Tonight’s adult class is small, but arrive early enough to chat with Lis and Greg before we officially being. My entire attitude about her has changed and I notice immediately that her face appears softer to me, her voice a little easier to hear, her contributions to the conversation more along the lines of normal. My, how I had projected before. I ask her about what it’s like to switch schools, and she tells me Hanshi says that it’s like broadening your skill set. He’s decided to honor her black belt but she has to begin by intensively studying the upper level katas to get them down, particularly the nuances that may differ from school to school.
I also get the nerve up to ask Greg what the red band on his belt is for and he says that he had to demonstrate the punches to earn it. I don’t know how or when this opportunity arises, but it makes since to me as a sort of mile-marker on your way through the belts. Something in me has softened altogether and I can feel myself stepping away from the seriousness of this and leaning a little more into the fun.
That being said, there is never a moment where something cannot be learned at this dojo and tonight is no exception.
“You ask a guy what kind of car he has and he tells you, ‘Uh, a green one,’” says Hanshi. He is giving another speech and as long as I can stand still, that’s fine by me. “That’s like someone who can tell you what a watch is but they can’t take it apart and tell you how it works. In karate we study the forms as much as we study the hah ryu, the inner workings. Don’t even let anybody tell you that karate is monkey-see monkey-do because it’s not. It’s a science, it’s an art, it’s a curriculum. Look how much you know already…How many bones in the human hand?”
“How many in the forearm?”
“And behind that?”
“And why do we say our punch is superior? Because we punch with a direct and firm impact in one place supported by three consecutive joints. The same can be said for the kick.”
“How many facets of karate are there?”
“Five, Sir. Kicks, blocks, punches, strikes, and moves.”
“And how many stances are there?”
“Six…Twenty-four…Eighteen…” The karateka respond.
Hanshi takes a breath, then demonstrates with focus, the seventeen stances. Then again: “How many stances are there in karate?”
“And why are the two ends of our belt always tied evenly?”
“Balance, Sir. Yin and yang.”
“Why is the obi knot tied at the center?”
“Hatha [?], Sir. Centering.”
“And why do we put our heads out when we bow?”
“Offering our necks to the Samuri sword, Sir.” The longer answer is this: It is an ultimate sign of trust and respect, because to bow and move your eyes to the floor means you trust someone enough to offer him/her your throat and look away. You honor that person’s wisdom, restraint, and lineage.
“How many movements of the hip are there?”
“Six, Sir. Down, forward, rotation, tilt, pendulum, and [?],” the karateka respond.
The quiz and speeches go on. And on and on and on. And my feet and back ache because standing still without my shoes is quite possibly one of the most difficult things for me to do physically since I had foot surgery seven years ago. But still, I hold my place in line, I try to focus my mind, I try to keep my hands at my sides rather than curling them inward.
When he is finished, Hanshi pauses for a moment, then walks over to the whiteboard. “Hah ryu,” he says again. “Inner workings. You are responsible for knowing this.”