道 – my budo year 2018
Now that 2018 is coming to an end, it seems wise to me to reflect on what this budo year brought me, on my progress, my journey, or as we call it: my “dō” (pronounced “daw”, meaning “the way/path”). Even more so, because a broken toe prevented me from training for almost a month and I miss my budo dearly… the training, my friends and budo in itself. Can’t wait ’till I am in a dojo, again!
2018 was a good budo year for me, I had much fun, passed some exams and won prizes in kata competitions. But it was a difficult year as well, because my former dojo (where I did karate as well as aikido/aikijo) went bankrupt, leading to our group falling apart. Luckily, I somehow managed to keep connected with the new groups that arose from the “old” group. And I even joined a whole new group, as 2018 is the year that I started with kendo.
As some of you will recognize, to begin with a new form of martial arts is in some sense to begin with a new version of yourself. Budo shapes you. There is truly a great difference between the Martine-before-karate and who I am now. “How does karate change you?”, my friend Tim asked me once. And I did not know where to start, as the answer to this question is as complex as karate itself. First and foremost, karate inspires me to be a better person. The structure of karate gave me a new found balance and provided me with a sense of peace and belonging.
Karate stabilizes me. It helps me to stay open and present, teaches me to put aside my ego and beliefs, to be able to really see the other, to “center myself”; by increasing body awareness. It teaches me to constantly stay in touch with my values. It teaches me confrontation, for example in metsuke, which means to establish and keep eye contact with others. And it teaches me to stand up for myself when I need to. To protect myself, without harming others. I feel fit, focused and calm.
Taking martial arts classes requires commitment, self-discipline, and respect. For me, to start training karate provided a unique, life-altering experience. As an autistic person, I have always had difficulties connecting with my peers and feeling like I was part of their ‘world’. But by becoming a karateka, the dojo has become another home and the fellow students are my budo family. And sometimes you encounter a distant family member that becomes a huge inspiration. This was certainly the case with Tran Hieu sensei (7 th dan), whom I met this year, when he gave a seminar for wado karateka’s in Sportcentrum Universum, Science Park Amsterdam (from Friday the 1st to Sunday the 3rd of June 2018).
Tran Hieu sensei is the highest European representative of the wado-ryu Renmei Karate, the school of Otsuka sensei, founder of wado-ryu. Together with my karate friend Judith, I went to the seminar on Saturday afternoon. We were very excited to meet and train with Tran and we were not disappointed – quite the opposite! It was a most educative seminar, inspiring from 8th kyu to 7th dan, and the atmosphere was warm and friendly.
When we arrived at Sportcentrum Universum, many wado practioners were already present. Another great thing about having a martial art as your special interest is that you can quickly become part of a family – in our case, the Wado family – so you will always feel welcome and know that there are people with whom you connect.
Then the seminar began. Tran Sensei’s skill, knowledge and teaching skills are very impressive. He has a beautiful way of moving, very fluent and very quick, while his whole atmosphere breaths calmth. During the warming-up, he already showed us some exercises that would come in handy later on in the training. The basic movement looks like a silly walk: take a step, turn the foot all the way from the hip (up to 90 degrees) and repeat while you stay low. It activates your hips and trains your balance.
The first “real” excercise we did was an ippon kumite. Just like in the similar sanbon kumite, the attacker starts with a punch yodan, with the right hand. The defender blocks this using yodan uke, immediately followed by a tetsui on the nose. Here, the hip movement turned out to be very useful, for, when well-performed, it helps you to make tai sabaki (a repositioning of the body), thus protecting your precious head. From this new position, the defender can easily go on with a chudan punch and a push.
In the second excersise we practised, the attacker starts with a right punch, again, but this time, it is chudan. The defender stops it, by grasping him, simultaneously performing a low utchi uke with his right arm and a gikake with his left. With this movement, the defender could break the arm of the attacker, but that was obviously not what we wanted to train. 😉 Here, the hip movement proved itself again, and from this new position, the defender could easily stretch out the right arm behind the neck of the attacker, to take him or her out of balance without any force.
What I personally liked a lot about this seminar was the combination of deep concepts and practical applications. Many of the principles that came along resonated with what I learnt from aikido and aikijutsu. Move-move-move: from your hip, with your body. Do not only use your limbs. Try to take someone else’s centre to get the other out of balance. In order to reach the goal of the hip movement, Tran Hieu Sensei introduced us to the concept of san mi ittai, which loosely translates as “three in one “. It means the one combination of the three movements: the first is ten i, the change of position; the second is ten tai, the change of body movement; and the third is ten gi, the change of technique.
For example, in the first kihon kumite, a frontal fist attack is first caused by a lateral evasive movement of the entire body (ten i), a simultaneous defensive arm movement (ten gi) and a simultaneous rotation of the body center (ten tai) parried. The second attack to the chudan has a lateral evasive movement of the entire body (ten i), a simultaneous defensive arm movement with the right and a fist technique with the left arm (ten gi) and a simultaneous rotation of the body centre (ten tai) countered. Thus, Tran Hieu sensei showed us how both movements involve the principle of san mi ittai. A unison of body and mind.
For those of you who also practise kendo, this principle may sound familiar. It is related to ki ken tai no ichi, the condition when the spirit, the sword and the body are one, a unified construct, in which all essential elements of a strike are together in a single instant, thus culminating in the perfect strike. To think and to act must be like one and the same, in perfect harmony.
Far too soon, the seminar was over, already. My head was full of impressions and my body was tingling with new experiences. I got much inspiration for all my trainings to come. And moreover: for my life. Wado means harmony and its principles – focus, self-control, goal-setting etc. – are applicable to every other aspect of living. Take the step by step process of karate, for example. As an easily overwhelmed Aspergirl, I applied that thinking to my PhD as well and that gives me confidence. I can make things happen – I need to have patience, humour, effort, determination, but I can make these changes in my life. And in the process, I can learn to be healthy, happy and engaged in the world.
I’m a kinder person when I’m training regularly, as I have more empathy and feel a deeper connection with those I interact with and with the world in general. I’m happier and in much better shape. Budo helps me to become closer to my truest self. So, I guess this could be my answer to Tim: karate teaches me to live in harmony. With the world, with other people and within myself.
So, I am very curious what the new budo year 2019 will bring me! A new obi (in a new colour), some exams and competitions… maybe even the National Championship…? That would all be nice, but the more I train, the more I see that those are just the by-products of my dō. And with this blogpost, I hope to have inspired other budoka to reflect on their dō as well.
Update: in 2020, I wrote an essay about autism and martial arts for Zanshin magazine: “The dō less travelled by“.
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