Thursday, 26 June 2008

Karate Diaries

"Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand" Chinese proverb

Well we're in the post-season now, so I'm enjoying a well earned break from basketball. To keep things interesting though I went along to the Gobowen Kempo Karate Club to write a feature on them, so here are by Karate Diaries!

- Border Counties Advertizer June 25, 2008 -
"It's not just fighting Dave!" Back at college my old Chinese room mate was the national Shaolin Kung Fu champion and used to get frustrated when I asked about his fights, insisting that was just one aspect of martial arts.

I always wondered if that was really true, so I jumped at the chance to train with the Gobowen Kempo Karate Club and find out for myself what it's all about.

Thanks to my size and a dose of diplomacy, I've always been pretty successful in avoiding fights, but you wonder what you would do if given no other option. Joining any new club feels a little strange, but the idea of voluntarily putting myself in that kind of situation felt very alien indeed.

Chief instructor, Adrian Davies, has run the non-profit making Gobowen Kempo Karate Club for more than 21 years and says he first tried martial arts after being set upon: "Afterwards I was looking for a way of defending myself, but I found much more than that."

After a warm up and stretch, which showed me how inflexible I am, it was on to basic skillsn and working in pairs to counter attacks and take the opponent to the ground. The group has people of all ages and abilities, from young beginners through to experienced members, all keen to pass on their skills, and all patient with their awkward newcomer.

We took it in turns, one person making five blocked attacking moves then stopping in their final position, The other person then looking at the best options of attack from where the pair had ended up: "It's teaching you to take in your situation, look at the options given to you, and choose your response," explained Adrian.

It was fascinating to watch students perform their katas, precisely practiced flowing movements, whose strange forms all have real applications: "They are like a catalogue of moves and options to chose from," Adrian told me, "but we teach students that the best option is not to be there at all, whether that means avoiding a blow or, better still, recognising a situation and avoiding it completely."

If avoidance is not an option then knowing even the basics of how to stand, fall and block an attack gives you a real feeling of confidence."It's more than just self defence though," says Adrian, "We come to study the martial art. There are many benefits such as improved fitness, balance, control, concentration, and, of course, the ability to defend yourself, but these are the by-products and the art is always the focus. If you become proficient at a martial art, you should become less likely to have to defend yourself in the first place."

He's clearly right. There was no macho aggressiveness from any of the students, all displaying a calm self-control, and a level of respect towards their instructor and each other that I've not encountered in any other sport.

With a history dating back to the Ming Dynasty, there's a depth to karate you don't get with many activities: "Karate is properly applied only in those rare situations in which one really must either down another or be downed by him," wrote one of its pioneers, Gichin Funakoshi, who said it should not be unusual for a student to use their karate perhaps only once in a lifetime, and that those who misused what they learned brought great dishonour upon themselves.

After some pad work, stretching, and a warm down, it was time to finish, each student bowing respectfully as they left. You can see karate has given the older ones a confidence that extends into the rest of their lives, while the youngest students' grins showed they had thoroughly enjoyed Adrian's coaching.

There are many different martial arts on offer around the Oswestry area and with styles ranging from the frenetic stick fighting of Kendo, to the gentle movements of Tai Chi, there is bound to be one that has what you're looking for.

As for me, I now understand a little better what my old room mate was trying to tell me, and have to agree, it really isn't all about fighting after all.