2 of Thirteen Thousand Million Things: Bill Enters the Dojo
When my neighbor Bill invited me in last week to talk about our driveway, I got up the nerve to ask him if he trained. Whether he’s a nervous talker or just a talker I couldn’t decipher, but he was experienced in martial arts, I determined that much.
“Yes, I train,” he’d said to me that afternoon. Then recounted a host of teachers he worked under, others he had taught, different schools he’d worked in, the place in OtherCity, TN where he went to occasionally since moving here.
That’s when I told him about Hanshi, and the dojo. I gave him our class schedule and encouraged him to come. And although I’d felt slightly threatened by the sheer amount (and size) of weapons on display in his house, the fact that he did train actually eased my mind. A good karateka doesn’t start fights. Rather, he/she uses martial arts only as a defense art and as a last means necessary.
So when Bill walked into the dojo tonight, al 6’2” and (how many muscular pounds?) of him, Everlast shirt busting at the seams, I wasn’t surprised. I’d even told Hanshi ahead of time that he might come by, sometime, maybe.
As it turns out, Hanshi and Bill are both Vietnam vets and were there at the same time. They knew some of each other’s teachers in martial arts and knew of even more of each other’s teachers over the years. They spent most of the class time talking while Nate and I worked in the corner on taezu naru waza.
At a certain point I heard Hanshi telling Bill about his karateka, pointing to each of us on the tatam as we worked our moves. “And Nate, over there, he’s Nidan,” Hanshi said. “He’s Shuri-Te, not Shuri-Ryu but—“
“Right, right” Bill interrupted, “They’re similar except for the….” And they went on like this for a while, discussing the nuances of the style back and forth.
“And then there’s Jeff,” Hashi said a few minutes later. I tried to focus on taeze number two, with the hammer fist and the tatekentsuki opening to the eye jab with the back fist on top and the solar plexus jab with the top fist on bottom. Fat chance. Hanshi was talking about us, right there, sharing his opinion. That’s something I’ve never heard him do before, but I didn’t want to miss this opportunity to hear how my teacher would introduce me. I waited. “So, Jeff is a green belt and he’s good. I mean, really sharp. He trained in tai kwon do but we’ve started him out as a white belt here so at lot has been corrected. He’s testing for brown belt this fall. He’s on his way, he’s solid,” Hanshi says.
I’m onto taezu number three now, with the leopard fist uppercut and double punch with the muashi coming from the reverse punch. “And that’s Katey, over there.” He’s pointing at me. “She’s……”
I miss it. Completely. It’s impossible for me to work the forms and listen at the same time and I’m not about to defy his instructions and turn around and gape while they talk about me.
All the same. While I’m often tortured wondering what he does think of me, it’d kind of ruin it to know. I’m here, aren’t I? Giving it my all in class despite two knees that want to fall off of my body.
When we bow out of class, Hanshi has us bow to “Sensei Bill,” something we’ve never done for any other visitor before and a sign that my neighbor, no matter how reclusive, is in fact a senior dan in his system. Then we bow to the kamiza, to Hanshi, and to each other.
When we’re finished, Hanshi points at me. “Thank you,” he says. “Thank you very much for bringing this man to our dojo.” There’s a light in his eyes, that one I saw a lot of when I first began. And it makes me smile.