Karate has taught me much more than kicks and punches, and has given me invaluable skills for my personal and professional life. There's much more to being a loud woman!
Do you find the idea of exercise unappealing? Do contact sports make you nervous? Do you have a non-negotiable TV viewing schedule in the evenings? I was answering yes to all these questions when I said yes to starting Karate when I was 18.
I can’t say exactly what make Karate ‘stick’ for me, especially in the early years. It was certainly in part that my brother and I went to training together, but it also had a lot to do with seeing what the higher grades could do and thinking that I wanted to do what they could.
Black belts: very appealing
A week ago I graded to 1st Dan in my style, and it was a gruelling and wonderful four hours (here’s an explanation of Karate grades and Shodan). This is 18 years after I started my training, taking into account an eight-year absence due to injury and starting a family. It was always my intention to return to Karate, however. Throughout that eight-year break, I was always plotting a plan to convince my husband to watch the little ones while I went off to training. Luckily, he didn’t take much convincing. It was clear to him that this was something I had to do.
I needed to push myself physically again. I needed that time for moving meditation. I wanted to experience the satisfaction of correct technique, balance, and strength. I missed Kata. Oh, did I miss Kata! Katas are patterns learned to practice technique and mindset. I find them beautiful to watch and amazing to do. So I had a long list of motivations to return.
The lessons I learn in class have always extended beyond martial arts. If anything, the demands I now have in my 30’s of being a mother, wife, and business-owner make what I learn in Karate even more relevant. The feeling of capability I gain from my training strengthens my sense of self, and the confidence I feel in being able to express myself clearly and powerfully is priceless.
So where exactly do I see the overlap between running a business and kicks and punches?
Go. Then Ju. Then Go Again
Running a business is demanding, and it’s all too easy to work hard instead of smart. Constant effort and hustle are the keys to sustainable success, right?
My style teaches us Goju-ryu Karate. ‘Go’ means hard and ‘ju’ means soft, referring to the way the style incorporates hard striking attacks with open-hand, circular techniques. In addition to learning these contrasting skills, we are also taught that sustained tension is not the same as strength. A good punch is not tense from start to finish. That would make it slow and stiff. Through practice, we learn to stay relaxed throughout the preparation and tense only at the point of impact. This ensures our punch has both speed and strength. Now imagine doing a class with hundreds of punches, kicks, blocks, and combinations of all three. If we hold tension throughout each technique, not only would our Karate be ineffective, but we would also be physically spent in no time!
Learning when to slow down, when to go hard, and when to stop altogether are also key to sustainable business. Delegation, breaks, and making time to rest mean that when you do need to put 100% in, you are at your most effective.
I mentioned earlier that I love Kata, in part, because how it looks and feels. However, Kata has a very serious role in Karate, as it helps to practice putting techniques into practice to actually defend ourselves. Karate is about self-defence, for all the fun and fitness I get out of it. This is where Bunkai comes in.
Bunkai is about why we do the movements, and how we can use them in a self-defence situation. Knowing their purpose helps us interpret the techniques correctly and make them more purposeful.
It is very easy in a work situation to do many tasks and feel busy but without real purpose. Answering all your e-mails at once, only doing the fun tasks, procrastinating, and saying yes to everything all feel good, but do they actually help you get closer to the reason you got into business?
Remember to do things with purpose, keeping the big picture in mind.
A Loud Woman
Men outnumber women in Karate, especially in the higher ranks, which is why I am thrilled when I see girls and women progress up the ranks. There are several girls of around 12 and 13 years of age who I train with on Monday nights, and they are tremendous. One of our two amazing Senseis at this class is a woman, and there is one other female 1st Dan along with me. It’s a good vibe in class.
It’s a great experience to train in a group and see us each progressing in our Karate and mindset. We celebrate each other’s wins regardless of rank or gender, as it all contributes to our collective skillset. I like the implied lesson about equality we see played out before us week after week.
I feel loud when I train, if that makes sense. I feel so very capable, like a wonderful sensation of enormous possibility. Can I do that technique? Sure! Let’s try it! Can I get through this third hour of grading? Yes, I can! I’m going to learn this technique I’ve never done before! I’m going to perform these next 50 kicks with all the precision, strength and technique I have. I’m struggling with this combination but if I just keep walking through the dojo door, week after week, I’ll get there.
Plus, yes, we do get to yell! It’s called kiai, and it feels pretty darn good!
Knowing what it has taken to get here means that I feel like I can own my position among my peers. I tend to overly doubt myself at times, so I’m working on carrying that ‘loud’ feeling into meetings, interviews, and into every work day. It reminds me that I have both power and control. That I am respectful, dedicated, and friendly. That I am here to teach and to be taught. Mindset is important, and Karate makes mine stronger.
It is a wonderful thing when you find parallels in your life. If the things you do resonate with your values and you love doing them then it’s likely that you’ll be more motivated to continue applying yourself to them. It can also make it easier to persist with your craft, which is often the only sure-fire way to become proficient at something.
I find plenty of useful parallels between my Karate and my work, and I hope I can keep developing in both.