(Experience of a lifetime for Becky Black, a sixth dan black belt of the Pacific Martial Arts.) When I was asked by Master Devine to contribute to the PMA blog about the connection between my karate training and hiking Mt. Whitney, I had to think long and hard in order to analyze how and if the two were separate. In my mind, my karate training is such an integral part of my life that I take it with me into all my endeavors, whether it be my personal life, my physical training or my professional life. I have done so for so long that I no longer even think about the difference. When we look at the Conduct Code we realize that while it teaches us how to behave within the dojo, the concepts apply to life outside, as well: treat others as you would like to be treated, communicate openly, train with consistency and dedication, etc., so it only makes sense that it works seamlessly into my everyday life and that it certainly applied to my taking on this goal. And thus, my hiking and karate are inseparable.
To hike to the top of Mr. Whitney is a veritable challenge, since it is the highest peak in the lower States at over 14,000 feet. The hike takes you over rocks, steep trails, lots of dangerous cliffs, and through weather ranging from hot and dry to cold and windy. It took several days for me to do it, and I planned ahead for a full year of preparation and training. There is 45% less oxygen than at sea level, so one’s legs get heavy and slow, the head gets light, and it is an effort just to breathe.
In my training for this “pinnacle“ hike (meaning the highest peak and in this case the ultimate goal for me), I knew I had to put everything I had into the physical preparation, but most importantly, I knew I could NOT do it alone. I needed help to get into top physical shape. In karate, we don’t follow the path alone. The Samurai who separated from their lord (Daimyo) were considered Ronin and had to fend for themselves. My karate training has taught me to rely on others to assist me along the way, whether as teachers, training partners or as moral support. So, I went back to my previous in-depth preparation for tournaments and put together a plan that involved conditioning, strength training and aerobics, and a team to train with me. I had a personal trainer who provided weekly sessions and hiking partners. I also had fellow karateka who worked with me (thank you Javed Osmani for the upper body workout, much needed, though I did protest!) and karate classes where the training is demanding enough. As much as I hate to admit it, those push-ups were a necessary evil, as they are the full body workout that is required! All of this was needed to deal with hiking with a 45 lb. pack, 10 plus hours on the trail and the altitude.
The most important aspect of my training, though, was the mental conditioning. When you want to give up is when you have to dig down deep and draw on your mental reserves. Our karate mantra is, “never give up”! My personal trainer, who also works for the Navy, informed me that the Seal Team uses the phrase “40% more”, meaning that when you think you have nothing left, you still have 40% more in reserve. As the air got thinner at 14,000 feet and the trail got longer at 10 miles straight up and with little sleep after a 4 am start, I was sure I had nothing left. But, the mantra kicked in, “Never give up!” My thoughts crept back to a Summer Camp in 2000 when Luke Altenau led us through 2000 punches in kiba dachi to celebrate the new millennium and to the quasi Death March in Borrego Springs in the 116 degree heat for Summer Camp that year. I realized then that I had survived those events, so I knew I just had to take a step and breath and that I could survive this. My mental state, while degraded, was what got me to the top.
Getting nearer and nearer to the top got harder and harder. Numerous times I stopped to gather my strength and my breath, I climbed a little slower with each pace, but always forward and upward. The stops on the way were stunning in beauty, and reaching the Summit House with a sigh of relief, I casually strolled about the peak and wondered how I ever got there. Standing at the “top of the world”, with the majestic Sierras surrounding me, I was in awe!
(Becky Black has been training for thirty years with Pacific Martial Arts in San Diego. She is currently sixth dan in karate-do and a second dan in kobudo or weapons study. She is now a retired teacher having thirty five years of dedicated service in her field of special education. She currently teaches the AECS junior program of karate. )