WEEK 30: Head, Shoulders, Knees And Woes

WEEK 30: Head, Shoulders, Knees And Woes


The clocks have gone back and autumn once again has its feet under the table with its endless fireworks screaming and pummelling every night and a carpet of slippery golden leaves festooning our north London pavements. It was dinnertime, 1pm (I’m from the North) and I had to walk to the doctor’s to pick up my blood pressure tablets (I’m also old). Tablets procured, I strolled back via the New River and it was while crossing a raised bridge that I slipped on the incline on sodden leaves, managed to balance it out to prevent landing on my backside but then overcompensated and fell forward on my knees.

Thankfully nobody saw it and at least I didn’t end up in the water. No harm done… until I started walking. Left knee… sharp pain. Come karate day (only one session this week due to Halloween), my knee was still giving me gyp and it was slightly swollen so it looked like an old lady’s leg. I mentioned my daft injury to Sensei Amrit before the session and when I pulled my karate trousers up to show the evidence I noticed that both knees were bruised.

Despite the occasional sharp jab of pain, the knee got me through the 90 minutes so I’m hoping I’ve been lucky. Maybe it’s a sprain. With Arsenal playing at home there were absentees but the four present drilled the kata heian nidan till our heian nidans bled – and the more I practise, the more is revealed. Grading is on 1 December, so we’ve still got a month to nail this and hopefully by then I’ll be back to optimum knee fitness – and I’m definitely feeling fitter in general this week (when I get a good night’s sleep, that is).

When I’m at home, I refer to a German diagram I’ve found online (see main image) to highlight the arm and leg spaghetti we have to learn. I’ve got most of it sorted as a working basis, having skidded up and down my living room with the sheet of paper in hand, but the problem areas for me are moves 2 and 5 and 21 and 22. Shall I talk you through heian nidan? I’ll talk you through heian nidan. It’ll assist with my revision anyway – so in a way, you’ll be helping me. And this blog was always devised as a two-way thing.

Upon hearing “Yoi!” and then shout out the kata you’re intending to showboat (“HEIAN NIDAN!”), you make a PG Tips cup and saucer with your hands at waist height (left off this diagram!), look to the left and thrust to the “television position” (1). I’m on BBC2, obviously.

There follows an arm faff (2), which, for the love of God, I can’t memorise. I’ve been in knots with this for weeks. Muddle through and thrust left hand out (3). Repeat on the other side (4, 5, 6) then it’s another cup and saucer – one sugar, please – on the hip and there’s a double kick and punch (7) – good fun, but keep the arm and protruding leg horizontal, not at angles – before a 180° spin for a convincing-looking karate pose with a flat hand in chop position (8).

Now we progress with our chopping along the dojo (9, 10, 11), before artfully spinning 270° to the window for two directional chops (12, 13), and turning back to do two more of the same (14, 15). Now we locate our thinking caps because the next few seconds are technical and require 100 per cent brain power.

Flap like a disco dancer for a right block (16), boot (17), punch (18), flap like a disco dancer for a left block (19); repeat boot and punch on the other side (20, 21). Then stick the kettle on again for another cup and saucer – and I think step forward into a double right block, ie: left fist at the elbow of the outstretched right fist (22). That’s the tricky section. Get to this point unscathed and the battle is won. A downward block (23) is the stuff of kata kihon – that’s Ladybird book territory – and then an upward block (24), naturally repeated to provide symmetry (25, 26). “Yame!

Include in this the additional thought process of remembering if you’re doing a forward thrust stance or backwards stance and you conjure an extra dimension to the challenge. But a challenge it is, and as we know, challenges can be overcome. The trick is to absolutely damn-well mean every move you’re doing – snap, thrust, swish and slash, and make it dramatic. It’s not easy!

So that’s my revision complete. Has it gone in? Has it seeped in to my cerebral memory banks? Next week I’m going to provide a bunkai explanation for every move – not to entertain you specifically, although I’ll try obviously, but to hammer home what each of these moves means from a practical standpoint. Why do a karate chop, why do a downward block, what does that double kick and punch actually achieve? I asked Sensei Amrit why there was no bunkai guidebook for katas but she said these existed but were hard to track down. We could make millions from a bunkai book! Who’s on board?

So my big fear this week was that this knee problem could sit with me until Christmas and curtail my ploy to go up a belt. My knee is OK but it’s painful to kneel and I feel a jolt of pain when I’ve been sitting and get up. Then again I’m 51 – you can’t be Peter Pan all your life. Be seeing you!