"Peeling the Onion - Finding My Inner Superhero" - I have to admit it's an unusual name for a fitness website! Yet this little phrase has shaped my approach to training for the last 30 years. It's not just physical training, but a process of constant physical and mental self-improvement.
I was 25 years old when I first started training in Traditional Japanese Karate. Prior to that I'd never had any interest in sport or fitness. A friend talked me into going to a beginners class with her and I reluctantly agreed. She hated it, but I was hooked. I continued to train in Shotokan karate for the next 20 years, reaching the rank of 4th Degree Black Belt. I gave up after being diagnosed with hip osteoarthritis shortly after my 4th Dan grading.
The day after my first lesson I went to the book shop in search of more information about my new-found passion. I discovered the book "Beginner to Black Belt" by Henre Plee; a small section near the start of the book captured my imagination and has influenced my approach to training ever since:
"Some people think when they enter Karate that the Sensei (Professor of Martial Arts) under whom they place themselves, will give them a superior power, the secrets of strength, new holds or techniques, which will enable them after a short time to beat anyone and to become a sort of "superman".
I must tell you honestly that I can "give" you nothing. If this were possible, be assured that I would do so immediately. All that a teacher can do is to point the way to those who really want to make progress, and eventually, to draw out the real strength that is in you, and to reveal you to yourself. For this "superman" power is in you all without exception. Even women and children. It is pent up, preserved and enveloped by your conscious and subconscious mind, your habits, customs and education. The object of Karate is to release this virile human power, this life in you, and make it perform it's natural functions. Sometimes, this can be very hard, even cruel, and you may find yourself hating the "Old Man" or the "Sensei" who has imposed such a severe test on you...but you will be transformed.
In order to cut through these psychic blocks, complexes and harmful reflexes, you should think of them as like the many fine layers of thought and habit which by hard training you can peel away one by one like the layers of an onion, until suddenly, you reach he heart. It is therefore necessary at every training period to not merely to repeat the movements, but to push yourself beyond the limits of your concentration, perception, speed and resistance, according to the circumstances."
This approach applies to strength training and calisthenics every bit as much as it does to martial arts. The goal of training is self improvement; the exercise is merely the vehicle. I firmly believe that this attitude to training is what gave me the inner strength needed to beat an osteoarthritis diagnosis. It will continue to influence the way I train as I relentlessly break down mental and physical barriers in my 60's, 70's and beyond.