Spirituality In Traditional Martial Arts

Many traditional martial arts talk about Mind, Body and Spirit; or that training develops you spiritually. But what does this spirituality actually mean, how do martial arts help develop it and (probably of most interest to many readers) what use is spirituality in a martial context?

First of all, it could take a whole book to cover this big topic, so I’m not going to be able to cover it all in a blog post. All I’m aiming to do here is to give a brief overview of how I see it.

To quote Deepak Chopra, who is widely revered as one of the World’s greatest spiritual leaders, “if we understand spirituality not as some kind of religious dogma or ideology but as the domain of awareness where we experience values like truth, goodness, beauty, love and compassion, and also intuition, creativity, insight and focused attention”.

So is spirituality a higher level of awareness than most people experience?

Yes it is.

Most of us have conditioned responses and reactions to whatever happens in our environment. For example, let’s consider 2 people on a bus going to work in the same office for the same boss. The bus is stuck in a traffic jam and both people will be late for work. Let’s call them Peter and Paul for convenience. Peter gets stressed and upset, worrying about how late he’ll be and what the boss with say, whilst Paul just decides that there’s nothing he can do about it so just looks out the window and enjoys the view, the trees and the birds.

Which of them will get to work first?

They’ll both get there the same time as they’re on the same bus, so Peter’s worrying will make no difference at all.

Both Peter and Paul are subject to the same circumstances, but they have a very different experience of those circumstances!

Assuming that there is no favouritism from the boss, it is fair to say that Peter is acting out of a conditioned response. He probably reacts like that to most adverse situations. Now at this point I could write a lot about neural pathways and peptides, but let’s just call it as a conditioned response for now.

Paul on the other hand was able to rationalise that there was nothing he could do about it, so he was actually able to choose his response. That is a higher level of awareness! He would have been able to experience of the truth of the situation and the beauty of his surroundings as Deepak alludes to above.

Now try and think how many conditioned responses you have which lead you to being upset and unhappy? No sane person would actually choose to be unhappy. Given the choice, we’d all rather by happy and/or in a state of peace. So why do we allow so many things to upset us, which if we are brutally honest with ourselves, we don’t really need to be upset about!

Part of spirituality is about being able to mentally stand back from a situation, weigh it up, make the best impartial decision for the given situation and to be at peace with the circumstance, your decision and the outcome. Now there is an awful lot more to it this; many will talk about being connected to source/higher self, accessing intuition/divine guidance etc; but like I said above, this is a blog post, not a book. So for now, I’d suggest that this clarity of mind is one of the most practical applications of heightened awareness/spirituality!

So how does martial art training help us to achieve this?

It works on a number of levels. In many styles of Karate we have the Heian/Pinan katas which mean “Peaceful Mind”. As we learn to defend ourselves we feel more confident and with this confidence comes peace of mind.

Most martial arts exercises requires us to be very present in the moment such as focusing on getting basic movements rights. Anxiety is caused by focusing on where we want to be which is different to where we are now (living in the future). Regret is caused by focusing on bad things that have happened to us or mistakes that we’ve made (living in the past). Only by having our attention focussed in the present moment can we be in a peaceful state of mind, which is the most effective place to be when dealing with whatever issue faces us in that moment. But that is a subject for a whole book as well!

When practicing kata/patterns/forms we focus not only on the pattern of movements, but our balance, posture, body structures and mechanics, efficient generation of power, breathing and knowing where ever part of our body is at any given time. With practice we develop a great degree of body awareness. As mind and body are linked, body awareness helps to develop mental awareness.

Partner activities also make us stay very focused, even the pre-arranged activities. When we have a well trained martial artist coming in full speed and power, and we have to either block/evade or have our head knocked of our shoulders, we are usually very present in that moment.

This part varies a lot from school to school, but pressure testing our techniques against a non compliant training partner also leads to higher level of self honesty as to what actually works and what doesn’t. Sport martial art can do this too as long as we are honest that it is sport fighting as opposed to real life combat; you still find what does and doesn’t work under pressure. This knowledge gives an extra layer of self awareness.

Many martial arts, particularly Chinese and Japanese, include meditation which is good for silencing the internal voice in our head (which is usually negative), hence help us to stay focused in the present moment.

There are of course other examples of how martial arts teach us to be present, calm our mind and even silence the voice in head, but again, that could take a book to explain thoroughly. Together these aspects develop our self awareness and spirituality.

So is this just a nice side effect of training, or does it actually help us in a practical way with self protection?

This could be a subject of great debate, but I would say a definite yes. Just considering the advantages of having a greater clarity of thought:

• Do you actually need to fight some jerk that is provoking you, or can you stand back and decide that your ego is secure enough that you don’t need to fight him over his insults/provocation. You could even apologise to him if your ego will let you!
• Do you respond to provocation out of a conditioned response (be it fear, anger, whatever); or do you actually consciously choose your response?
• Does your tongue freeze, or do you find the right words to calm the situation and de-escalate it?
• Should things actually get physical, do you panic, does the “red mist” come down and you lose control; or can you keep calm enough to let your training do the work and exploit openings in the attackers guard?

There is a story of a Zen master whose students confronted him one day. They had been talking to the students of another Zen master who apparently could walk on water and they asked their master, what can you do? He replied, “I can eat when I’m hungry and I can sleep when I’m tired”.
Spiritual development is not just about being able to do special things. It has more to do with simply being more aware of your own mind and body and having clarity of thought without the ego adding filters to how you see your world and circumstances.

 

I am not suggesting for one second that being a spiritual person is enough on its own for you to be able to defend yourself. However, it is an extra level that works with the physical training and psychology of combat to help you survive a confrontation. Unlike reality based martial arts which gets results very quickly, spiritual development will generally take a long time to learn. However, it is important for self protection and it can also help you lead a much more happy, peaceful and productive life. Many people see self development and spirituality as the nice and fluffy side of martial arts; but they do have very practical applications, not only in self defence but in every aspect of your life.

And finally, just for fun, for those old enough to remember it, here are some relevant clips from the old Kung Fu series with David Carradine.  Whilst the actual Kung Fu may be lacking (it had only just been introduced to the West back then), it is still to this day probably the best TV show of all time for covering the spiritual aspects of the martial arts.

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Karate Kime (Focus) & Tension At The End Of The Technique

“Kime” is a Japanese word, roughly translated as “focus”.  It is where Karate derives it’s power from at the point of impact of a punching or striking technique.  But how well is it understood?

Most people loosely describe achieving Kime as moving with relaxation, then tensing the whole body very rapidly at the completion of the technique with a heavy exhalation.  But tension stops movement and do we really want to tense (hence not be moving or hardly moving) even be it for a moment?

Does it really add anything to the technique?

Is there another way?

Master Kousaku Yokota speculates in his book, Shotokan Myths, that as Kata (patterns/forms) competition become popular, the tension at the end of the technique became more and more exaggerated so that competitors could emphasis to the judges that they were actually focusing at the right places.

There is a story (which I’m not able validate) that Gichin Funakoshi’s son visited the Japan Karate Association (for many years the main driving force behind promoting Shotokan throughout the World).  Apparently one of his comments was, “where did all this tension come from”?

For many years, Karate (Shotokan in particular) has been criticised by other styles for being tense, stiff and wooden; because of this heavy emphasis on tension at the end of a technique.  It is called a “hard” style, despite it’s Okinawan roots being more akin to the “soft” Chinese styles from which Karate evolved!

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the subject.  Please let me know what you think and leave your comments below.

 

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Taegeuk Poomsae: Childrens Taekwondo?

Although the post below (writen by guest author Ørjan Nilsen, 2nd Dan WTF Taekwondo), relates to WTF Taekwondo, much of can equally apply to other martial arts especially Karate.  In Taekwondo, Karate and even Kung Fu, many original applications have been dumbed down and misunderstood by the mainstream practitioners.  In this interesting and informative article, Ørjan answers many of the criticism levelled at WTF Taekwondo’s early Poomsae (patterns/forms/kata).

The Taegeuk series of Poomsae are the basic patterns used to grade through the coloured belts and as Ørjan points out are often referred to as “children’s Taekwondo”.  To any Karateka reading this, doesn’t that sound familiar?  The same has often been said of our Heian/Pinan series of Kata.

I will confess that I have been guilty in the past of some of making some of the criticism that Ørjan addresses, but his article below has made me think again.  I hope you all enjoy this article and that it changes your outlook as it has mine.

So . . . . . . over th Ørjan:

 

When asked about the charachteristics of Taegeuk poomsae, most WTF exponents or people with passing knowledge of the forms will probably describe them as: “simple”, “frequent use of high stances”, “boring”, and many will perhaps even say that they are for children.

The Taegeuk forms were made in the early to mid seventies. According to “The Taegeuk Cipher” (by Simon John O`Neill) they were introduced in 1972 to replace the earlier Palgwe forms. The motivation for making the Taegeuk patterns is stated to be part politically motivated (since not all the original School/Kwan was represented by the forms comittee that were responsible for the Palgwe and WTF black belt forms), and partially because the Palgwe had too obvious Karate influences. No matter what their motivations were, they were designed specifically for color belts training and they have a very clear progress of difficulty.

Maybe the clear progress of difficulty and that they were designed for color belts (as stated in most official WTF/Kukki Taekwondo writings) coupled with the three first patterns great use of short/high walking stance is the reasons why many people will say they are for children.

This article will hopefully show the readers that the Taegeuk are more than merely “childrens Taekwondo” and that the techniques they contain can be used as effective self defence once they are fully understood.

The high/short walking stance (Ap seogi in Korean):

The first three patterns favor the use of Ap seogi. Ap seogi is excecuted by moving one foot one walking step distance in front of the other. The front foot is pointing directly forward, the back foot is pointing about 30 degrees outward. The legs are straightned and the weight distributuion is 50% on each leg. Your whole body is facing the front (ap seogi means front stance in English).

This stance is often ridiculed by other stylists because it lacks power and beacuse it is too unstable to be used in a fight. They are somewhat correct if you look at the stance just as a single unit and not as a part of the whole picture. The Ap seogi stance is perhaps the most natural stance used in the martial arts since this is the stance we use everyday for moving (walking). In patterns training we are told that the legs should be straight (at least in the end-portion of the stance) but if you bend your knees just a little and keep your hands high (boxing guard) tuck in your chin, you will be in a typical “Boxing stance”. Actually because of the stances naturality; variations on the Ap seogi is used by most combat sports in one way or another all around the world. It is hard not to use it since as previous stated it is the stance humans use most often to move around. Where it lacks in stability and power it makes up for speed and mobility.

Taekwondo Ap Seogi

Figure 1 Ap seogi used in Gumdo. (Source: masterjosetorres.com)

Taekwondo Ap Seogi 1

Figure 2: Ap sogi used in boxing (Source: James E Homans, New American Encyclopedia of Social and Commercial Information)

In the last five forms in the Taegeuk pattern set the Ap seogi is almost not used at all. They use more “long forward front stance” (Ap Koobi), back stance (Dwit koobi), Cat stance (Beom seogi) in stead. So to make the assumption that the whole set uses short front stance (Ap seogi) and that the stance is impractical, and so the whole pattern set is impractical is in the writers own view flawed.

The pulling hand (“Ben son” in Korean, “Hiki te” in Japanese).

The pulling hand is the hand not obviously doing anything in the form and is retracted to the hip while the other hand is excecuting “blocks”, “punches” or “strikes”. We share this method of moving the hands with both Japanese and Okinawan styles of Karate and some styles of Chinese Quanfa. In the Taegeuk forms set however almost all hand techniques are excecuted making use of this method. This makes the forms look simplistic and basic, and most “official” applications does not help either. Most show applications with no practial explanation for the hand on the hip. Ask most instructors and they will gladly give you empty and shallow explanations like “more power”, “tradition” etc not going into details as to why would anyone place one hand on their hip and not protect their head instead.

In modern sport Taekwondo we seem to have lost the knowledge of the purpose behind “the pulling hand” (Ben son). The easiest way to find the “original” meaning is to look at the sources of Taekwondo and how they used the technique. Unfortunatly mainstream Karate has also evolved into a long range combat sport so they to often do not know why they put their hand on their hip in a practical point of view. Fortunatly we still have the writings of the Karate pioners and we also have the Chinese styles of Quan fa who also uses the pulling hand to give us hints as to why the pulling hand motion is so frequently used in our modern patterns. In his book “Karate-Do Kyohan the master text” by Gichin Funakoshi founder of Shotokan Karate he states: “Hiki te: grasp the opponents fist and attack while pulling him inward. His balance broken, the effectiveness of his attack is lost and that of the counterattack is enhanced”. He also makes frequent remarks later in the book on the explenations of Kata to always envision that you are grasping and pulling your attackers limb when using Hiki te.

This is of course a very short explenation but he touches on many of the primary reasons as to the pulling hand:

  • Awareness and intuitive control of your opponents wherabouts.
    Grabing the opponent gives you greater control of his motions, increases your sense as to what he is doing, and makes it easier for the adrenaline filled brain to localaise the opponent and so will increase your ability to strike the opponent.
  • Breaks the opponents balance.
    By grabbing your opponent and pulling and twisting his limb at the same time breaks his balance and puts him on the defencive. The human brain is conditioned to always keeping the bodies balance a first priority, so as long as the opponent is off balance he is also not likely to attack you.
  • Tactical advantage.
    Grabbing and pulling in the opponents arm will open him up for strikes that will be difficult to defend against.
  • Increases power of your attack (or counterattack if you used it defensivly)
    A car that chrases into a parked car 30 miles an hour will make a big bang. To cars going front to front on each other, both doing 30 miles an hour will make a bigger bang. The same principle is at work with the pulling hand coupled with a punch or strike. If you drag your opponent onto the punch/strike it will hurt him more than if you punched him while he was retreating og standing relativly still. This is probably the source of the “because it gives more power” explenation so popular today.

If you look at the Chinese styles you can learn that the pulling hand is actually a very nasty  technique in its own right. Grabbing and twisting sensitive parts of your opponents body can be very effective. Grabbing and twisting your opponents hair, ear, testicles, or digging in under the collarbone are all very painfull techniques. And if you (or should I say your opponent) has not had enough yet you can also seize his throat, grabbing, pulling and twisting. This is just a few applications for the pulling hand, but as you can see there is a lot of practical reasons for including this in the patterns, and the great number of its use in the Taegeuk set does not make the Taegeuk set “basic” or for children, on the controrary it makes a greater depth to the forms instead. There is an interesting article in the newest edition of Jissen magazine that can be downloaded on www.iainabernethy.com on the other uses for the pulling hand.

The Taegeuk forms consists primarely of “basic motions”.

This sentiment is true. If you compare the Taegeuk forms to older Karate Kata, Quan fa quan, Chang Hon Tul/Hyung the Taegeuk forms do seem simple and using a narrower and more basic technique base than its predecessors. But how do we grade basic and advanced tecniques today? These days most people look at techniques that are ellaborate and somewhat difficult to perform to be graded advanced not taking into account the practical application of the technique. Basic techniques are the ones we can perform with relativly little training. For example most will say that a simple front kick is a basic technique, while a tornado kick is an advanced technique. Most people are drawn to the “advanced” since we often think “advanced” means better. We grade the techniques purely on an aesthetic point of view. But should not self defence techniques be as simple as possible? From a self defence perspective the scale is turned upside down since in self defence the only focus is on applications and how well they can be applied. To them simplicity is good, because they need to keep things simple so the techniques can be performed in an adrenaline rushed state. Using the pulling hand as described earlier coupled with the strikes will also increase the effectiveness of the techniques and make the forms a lot more practical and effective for self defence. We are now far far away from what most people will say is a childrens art.

The Taegeuk forms use a great number of unrealistic “blocks” (Makki).

If you look at the motions labeled “blocks” purely as static defencive techniques just like they are most often seen in most official applications then yes, the blocks are unrealistic. In the “Kukkiwon Textbook” p. 197 (2006 edition) it says: “most Taekwondo makki techniques are designed to hurt the opponent in the course of defending oneself… Therefore, makki techniques must be trained hard so that they may function equally as offensive techniques”.

The English verb “To Block” conjures up a mental image of a defender lifting his hand to passivly hinder a strike to land. The Kukkiwon textbook`s definition gives the reader a whole new picture. The Makki techniques of Taekwondo is meant to actually hurt the attacker, and if trained hard and well they can work as well as offensive techniques to defeat an opponent? Unfortunatly most official applications do support the first scenario where the defender just hinders the attackers strike, and not the second one where the defender hinders the attack and at the same time defeats (or at least hurts) the opponent by hurting his limbs.

It is also important to bear in mind our idea of what an attack actually is. Different holds or grabs to secure and open an opponent up for a strike or barrage of strikes is equally an attack as the actual strike itself. Therefore some of the makki techniques of Taekwondo are designed to hurt the opponent and free yourself at the same time.

Some makki techniques are used for other “attacks”, such as pushes, repeated poking in the stomach/chest and the wild gesticulations often performed by an enraged person. The pushing, poking, gesturing (like shaking a fist or pointing a finger up in your face) is often seen just before the fight kicks off. Taekwondo share roots with both Okinawan Karate and Chinese Quan fa and they all focus on civillian self defence. Therefore it is logical that the techniques of Taekwondo deals with disposing of opponents/attackers before they become a real threat.

Then you have the makki techniques that actually are holds for opening up the opponents vital points. Some in forms of simple joint locks. One personal favorite is Keumgang momtong makki seen in most martial arts. This does not work well as a block but it works great as an opener for the vital points under the arm.

The simplest way to find effective applications to the forms is actually to forget the name of the technique and look at the whole motion. As previously stated the pulling hand or ben son is often just as important as what most people look at as the actual technique. Also it is important to think outside the “tournament fighting/duelling fightning” and start to think of self defence techniques instead.

Maybe the Taegeuk forms were designed for children and colored belt trainees, and most official writings from the Kukkiwon and the WTF will support this, but if you research the forms you will find so much more than just a childrens martial dance rutine.

Lee Kyu-Hyong (9th Dan) in his latest book entitled “What is Taekwondo Poomsae?” makes numerous claims that all of the Taekwondo forms (and therefore also the Taegeuk set) were indeed designed purely for fighting. Quotes like: “Poomsae training primarily aims to learn the face to face fighting in the actual field to protect oneself in an emergency”, and “Poomsae does not intend to look beautiful to others, or show off, but it is thoroughly for a  fight” shows that patterns training should indeed be more than just a shallow performance art.

I hope you found this article informative and that you now can look at the Taegeuk pattern set (or any other pattern) and see more than just the surface. Does it matter why we ended up with the Taegeuk forms? Does it matter to whom they were designed for? What matters is that we are now training them and we should try our best to make the most of what we do have.

Recomended reading:

  • All the books by Iain Abernethy
  • Simon John O`Neill`s book The Taegeuk Cipher
  • Stuart Anslow`s book Chang Hon Taekwondo Hae Sul
  • Mathew Sylvester`s book Practical Taekwondo
  • The Kukkiwon Textbook
  • Lee Kyu-Hyong`s book What is Taekwondo Poomsae

 

Ørjan Nilsen, 2nd Dan in Kukki/WTF Taekwondo from Norway, has practised Taekwondo since January 2000. His training has taken him to Korea many times, competing in World Taekwondo Hanmadang 2006 and 2007, and World Taekwondo Culture Expo 2007. He also studied Taekwondo for one year (2007-2008) at Chosun University in Gwangju, Korea. He is currently practising and teaching tradtional Taekwondo at Bergen Vest Taekwondo Dojang in Norway. He is also the author behind the Taekwondo Blog; “Traditional Taekwondo Ramblings” which can be found at www.jungdokwan-taekwondo.blogspot.com

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Emotional Content In Martial Arts And An Interesting Experiment

This clip above is now an iconic scene from the Bruce Lee movie, Enter The Dragon, where Bruce Lee is teaching a student.

Bruce Lee:  “Kick me”.
Student looks surprised.
Bruce Lee:  “Kick me”.

The student kicks

Bruce Lee:  “What was that?  An exhibition?  We need (pointing to his temple) emotional content.  Try again”.

The student kicks again.

Bruce Lee:  “I said emotional content, not anger.  Now try again, with me”.

The student kicks again, but more sharply.

Bruce Lee (with a smile):  “That’s it”.

There is more to the scene, but this is the part that I want to cover in this post.

What emotion do we need to feel when training or even defending ourselves and/or loved ones for real?  As Bruce says above, not anger.  But what?  I’ll come back to that later.

Emotions do effect our whole body.  Those who are into spiritualism will often say that we vibrate at a higher frequency when we are in more positive emotional states (love, happy, excited) then when we are in more negative states (fear, anger, frustration).

For those that are more science based in their thinking, we have a small part of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which creates chemicals known as peptides.  Every emotional state that we experience has a separate peptide to go with it.  When we go into any given emotional state the hypothalamus will produce the corresponding peptides which circulate the body via the blood stream.  Each cell of our body has many tiny receptors on them which are designed to receive these peptides.  When these peptides enter a receptor, they actually send a signal into the cell.

I personally believe in both, but the bottom line is we are affected on an cellular level when we change our emotional state.  So which is the best emotional state to be in when we need to defend ourselves and/or our loved ones?

I decided to conduct an experiment with some of my adult students.  But first the disclaimers:

  • This experiment was only conducted with 4 students (not exactly large scale).
  • This has not been pressure tested (see, I said it first).

So I am not suggesting that the results are hard evidence, just an indicator.

I asked my students (2 men and 2 ladies) to select the kata (pattern/form) which they felt that they could perform most competently.  I told them that we were going to conduct an experiment, that some of what I was about to ask them to do might seem strange and contrary to my normal teachings, but to just go with the flow and give it a go.  And they would have to use their imaginations.

The experiment was in 2 parts.  Firstly I told them to close their eyes.  Then to imagine that somebody had hurt somebody that they loved or had wronged them in some way.  That they hated and loathed this person who was truly a nasty bit of work and who deserved no sympathy.  As they performed their kata, they were going to visualise destroying this person who completely deserved it and with no mercy at all.  There was a bit more embellishment, but you get the drift.

One of the ladies was struggling to contain a small smile.  Was she not taking the experiment seriously I wondered?

I told them to open their eyes, and “go”.

Their kata’s did not really look much different to any other time to be honest.  Towards the end, one of the men turned and bumped into the other one, and the 2 ladies had giggles.  I must admit I was a bit disappointed, as they didn’t seem to be taking it seriously.

But never mind, on with the second half.  I told them to close their eyes again.  This time, I told them to think of somebody that they loved.  It could be a boyfriend/girlfriend (non of them married), a family member, a child, maybe niece or nephew (none have their own children), or it could be a close friend that they cared about very much.  Somebody was going to hurt their loved one and they were the only one who stood between their loved one and the aggressor.  They were going to have to fight to protect their loved one from harm.  They were to focus their mind on how much they loved the person they were going to protect, how they would do anything, risk anything for their loved one.  Rather than thinking of anger and hate, they were to focus on love.

There were no smiles this time.  I had them open their eyes, and “go”.

One of the men was of like a battle tank on steroids, I’d never seen him move quite like it before.  The others did not look greatly different from before, but completed their katas with more focus, without bumping into each other and without any giggles.

I asked them afterwards, with which emotional state did they feel that their techniques were better?

Well Mr Battle-Tank-On-Steroids definitely felt better when in the love/protecting emotions than in the hate/anger emotions.  The others were a bit more hesitant and unsure at first, then one of the ladies offered that when doing the hate/anger emotion, she felt a strange tingling which didn’t feel right.  The other lady agreed that she felt the same.

Basically, they rejected these feelings because being full of hate and anger was an alien feeling for them.  We all get angry at times, but most well balanced people find it difficult to sustain a state where we have absolutely no compunction about hurting and destroying another human being.  Yes I know there are exceptions, but I’m talking about the majority of well adjusted civilised people.  I guess this explains the giggling and smiles as they could not relate to this state!

I then asked them about mental clarity.  Did it feel any different between the 2 emotional states.  They all agreed that focus and sense of purpose was much better during the love/protection emotional state.

I had to comment afterwards that isn’t it ironic that they performed better at a fighting art when in a state of “love” rather than “hate”!

OK, I know there are many limitations in this experiment and it hasn’t been pressure tested.  Arguably, none of them even really achieved the state of anger/hate, so it could be argued that the experiment was void!  It would be much easier to hate when hurt for real.

But how does this relate to defending yourself rather than others?

Well to my mind (and this could lead to an interesting debate) is that you should love yourself.  Not in an arrogant and conceited way, but by being at peace with who you are and what you stand for and live by.  Martial arts literature is full of talk about self development and being a better person.  Being able to defend yourself obviously gives you more confidence so you can stand up for what is right and for what you believe in.

But does standing up for what is right and what you believe in make you more able to actually defend yourself?

One of my former Sensei’s has admitted that he used to get into a number of fights when he was younger.  He says that when he felt he was in the right, he always won.  When he got into fights that he didn’t necessarily believe in, or perhaps others around him persuaded him to fight, he didn’t do so well.

Obviously somebody who is much bigger, stronger and better trained will nearly always beat somebody who is small, weak and untrained.  I’m not suggesting that if you just lead a good honourable life, you’ll be able to defeat anybody, you do the physical training too.  What I am suggesting however, is that with 2 people who are closely matched, the one who feels that he is fighting a just cause and who is in alignment with his/her own personal integrity will fight harder than somebody who is just out to bully!  The old masters always taught that we should live with integrity and humility.  If we live that way, then should we be forced to fight we shall do so with a clear conscience.  We can “love” (or at least feel good about) ourselves.

As I’ve said above, this little experiment is far from conclusive.  However, I’d like to invite you (especially instructors) to carry out similar experiments yourself and report the results in the comments below.  It would be nice to get a little data base of similar experiments here for others to share.

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Alone with myself – How Karate changed my life

First of all, my apologies for not having been active on this blog for a long time.  I hope to resume normal service early next year.

This posting is not actually by me, it is by somebody who wishes to remain anonymous.  Although the author is a Karateka, his story could equally apply to any martial art.  The author suffered a debilitating stroke at just 6 years of age and this post chronicles his struggle to overcome many challenges; physical, emotional, mental and even just getting a perspective on life.

It’s longer than usual posting, but it is a fascinating read from a truly inspiring individual.  It really does sum up what martial arts are all about.  Well over the author in his own words:


Before I start telling you my story, I would like to let you know that I want to remain anonymous. I have been through a lot of sad moments in my life and I don’t want anybody to know who I am. Just because I feel proud of what I have accomplished, and because now I look like I am a normal person, I would like to keep my identity secret. I would prefer to be known for my Karate or something else rather than my own personal story. The reason why I am writing this article now is that I now believe that sharing my story will probably help people who are suffering or have suffered in their lives for some reasons and give them the will to never give up.

I used to be a footballer. I have always like watching and playing football. Even if I am now grown up and do not really like all the business that is around this sport, I still support my favourite team with my brother. I started playing at the age of 6. As I was already very lazy at that time and as I hate to run, I chose to be a goalkeeper. Quite a perfect role for me, as I was the last defense wall. My senses and reaction skills were challenged every time the other team came into my penalty area, but I could also rest whenever there were not a lot of actions.

I used to be a goalkeeper, and I think I was pretty good at it.

But I guess you are wondering why I am talking about football and why I am not talking about Karate straightaway. Well, be patient and please take your time while reading my story.

I used to be a goalkeeper…before I had my stroke.

How it happened

A stroke is a brain attack. A stroke happens when the blood supply to a part of the brain is cut off and brain cells are damaged or die. It is a leading cause of adult disability. There are approximately 152,000 strokes in the UK every year. It doesn’t really tell you when it’s going to happen and in which way it is going to affect you. In reality, one in five strokes is fatal.

I had a haemorrhagic stroke, which happens when a blood vessel bursts and bleeds into the brain.

It happened when I was just 9 years old, in the morning of one of the last days of school in June. When I woke up this day, I didn’t know what was going on. I just knew that I had the worst headache one can ever imagine. Still I had my breakfast, prepared myself and brushed my teeth. Then I went to the living room and I noticed that something was wrong with my balance. I tried to shout some words that I thought were intelligible as I fell onto the floor. My mind was somewhere else, I felt out of time and I was in and out of consciousness, just able to notice that the firemen were taking care of me. When I woke up from a coma in this hospital bed, unable to move or speak, I was just able to moan and cry, unable to understand my situation. Then I was transferred to the rehabilitation centre.

Coping with stroke

There was a time from when I was at the rehabilitation centre when I could not realize what had happened to me. As the left part of my brain has been affected, it is the ‘logic’ area of the brain that enables you to sense the time as past and future (and therefore to be stressed about time), it was the right area of my brain that took control of my mind. It was actually not bad. In the right part of the brain, there is present time and the ability to feel. It was like a way for the brain to protect itself from making me aware of the pain of what had happened. As a consequence this disruption effected the way I was feeling time, it felt like I was in another dimension where time was flying fast and was also easily forgettable.

My stroke happened in the left part of my brain. For those who will read this article with poor knowledge of how the brain works, here are some explanations so that you will be able to follow my story without being lost. Due to how the blood circuit/ circulation is made, the left part of the brain controls the right side of the body and the right part of the brain controls the left side of the body. So as my stroke happened in the left area of my brain, it affected the right side of my body. After the stroke, I could not speak, I totally lost my balance and the all the muscles of my right side were very weak, both my right arm and leg. Problem: I was right-handed…

After a few months of rehabilitation, the left side of my brain had recovered a bit and I was able to realise that I was in a very bad situation. Still, I could not understand the words that the doctors used several times to tell me what had happened to me. After all, I was only a 9-year-old child at that time. Because of what happened, I was forced to become left-handed. I can remember that I really hated the fact that I had to change side because I really liked the way I used to write.

I really hated that weak situation.

But something in me saved me. Something that I had from birth from my parents: A really stubborn character.

In my mind I started to ask myself: “What are you doing here? This is not the right place for you. You are different from the other young people here. This is just temporary. You shall escape from here!”

Try to imagine… these words really had a positive effect on me. I was just 9 when I had this stroke. All I wanted to do was to come back to my former life, to be myself again, surrounded by my family and my good friends from my local school.

From the moment I realised that, I knew one thing: now that I had a goal, I would do anything to make it become a reality. After nine month of physiotherapy, speech therapy and other stuff of that kind, I finally could legally escape from this ‘prison of nightmare’ which I thought was not the place for me to stay…

Coming back to real life

There was a school at the rehabilitation centre so I not missed anything when I came back to school, and one of my goals was realised: I was having classes with the friends that I had to leave because of the brain operation I’d had and because of the rehabilitation time that followed.

I was finally back home full time but as my body had changed so much and as I still needed my parents to help me with most of the things I had to do, I really felt like I was dying. All I used to be, all the habits I used to have, were destroyed to the point that I even thought of killing myself. I was not myself anymore and it was going to be my life, forever.

Yes, at that time I was just ten, but a ten-year-old with the mind of someone who is old, with an experience of suffering that nobody around could understand.

In terms of sensation, I used to feel a bit lost in my thoughts, probably a consequence of the heavy medication I took. I felt out of time, and to be honest, I still have some troubles to manage my time.

The fact that I had a stroke also had an impact on my social life. Even if the speech therapist did a good job, when I came back to the real world, the one in which everybody would assume that you are normal and in which nobody will take time to really take care of you if you do not move or speak as fast as they are moving, I still did not feel at ease when speaking at that time. In this situation, most of the young people would make fun of me or would not care if I had difficulties to speak. This does not help to build confidence. I could notice a slight change in the way my friends were watching me, even if it did not change our bounds in the end.

Yes, I was so weak and nothing around me could help me because I still did not have a full understanding of what had happened to me. I did think that it was unfair though. I would be more likely to cry than the boys of my age, crying in despair. I had my family and old friends around me but nobody could understand me, even myself. All I wanted was to look like I was a normal boy, to be respected for what I was inside and not outside.

Starting karate

This was the context in which I started karate. At the age of 10, one year after my stroke. In the beginning, it was just a way for me to do an extra school activity. I did see a bit of the main Karate stances such as zenkutsu-dachi for example, in order to stretch my bad right leg, at the rehabilitation centre because one of the physiotherapists was black belt in Shotokan Karate. I do not know if this experience was what made my father think that I should start Karate in my home town. I finally joined a club in the end and that teacher was great and humane.

I started Karate in a very good environment. However, I had been seeing it as a funny activity for three/four years as I was a bit young when I started. That does not mean that I did not progress at all: I got to green belt at that time. I did not think of starting another ‘sport’. In a way, as I was growing up, my will to forget and to erase my past grew as well (it is quite funny now that I think of it that it is now that I am no longer thinking of it that the my work on myself is the most effective !).

At school I had some very bad moments that made me cry. When I was doing Karate I was always happy, even if I did not have the same understanding of it as I do now, and whenever I cried at my club, it was because of the effort that I had to do and because I was making some significant progress.

The turning point, when I started to understand what karate was

I had always been seen as a weak guy when I was at school. But this was before I started to understand what Karate truly is: it is an art of life. Once you get the mindset that is characteristic of Karate, your life will definitely be different because you will start to think that you do not have any limits anymore.  You will discover a true power that is hidden inside: the power of will. If you use it properly, you can get anything in life, as long as it remains something that on which you can have an effect on. Therefore, everything you could not do because of yourself, because you thought ‘No, I can’t do it’ will be possible if you think that you can do it.

At the time I began to understand Karate, I had an ‘enemy’ in my school. Or should I say a guy that hated me for some unknown reason. This guy tried his best to prevent my friends from playing with me, without success. He was the kind of guy who is overconfident and needs to show it to people he thought was weak. Bad news for him, I was very strong inside my head. He always provoked me, saying he was going to fight me and win. I was not the weak guy that I was after my stroke anymore. I did not reply to his provocation with violence because it was what he wanted me to do. Instead, I told myself that I would punch him only if he punched me. I spent the year waiting for him to finally dare to attack me, in vain. So after a year in which he tried and failed to ruin my social life, the moment came. We were visiting this beautiful museum in Torino with school. He was behind me in the visitors queue, continuously kicking me in the back. As we are in the museum, I waited until we came outside to let my rage out: too late he tried to attack me again, but this time he was in front of me. Bad luck for him, I launched a very bad mae geri that had the effect of making him fall to the ground slowly but surely. My best friend, who was there during this trip and who did not like what this guy tried to do during the year with me, witnessed the scene. But he chose to prevent me from finishing him in the ground. Whenever we talk now about this story, he says that he should have let me finish him but with time and experience, I think he made the best choice.  This guy started to respect me and be nice to me after this ‘fight’. I had what I wanted: peace. I was just 14. And I was not that weak guy anymore.

Then about one year from this even, when I was 15, I have been involved in another fight. The other guy was 17. Our school sport class used to be at the same time and we were using the men’s changing room at the same time. Once, I noticed that this guy, taller than me and my comrades, had a lot of fun: he took some of my school mates, kicked them in the feet to make them fall. I could feel that I was next on his list. His muscles were stronger than mine so I could not resist the attack and fell. As he was having his victory over me and showing off to his friends, I was pretty pissed. I then stood up. I took my time. I put myself in front of him, in Zenkutsu Dachi stance, and as I was loading my left arm, I knew my punch was going to go through him. I did the punch and then it hit him in the plexus and I had trouble breathing. He did try to move after but all he could do was insult me. In the end he was sorry and even shook my hand, and that was quite unexpected.

I did not know when I did this punch that it was going to be that powerful; this was my first introduction to the power of Karate. Even though I was far from knowing all about it at this time.

Getting better and better

From this point in time, there was no turning back: I was on a course of constant improvement of myself.

In the previous part, I said that I began to understand Karate. It actually took me a long time to understand it fully. What I mean is that Karate is not just a normal sport activity. Doing Karate is not just working on those three mysterious things: technique, Kata and fighting. Karate practice gives you more; I guess it is the same with other martial arts. It really creates a better version of you.

First, as you get more and more confident, it will change your body language. I used to be looking down, always walking in a weird way, bent back, and putting most of my balance one my left ― strongest ― side. This was obviously the body language of a weak person, and somehow, my Karate teacher made me aware of that. In every moment at my Karate club, I had to have my back straight, to keep my head high and to care about my balance: this is the posture of a strong person. Then I adopted this posture in my everyday life and I quickly saw the positive results of this change of behaviour: as it is quite an open posture, I have noticed that people were more likely to notice me, to look at me and to feel good in my presence. It actually helped me to get out of the vicious circle of ‘I can’t ‘and to go into the virtuous circle of confidence. I also met good and crazy friends at secondary school that were a very good source of inspiration. In a way, when I was alone fighting myself in the beginning, it took some craziness to think that I would succeed. Those friends were the ‘extra’ craziness that came into my life at the perfect time just when I needed it.

However, Karate did not only have a positive effect on my body but also on my mind. My teacher of Karate of that time always said to me ‘You can if you think you can’. Those magic words broke almost all the barriers that I had in my mind that prevented me to be as I wanted to be, to do what I wanted to do. I do not want you to think that the change is direct and that there were not any obstacles. Of course there were some. The key I used to overcome them was to act as if I was confident, even though I was not. I kept telling myself that I was able to do the things that I was not feeling confident enough to do. For instance, even if I recovered most of my speech ability, I still had trouble speaking during any oral examination at school. So for the A-level oral examinations I found the solution: I used a breathing technique that I learnt from my Karate teacher to unblock my voice and to feel confident. The result was that I passed with a good mark.

If you want to succeed, you should adopt a way of thinking like people that succeeded before you. I do not believe that those successful people were successful straightaway, without having doubts or thinking of giving up. Those kind of people are a myth and do not exist. This is just a way for some of them to maintain the gap between you and them. This is another point of my story that will be seen further in my article.

Thus, even when I was not practicing, Karate kept on having a good influence in my life and it became such a part of my life that I could not escape it.

The way to the Black Belt

At some point, Karate had become my life and my life had become Karate. Due to my stubborn character and as I hate to lose, I decided to ‘win’ my life in order to feel free and to remain true to myself.

In my former club, there was a hidden rule that everybody respected: everybody can learn from each other. The one who had a better understanding of what was being studied would help the one(s) who got lost and did not know what to do. As I got the blue belt, there were a lot of lower grades than mine and I started to enjoy giving a bit of advice, using my own words, to make the other understand what I had already understood about a particular thing of Karate. It could be anything, as long as knew it. I became a model which serves as a basis for lower grades.

Helping my teacher during the classes by doing this role of advice giver was a great experience. There was this 18-year-old guy that I started to help when he came in his first classes in my club. We became good friends. Three years after his first class, he got his black belt, one year after I got mine…

In the Karate club I was in I had two friends, a guy and a girl, that were of the same age as me. I thought we were at the same level more or less but one day I saw my friends get to brown belt and I failed the examination so I was stuck at the blue belt level. On that day I was pretty pissed because they would prepare for the black belt examination and not me. It was not jealousy, no, but rather me asking myself: ’Hey mate, what have you been doing? What went wrong? You know that your place should be with them but you couldn’t pass the exam? This is unfair; you should be brown belt as soon as possible.’

Well, due to my character and own story, I hate it when I think something is unfair to me. It was not the fault of my teacher at all, but mine. So I changed what had to change and soon got the spirit of a brown belt. I got it six months later.

Then I was preparing for the black with my two friends, as I planned. This year, I really was on fire. Unbreakable, both mentally and physically. In the end out of the 3 of us, I was the only one to get the black belt directly while the girl got it entirely at the next exam session and the guy gave up trying to get it. I felt so good. This belt was the proof that if you really work on something with all your strength, you can get it. I was happy and contrary to my comrades, I saw this belt as a beginning, not as the end of something. I was right, because then I came to realise that having the black belt (first Dan) only means that you master the basics of Karate. I am naturally curious, so I just wanted to improve more to see my limits and I did not stop doing karate.

Bad news, I need another operation

During my childhood, I had to go back to hospital several times to check that my brain was okay and developing well. At the age of 16 I have been told by the doctor that a part of the stroke I had was reforming itself, that what I had in my head was like a bomb that could explode at anytime and whose probability to explode would increase by 1% every year.

Well, that was a very hard choice but I chose to have a brain operation again, to finally get rid of my past. At least this time, I had time to think about it and to prepare myself for the worst…that did not happen.

We agreed with the doctor to wait until I get my A-levels to do the operation. At the age of 19, I had to live again the part of my past that I hated most. I hated the fact that the result of the operation was not predictable. I was going into the unknown.

 This new operation actually worsened the situation in which I was in. Despite all the Karate training, I had not recovered fully from my stroke. With this new operation, my leg and arm’s situation worsened, even though I could still move them and be able to have some kind of balance that enabled me to stand up. My speech worsened, but I was able to speak, it was just that my speech was very slow and I could lose my words easily as a result of the new operation. I could have a word in my mind but not be able to say it.

You might find it a little too harsh but I have always been thinking that the stroke I had was like an experience of death. I died when my stroke happened. The rehabilitation process that followed and Karate were my resurrection. Well, with this operation was like another death. And I needed to resurrect again.

As I already had the same kind of experience, it was pretty tough to live it again. However, I was in quite a different situation than before. This time, even if my body was not okay, I had the willpower to push me  going more and more forward, higher and higher, something that I owe to Karate practice. The mind is controlling the body, and not the contrary. I hated myself every time I forgot that sort of ‘contract’ with myself.

The operation took place about April or May and from June until the end of August; I was at the rehabilitation centre. I actually should have stayed there a bit longer but I really wanted to escape – again! – and to start a university degree so I did not care what the doctor said, and I finally got back to my previous life.

There is another part of the story that needs to be told before I go on because it had some repercussion on my life. I will try to make it short. You may think that it is not related but as I was recovering from the operation in the rehabilitation centre, I fell deeply in love with an amazing girl. It was so perfect, I was feeling so good, not noticing that there was anything wrong, maybe because of my lack of experience with girls (yes this is one of the bad things for stroke survivors, we all struggle with our love life). In the end, I felt like I had been stabbed in the back when she broke up with me. Not by the girl, but rather by the circumstances. Actually, I did not know at that time but I was emotionally weak as a consequence of the operation. In terms of feeling, after the new brain operation I had the same side effects as after a stroke. That means that all the pure feelings of love that I had for this lovely girl was strongly increased by the state of my brain at that time. The consequence was that when she broke up with me, I felt like dying. It was my third death and, I hope, the very last one.

Therefore, as I was going to start university, I felt completely destroyed inside. However, I was about to discover a very great power: the power of will.

Building myself again

I guess that you need to suffer a bit to be able to enjoy your life fully. After this, I swore to myself: ‘I will never be that weak again!’. And this was one of the bases of what happened next and what made me feel that ‘I was myself’ at 20.

In this month of September, I was alive but dead inside. The side effects of the new operation were the same as after my stroke. It drove me crazy, because nobody around me could understand. During the months that followed I was quite lonely and full of despair, despite the fact that I made good friends at university. Whenever something was going bad in my life, or not the way I wanted it to be, I could be very angry very easily. That was again due to the brain operation I had.

Thus, I had been through a very intense state of depression. I did not have the same problems as I had when I was young. This time they were different, a little bit more serious but in the end it was the same kind of depression. However, this time, I could not afford to have time for that !!

Starting a rebellion inside myself

At that time I may have lost some of my previous abilities a bit (my balance got worse for example), but there was something that I could not lose: I was first Dan at Karate. Due to my past, I already had the mind of a samurai, I was an experienced warrior who survived several wars. At that time, I was going to be involved into my last one so far, and it was a pretty big one: the war to improve myself.

I could not allow myself to be falling into depression again, so I used some tricks to help me. I believe in the power of words. Just a simple thing as to keep on telling myself some positive things such as ‘You are going to be okay’, ‘You’re going to be successful’, ‘You’re strong’, ‘I doesn’t matter what the other say or think about you’, ‘You’re awesome’ and some other phrases that I do not remember now helped me a lot to build the confidence in myself that I had lost. I was not telling myself lies in order to escape reality, it eventually became a reality in the end and I felt so good.

I also used Karate as a means to get rid of my anger. Remember, I could be angry about anything very easily. I found a very good way to get rid of it every time a ‘crisis of anger’ happened: I kept it inside me and then I went to my Karate training. Then, I put all of it into my punches and kicks. The results were more effective than what I first thought. As a result, every time I was coming back home after Karate, I felt good, very calm, at peace with myself. The rage I could bear inside of me turned into positive energy. It also made me improve my Karate a lot. This was my revenge against life, and for the very first time in my life I felt that I was happy with myself and in control of my life. I felt very lucky as well to have overcome such much bad things in my life. From this point on my life was mine. It would never be controlled by anyone or anything anymore. True freedom. I was winning against the elements, the demons, god, life itself, or whatever it may be called. And I truly intended to live my life as I intended it to be.

One year after the operation, as a consequence of my work on myself, I recovered most of the abilities I had before this second brain operation and I had even improved in comparison to the pre-operation version of me. From this point of time, I started aiming high, and I still am. I started what proved to be a long process: getting rid of all the remaining things that blocked me eventually, and to be honest, I did surprise myself sometimes when I did things that the previous version of myself would have thought to be impossible. I soon realised that in my life, as long as it was in my power, I could do anything that I wanted !

Winning against life

I started to have my own projects of life.

I wanted to start Karate competition in my form club. My teacher always said to me that I could do some disable competitions first, in order to introduce me to the world of competition, but I did not  agree with her because I thought ‘I don’t care about this kind of competition, I want to win normal competitions !’. I used to think that way. Then, I realised that I could be good for me, a good experience. So I did prepare for this annual disabled Karate competition that took place not far from the area in which I was living. I thought ‘I’m pretty good, I’m going to win everything easily”. Well it was not that easy because I was not the only one in this competition that had problems in my life and so all my opponents had fire in their eyes. I remember  a man who was practicing his Katas perfectly, very strong, without any loss of balance. I thought ‘He is so damn good, what is he doing here. Well, as I was watching him in his eyes  I could only see his upper body, I did not notice that this man had a plastic leg. He sure was a good source of inspiration. In the end, I lost my three fights due to a lack of experience. I sure was overconfident before this competition. I won my first Kata with my favorite Kata, Empi. After it, a teacher from another club came to talk to me because he was impressed by the jump I did. I did actually jump very high this time ! We had a very inspiring talk. He told me that he saw in my eyes a very high level of concentration and that he saw in me a great potential. I can tell you that it was totally unexpected. However, for the first time in my life, the words of this man made me realise that all the work I had done on myself so far was not in vain and I then felt very good. From this moment, my story and my past had gained recognition. I then lost my second kata to a man whose technique was of a very high level, very impressive. I did think that this man was not disabled at all. In reality, he was even stronger than I expected: he had mental disease.

After this competition, I realized that I was only relying on my past and I forgot the real purpose of Karate: Of endless self-improvement. I thought that from this moment that I was going to train as hard as possible. Because my only enemy is myself. I really am my own worst enemy.

I did participate to another competition earlier this year with sensei John Johnston, a ‘normal’ one. This time, I had time to prepare it. I knew that I had already improved a lot with Sensei. I believed  in my capabilities but I remained realistic. I knew that I lacked spirit in the previous competition so as well as the specific body and mind training we did in the club with the other guys, I did train my brain so that my body would accept the violence of the trainings. For instance, I used other mental tricks that I said to myself to unlock the remaining mental barriers that I had. Telling myself some words such as ‘Faster, Faster !’ when I was working on my fights or ‘Do it as a champion would do it’ really helped me to unlock the last few doors locked in my mind and to make  full use of my power of will. I was mentally prepared. At the competition, I also discovered that I had a new power: I could see from the eyes of the guys from the other team who was prepared to win and who was not. In the end, I had not been lucky to compete against those who I felt were unprepared. I did a much better version of Empi but I lost my first Kata to a guy who went to the finals and who turned out to be a European champion. My job was done, we were not in the same category but I was fascinated. ‘What makes you become a champion ?’ I was not feeling jealous but I felt very curious and I wanted to know how it was to be a champion. ‘How can I reach this level ?’ I was still lost in my thought when I also lost my fight. However, I started to think in a more practical way about the losses of that day. I actually won a lot by losing this time. I was asking myself ‘Why do you lose ? you felt very prepared for this one’. And then the answer was inside of me. Yes I was mentally prepared to win everything this time but something lacked to make it happen.  To be honest, I have got a bigger left side than my right side. To make you understand, I am like the Rafael Nadal of Karate in terms of body. I had always been thinking negatively about my right side, as if all the reason of the sad things that happened to me in my past was because of it. After this competition, I told my right side that it was not its fault if I lost on that day. I told it that I wanted to become an ally with it, that I was no longer considering it as my bad side because it bears the solution within itself. And then in my head, everything was clear: now that I had the mentality to do anything, I needed the physical to be able to reach my goals. So I started going to the gym and asked for a program of specific improvement for my weaker side that will, I believe, not be weak anymore in a few years !

This competition really helped me to know that I had no limits, I was just limiting myself. I really want to become a champion one day and my dream is to be a champion in the ‘normal’ tournaments. I will do everything in my power to reach this goal, not to be the winner, but rather as a way to improve myself and to be okay with myself. I won’t accept anymore to be prisoner of the dictatorship of my body. Because I still have fewer muscles in my right side, it is still weak. I cannot accept it anymore so I will do everything to improve it and to finally reach this goal. I just need a strong body now. With a strong mind and a strong body, I will be unstoppable.

I am going to stop here because I could also write pages about my other life projects. However, I would like to let you know that I have been improving them with the same unbreakable spirit.

Conclusion: you are not as limited as I might think you are

Those 3 last years have been the best in my life so far because I felt so alive trying to make my projects a reality. I would like this article to inspire other people. Because, yes, there is a life after stroke. Even more than that, I believe this article could inspire other people, whether disabled or not, or practicing another martial art, it does not really matter because life strikes us and will keep on trying to bring us down in an equal way. I would be glad if my story inspires others to fight themselves. Therefore, I would like my message to be universal, not only limited to stroke survivors but rather to be for everyone.

You can change yourself  and reach your goals. Dream big.  When I say that Karate changed my life, I really mean it but this is my thing, you are not required to start practicing Karate. If you are having problems in your life, start searching for solutions, for activities that would make yourself better. Then when you find it, give all you have got into it. Do not change yourself entirely but rather improve yourself.

Accept yourself the way you are, do not lie to yourself. Be true to yourself. If not, you will keep on making mistakes. You are the only one to make most of the choices in your life. Think positive as well, it is the key to everything. Then, if you make some mistakes, you will be able to react in an appropriate way and to move on quickly. So many people are stuck in their past life. As a consequence they cannot live in the present that is dark because of their perception and they will find no solution because they do not see any future. The solution is within you. You have to change your perception. It took me almost ten years to accept  the fact that I had a stroke, I wanted to forget everything that happened to me. But it was impossible because my stroke was the starting point of my life. From that moment of my life, I made some bad choices that had so much impact on me that I cannot undo them. However, as I am living in the present, I can change the future and make this thing of the past not be something that has effects on my present anymore. Now every time someone tells me to go easy on my body, even if it’s just to be nice with me, I reply : ‘I still haven’t found my limits so I won’t stop until I find them !’

To be honest, I have done so much and lived half my life with an after-stroke body that I am quite afraid of the kind of person I would have become if I did not have my stroke. If I managed to take the best out of that life-changing event, then anybody can change their life ! I still cannot believe what I have done because I am of a very lazy nature.

To conclude, I would say that the only way to free yourself is to fight yourself . You should see every problem of your life as a challenge to overcome. Try your best to change things that you can change (mentally and physically). Wage a war against yourself. And win.

PS:  I ‘m serious about keeping my identity secret. So, for some of you who know me in real life, please don’t mention my name in the comment section below or on Facebook.  Cheers!

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