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At the beginning of an academic year, before attrition does its work, the Wash U Traditional Karate Club tends to have a lot of new members. A few of these will have done a martial art of some kind before, but most will not have, and the bulk of new trainees, being undergraduates at Wash U, will be young (18-22) and intelligent, but they aren’t usually the kind of people that come across as tough, or hard-bitten; for the most part they give the impression that the real fights and struggles in their lives so far have been emotional and social, rather than physical, and if they do have a bit of muscle on them, or some chronic injuries, chances are good that they got both playing sport, and not working down a mine. (Would that all 18 year-olds were so fortunate, of course.)

In a way, this is a gift: you have a group of students who are physically mature, intellectually capable of learning, of understanding your explanations, warnings and suggestions, who have no interest in hurting themselves or each other physically, and whose youth means that there is vast potential for quick muscle growth, and accompanying improvements in stability, agility and nervous control.

This year is especially interesting for us in that a majority of our new recruits are women. (We always wondered whether having me as an instructor would attract more women to the club, but this is the first time there have been more than two women in the dojo at once in ages.) Untrained women often have less upper body strength than we would like. I certainly didn’t have enough when I started: I remember some guy telling me to tense my latissimus dorsi to drop and stabilise my shoulder, putting my hand on my ribs at the side to try to feel the muscle he was talking about and saying to him (only half joking) “I don’t think I actually have that muscle.” I could find skin, subcutaneous fat and rib-bones, but that was about it.

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"Try to see yourself as you truly are and try to adopt what is meritorious in the work of others. As a karateka you will of course often watch others practice. When you do and you see strong points in the performance of others, try to incorporate them into your own technique. At the same time, if the trainee you are watching seems to be doing less than his best ask yourself whether you too may not be failing to practice with diligence. Each of us has good qualities and bad; the wise man seeks to emulate the good he perceives in others and avoid the bad."
Funakoshi Gichin

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