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A personal ramble on karate and kickboxing

I’ve never really considered myself a whinge. I tend to mingle better in the JFDI camp and I think that’s what’s got me through many of life’s wee challenges, but we’re all allowed have a whine every now and again, aren’t we? At least once a week? Twice?

So I was having my general moan about my body’s recent blatant refusal to do anything it’s told to do, which is causing me no end of grief in my kickboxing and karate classes. My ultra-patient friend at the other end of my whining interrupted me and asked – understandably – ‘So why on earth do you kickbox, then? Just give it up.’

Well … that got me thinking.

Hmmm. Why karate? Why kickboxing?

I’ll answer the second one first. Kickboxing: because it’s great fun, it’s fantastic for general fitness, you can take it to the level you want to be at, you can do whatever you’re capable of doing – and perhaps a little bit more – and it’s sociable, practical and an amazing form of stress relief – much like any sport, I suppose.

Karate, however, is a whole different ballgame. And the more I thought about my answer, the more questions I came up with. Perhaps it’s got something to do with a couple of thousand years of history that it has behind it. First off, the reasons for doing kickboxing and karate cannot possibly be the same. The two are incomparable – the difference analogous, I suppose, to being honoured with a tea ceremony and being handed a teabag in a mug.

Karate …………… just has something special. I said to someone the other day that it was very definitely ‘me’ time – that hour (unfortunately only once a week) – but it’s so much more than that. I go kickboxing and I work up a sweat and silently curse and swear at all the kicks and punches that I just can’t do – and laugh about it with my class partner – and in between rounds we share short summaries of the latest kids’ antics, the most recent scandal, the occasional news item, last weekend’s party, this week’s pulled hamstring, dodgy knee or whether it’s best to have one Weetabix or two for breakfast. Meanwhile, we’re getting fitter, we’re feeling great and even the toughest classes reap amazing benefits and are thoroughly enjoyable.

Enter the karate dojo and whoa! There are no experiences shared here, no chit-chat, no exchange of stories. But neither is this anti-social, dull or in any way a stressor. Quite the opposite. You can enter the same ‘hall’ for an hour of kickboxing and then come back into that very same hall with a karate ghi on and you enter another world. Here, it’s an incredible world of focus, of calm (in a noisy sort of way), of complete relaxation (in a tense sort of way) … almost surreal apart from the fact that you are more focussed than ever. The energy is immediately apparent, too – and encircles the hall for the duration of the class, ever present, ever noticeable, ever contagious. And minds are blank! There is no ‘space’ in karate class to wonder what you’re going to have for dinner, to worry what the kids are up to, to remember you still have to pay the gas bill. This kind of reality is magically left outside the door – and perhaps this, more than any other reason, is why I do karate. Because for an hour of every week I’m allowed the luxury of being transported to a kind of alternate reality! That’s how I see it – or how I experience it. Like any physical activity, the demands on my body are, quite simply, beyond me. Perhaps I should be more brutal and fight back and refuse to allow my knees to win the battle against running – or my hips to deny me any possibility of the satisfaction of a successful or effective spinning hook kick, but the frustration of limitations cease to matter. What matters is the inexplicable urge to keep trying, to keep striving for a goal that’s simply ‘to do something a little better than last week’. And to what end? What purpose? Because the energy in that class dictates that that’s what you do. Because you can walk into a kickboxing class on a bad day and nothing goes right, and you can accept that there are some days when it just doesn’t happen. Walk into karate class on that same bad day and there is no ‘nothing’ to ‘not go right’ – because there is only that moment, that class, that time …

And if I can let my mind ramble a little more ……….. there is also an incredible and inexplicable sense of ‘belonging’ in a karate class. Of being a part of something – something important? No. Something beautiful? (I wish! Haha) Something ……………….. just something. Perhaps this is fostered through that certain harmony of movement – not only in combinations of movements, but also in the general ‘synchronised’ (such a harsh word) movement, which helps that energy move forward – and around – and maintain a peak level. Let everyone in kickboxing do a roundhouse kick together and the result is a lot of noise and an array of energy, ability, style and general chaos on a purely physical level. Ask the same of a karate class and the result is something that transcends the physical and impacts on an emotional level, too. There is a power and a unity in a karate class that is absent from kickboxing.

I’ve rambled endlessly – on a subject I know nothing about and clearly can’t begin to express! But perhaps therein lies the difference – between kickboxing and karate. It’s easy to understand kickboxing. It’s a sport! Karate? There’s a lifetime of learning in there.

So, back to why I go to karate when I can’t do any of the movements: Because it’s magnetic. Because I’m totally drawn and hooked by the stillness and calm and magnificence and grace and other-worldliness that far exceeds the necessity to ‘do’ everything right or the nerves about getting things horribly wrong (although I do have to admit to sheer panic every time the word ‘kata’ is mentioned). And because I just want to experience that energy again – and again – and again …

Kickboxing is an activity/a sport – and from it you get all that sport can offer. Karate is a physical and emotional investment. Kickboxing allows you to ‘do’. Karate allows you to ‘be’. Yep! There we are. Got there – finally! I will leave you with that deep and profound philosophical conclusion that I’ve come to. It sums it up in ‘my’ head …………. but then again, you’ve already been warned that I can talk enough rubbish to keep a recycling plant in permanent operation. I think I’ve just proved it, eh? Makes perfect sense to me, though! Ha!

karate, kata, kickboxing

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