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.
I have the privilege of belonging to a jodo practice group that meets once a month. It is run by my instructor, and by the next most senior teacher in the prefecture. I'm not sure if there is any formal rule regarding membership, but the group consists of people who are, to one extent or another, advanced practitioners. Among the most consistent participants are a man and a woman who often work together for the two-person kata practice. In their mid-seventies or so, it goes without saying that, while their technique is excellent, they no longer move with the same ease, power or speed that they once did. What IS the same, however, is their ceaseless hard work and effort.
Several months ago, at a gym where I used to lift weights, I began regularly seeing a young woman. She looked to be in her late thirties, and was working with a personal trainer or coach of some sort. While I and others were doing typical weight-training sorts of exercises, she was practicing tasks like standing up and walking without assistance. When I saw her, I guessed that she must have had a stroke or some unfortunate accident that left her with a disability. She was worlds away from bench-pressing or deadlifting impressive poundages of weights, but she sure as heck was working hard.
My best friend of more than 30 years is also a karate practitioner who belongs to my "home" dojo in Pittsburgh. A couple of years ago, when he was lifting weights, he suddenly felt that something wasn't right. It turned out that, for some unknown reason, he had permanently lost the hearing in one of his ears. Ever a fighter, he adjusted remarkably quickly to his hearing loss. Unfortunately, his balance was also pretty severely affected. Some everyday activities -- let alone karate practice -- became difficult for him. As part of his rehabilitation, he had to do "simple" exercises, like looking up and then down repeatedly. Not exactly a "fun" workout for a man who had been doing karate for thirty-some years, and weightlifting for even longer. But he did what his rehab therapist told him without fail.
What is the point of these stories? Well, at some point, having witnessed what my friend, the jodo-ka and the young woman were doing, it hit me: Training is training. No matter what the specific "exercise" is, ALL training takes the same character, strength of will, determination, and willingness to accept being temporarily uncomfortable so as to improve yourself in some way. Working to rehab an injury or practicing within the limits of advanced age may not be as "sexy" as perfecting a fancy-looking kicking technique or squatting 800 pounds, but it DOES require the same internal strength and quality of character.
Now 51 years old, I have sometimes thought about how I will feel as I grow older and older, and lose some of my (already modest) strength, speed and flexibility. Here's to hoping that, as I age, I'm able to remember that training is training.