Karate and the Art of Translation

I’ve been in the translation business for 14 years now, and I’ve been practicing martial arts for over 25 years. You might ask what one has to do with the other. Well, I asked myself the same thing since I was fairly certain that there are aspects of my martial arts that help me in my business.

The martial art I practice is called Tang Soo Do. It is a traditional Korean martial art, somewhat related to Shotokan karate, which shares some of the same forms. We emphasize focus, discipline, respect and hard work and strive to better ourselves as human beings.

Being someone who has a hard time focusing on one particular thing, my martial arts training has taught me just that. When I perform a form, or hyung, as it is called in Korean, I do just that. Not one thought other than what is required to do my form enters my head. I am just present. This kind of focus has enabled me to be completely present for translation or editing tasks at hand as well. I know what it feels like to narrow down and zone in on my work, and it is a very satisfying and productive mode both I and my clients benefit from.

Then there is the aspect of respect. In the dojang (practice hall), we respect one another, no matter what rank or experience our opponent or partner has. We understand that we are dealing with another human being whose goal it is to be happy and accepted, and we learn that when we respect others, they respect us as well. I respect my clients, and though I may not always agree with them, I can maintain that respectful attitude I have been practicing for so long in my martial arts.

Freelancing is not for the procrastinator and requires self-motivation, which is a matter of discipline. The discipline I’ve learned in martial arts can be as basic as showing up for class or as challenging as performing each movement with 100% attention and effort. It is a mindset that can become habitual and that can greatly help any kind of performance. I approach my work the same way I approach my martial arts practice: With discipline and self-motivation.

In all of this, I am a human being. I have good days and bad days. I have moments where I have to interrupt my work for a while because it’s just not happening. I’ll take our dogs for a walk and come back refreshed and with a new approach.  My martial arts practice, which takes at least 5 hours of my time each week, is something I cannot imagine my life without and which is a wonderful counterpoint to sitting at my desk, and a great inspiration any day.

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