Get to the Karate Already!
By Felicia Hodges

Since I'm still on post-nasal surgery restrictions that limit my physical activity, I've only visited my teaching dojo a few times to say hello to my students/training partners and "walk the mat" (meaning not participating, just giving instruction and correction during the class when I am in gi or sitting and observing silently when I'm in my civvies) in the last few weeks. I popped into the adult class one night last week and was a little disturbed by what I saw.

Class begins at 6:30PM. Our senpai - a barely 20-yr-old who's been a shodan for about five months or so - was leading the warmup. Spirited and agile, he was taking our 30 and 40+ "executives" through burpees and minute-long running-in-place high-knee drills. Not in gi (because I actually had to return to work), I said hello to a few folks watching and chatted with training partner Ed for a while before looking at my watch. At 7PM when I was about to head back out the door, they were still jumping around and hadn't even begun stretching yet. The class ends at 8PM.

None of the adult students are sedentary - even if they can only get to the dojo once a week. Ancillary training - from boxing to weight-lifting and running - is done by most all off them on their off-dojo days  (heck, one student, a 38-hr-old green belt, does CrossFit in the morning on karate nights). In other words, there were no couch potatoes who only sweat 90 minutes a week on the mat. And although a good "Let's get those muscles nice and warm/loose before we start hitting and kicking things" warmup is a very good thing, too much of a good thing just ain't good for you, IMHO. Personally, when I only have 90 minutes to get some karate training in, I want to spend as much of that time actually doing karate as possible - and I've gotten pretty annoyed in class when instructors didn't see it the same way, which made for less than pleasurable karate experiences.

When I was a kyu, my then sensei used to lengthen the class warmup as we got closer to grading - so much so that it wasn't unusual to have a 40-minute jog/jumping jack/push-up marathon the week before testing. His theory was that the "cup-emptying" workout we were going to be put through at the grading should feel a bit familiar. I understood where he was coming from, but didn't agree - mainly because I was getting my cardio and weights in during the rest of the week and kinda figured my dojo sisters and brothers were doing something similar as well. Plus my other discipline (track and field) had engrained in me that there are strong, strong benefits to tapering your training before upcoming big, arduous contests. My sensei's plan was totally contradictory to that, it seemed.

The next sensei I trained under had spurts where he would try to work us into puddles of sweat before we actually began the karate portion of class. There were quite a few classes where we warmed up with  lots and lots of burpees and squat thrusts followed by minute-long planks and "scoop" pushups that made me wonder if I'd somehow stumbled into the aerobic kick-boxing class. Again, I got what he was trying to get us to do, but I just wanted to get to the karate already.

I've also been to classes where students were expected to warmup on their own before class actually started. That meant you needed to get there early enough to do whatever it is you needed to do so you were ready for whatever kata, makawari or other drills Sensei dished out. It developed out of necessity (the sensei taught a boxing class before karate and one started and the other ended at the same time, which made it necessary to be efficient with the little time we did have to do martial stuff), but it made sense to me, as the 19-yr-old college students who trained on one side of me had different physical needs than the 40 and 50-hr-old executives who trained on the other side. Not that there weren't smattering of conditioning exercises/drills during class (like, say, 20 pushups after a kata or 20 round house kicks between bunkai drills), but the business of the day was about karate, not preparing to do karate.

When I teach, of course there is a bit of time reserved for getting the blood flowing and stretching before we start drills or whatever else is on the agenda, but it is not the entire focus of the class and it never usually takes more than 15 minutes or so. Yes, it's necessary to warmup, but I just don't get the "go hard or go home" calisthenics that seem designed to show little more than the fitness level of the person leading the class.

Get to the karate already, please

Originally appeared on the Bushido Road blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment