My daughter started taking karate about 4 or 5 months ago. The class meets once a week at the local community center and, as karate instruction goes, it’s kind of low key. It’s nothing like I remember. When I took karate as a kid it was terrifying; the instructors were strict and the practice was extremely regimented. Everything was very serious. There were tons of rules to remember, which to my kid brain translated into a gazillion different ways to screw things up. I swear I felt like I was going to throw up every time I went.
For better or worse, this place isn’t like that. My daughter’s sensei is a second grade teacher who offers the class in the evenings and I think that comes through in his style.
The students, mostly 9-12 year olds and a few teenagers, do have to bow in and out of the dojo, they do use some Japanese in the class, and they do have actual belt rankings, but otherwise, they fly pretty fast and loose. The sensei keeps it casual.
Except when he doesn’t.
Like a few weeks ago when a guest sensei was visiting from a nearby Jujitsu dojo. Halfway through he announced that after the bathroom break (I don’t remember ever getting bathroom breaks either) they would be working on defense against a knife attack.
Hmm, I thought. Now I’m interested.
When the kids came back the Jujitsu guy began explaining the basics of knife fighting. But the younger ones were tired and fidgety and weren’t paying as much attention as they should’ve. So he raised his voice and told them that this is real; that he’s been shot, he’s been stabbed, he’s been attacked by three guys at once, and these are the kinds of skills that saved him. (And I couldn’t help thinking how chicks love guys with sweet nunchuk skills).
But this guy was for real, and you’d know it if you saw him. I’m just not sure he had the right audience.
So he passed out the rubber knives and finally he had their attention. Duh. His first lesson was “to try and get away from the knife. Absolutely. But if you can’t, go ahead and grab the blade.”
I’m sorry, what?
Every mother in the room raised her eyebrows at the same time, like we were doing some kind of choreographed number.
And then he demonstrated with a partner. “If you’re fighting for your life you grab the blade,” he said, grabbing the rubber knife, “then you slit the throat.” And he flipped the fake knife around and ran the blade edge against his partner’s throat. “You grab the blade. And slit the throat.”
Wow. Really? That’s maybe a little much for nine year olds. But he had their undivided attention. The whole room was silent, staring wide-eyed at his demo.
Me? I was living the Rex Kwon Do dream: Take a look at what I’m wearing, people. You think anybody wants a roundhouse kick to the face while I’m wearing these bad boys? Do you?
Then last week the regular sensei was impressing upon the kids the importance of practice. How repetition will not only help them learn the moves in their mind, but also in their body. So that when it really counts it will be automatic and they can rely on muscle memory.
But most of these kids don’t care, they’re not training for when it really counts, they just want to spar and fool around.
His voice deepened and he said, “What are you going to do in the ring? What are you going to do in the STREET?”
I looked up and found the little boy in front of me standing on his toes so he could get a better angle at the wedgie he was vigorously digging out of his rear. And then he shrugged his shoulders. “I dunno.”
Yeah, me either. Our crane kick may not be ready for Johnny and the guys from Cobra Kai. Just a hunch.