Why I train

   by Andrew McLane

I first began training in karate when I was middle school. I was one of the smaller kids, and as a result of a misunderstanding, I ended up having to deal with a bully. Since I didn't have any experience with fighting, my parents decided to let me study karate. I studied a style called Budokukan karate for about two and a half years. After studying for two and a half years had passed, I was in high school, the bully was gone, and I had lost interest in continuing, and so I stopped training.

It wasn't until I entered college that I regained an interest in training again. I had been away from karate for several years, and had come to find that I missed the experience. I was going to a community college, and one of the classes offered was a karate class, so I signed up. That was over five years ago, and I have continued to train with same sensei (teacher) to this day. I now study Goju-Ryu karate under the instruction of Sensei Boyd Gittins. The dojo is affiliated with the Goju-Ryu KarateDo Kyokai, which is headed by Sensei Motoo Yamakura. As a student at the UW, I also studied Shin-Ryu Aikido under Sensei Barnett.

Like a lot of people, I enjoy the movies of people like Jackie Chan and Jet Li, and I have a great deal of respect for the physical skills that such movie stars display. However, as I have progressed in my own training, I have found that while movies such as Drunken Master II or Fist of Legend are great entertainment (as well as being my two favorite martial arts movies), they don't provide a very realistic view of the average martial artist.

For one thing, people like Jackie Chan and Jet Li are among the best in the world. I have no illusions about the fact that I couldn't physically do many of the things they do. There is also the fact that I don't get into fights very often. To tell the truth, I haven't been in a physical fight since middle school, and haven't even been threatened since high school, which is now almost ten years past.

So what does motivate me? I don't work as a bouncer, bodyguard, or in some other job where I am likely to need fighting skills. I live in a peaceful neighborhood, so I usually don't have to worry about being attacked on the street. Yet the fact remains that these are nervous times, especially after the attacks on the World Trade Center. Even before 9/11, it was hard to live in a major city and not be worried about one's personal safety. The uncertainty of world events has only heightened that anxiety and fear. Yet I find that training calms me, that it pushes my fear away and lets me concentrate on day to day activities, rather than worrying about my personal safety.

There are other benefits as well, both mental and physical. In addition to relaxing me and reducing my fear, I find that training improves my focus. I find my mind wandering if I don't train on a regular basis. I also find that training improves my situational awareness, keeping me more alert to the events around me.

As for the physical benefits, I find those to be quite useful as well. Since my formal education has been in physics and mathematics, I don't have a job that involves much physical activity. As I get older, the chance to have an outlet for physical activity helps keep me in shape. I have also noticed a marked drop in my reflexes when I stop training for a while.

Having experience in both physics and martial arts, I have come to the conclusion that there are a number of similarities in the type of discipline required in both fields. Both fields require that a person be very focused and critical of their performance, while at the same time remaining emotionally detached enough that you don't become discouraged by the pressure of constant criticism.

In physics a person is constantly looking for holes in a theory or equation. There is a constant pressure to aquire a better understanding of what you're studying, and everything is constantly compared against the measurements of experiment. Theories and equations that match with the measurements from experiments are accepted, and anything which fails this test is ruthlessly thrown out.

This same attitude forms the core of every martial arts school I've ever been part of, or have thought about joining. The thing that makes martial arts so intense is that the same criticism and analysis that is used in science to find the truth, is used in martial arts to improve the practitioner. The fact that a student is constantly being told how to make corrections and asked to improve themselves can make it very hard on the ego. If I have learned one thing about myself from both martial arts and from science, it is that a person must be prepared to make mistakes. And when a mistake is made, you should simply correct the mistake and move on. Berating yourself over making the mistake is a waste of time, and is itself a mistake.

I should point out that just because I have an attitude of constant analysis and correction, doesn't mean that I think a teacher should take a "My way or the highway" attitude. It is important to remember that a critical part of science is a willingness to look at new ideas, and to test those new ideas against the old ways of doing things.

Accepting the possibility that I am wrong is the first step toward fixing my mistakes. This is way I believe that it is so important to listen to new ideas and new attitudes. Just because I have years of experience doesn't mean that some beginner might not see something that I've overlooked up till now. Tradition is important, but without understanding the meaning behind a tradition, traditions become nothing more than a way to stagnate.

However traditions with understanding are invaluable. The formalities I follow when practicing serve to remind me of where I am, and how dangerous the martial arts can be. The tradition of learning the lineage of each martial art I study has helped me understand my place in a long line of practitioners, and helped to curb some of my egotism.

I have spent over eight years of my life studying martial arts. It has provided me a number of wonderful moments. It has also improved my balance, my coordination, and my reflexes. I feel that martial arts has helped calm my fears, even with all of the problems in the world today. It has also provided me with a way to define my place in this world. And every so often it has provided me with a place to vent and unwind when the math, physics, and computers that I use are driving me crazy.


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