In January of 2015 I decided that I could either, continue to gain weight (I love a large meal) or I could take up exercise in some form to combat my dietary habits.
Having made this decision it was time to consider how I would actually go about “doing exercise”. Should I join a gym? Perhaps I could develop a career as a tennis star; after all I enjoy watching Andy Murray duel with other great names on a green rectangle.
I was aware of two things, that my chosen activity had to work to my bodies limitations and that I had to enjoy it if it was to become habit.
My experience of team sports had never been particularly favourable, with my skills at kicking a sphere, or throwing and catching a rugby ball always leaving me feeling guilty for letting down more committed teammates. I had tried running and cycling, but the monotony of traversing the same routes without ever reaching a destination made such attempts short lived.
For several years, from the age of eleven, I had spent my Friday evenings learning Karate at the local leisure centre, and my memories, though hazy, were positive. I quit Karate at the age of 15 when Friday nights became a time for friends and drinking, laughter, smoking and throwing up. I couldn’t cope with the prospect of starting karate again as a beginner and the previous 8 years had destroyed any physical aptitude I had for the sport. But perhaps some form of martial art might be just the ticket.
I did what any good exercise enthusiast would and spent 10 minutes exploring local martial arts schools and several hours comparing disciplines on Youtube.
My first choice at this point was the local boxing gym. I found out that a friend was a member of the beginners’ class and this put me off, I didn’t fancy sharing my sweaty experiences with anyone I knew. I moved on pointing out to myself that if I was going to learn to fight should I not know how to kick as well as punch?
Well what about kickboxing I wondered?
I spent some time watching the many videos of the MMA fighters who champion the style, knee and elbow each other with unrepentant glee (not to mention the macho posturing of prefight conferences). The attitude and aggression of these fighters offended my inner pacifist. I had a friend who occasionally practised kickboxing and it just seemed to be a masseuse for his ego.
At this point I happened to have a conversation with the man who cuts my hair (also my mum’s hairdresser) who had been learning Wing Chun for several years. Usually we would discuss his favourite computer games, good movies or my most recent batch of travel, so discussing a form of Kung Fu was not so out of place. I don’t remember being particularly blown away by the idea at the time but this conversation must have planted a seed of interest somewhere in my mind.
It was by chance that I finally came across the website for a local Kung Fu school. Upon further research Kung Fu began to appeal more, it had history beyond merely knocking someone’s brains out in a cage. There was a philosophy to temper and enhance the raw physicality of fighting another human being.
Practising Kung Fu involves training the mind not just the body and not in a way that glorifies uncontrolled brutality. Technique trumps strength and control tempers passion.
Kung Fu requires discipline, something I have never quite accomplished, but something I need. It is hard work and it is teaching me to work hard.
I found Kung Fu by luck, it started as a way to get fit that appealed to the geek in me, but it has become far more than just an antidote to my love of baked goods. It doesn’t just help me to stay healthy; it also teaches me about myself, my physical and mental limits. It has had a transformative effect on my body and my mind. The lessons I am learning are applicable beyond the limits of Kung Fu fighting and inform every other element of my life. It has now been just over a year and a half since I started and my only regret is not finding it sooner.