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The Long And Winding Road... Back To The Dojo

The Fab Four, back in the day, probably had no idea just how their classic pop ballad would one day translate over the decades into the rather appropriate description in a post-pandemic world about the tough and stressful journey of closing down the Karate dojo for yet another long period of time. Yes, of course, this awful and relentless virus has out of necessity forced a close to everything that we all took for granted, and why would not we? But for me, the closing down of Karate was a particularly bitter pill to swallow.

Why? Well, to be fair, because in my cancer-dictated world it was my one sense of normality in a very abnormal world. It was my compass, my one dose of me knowing what I had to do twice a week for an hour and a half.

Frankly no time at all in the life of an ordinary week, but for me it was my sane time. That space where I was in a position where I knew just who I was and what I needed to do. And that was easy. My job was to to simply go and teach Shotokan Karate to those dear friends who wanted to train as much as I did. And that was just what I did and so when over night that light was extinguished along with everything else, I was well, frankly, rudderless. I had lost my raison d'etre as had the rest of the world.

So what did we do about it? We improvised. Like people do when calamity strikes. And we worked out a Zoom plan of three sessions a week. And guess what, it worked out really well, only because of the intervention of my very dear friend Patrick Jones who kindly allowed us to use his license for three lessons a week.

And so it continued. Tuesday night was hard core fitness care of Sensei Wayne Ricketts and his seriously hardcore karate fitness lessons. I blooming well loved them. They were excellent and uncompromising. One hour of timed tough karate basics for 40 seconds stop, rest, then back you go, sounds easy? No, far from it. Really came away with your heart in your mouth, and your lungs begging for oxygen, but boy did it make you fitter.

In comparison, I held two lessons a week for an hour and a half. Similar in many ways, basic kihon and kata but at a high tempo, and in fairness I loved it. It kept me relevant and gave me focus, and purpose in a world where suddenly identity had vanished. But not in the world of Karate, if you wanted to train you still could, albeit within the confined parameters of a bedroom, a lounge, a hall, or even a conservatory. Point is, if you wanted it to happen enough, then guess what, you made it happen. And that is just what we did, and not just me, my very dear friends at Ippon Ken Shotokan Karate club lead by the inspiring Sensei Kathy Dearden and Karen Wilton, and a good number of their students joined in and guess what before long others were piling in and sweating and working along with all of us.

And then suddenly with the rollout of the vaccination came salvation, the opening of the dojo, and last Thursday at Clent village hall, we returned to the dojo. And it was simply magnificent, not just that joy of lining up and training in Shotokan Karate but far more important being back together friends, and brothers and sisters equal and engaged, sharing our passion. In truth, after an hour I lost my voice but who cares, it was just super to be there with kindred spirits all feeding off that energy and effort and enjoying our training.

So, today was day two of training, back in the Nuffield dojo and again for me it was liberating and joyous in equal measure everyone tried really hard and the spirit in the dojo was focused and infectious in equal measure.

There is truthfully nothing finer than watching good people doing their very best to improve their Karate, and even better that ethos spreads and the energy is electric and all-consuming. It is actually very hard to describe what that experience is like and I respect very much that for those who do not train, it may well sound like nonsense, but trust me, it is actually very real, and addictive once you are part of it.

So, I hope that I have done some justice to the Fab Four, and their truly epic song is in any endeavour long and winding, and in the case of those who chose to pursue the challenge of Shotokan Karate Do, it is in many ways beyond challenging and it lasts a lifetime. But my friends, that is its eternal appeal. Can you match that challenge no matter the cost you might pay, to achieve that illusive and most holy of grails, not the shallow reflection of the colour of a belt, or a number on a certificate but the much greater and rewarding prize of what the founder of Shotokan Karate himself Sensei Gichin Funakoshi famously said: the real purpose of training in Shotokan Karate do, lies not in defeating an opponent, but in seeking to perfect your character. What a great lesson in life and who knows - maybe just maybe that journey is what John, Paul, George and Ringo were alluding to...but I doubt it


Sensei Austin


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