When I first discovered I was pregnant, one of my greatest concerns was how this would affect my karate. Don't get me wrong, of course I was concerned for the baby's health and safety, but assuming that the pregnancy ran smoothly, what did that mean for my martial arts training?
Although it might sound silly, I was unhappy at the thought of losing a year of "serious" training, and depending on how the birth went, and how we coped with the first few months of the baby's life, it could be much more. Obviously the baby was the priority and well worth any sacrifice, but that didn't mean that I was blind to the fact that there would, in fact, be sacrifices.
Initially my worst fears seemed confirmed. Constantly exhausted and with no appetite, I missed a lot of training in the early weeks. Plus, due to the limitations of pregnancy, I was forced to train at a very moderate and cautious level when I was there. By the end of the first trimester, there was no question that I was slipping. And I was discouraged.
Then came the second trimester, where appetite and energy made a reappearance, and I was able to train more often and with more focus. However, many restrictions remained. There was just no way I was going to be able to train in the style I was used to, and that's the only way I knew to keep improving. Never allowed to go full speed, full power, not allowed to push myself to physical extremes, and definitely no sparring, it seemed that although I now felt capable of much more, I was still condemned to plod through class on "medium". I was still discouraged.
Finally I decided to quit feeling sorry for myself, and figure out what I could work on that wouldn't be limited by the need to keep my heartrate down, avoid overheating, or be restricted by my increasing size.
Once I looked with fresh eyes, it would obvious: stance and technique. Those can be done quite slowly, and they can be done without excess physical exertion. They also allow for cautious movements to accommodate the physical changes in my body.
So I started working hard. I spent a lot of time in stance, making sure that my feet and knees were in proper position, deep with weight properly distributed, and practiced moving slowly from one to another for smoothness and proper expansion/contraction. Since I had to slow down, I had plenty of time to really think about how I was making technique and concentrate on making sure that I was doing full range of motion, that my elbows weren't flying out, that my shoulders were being kept down and back, that my techniques were properly targeted and that my timing was correct.
Yesterday I got a compliment. I was told that, contrary to other people's expectations, my karate had actually improved over the past few months. Specifically noted were my technique, which I'm told has become sharper, with excellent timing and execution, and also my stances, which are low, strong, and perfectly balanced.
That's the beauty of martial arts. No matter what you're going through, you can always find something that you can still do which will give you a personal feeling of accomplishment as well as a very real improvement. You can find progress if only you teach yourself how to look for it.