Most of us have passions, or at the very least hobbies, that give great pleasure, provide distraction, and occupy time. It may be playing golf, supporting a football team or crocheting. Spending time playing darts in the pub or baking unnecessarily complicated cakes. And as likely as not our passion is completely inexplicable to our nearest and dearest.
For 10 years I practiced karate.
I trained once, twice, three times a week. Sometimes more. Early mornings and late nights. Indoors and out. On grass and on sand. I’ve travelled the length of the country to practice with others and travelled abroad to practice with foreign karateka from the same tradition. Practicing with Japanese Masters, in a gym a few miles from my home, was truly extraordinary.
In unbelievably humid rooms, alongside others, I’ve done more squats in an hour than most people do in a year. Or possibly a lifetime.
From all this there is a broad sense of community and camaraderie. It is forged from having been through the drills and the mill together, and discovering something about yourself when you emerge on the other side.
During this time I went from beginner to black belt. As an aside, this explains my Twitter handle, if it doesn’t mean anything to you, “shodan” is first degree black belt.
And then I stopped.
I practiced in the first week of September 2011 and that was it. I didn’t so much give up as just stop. Work and other commitments, coupled with changing logistics, conspired to mean that getting to practice became extremely difficult.
I spent 18 months getting not simply older, but also less fit, more inflexible, and considerably heavier.
It’s odd to have something so integral to your weekly routine, and so starkly in contrast to everything else that you do, just disappear. It’s clearly not as profound a change as losing your job or retiring. But there is something exquisitely frustrating about being able to something – indeed being moderately good at something – but circumstances being such that you are not able to do it.
It is also a question of balance. I work quite long hours. Karate has been a counterweight to that. Indeed, it has been an important release. It is always handy to know that if your colleagues are driving you to distraction – which can, very occasionally, happen when you’re a manager – you can head out to a venue that evening and find someone who’s paying good money for you to try to hit them. This, I have, on occasion, missed.
Yet, this week the stars have realigned. I was able to set foot in a dojo again.
Given the many hours spent in that environment it shouldn’t have been particularly daunting. But I am acutely aware of how far off the pace I am. And how much others have moved on. Karate is not a fixed body of knowledge. It is an evolving set of practices and over 18 months things will have moved on a lot. But there was also the more basic question of whether I could physically survive a session. All thought of practicing at anything like the levels I have achieved in the past had already been put aside. The threshold for success was set at “survival”.
As it turned out it wasn’t as strenuous a test as it might have been. And for that I am thankful. We probably didn’t get out of second gear. But that was more than enough to tell me that relocating the higher gears is going to take a bit of time and lot of application.
Never mind. It couldn’t be rushed the first time. It can’t be rushed now.
More importantly, I’ve returned. And it feels like coming home.