A Change of Perspective

Bear with me – I will get to Karate in a few paragraphs…

When I was a kid I thoroughly enjoyed Beverly Cleary’s books. Her characters are fictional, but the neighborhood in which they “lived” is real. I cannot go to the fairy-land of Oz but I can go to Klickitat Street in Portland, Oregon. So I did.

My first stop was Grant Park, a few blocks south of Klickitat Street. In that park are sculptures of two of Cleary’s main characters: Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins. With a jolt I recognized that my imagined images of the characters did not match the reality of the sculptures. For the first time, I saw the characters through adult eyes.

The sculptor captured these characters perfectly. I was nearly in tears with the beautiful realization that this sculptor knew the subjects quite well. But up until that moment I thought of Ramona Quimby as being the same height as I am, and Henry Huggins as taller because he’s older than Ramona. But I am now taller than Henry Huggins. I no longer see Ramona as an equal and Henry as greater.

I took pictures from Ramona’s perspective and from my own. Ramona from a child’s perspective could be looking up at the sky in a moment of exuberance, not really aware of the presence of another. From adult height, she could be looking me full in the face, hoping that I will echo her happiness and validate her joy.

The sculpture of Henry as seen from Ramona’s perspective almost seems to sigh, “Ramona, what are we going to do with you?” His expression is a mixture of big-brotherly love and half-amused annoyance. Perhaps he looked like that after he pulled Ramona out of the sticky mud. But if I look down on him from my adult height suddenly he’s explaining what happened – “Yes, ma’am, I know I’m late… It was Ramona. Again.”

The statues didn’t change. My perspective and my interpretation changed. When I was a kid, these were children who were my equal and greater. As an adult, I see them in terms of how they might relate to me as a mother or teacher.

OK, nice story, what’s this got to do with my Karate journey?

If you haven’t been reading this blog for very long, you might not know  that I trained in Karate from age 13 to age 16 or almost 17. At age 44 I started again. Yes, my perspective of karate has changed and my interpretation of what’s going on in my internal and external world in connection with karate has changed just as radically as my view of Beverly Cleary’s beloved characters.

I remember the first five minutes of my very first Karate class very distinctly. I knew I was part of something wonderful. Within fifteen minutes I was empowered – I’d learned how to make a fist and punch. I carry that feeling with me whenever I help with new beginners’ first classes. This is a great reaction, but it was all about me.  Now my perspective on this event has shifted from the “then” to the future, from just myself to others.  I want this memory to fuel my words and deeds so that I can help create similar memories for the new students who I am helping.  I’ve shifted my perspective on other long-ago karate experiences too.

The angst that came towards the end of my first Karate career and how my mixed-up interpretations colored my perspective of karate is unpleasant to think about. I can blame some of this angst on undiagnosed IgG subclass 2 deficiency that left me vulnerable to every illness the littlest children brought to the dojo. I can blame some of it on the clinical depression I was hiding. Most elements, though, were my own darn fault. An honest talk with my sensei would have helped me to make the needed changes in training and in attitude. Even without a diagnosis the connection between assistant teaching the little kids’ class and me being almost constantly sick was obvious. The best solution was not to quit karate but to stop teaching four year olds. I feel bad about quitting, and yeah, I’d like to forget everything that was behind my leaving something I once loved. But all that mixed-up teenage “stuff” is part of my journey too.

My perspective on all that teenage drama has changed. For one thing, my life would be different now if I’d stayed with karate then. I would have a different degree from a university closer to home. I might or might not have married – certainly not to my husband of almost 26 years, whom I met in college in another state. Our two daughters would not exist. And maybe, just maybe, by now I would have retired to have children or quit because I was burned out, injured, or whatever. That’s a sobering thought. Even more sobering is that if I could somehow erase all that unpleasantness, doing so could be detrimental to someone else. The memories of that sour teenage perspective sting me, but that pain could someday drive me to help someone else grow past their own angst and burnout.

I won’t spend many words on how I view and interpret Karate now – at least not in this particular blog post. The joys, sorrows, triumphs, and struggles of my present journey are recorded in this blog. I hope that the overall theme of growth pervades each post. Sure my techniques are getting better, yeah I’m earning belts and the occasional tournament medal… But there’s so much more to Karate than what one can see with physical eyes. I didn’t recognize the mental/spiritual side when I was a teenager, but those aspects impacted my life nonetheless. What little training I had then impacted my future life in so many ways. The subsequent life experiences which benefited from those early years in the dojo are now helping me and my dojo. Further growth in the discipline of karate is helping me in my personal and professional lives. What goes around comes around.


Author: Joelle White

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

2 thoughts on “A Change of Perspective”

  1. The second picture of perspective really speaks to me. As a child we spent so much time looking up because, well we are just small, and as we become adults and more matured in our skills and art, we find ourselves looking down. We need to be careful and remember to be humble and whenever we see ourselves looking down upon another because their skill is not as grown-up as ours. Thanks again for the post.

    1. Hello, William and thank you for stopping by! The first line of our dojo kun (recited at the beginning and end of class) is “Be humble and polite.” On the rare occasion when I look down, I counter that thought by coming up with an area in which the individual is doing well or an area in which he or she has shown potential for future excellence. Thanks for your kind words and encouragement – I really appreciate it!

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