The Karate Kids

I arrive a few minutes late to the dojo, bad form, but I’m only here to observe the kids class that begins two hours before mine. And yet I’m barely out of my shoes and there is Dori, who says, “Oh good, excellent. Sienna has finals this week and couldn’t be here to help Hanshi. Do you want me to ask him if you can suit up and help out?”

I catch my breath and nod yes, even though I’m not entirely sure what this will entail. Within five minutes I’m changed into my karate gi, obi tied at center just below my belly button, and awaiting Hanshi’s instruction.

I follow his lead, holding pads, being an extra set of eyes as the kids practice round kicks, front kicks, reverse punches, and a combination of all three moving in lines across the mats. One student is a white belt with two red bands, the others are all yellow belt and some of what they do I’ve never done before (certainly not all the combos).

Hanshi reminds the children: karate means empty hands, kumite means deciding hands. (And yes, I finally figure out that it is kumite, not kunite.) The students enter a sparring match, one on one, with Hanshi as “ref” and myself as point caller. He teaches me what to do, tells me what to look for, and that fast we are pacing alongside the pair of sparing students as they attempt to win the three-point matches.

A reverse punch, well aimed and finely delivered takes the point over a half-hearted yet well-aimed lead punch, for example. This is because the reverse punch is stronger. Punches delivered while the practitioner is leaning backwards, head and torso bent away and off center, do not earn points. Anything that touches the face is an automatic draw, and the karateka at fault owes fifty pushups. When Hanshi shouts “Yame!” that means stop in Japanese. Then I call the point (or he overrides my call), and the match continues on Hanshi’s orders. Other times, Hanshi calls yame in order to demonstrate a point. For example, if a practitioner is throwing all solar plexus and head punches, throw a side kick and catch him/her by surprise.

By the end of class I’ve learned a good bit, helped out some, and as always, am glad I came. Hanshi invites me to stay for Tai Qi class, which occurs between kid and adult karate, but I decline. I have plans.

What plans?

I’ve packed a bag with running clothes and tonight will be my first attempt to do anything but walking, yoga, or karate in five and a half months. The ankle injury was a low blow in more ways than one, but I’m ready for this. Downtown Tinyville is just about the cutest small town ever during the holidays, and I start my jog along the paved creek walk that leads through town and to the fire station. It’s not even half a mile one way, but it’s something and it’s doable so I begin. I run for fifteen minutes at a decent clip and, while that’s nothing compared to what I’ll have to do for the White Pine Patch, I still feel victorious. That’s fifteen minutes more than I thought I’d ever do, and I’m glad to have the bounce back in my stride.

J and D, the gallery owners in Tinyville invite me in after hours, so I have a place to stay warm before my class begins and where I can change back into my karate gi. D thinks he might start classes in February and I show him a few moves to advance his enthusiasm.

[And here, I will write about the adult class in a separate post, so if you’re overwhelmed with karate talk, you can easily skip it. Otherwise, read on!]

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