It is almost five years since I started doing Myo Sim kendo. I told someone recently that I'd been doing it for six years, but it's really only five. I've been doing Myo Sim karate for a bit more than two years. In the five years since starting Myo Sim something, I've had countless bruises and more than once been asked in a roundabout fashion by medical personnel if I'm in an abusive relationship. I've had swollen fingers and knuckles. I've had the back of my head cracked open and one of my front teeth knocked askew (it reset into position on its own but not without a wee bit of pain). I've had minor knee surgery to be able to keep doing kendo and minor hand surgery to be able to keep doing karate. At the immediate moment, I have bruised knuckles on my left hand (from kendo a week ago but not helped by last night's karate, a bruised left shoulder (from karate a week ago), and a brand-new bruise on my right shoulder from last night's lesson on punching.
So why do I keep subjecting myself to all this? Because every now and then there is a class or workout that is so special that I grin with joy for days afterward. Such classes are rarely easy; I usually leave them soaked in sweat and drinking massive amounts of water. We've actually had one of those classes in both karate and kendo recently. The kendo one we did blindfolded. Yes, we swung bamboo swords at each other while our eyes were covered. Mind you, we were wearing full sets of kendo armor at the time, including the men or helmet. What was amazing about this was that once I got over the anxiety associated with the first strike and the first block, I knew I could do this just fine. Five years of doing head strikes have left me with a pretty good idea of where the head of someone facing me would be and where a strike coming at my head is likely to land. The instructor who did this class is a challenging one. I usually feel less than competent during his lessons, which made the feeling of competence in this one even sweeter. It was a real confidence builder.
The recent one in karate involved doing self defenses for three straight minutes. A self defense is a response to a grab. I know eight of these techniques; a first-degree black belt will know more than 20. Watching these, you might think that they involve throwing and being thrown. Actually, someone who appears to have been thrown has chosen to fall in order to avoid having something broken. Someone who appears to throw someone else has actually just put them in the position to fall or be broken, and falling is always the better of the two. We practice self defenses in a circle. The person in the center is open for grabbing by anyone on the outside of the circle in any way for which the person attacked knows the response and the person attacking knows the fall. This means someone could grab you from any direction--front, side, or back. You have to respond almost immediately. It sounds easier than it is. Take my word for it--three minutes is a long time. And it's a very physical workout whether you're attacking or being attacked. Moreover, when we did this class last week, I had not done any self defenses in over two months due to the hand surgery. I blanked for a moment on the response to one grab, but so did several other people. We all quickly recovered and completed the technique. I finished my three minutes in the center of the circle tired but confident that I could have continued if I had needed to.
You may have noticed that a feeling of confidence appeared in both the class situations I described. One of the things I like about the martial arts I do is that they offer a workout that is as much mental as physical. My performance on an exercise cycle or elliptical machine is all physical; there's no real mental aspect to it other than keeping the physical part going. One day's workout is pretty much like any other. Karate and kendo challenge me mentally as well as physically. Learning the techniques is as much a mental process as a physical one. As I understand a technique better, my performance of it usually improves. When I prepare to practice either martial art, I need to clear my mind of the day behind or ahead of me. While I may spend my time on a rowing machine or a treadmill (I actually hate treadmills but wanted a fourth type of cardio equipment to cite) rehashing things done and still to do, I want those as far as possible from my mind during martial arts. My mind gets a break from the mundane and gets to do something different just as my body does.
I'm not sure I've done a good job of explaining this, but hopefully I've done an adequate one. I know that acquaintances often see my latest bruise(s), and give me a look that suggests they wonder at my sanity for engaging in such activity six times a week. The next time that happens, I can direct them to this post for a good part of the reason. And, as our senior master kendo instructor likes to note, "If it were easy, what would be the fun in staying with it?" He's working his way through his 70s now, suggesting that I have a few more years of martial arts ahead of me.