As one ages, oxygenating the body becomes a prime concern in practicing the martial arts, not only for the obvious health reasons but to regulate the qi that could either flow or bottle up. In other words, growing old could either be a blessing or a curse. Even though I knew about qi, I never thought about it much when I was young because my body would force itself through any quagmire through sheer force.
The Las Cumbres Dojo was witness to the last eight years or so of my formal dojo practice; my passage as a middle-aged black belt raging bravely “against the dying of the light.” Although there were quite a few 40 + practitioners, the dojo, as it always did, catered to the very young at heart … and body. My broken chain of training through the years and the reckless life I led outside the dojo exacted their due. Every session was a coin toss between surviving and a sudden heart attack. I prayed they would skip the warm ups that in traditional Goju are the most grueling. That way I would have a modicum of energy left over for the kumite and bunkai. I never actually attained a plateau of conditioning where I could feel comfortable. Denied the external strength that my youth provided by the bucketful, I had to make do with a thimble of energy that I had to learn to use sparingly and wisely.
I had to learn to breathe and move accordingly with its ebb and flow. I had to put ego aside. It was not easy. As a racing car would square itself behind a lead car, I learned to latch on to whatever energy was around. Usually someone else’s. Qi was an elusive butterfly flitting seductively beyond my grasp no matter what I did or did not do. But ego was my albatross as I succumbed to the fear of losing face and would push myself where my body could no longer go.
In the dojo they drove us hard and my old clunker of a body would have to put back all the spare parts that had fallen off during a practice session, spare parts that I could no longer replace nor retool. Every week I would discover a new ache or sprain, sometime not being able to fully close my fist for days.
Style and technique were the least of my concerns after doing katas 200 times. After an hour of continuous katas you really don’t care if you look good. Just being on your feet after wards is all. Slowly I learned to hold back a bit with the outward kime. In reality, I stopped caring how I looked and started paying attention to how I felt. I gave it up. Didn’t care if I got hit or not. I learned to give up before I started and inch my way up from there, from surrender to survival.
So then Sanchin stopped being a test and became a rest. I took refuge in it to fill up the tank. It became my watering hole. I began doing Sanchin for me instead of the sensei and took the blows in stride.
Karate can either bloom or die in a dojo. Karate almost died for me in that dojo. It was after I left that dojo that I learned karate. There I only learned the katas and how to survive. Maybe that was a necessary step to get where I am today. Sometimes dojos unwittingly foster a boot camp mentality, a survival of the fittest in mind and body. Maybe I question that because I lived it and can now discard it, much like a person that has gone to war can claim then that peace is better.