“Some parents might associate karate with violence, but this is far from the truth. In a world where parents are getting more and more relaxed about rules in the family home, just to avoid drama with the children, it is important to get youngsters involved in something to give them focus and self-discipline.” This is what karate sensei Shani Mason believes. Nothing is as satisfying for her as to see the difference karate makes in the lives of children. “Repetition is good for a developing mind. Children master a technique through repetition. Once that technique is mastered, they move on to the next one and as they progress, they move up to the next notch. It’s a continuous, disciplined learning experience.”
When Shani was 12 years old, she accompanied her brother to a karate lesson. She was so intrigued by the various techniques and the graceful pace of the karatekas that she convinced her mother to let her join. Little did she know that this would be the start of a lifelong relationship with the sport.
She started her karate club with just one child. As it has grown, she has produced four black belts and there are four more to follow shortly, as well as several junior black belts
She met her husband Greg, a civil engineer from Newcastle, while Au Pairing in Johannesburg, practicing karate and studying part-time. “Greg’s work took us to Ladysmith for six years, where I realised that there was nowhere for children to learn karate, so I decided to open a club. That same year, I also achieved my Nidan ranking.” She started her karate club with just one child. As it has grown, she has produced four black belts and there are four more to follow shortly, as well as several junior black belts.
It was hard for her to leave Ladysmith when, due to work, they had to move back to Newcastle. “It was hard to say goodbye to my karate family, but since my husband and I have family in Newcastle, I very much looked forward to living closer to them. We are a very close-knit family. I now drive through to Ladysmith once a week for classes.”
After her son Warrick was born four years ago, she battled to bounce back. “After his birth, I battled to get back into shape. I started Taebo, and exercised harder and more regularly. Eventually I offered classes to get others involved in the process of getting stronger and feeling better about themselves.”
Before she had her daughter Peyton, Shani first did her third Dan. “It was a tough challenge for me. It’s a gruelling day of testing karate basics, fitness and ultimately fighting against a minimum of six people, men and women, most of whom are usually higher ranked than you. You also have to write a technical thesis on a combination of movements that will be demonstrated at the grading. Karate is ultimately about being able to handle and defend yourself. It certainly doesn’t happen overnight; it takes a lot of repetition and practice. Even now I still have a long road ahead of me. You have to learn to be constantly aware of your surroundings and be able to adapt in any situation.”
As a sensei, one of your greatest weapons is patience. “Karate teaches self-commitment, dedication and sacrifice. It teaches children long-term gratification, which is completely different to the electronic, instant gratification age they grow up in. Especially with lessons of self-confidence and respect. It takes a lot for a karate child to stand up and demonstrate a 21-movement Kata, let alone to fight (without physical contact) in front of a crowd. I still shake when I compete; the nerves never go away, you just learn to cope.
It doesn’t happen overnight; consistency is always going to be key
“In karate, things seldom come easy. Some fail more times than others even try. That is what my sensei, Johan Swart from Newcastle, taught me.
It doesn’t happen overnight; consistency is always going to be key. When you train the mind, the body will follow. First it will rebel, but eventually it will give in and follow.”
As a sensei, she finds it important to accommodate everyone’s personalities. “Each child is different and unique, with their own needs. Karate is a very serious discipline and because of that, I have to keep it fun for the little ones.”
Shani’s advice for winter includes hard work and eating smart. “There are no shortcuts in life. If you don’t do the work, you cannot expect results. You can dress warm and work hard. Come summer, you will be happy with the results. I have a sweet tooth; I love chocolates and cake. But I find healthy alternatives to satisfy my cravings, like steamed apples and full cream Bulgarian yoghurt. If I’m going to have chocolate, I make sure it’s dark chocolate. That is a special treat for Greg and I after dinner. Our favourite foods in winter are homemade pizza wraps, burgers with sweet potato fries, curry and of course bacon and pea soup.”
Northern KZN & Midlands Get It August 2018