Friday, May 25, 2007

Blessing and curse

These days, I become winded very easily.
I notice it when I climb stairs.
And I especially notice it in karate class.

It's a hot, humid day today, with the temperature in the low 90s. The dojo is air-conditioned but the heat and humidity make their presence felt nonetheless.
Today's class was very rigorous, compounding the discomfort.

We were working on basic techniques taken from kata (set forms) that involved executing a block in one stance and a punch in a different stance. The emphasis was on making sure our movement and power came from our hip rotation. I was winded after just a few sets and became frustrated at myself for not keeping up with my sempai, or senior fellow student ("older brother," if you will).

And then an analysis of what I was doing technique-wise flashed in my mind.
In trying to keep up with my senior, I was being very stingy with my blocks and punches. That is to say, I wasn't executing full techniques. I was cutting them short in the interest of greater speed. I was doing the techniques halfway, especially the block and the hip rotation, arriving at the destination by taking a shortcut. Thus, the techniques felt as if they lacked power.

In a fight, that may be fine. But in trying to solidify my shaky foundation in the basics, it won't do.

So, I tried a different approach.
I was exhausted, so I gave up on the idea of trying to match the tempo set by the senior student. Instead, I decided to exploit my exhaustion, allowing it to give me the opportunity to execute each technique deliberately and fully, as if my life depended upon it. I tried to visualize an opponent in front of me.

My techniques became fuller, and had a feeling of power behind them, even if they weren't as fast as before.

It was at that point that I saw that exhaustion can be a great teacher.


Michael said...

This is a great lesson, nicely described. It works outside the dojo too. Thanks for sharing it.


Michael said...

Hi Michael,

Many thanks for your comment. Yes, karate was merely the vehicle by which this lesson was learned. For me, it has broad applications and implications.

Zen said...

Yes, wonderful!

Michael said...


east village idiot said...

Jesus Christ. You should write a book. I learn so much from you.

I can't even do a cartwheel. Exhaustion or no exhaustion!

Michael said...


Here's the truth of the matter: I'm a slow learner. My first karate teacher explained to me 14 years ago -- 14 years ago -- how exhaustion can be a learning aid. On Friday, I finally saw, and felt, what he meant.

And, for the record, I can't do a cartwheel, either.