Now that I had decided what I wanted to do, the next step was finding somewhere to do it. I remember googling ‘karate beginners lessons Bristol’ and looking through the top few results. Whilst reading through a few of the websites something caught my attention straight away – a short paragraph stating that none of the instructors get paid for teaching and volunteer their services for free. That, as I would come to discover in the coming years, defines what Zenshin Dojo is all about – people helping others to better themselves, simply because it’s the right thing to do. It sounds idealistic, but in a world too frequently dominated by selfish wants and needs, it’s refreshing to come across a community in which the ethos is about learning and helping others.
I can still remember how nervous I felt, attempting to attend my first lesson. I say ‘attempting’, because I never actually made it there. I had difficulty finding the venue and arrived ten minutes late. This was followed by ten further minutes sitting in my car procrastinating about whether it was too late to turn up, before driving home. I was struggling terribly with anxiety and remember driving home convinced that my martial arts experience was over before it even began. The next day I received a short email from the founder of the club, enquiring as to why I hadn’t turned up. There was an inherent warmness to his tone that convinced me to give it another go.
Sunday 20th January 2013 was my first ever karate lesson. I can remember the details more than any lesson I’ve attended since. As soon as I walked through the door, the instructor greeted me with a friendly warmth that immediately put me at ease. I was introduced to the group and taken away from the main group to learn the Fudo Dachi (stance) and Gedan Barai (block). Throughout the lesson I was made to feel welcome and that’s something that has stayed with me since. I will never forget the first time I put my Gi (uniform) on, though I wore a t-shirt underneath it due to my embarrassment at my weight. There’s something uniquely special about putting it on for the first time.
Whilst I enjoyed learning karate, I also struggled tremendously with my mental health. I’ve battled with depression and anxiety, and at the time I was taking some quite powerful anti-depressants, which I’m sure contributed to my weight gain.
As the weeks and months passed not only did I lose some weight, which was my primary goal, but I also began to feel less anxious. The depression began to lift and I slowly began to cut back on the anti-depressants. By the middle of 2014, I’d come off them completely.
As someone who has always prided myself on my athletic ability, I feel like I’m back to the person I used to be. On a deeper level, I will always be grateful to karate, and the supportive environment at Zenshin Dojo, for helping me to overcome the worst of my mental health difficulties. I still have my bad days, but they are few and far between, and I no longer have to wear a t-shirt under my Gi!