For Lis

Over the holidays, Nate and I carpooled to the dojo since he lives near my parents’ house where I was visiting.

For almost five weeks straight, Hanshi has had us doing jui jitsu during our “karate” class, with sessions running 40 minutes overtime. Don’t get me wrong. I dig it – I really do. But the perfectionist in me worries about what’s happening to my karate basics when we don’t practice them as a group with much regularity. I can practice at home, and sometimes do, but I’d prefer to cross-train. My knees prefer that, too. Furthermore, doing karate basics in the dojo means I get feedback and that makes a world of difference.

“Worry about something like that is like paying interest on a debt you don’t owe,” Nate told me on our drive home one night. He’s the nidan (2nd degree black belt) in our class and now that Lis had to move to Virginia (I’m still in denial), he’s often the only black belt in class.

One night, after nearly 2 hours of jui jitsu kimenokata (one-step sparring forms), I told Nate I was going to go home and practice my front kicks for the Shuri White Pine Tree test.

“You’re not doing them full force, are you?” he said.

“Hardly. Just enough to get the form right. And I can’t do 500 decent ones yet. Only 400,” I said.

“Yeah, I thought about training for that test,” Nate said. “But I think it’s crazy. We didn’t have anything like that in my old school and that place was even more traditional than Hanshi’s.”

“Oh,” I said.

We talked a little more about his old school; days when Nate had to keep his martial arts training a secret to keep the football players at school from picking fights with him. He hardly struck them, he said, because he always knew he could get away if he had to. Knowing was enough. And the damage those players did do when they got their hands on him was minor, he said. Better to take a slug than take one guy down and have to deal with his whole team for weeks afterwards.

Today, however, we actually practiced karate at the dojo.

We worked Anaku in particular, and Hanshi emphasized keeping your back straight and your hips tucked in the form. He reminded us that “Tony Knows,” which means that in your shut block position, your toe, knee, and nose are all lined up and aimed directly at the target. For the split block, he said to keep the hands separate enough to mark each one as an upper block and middle block – rather than a sloppy inbetween. And most importantly, he reminded us what we always need to hear more than once: Your head does not bob up and down in kata. This is especially true in Anaku when you crescent step from one horse stance to another.

“Imagine,” Hanshi said, “that a master teacher has given you his most precious teacup to balance on your head. Now, execute Anaku kata and don’t break that teacup.”

I’ll take teacups any day over jui jitsu. Boy did it feel good to workout today, despite the fact I’m still hacking up half a lung. Osu!

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