Martial Scientists

In kid’s class, Hanshi talks about the relationship between training and trying. “Why do train hard? So that trying is easy,” he says. “And you never, ever own a move until it becomes comfortable and automatic.” For added emphasis, he tells us a story about Bruce Lee’s primary student (whose name escapes me), the one who received all the teachings just before Lee died. This student used to stay at Hanshi’s house in Florida (at the mention of this, a huddle of yellow-belt karateka kids widen their eyes and listen at full attention) and that’s where the slogan about comfort and automatic comes from.

“Martial arts is 90% mental. If you think you can do it, you can do it. If you think you can’t, if you think you’ll never earn a black belt, you can forget it. But here, here you’re learning more than martial arts. You’re learning the science, too. You will all be martial scientists,” he says. “Martial scientists.”

It’s our last adult class before a holiday break and my last class until January 17th, when I return from Oregon and the upcoming MFA residency. Sienna works with Lis and Jeff while Hanshi works with me and the other white belt in attendance today, Brian. We’re at the mirror again, huffing through a series of the six punches we know on Hanshi’s command.

“Harmony of breath and?”

“Movement, Sir.”

“Good. Katey, three times reverse action equals?”

“Three times the power, Sir,” I say.

“Vertical punch, ready: Ich! Ni! San! Shi! Go!”

“Good. Inhalation on?”

“Preparation,” Brian and I respond.

“Exhalation on?”

“Impact,” I say. “Execution,” Brian says.

“Execution, good Brian…When do our shoulders come up during punches?”

“Never, Sir,” we respond. I check my shoulders, lower them a notch.

“Good, now round punch. And, ich! Ni! San!…”
We punch in unison, aiming the back of the fist at the side of the head, stopping the punch when the elbow is still slightly bent.

“Yame!” Hanshi says (stop). “Now. Chukagen. This means hold that thought. It means keep your pose. You are still learning so you always hold your poses until I say relax. Never lose focus…What’s the most important finger in the Shuri-fist?”

“The pinky, Sir,” I say. “But I don’t know why.

“Good,” Hanshi says. “Now make your fist, then slightly loosen your pinky…See that? The pinky is the most important because, without it, the majority of the muscles in the forearm cannot stay strong. Understand? See…martial scientists.”

By the end of the class we’ve learned two new blocks, practiced the other ones we know, and added a few more self-defense moves to our repertoire. Hanshi looks at Brian and I and says, “You and you, red stripes today. Two for you, Katey, for demonstrating punches and blocks. One for you, Brian, to go with your other one, indicating the same.”

Two red stripes!!!

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