. I remembered years ago I was always absolutely worn out by that climb. I knew three years of Karate had improved my physical fitness, but exactly how huge the change had been didn’t hit me until that moment.
On the way back to the car, I reflected back on my workout. At first blush, I didn’t see that I’d done much Karate. 6 kata practiced once each. Hmm… Doesn’t sound like much. But then again, there’s more to karate than kihon (basics), kumite (sparring) and kata. I worked on footwork during my jog down the trail. I was polite when I met people who were from a culture not my own – politeness is in our dojo kun (school creed) that we recite at the beginning and end of each class. I pushed myself physically and measured my progress. I trained myself in observation and breath control. Most of all, I found and successfully implemented a solution for my initial inertia and angst – in other words, I exercised self discipline. Did I have a Karate workout in the woods and on the sunny beach? You bet I did. I hope to do it again soon.