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What Does a Competitive Karateka do Next?

What does a competitive karateka do when he can’t kick? From top-of-his-game to an entirely new one, hear how Maarten refuses to let an accident define him.

What would you do if the road you were on suddenly caved in? Would anyone blame you for sitting at home and giving up? In this episode, Maarten talks about the time his competitive karate life got canceled, how giving up was never an option, and how karate and photography have a lot more in common than we thought.

Connect with Maarten Van der Auwera here.

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Episode Transcript

TRENDHIM: Welcome to Trendhim’s Tell Your Story Podcast. Today, we hear from Maarten and how a random day at university opened a world that he never knew existed. So Maarten, you've said before that we don't force change on people, but when it happens, we also don't run from it… we should lean into it and grow. But from what I understand, that day at the university, actually change what was pretty much forced upon you. Can you tell us what happened?

MAARTEN: Yeah. It was a random day at university. I was 20 years at the time, I think, or 19. I was a pretty competitive karateka – I did competition karate. And then that day at university, the teacher asked me to come forward and she had to show us how you test hip arthrosis. So I went, I went from the class, I laid down on the table, and she said, okay if this, this, this is positive and this, this, this is positive… then you can think that there's some kind of problem with the hip, hip arthrosis. And then, yeah, she saw that I couldn't do these tests, that the tests were positive with me.

Yeah, because of that, I went to see a doctor and then it all came out basically my entire hip was destroyed because of the karate – because of the stress that karate puts on the hip. The competitive life, karate life was over that day. Yeah, I wouldn't say my entire life changed, but it changed drastically.

TRENDHIM: Yeah. And you were pretty serious about karate, right? That was, that was sort of what you had built a lot of, maybe your identity is, is that true?

MAARTEN: Yeah. The thing was I trained five times a week, five, six times a week, and then there were, of course, the competitions. So every training I did every weekend was for karate. And then finally I got at the university, got my own driver's license. So I was able to drive to new training and further training without my parents having to drive me there. My entire life was in for karate, and then some kind of thing like that happened, so it was a bit of a bitter pill to swallow.

TRENDHIM: Yeah, that's a nice way to put it. It was definitely a bitter pill, but what happens after that? So if this is what you were headed for 100%... okay. That doesn't work out. I guess you just sit at home all day and feel sorry for yourself?

MAARTEN: Uh, not really. That ain't really the way. So the operation went well, rehab went well, and then they told me, okay, the doctor said, you can't do competitive karate anymore. My physiotherapist, he said like, okay, the hip is healed. You can do it. but yeah, you have to take into account that you have your entire life in front of you. Is it worth putting that hip that is already bad and even the worst shape? So I started trading in a different way. And then, yeah, I started to find and search for new hobbies.

To fill in that gap. And then, yeah, it was actually a funny thing because something so drastic happened and then something so drastic came out because I found new hobbies. I got into photography, into modelling, and yeah, it just opened an entirely new world for me.

TRENDHIM: Yeah. That's actually how one of the ways that I know you're from is from your photography on your Instagram and stuff like that. So that really came, that wasn't something you were even interested in before this?

MAARTEN: No, not really, because there was one of my best friends, he was into photography… it was a year before I had an operation, I think. And then he asked me, okay, do you want a model for me? Because, uh, I want to try some new things. And that was the way I rolled into a little bit.

And then afterwards, I started to do my own photography. I started to roll in photography and all these things. Photography, I would always say, I don't know it, I don't want to know it. Just take good pictures of me. And then after the accident, that was more like, oh, okay, I'm going to try it myself.

I didn't totally quit sports because yeah, photography is cool and things, but sports will always be the thing that started it for me. So a lot of free time came and then indeed the photography took over that free time.

TRENDHIM: Yeah. But, beyond just taking over the free time, I mean, I'm not a karate expert, obviously, nor am I a photographer, but my thought is karate seems like such a unique way to express yourself if you want to think of it like that. And then photography seems like a totally different way of expressing or of saying something.

MAARTEN: I think I know what you mean, because actually you say it's an entire kind of thing, but I don't look at it at an entire kind of thing because you have two things that are really, really individual because karate, you do it for yourself. If you lose, you didn't train hard enough or the other guy was better.

It's a little bit the same in photography. I think it's you do it for yourself. If you can produce what somebody else wants or what you want, you have to work harder. So it's really if there's a mistake, you can blame it on yourself. And it's the same with karate. It's, it's really, really individual.

Because some karatekas, they use a lot of punches, some karatekas use a lot of kicks. Everybody has their own style of fighting and it's a little bit the same in photography.

TRENDHIM: So it's just another way to be identified.

MAARTEN: Yes. It's, it's a little bit too to show your way,

TRENDHIM: So how do you find that balance then between producing content that someone else wants to see or taking a picture that you want to take?

MAARTEN: Yeah, that's an interesting question and the Instagram that I built is more of like who I am and more of like what I really do in life. You're always going to have some kind of pictures that do better than others because, for example, when I'm in the picture with my girlfriend, these pictures, they tend to grow way faster.

You are going to go in that direction because you know that, okay, this, this works for me. but I tried to limit it as much as possible my kind of thing is more like the outdoor, a little bit of sport, the surfing, longboarding stuff.

TRENDHIM: If photography is sort of your, one of your passions right now, having had that accident before where you had this passion karate was, was really something you focused on. Do you approach photography in the same way? Are you afraid it's going to be gone tomorrow? You know, all the cameras will be gone or, or there'll be no more things to take pictures of. How do you treat your new passion after having lost one?

MAARTEN: I wouldn't say I lost it all with my accident but indeed a huge part of my life went away. So I don't try to stress as much over because now also with, with the COVID, a lot of things they just fall away.

I think it's important to not worry about the things that you can control. How is going to evolve? I don't know. Maybe Instagram is dead in five years. I don't know. So I just, I just try to… I wouldn't say live in the moment because when you say living in the moment, it's such a, it's such a cliche sentence. But you can only make the best of it right now. That's how I approach photography. I think.

TRENDHIM: Yeah. And that's really what it's about. It's gotta be an individual, an individual thing. And I think someone like you who has been through, we can call it an accident, but it wasn't what you had planned when you found out about your hip. I think that really teaches you that everything is temporary in a way. So many things that we hold on to are temporary and it's not really what defines us.

MAARTEN: Yes. It's true. It's true. And. I try (I say) because it doesn't, it doesn't work each day like this to not worry too much about the things you can control.

Of course, I do worry about some things. But yeah, I think it's important, especially in this society where everybody's expecting more and harder and better. It's important to not put too much stress on yourself and to give yourself a break from time to time.

The thing with my karate accident, I wouldn't say, I wouldn't say it was the huge thing that twisted my life upside down. I wouldn't say you can make a movie about it in some old, uh, dramatic, Rocky-style, but it was something and experiencing this, I think… everybody in their lives is gonna experience something similar to this.

For me it was sports. People are gonna lose their job, maybe. I dunno. And I think having been through something like that, it prepares you a little bit to do another kind of thing like this. And I don't think about it as much as I used to because yeah, time heals these things. But from time to time, I do think it was, yeah, it was. It was great back then. But then on the other hand, if it hadn't happened, I wouldn't be, I wouldn't be here talking to you and I wouldn't, I, you know, it's a little bit of the cliche again, where one door closes, one door opens. I think it's pretty true.

TRENDHIM: I think so too. I think if you're able to look for that door you know, it's super easy when a door closes to just say, woe is me. That door is shut. Instead of looking left and right up and down and seeing where the next one's open. It's tough, and that's not something that everyone can do right away. You know?

MAARTEN: It's true. Because I have to say, after my accident, yeah, I wasn't really ready to let it go already. Letting the karate stuff, the competition stuff go. It was more like, not last year, but two years ago I did my last competition. And that was something when I came back when I had my operation, I wouldn't let it go.

And I was like, okay, I'm going to fight back again. I'm going to fight back again. And then I trained really, really hard to be at the point where I could come back. And then I did one tournament, and then I broke a little bone in my foot. You see in my head add some kind of idyllic view of karate and how it was, and then after the accident, I realized that this view wasn't really what really was. You see. And then the accident, it opened a lot of things.

And then I discovered new things to also be active. I train, I don't know, five times a week or something like that. So. It showed me a way that it can be different and it can be different in a way that you wouldn't have expected to be different.

TRENDHIM: No, I totally get it. The way you look at it now maybe will be different in a few years later, but for right now, that's how you're doing it. We definitely look forward to seeing more of your photography and following your journey as it continues to move forward and whatever change happens, I know that you'll roll with it.

MAARTEN: We'll try to do our best at least.

TRENDHIM: Well, thank you for listening. Here at Trendhim, we believe that every man has a story worth telling. What's yours?

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