Staying Sharp While Away from the Dojo
By the age of nine, I knew karate was something I would practice for the rest of my life. I was so certain of this, that in middle school, I told my mom that I would go to college if she wanted me to, but it didn’t really matter because I was just going to be a professional competitor and Sensei. In high school, I rarely looked into colleges outside of a 15-mile radius from a good dojo. But here I am sitting on Alumni Lawn of Vanderbilt University, 4 hours and 238 miles away from my home dojo.
Leaving my karate family was one of the hardest parts about coming to college and, frankly, I still regret it from time-to-time. Yet, I refuse to let distance keep me from training and I use these moments of doubt and regret to push me forward. Even so – self-training is a lot easier said, than done. There’s no way to know if you’re actually improving, there is no one there to hold you accountable, and if you’ve ever tried to do kumite solo, you know it’s not the easiest thing in the world. Despite all these things, I found a way to make self-training do-able for me.
One of the most important things I found while trying to figure out how to train on my own was maintaining contact with my home dojo. This also helped to keep my self-training goal-oriented. At first, I didn’t really know what to practice. Sure, I could repeat all the kata and kihon I knew and shadow box here-and-there, but I had to constantly ask myself, is that really training? Am I really improving? I found that when I reached out to my dojo back home, it re-oriented my training and gave me something concrete to work on. Even if it’s only once every couple of weeks, Skyping into class, or even just sending a kata video every once in a while helps keep me and my karate accountable and helps me to still feel connected to my home dojo.
Another problem I faced was finding people to train with. Going from being constantly surrounded by karateka who were just as (if not more) passionate about karate as I am, to swimming in a sea of people that had little-to-nothing in common with me proved to be hard. Nonetheless, I found karate to be a great conversation starter and managed to find out that I was amongst other martial artists that were facing the same troubles. Granted, I didn’t find anybody that did Shotokan, but I did find some MMA practitioners whose movement styles were similar enough to mine, and we were able to share knowledge and spar. Even though it wasn’t what I was used to, it was still refreshing to get a new perspective and to just move again.
Even after a year and a half, training on my own isn’t easy, but it definitely has become easier. I still struggle to get myself to the gym regularly, I still get frustrated when something doesn’t feel right and I can’t fix it, and I still miss my karate family like hell, but being separated from my dojo has allowed me to grow in ways that I couldn’t fathom before. I’ve learned that it’s not always easy to stay motivated (but man is it worth it), and that even though it’s great to have other people around, I am more than capable of effectively training on my own. Most importantly, I’ve learned that karate will always be a part of my life, no matter how far away I find myself from my karate family, and reuniting with everyone on trips back home has to be one of the best feelings on the planet.
Maggie Garrett was born and raised in Atlanta, GA where she studied and taught karate at Toru Shimoji’s dojo – Jinsendo Karate. Age 20, she is now an undergrad at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee where she is studying Neuroscience.