Karate? It is Never Too Late

marjorie rosenblatt.photo. Jon Thaler

By Marjorie Rosenblatt

The multitude of scattered bruises on my forearms garners stares resulting in my sporting long sleeves even during the hot summer months.

I, in my 50’s, have become a karate devotee.

On a typical Tuesday night, I might find myself sparring with a 17-year old friend of my son’s or grappling with 20-year old black belt. Monday mornings are spent in class, practicing my kata (form) or attempting to master a complicated series of defensive moves.

If five years ago, one had told me that at age 49, I would become a martial arts practitioner, I would have laughed heartily, firm in my disbelief. Life is, however, uncertain except for the certainty of the unpredictable.

My son’s soccer team had been recently disbanded, and I instructed him to find a new sport. He told me he would learn karate if I joined him, undoubtedly believing that no less likely event could possibly occur.

What he neglected to consider is the fact that no mother would bypass an opportunity to engage in an activity with her willing teenage son. And so, I entered the world of the dojo, where rank and respect are of paramount importance, and I, a middle-aged physician, was at the lowest rung of the ladder.

For me, this hierarchy was a departure from the norm. I am accustomed to being in charge, with a staff required to follow my instructions to the detail. Yet, for years, as I donned my gi and we lined up in rank order to bow in at the beginning and end of each class, I was at the distant end of the dojo, along with the other junior belts. I stand now in the middle of the line, progressing slowly but surely to the senior end of the room.

Initially, the whole process seemed cult-like to me. We thanked the seniors for their instruction, murmured inspirational phrases in Japanese, and did an awful lot of bowing.

We also stretched, practiced yoga-like poses and breathing, built up core strength and fortified defensive moves and strategies. We practiced falling correctly so as to minimize damage, we grappled and sparred and repeatedly performed kata, each time discovering a nuance not previously appreciated.

Teenagers taught adults, and vice versa, and junior and senior belts shared knowledge reciprocally and freely. The dojo was an environment for all to learn and grow.

As we engaged, we shared the stories of our lives; we developed a community, trusting, loving and protective of one another. There were certainly times when I had to remind my teenage opponent that I was older than his/her parents, and I did not necessarily NEED to be thrown, should the opportunity arise (thank you, osteoporosis and arthritis).

At other times, it felt odd, or even wrong, to combat my 14-year old daughter’s best friend with whom I was paired (vaguely Kramer-ish), but it was all part of the process, and I have come to welcome the varied challenges.

On a cold winter’s night, however, after a trying and emotionally exhausting day of work, there is little less appealing than heading out to train, and yet I am never disappointed. For two hours, I am immersed in bolstering both body and soul. I emerge relaxed, perhaps even more skilled, often, more bruised and clearly better for having embarked on the evening’s excursion.

While my son abandoned his practice of karate long ago, I forge on. I am now, as one of the oldest members of the dojo, a stronger and more formidable opponent. I am engaged in an interesting and diverse community of kindness and support which includes teenagers and adults, males and females. The patience demonstrated and the encouragement I receive from my karate “peers” is unparalleled.

This journey is one I never could have predicted at this time in my life, but comes with powerful lessons. I have been shown that it is truly never too late for new challenges, and with enough practice, I just may succeed. I have learned not to judge. What initially seemed like indoctrination turns out to be spiritual. I have developed greater faith in our teens. Many have shown me amazing warmth and maturity well beyond their years. I have learned about humility. It is humbling when a teacher becomes a student.

Perhaps martial arts is not the ideal path for each of us, but we grow when we diverge from the familiar and a result I have a host of new activities I plan to sample. As it is said… age be damned! Drum lessons here I come!

Marjorie Rosenblatt, a physician, wife and mother, enjoys writing about her passions, including (but not limited to) family, medicine and karate.

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