Active 2014

I'm more like Kung Fu Panda than Shaolin Monk

I RUN because I have to.

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I don't enjoy it. Races I do love, but training and solitary pavement-pounding I can see far enough.

And then there's karate. Love it.

I have been doing shotokan karate since 1976, joining Glasgow Uni Karate Club in freshers' week, as it represented a change from the rugby I had played at school, and sounded glamorous in the light of kung fu films of the mid-70s.

I was hooked from the start, and remain a devotee nearly 40 years on. I am now a 3rd Dan black belt and train every week with an excellent club - the Bushido, instructed by some of Scotland's top sensei, in a class of like-minded practitioners of this Japanese martial art.

Karate, indeed most of the sporting varieties of martial arts are akin to boxing in both practice and training. Heart and lungs are kept efficient, muscles all over the body are exercised, and you need to be mentally alert to contest with an opponent.

If karate has taught me one thing, it is to give huge respect to boxers of all classes.

To stand up for minutes on end and trade blows, duck, weave, receive hits while maintaining a vigorous stance and quick movement is exhausting.

Martial arts may appear violent. The reality is, at a well-organised club, totally different.

I have trained in various oriental arts - tae kwon-do, kung fu, aikido, tai chi, and also western kickboxing.

The thread that runs through all of them is one of respect. Each participant honours the opponent, gives place to the traditions of the art, and uses the practice for personal improvement rather than glory.

It is no coincidence that in a karate class all bow to the instructor, and he or she bows to the class at the start and finish of the session, anyone coming into or leaving the room (or dojo) bows at the door, and each participant bows to an opponent before and after a fight.

Karate, like other martial arts, is not just, or even principally, about fighting.

Indeed on the physical side, the techniques and purpose of blocks and blows taught are for self-defence.

But a typical class has very little fighting. Most time is spent learning techniques and combinations.

I think I have mentioned before that we have kata, which are routines of pre-set movements that are little more than vigorous dance routines.

We spend time kicking and punching bags to build up stamina and strength without harm to any recipient.

Our class has men women and children, indeed some parents and kids are in the same class, and the atmosphere is friendly always.

As a physical workout, shotokan is first class. I also think of karate as athletic chess, as your mind focuses on sparring with an opponent who may be superior.

But there is a third element - spirit. I am not going to get all Grasshopper-mystical on you.

I am more Kung Fu Panda than Shaolin Monk, but martial arts have this non-physical element.

It is not enough to learn how to do a mawashi-geri kick, it is important, to feel it, and use and develop spiritual energy.

This is not religious or supernatural, but a way of harnessing universal energy all around and inside us, and strengthening ourselves as individuals, channelled through the athletic exercise of the kick.

While Chinese and Japanese traditions call this Chi energy, it is not different to a rugby team pumping itself up before a crucial match.

This spiritual side to sport is fundamental, even if often not articulated.

For me, winning is a relative term. I will never be at the front of a marathon pack or win a karate champion's medal. But I will apply mind body and spirit to sport, and do my best in running or karate.

That in turn helps me to set a template for everything in life.

And being the best that I can be, with my balance of talents and failings, is the Lafferty definition of winning.

Not everyone can be involved in a vigorous sport or martial art.

But spare a thought for Tai Chi in particular, which with its slow and graceful forms and tempo majors on the mental and spiritual elements, while being easy on the body.

For those who want to make a change in their weight or lifestyle, it begins inside your head.

Garnering the chi energy and learning to develop mind and spirit must surely be a perfect start to controlling and changing physical habits.

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Tips to help you keep active from the Glasgow Club

  • Be realistic about what you want to achieve
  • Build up the intensity and frequency of your activity sessions gradually
  • Find an activity which you enjoy
  • Exercise with a friend
  • Use the stairs as often as possible
  • Make active choices as part of your daily routine
  • Get out at Lunchtime! Why not go to the shops or park at lunchtime instead of staying at work? The walk will also make you feel more awake in the afternoon