This week I went to a martial arts class for the first time in 15 years.
I took kung fu for about three years when I was in high school. I still look back on class as some of the best–and worst–times of my life. I accomplished a lot, learned a lot, and was in great physical condition. But I was very down on myself in high school, and that affected my happiness with myself and how I was progressing in class. When rising costs and other factors caused me to quit my junior year, I didn’t seek out another class.
When I first moved to Augusta in 2003, I searched online for local martial arts schools without much success. I actually found an essay written by a female soldier who was highly unimpressed with the classes she’d investigated here, and that turned me off towards local schools. I thought about simply practicing the things I’d learned in kung fu–back then I still had my notebook with detailed information and instructions–but I never ended up doing so. The most martial arts have been in my life in the last 15 years has been through movies and the occasional pondering on situational self-defense.
Now, seven years later, I seem to have found a good school: Frank Beall’s US TAI Karate. My friend Brandon from work trained under the late 10-dan black belt and TAI Grandmaster Virgil Kimmey, Sensei Beall’s teacher, back when he was a kid. He’d thought about it off and on ever since, and last August he started back again at Sensei Beall’s dojo.
Last week I watched a class to see what it was like, and this Tuesday and Thursday I participated, in blocks and katas respectively. Obviously I couldn’t expect things to be the same as my old kung fu class, but enough of the core values are the same that I felt very comfortable there.
Senseis Beall and Long both create an environment of respect and diligence. They are also quite obviously experts in their art. Both are black belts, but nowadays that rank seems to mean less and less. In watching them execute various movements and simply observing their general bearing, though, it’s apparent that they’re the real thing. Instant reaction time, fluid, efficient, strong. And when they teach, they explain exactly what they’re doing and why, they’re very patient, and they pay close attention to students, answering questions and correcting form.
On Thursday I was especially pleased when Sensei Long said movements in forms should be executed just as they would be in a match–full strength. Too often I see martial artists flowing through their forms without putting any power into the punches. To me, that defeats the purpose of learning forms. Forms are pretty and impressive to watch, but the main purpose is to build muscle memory. If your muscles remember weak movements, you’re going to be in trouble in a real fight.
It’s kind of rough going directly from work to karate, but I’ve felt so good this week. At this point I’m leaning towards formally joining the school.
Attending this class has brought back a flood of memories and sparked much thought about martial arts. I’ll be writing more on this soon.