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    What Does Karate Mean to Me

    Three years ago was the first time I was ever in a Dojo. At the time I thought I was giving my son the opportunity to experience something new and challenging. What I saw were students and Sensei laughing and learning and I was intrigued that an art with such a serious reputation could be having this kind of focus and fun. I was drawn in with curiosity and need. Since then, I have had almost every aspect of my life striped down and rebuilt: mentally, physically and spiritually. Without prejudice, each part of me was revealed and challenged, then shown the tools to recreate and strengthen.

    For me there have been deep personal struggles and unbelievable successes. I am tested to know my physical abilities, adapting to my limitations and finding a way to achieve each of my goals. I am confronting many of my own personal fears and coming to trust people in a way that was unknown to me before. I have learned that I am capable of more than the last success I achieved.

    As I embrace my desire to be a martial artist, it means I also take responsibility for my actions and my thoughts. A perfect example is that my family and friends would never have believed that I would or could quit smoking…. a 30 year habit. There came a moment in my training where I wanted to be an example to others, and that vision and responsibility did not include a smoking habit. I couldn’t continue to participate in this addiction out of respect for my Sensei, myself, and my martial arts. It was clear to me from the training I’d had so far, that the physical and emotional discomfort could be overcome and I could win against this addiction. And I have.

    My life has changed so much that some people have questioned my intense focus and dedication. It is not as clear to them as it is to me, that the effort that I put into my martial arts every day is giving back to me in so many ways. These people only see that I interact with them differently, and to some, that can be very uncomfortable and threatening. I understand that when inside a community, when one person changes, then the whole community has to change. It’s inevitable. It’s balancing. I’m fortunate to have a few family and friends that may not fully understand all that I’m accomplishing, but recognize that I am a happier person for my efforts, and so we have a better relationship for it.

    And then there are all the bruises. How proud I can be of those bruises! And when I share with my friends they just don’t get the meaning of it all. “Kate, shouldn’t we be concerned that you are so bruised and that you like it too”? It’s like carrying around a trophy on your body; visual proof of how hard I’ve been working. It’s the injuries that keep me out of training that have been so frustrating and a challenge for me, but I’m learning that there is a purpose in that too. I have to pay attention to what my body is telling me, there is a difference between building your body kind of pain and you’re going to get hurt kind of pain. And I have to be patient with myself, come to find out, that is not a very easy task.

    I have also struggled with the close physical contact that is part of this sport. With out a doubt, sparring or randoring with someone bigger and stronger can bring up a lot of terrifying memories for me. These thoughts actually can manifest in a way where I freeze physically and mentally. At first I wasn’t able to move a muscle or put two thoughts together to protect myself. But now I am learning to change these thoughts from “being attached” to believing and knowing I can be “in control” and this is where I am most effective in protecting myself or anyone else. This way of thinking is changing how I interact throughout the rest of my life too. I had always thought of myself as a survivor and there is certain determination and strength in that, but that is not the same as living. I am stronger in the way I interact with people, but not in a heavy handed way; it’s more from a self assured position. I’m making choices because now I realize I have choices. I’m more aware that I don’t have to be in battle all the time, but I am ready for it.

    I have learned that Dojo means much more than a place to gather and practice. It is an atmosphere where each person can come to better themselves, each person who has their own challenges and personal goals, where we support one another out of respect. We are family and friends.

    To me the Dojo is also a place of sanctuary. There had been many times I have come to the dojo feeling exposed, beaten and sad where it was all I could do to get myself there. And as I enter into the dojo, those painful feelings I come with are left at the door because I know that here I’m not only safe but I can restore myself and leave feeling strengthened is spirit.

    Being a Martial Artist is a way of life. It is not a hobby or a part-time endeavor, not for me anyway. I am integrating into my life what I am being trained in with my mind and body and spirit. I can’t seem to get enough; enough instruction from Sensei; enough time in the dojo and with the other students; enough time to practice, practice, practice there just isn’t enough. I hope this need never goes away, I hope that as I continue on this path my dedication only deepens.




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