My martial arts journey starts at Sac State under the instruction of Sensei Joan Neide. Like most Sacramento Uechi karateka, I begin as a student fulfilling my PE credits in a way that seemed much more fun than just a simple tennis class, or weights training, or other... Neide Sensei introduces us to a very traditional form of Okinawan Karate, steeped in tradition, and based in classic, but simple (or so it seemed) forms. I work, I complete, and I extend, finding the experience fulfilling enough to join her in extra-curricular classes where she taught her continuing students on Friday evenings. It was there that I find others who were fully committed and passionate about Uechi Ryu, and also where I meet Sensie Van der Volgen.
Fast forward a year, and I am training five to ten hours a week, picking up some weekday classes with Neide Sensei, focusing on two evenings out at East Portal Park with Robb Sensei, and pursuing Uechi with a passion. Three years of solid training, and a definite progression under Robb's tutelage, and I my art, I can't see myself doing much more. And then real life intrudes, I'm married, with a household, a demanding job, a past-time with computer gaming work, and too many things pulling me in different directions. My next two years of training are spotty, at best. I still feel myself a Uechi Ryu karateka, but essentially drop out of progressing, just showing up enough to realize how little I am advancing.
Then comes 2006, my year of no longer being fat. My weight has continually increased to a peak of 215 pounds, and I hate it. I spend so much time sitting at the computer at work, and at the computer at home, and no part of my life includes exercise. I start Weight Watchers and lose ten pounds. A friend of mine encourages me to run once (huffing and puffing behind him), and I begin a virtuous cycle of fitness and weight loss. And it was also in this year that I start Ying Jow Pai Eagle Claw Kung Fu. How gruelling! A system heavily into high leg kicks gets the heart pounding, and the amount of work I put in is intense! I spend an entire year with Eagle Claw, to realize that, while beautiful and effective, I will never have the flexibility to be a good Kung Fu practitioner. I have learned enough to believe that there is value in each system, but that some systems are appropriate for some individuals, and for me, Eagle Claw was never going to be that.
Now to 2011, I have four kids, and want martial arts in my life again, yet life is even that much harder. Damon is invited to "buddy day" at Kovar's, loves it, and wants to participate, and yet most exposure I have to Kovar's comes from working out with Kovar's Black Belts dropping in on a class of Uechi, and whining and hating it, and me looking at them like they're lousy. Yet, this could be a way to continue martial arts, albeit not my preference, but to do it as a whole family, so I join in the first trial month.
A month later and four of us are enrolled in classes, I'm not missing a workout, and I'm enjoying the arts again. I still think my concerns are valid, Kovar's is pretty indiscriminate about their student expectations (compared to what I'm used to), and allows students to continue with a much more objective and less subjective set of criteria for advancement. In other words, you get what you want out of it and can get by with not-quite-enough in my opinion of skill, and yet still progress through belts if you've shown up and learned, with very little in skill at the skill as part of the measurement. However, I also see some martial artists coming out of the system who are fantastic, and realize that it's possible to get a good, but different, set of learnings from what they teach, and it's valuable enough for me to continue. In short, you get out of it what you want.
And now, it's 2014, I've almost reached the level of belt at Kovar's that I have at Uechi, and I begin reflecting on my arts, since it is definitely part of growth. I definitely still consider myself a Uechi practitioner first and foremost, but I believe I'll get my black belt from Kovar's first, and I'm not disappointed by that. I've learned a lot of practical skills, spent hours working on drills that instill a practical art, yet have left behind the forms of its traditional roots. The things I have learned have definitely rounded me out a lot, and given me new exposures to things outside of the realm of one particular art. I still try and drop in on a Uechi class a few times a year, but I can't find the time to commit to being there when it means three to four hours away from home, versus ninety minutes. And so I'll be a Kovar's black belt, yet a Uechi karateka, and somehow make that my style, incorporating it the same way I have my week of tai chi in Costa Rica, my ten or so hours of Jiu Jitsu, my year of Eagle Claw, my Thailand trip to a muay thai gym... all to be my art. And yet, when I have my moment to the mat of solitude, it's still Seisan that I warm up with, and I still try to find the Sanchin in everything I do. Perhaps I'm still just learning.