Riding Bikes and Practicing Karate

Bicycle and Karate.jpg

A 2015 estimate put the number of bicycles in use at around 2 billion, with it rising to 5 billion by 2050.

Karate only has an estimated 100 Million current practitioners - a paltry figure.

It’s highly likely that of those 100 Million Karateka, the majority also know how to cycle.


What does riding a bicycle have to do with Karate?

Many of us chose to continue to ride bikes regularly in our lifetime, to commute, go downhill biking in the forests, or take part in cycle races.

For some, however, we rarely get on it.

Sometimes the bike sits collecting dust or rust but is taken out when the conditions are right: sunshine, low breeze, the need to travel faster than a saunter to the pub.

For that majority, do you think they have to relearn that skill of cycling each time they get back on.

Of course not.

They may be a bit tense, or slightly unnatural in their coordination compared to the everyday commuter.

But their muscles work just as they had been taught and getting from A to B and back to A again wasn’t that hard, depending on the number of pints drank at point B.

Is it because we humans have always meant to ride bikes and it just comes naturally to us, after a period of learning, like how we eventually move from all fours to two legs?

Not one bit. It’s all about the learning and development of that skill.

Commonly it is taught by starting on a small tricycle, moving up to a bicycle with stabiliser wheels, followed by the removal of said stabilisers and the inevitable spills and falls gained forever after.

If you are like me you also have scars to show for your cycling efforts.

And the amazing thing is, the body remembers most of what it has learnt so that on the off chance we need that skill, it’s there.

Karate is no different.

We come to the Dojo, bright eyed and bushy tailed, sweat it out for a few years until we are relatively proficient, compared to when we first began.

If we should stop, for months or years, do we have to relearn all that skill.

Not at all, we do have to re-practice it so that it requires less effort, but the knowledge is there, in the DNA and nuclei of the muscles, as well as in our minds.

A couple of studies looked into how muscles that had increased in size due to exercise responded to a lack of exercise then by a re-uptake of exercise.

Small bike, or big Guinea Pig?

Small bike, or big Guinea Pig?

(https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-20287-3; http://www.pnas.org/content/107/34/15111)

Astonishingly, they found that despite the loss of size in the muscles after the training break the time it took to regain size and strength was massively reduced compared to when first starting.

An MIT study on Rats found that even after a situation had changed in order to remove an ingrained habit, it was quick to return under the right conditions.

Personally I have experienced this natural phenomenon first hand.

Firstly after taking a hiatus from training for approximately two years, then twice more when I suffered a pulled hamstring and then having to rest due to a bad skin infection.

Each time I found that the first lesson was hard (if I tried to go all out) but after that everything slotted back into place very quickly.

I have also had long periods where I cycled everyday, and then barely had enough air in the wheels.

So even if your Dogi is rolled up in a box in the attic, don’t be scared about how long it took to get to where you were when you stopped, because it won't take you as long as you think to pick up where you left off.

And if you are like me, you may approach your Karate in a completely new way due to your experiences outside of the Dojo which will inevitably inform your training.

The hardest part of getting back to training is getting out of the front door - once you slip on your trusty Keikogi and wrap your familiar Obi your brain will start to fire those familiar signals and your muscles will start to readjust to familiar stimuli.

Professional athletes like to fire up this part of the body through ritual such as how they tie their laces, to how they celebrate after each practice. You might say that humans are designed to rely on ritual as a means to expand our abilities.

As for cycling, placing your feet on the pedals will do the same thing.

However, I do not condone dusting off the saddle every time you want to go to the pub.