Written on Thanksgiving Eve, 2020.
As I type I am still in my gi. Dried sweat makes me itch from time to time. I smell a little ripe. After class I didn’t feel like stretching (bad, I know). Instead I jotted down some notes and then finally downloaded karate and fitness related files from my email. As I organized all of my files into folders I ran across a video I had taken of myself after an online class. I had just memorized a short kata in class. At a couple of points in the video I saw that I had to stop and remember what the next movement was. I was quite obviously dog tired to boot. And yet… I took the time to make that video. I realized then that as lousy as 2020 has been, I have retained my passion for my favorite hobby. I have a lot to be thankful for.
And yet… 2020.
I don’t mean to be a whiner: rather I want to acknowledge the negative in order to contrast with the positive. So I’ll list what 2020 threw at me and write my thoughts.
1) 2020’s attack: No in-person classes. I miss my dojo family. I miss chatting after class and getting together for meals. A little moving picture in online chat isn’t enough.
Each dojo in our organization has made its own decision about online classes. Bottom line is now I could attend so many classes each week that I probably would become dangerously exhausted. I’m also training with karateka who I used to see maybe once a month, some maybe once per year. And I’m training under multiple sensei – which means I’d better pay attention when they all give me the same feedback.
As I mentioned before, I’m building quite a treasure chest of computer files. Notes, pictures, videos… All emailed out either before class or maybe in answer to a question I emailed to a sensei. I love having all these resources! Since the pandemic began I have doubled the number of files I have.
2) 2020’s attack: No sparring. I can’t pressure test anything I come up with. I worry that if I have lost my ability to read intent and react quickly maybe I won’t be able to walk away from a real fight.
Not being able to pressure test anything I come up with for sparring sucks. Still, I’ve learned some good drills. Whenever we can meet in person again I should see results from practicing those drills. Also just tonight I’ve learned more about the connections among kihon, kata, and kumite. I can explore that while I wait. I’ve also made a cardboard dummy that has held up rather well. I have to be careful with “Cheapskate BOB” but then again, I have to be careful with my real training partners too. None of this is a substitution for real kumite, but it’ll get me through.
As for losing any ability to read intent and react quickly – since when have I been in a real fight? My first and only fight was in 1984 – and honestly it wasn’t much of a fight because I only used just enough force to make my point then walked away. 1989 doesn’t count either because I only gave a guy a light elbow to the gut (his wife gave him worse). Most of the time I’ve been able to completely avoid fighting. Honestly, worrying about it will probably cripple me more than not practicing for a few months.
I am thankful that I can at least do some kumite-related things on my own. And I’m grateful for the brutal techniques in kata, which I’m hoping never to use in real life application.
3) 2020’s attack: No tournaments. Nationals was supposed to be a five hour drive from my home – and my parents and uncle were looking forward to a little road trip with me.
I’m thankful that so far my parents and uncle have not come down with COVID-19. I am thankful they are alive and safe.
A week or two before lockdown I judged and competed in the only tournament of 2020. It had been a few months since I last saw some friends in other organizations. I’m glad I had that one chance to see them this year. I’m also grateful for the hard-earned medals. Sometimes in the past I’d get third place medals just for showing up. Not this time. I am thankful that even if there was only one tournament this year, it was a good one.
Right before lockdown I was doing my yearly cramming for the online tests I have to take to renew my USA-NKF judging license. I usually pass the test on kata rules the first or second time around, but kumite rules are another animal altogether. I failed the kumite test at least two times before everything was shut down. I have to admit I am thankful I don’t have to take those tests again for who knows how long.
4) Space limitations. Some kata take up a lot of floor space. Skinning my foot on the brick fireplace is painful.
I’m lucky to have what space I have, so I shouldn’t complain. During online classes I’ve seen karateka making do with smaller spaces. There are those who envy my basement room. Besides, I can practice kata one segment at a time – which is a good exercise even when one has all the space one needs. I am very thankful that I have more room than many.
5) No chance to test for my next belt rank – Shodan.
Testing for dan-rank candidates happens once per year. So yeah, no test for anyone i-kyu and above in 2020. It’s a bummer, but I’m OK. Who knows – maybe this wasn’t the right year even without this stupid plague. And I have been and am now enjoying preparing for the challenge, whenever it will be. I hope I’m making improvement in some very key areas. I feel like I do need time to work on stuff, so I’m willing to be patient and work my ass off.
My primary motivation is teaching, not rank. Once upon a time there was a 13 year old girl who learned how to make a proper fist. Then she learned to punch and she suddenly knew she had something to use if the bullies at school escalated to physical abuse. Once upon a time there was a middle-aged woman who wasn’t sure she was going to survive her first class in decades. I want to do for someone else what was done for me. It would be nice to have credentials, but I can wait until I have “mastered the basics.”
And on that note I am thankful for all my sensei, senpai, dohai, and kohai who have helped me along in my journey so far. I am grateful for karate and martial arts friends outside my organization who have competed with me, trained with me at seminars, and cheered me on even if we’ve never met in real life.