I'll be Back
Good intentions often fall by the wayside.
More than any other time of the year it happens in the summer. School is out. The days are longer. The beach, the parks, and the obligatory family vacation all beckon. Each one calling loudly to students with promises of fun and adventure under the warm summer sun. It is inevitable therefore, that during these warm and pleasant days the dojo will often echo with the sound of fewer feet.
We are told by those who are departing that this is only a temporary situation. As they bow on their way out the door in search of some time off they all do so with a common pledge, "I'll be back". Now all of us at one time or another have felt the need to take a break from those activities in our life that occupy so much of our very limited time. Sooner or later we all simply crave a brief change of pace.
The question in the mind of the sensei however, as he or she listens to those quickly fading feet is not so much "when will you be back", but more often than not it is, "at what level will your karate have fallen to when you do come back"?
Now for those students above the rank of Ni Dan I think it is safe to say that a week or two away from the dojo will not make a great deal of difference to their fitness level, or to the quality of their techniques. This is primarily because students at this level will usually have eight to ten years of dedicated training behind them. For them it is just a case of being able to "switch off" and then “switch on" again after their vacation. Any longer than two weeks, however, and even these senior ranks will also see a need to freshen up some aspects of their karate upon their return to the dojo.
But what about everyone else? It has been my experience that students below the rank of Sho Dan will find that they are in for a bit of a surprise when finally returning to class after those lazy days of summer. More often than not they will a few differences compared to those students who remained and continued to train. Their own stances will seem somewhat higher, their timing will be off a bit, and their blocks for some unknown reason will not seem quite as crisp as they use to be. As for kata forget it. It is not uncommon even for brown belts who thought they "knew" all of their kata to discover much to their dismay that upon their return Heian Nidan and Heian Sandan have for some unexplainable reason now blended together in both their body and their mind.
All of this is not unusual. Since any significant time away in a relaxing setting tends to diminish both our mental memory, as well as our body memory. Fortunately for most students there is a cure for this softened mental and physical state and the remedy is very simple. It is getting back to into the dojo and getting back to the basics as soon as possible. Hours of hard work, countless repetitions, a large dose of self-determination combined with a strong desire to "make up for lost time" are the best means by which a student will recover their position within the dojo society. To do any less means risking the prospect of being passed in rank by those students who remained and trained.
There is an old saying, "time and tide wait for no man". The point being that some things wait for no one under any circumstances. If I was to look for a similar analogy in terms of karate I would suggest, "that a missed class can never be made up". Again, my point being that in your life you only have a finite number of days, as such you can never make up for lost time, or that class you missed, both are gone from your life forever. Oh sure, you can go to a class on a Friday to “make up” for the one you missed on Wednesday, but no matter how you justify it, in truth the class you missed for whatever reason, can never truly be made up for.
So, by all means listen to the song that Summer sings in the hope of luring you to away, and take a break if you feel the need. But, always be prepared to come back to the dojo a few paces behind those students who remained and who continued to polish the dojo floor with their feet and their sweat while you went in search of "some time off".
Master Gichin Funakoshi once said that karate was like boiling water, if you do not heat it constantly it will soon start to cool. So on your return to the dojo your progress will now no doubt depend on how much you are willing to turn up the heat.
Remember: "In order to start where you left off, you must first get back to where you use to be".