Sempai Don Haber’s 4th Dan “Article”

Martial Arts For Life

How Martial Arts Changed and Influenced My Life

Originally, I started martial arts because watching my daughters participate was very boring. I thought I may as well join them; at least I would get some exercise and learn self defence. The girls lasted another year or so, but over the course of time I came to appreciate the learning and discipline that came with training.
Over the next few years with each belt progression I learned more techniques and kata. But I was also learning that I could still challenge myself in my forties and fifties, and I could meet those challenges. As I was moving through the brown belt ranks I started to help out teaching. At first it was because there was a requirement to teach to be considered for Shodan. However as time went by I came to appreciate that teaching really did improve my own craft. I had been hearing that for years, but when I experienced it for myself it was a welcome confirmation.
Teaching also provides me an opportunity to “give back”. I believe it’s important that we all do something that makes our community a better place and for me teaching, particularly youth, meets that. As the years have gone by I’ve seen quite a few young children become teenagers and then young adults. And it’s clear that many of them will be productive, contributing and caring members of our society. I like to believe that it helps them to have adults they can talk to and experience as “real people” and that it helps eliminate age based differences or barriers (where else would a 16 year old receive the honorific “Sempai” when being addressed by someone in their 30s or 40s?). In a similar vein, as we get further along in life most of us have friends and colleagues mainly about our own age. Having exposure and conversations with youth helps me understand their world and their challenges better than I otherwise would. I find this rewarding.
Martial arts also provides me the opportunity to augment my fitness. It cannot of course be the only part of my regimen, there’s simply not enough class time available. However, it does provide an additional bonus aspect (thank you chair push ups?). And it provides motivation to get out of the house in the evenings. Without the regular schedule of classes I would not be so likely to go out and get moving.
Another and very important way karate has influenced my life is that it provides challenges. At this time of life many people start to relax and stay with a familiar routine. They don’t have a lot of new challenges, whether physical or mental. With martial arts, particularly at this level, being challenged is a regular occurrence. And the challenges are both physical and mental, in the effort it takes to learn new katas (or tai chi sequences). This leads to feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction as I am able to teach and pass these on. Closely related to meeting challenges is perseverance. Karate provides ample opportunity to develop the habit of perseverance.
The martial arts has also provided me the opportunity to meet and become friends with a large number of intelligent, motivated and interesting people from many walks of life. From people passionate about animals, to people running their own businesses, to engineers (so many engineers), students and teachers, they have provided me with friendship and insights into other aspects of life I wouldn’t otherwise be aware of.

Thoughts and Advice for Students:

We have all heard many, many times that everyone starts the line up at the back row, far left, and progresses to the front, further to the right. My journey over that path has taken 20 years and I would like to share some of what I’ve learned.
In early days most of us are a little hesitant and unsure about what to expect from karate. Will it be hard? – Yes, at times. Will I get hurt? – Rarely, but even if you do it won’t be serious. And probably the biggest question we all had, was “Will I be able to succeed?” And that answer is a most definite “Yes!”. Whether you define that success as getting more fit, having fun, learning self defence, advancing through the ranks, obtaining a black belt or all of the above, we can all do it. So, what does it take?
Perseverance is key. Coming out to the dojo on a regular basis is so important. If you can make it twice a week, that’s great, 3 or more times even better. We all have different abilities; different degrees of flexibility, strength, cardio fitness, ease of learning katas and so on. Regularity in training will improve all of those.
And when you do come out, give the best effort you have that day. In an ideal world every day would be a “peak” day, we would feel great, be injury free and full of energy. And while those are the great days, it’s the not so good days that really make a difference; the long hard days at school or work, the dark cold days of winter and the hot humid days of summer. Those times when we would really rather stay home, watch TV, float in the pool or do anything rather than exert ourselves. But those are the times when you really have to make that effort, grab your gi and gear and head out to the dojo.
You’ll get there, and then you experience – and add to – the positive energy. During the mokusu, breathe deeply and clear your mind. Embrace the warm up (they really do get easier over time) and then give it your best. You’ll definitely feel better after class than when you walked in. Don’t misunderstand; there will be days when your arms quiver/scream, you recognize your cardio isn’t anywhere near where you want it to be and katas seem particularly elusive. But after you leave the dojo and arrive home, you’ll feel a lot better, physically and mentally, than if you had stayed home, watched more mindless TV and ate another bag of chips.
Another piece of advice I have is to help teach. I mentioned this earlier, but I would like to emphasize that it helps all of us in our progress. Teaching is a lot different than doing – you’ll find you really know something when you can break it down and teach it to someone else. It’s very satisfying to see someone finally “get it” because you demonstrated or explained something in a way that worked for that student.
Finally, martial arts is not a trip you take on your own. In the dojo you’re never on your own; you have other people, friends, teachers, Sempais and Sensei with you. Without the many friends, teachers, Sempais and especially Sensei to help and guide me over the years I would not be where I am now. I am truly grateful for the help, friendship and support from all those and all who have gone before me.

Submitted With Respect,

Sempai Don Haber July, 2018