Girls in martial arts: yay or nay? (or, How karate improves your life) – pt. 2

Girls in martial arts, yay or nay; or: How karate improves your life pt. 2

After we’ve mastered some of the basic ways karate or any martial arts can improve one’s life, it’s now time to keep learning more of it. Read on to see how karate teaches you to focus or emphasize your femininity.

 

Karate can improve your life in many ways

So here is the continuation of the list on How karate improves your life.

 

9: Learn to focus

Depending on your age, attending karate lessons inevitably entails organising your daily errands differently so you could fit in all the activities that need to be done.

In my case, it’s usually 8am-4pm job, sometimes giving extra English lessons to my colleagues, preparing food and eating in well in advance, remembering to bring all my equipment with me (kimono, flip-flops, belt, sweat bands, dry t-shirt, eyedrops, water, lipbalm, paper tissues, hair band, etc.), and remembering to turn on the water heater if there’s not enough hot water, as I need to shower after I get back. Sometimes I have to buy tomorrow’s breakfast after my lesson, or do a gazillion of other tasks.

If you let things go round and round in your brain, you could easily go nuts.

But, with my karate lessons, I learnt how to focus, because I decided so. It is the exact same thing I used to say to my pupils while I worked in school: if you are forced to sit in my class, you might just as well use it to learn something instead of disrupting the entire class. When doing martial arts, if you do it for yourself, you will learn how to leave all your worries where they belong – outside of dojo – and just focus on doing the best you can at the given moment. Nothing besides the lesson matters: you want to have the proper stance, you want to give powerful kicks, and to learn as much as you can, and be the best possible version of yourself that can be.

 

 

10: Appreciate ancient skills

Once I returned to my karate lessons after more than a decade, with a green belt from the past, I needed to get back on track as soon as possible, which involved reading extensively to get the grip of all I need to re-learn or learn more of.

And once I started reading some material I collected online, I realised all it takes, for starters, is to learn some basic terminology, and what movement each command involves. All martial arts are based on an organised system of movements, named for the body part performing the action, similar to a language. In fact, they are a language in their own right.

After the basics, I wanted to learn more. I needed more books. Luckily, my father used to do martial arts long ago, and kept the books. Those now form my small martial arts library and have a shelf in my room. Not a big one though, but still big enough to accommodate the few resources I have.

And after you delve deeper into the literature, what will inevitably happen is you will start appreciating ancient skills and develop an interest in them. The more you know about them, the better will you feel about yourself being a part of it now, and the more will you repent for stopping long ago and missing out on so much for such a long time.

For example, we’ve all heard about Bruce Lee, the greatest movie star martial artist whose speed was so great the film cameras at the time had to slow down in order to record him, otherwise his arms or legs were virtually invisible: he’d finish the movement before the human eye was able to detect it. I wanted to learn more about him. I read. I came across Ip Man, Bruce Lee’s wing chun master. I wanted to know more about wing chun. I saw all Ip Man movies. I learnt that Bruce Lee’s father taught him tai chi chuan. I used to do tai chi chuan for years. I started watching all Bruce Lee’s movies, to see what made him such a star, maybe even try understanding the origins of his mastery. I also learnt that Jean Claude Van Damme has a 2nd dan black belt in karate, but that he also did kickboxing, taekwondo, muay thai and even ballet. Yes, ballet. I started watching his movies and admiring him for his splits. I once could almost do both splits, but am now so far away from it. Maybe I could do it again one day?

Do you see where I am headed?

Once you set the wheel in motion, nothing can stop it. And it feels G-R-E-A-T!

 

11: Wearing a kimono

I already mentioned several times – in my club we do the traditional Shotokan karate. That also includes wearing a traditional karate kimono and a belt, and being barefoot, in each and every lesson.

There is always somebody who does not wear a kimono, either because they are coming straight from school, or from uni, or whichever reason. It is okay, sensei won’t make a fuss about it, unless you constantly do it, in which case you risk being reprimanded publicly.

I didn’t wear the kimono in first two or three lessons only. I started practising in my tracksuit and a t-shirt. After that, I went home and brought the kimono with me, and have not skipped a lesson wearing it since.

However, it was not even my kimono – I got it from a cousin, long after she had stopped training, because I needed it for one of the first exams, and never actually wore it besides the exams. Understandably, it was a children-sized kimono, and I needed to buy a new one, of the right size.

I went for the kata kimono, size 170 (I am 174 cm tall).

Belt is an integral part of the kimono. Once again, I had with me the children-size green belt when I went back to my lessons last year. Assistant sensei gave me a better one, and I used it until I passed the blue belt exam.

Now my training gear entails wearing my own kata kimono and my blue belt.

Several lessons ago, I forgot to bring my belt with me. It felt so STRANGE. I don’t think I would even be able to do anything had the assistant sensei not given me the green one from before once again.

After that I realised that exercising in kimono in particular, after you get used to it, somehow introduces that special notion of tradition into your lesson, and it forces you to do your best every time.

If we transfer this to real life, I believe karate teaches you discipline. You know once you wear your kimono you are all set to start exercising, and even if you had to not exercise in the kimono, it kind of does not feel the same.

 

12: Skipping karate lessons

Many different people do karate in my club. From children aged 4 or 5 or 6, over school children, teenagers, students, adults. Different levels as well, ranging from zero (white belt) all the way to black belt, with yellow, orange, green, blue and brown belts in between. We are divided in two age groups – young children, and adults. In that sense, we are all same and no discrimination exists.

However, what differentiates us is our motivation to do karate. And anyone observing from outside can easily see it himself.

Many children come to lessons because their parents force them to. It manifests in their attitude, their effort, their abilities. Such children never do good, and no matter how much you try correcting their mistakes, they persist. They are always late for lessons, they skip them whenever they can, they are happy when lessons last shorter than usual, and will never put in any effort in additional exercises nor come to additional lessons on weekends or during the week.

On the other hand, there are we who want to do karate not because we think it is cool, nor because somebody’s forcing us. We do it because of us – something deep, deep down, that pushes us to give our max every time. Well, maybe not really every time, but you get the point. I am always there in time, I look forward to long lessons and extra exercises, to new techniques, I never complain, I come to additional lessons during the week and in the weekends.

In fact, the worst thing about being sick to me is not skipping work but not being able to go to my regular karate lessons!

13: Injuries

Sports injuries are quite common in just any sport. But, in martial arts, in fact in any sports you decide to take upon yourself, you will learn to love these injuries and hate them at the same time if they force you to skip a lesson!

One of the first injuries that happened to me was overstretching my thighs muscles with my partner. He saw I was flexible and thought I’d be able to handle it, but I wasn’t. So something just snapped in my left thigh, it felt like an elastic band snapped and stayed that way. I do longer even remember how bad it felt. It didn’t hurt when I touched my thigh, but it forced me to refrain from exercising for a couple of days. I still hate the exercise, even though we regularly do it.

Secondly, we were practising a kata, long time ago, and were supposed to switch direction and sway the right hand in the air to perform another block. And while I was swaying it, it felt as if someone pinched my muscle and extracted it from my arm. Luckily, it never happened again.

Thirdly, there are periods, which come and go, when blisters on my feet simply won’t go away. Interestingly, they didn’t start appearing until 4 or five months after I started training. At some point, I had 4 blisters, two in each foot, that were active one at the time for weeks. Such injuries, if I may even call them that, are quite annoying, because although they don’t really prevent you from exercising, they debilitate you, i.e. prevent you from doing your best. Using panthenol every night helps as a preventative measure, but once they start reappearing, nothing helps.

Fourthly, I hurt my left knee. It didn’t even happen during my lesson but after it: I did a squat to reach something under the sink, and only heard a crackling sound in my knee. It was also relatively perfidious injury, as it prevented me from walking in general more than the minimum for quite some time.

And the last thing happened just recently. I was ironing my kimono, and the iron barely touched my right knee. It didn’t hurt, and for several hours didn’t even seem as noteworthy. However, it’s been 7 days now, the crust keeps forming and falling off, not healing at all. I even stained my kimono with blood from it.

After so many injuries, I even started wondering: am I healthy enough to do karate, or is all this just normal?

 

14: Martial arts are all natural

I recently got a client who sells food supplements mostly aimed at professional body builders. His product range spans from amino acids, whey proteins, casein, protein shakes, BCAA, EEA, fat burners, weight gainers, and the like. I noticed most of these products are dissolved in either milk of water, meaning that their proteing content is just added up to the milk protein in general. And seeing the prices of those supplements, whoa!

Then, two days ago I rummaged through another client’s Insta feed to see if there’s any room for improvement, and I admired the girl in all photos for her perfectly trained bod, with no gram of body fat, perfectly flat abs, nicely shaped booty, and started wishing I could be any more like her. Then, in one post, she mentioned she supplements her nutrition with BCAA and other crap. And the sand castle I had built around her perfectly toned body just fell apart.

It was in that moment I realised it is only martial arts that will give you 100% naturally shaped body. Weight lifting and fitness are all cool to look at, but to obtain long-lasting results you have to completely change your nutrition plan and inevitably start consuming those amino acids, whey proteins, casein, BCAA, etc. And, like a yoyo, once you stop using them, your body goes back to its natural shape or form, or, even worse, deteriorates from it worse than not ever having used any of those.

I do not want that. And, thank god for my sanity, after I came to terms with the idea I will never ever have that perfectly shaped body, I started appreciating martial arts even more, as the sole element they rely on is your own body weight, or your partner’s. You do not use any additional equipment, no switch in food regimen, no food supplements – the philosophy behind martial arts is they should bring you to peace with your own body and mind and bringing to surface what is already there inside you naturally, in harmony with nature and human body – and the results may turn out to be devastatingly slow, so slow you will not even notice them for months.

But, once the results are there, you will know they will last as long as it took you to obtain them. And it will make you feel great about yourself once you realise all those fancy shmancy weight lifters and professional fitness freaks are nothing but a soap bubble – make them skip a day of their training or eat the normal people’s food, it is the end of the world for them, to say the least. You skip a day or a week, as a martial artist, and, believe it or not, the world will still be spinning! You eat a hamburger or French fries after you’ve gone out or a steak for dinner – your body will thank you for supplying it with just what you need!

Doesn’t that make you feel grateful for doing martial arts?

 

15: You will learn how to emphasise your femininity

Believe it or not, a colleague who recently joined our team practices boxing. Several years ago, she was diagnosed with thyroid gland malfunction, and had so much energy she knew not what to do with. Since she was so young (and she still is), luckily for her, instead of opting out for medications to treat her hyperactivity, her doctor resolved to advising her to find a physical activity that would help her spend the excessive energy she had in a natural way.

And there she is now, years later, doing boxing! You would never be able to see it on her: she has no muscles, she’s tall and slim, wears girly clothes, and only after you learn about her hobby do you actually pay attention to her body. Today she even came to work waring tracksuit and basketball sneakers, with a baseball cap and huge headphones, carrying her sports equipment with her in a sports bag that she left below her desk.

What I am trying to say here is that doing martial arts will definitely not make you less feminine. In fact, it may even do the opposite: teach you how to display your femininity in quite simple ways.

Since we do traditional Shotokan karate, our sensei prefers us to exercise also wearing traditional karate kimonos. Boys, girls, women, men, nobody looks attractive in such sacks. It literally makes you look fat and very unflattering. But you will learn how to come to terms with it, and pay no attention to it. If you want to be a woman, there are other places more suitable for that than the dojo.

Wearing a lipstick or waterproof mascara are acceptable, but not if you are anything like me. It happened to me recently that I bought a lilac mascara and couldn’t remove it because I didn’t know it would be such a hassle, so I went to my lesson wearing it. All the girls loved it, and I had no idea it was so noticeable! It felt awful! And two lessons ago, since I exercised with the sensei, I was sweating so excessively that sweat was dripping into my eyes. Literally.

After all, it’s not about the big things you wear, such as kimono. It’s about how you feel in your body, and I can tell you for sure that what karate did to my femininity would never have happened had I not returned to my lessons, and I could not be happier for it.

 

To bring things to a close, at the moment I firmly believe what I have experienced so far was just scratching the surface of martial arts benefits, and what I know for sure is that I just can’t wait to discover more!

 

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Missed out some of my previous posts? Make sure to check them out here:

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