Every day for the week we were in Hawai’i, we met at 6am for a karate workout on the beach. I didn’t look forward to getting up every morning, but once we got rolling it was very invigorating. I’d return to the hotel ready for a shower and hungry for breakfast, but full of energy for the day ahead.
Running kata in sand was very different from the carpet, mats, or even grass I’m used to. I expected the sands to shift beneath my feet, but I didn’t realize the surface would be different every single time I ran a kata. One step would be fairly solid, the next would be wet mush. I’d plant my foot in a mound to get a good footing, then I’d jump and land in a hole left from a previous kata. It was challenging and a tough workout, but it was also a lot of fun.
After kata, we ran our wazas, which are sets of prearranged responses to attacks. The sand didn’t make as much of a difference there, only landing on sand after a throw or fall isn’t quite as soft as you’d expect. Slapping is a little more like hitting water, where if you hit it too fast it doesn’t quite yield right away and you get a bit of a sting.
On the last day we took things a bit farther. We visited a different beach, and we got right down into the water. We ran kata with waves crashing down around us, then again went on to our wazas and even added sparring to the agenda.
Kata in the sand then felt like practice for kata in the ocean. The currents pushed and pulled as we moved, and oftentimes the undertow would wash the sand out from under our feet. One moment I’d have firm footing to execute a kick, the next I have to hurry up and move before I lost my footing completely and fell over.
And yes, we did get smoked once. We were standing there running kata at one point and a seven-foot wave came rushing in at us. We braced ourselves as best we could, but it knocked us right on our asses. The Wife was laughing too hard to catch all of the action, but you can see the aftermath here.
Sparring on the beach was also a lot of fun. We had to time our attacks with the current, we had to keep moving in the shifting sands, and we used our environment by throwing water at one another for distraction. I never did get close enough to my opponent to try to sweep him, but we traded blows and I came out the winner.
Many martial artists recommend practicing in a variety of environments, and I’d like to recommend sand and water become a priority. I’ve run kata in pools at various depths in the past, but the beach was a whole new experience. On the physical side, it engages several more muscles to retain balance and execute technique. On the mental side, it requires a lot of focus to anticipate shifting surfaces and time movements with the current. A beach may not be convenient for many people, but if the opportunity should present itself, don’t let it slip away!
As an aside, be glad I can’t push scents out to you through the Internet. A karateka’s belt is supposed to retain the blood, sweat, and dirt of his practice, so we never wash our belts. I dried my belt in the sun, but the ocean has given it a rather unique funk and an almost greasy feel. I’m told it will fade in a couple of weeks, but I feel sorry for the next person I roll in a Judo match with.
I don’t know when I’ll be able to afford a return to Hawai’i, but when it happens, I’m sure I’ll be right back on the beach. I can’t wait.