A Shift at the Dojo

I arrived at the dojo a few minutes into kid’s class, paid my monthly bill for class ($60 – a bargain!), and dropped my bags at the bench to leave for a long walk. I wanted to clear my mind before adult class and warm my muscles up slowly by strolling the creek walk in downtown Tinyville. Instead, I overheard Hanshi telling the kids to gear up for kumite (sparring) and I noticed that neither Jeff, Lis, or Sienna were there to assist him in class.

I bowed at the edge of the mat. “Hanshi,” I said. “Would you like some help?”

“Yes I would, if you don’t mind, that’s be great,” he said, bowing. “Suit up.”

In another minute I was on the tatami, warming up with the kids, and preparing to judge points in kumite opposite Hanshi. Without the upper rank adults there, he needed me, and it felt as though our eyes met for the first time in weeks. There’s no way to say it without sounding cliche, but his eyes were new to me again, this sort of glowing-sea-blue that’s the equivalent of a being instilled with a lifetime’s worth of confidence. There we were, standing opposite each other, calling points for the kid’s matches, eyes locked with all the authority of two karateka pushing hard along a rutted path, and finally–I felt the turmoil of the past few weeks lift.

After class, he thanked me for helping, then I went on a two mile walk to keep warm while he taught tai chi.

And what walked in the door tonight for adult class?

A new member. A white belt, from the ground up, no former training.

So we got the intro talk, the breakdown, the refresher course on basic etiquette and word translations, etc. And when Hanshi stepped aside to work with the newbie, he told Nate, Jeff, adn I to figure out some promise fighting drills for ourselves. We worked sambon kumite (the thing that killed me before) and I was the only person who remembered how to do it at first (ironic). We moved in pairs, then rotated out because there were just three of us. When Hanshi paced over to critique our work, he was duly impressed by my kia, my timing, my movement.

“I like your timing, Katey, I like what I’m seeing. Have you been practicing at home?”

“No Sir,” I said. “Not sambon.”

Hanshi laughed and said, “Excuse me a minute, hold still,” then mock gagged me while Jeff and I held our positions. “Lie to me please, ok? ‘Yes, Sir, why of course I’ve been practicing, thank you for noticing,'” he said jokingly. And that was it. In that moment whatever was in the way before had dissipated. He found something to praise. I found honest spontaneity again and a sense of worth. And when Hanshi asked Jeff and I to work the drill again we moved seamlessly across the tatami, kia’s ringing like their name implies: “spirit meeting breath.”

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