What Karate Means To Me

In December 2010, on a lazy Sunday night while my then four year old was with his mother brushing his teeth, I felt incredible pain in my chest and collapsed on the lounge room floor. I regained consciousness moments later and whilst waiting for an ambulance I held my son’s hand and calmly said goodbye to him, fearing the worst. I was rushed to Royal Melbourne Hospital where I was given a near fatal dose of a medication that slows the heart. Never before had I brushed so closely to death. The experience took away both my emotional strength and my faith in my physical body. The recovery was long and hard and for many months I could not drive or work.

My son had been taking kids karate classes at a new Shito-Ryu school and not knowing much about karate I decided to talk to the instructor about adult lessons. At first these lessons were terrifying as I feared collapsing at almost every class, but slowly but surely I regained faith in my physical abilities and started to enjoy karate. By the time I reached 2kyu it was becoming obviously to me that I was not really learning anything new – and for the first time karate started to feel like a burden. So I left the school and took about six months off before I found Shushin Kai right around the corner from my house. I recall the first night when I turned up wearing my old Gi and my Shito-Ryu 2nd kyu belt. The karate was different. It was technical and this immediately turned my interest back on. Shihan was good enough to punch me a few times to show me my blocks didn’t work and when I got home I remember searching my drawers for a white belt so I could return properly attired. I realised at that point that I had not actually done real karate before. In fact it was worse than that – I was not a blank canvas for Shihan to fill in, I was a dirty canvas from which the crappy karate needed to be excised.

I wanted to do karate so that I could connect the mental discipline that I had developed over decades to a physical activity. I wanted to feel confident in physical situations. I did not join Shushin Kai to get a second family, but that is exactly what slowly but surely transpired. I did not join Shushin Kai to forget the problems of the outside world, nor to be more prepared for those problems as a result of the training – but that is indeed what I got.

Often people ask me whether doing a rigorous activity like karate helps diminish my stress levels. My answer is always carefully nuanced. Walking into the dojo diminishes my stress levels – it doesn’t matter what aspect of karate we do once we are in there. Standing on the sun bathed wood of Shihan’s home dojo transports me to a different place. But more importantly I take this feeling outside of the dojo with me into the rest of my life. There is a peace that comes from the need to perfect something that you know you can never perfect – a lifelong work that is always satisfying but never satisfied.

2018 has been the hardest year of my life to date. I have found that the harder things have become for me the more I have needed my karate. The more I have been ready to fall apart in every other aspect of my life the more I have relished doing a kata and have Shihan work so hard to improve what I do. I have been the teacher in almost everything I have done in life, it’s wonderful to be the student.

Karate for me has become one of those things we do both consciously and without thinking. Breathing, blinking, we can expend considerable efforts in these activities – but even when they are not front of mind they are essential for us to live. Karate is no longer something I do. Karate is now part of who I am and I could no longer be whole without it in my life.

I especially want to thank Shihan Graeme and Sensei Lincoln for their tireless assistance with my training – sorry if I have aged you both with frustration! I also thank all the members of the club who freely share their knowledge and good humour every single week.

By Shane Huntington 28th September, 2018

Shane Huntington began training at Shushinkai karatedo on 23rd June, 2015, at age 43years. He was graded to Shodan on 6th October 2018, at age 37 years.