I just dumped several pictures on my Flickr account from two recent events at the Academy of Okinawan Karate, the school where I study Shuri-ryu. Some came from last month’s graduation, and the remainder are from this weekend’s Friends & Family Day demonstrations.
These events are a lot of fun for me, not just because some of my friends and classmates are out there but because I get an idea of what’s to come in my training. There are almost always demonstrations by black belts and other advanced students showing off their kata, weapons kata, Judo, and more, and I always find myself guesstimating how long it may be before I start learning some of those same moves.
A few months ago, my sensei asked me if I wanted to be a black belt. It was tough to answer at the time, because it’s a long path to black belt at our school. I’m told it takes most students 5-7 years, even if the student makes it to ikkyu, or first-degree brown belt, fairly quickly. Some students reach that point, lose patience, and drop out or go to another school.
To make things even tougher, I can hardly sit still. My family moved six or seven times when I was a kid, and now wanderlust creeps up on me every few years. The Wife and I have had three different homes and I’ve shifted through two careers (not counting writing), four employers, and a stint as a student while we’ve been married. It’s hard for me to picture what I’ll be doing and where I’ll be living next year, much less five years from now.
Have a nice trip?
The commitment is not unlike going back to school. There’s a tuition involved, and though it’s not as steep as many schools, it’s not cheap. There’s the time commitment, and the willingness to work it into a schedule around one’s full-time job and supporting a family. I can tell you now, if I decided to return to school for a real degree, the pros and cons would not be all that different.
Like school, the outcome would be personal development. I may not be able to parlay a black belt into a larger paycheck in the same way I could a bachelor’s degree, but it would be hard to question the physical and mental (as opposed to intellectual) development. I’ve heard of similar development from some of our advanced students, and I’ve even seen the development in some of my classmates, particularly the younger ones, in the relatively short time I’ve been studying.
When a board meets an immovable object.
So far my interest in karate is still as strong as it was after my first week. I still look forward to every class, and I hate having to miss class. When I missed a full week due to travel, I felt like a stranger walking into the dojo. I pay close attention to the ranks just ahead of me, hoping to pick up a few things before I start learning their kata and techniques myself. I’ve even started reading martial arts books, such as Gichin Funakoshi‘s Karate-Do: My Way of Life and Zen in the Martial Arts.
I think I’m as hooked on karate as I am writing.
Most certainly not walking on sunshine
There have been times that little tickle of wanderlust appears, or friends or family will suggest we move out closer to them, and I’ll open up a real estate website and browse housing prices to satisfy my curiosity. The next search? I hit Yellowbook or surf the International Shuri-ryu Association directory to see if there are any dojos in the area, and at least once I’ve ruled out moving to an area because there wasn’t a single dojo in range.
I’d say that pretty much tears it: I want to be a black belt. I want to be a black belt as much as I want to be a full-time writer. I think it would be great to spend my days in a mix between training and writing. The reality may not be that simple, but just the same, I think it’s a goal worth aiming for.
I best start making more of the magic happen.
About Mike Oliveri
Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.