Back to Basics.
Lockdown, Zoom & Beyond
Back between 2000 and 2007 I had a habit of picking up injuries. From black eyes to broken arms and most things in-between, I had a period of misfortune.
One injury stopped me in my tracks, and I am embarrassed to say it happened on a Works Christmas Party in 2006.
My opponent that night was a Conga line of mostly middle-aged Customer Service ladies who led me to my doom on the dancefloor. After letting my Swayze-like-Hips weave through the crowd, my loather hit a patch of black ice on the dance floor and after a stumble I felt a severe pain in my right foot.
But it was a party, so I saw the night out and was carried to the taxi rank by my colleague and good friend Richard Cole. The next day (yes, we were out on a school night) I drove my legendary sky-blue Toyota MR2 to work and cursed every red light. Man, my foot was throbbing!
At the time I was the Manager of a Design Studio and most of my team had been smarter than me and taken the day off. Being the awesome Boss that I was, I intended to hold the fort with my Wing Man (the Wizard of Repro) Brian.
Brian is a lovely guy and known for his dry sense of humour, so it was no surprise to me that he was less than sympathetic. However due to the lack of blood in my face and the overly gormless look I was sporting, Brian offered to take me to the Naval Hospital at Haslar for a check-up.
I walked in a Design Manager and left on crutches in Nurses Scrubs. What a Doughnut! I now had to explain to my Sensei and worst still my squad colleagues (Keith Williams roared with laughter) that I could not train for a minimum of 8 weeks and worse still how I broke it!
As a squad we were flying high at that time. We had been together for several years and without the pressures that come later in life such as kids and bills we were training all the time. I knew I would really miss squad training, but strangely the training I missed most was Basics! Yes Basics!! Good old Kihon.
My first house was on the main road and backed onto the School where we trained on Friday nights. For the whole time I was on crutches I would watch with frustration when dojo members walked past my lounge. Sometimes I went and watched the classes, but I used to get irritated that I was not training.
Ironically being on crutches proved to be good training, but the timing was rubbish. I had committed to having a new central heating system installed so many of the floor-boards were lifted upstairs in my house. I used to have to climb the stairs on crutches by wedging my upper arms against the walls either side of the stairs and lifting myself.
Once upstairs I had to really concentrate on where I was placing the crutches and then swing over holes and pipes etc. When forced to, it is amazing how we all have the potential to learn new skills. I think the saying is Innovation is born of necessity.
As well as improving coordination, balance, and upper body strength. Being on Crutches also prompted another ‘Happy Accident’. My now Brother-In-Law Dave and I always used to share a pint or two on Christmas Eve in the Graham Arms. As I was slightly incapacitated, we decided it was a good idea to go earlier in the day. On our way back to my In-Laws house I was easily identified on my crutches and we bumped into our great friend and Senior Stacey Crowe from the Portsmouth Dojo.
After he literally cracked up (again) at the sight of me on my crutches we managed to deflect him away from his normal Christmas Eve and he joined us at the annual Christmas Eve Party with our family. This became a regular thing and Stace and his lovely family joined us for the next nine or so years. Isn’t it funny what situations or circumstance can be the genesis of routine or habit.
When I returned to the dojo my foot hurt and I was nervous of using it. So, I decided to not kick for the foreseeable and just focus on getting back in the groove with my movement, breathing and fitness.
I remember Sensei Hazard working with us years ago on breathing and explaining that after a break the first thing people experience is the disconnect of the appropriate breath from coordinated action. (I have learnt from this and often focus my initial dojo drills on breathing. My two favourites are the basketball drill taught to me by Sensei Hazard and the other ‘Karate pat-a-Cake’ which I learnt from Sensei Simon Staples).
Through this simplified agenda, I rediscovered the love of the basics. I stood in line and simply followed instruction. It was great to simply be told what to do and do it. Many get frustrated with only marching up and down a dojo and I completely understand that. But there is a massive place in karate and life for simply moving, breathing and being in the moment. No emails are important, no text messages or social media updates can penetrate us. For that moment, we are simply doing!
I do fear that presently in karate too many teachers are focusing on theory and what I call Karate academia. We do not have to be clever or ‘discover’ the next eureka moment to be relevant. Some of the most atmospheric classes I have been in are led by a relatively junior instructor who simply ‘Drills’ the class. My Sensei was ace at this. He would empower people and simply charge them with ‘taking the class through the pattern’. I clearly remember him saying to me ‘show them the pattern Matt but don’t teach’. I think it took me 20 years to understand truly what he meant.
For me Basics are like a factory re-set. They are familiar and safe and so are a great source of comfort and release to those who have trained for many years. I have a friend from my home dojo who severely damaged his back in Iraq during the first conflict. He was talented Junior and moved extremely well. When he returned to training, I could clearly see the enjoyment he found in getting ‘Back to Basics’.
Last year when we had the news that my Dad’s Cancer levels were rising again, I went to the dojo where I grew up and trained my heart out. I needed to go home and be around the familiar things that reassure us and make us feel safe.
So as Lockdown restrictions begin to ease and we all contemplate, plan, and re-enter our dojos. I urge my fellow teachers in the karate community to not make everything too complicated.
During lockdown many of us have been forced to innovate and adopt new technologies. I think Zoom and Online teaching is here to stay and that is a good thing.
Now we can begin reconnecting in Dojo’s perhaps we can start by focusing on breathing, movement, and Fitness. Thankfully drilling the basics is a familiar template for this.
Find the joy in the familiar.