I'm not a natural joiner of things. Although my politics leads me to be a member of a fairly orthodox left party, I've never been entirely on message and I'm certainly not comfortable with 'party patriotism'. I'm also a member of a bike club - and although I'm happy to talk bikes until the cows come home with anyone who will listen, I don't actually involve myself in the social life of the club at all - and the thought of riding around in a group seems to negate one of the major attractions of biking - the solitude.
Martial arts is essentially an individual pursuit, certainly in comparison to most sports, and in some respects it can be positively lonely. But I find a genuine camaraderie with my kung-fu brothers like nothing else I have experienced in any other area of my life. I'm sure I'm not unique in this but it's not something I have heard many people acknowledge.
I'm just back from a fantastic weekend seminar in Ibiza: My teacher lives there nowadays so I go back periodically - but also to catch up with other guys scattered all over Europe. It's as much about the eating, drinking and chilling as it is about the training. We must come across as a pretty odd bunch - a diverse mixture of races, nationalities, ages and individual styles. Particularly so on that island which is party-central for the white tribes of England with its twenty four hour full fried breakfasts and football-pubs along the horrific 'west end strip' in San Antonio.
One night at a restaurant we were asked what had brought us together and what the occasion was. Preferring to keep a low profile on the martial arts aspect which can often provoke some stupid, embarrassing and potentially even dangerous interest - we said that we were a family having a reunion.
And at the risk of being overly sentimental I think that's a pretty apt description. My teacher talks about how martial arts are best practiced with intensity between friends because accidents so easily happen, misunderstandings occur and ugliness results. Very true. But I've found more kindred spirits in my training than anywhere else. Perhaps its because we require a degree of mutual trust when we place our safety in each other's hands. Maybe by - literally - sharing blood, sweat and tears we inevitably forge closer bonds over the years than by sitting around in committee meetings.