WEEK 33: Sick Note

WEEK 33: Sick Note


With three days off work, I went touring the country to catch up with friends and family, taking in the bizarrely named Kent country halt Headcorn to see Jayne Houghton, the former PR of my favourite band New Order, before racing to South Yorkshire for a night in Bawtry where my brother James lives. And as my stepfather’s 80th birthday was imminent, I popped in to see Mam and Keith with gifts and cards – straight from the train station. Three miles on foot through driving rain. I was soaked – and I think this was a key moment for the coming week.

Back in London, having missed Thursday karate at the local church due to my travels – my only absence since starting in April – I was walloped by the first cold I’d suffered since before Covid, and it was a corker. It started with the traditional sore throat on Saturday and by Monday I was in its feverish grip. I had to pull out of the early week karate class (I later heard that nobody could make it due to ill health) and instead sat in front of the telly shivering like a weedy pigeon.

By Wednesday I was wondering if it was pneumonia because I was having problems breathing. I know, I know, fellas with sniffles. But this would have killed the next man. I did what any sensible person would do under the circumstances. I poured myself a large glass of whisky and cued up Green Lions on BBC catch-up, the story of Cameroon’s heroic escapades in the Italy World Cup in 1990. It was a real tonic. Mrs Gale made me sleep downstairs because I was still exclusively mouth-breathing, and with three layers of clothing to feel warm, I slept properly for the first time since I’d returned from the North.

Thursday was soon upon us – main karate day. Mrs Gale inspected me in the morning and said, “There’s no way you can go tonight.” The bronchial coughing wasn’t particularly reassuring nor was the endless nose-wiping – and I didn’t want to spread this around the dojo. But as the hours passed, I improved – albeit still far from the convivial Lee that you are presented with today.

I texted Sensei Amrit to explain the situation, saying I’d come along if they were not overly fussed about me passing the disease from hell among the class. I was over the worst of it so I thought I was beyond the contagious zone (although the cold carrier can be infectious for two weeks I’ve just read online). I was told the door was open – and to Mrs Gale’s incredulity, I climbed into my gi and, wheezing ’n’ sneezing, headed out for hard exercise.

The internet is torn on whether rigorous exercise is beneficial to those with a bad cold. I certainly couldn’t have gone the previous day – I’d have keeled over and died. But I was on the mend. Some sites say you need to fully recover; others that it helps to open the airways. There was only one way to find out. My 90 minutes in the dojo, like a World Cup football match, was a game of two halves.

I arrived with my gi fastened the wrong way round. What a plonker! Going through blocks and punches on the move was almost impossible. I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to be doing – like I’d never done this sort of thing before. I was so pathetic that the pace car was called out in the form of Sensei Harris, who stood by my side and took me through each move. I blundered along.

Worse was to follow. Sensei Amrit called out for us to perform the kata heian shodan. I was like, “Shodan?” Bearing in mind I hadn’t gone anywhere near shodan while practicing at home because all my focus was on getting nidan mastered. Before I’d had time to recall the finer points of the kata in my head, off we went, all together. Mine ended up being a mash-up of shodan and nidan. I had to have a word with myself. This was unacceptably rubbish.

I’d settled by the time we tackled nidan. What we’ve got to remember is to make every move snappy. As we were told, “This is not a dance!” There followed some bunkai work, and I’m glad to say that my now world-famous bunkai chart (see main image) that I put together the previous weekend while ailing had helped me enormously. I take it with me everywhere I go. In fact, I’ve got publishers constantly pinging emails at me asking if they can release it across the world. Bunkai was once my weak point but I’m getting along with it now and I’m remembering what to do. You really have to put in your homework with karate – but it pays off.

We finished with one-on-one combat. Poor Monty was told that I’d be his partner for this. The first bout was shoulder-tapping. The second was kicking only. Monty’s bones are made of titanium so I made sure I got out of his way as best I could. It was great fun – loved it!

When I got home, I took off my sweat-soaked gi and returned to the nose-blowing and Olbas Oil sniffing (I’ll come back to the bad knee next time). Maybe I’ve had a cold at the right moment. Next week is grading. I would have been distraught if I’d missed it through illness. I really want that yellow belt! Now, where’s my bunkai chart?