At Holiday Time, I Must Sound Like a Broken Record (A 78 LP)

Last week, as I was trying to do a rare bit of Christmas shopping, I ran into a second cousin that I hadn’t seen in years.  As we chatted, her first question was, “Hey Wes, are you still doing karate?”  I answered in the affirmative and realized that this same inquiry always comes up when I run into old friends and relatives.  I think that it’s what must come to mind when they see me.  Yes, I’m still doing it, although some of you may not know that I briefly “quit” karate three times over the last 48 years.  Aha!, I had found my inspiration for my holiday note to you all.  It was about quitting karate, and about returning to karate (Question: Which do you think is easier?)  Anyways, as the keyboard started tapping out my seasonal ruminations, I began to slow down and realize that this all felt so familiar.  Looking back over old notes, I found that I had actually written (extensively!) on the same subject, at the same time of the year, back in 2010 and back in 2007.  Man, am I a broken record or what? (kids, your parents will tell you what a 33 or 78LP record was, haha).  So, being the lazy…er, efficient guy that I am, here are my re-packaged (as in re-gifting) holiday messages about perseverance:

From the 2010 Holiday Season:
As most of you know, this is my favorite time of year – I love spending Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year with family and friends.  It’s a time of renewing relationships, reminiscing, and preparing for the year to come.  For those of us in the workplace (or school place), it’s the only time of the year where a slew of mandatory holidays and liberal leave policies allow most of us to spend time away from the usual grind.  Like that old Coca-Cola advertisement saying, it’s….”The pause that refreshes.”

Of course, in addition to being the season of good cheer and bowl games, this is also prime cold/flu season.  For many karateka, it also happens to be the time of year that contains the most interruptions to the annual training routine.  For most of us, that’ll be a good time of refreshment and reflection.  Unfortunately, there can also be some negative effects of the holidays which don’t normally show up till sometime later.  For example, ever notice how a bad cold will creep in following these good times?  We normally chalk it up to the weather, the busy-ness of the season, or even letting our guard down, psychologically and physically for a few weeks, like the cold that often follows a vacation.  Other delayed effects include all of the credit card bills that come in the mail a month or two later, haha.  One delayed effect of the holiday season that doesn’t sneak up on us until much later, perhaps the following January or February, is the realization that a few regular members are missing in the lineup.  Now, people come and go in a dojo/ministry all of the time – it’s just that this seems to be the season when even a student who has been faithfully training for a long time may gradually end their walk with karate-do.  I think this happens because the holidays can affect one’s training rhythm.  Like pushing a heavy boulder up a steep hill; it requires constant effort for any progress to be made.  The greatest danger is when one has to pause while catching one’s breath, because once the boulder stops moving upward, or worse yet, when it starts rolling back down, it is so much harder to reverse this negative inertia.

If training were pure unmitigated fun, relaxing, and easy (like going to the movies or a day at the beach), everyone would always show up for every session, bright and early, ready for class to begin (pass the popcorn!).  Actually, for many, it is all these things, especially early in the training cycle.  With the passage of time, however, more and more is expected of oneself.  And for every karateka, at some point, it can actually become a chore or tasking – no doubt, a worthwhile activity that’s good for us in so many ways….but competing with so many other activities that are more fun.  During the holiday season, there is a natural tendency for any pause or interruption to become a series of breaks, a long break, and sometimes the prelude to the ending of one’s journey with karate-do.  This is not unlike the occasional trip or fall during a long hike or in the middle of a race – the real challenge is to get up on one’s feet, restart, and overcome the set-back.  I’ve known far too many karateka who had to stop for various reasons…but were never able to get back up and restart once the interruption was over – as much as they wanted or intended to.  Often it was a feeling of discouragement, having slowly gotten into decent shape and learning so many things; yet realizing that as a temporary break lengthens, the hard-won conditioning/flexibility wanes and the feeling that so many techniques and moves have become fuzzy or forgotten.  A frustration that every long-time sempai/sensei has had to overcome multiple times.  For many, it was the thought of having to work so hard just to get back to some semblance of what one once took for granted.  For some, it was actually a twinge of embarrassment or guilt (like missing much of a school semester) that prevented a good student from returning.  I know, because I’ve experienced every one of these feelings and emotions, myself.

For that reason, I always try to “keep the light on”, so that whenever the student is ready, he/she feels free to make an easy return to the line-up.  I’m happy whenever an old-time member comes back – no matter how rusty their karate may have gotten – because I know the effort they made just to overcome the inertia just to get there.  As with most things, the impetus ultimately lies with the student.  Most of us know folks who, for some reason, dropped out of college before completing their degree.  In wistful tones, I hear them say how they wished they had stuck it out, or how they intended to finish but the years/job/responsibilities got in the way, or how college just wasn’t meant for them…in one word, “regret”.  Similarly, I know of far too many former karateka from the ranks who still carry regrets that they stopped their training prematurely.  On the other hand, I have yet to meet one who ever regretted making their way back to the dojo.  The longest pause I ever took lasted several years and it ended when I heard that Shihan was personally teaching in Mililani where we live.  We went down to sign up my young son and Shihan asked me if I was coming back to train, and I surprised myself when “Yes!” popped out of my mouth.  A couple of nights later, I remember sheepishly entering the dojo wearing a new gi (my old ones were in moldering in the boxes), stretching out the stiff muscles after a long break and feeling so ancient….I was only 30 years old, haha – boy, what I would have missed out on, if I had let my journey end back then.  Don’t get me wrong, be assured that there will, indeed, be that last time that one gets to do anything in one’s lifetime, including karate-do.  Just make sure that it’s not premature or regretful.  Hang in there during the frustrating/slow/after-the-holidays times, and you’ll be amazed at just how much higher you can push that boulder up that mountain.

Man, am I repetitive or what?  As I was sending this note out, I came across what I thought was a recent draft note dated in November….except, upon closer inspection, it turned out to be the beginning of a note from November of 2007 that I never sent out!  I suppose that in the midst of that holiday season three years ago, my thoughts must have drifted onto the same topic, except I was thinking about the ocean…

From the 2007 Holiday Season:
Something I often tell students is that in karate-do, like so many other things in life, it helps to keep somewhat within sight of the activity.  I’ve always said that it’s like being in the middle of the ocean, trying to get to land.  There’s no getting around the fact that the destination may be many nautical miles away.  But, if you’re on or swimming right alongside an escort boat and dozens of other swimmers, heading in the same direction, land doesn’t seem so far away; you just keep on stroking and kicking along with your company.  Unfortunately, sometimes we have interruptions that prevent training for a few classes…and the boat/fellow swimmers move off 20, 50, 100 yards away.  Still, a few minutes of purposeful swimming, and before you know it, you’re back with the group.  However, if you spend too long resting in one place, treading water, your support group gets farther and farther away….so much harder to catch up with it.  And if more time passes without action on your part, the whole group gradually disappears over the horizon and you really are swimming by yourself in the middle of the lonely ocean while hopes of regaining your place and reaching shore on your own, dwindle away.  It becomes harder not to give up at this point.

I was going to toss it, but figured, heck, it’s still a valid analogy about the same phenomenon – and we’ve probably lost some swimmers in the three years since I wrote it, eh?  I’m not really sure why I often use the water/ocean analogy…Personally, I can’t even “swim” more than 100 yards.  Come to think of it, I don’t believe that I’ve ever pushed a boulder uphill….HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

If you persevered this far, you’ve reached the end of the note…er, notes.  Haha.  I now realize how truly long-winded (and repetitive) I can be😏.  I really do wish that you all continue to have a very Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year in 2019!

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