Pajama Party at the Dojo

“Don’t be self conscious in this class,” Hanshi says. “You’re all already wearing pajamas, so what is there to worry about? Seriously folks, look at us. We could be at a pajama party. There’s nothing to hide here, so let me hear it!”

He’s talking about our towl’s and hai’s, the sound of kiai jutsu, or the spirit meeting breath and the harmonics through which this breath moves.

We block: TOWH. We punch: HAI.

My voice is like a mouse in the corner, a pebble alongside a boulder. I recall the first time I had to publicly chant a mantra in the shrine room. The feeling is not at all unfamiliar.

“Like you mean it!” Hanshi says. “Louder than the person next to you. Louder!”

Block-TOWH. Punch-HAI.

He is not talking about Hollywood hi-yah’s and long-bellowed waaaa’s! He’s talking about the towh of taking an impact and the hai of delivering a blow. He’s talking about expelling ki versus keeping it wrapped tightly around our cores. And the words are just phonetics, not actually something to be translated.

“Where’s the safest place you’ll ever be?” Hanshi asks his karateka. “In the dojo. Right here. There’s no one here judging you. There’s nothing to be afraid of. And heck, if anyone ever did come in here with that kind of baggage, you can guess what would happen to them. That’s not what we’re about here. You check your baggage at the door. Who here has a problem?”

The karateka fall silent.

“Seriously. Who has a problem? Any kind of problem at all?” Hanshi asks again.

I raise my hand and that fast Hanshi points his finger at me: “Drop it!” he says, face breaking into a smile. “Easier said then done, I know. And to be fair, we all have problems. But if we carry them like stones on our back, if we nurse them along, they’re going to hold us back.”

“Yes, Sir!” we respond.

“Now, partner up. Tori uke! Tori means giving. Uke means receiving. We put our blocks and punches together. No unanticipated moves, here, just movement, practice. Go!”

Hanshi paces, observes, gives critiques. Jeff, our green belt, has acute focus but a welcoming demeanor. We move well together.

“When are you most vulnerable?” Hanshi asks, still moving about the dojo. “Before, during, or after a move?”

“YES!” the karateka respond. My, how we’re learning!

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