Mind Your Manners

“Remember this,” Hanshi says, putting his hand on my left forearm. I am in a front stance and have executed a left upper block as a part of shino kata. “Karate is first and foremost a feeling. Remember this feeling.” He turns my fist slightly, which rotates my forearm aiming the muscle outward. “If you get hit, you’d rather have a bruised muscle, not a broken bone. Hold it like this. Good. Now remember.”

We work the first two directions of the kata. It never ceases to amaze me just how much there is to learn, no matter how many times you practice something. Tonight, I got help executing the front kick and coming out of that with grace, while delivering a hammer fist. Hands and feet only stop together. Hands and hands always start and stop together.

The hardest part of this kata for me thus far is the moment after the front kick is delivered and the knee is still raised with the calf and foot snapped back. You’re standing on one foot with the other leg pretty high up. You have one hand at your trigger point and another hand in an upper block. All at the same time, you have to begin the movement forward to bring your foot down, snap your upper block hand back to the trigger point, and deliver the blow with the hammer fist on the opposite hand at the same instant that your foot touches the tatami (mat). Three things stop at the same time, but they all do different things and span different distances of space. Yipes!

I have been trying to figure out why I feel so shy around Hanshi. I am timid asking questions. I was timid when I introduced my father, who visited class the other night. I am timid asking questions after class and I feel timid even when I’m not asking anything. What might be happening is that Hanshi never pauses to ask, “Got any questions?” and no one is ever going to interrupt him. We are either listening, answering questions, or moving our bodies. Sometimes, all three at once. What is the most respectful, suitable way to ask a question? After a month of classes, it is not clear to me.

What is clear is that I need to be more mindful of my manners. I don’t like to talk very much in the dojo, but there is indeed the customary “Yes, Sir” and basic courtesies that must be honored. At first, I didn’t even say these things. My voice felt not of my own body—it felt like something that wasn’t even accessible to me when I walked in the door.

Now, at least, I can answer his questions and say “Osu” along with the rest of them. But when he’s circling me, pointing things out and challenging a movement, he constantly asks, “Yes? Am I right? You know what I mean?, etc.” and we usually respond by “Yes, Sir” or some form of that. Except me—I stay silent or I say “Uh-huh” or “Yeah” or “MmmHmm.” It’s only in the context of a room full of people who say “Yes, Sir” that I feel I stick out like a sore thumb. But in the martial arts, this is considered rude. For example, when I observed kids’ class today, one of the karateka said something like “Yeah” instead of “Yes, Sir” and Hanshi said: “Were you raised in a barn?” He’s never talked to the adults like that, and it was funny and well taken, but let’s just say he made his point. I’m still thinking about it.

But I have to ask, also: Is there a correlation between my timidity and my “Yeah’s and Uh-huh’s?” I think there might be. I don’t want to say anything if I don’t have to, and saying “yeah” feels like it commands a hell of a lot less attention than saying “Yes, Sir” in rough staccato does. The effect ends up being the opposite of what I hope, but I’m only seeing this now. Time to shape up. It’s about getting over yourself, which seems a good challenge to take on. Likewise, it’s about respect and I’m only just beginning but I can say Hanshi might be the “coach” that I look back on in my life, of all the coaches, and say that he was the pinnacle.

  • Anonymous

    Hey KT,

    Be gentle with yourself. It’s a new world you are exploring and it will get easier once you have absorbed “the way” of this dojo a bit more.

    It’s been so long since I regularly trained at my old dojo that I can only give you a vague recollection of how we asked questions. Almost too vague to write down, now. I think we raised a hand or simply stood still if everyone else was involved with whatever exercise we were practicing at the time.

    Usually if a lot of people were making the same mistakes, he’d stop the class and explain again what he wanted us to work, how to throw, etc…

    Here, I’d say “Hanshi, I have a question” or “I’m not sure…”

    I’ll try to ask when/how he wants us to ask questions tomorrow am after Tai Chi and email ya…


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