Why 33? No particular reason. Just thought it was a nice number. Here’s a list of 33 reasons to love Goju Ryu karate:
1. Fitness – before I started Goju Ryu I was the Jonny Vegas of fitness – preferring a pint of Guinness and a massive bag of crisps to any form of exercise. Scaling the stairs at home was exhausting (not kidding). I must admit, I’m finding it hard to shake the crisps habit, but I am now much, much fitter. I’m even considering doing our local fit-trail. You know, the ones you find in middle-class suburban parks, built with tax-payers money but hardly used? Yes. That’s the one. Pop down to Frimley Lodge Park next Saturday and you might see me attempting to scale an obstacle or two. I’ll be the one who is clad in all-over-body sweat. The running snake you’ll see next to me will be Jamie Van Damme. My favourite fitness training in the dojo is Okinawa style (in a circle), because you can see everyone’s pain.
2. Physical strength – I had my illusion of “I’m pretty strong” smashed in an instant, the day I picked up a chishi and started swinging it around my head. Ow, my wrist. Ow, my arm. Ow, legs?!? Goju Ryu also improves your ability to grab, tear, pound and smash. BOOOOOMMMM!
3. Concentration – the average sustained attention span of an adult human is about 20 minutes. Our class lasts 90 minutes and requires your focussed attention for the duration. Nothing less. I think I have Goju Ryu-related Attention Deficit Disorder…I’m always forgetting / mixing up my moves.
4. Self-defence – thank goodness I have never had to use the moves I have learnt and I hope it stays that way. But there is a certain amount of satisfaction knowing that you have the moves to defend yourself and it makes for excellent mirror or shadow fighting. I especially love learning how to defend against someone with a knife…it really ups the ante and you hear of so many people suffering the same situations in real-life. It’s plastic knives in the dojo, though. We’ll leave the real ones to the nutters.
5. Self-discipline – in many ways you need to have a degree of self-discipline already at your disposal before starting any kind of martial art. It requires commitment. Going to karate once a week won’t do it. 2 or 3 times a week is better. But the discipline you are taught in the dojo is excellent. You must ALWAYS try to do something – never do nothing.
6. Respect for others – I’ve only had the smallest of glimpses into the world of Goju Ryu karate, but it is enough to understand why other karate-ka (myself included) have the utmost respect for other karate-ka, senior grades, sempai and sensei. The dedication, time, effort, sheer hard work that has gone into getting to where they are is immense. That deserves respect from the get-go. Even if you don’t quite see why when you start, you soon learn. Respect is given to everything – even inanimate objects like the dojo and the training equipment. Respect is at the heart of Goju Ryu karate.
7. Focus – visions of the scene in Karate Kid when Daniel-san has been duped into fixing up Mr. Myagi’s house and told to hammer some nails into wood. Without focus he finds it difficult, hammering several times with each nail. With focus, the same nails take one swift blow and it’s in. Goju Ryu teaches this same principle of focus…without the hammer, not a nail in sight, and so far Sensei hasn’t duped us into building him a Japanese garden. I’ll run for the hills if he ever brings his Black-and-Decker workmate into the dojo.
8. Control – anyone can throw a punch and swing their arms in wild abandon. Note the haymaker. The usually drunken attempt to punch someone else, seen often on the streets of Newcastle. I know, I’m a Geordie. I’m glad to report that there are no haymakers in the dojo. Even the punches that do connect rarely hurt…ok, sometimes they’ll smart a bit. Sometimes you’ll get winded. That’s because we employ control. Lots of it. Bucket loads.
9. Awareness of others – I watch the movement of others much more now. When I walk through a crowd of people in Waterloo or on a busy tube platform, I’ve become ultra aware of everyone. Now I am not sure why or how this has happened (explanations are welcome!) but it is a really surreal but secure feeling.
10. Awareness of self – me and Jamie van Damme must have looked so funny doing Gekisai Dai Ichi kata for the first time. I am counting 76 corrections I’ve made to this kata since I learnt it for the first time. And I’ve not doubt many more alterations will be made going forward. One noticeable change is that I am now much more self-aware. When I do a kata I am much more aware of my body position, posture, hands, legs, feet, eyes…everything!
11. Breathing – I have inhaled and exhaled more thoroughly than a set of Scottish bagpipes at the Edinburgh Tattoo. I’ve inhaled so deeply that I thought I was going to burst. Then exhaling every single last drop of air out of my lungs, with a stressed hissing sound as the last morsel of air leaves my mouth. It is a pulmonary workout and I think it helps with my asthma, though that claim is not substantiated by any medical proof. However, for all you fellow asthma suffers, do check out the Buteyko method. I think he has some valid and worthwhile points.
12. Continuous learning – imagine you’re climbing a very big hill. You’ve already hiked a long way, body and legs are aching. You are yearning for the summit. The crest of the hill is in sight, only 50 meters of steep climbing left. You approach the crest, the view of the horizon is winching down inch by inch, your eyes searching expectantly for the magnificent vista. Suddenly you are crushed with the weight of disappointment spilling over you like an alpine avalanche as you see yet another hill to climb. This one is even steeper than the last. The summit is still not in sight. This is what the learning is like in karate. You think you have got it nailed. Then Sensei will reveal another hill for you to climb. As long as you’re up for the continuous challenge, those hills will never stop coming.
13. Ceremony – I quite like the ceremony that marks the start and end of each class. Precisely for that reason. It marks the start and end of the class. Perfect. Neat. Simple.
14. Wearing a uniform – call me old-fashioned but I think that uniform and state of mind are closely connected. In my eyes, the more uniform the uniform is, the more others perceive there to be an associated importance with whomever is wearing that uniform. It’s like a brand – you see it and associate feelings with what you see. Oh yeah, and the Goju Ryu symbol is really cool. If it were a car being reviewed on Top Gear, it would be put on the ‘Sub Zero’ wall.
15. Inspiration – the senior grades and Senseis in our class are truly inspirational. They have done things that I only dream of doing. Have been to places that I yearn to go. Learnt things that I want to learn. It is for that reason that I’m in (sounding like a Peter Jones off of Dragons Den).
16. Practical application –Other forms of karate do not really teach you the application of kata – kata is a series of set moves. I’ve seen it in the little amount of Wado Ryu that I’ve done. They simply make you do the kata and that is it – no explanation. Goju Ryu teaches you kata and then spends equally as much time teaching you why you have just done a particular combination. It shows you how to apply the kata in fighting situations. It’s practical. It makes sense of the kata. I think it makes you do the kata better.
17. Venting your frustration – I work in London. There are lots of angry people in London. I see many of them during my commute to Kings Cross. Heads down, daring not to look anyone in the eye for fear they might get a verbal or physical bashing from an angry commuter who has just been pushed a bit too far. I know, I’ve been that commuter. It’s sad. But the feeling of stress and anger amongst commuters is infectious. It’s called ‘herd behaviour’. Sometimes you need to vent and Goju Ryu gives me that outlet. I often vent my frustrations on a well seasoned punch bag. Afterwards, I feel better and shattered. The next day I know that I’ll not be quite so annoyed during my commute. My inner rage is tempered.
18. A clear path of progression – the karate career path is extremely clear. Crystal, in fact. Start at white belt, advance through each colour of belt, up to black, then you have degrees of ‘Dan’ for black belt after that. Easier said than done though. From novice to black belt will probably take me 5-6 years. I want to do it by the time I’m 40.
19. Grounding – this happens in more ways than one. In the physical and emotional senses. Physically, we are taught to root our feet to the ground. Sliding, or stuck firm. My instep has ached on several occasions. In the emotional sense, Goju Ryu keeps your ego in check. You are never allowed to get above yourself. I recommend that politicians study Goju Ryu.
20. Core strength – when you engage your core, your whole body feels it. It helps with your power, balance and movement. It radiates and affects every part of the body. If your core is strong, you are strong. Make sure you do it right though, as pushing in the wrong way can have miserable side effects for anyone standing in the near vicinity (and to yourself, come to think of it!). To avoid such disasters, here are some exercises that develop your core.
21. Understanding pressure points – also known as kyosho. My cat knows them. Sensei knows them. I do not, but I’m learning. The most painful so far is the bingo-wing kyosho. Grab your opponent’s bingo-wing and watch them wince in pain, rising on their tip toes.
22. Ability to raise your game – you hear about professionals being able to raise their game. Actually, the trick is that they clear their mind and venture into highly pressurized situations with a zen-like calmness. It’s incredibly hard to do. It’s what makes a champion a champion. I’m still learning.
23. Balance – Ok, stand on one leg, raising your knee towards your chest. You should still be balancing just fine, perhaps the slightest hint of a wobble. Now close your eyes. Ha haa…much more difficult, yes? My balance has really improved since starting Goju Ryu…mostly through doing kata with my eyes closed. It is very, very difficult.
24. Sense of belonging – when you share an intense experience with other people, you forge an incredible sense of ‘one’. When that sense of one is then linked to a way of being, like a martial art, then that sense of ‘one’ turns in to a very strong sense of belonging. But with Goju Ryu it is not about “this martial art is better than that martial art”, it’s a much more holistic sense of belonging to martial arts – it is called ‘the way’.
25. Tradition and history – Goju Ryu karate has a clear lineage and history in Okinawa, that can subsequently trace its ancestry back to China. This depth of history comes with oodles of traditions – I rather like that.
26. Simplicity – most of the training apparatus used in Goju Ryu is traditional. So traditional in fact, that it appears quite amateurish to the untrained and inexperienced eye. There is a reason why modern gyms are moving towards the use of kettlebells and straps hanging from the ceiling…they are devastatingly simple AND effective. Take the chishi for example – at first glance it looks to all intents and purposes like a bit of concrete on the end of a stick. To the Goju Ryu practitioner it represents a whole body workout.
27. Motivation – is “the reason or reasons for someone to act in a particular way.” Sensei shouting at the top of his voice always gives me a reason. PERIOD.
28. Confidence – you know how people tend to shrink as they get older? Well I feel positively taller since starting Goju Ryu. I doubt my actual height has increased – it’s probably improvement in my posture. Though this blog seems to think I might be on to something – “…stronger muscles reduce the compression of [sic] vertebral discs. Exercises like stretching and aerobics increase levels of growth hormone in the body…this has the effect of thickening cartilage in your spinal column thereby lengthening the spinal column and increasing your height naturally.” (link to blog)
29. Co-ordination – I am a fan of darts. It is a guilty pleasure. Living in Frimley Green helps, too. Having a house 500 meters from the Mecca of World Championship Darts (BDO) is a privilege. Since starting Goju Ryu I’ve hit significantly more 120+. I secretly hope it is no coincidence.
30. Stretching – I’ve already documented how rubbish I am at stretching. When I think about my flexibility the words ‘board’ and ‘stiff’ come to mind. In Goju Ryu we stretch from our toes to our eye-balls, inclusive. It will be a momentous day when I can actually bend over and touch my toes without bending my knees – atrocious, I know.
31. Reaction speed – get me to the nearest arcade and let me at those pesky prairie dogs with that rubber hammer…I’m sure that I’m better than I used to be.
32. Resilience – ever wondered how tough you are? Try sparring. You’ll soon find out. The best thing about it is that if, like me, you discover you have the resilience of a brittle polystyrene board, by doing Goju Ryu you build your resilience and resolve over time and it gets better. I now think I have progressed, my resilience being less of an aromatic polymer and more like a reconstituted wood.
33. Social – last but certainly not least. Granted, the social side of Goju Ryu didn’t feature as criteria for joining. But everyone that I have met are genuinely nice people. And on the rare occasion we have a beer, we have a really good laugh.