Over the past couple of weeks, I have been learning martial arts. The difference between various forms of exercise is so startling that unless you actively engage, mere words do not adequately capture the pleasure and challenges of each. Ultimately, it all boils down to the mind. Prior, running, strength training, swimming, hiking/mountain climbing require different skills. Martial arts is so dramatically removed from strength training that you almost need to unlearn. Martial Arts is about mobility, flexibility and thinking. It is about using the least amount of power to create the maximum amount of force. Strength training is about building muscle to lift heavy things. I am a lot more flexible now. Despite this, the kind of stretches that I was asked to do, reinforced to me that humility is indeed a desired virtue.

Shotokan is a style of karate developed by Gichin Funakoshi in the 19th Century. Born in Okinawa, Funakoshi, popularised the Karate-do (school). Shotokan is the traditional form and most widely practised. Shotokan is divided into three parts – Kihon (training) kata (movement) and Kumite (sparring). Like many forms of martial arts, it combines powerful anaerobic movements along with speed. It also combines great lung training along with the movement to enable maximum force being exerted. It has a deeply embedded philosophy which itself has roots in Bushido and Zen. Principles such as humility, respect, compassion, patience and internal and external calmness are encouraged.

What I found fascinating is the combination of respect for one’s opponent with the lethal, deadly force being exerted; all with the demeanour of a Smiling Buddha. With a flash of a hand, my sensei was able to pin me to the floor as though I was nothing but a docile church mouse. I do not mind admitting that I squealed just like one. Someday, soon I will find me a church mouse.