Slow and steady does it
I am glad it never came easily.
Someone asked me the other day why I still practice karate after all of these years. Not wanting to give them a spur of the moment answer, I thought about their question for a moment, and then I replied, "because karate does not come naturally to me". The person then asked me what I meant by that. I went onto explain that karate has always been hard work for me, and remains so to this very day. Just like it was in the beginning.
Looking back I can remember my very first class, and as the saying goes, "like it was yesterday". I came out of that class aching in places I never knew I had. My mind was a whirl of Japanese terms, karate techniques, and the sound of "lower your stance" constantly ringing in my ears. Yet, in spite of how stiff, and sore I felt I clearly remember one thing, being absolutely determined to go back as soon as possible to do it all over again.
More than forty-two years have now passed since I first entered a dojo. In all that time I do not think I can recall a single class where I did not have to work to improve something that I thought I already knew. I suppose it is my desire to be better at karate today than I was yesterday that has kept me going to the dojo all of these years. Quite frankly I think if I had been a "natural" at karate I might have quit a long, long time ago.
Don't ask me why, but for some reason students who are athletically gifted never seem to stay very long in the dojo. You know the ones I mean. They quickly develop good stances, and solid looking techniques. They have no problem thrusting out a side kick with either leg, while the those of us who are not so gifted, or as flexible can only shake our head. We know that for us it will be a long struggle before we ever find that same kick. Then one day it happens, you turn around and they are gone. No notice. No explanation. They simply just stop coming to class. Perhaps for them karate was just to easy, and not enough of a challenge. Sad really. Because karate is so much more that just learning to do the movements.
You see the true depth of all that karate has to offer lies elsewhere. And, it is only revealed after a great many years on the dojo floor. Like many things in life, karate is not a destination. Instead it is a lifelong journey. A journey that literally tens of thousands of new students around the world embark upon each year. Yet, it is a road that so few will ever walk down long enough, or far enough, to get even a glimpse of what lies ahead.
As with all physical activities there will be those rare few who travel the karate road far enough to be called, Masters. We look up to them with gratitude, and true appreciation for all the time, effort, and energy that they have give over to the development of karate-do. They inspire us, they are the leaders that set an example for all of us to follow. We may never get to meet them, or to train with them, but they can still be known to us through their books, and the global reach of the internet. My true inspiration, however, can be found much closer to home.
For me it is the student who is training beside me during class. Their gender, experience, or their belt rank, does not matter. What does matter is the fact that we are both sweating on the same floor. We are putting forth our best effort, and spending our energy striving to make our karate better today then it was the day before. It is these students, these friends, that have kept me coming back to the dojo day after day, year after year, and helped make all of the hard work that karate demanded of me, seem just a little bit easier.
I for one will never be a Master. But, that is ok. Because that is never what I set out to be in the first place. What I will always be though is a student who is very grateful that when it came to karate, I was not a "natural".
Remember: "The truth of your effort is always visible in the outcome".