It’s a question we usually cover on the first day of English Conversation class; What’s your hobby?” It’s a seemingly simple question but I usually have to spend a good portion of class time explaining the difference between hobbies and interests. The first time it happened I chalked it up to a basic misunderstanding of vocabulary but when I put the question to the class the again, after my explanation, and was met with the same answers it dawned on me that the overwhelming majority of my university students had one of three “hobbies” ; playing computer games, watching TV, or listening to music. This usually sends me off on a rant about what could be accomplished in the time they spend watching TV or gaming. “Ok so you play League of Legends two hours a day five days a week. That’s forty hours a month, four hundred eighty hours a year. In four hundred and eight hours you could; master a language, write a novel, find a cure for a disease, become an expert at something, ect ect.
Most people have interests, many have hobbies but after such classes I wonder how many have passions? Sometimes we are lucky enough to stumble upon something we’re passionate about; sitting down for the first time at a piano and falling in love or knowing from a young age painting was your calling. Other times passions have to be painstakingly cultivated and built through discipline and it’s this second kind of active passion I find my students often lack. From a young age I enjoyed playing and composing music. It was something that came easily, something I didn’t need to work at. Just sit down at the piano for an hour or two and a song would come out on its own, almost writing itself. Although writing music has brought me joy it’s different, and somewhat lesser, than the feelings derived from active disciplines I’ve cultivated into passions.
I started martial arts because I wanted to get in shape and going to a gym to ‘pump iron’ seemed boring and a bit pointless. I didn’t want to run around on a wheel like a hamster or lift heavy weights while vaingloriously staring at my bulging pythons in the mirror (not that I have bulging pythons but you get the picture.) I wanted to get in shape while learning something semi-practical so I took up kick boxing and jujitsu. When I first started, and for a long while after, I hated it and would feel the dread begin to rise several hours before a training session. To make matters worse if I missed a class I was wracked with a guilt that poisoned whatever else I tried to do. Why are you reading a book you loser! You’re so lazy and just scared of a little pain aren’t you? Just keep on blowing off your training and laying on your couch. I can see you now a morbidly obese thirty something with books for friends.
The first time I competed a kickboxing match I wanted to run out of the ring before the bell sounded and probably would have had my coach and entire gym not been watching. My heart was racing and visions of permanent damage and death raced through my mind. A dingy kickboxing venue in the middle of an industrial city in Korea didn’t seem like a great place to die. To make matters worse the guy in my weight class, 84 kilograms, did back out of the fight and I was left to face a 100 kilogram beast. It seemed surreal afterward and I guess that’s when the transition slowly started to take place. I still hated training and even told my coach “Yeah I don’t love jujitsu like these others guys, in fact I kind of hate it I just want to see if I can do it, how far I can push myself.” I’d quit kickboxing after several nasty lacerations to the head and facial area.
I went about training Jujitsu, often in a lackluster fashion, for a few years, and gradually realized I was falling in love. Not the white hot love at first site that so often burns itself out but something more sustainable that I wasn’t even aware of initially. I started thinking about the previous nights training session at free time in between classes running over sparring session in my head thinking how I could improve, and watched instructional DVD’s at home. I added running and strength training to my routine so I could be more competitive and started becoming closer with my training partners. What I once dreaded I started looking forward to. When I felt down or troubled I knew jujitsu would help improve my mood. Once I was listening I found jujitsu had a lot of lessons to teach me about day to day life like how remaining calm and using your head, and technique, in a match is much more effective than trying to use brute strength and physicality or how it isn’t a large one time herculean effort that gets you what you want but consistency over a span of time, repetition. How if you do something you’re scared of enough times it becomes common place.
Writing has followed almost the same path as Jujitsu. I didn’t really like it when I started but forced myself to sit down everyday and write. It was tedious and a feeling of dread would rise up in me when I thought about writing but I eventually came to fall in love. Without writing and jujitsu my life wouldn’t be as full and somehow I wouldn’t appreciate other things or people in life as much. Recently my second novel was released and I took a gold medal, winning all my matches by submission, in a tournament. Both came about by hard work and there’s something to that, someone telling you an article really made them look at things from another perspective or standing up on a podium with a medal around your neck knowing it was nothing but your own sweat and blood that got you there not innate natural talent or physical prowess but just an active discipline that became an active passion along the way.
Columnist Joshua Lorenzo Newett is a novelist, entrepreneur, and English professor at The Korean Naval Academy in Jinhae, South Korea. Saving Bill Murray, his second novel, was recently published here.
Karate image courtesy of Shutterstock