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Guest Post: One Reason Why I Train

This Guest Post is by my friend, Mark Tankosich, who has dan rankings in both Sho-ha Shorin-ryu karate and Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei jodo. Along with the martial arts, his passions include the Japanese language. He currently lives and teaches in Hiroshima, Japan.

Mark is the author of Karate Ni Sente Nashi: What the Masters Had to Say and Japanese Ego Negation and the Achievement of Self, which are hosted at the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai website. He has also published English translations of Japanese Karate articles.

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A couple of years ago, I "realized" (not intellectually, but more of what the Japanese call "jikkan," or "really feel") something that I'd like to write about today. I don't know how well I can explain it, so please bear with me.

As I've mentioned in a previous blog, my instructor of many years is in the United States, while I'm in Japan. Because I've been unwilling to change instructors, almost all of my practice takes place alone, on a river bank near my home. I stay in touch with my sensei via phone calls, videos, and occasional visits by him or by me, but basically it's just me, a few days a week out on the riverbank. The summer heat can be amazing, the winter cold is not insignificant, and of course, there are times when I either train in the rain or not at all. I should also add that living in a foreign country comes with plenty of isolation as it is, let alone engaging in a solitary activity like I do.

So with all this, it's not hard to understand, I think, that I might sometimes ask myself, "why?" Why in the heck am I doing this? Japan is probably the safest industrialized country in the world and I am significantly bigger than almost all Japanese people anyway, so there's not really much concern for self-defense. And surely it'd be more fun (maybe even more healthy!) to spend my time with other people. So what are my reasons? Obviously, there are many reasons why folks like us continue with our training, and a couple of years ago I had an experience that helped me to really understand what one of mine is.

Without going into the details, at that time I had to undergo a medical procedure that involved the doctor putting a camera down my throat. At first I was fine, but it took much longer than I expected, and about half way through I was on the verge of panic. I could feel the camera in me, I could hardly breath, and I was sure that I was about to choke on my own saliva. And then, it hit me: "This is why I train. I have the strength to deal with this because I train." Somehow, I found something inside of me (no, not the camera!) that I instinctively knew was a result of my efforts on the riverbank, and I was OK. I was still uncomfortable, but I was OK.

When I later thought about it, it seemed to me that the hardships (or more accurately, fighting the hardships) involved in my workouts (the weather, the loneliness, my own laziness, etc.) actually contributed in a positive way to the development of whatever it was that I found while laying there on the exam table, semi-choking and on the verge of panicking.

As I wrote above, there are lots of reasons why I and others like me continue to train, year after year. Knowing your own reasons makes it easier, I think, to persevere over the long run.

Mark Tankosich