The 7% I Remember

“What do you do with the shell after you’ve cracked an egg?” Hanshi says. We are in the dojo and this time I remembered to bow. I know now to call him Hanshi or Sir and I also know never to stand with my arms crossed.

“Throw it out, Sir,” answers one of the karateka.

“That’s right. And do you know why you throw out the eggshell?” Hanshi says. “Because you don’t need it. There is nothing about the shell that actually tells you it is an egg until you crack it and look inside to see for yourself. The shell is the structure, the basic move. The lead kick. The low block. And without knowing the story of what’s inside each move, all you have is the shell, the part you throw away. Beginning karateka will tell you, ‘Oh, I just learned a low block,’ and you can smile, and pat them on the back, because they are white belt and that is ok. But you have to humble yourself and know that there is more. There is always the evolution of the block, for example. The block that blocks, the block followed by the blow, the block that is the blow. That is only the beginning.”

Hanshi continues, demonstrating with Jay, our green belt student, a dozen or so ways in which the low block structure is modified and evolves into other moves. Jay falls and falls, slaps the floor, gets up, only to be taken down again. It is gentle sparring and for demonstration only, but their dance is elegant, trusting.

Hanshi says he gives every speech for a reason. Tonight, he gave many speeches; perhaps even thirty minutes of speeches. But the speech about the eggshell struck me as the most relevant at this early stage in my practice. A perfectionist at heart, there is nothing that makes me happier than doing something right. I try to do things in and of themselves, and just be grateful when it works out right; but often I do things right to do them right, and it achieves the effect of outer accomplishment but there is also an inner sense of ego-bolstering. This is not a flattering thing to say about oneself, but I think it is true about me. It is something I am working on, an even that is accompanied by its own sense of irony.

All of that is to say, that I am just barely working on the eggshell of becoming a karateka. I can learn Japanese words, research Okinawan Shuri-ryu, and practice my moves in the mirror. But I do not know the stories behind the moves, the protein inside the shell. It will take years. It will take focus. It will take, most of all, dedication and humbleness.

Tonight, four students were sick and four students were in attendance. Hanshi taught Leslie (the other white belt) and I the six punches, admittedly an overload of information. “I am going to nit-pick tonight,” he said. “And I’m going to give you too much information. You will only remember 7% of what I say. The other 93% will be lost…Ready? Now, one! Two! Three! Four!…”

Later, we learn two blocks. We talk about pectoral muscles, trigger points, the solar plexus. There is the lead punch, vertical punch, side punch, uppercut, and on and on. There is the groin block and the face block and all the movements in between. When it is time to go, Hanshi says, “There. Now you have your homework. And you…you said you have a lot of questions. What are they?” He looks at me.

I freeze, take a breath. Then speak: “I wrote them down, Sir.”


“And, why do my shoulders want to go up when I punch?”

This, the beginning of my questions. He entertains me for a while with answers, then he is done and I can only laugh at the perfectionist in myself. “You will get your handbook next week,” he says. “Be patient.”

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