10 things I wish I knew before starting Kyokushin Karate

It is said that “fools rush in”. While this has certainly been true of many of my ventures (and my decision to join Kyokushin Karate), but I have always found that too much analysis breeds paralysis. Still, sometimes a little forethought is a good thing and can keep us out of trouble. So on a recent road trip I had time to think about what I wish I knew before I decided to train. Here is the short list:


Kyokushin Karate

My money is on the barefoot kid. He looks hungry.

1. Bruises will become a way of life (and a conversation starter!).
“Oh my god, Brett! What happened to your arm/thigh/chest/hand/ etc”. Karate training, and most martial arts in general, involves hitting some part of your body against solid objects. And this results in colorful exclamations from your friends and family when they see you partly covered in grapefruit sized green and yellow bruises.

2. Knock-Down karate is a little different.
(Note: I said “different”, not necessarily “better”) Back in the day I trained in Combat Hapkido (which is basically a distilled form of Hapkido without classical weaponry, forms, and most of the ceremony that goes with). Combat Hapkido was very heavy into the technical aspects of technique training. I would often be partnered with a fellow student and we would drill on maybe 5 techniques for the entire class. And while we did have warm ups and some calisthenics, body conditioning wasn’t a focus.
Kyokushin has proven different. My first year in training I was always out of breath and it wasn’t just the heat. Learning how to take a body shot, how to properly block a kick with your shin (which always hurts anyway), how to protect your head, and how to keep fighting without showing pain are all a central part of our training. In many ways it is night and day from my previous training experience.

3. People won’t understand.
Not that I go around telling people, but casual acquaintances who happen to find out that I train in Kyokushin Karate tend to just chalk it up to a weird hobby – like an adult who plays “Dungeons and Dragons”. That’s fine though, I don’t expect them to understand. After all, even though this contributes to what I hate about martial arts, most of the general public is so easily distracted by new fads that they think that MMA is the only effective style on earth. What I have learned is that they wont care to hear about our belt test, tameshiwari accomplishments, or how we perfectly performed a textbook technique at full power in kumite and why that is even special. And a lot of them are even uncomfortable with the fact that we fight people as a hobby; though they’d never admit to being intimidated.

4. It will take 5 to 10 years to reach black belt (and I probably wont make it).
I didn’t ask how long it would take to reach my black belt when I first walked into my dojo – it just wasn’t that important to me. But now that I am 4th kyu I can look ahead and recognize that I’ve got another 4 year’s of training, at least, before I can even test for shodan. 8 years before I am recognized as a student of any consideration. I could have earned a PhD! But what is the biggest reason I probably won’t make it to the coveted black belt?

5. Life will get in the way.
Life seems determined to screw up my training regimen. And not just me…every martial artist will get married, get divorced, have children, lose parents, lose a job, get sick before a tournament or hyper-extend a ligament and be out of the dojo for weeks or months while it heals. The bottom line is that I’ve learned that the path is NOT going to be a smooth stretch of highway with no speed limit. It will more be like a narrow, twisted, nighttime mountain road with a lot of potholes and no guardrail.

6. Everyday something will ache or hurt.
Take a hard fall. Get tricked by a feint. Knuckle pushups on concrete. Get called for a demonstration by your Shihan. There are a thousand and one ways for us to get bumped, battered, skinned, contused, and concussed. It will hurt. And it will hurt tomorrow, too. And before that finishes healing, something else will get injured or bruised. Kyokushin karate is not unique in this way, but I wish I knew the extent to which this would be true for me.

7. For every pound of confidence gained, I get an ounce of doubt.
This one was kind of hard to acknowledge, for me. I’ve been a martial artist enthusiast my whole life, and have actively trained since my late teens. And yet, I still occasionally wonder if I am just a house of cards, waiting to be blown down.

8. It will be boring at times.
Line up. Seiza. Bow. Stand. Warm ups. Kihon. Kata. Kumite. Seiza. Bow. Dismissed.
Everyday will be like this. Everyday the same. The Truth is in the training, I know. But sometimes I find myself wishing that dojo-busting was still in fashion just to shake things up a bit.

9. It is expensive.
On this one I can’t exactly claim ignorance since I knew the monthly cost when I signed up. I also am among the lucky few who pay well below market value for martial arts training. But still, month-to-month dues, association fees, testing fees, uniforms, travel, tournament entry fees, patches, pain killers, etc. It all adds up and it means that a lifelong endeavor into martial arts is going to cost you.

10. Sometimes I just want to quit.
The elephant in the room. Everyone knows it but no one talks about it. For me it isn’t because the training is too hard or that I don’t like my instructor (quite the opposite, really). But that karate training is not only a physical test, day in and day out, but a mental one as well. Look at #8 again. When something you love becomes monotonous, it can drain your enthusiasm to endure the push ups and punches and after long enough, you just have to take a step back.
I used to beat myself up over this, but I learned that to do so is stupid and unproductive. Instead any time I need a few weeks away, I’ll use the break to spend on the areas of my training that I feel are especially lacking. Best of all, I’ve found that by making strides to bridge a skill gap, it reinvigorates my enthusiasm to go back to the dojo (even if only to try things out during kumite).


What about you? What do you wish you knew before you started your martial arts career?





22 thoughts on “10 things I wish I knew before starting Kyokushin Karate

  1. People come and go. You just get to enjoying kumite with particular people and they dissapear for six months….or forever. Love the blog keep it up.Osu!

  2. More of a personal regret, really. I “dabbled” in my 20s but lacked discipline and fire. I did not find that until I was in my 30s, got my first dan in TKD at 40, and have 10 solid years in TKD and kung fu — along with grab back of styles that I tried.

    If I would have had focus when less of life got in the way I could have a LOT of experience in one style and likely be further along.

    I wish I had started the journey when I was younger.

  3. Just before reading this I had come home from class and my wife was commenting on the state of my knuckles. Knuckle pushups on concrete indeed!

  4. @ Steve – Thanks for commenting, I am glad you like the blog (don’t forget to subscribe so you get suture articles in your inbox!)

    @ Rick – Apt simile; you may consider that officially stolen.

    @ Bob – I second you, there, Bob.

  5. Excellent list! A quick list of some other things that come to my mind.
    1) Having enough formal long sleeved tops. This came about because on one occasion my husband took me out for dinner I had bruises all the way down both arms. This forced him to say defensivly to nearly everyone, “she does Jitsu you know.”

    2) That someone had warned me how addictive it is! I mean surely putting your body through all that pain should leave most normal people running a mile. But no, I just want to go back for more.

    3) That there is no point practicing wrist locks on my husband. He is one of those people whose wrists take little working to bring the pain on. Which means when I go and practice with my hyper-flexiable friend she just laughs at my efforts!

  6. You’re definitely not alone in some of your points Brett, there was a time I was about to give up Shotokan my support worker encouraged me to stick with it (He wasn’t a martial artist).

    For me personally is that when I train I always remember where I am, I try and turn my fear of sparring into excitement, on the contrary getting hit once in a while actually did me good. It teaches you the Japanese Budo way of never letting injury stop you from carrying on. In the Samurai era, they would only stop fighting until one of them was dead. That’s the encouragement we get from our Sensei.

  7. Hi Brett, an interesting list! I don’t really have any regrets (life’s too short and it’s never to late to change things anyway). I didn’t start MA until I was 45 which is pretty late by most people’s standards but I do think that if I had started earlier I may not have been so committed because of other responsibilities in my life earlier on – I may even have given it up. So even though I’m quite old for karate (51) I do honestly think that I’ve achieved more in the 6 and half years I’ve been doing it than I would have if I had started 10 years earlier. I always have a sense that ‘time is running out’ which spurs me onto train harder. I suppose the only problem is that I’m now fighting against time, my body is in decline so I have to work harder to stay still physically. In a few years I will be unable to keep this up and I will start to get weaker so I may not be able to progress as far along the journey as I would like i.e will I be fit enough to do sandan in 3 years? I don’t know. I expect my journey will just have to change path, probably to something slightly less energetic. However, I won’t regret a single bruise I’ve had along the way..

  8. @ Katy – At a dr office my wife and I were separated for questioning when the doc spotted all the bruises along her forearms. I know how your husband feels!

    @ Nabilkazama – You gotta keep at it. Never quit!

    @ Sue – I think you’ve got a lot longer in your martial career than you might believe. We have a man well into his 60′s!

    @ Rick – Same goes for you!

  9. Also, it doesn’t matter what age you start training, age is irrelevant. We have adults in their 40′s and kids. I’m the only 25 year old there.

    We are all remarkable in our own ways, to my fellow Karateka, don’t get discouraged. There are far older people (some in their 90s) who are STILL training to this day. I haven’t met any personally, but I can tell you they are around.

  10. I’m not a Karateka but I train in a different martial art (Muay Thai). I definitely understand where you are coming from with regards to the bruises and pain that you will have when training in a martial art. But every time I looked at my scarred and bruised knuckles, I just tell myself that those are “battle scars” and I should be proud of them. Great post!

  11. You may be on a training plateau. Funnily enough I had the same thing at 4th kyu. Now after 30 years of Kyokushin may I advise you to keep going and do not give up, do not slacken off. The personal rewards will justify the experience. At the least, train for and pass your Shodan grading!

  12. I’m just starting training in Kyokushinkai and I’m 41. I have been training in martial arts for 20 years though. But I hope to be training well into my 80s if I’m lucky enough to live that long. Helio Gracie trained until he died at 95 and I know several karateka who are still training like 25 year olds and they are in their 70s!

    Don’t sell yourself short, your mind will give up long before your body does so keep the right mental attitude and you will surprise yourself :)

    • Hey Jonny,

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Make no mistake about it, these aren’t a list of regrets but rather a list of things I considered before joining my dojo. I still would have joined but my decision would have been more meaningful, and less of a lucky break to find a great dojo, if I knew these things ahead of time.

  13. So glad I found this great post ! I’m 37 and I also want to start with Kyokushin, but as I’m already doing Kendo (no grades yet) and can’t do both I have to make choice. Why Kendo ?? Well because it’s so completely different than anything else I’ve done before ! (TKD, jiu jitsu, MMA). Great cardio workout even without that heavy suit and armour, great mental aspect to it and very traditional … BUT, no ‘practical value’ in a real fight. Should it matter ? Not really, but that great saying comes to mind “How much can you know about yourself If you’ve never been In a fight ?”. I would like to hear some thoughts on this ;)

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