It occurs to me that ever since Hanshi mentioned the possibility of a yellow belt test, I’ve had tunnel vision. If it doesn’t relate to the 5 punches, 6 blocks, 6 stances, 4 kicks, and 1 form I need to work on for that test, my focus wanders. Funny, how the first few weeks I could recall Hanshi’s karate stories on a whim, morals that kept me thinking through the night, and philosophies I paralleled with my meditation practices.
To be fair, the significant difference between my presence of mind (zanshin) then and now, has been embarking on the thesis. In December, I was on vacation from school and work. I missed nearly a month of class for the holidays and residency, and when I got back I was no longer the same person. Different writer, different person. It could very well be that the constant pressure I’m putting on myself at the desk, zaps my drive and focus in the dojo. I’m still there for class and I still want karate as a way of life just as badly, but I envision a more direct approach to the art, oh, say, starting around JULY when I’m done with the MFA.
And the truth—what am I most scared of for a yellow belt test? The pushups. Yes, the pushups. My qi just pours out of me when I have to take that degrading position on the floor, knees touching because that’s the only way I can do them, and huff through barely two dozen of them before I’m spent. There is nothing that kills my sense of pride or athleticism faster than physical failure in a vulnerable position. Nothing.
Tonight, we talked about the zen hara te and the zen hara ashi, mind center hand and mind center feet. These concepts tie into everything we’ve learned – kiai-ing, zanshin and its five characteristics, natural body alignment, the physics of delivering an utterly cutting blow, where we get our power from, etc.
And where do we get our power from? The ground. We grip the floor, we are grounded literally and figuratively. We call this ground force reaction (try to throw a punch while jumping in the air and compare that to throwing a punch with your feet on the floor). There are 620 muscles in the body and 206 bones and we must be present with all of them in every move we make.
Hanshi outlines the anatomy of a punch for us, and we repeat after him, then work the movements in the mirror and with partners. We kiai and I find my voice this time, though it still feels small, but at least it’s audible. We discuss the vibration of the hips in this movement. When we punch, we are get power from the ground up, through our hips, and out from there. We start in honbon kibodachi and move into a reverse punch that concludes in front stance. The nuance of this movement is, in theory, comprehensible—but my body feels hardly accustomed to it. Move my back heel forward on the mat three inches without lifting it off the ground? YES. How? Power through the hips and the momentum of the arms. Focus in the hara. Harmony of breath and movement.