Back in the Dojo

It’s been almost a month since I had class due to the MFA residency, but today I woke up early and did yoga before heading down the snowy driveway and into town for kids’ class at the dojo.

I feel a sense of relief walking through the doors and notice right away that a lot has changed. There’s a new white belt girl, the white belt boy has a third red stripe, and all the yellow belts have Century brand kumite slippers and gloves on. Sienna is there, of course, helping out, and Scott has moved from yellow belt up to blue. With bags on the floor and a few extra people, the dojo feels relatively packed. I bow at the entrance and await Hanshi’s permission to step on the mats where I can watch kumite and kata up close.

When it’s time for adult class, I learn there are three new white belts who started last week, and that we lost one while belt woman after the holidays. Sienna and Lis are still our token, trustworthy black belts but Jeff, the green belt, is nowhere to be seen. Standing in line, we finally fill the dojo in one row from end to end. The energy is uplifting!

“We’ll begin with a chalk talk,” says Hanshi as he walks to the whiteboard.

Thirty-five minutes later, we bow and begin class. And all throughout the thirty-five minutes I struggle to find focus. Jet-lagged and residency-worn, I am all body and no spirit. I imagine the rest of me out there somewhere above the continent of North America slowly sifting its way through the clouds back toward my body.

What I do glean is this: There are three parts to our training, the first of which is Okinawan Shuri Ryu Karatedo. Okinawan describes the place of origin. Shu means old or traditional (?). Ri means path (?). Ryu means style. Karate means empty hand. Do means way. Second, there is the willow spirit society (I forget how to say this in Japanese). This is the school of though or philosophy from which we will practice Jui Jistu, which means (?). Third, there is kobudo, or martial arts with weapons. There are seven different kinds of weapons including the bo and sword. All of these weapons are adaptations of farming implements because those were the only tools available to the peasants at the time. They worked with what they had and made an art and way of life out of it. Theirs was for survival, our is based on keen interest. But the forms remain the same. Finally, we learn that martial comes from Mars, the god of war.

When Hanshi talks about the seven sensibilities (shinto-mindfulness, heno-responding…) I wish for a pen and paper because I know there’s no way I’ll be able to remember it in my current state of mind. Alas, I forgive myself and as Hanshi erases the board I resolve to email Lis later and get some clarifications.

For movement, we reviewed the five punches and the front kick, then learned a new, abbreviated front kick that I found very challenging. I went home and practiced for an hour, working kata and mostly the basic moves. The kicks are still my weakest point, but I remind myself to have patience. As Hanshi said today when he showed us a special sword from Japan, the soul is in the sword and the body is in the case. One is not good without the other, but together they have tremendous power. All good things in time.

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