And so we reach the final week of the year – for karate, that is. Here’s my festive opportunity to convince those in their 50s, people similar to myself who, like Bagpuss, are a bit loose at the seams, to get in a gi and belt through the belts.
I strongly suspected we’d be pushed hard this week and I was not to be disappointed. In our Monday hour, after the previous evening’s heavy snowfall, there was just me and brown belt Nikhil (hope I’ve spelt his name correctly) under the tutelage of Sensei Harris. The focus was on fighting, mainly one-on-one with the sensei – yellow belt v black belt. It was like taking on a lightning strike. Tonight I learnt that subterfuge is your ally. Don’t stare at the bit of the body you’re just about to thump; learn to be a trickster. I suppose there are comparisons with being a penalty-taker – give nothing away. Look at the left of the goal and dink it to the right. And when bopping an opponent, get in and get out as quickly as possible. Block, jab, and leap out of the road – 1 point in the bag.
By the second karate session of the week, north London was still under 7in of snow and the walk to the church hall on Green Lanes in sub-zero temperatures could only be undertaken with sturdy Doc Martens. Once inside, it was quickly apparent that this was not a bring-your-toys-to-the-classroom last day at school. One of the warm-ups involved crossing the hall but only using your arms and elbows. Feet had to be used as makeshift skis. Now, I’m a little over 13st; you can imagine the strength needed to pull that bulk along. By the time we’d done this, coupled with burpees, press-ups and squats, I thought I was going to suffer a white-out to match the wintry conditions outside.
Drills remain my major problem area. Remembering four or five blocks and punches while moving across the dojo, and then theatrically turning 180 degrees… will I ever be able to tackle these manoeuvres without forgetting where I’m up to? As you know, I’m a great believer in folk operating outside their comfort zone from time-to-time – but drills have become a psychological test for me. Surely this will improve in 2023.
A run through a kata of our choice brought the blood pressure down and my mark of 6/10 for my effort was marred by me having to think what my next move was midway through heian nidan – bearing in mind this is something I practise daily at home. Sensei Amrit said that I was “being a writer; overanalysing everything”, and this is true. For instance, my work notebook is full of instructions of how to carry out my job properly – a manual – should I somehow forget the basics. As Harry Hill regularly reminds, “You’ve got to have a system.” And that’s mine: written-out procedures. That has to change for karate! My second attempt at nidan was a slight improvement at 6.3/10.
Then we were shown the next kata to master – heian sandan. Exotic! This is more jaunty than previous katas, slightly camp in places, with some hands-on-hips action and rock’n’roll arm jiving. Very Adam & The Ants! I’m going to have a go at getting the basics mastered before we return to the dojo in the New Year.
And there you have it. I made it to Christmas. Despite a knee injury, an on-going thigh socket issue, a cold that walloped me and a bruised shinbone that has little improved since Monty gave my mae-geri kick a firm downward block in grading, I’m in one piece, feeling fitter, much fresher, of better mental state and genuinely pleased with myself for sticking at it and moving up three belts. If I can do this, you definitely can.
I’d like to thank Sensei Amrit and Sensei Harris for their stores of patience and driving determination to shape a few locals into martial arts maestros. They’ve earnt their break this year. I’m a changed man – a changed old man. I said in April that they’d probably think it was quicker to train a chimpanzee – but as it stands, a chimp would only have attained the same belt as me at this stage. So me and the ape are still neck and neck. Well, I’ll let you get on. Happy Christmas one and all. And make sure you watch Gremlins – the greatest festive film of them all. Be seeing you!