How committing to karate helped a worried white belt overcome crippling anxiety
CHATTING to Shimbun amid the hustle and bustle of the GKR Karate World Cup, Linda Shanahan cut a calm and confident figure.
Unflustered by the hundreds of competitors and spectators swelling around the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, the 57-year-old wore the broad smile of a seasoned competitor accustomed to performing on the international stage.
And although the experience of competing at the 2015 World Cup in Liverpool will have helped ease any pre-kata and kumite nerves, the 2nd Kyu’s relaxed demeanour was nothing short of remarkable given that just five years ago she suffered from crippling anxiety which made going beyond her own front door a major ordeal.
“I used to be paranoid around people and preferred being at home to going out,” the brown belt confided to Shimbun. “I was depressed, overweight, used to self-harm and would overdose on medication.”
Explaining that her road to recovery – and becoming someone completely at ease with the tension of tournaments – began with a chance knock at the door, Linda added: “I wanted to get fit again and I am so grateful to Jon Marsh [a GKR Karate instructor in Northamptonshire, UK] for not only coming to my home but encouraging me to give karate a go.
“Through the club I have made so many new friends and it has given me the confidence and ability to do things that at one time I couldn’t do. GKR Karate has made me believe I can achieve and can have a life – it has stopped me doing the bad things I used to do to myself.”
Now a regular face at regional and national tournaments, Linda has a growing collection of competition medals to chart her march to mental wellbeing, but is clear as to her biggest achievement to date.
“The thing I am most proud of is that I have stuck with the club,” she concluded. “I never used to be able to commit to something and even when I’ve gone for a grading and failed to get a belt, I have not given up.
“I put that down to those who have encouraged me. I’ve got brilliant sensei in Linda Sale, who helps me so much, and her husband Steve – they deserve a medal.”
Unsurprisingly, the feeling of admiration is mutual. Sensei Linda has helped guide her namesake through the GKR Karate ranks since first meeting her as a white belt and is full of praise for her student of five years.
“I am very proud of her,” she said. “She has overcome so many challenges in her life and gives 100 per cent every time she comes to class. She is always happy to help others and is a lovely lady.”
Modestly playing down her own part in Linda’s turnaround as just giving “lots of encouragement”, the Region 33 instructor added: “Linda will get her black belt – I’ve told her this and have got every faith she will because of her determination. She doesn’t stop when things get hard for her; she just keeps going and going and I couldn’t ask for more as an instructor.”
This article features in issue 2 of Shimbun – which is available to buy now.