by Lisa DiOrio
Being thirtysomething and a working mother of two, I don’t devote much time to personal activities. But last summer, coerced by my husband, I put aside two nights a week to join him in a karate class. Since my experience with karate had previously consisted exclusively of “The Karate Kid” and B-grade “Kung Fu” movies, I was extremely reluctant and uncomfortable about being involved in a violent contact sport. I also considered the purpose of a karate class as purely a study in self-defense, and I doubted that my less than perfect post-pregnancy body would have ever have the strength required to defend myself despite any amount of training. However, after 10 weeks of classes, this class has proved all of my preconceptions to be false, and I have made a personal commitment to make the time to continue what has turned out to be a very rewarding activity on several levels.
First, I learned that there are many forms of the martial arts, and that the biases I held do not hold in all forms. The karate form taught in my class is called Uechi Ryu. It is a relatively modern form of karate originating from Okinawa. My sensei (instructor) has an excellent sense of humor combined with a gift for teaching that makes for a comfortable, and even entertaining class. The foundation of the instruction is a mutual building of trust and respect that eliminates any anxiety. The benefits of Uechi Ryu include enhanced fitness, coordination, discipline, control, confidence and stress reduction.
Since many other women may be avoiding this activity for themselves or their children for the same reasons I was, I have listed the counter arguments to some of my initial problems.
1.I don’t want to get hurt
I saw karate as a “blood sport”. I was concerned about being punched, kicked or thrown to the ground. In reality, the instruction is carefully tuned to the level of ability and readiness of the student. In the first few classes , there was minor physical contact.
2.I am non-violent
I have always avoided participation any violent sport, and I am generally non-aggressive, especially in a physical situation. The precepts of Uechi Ryu karate stress many personal qualities, and killer instinct is not one of them. Instead, the individual is encouraged to become more disciplined, goal oriented and controlled. In other words, skills are built up to provide the confidence to walk away from a potentially volatile situation. I have also discovered that I now enjoy the physical sparring with a partner since I know that I have the control to “fight” without actually hurting anyone.
3.I am not big enough or strong enough
This form of karate is based on movements that will be successful regardless of strength or size. And speed and coordination are as important as strength.
4.I could never be effective against a “real” attack
From time to time, my sensei includes specific tips on how an attack might occur and what an appropriate defense would be. This has heightened my awareness of self defense issues and I now feel that with time and practice, I would be able to stave off an attack. This is especially important to me since I have two small children, and as a result have always considered myself a particularly vulnerable target.
5.All that yelling and discipline is unnerving
My instructor maintains discipline and order in the class through respect- both between the student and teacher as well as for the art itself. He is able to maintain a relatively informal atmosphere while never losing the focus of the class. Discipline of the individual must come from within. In other words, if a student is using the class for a social hour, perhaps he or she doesn’t belong there.
6.Fighting is boring
I have always perceived fighting as a primitive, mindless activity. However, to be successful at Uechi Ryu karate, one must have a strong sense of tactics in addition to physical skill. The act of sparring is much like a chess game with each opponent countering the other’s attack. Further, the student is able to learn the various defense and offense tactics through predefined movement combinations that teach proper technique in a controlled setting.
7.I am not in good enough shape to compete well in a sport
Like any activity, karate requires practice if it is to be mastered. And as with any sport, practice tunes the body to the level of fitness required. In addition to diligently practicing my karate between classes, I have worked other activities I enjoy (cycling and dance) into a sort of cross-training regimen to increase overall strength and endurance.
8.I’d rather be dancing
Many women prefer some type of movement class such as dance, gymnastics or aerobics for their fitnes activity. My personal love is dance and music. Uechi Ryu karate is actually quite graceful and rhythmic when done correctly, and interesting enough simply as a study of movement.
My experience with karate has been very positive. I look forward to my classes when I can do something for myself- not defined by marital status, children or career. I have also discovered a more aggressive physical side to myself- and I am enjoying the opportunity for introspection and learning that I have not had for a long time.
For more information about Uechi Ryu karate, contact Steve DiOrio at (617) 270-9553. Classes are available for both children and adults in Natick and Needham.