September 28, 2011

How far can you go?

Karate training can be exhausting, no matter how many years you've been doing it. There is always a strong focus on lower stances, contraction and expansion of muscles, and big hip movements. Many people that train do so after a long day of classes or work. This can add to the feeling of exhaustion, and even an hour of training can seem strenuous. However, karate is about pushing ourselves harder than we normally would. And in order to do this safely, we must understand the nature of exhaustion. There are two main forms of exhaustion: mental exhaustion and physical exhaustion.

Mental exhaustion is a feeling of fatigue that you get after exerting yourself. During a particularly rigorous training, throwing the next punch or performing the next kata can seem like a daunting task. This is when we need to exercise our willpower and give our maximum effort despite the fatigue.  We need to focus our full attention on our training.  From a self-defense perspective, any potential attacker won't care how tired you are when he or she strikes, and you must be prepared to defend yourself. In a life or death situation, you cannot let your exhaustion overwhelm you. That is the same thinking that must be applied to training. If your body can go further, don't let your mind stop you short.

Physical exhaustion is when your body itself starts to break down, and may be due to fatigue, injury, or other muscle or joint pain. These are situations that require you to know and understand your body, and where willpower may have little effect. Part of training is pushing ourselves beyond what we thought was possible, but this needs to be done safely.  If you experience pain when training, you need to evaluate the situation.  If your pain is in your joints, you may need to stop training or adjust your training to prevent injury. Ignoring it for the sake of being tough will only lead to damage. Depending on your injury, you may need to take some time off training to allow for recovery. It is extremely important for us to recognize our own limitations.  There may be times when the mind feels stronger than the body, when we feel that we can work through the pain. It is then necessary to take a step back and determine if our bodies really can handle the strain, or whether we risk injury.  Especially as we age, our body isn’t always what it used to be and we need to make adjustments.  Discuss with your Sensei your situation and proper ways to adjust your training.

We are ultimately stronger than we realize. If we put our minds to it, we can push ourselves to go further than we could have imagined. However, while exhaustion of the mind can be overcome through strength of will, exhaustion of the body requires caution and an understanding of our own limitations and capabilities. Having both a strong body and mind will help us to continue our quest for perfection and allow us to continue lifelong training.

Submitted by: Arpan Ghosh, Shodan