Hello, my name is Jo Thomas and I’m a martial arts hobbyist.
Yes, I’m one of those people who you roll your eyes at because they never seem to take anything in class but themselves seriously – and even that’s debatable. But I’m about to mitigate all of that annoyance (hopefully) by explain how I ended up this way.
I grew up watching action and adventure movies and one of my ambitions as a young child was to grow up to be Athos of the Three Musketeers, specifically as played by Oliver Reed. I suppose I would have been quite happy to try being Jean-Claude Van Damme or Dolph Lundgren (in miniature) but, although there were some martial arts available near to where I was growing up, my dad wasn’t big on after school clubs so I didn’t get the chance. Then I got to university and I suddenly had the wide choice of Shotokan karate and Aiuchi jui-jitsu.
I decided I preferred the idea of defensive rather than offensive skills and went for jui-jitsu – and for three years, attended two or three sessions a week. I even managed to be relatively serious about the whole thing. I found I was useless under pressure in grading, though, so the next obvious decision was that a yellow belt was high enough, thanks. For some diversion, a few of my jitsu buddies and I also started sports fencing in my final year and, despite the lack of buckling swashes, it was quite amusing and I wanted to continue that as well as jitsu after uni. Except that real life involved moving for work and I couldn’t find an Aiuchi jui-jitsu club near to my new location and…
After a few months, I managed to find a sports fencing club and took up tai chi, both of which were once a week classes. I attended when I could but my workload got such that I couldn’t always turn up to one or the other. I sporadically attended for just over a year.
Then I moved again. It was a short term move and I had no money, so I put off martial arts because I knew I’d inevitably be moving (again). Which I did after about a year or so. And the best I could do of my earlier interests at my new location was a tai chi club but it was, again, a different style than I’d been to before. I managed about six months in before my spotty attendance record and butterfly mind became so embarrassing that I stopped going altogether; and that was it for about four years because I moved almost every year.
I was starting to look at getting back into martial arts in 2008. I’d started a new job but it looked settled, so it might be worth picking up something that would be, say, one night a week, without taking up too much of my time. I was starting to take writing seriously, and I had a dog who required walking and a baby niece I wanted to see at weekends, so I wasn’t willing to put in the time to really improve at a martial art, so I wasn’t thinking of it as glorified self defence, just as a fun hobby. And one of the clubs that I spotted was an hour away and called itself “historic fencing”. I made a note.
And, of course, work decided I was getting too settled and moved me. I spent about three months doing the research again and settled back on “historical fencing” because I found a club that was only one night a week and it was only about half an hour away. I wasn’t really interested in sports fencing any more as I had totally gone off the competitive aspect, and I wasn’t interested in anything where I would feel bad about how little I could attend. I turned up to club I’d picked (the Sheffield branch of the Society for the Study of Swordsmanship) and it was more or less love at first sight.
I’ve been there for six years now and although some things have changed – the weapons we study change with who we have as a qualified instructor and their interests – it’s still one of my favourite things to go and do. They don’t mind that I’m casual about my martial arts because I have other interests that are, actually, more important to me and I’m happy to cycle through the different weapons we study even though it confuses the hell out of me and my limited sense of coordination.
So, I’m a hobbyist. Martial arts are not the only thing in my life. I would probably train more if I had a bit less other stuff going on but I’m not willing to give up my few remaining other hobbies, put my dogs permanently into kennels, stop writing, or give up my sole source of income. However, there’s a martial art and a club out there to suit everybody – I’m sure of it because I found mine in SSS Sheffield.
In other words, it’s okay not to find yourself living and breathing martial arts to the point where it overtakes everything else in your life and you merely eat / drink / breath / work in order to make it to the next training session. You will meet people like that (you may even be people like that) but for some of us, other things in life are as or more important – and that doesn’t mean we can’t or don’t enjoy it.