3rd post in the series, “I Can Do Anything?”
Preparation (or lack thereof)
The first time I started karate (when I was 13) I was sore for a couple of weeks and that was that. The second time I started karate (as a middle-aged matron) I quickly found out I’d underestimated the effects of age and weight. I thought I was prepared for rigorous exercise when I first joined my daughter in karate. After all, I’d been walking the dog for a little over a year. I’d been idle for an entire summer before I’d started karate at age 13, so I reasoned that my exercise in the past year would count for a lot. It turns out the only thing walking the dog had done for me was I didn’t have a heart attack and die during my first class. I figured out later that I’d been avoiding steep slopes and favoring flat places. I should’ve been doing the opposite. Two months prior to joining the dojo I should have been stretching, doing pushups, doing situps, and attending the two other exercise classes I’ve since added. I struggled mightily for weeks to get to the point where I wasn’t gasping for breath during class. I was totally unprepared for hard work.
When I came home from that first class I was dripping with sweat and I stank so badly my dog started gagging. I still drip with sweat, but either the dog has gotten used to my stink or maybe there’s a different mix of hormones that doesn’t distress him. I’m lighter by sixteen pounds now, so that helps me move better. I may be moving better, but I’m working just as hard or harder than I did when I was carrying all that extra weight because I’m always pushing myself to do better – hence the sweat. Movement would be easier if I were content with shallow stances and sloppy technique. I know better than to slack off, and my Senseis know I know better! I come to class prepared to work hard, harder, and yes, even harder.
After about three weeks, I got to the point where I wasn’t too stiff or sore to start practicing on the other five days of the week when we don’t have class. Five whole days a week without karate. Let me tell you right now I’m not sure why we only have two days a week at the YMCA and I’m not about to throw blame or point fingers. As far as I’m concerned, it is what it is and I just have to adapt. Working hard on my karate has to come from myself. Even if the dojo were open 24/7 I’d still have to practice the things I personally need to work on.
One of the great things about practice time is my daughter and I can make as many mistakes as we like, go as slowly as we need to, and repeat things until we’ve got them down pat. My daughter and I set the agenda. If I find myself flapping around like a spastic duck in class I remind myself I can practice on my own. I’m more confident next class if I managed to improve whatever’s been bugging me. Practice gives a real boost to my attitude.
If I remember I’ve overcome a lot of things in practice time I’m more likely to cheerfully embrace new challenges in class. I will have a better attitude when my muscles burn, when I’m dripping with sweat, when I’m getting control of my breathing while craning my neck to watch Sensei patiently demonstrate the technique for the third time.
Bad attitude is easy. Burning muscles aren’t fun. Sweat itches. I feel old when I’m fighting to get control of my breathing. It’s so easy to pop up out of the stance when Sensei’s busy talking to the class about something. It’d be easier to go to the locker room and take a shower than to stay and sweat some more. Giving in to the desire to collapse and gasp for air is easier than breathing properly and eliminating muscle tension when and where it’s not needed. It’d be easier to tune Sensei out and be miserable about my discomfort than to actually learn what he’s teaching. But Karate is not about easy. It’s about moving towards positive outcomes, and that includes attitude.
A good attitude is crucial to learning and practicing karate. There’s a long list of ingredients in the recipe for a good attitude: among them is patience, positive thinking, listening ears, humility, courage… The list of ingredients goes on and on. The ingredient I like to focus on is joy. It is a fierce, wild joy that keeps me pushing my limits to see what I can do. I unleash that fierce wild joy when I perform kata. It is an elated joy when I have a “perfect moment” and I get a thumbs-up from Sensei. It is a playful joy when I’m sparring with someone who needs to learn how to spar. It’s a proud joy when that someone hits back! It’s a joy mixed with a love for the art when I learn bunkai “hands on.” It’s a joy that can’t be contained when my daughter has just beaten the snot out of me in kumite and I just have to laugh and hug her. I often (but not always) remember joy when I get frustrated or discouraged.
I confess I need to try for joy when I’m exhausted and sparring yet another round against someone better than I am! If I dig down and find the joy, maybe I could move beyond wishing class were over and merely reacting to the opponent. I’ll bet if I prepare ahead of time and practice what I can the attitude will naturally follow. I’ve overcome tough things before, so I can do it again. That said, I’m only human and there may come a day when I actually break down in the dojo (as Sensei Ando Mierzwa of Los Angeles puts it). I’ve already come close to it once, but someone came alongside to help. I’ll be writing about that next week.
So what do you do for preparation, practice, and attitude?
Next post in the series: Tons of Help from Others