It was the sound of splintering wood that got Jennifer Edwards hooked on karate. The elementary-school teacher had just completed a Saturday afternoon self-defence course led by one of the other teachers at her school, Susan Baldassi.
The grand finale? Every student broke a one-inch-thick board using a karate ‘stop kick.’ ‘It was so exciting and empowering!’ she recalls.
Edwards, 31, who lives in Thunder Bay, Ont., now takes a weekly 45-minute karate class at the dojo (the Japanese word used for a training centre). One of her classmates is another co-worker, Anna Maenpaa. Edwards values the friendship that the three have developed since starting karate classes more than a year ago. ‘It’s a chance to leave work behind,’ she says.
While the three have known each other for about seven years, they work at a big school, so it can be hard to connect during the day. ‘This gives us a chance to see each other once a week, rather than just passing quickly in the hallway,’ says Edwards. ‘During karate class, we stay pretty focused on the instructor, but when it’s an appropriate time we talk about everything: karate, family, the kids, life.’
And sometimes they talk about karate at work, too. ‘During one lunch hour, Susan was teaching me a self-defence technique and I ended up throwing her into a chart stand!’ laughs Edwards, adding that Baldassi wasn’t hurt. ‘Other staff members enjoy hearing about our karate adventures.’
Edwards, who now has her green belt, also likes the versatility of the workout. Newly pregnant when she started the classes, she dialled down some of the more demanding cardiovascular training, like push-ups, and skipped sparring since it could have led to accidental kicks or punches. ‘Now, karate is helping me get back into shape after having my daughter,’ she says. ‘You can challenge yourself to get a good workout. Sometimes I’m just dripping with sweat at the end of class.’ (See ‘Give karate a try,’ below).
More than just a good physical workout, exercises such as karate and other martial arts help to decrease depression and anxiety.
And it’s fun. As Edwards explains, ‘As much as I love my family, I look forward to my karate, and having my own time laughing with my friends.’
Give karate a try
What style do I choose? Some styles emphasize power and efficiency; others, fluidity and stability. ‘Shotokan and Isshinryu are among the more popular in North America,’ says Baldassi, Canada’s highest-ranked female instructor in Isshinryu karate.
What do I do? Like most martial arts, there’s lots of kicking and punching (on a workout bag, against an imaginary opponent or non-contact sparring with a partner; physical contact is minimal until advanced levels). The moves strengthen and tone the core, leg and arm muscles, improve balance and provide a good cardio workout. A 150-lb. woman can burn more than 500 calories during one hour of karate.
What do I wear? Participants dress in a white uniform (robe top and pants) called a gi, a coloured fabric belt that indicates the rank they’ve achieved, and bare feet.
Where can I find a class? Check with your local recreation centre, or do an online search for ‘karate’ plus your city or province.