As an active, competing dressage rider, I imagined that I could not get further from a sport suited to me than Karate…However; intrigued I decided to give it a go and was pleasantly surprised by what Shotokan Karate brought to my life.
Having initially joined Kokoro Karate Dojo (formerly Kibworth Karate) because it seemed a good way to get some extra exercise and increase fitness, particularly my core strength to aid training my young dressage horse, I quickly became addicted to my weekly hit of this martial art. I soon found myself looking forward to learning new techniques and was even picking up some Japanese language on the way. After a few weeks of learning the basics with Sensei Wood I felt myself getting a little more confident and the first time I proudly tied the strings on my new Gi I felt like a true Karateka – albeit starting at the very bottom of a new sport in my late thirties.
Soon I looked at my Sensei’s Black belt in a different light – Adorned with beautiful Japanese stitching, no longer was it just a black belt, it was the result of years of hard work, dedication and a continuing desire to perfect new techniques as well as the continuing basics “In Karate you never stop learning and never stop practicing basic techniques” he said , another similarity to my sport of dressage – no matter how advanced the movements become, my horse and I will still be practicing and perfecting the basics. Just like Karate it is those basics which form the foundations of later, more advanced techniques.
Soon it was time to learn my first Kata, Kihon Kata – a series of movements in a particular set order and direction… not dissimilar to learning a dressage test I thought. Now, learning a Kata is not punch this way, kick this way as I had first thought – I soon found it was like being in my own bubble, full of focus and intent, again not unlike my dressage tests. As the movements began to sink in I found myself not thinking about my next move but almost reacting to the attack of the imaginary person facing me… This is where I discovered Kime (a Japanese term meaning power, or focus). My newly discovered Kiai came from a place inside me I didn’t know I had – power but with control, energy with spirit.
I quickly discovered that my favourite part of Karate was the combinations, different kicks, blocks and punches across the dojo – a mawate (turn back) and back again. This concept of repetition to improve mirrored the training of my horse. The calmness, controlled but focussed attack, with the undercurrent of respect at all times of my new sport was so far removed from the picture I had previously had of Karate, and I also found it complimented my other passion in life of dressage.
When the time came for my first grading I felt surprisingly nervous. Grading’s happen within the normal lesson time and although people don’t necessarily grade together everyone in the class is doing the same movements as you, and somehow you feel a sense of camaraderie. Sensei Wood called me out to the front of the class to demonstrate my kata. Deep breath and “kihon Kata” I exclaimed announcing my impending kata with all the focus and intent I could muster. I think it went well and I knew I was capable but now I wanted not just to gain my new Orange belt, but to earn it and deserve it. I was pushed hard physically but somehow I knew that with each step and move Sensei Wood was there supporting me, adding further to my strength and confidence to succeed.
“Pass” he confirmed at the end and my grin was as wide and my smile as deep as when I had won my first rosette. It was then I realised that Karate had got inside me and no matter what colour belt I was wearing I was on a journey that would last for life.
Here I was at the start of what would be a life long journey in my late thirties and I was loving it, I wasn’t daunted by being the new girl or looking ridiculous, Kokoro Karate Dojo (formerly Kibworth Karate) is a family club full of people of all ages and is welcoming and friendly.
I excitedly learned my next Kata. I was starting to recognise Japanese instruction and even attempt some of the more advanced techniques.
After a few months it was time for my next grading. The new Kata I had learned, Heian Shodan had been practiced and I felt good and ready to give my all. The grading sessions have a different intensity to them, perhaps produced from the nerves they induce, but there was no confusion from me that I had to mean it, not in an aggressive way but in a focused , give this your all and make it count way. The strange thing is despite my nerves and the obvious pressure any kind of test or judgement brings in whatever capacity in life, I felt I owed it to my Karate to give it everything I had, power, attack, technique, accuracy. Karate is about discipline and respect and to half-heartedly meander into the dojo on any day let alone a grading day would be disrespectful to not only myself and my co-Karateka but also to my Sensei who is passing on his years of experience and the whole tradition and history behind Shotokan Karate. This in itself is another thing I enjoy about Karate, the hustle and bustle and any stresses of modern life are left at the door of the dojo. Once you enter you simply can’t help but be swept away by the almost meditative nature of it. Your mind is freed.
Another successful grading and another new belt. My orange belt was donated to the Beruto kifu poro, directly translated as the belt donation pole, the idea being that the passing on of belts following a grading is the passing on of good karma and good karate practice. I find myself privileged to be training now in a belt once worn by my Sensei.
And so my journey continues, my training continues and my smile continues, what once seemed like such an unlikely sport for me has become part of me.