Tension and Relaxation
By Sensei Walt Fast

To many people being tense is not a good thing. A life of leisure and relaxation seems to be the goal society in general strives for... win the lottery and relax in the sun forever! It's okay for some, I guess. Yet without "tension" how could there be any relaxation? Without night, how could there be any day?

To me a lifetime spent relaxing in the sun would drive me nuts in 2 weeks flat. If I won the lottery I'd probably find something interesting to get into. Some venture which would occupy my physical as well as my mental self. Something like cabinet making or say... karate!

One of the reasons I am a karateka is that I enjoy the physical and mental stress that goes along with the training. I look forward to the "tension" I experience when doing a new kata in front of my peers. It's this "stress" which I believe makes me do better. Also in sparring, it's the stress of the unpredictable, the unknown that I enjoy. I like sparring new people. I enjoy sparring the old ones too, because they usually come up with new and ingenious ways to beat me.

Tension and relaxation are an integral part of karate training. They are attributes of both the physical and mental parts of the sport. Our muscles get tense when under physical exercise. They relax and rejuvenate when we rest. In a similar way, our minds get tense when under stress and seem to relax when that stress is removed. Yet a life without stress of some kind would be flat and uninspiring. Some say that if you have stress in your life and it makes you tired and irritable, you should go home, take a warm bath and go to bed. That's the last thing I'd want to do! Sometimes it's better to go out and find a brand new stress in your life.

Get new stress to relieve the old stress?

Does this sound crazy?

Being somewhat older than most, I've had some stressful periods in my life. I'm sure some of you can relate to this. Most of us have experienced times when we seem besieged from all sides. When events and situations seem to control us and things have gone beyond our ability to cope.

It is during these times that karate has helped me the most. It's not any lofty philosophical concept that did the trick. It's not sitting in Mokuso and meditating that helped. Some people can get a lot from that and food for them. No, what did it for me was the "doing" of karate.

During those highly stressful times, it was the physical exertion and mental focus and tension during kumite that I crave. For two hours, karate was an oasis in the desert. Even afterward the relaxation of sitting with friends (adversaries) and discussing what worked and what didn't melted any problems away. The other "stress" in my life that seemed so huge was put in better perspective.

This brings me to one last point. Karate, as with the best things in life, is best done with commitment. Experience is our greatest teacher. The way to get experience is the "doing" of it. Discussion and dissection of karate is essential to growth. But this stuff can be done after the training. It's the doing of the thing that does the trick for me.

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