WEEK 2: The Chimes Of Big Belly

WEEK 2: The Chimes Of Big Belly


I’ve been telling people in the office over the last week that my natural karate ability was spotted in my first session and that I’ve already been earmarked for a fast-track to a black belt. The reality is somewhat different, of course. After the latest class I reckon that if I can reach yellow belt in the next 10 years before hobbling down to the mobility scooter mart, I’ll be content with that.

If I’m going to get anywhere in karate, training once a week isn’t going to be enough. There’s too much to learn, too much to take in – and I’ve started late. So I’ve decided to do an hour’s karate at home on Monday evening. Nothing overly strenuous. A quick trawl online and I found an hour’s beginner’s tuition with an American fella, Ryan Hayashi, who, it soon became clear, would have no problem kicking your forehead anytime he so desired. How can you kick that high without tearing your seat? I mean, I played a fair amount of football until five years ago, but karate is a whole new world of booting. You raise your knee as high as you can and then flick your lower leg out, toes up. It’s far easier said than done. I could probably glance someone in the nethers, no problem, but I’ll not be kicking the frown off your forehead anytime soon.

I mentioned my problems about kicking to sensei Harry – remember sensei means teacher – when I arrived at karate class a few days later, and that I seemed to have about as much movement as an oak dining table. Seconds later, I was told that kicks would form the basis of our session. “Well… I… I… I didn’t mean…” I stuttered. But it was too late. Kicking it was.

Karate is balletic aggro – highly stylised thumping, kicking, lunging and blocking. Practising these moves while also focusing on your stance and remembering to place a fist on your hip afterwards is – to me anyway – a 3D puzzle. Can somebody in their 50s learn these moves until they become second nature? Right kick, right kick, right kick; left kick, left kick, left kick. Lunge, thump, fist on hip. Lunge, thump, fist on hip. Now do it in reverse. Repetition, repetition, repetition, and all the while stumbling about to avoid toppling over.

As the next oldest student in the class was 15, I had the sensei Harry as my mate for practice. Lower blocks are a headache. You don’t just swing your arm out. It’s more like a dance routine, starting with your fist at the top of your shoulder, sliding it down your arm and whump – lower block! Now let’s try an upper block. At one point, raising my right arm, then left arm, then right arm, then left arm, I couldn’t help feeling I was in an Adam And The Ants video c.1980.

It must be great going out for a drink with karate black belts. You’d be safe as houses. My dad used to go to karate in the 1970s and got to green belt. I remember him saying that if you ever found yourself in a situation in town on a Saturday night out and knew a thing or two about karate, for God’s sake don’t assume your karate stance when a lagered-up lout and his accomplices wanted to kick your teeth down your throat. First they’d burst out laughing and then, once they’d wiped the tears from their eyes, they’d take great pleasure in giving you a proper shoeing.

My dad also told me that one of his karate pals became a supremely good black belt and went on to do well in competitions. Dad would go drinking with him in town at the weekend. But this black belt had taken up karate purely to make himself a formidable fighter and after last orders in the pub, he’d drain his glass, point his finger at various strangers and say, “You, you, you and you, outside now,” and beat the living daylights out of them on the street.

I can’t see I’ll ever be representing Enfield in martial arts combat bouts and thankfully karate hasn’t been included on the list for the Paris Olympic Games in 2024, so everyone can rest easy. For now, I’m just enjoying the smug feeling that I’m doing something to burn off the “manopause” flab while staving off the inevitable grandadisation of the body.

Once again I walked home on a cushion of air via the Esso garage for wine and was in a pretty good mood the following morning. I weighed myself before my shower. 12st 13lb: the loss of 1lb in a week. Cause for celebration? Well, it’s a step in the right direction. Be seeing you!