Like most karate teachers, I often meet former students and they always talk fondly of their memories of training. It is great to catch up with everyone and invariably most people wish they hadn’t stopped karate or share an intention to return in some capacity. I feel real empathy during these conversations as I myself have a young family and appreciate that for many ‘life just gets in the way’. What for many starts as ‘short-break’ results in many years of karate Limbo. Not wishing to admit to the inevitable, the Belt and Gi remain ironed and hung in the wardrobe poised for an imminent return to the dojo. The reality is that for many this return will never happen.
I’m at an age now where I often find that I’m repeating myself and sounding more like my Parents and Sensei. During these meetings I always seem to say that the hardest part of returning to training is simply getting back into the habit.
Ironically for me karate is simply that, a series of habits.
I first started regularly teaching for my Instructor Mervyn in March 2000. The Dojo where I grew up is like many others, a school gymnasium with that familiar school-smell with a mixture of school chairs and those wooden gymnastic benches that we all sat on during school assemblies. For the best part of nineteen years as a teacher I have had a sub-conscious routine of moving those benches to the sides of the hall before class. The other day something wonderful happened. I walked into the Petersfield dojo and one of my assistant instructors Jon was moving them for me. Not only was he moving them, he was putting them in the correct place that appeals to my OCD. At that moment I felt a huge wave of pride. Suddenly I realised the importance of consistency and example. It also made me appreciate that my efforts don’t go un-noticed on either a conscious or subconscious level. Many people talk of legacy and in a karate context attach that to technical ability or skill. For me I’ve realised that at our Dojo we have built a team who are adopting our habits and behaviours and I feel this is of equal importance to the obvious technical skill and pedigree we aspire to.
When those who have stopped training compliment those still in a gi, it is often not the technical ability they are praising. Instead it is the recognition that despite the various challenges life has presented those people have maintained the habit of training and taken their karate for a spin! As karate teachers we have a responsibility to set a positive example but also we need to be consistent in our habits. The most important habit is to train.
For various reasons this year has been a challenging one personally. I have had health scares, changed jobs, balanced concerns for friends and the normal pressures of life. Fortunately my colleagues and students have supported me and I’m now back to 100% and pushing forward with my own karate and my teaching. The key was to stay in good habits and train in whatever capacity I could. I try to encourage subconscious physical response and refer to these as Karate’s ‘Happy Habits’. These could be as complex as a pre-defined and well-rehearsed combination or as simple as a posture and seemingly natural small strike deflection. Either way they only become Habit through constant repetition. So for those of you who have been out of the dojo for a while and genuinely miss it please take the time to revisit a habit. Do a slow stretch, adopt a stance, practice a kata or hit the bag. Loose yourself in the moment and remind your body and mind of the routine. I bet it will feel good. Make the simple things habitual and remind your body what is necessary to train. If you enjoy it enough return to training but in the very least express yourself with a karate habit every day. Even if that is simply Moksu and moment of reflection. For those of you actively training, seek to explore and recognise your other habits. How do you fold your gi, greet your training partners or stretch before class. We all have ‘Happy Habits’ we can improve and develop. Just be consistent. For now I am off to the dojo and will shortly be moving benches. That is unless the next generation has moved them for me.
Happy Days, Osu.