Friday 23 December 2011

Nostalgia and Motivation

I know… you’re looking at the title and thinking, what the hell is he going? Just sticking words together randomly? But go with me on this. We can tap into motivation from so many sources. There is the character-lead motivation and for myself I am lucky in that I have to look no further than my own instructor Jon Bluming, who as he approaches his eightieth birthday is still teaching his Kyokushin Budokai. Then there is historical motivation such as when I read of great men and women of the past and draw inspiration from them. But the nostalgia I wish to write about is not an objective nostalgia (we’ll not get into a philosophical argument about all the past being objective!), but my own subjective nostalgia. And a quick point on motivation, which in this instance it is divided into two parts; firstly the motivation to turn up and teach, especially after a long day working and secondly, the motivation to keep myself fit and supple enough to demonstrate and participate.

As we age we are often drawn back to those ‘halcyon days of yore’ and if martial arts is a constant from your youth through to the age you are now (presuming your over fifty, if not, class this as empirical homework!), then it has an significant role in the formation of your present day self. I began my martial arts journey (last stop death), in 1973 with Wadoryu karate at the Drill Hall, which lay in the shadow of the impervious Pembroke Castle. When I started I was a troubled young fourteen year old lad from a home that was held together by the glue of patriarchal violence. My karate liberated me from the oppressiveness of shifting-sands rules that changed according to the barometer of alcohol. Within the club I was judged by my effort and dedication, not by comparison to another’s achievements. My bow (rei) to my fellow karateka was done in respect and fellowship, my bow in my house was to avoid eye contact or a casually thrown blow. For the first time in life I began to thrive. Karate lead me to other life-skills that would become inseparable from my martial arts, I began to read Zen, Oriental philosophy, in fact pretty much any martial arts related stuff I could get my hands on. I would sit in the 6th form common room at school, reading and re-reading Paul H Crompton’s magazine ‘Karate and Oriental Arts’, I would pore over every article, absorb every story as though it was fact (Big mistake! Wasted months trying to develop a ‘chi’ punch!). My world became indivisible from my karate; I would wash dishes at home with my leg on the sink to stretch, I would do press ups with my sister sat on my back and every task became just another way to train. So woven together was my karate and my everyday life that it is difficult through recollection to untangle the two.

At this time extraordinary juxtaposition had occurred within my young life, but it was more than a simple half division, because karate began to act like a bright light that not so much dispersed the grey and black world I had inhabited, but illuminated it better and allowed me to navigate towards adulthood with a sense of purpose and clear rules. So as I matured into a young adult, all those boxes in my retrograded age and stage of development slowly began to be ticked off; impulse control – check, forward planning skills – check, and all this came about for me as a direct result of my karate training. But as an older man I am acutely aware that the brightest light also makes the darkest shadows. My karate club became my life; it was the constant that nourished me, it was the benchmark to which I held myself (and unfortunately others as well). It changed from a leisure pursuit to a Way (Do), I had acceptance and belonging.

When, for the most part, you are valued and feel part of a family, all be it an extended one, this has an astonishing effect on your self-esteem and how you present yourself to others. My grades went up at school, I started to date girls (liked that one!) and I fought back, not always winning, but that is not the point, the point is that for the first time I fought back. As American Goju sensei Peter Urban notes in his book Karate Sensei (1989), ‘Karate changes the pecking order in your life’. How true. My summers were filled with training outside, wrapping ropes around thin trees to make a living makiwara, trips to tournaments in crappy Ford Transit minibuses with packed lunches in greaseproof paper (sandwiches with chocolate spread, or bloody awful fish paste) and all the adults getting drunk on the way back and singing bawdy Welsh rugby songs. I loved every minute of it.

For this was the Golden Age of Martial Arts, the days of Bruce Lee in the cinema, Kung Fu on the television and Kung Fu Fighting on the radio. Martial arts became my spiritual chlorophyll giving me the energy to overthrow past limitations imposed on me by another’s uncaring attitude. Looking back with an envious eye, the days seemed brighter and longer, but more than that they held something so rare in my life these days… non-reflective passion and the belief that anything was possible. And this more than anything is the nostalgic source of my motivation. It’s mercurial in its nature, in that like mercury it is difficult to pin down; I understand its wholeness, but not the nature of its wholeness when viewed in individual parts. As Richard Ford (1995) says in his book The Sportswriter:

“What was our life like? I almost don't remember now. Though I remember it, the space of time it occupied. And I remember it fondly.”

Remembering fondly. What a great line! So for me nostalgia is not only linked with a few happy childhood memories, but an extraordinary wonderful encounter that genuinely changed my life. Sounds a little corny, but I don’t care, its true. It had such a significant impact on me that it still reverberates to this day. So there you have it, a bizarre little article about nostalgia and motivation, it’s slightly deeper than I thought when I started this, but that’s cool too. So think back and ask yourself: What’s your motivation? Osu! Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Ford, Richard (1995). The Sportswriter. Vintage Books: New York

Urban, Peter (1989). Karate Sensei. Rising Sun Productions: USA


  1. I also started 1973 with Wadoryu - Takashi Ogata, who passed away few years ago. Did the makiwaras and bare nuckle push up and all the usual stuff.

    Now I train to keep in shape. Bad back, artrosis in hip and stupid left leg - and it's fun to suprise a younger fellow martian artists:-) Old, but still some tricks left:-)

  2. Have you tried Hojo undo to strengthen your wrists?
    I build a "Chiishi" from dumbells by taking of one side of disc.