Everyone has their coping strategies for cubicle life. I like to travel and chase goals. I also enjoy pursuing various physical challenges to keep me sane. The last 2 years it was the 5.25 mile Cross Bay Swim. Previously it was bodybuilding, flag football, kickball, soccer, kayaking, hiking, or any number of other things. This year I decided to return to studying Martial Arts.
One of my first memories is of a karate class. When I was very young my parents brought me to a karate class I believe taught by my godfather. Mostly, I remember playing with other kids on a mat in a gymnasium and having a great time.
Failure to Prepare is Preparing to Fail
I’m not certain if my parents ever took another class but later on they enrolled my brother and I in karate in a hole-in-the-wall North Babylon studio that had mirrors on the wall and pictures of students in full 80s greasy curled hair. Despite a love of 80’s-riffic fighting movies with training montages (Karate Kid, Rocky, etc) and the dot matrix print outs of workouts and belt-testing requirements they sent us home with, we never practiced. Our instructors covered and re-covered the same material so often I’m sure they thought we were “special.” No matter how much we learned, we earned a few belts for attendance. I think the most use our uniforms received were as stand-in Halloween costumes. After maybe a year either my parents got tired of paying for this glorified day care or the instructors got tired of taking their money and our lessons ended. I think that was when I started my education.
There’s something about having knowledge (or more accurately, access to knowledge) taken away from you to make you want to learn something. At least that was how it was for me. The end of those (lack of) lessons led to me getting every book in the library on karate, kung fu, and related disciplines. I even think I bought a few from the elementary school book sale. I’d arrange my GI Joes in the stances, forms, and strikes I saw in those pages and practice them as best I could. Those 80’s movies came in handy as I did my best to imitate Daniel LaRusso, the Best of the Best fighters, and the likes of American Ninja. This probably went on for longer that I would care to admit. At least until I was able to take formal lessons.
A Good School
Serious study came when I entered to win free lessons at a nearby school – Fred Vilari’s karate. Surprise! I won. (It’s a marketing technique, everybody won!) I was in about 8th grade and I really took to it. I loved going. Many birthdays, Christmas’s and other gift-giving occasions led to me taking private lessons, learning weapons, getting more books, etc. Some friends joined and soon I was going with them, competing with (and against) them, and having a good time. We all marched lock-step in belt advancement. That irritated me. I really thought I was putting in a lot more effort (and was a lot more effective) than several of my peers.Eventually my peers petered off one by one. We had other concerns. Soccer, cross country, track, girls, boy scouts, church, etc all got in the way. I am not sure when I stopped my longest run of instruction but it was after a few years. I would re-join time and time again through out and even into college. I would do tournaments, try out other schools, practice with other friends but never for more than a couple of months.
Recently I looked up the school – a lot of those friends that I made inside the studio are now masters in their own right. They stayed with it. They became instructors and now they own their own shops. That made me kind of wonder ‘what might have been.’ I guess if you get old enough a lot of things make you do that.
Why Return Now?
The last few years have seen me in a cast of some kind or other. Mostly on my feet. Broken foot bones, collapsed arch, torn rotator cuff, dislocated toe, torn cartilage, surgery… the list goes on. Someone recently asked me why I thought that was. The easy answer would be Flag Football – after all that’s what I was doing when I had all of those injuries. The real reason I believe is that I let myself go.
As freshman ectomorph I stopped doing any kind of cardio in college all in an attempt to put as much muscle as possible on a very thin frame. After competing in a natural bodybuilding show to close out my college career I played after work sports for about a year before falling off that wagon. Lifting (and dieting) would go in spurts from that time but I have fallen short of my goal of discovering a way to keep in good shape for an extended period of time. After (relatively) mastering a subject (competing in a bodybuilding show, swimming 5.25 miles, etc) I think I get bored in further pursuing it. Martial Arts is something that I don’t think can be mastered. Plus, the stretching, movement, balance, coordination and mind-body balance all appeal to me as skills I sorely need work on. Doing martial arts will be fun for me in a way that lifting and swimming have ceased to be!
More than Physical
There are a number of other things that I like about this particular studio. For one, it is an unbroken line from THE Shaolin monastery to this school so it certainly has the romance and prestige of history going for it. Secondly it is as much a cultural institution as anything else. They have travelled to China before to that Shaolin monastery. (can you imagine this group as a tour guide???) They do travel to other places, celebrate holidays I don’t know of. They teach languages I don’t know and they hold study sessions on philosophies I grew up studying.
When I was looking for a martial arts schools I had thought I had wanted to find a new way to exercise. What I have realized is that I was looking for many things. A way to work out was just one of them. A way to heal up and continue physical therapy is another. Cultural pursuits a third. The list goes on.
Of course, after you make a decision to follow one course of action one tends to find corroborating data to back it up. The Peaceful Dragon may not end up being what I’m making it out to be. But like that old Chinese proverb, ‘a journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step.’ My journey starts tonight.