Friday, September 26, 2014

Impromptu Lesson From a Karate Master

One of the new members this year asked me if he could join me for a Tae Kwon Do workout sometime; he has some past experience but hasn't been practicing recently and was interested in getting started again.  Of course I agreed, and yesterday we were finally able to get some time and a space in a dressing room at HPAC to practice together.  It seems that our clubs have similar characteristics:  both are relatively slow to award belt promotions giving a lot of emphasis to the mental growth of students, both have a relatively rigorous warm-up routine, both have the same forms.  But there are also some differences in class format and exercises that could give some opportunity for sharing and learning from one another.  During our practice, I led with my club's warm-up routine and then we went through some basic kicks using the mirrors in the dressing room for feedback.  We went through some forms together, as well, and some simple sparring exercises.

It was great to be able to workout with another person again.  Having another's presence can do a lot for self awareness.  I think this, combined with the prevalence of so many mirrors, and my inability to remember exact preparations and footwork in some of the forms, made me once again feel how far I have to go.

Last night, afterwards, I felt the missing of a master.  Who or what is my master here?  I woke up this morning feeling the same way, wishing I could be with the club again.  Wishing for some guidance from somewhere.  Sometimes there is a Skype class on Friday mornings, but not today.  Just me and a blue sky and time to unfold however it unfolds.

I got up and quickly decided to go to the river for a workout this morning.  I wanted to improve my kicks and have the space to do some combinations and forms that I can't get indoors.  I hastily put together my things and was out the door in 20 minutes.

When I arrived at my normal space, I found it occupied with three dogs being overwhelmingly cute, playing together and frolicking.  I could have pulled up and begun my practice–the owner would have moved them away–but I didn't have the heart to interfere with their gloriously fun.

Instead I kept biking to another spot, halfway up a hill on a tributary of the river, a little out of the way of the river bikers and runners, but just below a road.  I began a quick warm-up and then started going through my kicks.  I could feel the increased power and focus that comes from really wanting.  As I went through the basic kicks, I remembered a source of motivation that used to be my primary reason for learning while in Madison: for the sake of my students, present and future.  This has disappeared in Japan with the lack of teaching, and it was good to feel it pulling and pushing me from within, an inexhaustible source.  It reminded of how Bach dedicated every work "to the glory of God alone."  A reason apart from oneself.  

As I continued to practice I moved on to forms, trying to remember every part of every move.  During the second form, there is a turn-around and at that time I noticed that on the knoll above me, a older man had stopped his bicycle and was watching me, just standing there, watching.

Sometimes this happens.  It's something I've become accustomed to; I supposed I was something unusual to watch.  I kept working, focused on my task of reviewing forms.  A minute later he had come down and was there with his bike, pulling it over next to me, stopping and obviously wanting to talk.  Again, this happens sometimes, and it's fine.  I was in the middle of something but was ok to have a small chat, although I'm sure my apprehension showed.

I thought he said, "Nippon ga aru?" to me, which would mean something like, "Is there Japan?" but I gathered he was asking if it was a Japanese martial art.  I said no, from Korea, and he mentioned Karate.  I understood nothing of what he said, but found myself suddenly in midst of a marial arts lesson.  He immediately started to give me pointers on my punches, pointing to the space between his elbow and his body and the trajectory of the punch.  His instruction was extremely explicit and clear and I mimicked to see that I had understood.  He then gave me a pointer on kicks, on leading with the knee.  Again, his verbal explanation was lost on me, but his teaching was completely clear.  He confirmed that I had understood correctly.  The points he made were extremely basic, but exactly what I needed.  The lesson was over in less than five minutes.

As he left me, he mentioned a few other words that I understood, basically that he was very far along in Karate.  But I had already gathered that.  I thanked him as much as I could and then he got on his bike and rode away.

I reflected on the power of this master; on his kindness in watching me, on his strength to interrupt me, to look past my apprehension, to give me a lesson from which he thought I could benefit.  I reflected on his ability to take control of a situation after watching it, to work past cultural and situational inertia which might have suggested that he let a foreign woman practicing martial arts alone by the river to continue to practice without intervention.  It was an extremely powerful lesson.  A lesson in kindness, a lesson in respect, a lesson in teaching.  It was a lesson, that despite it's brevity, I think will stay with me for a long time.  I feel very fortunate to have encountered him this morning, to have received his forthright kindness towards a stranger.

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