Hello out there! I'm back. It's been a long 18 months. During that time, it just never felt like the right time to pick up karate again. Then one day, it hit us. Why are we waiting for the perfect time to go back? There is no perfect time. There will always be something at work, there will always be something going on in the family, and there will always be an excuse not to go. This would be fine IF we really didn’t want to go back, the thing is that during those 18 months we never stopped talking about or thinking about karate. So, one day at breakfast I announced that I would be going back to karate classes in 3 weeks. My husband responded with, “Why don’t we go back next week?” Indeed, why not?
Before I write anything about our return to classes, I’m going to let you in on what we’ve been doing since we took our sabbatical from karate. In the first couple of months, we were still in the karate mindset, but had no outlet for it. If you’ve ever seen a Pink Panther movie, then you would have a good example of what our house was like. There would be spontaneous side kicks in the kitchen, surprise attacks when going around a corner, and normal everyday household objects suddenly become an impromptu weapon. It got to the point where I was looking around every corner and feeling like I needed my sparring gear to walk around the house.
At the 7-month mark, I knew we were in trouble when the kids and I had totally stopped practicing. I had some serious doubts about whether we would ever go back. My husband, bless his soul, never stopped practicing even if no one else would. However, it was about this time that he performed the most amazing feat! We heard him screaming downstairs one day and rushed to find that he had been practicing his forms and had somehow hit his own arm with his other arm rather forcefully. Our youngest instantly pipes up, “Dad, you blocked your own punch.” The oldest child responds, “You know you’re a master when you block your own punch.” Personally, I was thinking, Oh boy, he’s finally cracked, and has started to spar with himself.
After a year went by, we started to actually think about going back to karate on a regular basis and tried to practice some of the forms just to see if we could remember them. Our youngest, who was very vocal about her desire to go back to karate, got out her uniform, put it all on, but forgot how to tie her belt. My husband and I tried to help her and it took about 5 minutes for the three of us to get the belt tied. Picture an episode from the Three Stooges. If only we had gotten the video camera out!
We started easy at form 1 (don’t ask me the Korean name) which seemed to go fairly well. By the time we got up to form 6 and 7, it was clear that we were missing some of our muscle memory. Apparently, memories do fade. We got through it, but only because my husband’s memory was a little more current than ours.
During form 8 the Three Stooges theme came back. When my husband called out Form 8, I just stood there with a blank stare and finally slapped my forehead. My husband asked if I had a headache. Well maybe if I had hit my head a little harder I would, but no. I was trying to kick start my brain to remember how the form started. My mind was a complete blank. By form 9, our well-loved Bassai, it was all over. My husband was calling the cadence and in the middle of the form stopped, got this puzzled expression on his face, and turned to me, "Whhhaaat did you just do?"
“I’m not sure, but it felt good,” I shrugged. I didn't know what move I was supposed to do next, so I did what felt right. I felt good doing it, I was sure I looked good doing it, but it just wasn't the next move.
During the Nai han ji forms, I was really getting into it and my daughter who loves the Nai han ji forms, was egging me on. Before the third Nai han ji form, I was feeling quite giddy and chanting, “We got to the Nai han jis! We got to the Nai han jis! We got to the Nai han jis!” That’s when I made the ultimate challenge to my body, and here’s what I said. “Nai han ji forms should be snappy. I’m going to make this one snappy.” My body challenged me right back. On the second move of the form a loud cracking noise came from my shoulder. I swear I heard my shoulder whispering in my ear, “How was that for snappy?” At that point, I was done for the evening. One thing about being older and working out is that you end up with every snap, crackle and pop sound coming from your body.
Although I’m looking forward to going back to classes, seeing old faces, meeting new ones and continuing on my journey, I know what to expect unlike that first day so long ago. There will be 70 jumping jacks instead of 17, my feet will be raw for the first month before they can become conditioned again, someone is going to use me as a punching bag during a sparring match, and I’m most likely going to forget everything that I’ve learned and need to learn it all over again.
We’ve been back to karate classes for about two months now. Surprisingly, I didn’t fall over from exertion during warm ups on our first day back. My daughter, however, just had to point out that my backside was in the air for the pushups instead of having a straight back. Oh well, at least I got through them. I rediscovered that doing forms with a group of people is much easier than remembering them on my own. I surprised myself with how much I did remember regardless of whether it was my muscles or my brain.
It was too good to last. Master Celotto announced that we were going to practice my least favorite activity, rolling. Don’t try to picture this, it’s not a pretty. But, I’ll describe it anyway. So, I’ve gained back all of the weight I had lost during our “time off”. Rolling practice meant I had extra “rolls” around the middle that I needed to get up and over. I literally felt like a sack of potatoes being rolled around. Afterwards I had some extra lumps and bumps to prove that I was a sack of potatoes.
The next week’s class featured my second least favorite subject in karate, sparring, with Master Needham no less. It’s like they were trying to test my resolve on whether I truly wanted to be back in karate. I’ll just give you the highlight of that class which, again, I ask you not to picture. I hit myself in the face 3 times during one match and got so flustered that I almost spit out my mouth guard. Don’t ask. It’s too hard to explain, and I’m not even sure myself what exactly happened. On the other hand, my husband did well. During one of his matches, a kick
went a bit lower than the belt level. As I was grimacing, my daughter leans over and asks, “So, Dad still wears his cup, right?” Oh yeah, it was that bad. A 13 year old knew it would hurt without proper protection. Never fear, my husband’s motto for karate has been, never leave home without it.
One of the aspects of karate class that continuously amazes us is Master Needham’s yell. After a year or more of not hearing it, we were trying to analyze it to recreate it. He doesn’t have just one yell, he’s got two or three depending on whether it’s forms, sparring and some other activity that he’s having us do. The closest that I can come to describing his yell is the Oi’s in AC/DC’s song, TNT. Our attempts to copy the yell… well, maybe you shouldn’t picture this either, but… we sounded like a bunch of cats hacking up a fur ball.
After about a month Master Landry asked if we were getting the rust out yet. Rust, hmm. That’s one word for it. It reminded me of Mater from Disney’s movie Cars. And like Mater, you may clean me up, but there will always be rust under the surface. I think I’ve lost the finer details of the forms now; this old rusty mind has forgotten how to do the transitions from one step to another or the proper placement of your hands and feet. I feel like I’m in class with a bunch of brand new race cars smoothly going from one move to the next. Then there’s me, old Mater plugging along.
In order to get out some of the rust, we started to practice in the evenings before each class. One evening we were practicing our one step self-defense forms. Let’s just say that I didn’t quite do the 5th form correctly, and my husband’s comment was “Well, that was close enough”. I responded with “Hey, it’s how I roll.” Like Mater, I’ve got a little bit of rust here and there, balding tires, and a big goofy smile on my face.
Having a break from karate gave me a chance to think about what I truly want to get out of karate before going back. I’m not looking for perfection, or getting my black belt quickly. No, this time around, it’s more for me. I enjoy the people, I enjoy the exercise and it challenges my brain to remember and keep up with everyone else.
We’re not white belts, but I’m definitely going back with my original white belt attitude which is to not expect to know everything instantly, take it one class at a time, and never forget that I choose to do this because it’s fun first and foremost.
- Wendy Austin
* This blog is dedicated to all of those readers who personally reached out to me and asked us not to quit. Trust me, you were heard and it moved me deeply.