In my adult life I've been drawn to activities that I know will challenge me. I happen to be a quick study though, so once I've reached a level of proficiency I'm happy with I tend to drop that activity without guilt or remorse and move on to the next thing to pour my attention into.
This was my initial draw to Karate. Like yoga, Tai Chi and belly dance before it I picked it up quickly and even practiced what I could at home. I advanced quickly and had a blast with it.
Despite there being many reasons why I left after just a year and a half of study, one reason was hitting that inevitable plateau of proficiency.
When I returned almost three years later and got pounced on by Sensei to go for my brown belt though, something shifted. I had made it as far as I could get on my base-line skills alone, if I truly wanted to keep advancing I'd have to step it up and take it far more seriously than I had any other hobby prior to that. And that's exactly what I did.
Having just barely squeaked by for my 3rd Kyu I was determined to never test that poorly again (in my defense I only had about two months to prepare for that test). Since then I've started getting up a half hour early each morning to do strength and flexibility exercises on my own (something I would have never dreamed of doing before even when I was marathon training!). I've adjusted my diet to include more fresh fruits and vegetables (I already had carbs and proteins well-covered). Just like when preparing for my third degree brown belt test, I show up early for every class and stay for every advanced class I can. I even bug advanced students for private lessons whenever I feel I can swing it. I'm a woman on a mission!
Why? You may ask. What makes this different from everything else?
My main answer is that Karate is an activity where one's level of ability is actually labeled (with the belt system) and I'm playing catch-up with my rank-peers.
Most people who make it up to the higher ranks in a martial art have been doing it since they were kids. Even if they take a break for college or work or military service or marriage or whatever, they have those years of prior experience behind them to help them through their training gap. They have the muscle memory to backup their movements. Half-forgotten combinations from their childhood are easily reactivated with a little practice. Principles they've been hearing since they were ten have soaked into their thinking and being, hardly requiring a second thought.
I started taking Karate when I was 30. Sure I'd done about three years of Tai Chi before that but I hardly count that since Tai Chi is a soft style with very different movements. If you do want to count that though it still only means I've been studying martial arts since my mid- to late-twenties.
I also came to Karate with different motives than most adults. I'm not doing it as a fear reaction or even specifically for physical fitness (though that "side effect" is nice). I do it because I enjoy the physical challenge. I want to see if I really can be able to do a full split some day (I'm getting close!). I want to see if I really can throw a front snap kick to a person's face (the dynamics of which are still an utter mystery to me though).
And that's another thing that motivates me: the mystery. There's still so much to learn but with the promise that it's all learnable with enough time and effort. And I want to learn so much!
And so that's why I get up early in the morning to do my 35-50 push-ups (I'd like to work up to a consistent 50) or hold a horse stance for two solid minutes or learn how to land a roundhouse kick with the ball of my foot rather than the top. My goal is to have my black belt by the time I'm 40 (which is five years away). It's a lofty goal, but achievable.
Sure all this playing catch-up can lead to muscle soreness, jammed toes and bruised shins and knees, but I'm having a hell of a lot of fun in the process!