More Dojo Tryouts: Confusion, A Choke, and More
All names have been changed because some of what I have to say isn’t very nice.
It’s difficult to explain my first experience at Black Warrior dojo in Traverse City last Monday night. As if I didn’t already stick out enough, everyone had on full-length black gi’s and there must not be a brown belt rank in their system, because I was the only one. All the same, Master was friendly and welcoming, and invited me to train that night in my white gi and the belt I hold rank in for Shuri Ryu.
Stretching went fine, opening punches and blocks were pretty straightforward, and for the most part I liked the feel of so many people in the room (about 30 adults). But even the row of practitioners wearing “Assistant Instructor” patches were blocking 10-20 inches outside their own zones. I don’t know if this is because they were practicing a different kind of middle block, but the variance between these blocks was so vast from person to person that I couldn’t tell “the right” way to execute a middle block in [name of style].
Not a single horse stance looked complete with knees over toes and—I looked around—hardly anyone broke a sweat. We kiai-ed with each punch, but the physics looked all wrong to me. There was no instruction and no correction. We just moved and made noise, then moved again and made more noise. At one point we stopped and Master talked about why “we never punch air,” his point being that we “always have a target.” Then he surveyed his practitioners, asking them where their target was and why, and I liked that part. Class continued and students kept filing in late. One by one, they did they announced themselves onto the mat by bowing and shouting “Osu!” (Except they pronounced it “oh-so,” a near blasphemy.)
I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but for the amount of time I spend there (2 ½ hours total) I can’t say that I left the dojo with any better understanding of what, exactly, [name of style] is. After about 45 minutes into the adult class, the principle that Master was trying to educate us about became clear to me. He was talking about reverse motion and asked us to explore, in groups of three, different possible outcomes and responses to a particular move.
My group of three consisted of myself, a self-depricating woman who didn’t have a gi or belt, and a blue belt Assistant Instructor. At one point during our research and development of Master’s question, the Assistant Instructor told me to put my hands around her neck so she could test whether or not a low block would effectively brush both hands away from her neck (huh?). I grabbed her neck lightly, as though exploring a jiu jitsu move, and she told me to stop. “No,” she said, “grab me like this,” then she put both her hands around my neck with her thumbs on my pulse points and proceeded to squeeze moderately. It was enough of a squeeze that my pulse jumped to my ears and my face turned beet red. “She really likes pain,” the self-depricating woman said as she stood beside us. The Assistant Instructor and I stared at each other.
At this point a vast array of scenes unfolded before my mind’s eye, all of which involved getting the Assistant Instructor’s hands off of my neck as quickly as possible. She had a bum knee, I’d noticed earlier, and I could kick it if I had to. I could also drop my elbows over hers and bring them down and attach to her gi and pull her into a head butt. Or I could jab her in the throat with a spear hand while turning my body sideways away from her, forcing her to lose her grip. I could poke her eyes, I could drop a backfist on the bridge of her nose, I could kick the inside of one of her knees, I could…
Instead of doing anything with my body, I looked her in the eyes and said, “It’s not necessary to squeeze that hard in a training exercise.” As soon as I said part it of me felt like a wimp and part of me felt smart but, regardless, she let go, and the blood dropped from my brain. Then she ordered me to put my hands around her neck. “This time, do it hard,” she said, pre-pivoting her body and raising her arms so she could crash them down onto my elbows. Never mind that it seemed preposterous to try and break a choke with a low block, I simply didn’t want this woman practicing anything on me full force when we were in the exploratory stages of a full-contact move. Just then, Master called time and asked our groups to split up for the next series of movements.
Later, I thanked Master for his time and for the coupon for free classes, then searched the crowd for the blue belt Assistant Instructor. I found her near the back wall, unraveling a series of bandages from her knee. “It was a pleasure to train with you,” I said. “Yeah, you too,” she said. “Want to see the staples in my knee?”
That, I’m afraid, sums up my first night at Black Warrior.