Hard Work: Preparation, Practice, and Attitude

3rd post in the series, “I Can Do Anything?

Plenty of time + lots of hard work + tons of help from others = success

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.

"Be Prepared!" isn't just for Boy Scouts.
“Be Prepared!” isn’t just for Boy Scouts.

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.

Practice makes perfect! Easy to say, hard to do.

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.

Some days I feel more like this guy than the smiling face you see on my profile!
Some days I feel more like this guy than the smiling face you see on my profile!

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

Author: Joelle White

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

11 thoughts on “Hard Work: Preparation, Practice, and Attitude”

  1. Such an enjoyable post! We’ve all been there, I think. We figure we can just jump in based on prior experiences. It ends up not working that way, but at some point it does start to feel “right.” So, no worries, you are on the right track! Very nicely written!

    1. Osu! [bow]

      Thank you so much for stopping by and reading! As with pregnancies (LOL!) this journey is completely different from when I trained as a teenager. Thanks for your complements and encouragement!


  2. i started Taekwando inFMarch of this year, and I completely understand what you went through when you first started. I am 40 and now roughly 30 lbs lighter but it was rough, still is rough. It is supposed to be, I didn’t practice all summer and when I went to rank up I struggled. I passed but I struggled. I’ve been training almost every night and will be entering my first tournament this weekend. I almost declined because I wasn’t ready, will I ever be? I am pushing myself outside my comfort zone as well. I am excited and nervous at the same time. Last year at this time I would have made excuses and not done any of this but I made a deal with myself and I am excited the same way I was as a kid when I think of the possibilities I’ve opened up for myself.

    1. Hello there!

      I’m excited for you! Congrats on your first tournament! I have yet to be in a tournament since I re-started training – I went to two when I was a teenager, so I figure those make up for the two recent tournaments I’ve had to miss 😉 Third time’s a charm, but I think I have to wait until February (sigh). Oh yeah, totally with you – last year my daughter was about a month and a half into her training and I was making excuses left and right. It took months for her and three Senseis to finally get through to me that I really ought to give it a try. The past five months have been rockin’ wicked awesome. So after your tournament, please give us an update either here or on Google+, ‘kay? Thanks for reading!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your journey through karate. I started four years ago at age 36 as a white belt(Shotokan) and found that the self discoveries and lessons i learnt in karate were parallel to my life journy. I suspect we get more out of our karate as adult learners than our children. I just wanted to encourage you in tournaments…although winning is cool, i have learnt more from not winning than i ever did from winning gold. Also…it is wonderfully true..the more you know, the more you realise you know nothing 🙂 Have fun Training Osu…

    1. Hi, Colleen! Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment! So glad you started Karate at an age where most of us women seem to settle into inactivity. I’ve yet to get back into the tournament scene, am aiming for one our organization is hosting in February. Yes, so many things to discover!!! Keep on truckin! Osu!

  4. Preparation: I was fortunate that I was pretty fit when I started. Certainly lighter and fitter than I was when I was 30. Getting fit and eating healthy was a transition that started around about the time I had kids (my mid 30’s). But by the time I was 39 (when I started karate) I was at what I considered to be my peak physical fitness. Certainly the fittest I had been (and I have never really been a couch potato. I was also by that stage mostly gluten free and vegan and (unknowingly at that point) eating an anti-inflammation diet…..very important if you are constantly fighting bruising / sprains / breaking in new muscles.

    When I started karate my exercise consisted of: walking up and down hills (I live on one) several times a week (for 90 mins or so each time) and running 2km, 4 times a day pushing a pram while chasing my maniac of a 5 year old on his push bike to and from school as well as doing 30 minutes of aerobics (videos) and weights each day. Throw in a session of yoga and occasional lap swimming or a cycle on my own and that was me.

    And then I enter the dojo…..following a week behind my son (Mr 5) and get invited to train…..Never being one to say no to a tall scary looking black belt I gave it a shot…. So how far did all that (unbeknownst to me) “preparation” get me? Well….my Sensei was impressed with my stances and flexibility (from yoga), I coped ok with the basic warm ups and stretches ok although we didn’t have to do as many reps as the others the first few times. Breathing – again with yoga this and kiai came fairly easily and without self conciousness. As far as the basics went though I was completely lost….I had no clue how to punch or kick and my technique was so bad that my shoulders in particular were very sore from not stabilising (learned in retrospect and the hard way) I still have trouble knowing my left from my right so most of the time I was on the wrong hand…..and when we moved on to kata…..whoa…..well it took me a good term or 2 before I even felt comfortable to attempt to join in behind the line – I had no idea even how to learn one!

    I have actually gained weight since I started training, this has been intentional though. I felt somewhat disadvantaged being so much lighter and smaller than most people in the class so it was easy for them to throw their weight around with me. I started taking creatine and the muscle growth through this and training has been great. I feel so much stronger now and that has helped me.

    The other aspect of preparation that would have been good to do BEFORE I started but happened not too far in was to get my eyes tested and get contacts again…..My glasses fell off / got knocked of one too many times and broke leaving me significantly sight challenged while I got new ones and contact lenses…..I remember turning up to class and putting in my old contact prescription only to find one of the lenses was torn (had to get my husband to bring me another)…..The Sensei offered me an eye patch…..I declined….I felt kumite was interesting enough with both my eyes semi functional!!

    Practice: I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to practice / where to practice / what to practice / how much to practice. All I knew was that I would NEED to practice to progress. The more serious I became though I asked for direction about what to work on (first). The best piece of information that came up was when I found out that like me, my Sensei was also a musician – as soon as he likened practising karate to practising music I could immediately relate (infact karate has improved my ability to practice music too!). My biggest concern in the beginning though was “what if I practice it the wrong way x million times? Won’t it be hard to unlearn?” Sensei said at that stage it would be easy enough to correct…..that was a hard concept to grasp but I went with it and it proved right.

    Attitude: I am not sure what it is but I never find myself wishing a class is over or wishing I was somewhere else when I am in class…..Conversely I spend most of my time outside the Dojo wishing I was inside the dojo…..Even the 3 hour training sessions on Sundays (which have fast become my favourite time of the week) seem to go to quickly. It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how I feel / what kind of a day I have had / how I think I will go / how much sleep I have (haven’t) had that I always muster the energy and focus to train harder than I thought possible. I think it is perhaps related to the Energy in the room / training with like minded / enthusiastic individuals. I don’t sweat a lot outside the dojo but boy oh boy I could fairly wring out the gi at the end of most training sessions and I only really notice the sweat when it gets in my eyes or drips on the mat when I bow!! I quickly learned that sweat is really a good thing and who cares if ladies are only meant to “perspire”……I will leave that to the ladies!

    1. Rach – sweating is great for the complexion 🙂 Wow, you’ve got enough here to fill a blog of your own 🙂 Man, oh man re: the contacts – an eye patch – LOL!!! Then you could go “ARRRR!” like a pirate for your kiai! Keep learning, growing, and laughing!

      1. Maybe the Arrrr would help my kiai…..that is apparently something I might need to consider changing…..hard because it’s kind of something I just do rather than think about….possibly as there is so much other stuff to think about…..sorry about my verbosity…..I was kind of scared in a way what the sensei might need eye patches for (dress ups, serious eye injuries in sparring?) but I think they are actually the ones he uses for his son who has a lazy eye…..found this out later when our kids had a play date…..the though of me sparring in one of them (they have animal pictures on I think!) makes me lol….might put off the opponent if only they just laughed at it too.

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