Well, whack-of-wonders…decades later I’m heading back to the Dojo. What in the world am I thinking!?
Age has added a blur to more than my vision but I’m pretty sure I began training in Coung Nhu Karate twenty six years ago, when my son was eight. He had watched The Karate Kid on VHS and began practicing chops that very night. In the morning he started a relentless campaign for official training. Averse to the whole martial arts scene as I was, it took him no longer than a week to win me over.
A month into watching my little boy happily learn ways to develop into his super-hero self, I was invited to join a small group of adventurous “moms” in a class of our own.
I took class, sometimes as often as three a week, until my karate-kid was a freshman in high school and I had achieved the somewhat respectable level of brown belt. I did warm-ups, sit-ups, push-ups. I could kick, punch, tumble and throw. I knew a lot of katas. I sparred!…with weapons!! and perfected my KIAI (power-yell) all the while learning the lessons of challenge and achievement, principles, concentration, confidence and basically how to kick butt.
But as Sensei John would say, “If you’re not training, your skills are waning.”
So, right now I’m a bit panicked. But sort of excited too. Definitely surprised by my audacity, yet determined to show up tomorrow for noon class.
I have this fantasy that I’ll get strong again. I used to be able to break boards with my fist, my foot and, remarkably, with my hip. Lately, I barely have the strength to lift my carry-on up into the overhead bin. On a recent trip to Buffalo I had to resort to asking for help from the annoyed businessman whose head was grazed when my best attempt fell short. I sulked most of the flight, embarrassed, nursing a pulled muscle in my shoulder.
My two weeks in Buffalo were spent helping Mother as she began to accept the death of her husband. We talked, cried, looked at pictures, walked amid spectacular autumn foliage. She lives in a complex that features spacious apartments as well as huge common areas for dinning and social activities; including morning exercise that starts promptly at eleven o’clock in the Amber Room.
I cajoled Mother into checking it out. We joined several others in a video-led hour of chair calisthenics. I was chagrin by the effort. The ninety year olds seemed to have no problem keeping up, but me, at the young age of sixty-one was like; dang, I’m sweating.
Obviously, it was time for me to join millions of other Americans in making the 2016 resolution to get in shape.
As if by thaumaturgy I’m out of my kitchen and in the dojo, a bit stunned; oblivious to everything except this disturbing thought that something unpleasant is about to happen. The only other student is a woman my age wearing a second degree black belt. Yikes. The Sensei bows to us, we bow to her (all karate classes start with this show of respect) and then like a snap-kick to my head I instantly realize: twenty years is a lot of wane.
Karate class isn’t just about the martial moves, it’s about doing them fast, powerfully, accurately and worst of all, doing them non-stop for a solid hour. It takes resolute dignity to persevere in the face of this absurd situation. I’m completely confronted. Not by the phantom opponents I’m pretending to punch but by my sabotaging, backstabbing, judgmental, whining mind! Will this hour ever end? Will I survive it? Could I be more uncoordinated? I feel like an idiot.
The hour ends with a bow. I laugh all the way home.
Exhausted, I sleep for the next three hours, waking to find my face in a pool of drool, unable to move. The next day I don’t get out of my bathrobe until just before dinner.
And now I have five classes under my nonexistent belt. Each one has given me a tremendous challenge. I struggle just getting into my sports bra let alone making a front roundhouse kick followed by a punch, low block, back-fist, KIAI. (I do love that power-yell!)
I’m far from being able to effortlessly hoist my carry-on as I could twenty years ago. So what. I haven’t laughed this hard in decades. It’s my new super power.