Karate Crazy

This is a karate-heavy post, cut and pasted from my karate journal, so you may or may night find this interesting.

I will be on meditation retreat all weekend and will not post until I return.


Hanshi began kids’ class with a shukai (lecture) today. He talked with them about giri, personal duty to parents and country. He reminded them that samurai means “one who follows” and then asked them what makes a good leader. They answered: “By first being an excellent follower.” Another word to know: shiai, which means match or contest.

When the row of students moved into kibodachi position, the first movement was down, and then the right foot lifted and planted firmly to the side to conclude in horse stance. Next, they worked on knife hand or shuto block, which I hadn’t done before. From the looks of it, the block is with the forearm. If the left hand is out at a 45-degree angle with a strike at the throat, the right hand is, palm up, protecting the solar plexus. The next movement involves pulling the left hand back (keeping it up on the same plane) to protect the opposite side of the face, fingertips at the same level as the top of the ear. The right hand moves to the trigger point (I think). This block is executed along the 45-degree angle, but it can be adjusted in combat, obviously, to block narrower or wider, depending on the threat.

The kids also worked palm heel block. By watching, I learned that the blocking weapon is the forearm, not the hand. I didn’t know this before! Also, in preparation, it’s the upper hand that moves across a plane and blocks, not the lower hand. I was practicing it wrong at home. At the conclusion of the block, the blocking arm is off of the body. The kime (snapping of the gi) or conclusion of the movement should be wide enough to block the attack but not so wide that one overcompensates and loses balance or uses more energy than needed.

Last, the kids worked kubinagi. Kubi is to turn the neck or head. Nagi is throw. So kubinagi is neck turning throw.

It was Valentine’s Day and I forgot, but when the entire Tai Qi class called and canceled, it all made sense. Hanshi offered another private lesson, to which I immediately responded with gratitude. Every since Hanshi’s speech about leaving out baggage at the door, and Jeff’s reminder to mentally let go of things when you’re taking your socks and shoes off, I’ve started to find my voice again in the dojo. This time, with just Hanshi and I on the tatami in a causal lesson, I finally loosened up a bit and spoke casually.

We worked the block and punches and, while I can execute them, I keep doing this dipping or sinking movement with my arm rather than keeping it on the same plane or moving in a straight line to the conclusion of the movement. Hanshi held his hands at about mid-rib cage in front of my body and I had to punch and block above that line. We moved to the board and he drew a triangle, then wrote the number 1 inside of it. “Technique, eyes, and breath,” he said, writing one word on each tip of the triangle. “These are all the same thing.”

Then he paused and looked at me. “And you. You remember this: the wu wei. That means not thinking, just doing. Wu wei.”

I smiled.

We worked for an hour, then one white belt showed up for adult class. Everyone else cancelled or has Thursday night commitments. Hanshi reviewed the beginning, intermediate, and advanced principles of training.

In the beginning, we focus on three concepts: hands and hands start and stop together, hands and feet only stop together, and natural body alignment. At the intermediate level, we talk about zen hara te and zen hara ashi—mind body hand and mind body foot. At the advanced level, there are ten concepts to keep in mind. Here are the ones I can remember: ma (distance), timing, ki (energy), kiai (sound), and NBA (natural body alignment). All ten come together and are thought of as one thing: itten. By this point in our training we have moved from being unconsciously incompetent to consciously incompetent to consciously competent, and finally to unconsciously competent.

We practiced blocks and moving as we blocked and punched, then Hanshi had us work the first direction of shino kata. He let the other white belt practice those five moves, and then I got to do the whole form for him. I felt a transition come over me and I moved with confidence. I’ve been practicing this at least five times a night every night this week. Hanshi watched, moving into place as the attacker as I moved each of the four directions. At the end he said, “Good. You’ll work with Lis next time and we’ll start getting you ready for yellow belt.”

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