In My Head Too Much

After kids’ class I go on my run, then show up back at the dojo for adult class. Slow and steady, slow and steady, I think to myself—but it turns out that tonight’s class is hardly that.

For myself, I learned tonight that I am quickly and easily discouraged by a barrage of information. That’s probably because I’m a perfectionist. In the dojo, however, it’s not as though I’m going to interrupt Hanshi every other speech and ask him to repeat what he said five minutes prior.

I take a breath. I try to find my body, but it’s not there. Or I’m not in it—if that makes any sense. I’m too caught up in the seriousness details of each move but Hanshi is going so fast, I cannot possibly get it right and administer the new moves up to speed with the class. It feels like I have to compromise and either move slowly and out of synch with everyone, but get the form down more precisely…or, I have to move quickly to keep pace but look sloppy and risk learning things the wrong way. All the same, I listen as best I can and jot down things right after class so it doesn’t all dissipate by the time I drive home.

Most interesting, perhaps, is the fact that Hanshi chooses tonight to talk about zanshin, or, presence of mind. Is this coincidence? I doubt it. The best teachers I’ve seen—in anything in life—can sense and respond intuitively to the needs of the class at any given moment.

There are five aspects to zanshin: impenetrable posture, extending qi, utterly cutting blow, perfect ending/conclusion, and remaining mind. With impenetrable posture, we take our stance and hold it firmly with inward tension (slightly pigeon-toed and inner leg muscles flexed). We press our feet downward for GRF (ground reaction force). When we extend our qi, we do it as if our life depends on it. There is no halfway about it. It’s all or nothing, and this aspect actually contains the seed for the other four. When we deliver blows, they are precise and powerful, then withdrawn quickly (perfect ending/conclusion). The fifth and final aspect, remaining mind, has to do with holding our focus (in body, mind, and spirit) in the stance/move/fight/all of the above until everything is concluded. We do not look away. We do not adjust our karate gis. We do not look at the teacher. We look directly at the opponent (the mirror) and hold firm.

Lis and I partner up again, this time for a high block reverse punch combo. She moves slowly, which I appreciate, but I feel so discouraged that my mind is making my form falter and I’m not getting things as quickly as I normally do. This makes me further discouraged and I try, try to reign my mind in but it kicks and stomps like a toddler, flailing irresistibly each time I attempt to pin it down to focus.

Hanshi pauses the class to give a speech about seeing; another timely message.

“There are three ways of seeing: messen, metuke, and mikazuri. Messen is looking at something dead on with intention and focus. Metsuke is seeing without looking, and that is always what you have to do when you are fighting or during kumite because your feet have to move with your opponent’s but you can’t take your eyes off of theirs. Then there is mikazuri, which is wavering gaze. It’s the look you want to avoid, the look that says you are going to lose a fight, the look that says you are scared.”

We move into the shino kata, the four-direction form which is imaginary combat versus five attackers, and Sienna leads us through it several times. It’s full of moves I don’t know and, more challenging, combinations of moves I do know but that are delivered in a picky order and sometimes while rotating the stance. It’s not easy but I try my best, and leave class feeling useless and quietly angry inside.

The body has ways of unearthing messages for us. Things bubble up from the surface; knots untie themselves or tighten, joints open and flex, bend and stiffen. Tonight, my body resembled my mind—unfocused, undetermined, confused, discouraged. It reacted to my tightness by slackening. My next challenge? To find a middle ground.

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