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:
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?