4 September 2018

On Change

The theme of change has been on my mind a lot lately. Some things have started, others have ended, some are FUBAR and others are evolving into a new level of absolute greatness. This puts me on a reflective mood, so I’m going to kick off this whole blog thing by commemorating my three short years of martial arts with three short musings about change, from the perspective of early training.

This also doubles as an introduction piece, since from this you can get a pretty good sense of who I am as a martial artist/violence enthusiast. It probably doesn’t offer much substance beyond human interest, though.

“That’s a Lot”

When I started karate almost exactly three years ago, I had never had any sporty hobbies. I was a very fit child, but that was due to growing up in the town of Ass-Backwaters where the only form of transportation were pushbikes and feet. Note: I was not a very fit twenty-something.

Anyway, when I started karate, my vague goal was to attend at least two trainings out of three per week. I have no recollection of how successful I was in general, but I know I skipped practice because of social events, trips, and general laziness. I felt like I trained, well, not necessarily “a lot”, but a very real amount of time: about three hours a week. Two whole nights every week when I had no time for anything else! That’s a lot!

When I graduated my yellow belt, I got the first real spark of inspiration for this stuff and decided to start going to all three practices whenever I could, and supplemented missed practice with free mat on Saturdays. Four and a half hours of training weekly, and even though I wasn’t that diligent, I felt like I trained “a lot”.

After orange belt I heard some scuttlebutt that one of my course mates was going to be encouraged to graduate his green belt in the minimum time. I wondered if I could make it too if I trained hard, and so I did - three trainings and a free mat whenever I could get someone else to come with me. That’s a maximum of six hours of training per week. “I train a lot”. (I got my belt, if it matters.)

I was happy with it for a while. A year ago I stopped being happy with it and aimed for seven and a half hours per week. It felt like, you guessed it, a lot. Guess what happens this year when the Autumn schedule comes around and our regular practice times start again? I’ll tell you: I’ll be training. A. Lot.

I wonder how much I will train a year, or five years, or ten years from now. Probably not as much more as the curve would suggest. Anyhow, it’s funny to see the development from over here, and see the change in perspective. Today even the thought of a week with only three hours of training feels very foreign (excluding sickness - I’m obsessed, not dumb) and, in a way, scary. I would like to train even more if I just had the time. I even had to start a new martial art to get more hours in. On that note…

“But I Still Like Hitting”

This is the imaginary conversation between me and The Spirit of Honbu, conversed over the years but recounted here in an easily digestible and hopefully amusing format.

- Hi, welcome to Honbu! We practice self-defence oriented karate, and we do sparring both standing up and on the ground. For some reason everybody here is obsessed with BJJ and wrestling in general.
- That’s nice! Wrestling is fun every now and then, but I think I like hitting more.
- Cool. There’s no reason you should succumb to the hivemind! Now that you have trained for a while, some of your douhai/course mates have started to talk about cross training, and wrestling comes up with a worrisome frequency.
- Well, good for them! I think I’ll want to cross train in something hitty though, like muay thai or kickboxing or something. I hear there are good schools around.
- Yes, absolutely, follow your heart, being surrounded by people obsessed with combat cuddling doesn’t have to define you! Go your own way!
- Yes, I will, I shall find me a good muay thai school once I have more money.
- Now your friends are taking a two-month basic course in BJJ, wanna go?
- Absolutely! I’ll just train the two months though, I don’t have the time and money to train so much on the regular. Besides, I still want to cross train in something more hitty and less grabby.

In conclusion, I now cross train in BJJ.

I STILL like hitting more. On that note...

“Probably Training for Purple Belt”

As stated, I like hitting. I also like getting hit - well, not like-like, but I find it exhilarating and fun. And, yes, it makes me feel tough. When I started out, I knew pretty soon I wanted to be able to take hits, because I like feeling strong and capable. I have clawed my way through my own comfort zone, trying to always exist just on the edge of it so I could push harder and harder to the place where I want to be - where I’m not afraid of getting hit or kicked. When I avoid and block because I plan to do so, not out of fear.

I also want to have a certain level of contact in my training - a bit hurtful, just on the verge of being harmful. In other words, I want to train as hard as possible without too much risk to my health or my cognitive capacity. Part of that is having training partners who know they can hit me - I have to be able to take their hits without flinching too much, so they can get something out of training with me. The other part is my own control, but that’s another story.

This summer I finally feel like I’ve reached a good intensity. Now, the two things I’m going to mention next are in no way a good measure of “how hard do I train”, they are simply the instances that come to mind because of their salience. I’ve had many good, friendly, exhausting, technical, aggressive, and fun matches, but there’s nothing concrete there I can put my finger on and say “THAT! That right there! There was the line! I felt it, I found my limit and now I know where I am!”

The two things that I want to mention: I got TKO’d, and a small concussion (on two different occasions though, the TKO was to the solar plexus and the concussion a bit of bad luck with a leg, a chin, and having realistic expectations about my training partner’s flexibility). The important thing I want to point to was my own reaction to them. I didn’t start to fear my training partner for that (if you don’t count a very brief spell of mistrust), nor did I start to fear training. I simply didn’t feel much of anything. Maybe a small amount of pride - I took those hits without giving any shits (hey, that rhymed a bits!).

One sad thing: had I been told three years ago I would be going at it this heavily, I would have found it hard to imagine - I guess. I can’t say for sure what I would have thought, because I have lost that perspective. But that’s life. We rarely gain anything without losing something else. Some things are good things to lose, like anxiety when gaining confidence, but some others, like losing the perspective of a beginner when going through conceptual change, can make us blind in a way.

I’m not going as hard as the more experienced guys are, and I think most of the “big boys” are holding back a bit more with me (and that’s a good thing). I still have a lot to develop on, a lot of things to achieve, so that I can make some beautiful consensual violence with people I trust. The point is I’m no longer pushing myself to get to the zone where training towards that is possible. I am here.

Where will I be in three more years?

(The title of this section answers the last question.)


And welcome to a brand new blog!

Here is the brief origin story of this blog: As both of my readers probably know, when I was a fresh orange belt in 2016 I started a blog called Kiai 101 for my karate club, to address some common questions that people coming to the basic course often have about training, etiquette, or the operations of my karate club in general. I felt that my position as a newcomer to karate gave me the required naiveté to “see” those questions and understand the level that they should be answered on, to best benefit the people just starting out on this never ending quest. From what I have heard, I didn’t completely fail!

Two years have passed, and Kiai 101 has served its purpose very well, and it will continue to serve it as long as needed. I won’t stop updating it with stuff that clearly belongs there - this isn’t a goodbye to the old! However, I have found that I’ve started to experience random streams of thought and questions that I want to flesh out and dump somewhere. Kiai 101 is not the place for them. This is. Maybe this will also be an opportunity for me to develop as a writer, who knows. Anyway, I’m still just starting out, so just like Kiai 101, this blog isn’t going to be a technical manual on how to best do karate, or any other martial art I might pick up.

This is just another stream.