Karate for Life. What is it like growing up with Karate?
I am often asked what it was like growing up in a karate filled environment. As some of you may know, my father is my karate teacher. This of course makes for some interesting family and class dynamics. What you may not know is that my father has been training with his teacher since before I was born. So basically before I could even walk I was dropping by class to watch my dad. I don’t have very many memories from these times. Most of my karate memories start in the late 80s, but the environment was in place before then.
I started attending dad’s Sherwood, AR class to participate when I was around 5. To the best of my knowledge, there were no other kids in the class at that time. It wasn’t until the early 90s that we started having a few other kids in there. I would run around and mimic what the adults were doing. This time really shaped my personality. It provided me with many older brothers like Perrin Peacock, Randall Gibson, Adam Harris, and Bill Ramsey. It also provided me with other strong adult male influences like Jerry Partain, whom I still struggle to call Hanshi not Mr. Jerry, and Gary Roberts. Others in both categories came later, such as Kenny Broadway, Jared Broadway, Don Foster, and Travis Harvey to name a few.
When my dad left for the Persian Gulf War in December of 1990, my interest in attending karate class waned. Going to class was no longer an activity to spend time with my dad. I’m sure I was not the only one who felt odd being at class with dad overseas fighting a war. I don’t think there was a man or boy in the class that didn’t respect and/or want to be just like him. Either way, I got in a habit of not going to class on a regular basis, and that continued until 1996.
On that point, and as a recommendation to all you parents reading this, my father always encouraged me to attend class but never forced me to go. I have never been a very competitive or aggressive person, and even more so after dad left for the war. For whatever reason, his absence did change my personality a bit. He always tried to be encouraging, even when his patience was wear thin, and sometimes even a bit shady in his attempts to push me. As a kid he would keep encouraging me and pushing me when sparring because he could tell I didn’t want to do it anymore after I started getting hit or thrown down by the bigger kids he would always pair me with. When in junior high, he would have me spar with Jared Broadway, and would tell him to make sure to “accidentally” hit me in the face a few times to get me riled up a bit so I would try harder. So as a word of advice to you parents, encourage your kids and push your kids but know their limitations. Don’t let them off with a half-hearted effort. Encourage and push them to do it right, but know your child’s tipping point. I have known a lot of kids I grew up with who have no interest in karate anymore due in part to being pushed too hard.
Before I go on, I’m sure some would like to know what it was like having my dad as a teacher. To be honest, I was just like every other kid or teenager out there. I don’t like taking constructive criticism from my father. Whether it was how to improve my basketball game or practice my kata it was always hard. When you look up to someone so much, it is hard to take even well intended constructive criticism. I still cringe when I hand a paper out to someone to proofread for me. I’m always afraid they won’t like it or will think less of me. Thankfully, it was not normally an issue in class. The very atmosphere of class was always one of respect. So it wasn’t as hard for me to look at him as Sensei and not dad in class. This did not extend outside of class though. We didn’t practice a lot at home, because I had so much internal difficulty receiving that instruction.
Even though the foundation was built 25 years ago, the real fruit of confidence that training in karate brings started to spring forth as I got older. Even more so in the last 10 years. I don’t think I could have ever made it in the investment business as long as I did without the confidence I found in karate and the self-esteem found in Christ. I remember dad giving me some encouragement one time after I started working for Morgan Stanley. I will paraphrase, but he told me that whenever I start getting nervous or especially if I was getting frustrated in a meeting, to remember that I could reach across the table or take them outside and wear their butt out if I wanted to, but I chose not to. You may laugh but it was good advice.
Anyway, I’ve gotten a bit off track. In 1996 dad started a new karate class when we moved to Jonesboro, AR. I decided that I really wanted to learn karate this time. No more just playing around. It was time to get serious. I’ve never been a great martial artist, but at this point I started paying attention and really attempting to learn. The Jonesboro class has had many transformations over the last 17 years. You would have to be part of the class to have noticed all the changes. Of course the culture itself has changed much since I started doing karate 25 years ago. Some of us that were kids back then are now adults with kids. One of my best friends from those days, Jared Chester, now has two kids. I hope they will have the opportunity to learn just like we did.
That is what is great about karate. It is something for life. It can and maybe even should, be allowed to shape many areas of your life. You can start young and never find the end of the tunnel or start old and still have your fill. In my humble opinion, I have never found a reason to not practice karate. I know there are some out there that teach differently than I do and differently than I was taught, but there is nothing about my life in karate that I would want to change. You grow and change in your understanding, you grow and change in your physical abilities, and you grow and change in the way you teach. If you are a Christian, I would imagine you can find similar parallels in your maturing process with Christ as I do.
At 31 years old. I am still waiting to come full circle, when I will have the privilege to teach my own son or daughter karate. For the time being and I blessed to be able to teach all of you and your children. I am so grateful for the love, respect, and friendship I have found here.
Sensei Nathan Brown
Wake Forest Christian Karate & Kobudo