I have always been a fitness avid since my younger days in school. I was an active member of the netball team and a regular member of the athletics team as well. My knack for sports continued past my school days as I became obsessed with maintaining an ideal body weight and a trimmed waistline. However, the one thing that I have not mustered the courage to try is contact sports. While I am relatively fit, the thought of being in a class full of people who can cause you serious damage using just their bare hands and feet is extremely intimidating to me.
It took me a while and a few sessions of yoga and Zumba classes to convince me that I needed a fresh change in my workout routine and hence, decided to give Kenpo karate a go.
For me, the hardest thing about trying out Kenpo karate was to actually show up. Going into a karate studio where I did not know the rules and routine was intimidating, to say the least, and the thought of classmates practising their kicks and punches on me did not make it any easier. However, once I overcame that fear, I gained a new appreciation of what the martial arts have to offer.
My experience with Kenpo consisted of individual and group classes at a reputable martial arts studio. In my time there, I learned a couple of good self-defence moves and got a first-hand glimpse into the rigours of karate. Partly fitness workout and partly an exercise in memorising choreographed forms, or katas, a karate class is first and foremost a system of developing discipline and control to achieve power you never knew you had. Personally, I feel that the karate system is very practical as it is built to suit the individual and not the other way around. Moreover, Kenpo is well-suited to women as you learn how to use your body weight to get the maximum force and maximum reach.
Achieving that maximum force involves delivering a lot of kicks and punches to long-suffering heavy bags and alert partners holding pads. As with any karate style, Kenpo requires that you devote a fair amount of time to build up necessary tools, a few which — hitting an opponent and getting hit — may not come naturally to someone like myself with more experience in yoga and ballet than barroom brawls. As much as I tried, I could not overcome my natural tendency to wince when blows came toward my head.
Having said that, however, sparring is important so that you are able to learn how to hit and get hit. Besides, it is controlled and supervised. Furthermore, this is a contact sport, and in this field, experience is always the best teacher. I could see from the way that the more practised students sparred, they exhibited the mastery of resisting the urge to cringe and their camaraderie gave them the confidence to fight without inflicting any real damage flawlessly. The classes that I took consisted mostly of men, but there were a few women are regulars.
Kenpo is designed to be a streetwise martial art, that keeps its focus on the practical applications in a sometimes dangerous world. The classes generally begin with some warm-up callisthenics, such as jumping jacks, burpees, air punches and stimulated jump rope. Thereafter, students were instructed to perform a series of punching and kicking drills, where it worked your quads and delts, and broke everyone into a serious pile of sweat. We then broke off to work on forms; the advanced students who had spent four or five years required to earn a black belt, went straight into practising their choreographed fights, while I worked with a yellow belt partner on learning the beginner forms. This part of the class was the most challenging for me as I had to simultaneously learn the combination of steps, kicks and punches, while at the same time, work on using real power in my movements. Safe to say, I was not at all surprised to see bruises appear on my arms the next day and any after every session after. But hey, as the adage goes, no pain no gain right?
I have to admit that my commitment to Kenpo did not last long as I personally prefer a more harmonious workout — on that does not typically involve unleashing strong, powerful kicks and punches on an adversary. However, I definitely left dojo with a new understanding of the strength and confidence karate has to offer, and profound respect for those who dedicate themselves to perfecting the art of combat. That, and maintaining a poker face when it comes to facing any moment that would cause a flinch to show on the face.
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