Sysiphean times

If one more person starts a conversation with the words “challenging” or “interesting” times I’m likely to spontaneously combust. I get it. Life is changing and so are the rules. So this won’t be an article that talks about the dreaded zoonotic disease that fills every website and email subject. Instead I want to talk about resilience, hope and creativity.

If I ever needed advice…

Now, most of you will know that I am a people watcher. Such a people watcher, airports are, (for many reasons) my favourite place to kick back and watch life go by! I’ve never spent so much time at home so now the street and the houses behind me have become my world. So I’ve reached out into the virtual world for inspiration at this time and I’ve been richly rewarded. Eventually.

I started to think that life had to go on hold for now…I hugged my Sensei for the last time last week and for the first time ever I didn’t know when I would see her and the dojo again. That was a scary feeling…I’m not going to lie. Now again no surprise to those who know me that I am a hugger. I think in one gasshuku in Denmark I was 20 minutes just “saying goodbye” to everyone ’cause of all the hugs and each evening in Tooting dojo is pretty much the same. Last person I spoke to out of the house was the Amazon guy who delivered a box of wine to me but who waved at me from the driveway and pointed to the huge box on the bonnet of the mini. All of this is not possible for now.

Leaving the dojo for the “last time” I rode home with a heavy heart and for a night or so this feeling remained. Karateka from all around the world were feeling the same thing, it was interesting to see how different dojos around the world dealt with the situation. I knew things were serious when the gasshuku in Italy was cancelled and one by one dojos started to update Facebook.

I said earlier this was not going to be an ongoing moan, what has happened around the world since it was no longer possible to go into a dojo has been amazing. It’s started at grass roots level… small things started to happen, recorded sessions were put on line and shared, workouts were written up and people made it clear that they wanted to, no needed to train.

There may be a blessing in all this. After some testing and a few sessions, Tooting dojo went virtual. Not only that, we now have our full class schedule on-line and news has spread. We’ve had more people training than ever before and we’ve been joined by people from all over the world. These people show up in full Karategi, clear space in their houses and train at what for them can be all sorts of local times. The list is ever growing, but we have had people from Germany, Sudan, Central African Republic, Japan and me in Croydon. What’s even more interesting is that the intensity hasn’t wavered. Sensei is well known for the physicality of her training and now that is being shared with people from all around the world!

Dojo Kun

At the end of each class we turn on our microphones and recite The Dojo Kun. It’s a huge amount of disjoined noise as we all try and communicate at the same time. But it’s never been so important. For the first few classes I was merely focused on doing the class. Like the act of being there was more important than the training. Then as I mentally adjusted to the fact that things were likely to remain in the new state for more than a few days, I started to refocus on my training. I am now going to every class that is on… which is in fact more class based training than I am able to go to in ‘real life’.

At some point I started to think if it was not so much life going on hold but actually if it was possible to improve during this time. I mean in fact I have more “training” time than ever before. The commute to the “office” is a mere few minutes via the bathroom and I pretty much have enough equipment to run a small gym. So what’s my excuse. Initially it was the fact that I couldn’t go to the dojo, but I’ve always done self training and have been involved in setting personal challenges… like 108 kata challenges. After classes on a Saturday we stay behind and do virtually what we always did in the dojo… we have tea. I’ve always said that I am so lucky to have started to train as the family I have built up around the world mean everything to me. More than that I’ve been moved buy the sheer drive from people to continue to train.

Karate isn’t easy. Training isn’t easy. Just when you think you “know” one technique or have a feeling for a Kata then something changes and that technique or Kata is once again a mystery. So now I find my new challenge… it’s to plan my training… get better and try and manage my time so that I can don’t just lie around and get lazy. I’m fully aware that the next few weeks and months will be challenging… I just needed to kick my arse into gear to get to a place where I was back looking for those incremental improvements that point towards advancement.

We are, after all involved in Sisyphean activities.

Sisyphean tasks

Note-In Greek mythology Sisyphus was the king of Ephyra (now known as Corinth). He was punished for his self-aggrandising craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating this action for eternity.

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