About four years ago I began having some neck issues. It was soon thought that I had damaged my c5/c6 vertebra based on MRI results. I immediately began going to get treatment and tried everything from chiropractic care to acupuncture. It helped and I was feeling better and able to perform well at my Karate again. Last year I really pushed myself hard to train because I had stepped into the competition ring again. I had a great year competing earning 1st place in Executive Black Belt Weapons, 2nd in Kata and Kumite. It seemed my neck was doing great and I was feeling wonderful about the future.
This year I began the first tournament placing 1st in Weapons, 2nd in Kata and 3rd in Kumite. That following Tuesday, while I was teaching class, something happened and all the issues in my neck came back with a vengeance. Now, here I sit, pondering what will come in the future because I was just not ready to give up Kumite. This week on Friday I will be going into to get an MRA study done on blood flow in my neck. They believe that I have stretched a vein out and that is causing my dizzy problems when I move my neck a certain way. Regardless I knew this day was coming and it was only a matter of time.
Every martial artist who competes faces the inevitable day when they are told they can no longer do something that the love. For me it is Kumite. I don’t just love to do Kumite in tournaments I have excelled at it for my entire career in the martial arts. From the 1990’s until this injury I have always placed in tournaments when I fought, winning most of the time and have garnered over 100 Grand Champion Kumite titles over the years. While I have been good at Kata and Weapons, Kumite was always my go to event. I am a very dynamic fighter able to fight both right and left side forward equally as well as use my hands and feet equally. This is something that is very rare in the Karate world. Most people are one sided fighters or prefer hands to feet and vice versa.
So, for me, to get this news that my Kumite days are possibly over has created a huge void inside my heart. I am sure what ever is wrong with my neck will get fixed but that also means, if surgery occurs (which it seems like will be the case), my Kumite days are done. I am not ready for this step in my journey even though I have been preparing for it to come for the last four years. I assumed I would get to 50 before it would happen but now it appears I must learn to adapt and change.
Part of being a great martial artist, black belt and teacher is the ability to change as you age yet still transfer knowledge properly. I have always taught Kumite by example, sparring all my students and demonstrating every aspect from footwork, timing drills all the way to competing in tournaments so they have an example to follow. Now I have to learn a new way to teach Kumite. I will still be able to spar in the dojo somewhat as well as demonstrate techniques for Kumite but my competitive days are over it would seem.
Back in December I set a goal for myself to beat the only two people in my circuit that I have yet to beat and win an award that I honestly truly wanted. The two guys I have not beaten are both awesome fighters and I respect them highly but I know I could beat them. I just needed the time to learn how they fight better to figure them out. Now, it seems, that I have to swallow my goals as they may never happen. The Herb Johnson Spirited Fighter award is something I truly wanted to earn. I am a very hardcore, fast and furious fighter. When I fight I put all of my spirit into each match giving it my best. This is evident when anyone sees me fight and I have been told many times how dynamic and tough I am by my opponents, judges and Sensei. To not finish this goal and not win that award has made me very depressed.
Luckily I still have two dojo full of eager students to learn who are wonderful. I have my core black belts who have stepped up to help out while I try to get my neck repaired so I can get back to teaching hardcore like I have for the last 26 years. I have the rest of my health too which I am very thankful to God for. There are actually many blessings in my life that I am very thankful for but to lose my ability to Kumite tears a part of my heart out that isn’t ready to let go. It is important that I listen to my doctors at this point so that is what I am doing and I am bowing out of fighting. In the meantime I am going to focus on my Kata and Kobudo, my teaching and growing my dojos as well as promoting the absolute best Karate tournament in the region, THE WARRIORS LEGACY.
All this being said this is still going to be a difficult time for me. I am very frustrated, depressed and upset but I understand that God works in mysterious ways. He has been beside me from day one and will be with me through this transition period as well. The path that lies ahead is not completely clear for me yet but things are slowly forming up to help me understand which direction to go and what I must do to achieve my other goals. I am not doing well in my heart right now but I will be at peace with whatever results the MRA shows on Friday. Karate is great because it is something we can all do regardless of any physical limitations that we may have in life. For me it would seem that I will have to put all my focus on Kata and Kobudo now which I am fine with. I love Kata, it is the lifeblood of Karate and there is so much one can do with it but I will miss the fighting aspect to what we do tremendously. I loved bowing to my opponent. I loved fighting every single person I have ever fought…even the assholes I had to teach a lesson to. I truly enjoyed learning from the ones that beat me and improving every time I got into that ring. Now, as life would have it, I have to learn a new way to do Kumite and pass on all that I have learned in the last 38 years. I am struggling with this thought but I am a old school black belt. Whenever life presents a challenge you step up, you train hard, you learn from it and you improve so you can achieve. That is the true essence of what we do in Karate and the entire point of being a black belt.
So the struggle is happening, the depressive state has set in but my heart and my love of the art of the Karate is always prevalent in my days. I know, with the help of my students, my Sensei and my girlfriend, that I will overcome this obstacle and forge ahead into new territory. I know in my heart that I will achieve great things even if I have to sacrifice something I have excelled at for many years to do so. Right now it is just a matter of learning what needs to change, what I need to adjust and what lies ahead…