This is a guest post written by Jonas Bieri, of Switzerland. He is currently a 3rd kyu brown belt in Shotokan Karate-Do with the Global Martial Arts University. He also maintains a blog about his karate journey.
When my kids started Karate at a local dojo, my interest in the Shotokan style started. Watching them train, learn and grow made me want to practice Karate, too. Observing their world-class japanese instructor teach them techniques, mindset and stamina, and seeing all the kids improve, rank, sometimes fail and retry, motivated me enormously.
Being already a student in a local Goshindo Jiu Jitsu dojo and training once or twice a week, I did not want to spend yet another weeknight away from the family to practice Karate, so in 2016 I joined the Global Martial Arts University with their distance learning course to learn Karate at home via video lessons instead. We have some free space in the corridor between the kids’ rooms, that’s where I placed a mirror and now call it my home dojo.
The beginning was easy. Every free minute I slipped into my Karate gi and practiced along the lessons and classes of Sensei Jon. I already knew about the techniques from watching my kids, so I progressed fast, and soon I was able to test for yellow belt. I made space in the living room, started the camera on my phone - and felt horrible stage fright creep up on me!
I have never had problems with oral examinations at school or uni, but demonstrating my Karate on video for my Sensei, that was different territory. It really is hard for me to keep calm, breathe, and stay focused while still relaxing my body during an exam. Never before have I experienced a mental blackout, but in Karate exams this happens regularly to me (as you can observe in my latest examination video at 3:00). Thus for me practicing to overcome the blackouts is a great lesson for life.
The level of stress may be lower than what my kids experience during their exam in front of their Sensei and parents, but I think this is compensated by the much longer and physically more demanding video exam the GMAU requires. With each belt level, new techniques are added to the syllabus, and it gets more demanding. Even though with the addition of the different kicks the training gets harder, I now prefer longer training sessions than I did at the beginning. At yellow belt level I usually trained 30-60 minutes, while I now prefer 1-2 hour sessions. The longer the session, the more important it is to vary training intensity, so I had to learn to listen better to my body.
I usually do not plan my training session ahead - I begin with a short, 30 seconds meditation to calm my everyday thoughts and worries, focus on the state of my body and mind, what feels good and what not. Often I start with one of the video classes for the warm up, no matter what belt level they are targeted at. Depending on my mood and how much my legs can take, I vary the intensity of the basic techniques (Kihon) that follows. Sometimes I control myself in the mirror, sometimes I trust my body feeling alone. Towards a belt exam, I remove the mirror to gain confidence in what I do and how it feels, and shoot a video to check if what I feel matches how it looks from the outside.
I never do a training session without Kata. Usually I repeat every Kata twice, finishing with that required for the next belt level. Learning a new Kata is always hard for me, I’m not the fastest learner. It takes real dedication, perseverance and many hours of watching videos, checking my Karate books over and over, visualizing myself working through the techniques several times a day (e.g. before drifting off to sleep at night), and of course physically training the form dozens of times. Yet it’s worth it.
With my Kata training I think I now understand and feel what C. W. Nicols describes as “Moving Zen” in his Karate Memoirs. I often reach that state Sensei Jon describes as “No Mind”, where Kata movements just flow without thinking about what was and what’s next, and my mind is completely focused on the here and now. After such a session I feel reinvigorated, relaxed and full of energy for life.
And for me, that’s what it is all about.
Jonas is an active contributor on our Discussion Board, and has also filmed a "Student Created Class" for the entire shotokan student base. When you login to a free or enrolled account, go to Extras, then "Student Created Classes" to see his class.