WEEK 3: Ichi, Ni And San

WEEK 3: Ichi, Ni And San


I should do myself a favour and learn how to count to ten in Japanese. Ichi, ni, san, shi, go, roku, shichi, hachi, kyuu and juu. I once stayed in Toyko for three months – way back in 1998 – but picked up almost no language there other than “yes” (hai… I think), “thank you” (arigato) and “beer” (biru). I had a few difficulties getting my hair cut with those three words. I’d never felt homesick until I went to Japan – it’s a long flight – but I’m enjoying my re-engagement with the Far East through my karate class. Another time I’ll tell you how the football team I played for out there reached the local cup final (we lost 2-0).

Our room at the back of the church, above, on Green Lanes had been earmarked as a substitute voting station, which would have meant the cancellation of the lesson. Maybe earlier in the day that might have suited me because I’d gone to the leaving do of a work colleague the previous evening at the legendary North Star on Finchley Road. I downed three pints and bailed at 8pm just as the mad Real Madrid v Man City game started, but then I got stuck into a bottle of Barefoot’s finest when I was home. Easily done. I went to bed drunk.

Nevertheless, Thursday is Lively Day. Oof! I was working at home so me and Mrs Gale did our Pilates-lite early on, me with a mild headache, then we played 45 minutes of tennis at dinnertime (lunch… I’m Northern). But I’d obviously slept awkwardly and had a crick in my back that felt like I’d been harpooned with a javelin that was perhaps the property of Daley Thompson or Fatima Whitbread.

It was a full house at karate. I mentioned my back twinge, which was noted, but as the others filed in, average age 12, I thought better of making any more old-man complaints. As for my toe with the nail-bed infection – I’m on tablets, OK! In the pre-sesh small talk, I asked the next-oldest person in the class if he was in sixth form or perhaps an apprentice somewhere. He’s 13. Thirteen and 6’1”. Younger than my own children. Eeh, dear.

The warm up was fine. I like the warm up. Roll your head, roll your shoulders, practise stances and flap your hands around. That’s all great. Running and skipping, I’m OK with that too. Press-ups – I like those. Reminds me of my football youth. No problems from 7.30pm-8pm, but 8pm-8.25pm is my difficult zone – the meat and two veg bit of karate. The important bit. This is the section with the actual karate moves (8.25pm-8.30pm is a warm-down – the best bit where you get to close your eyes!).

I had to team up with the 6’1” yoot’ to go through these moves. “You do this, this, this and this,” class leader Amrit expertly demonstrated. “Are you all OK with that?” “Oss…” or is it uss?… which means “yes”. Now, you have to learn these techniques to be able to perform the highly stylised hitting-and-whacking dance routine at the end of the hour called the kata. To say I’m hopeless here is doing failure a disservice. “Much better than last week, Lee!” I was told – but I wasn’t. I’ll have to learn the kata at home in my own time otherwise I’m never going to master it. Watching my fellow students, age 8-13, perform their kata – on the whole brilliantly – it’s clear that I have a great deal of hard work to do.

Next week it’s going to be 25°C. That’s shorts weather for me. I asked Amrit whether there was a tropical gi for sultry temperatures and the short answer to that was “no”.  I suspect I’m way off being allowed to wear a gi yet. But when I do, I might have to invent a summer version made from a light, breathable material with short sleeves and cut-off bottoms, otherwise I’m going to struggle.

A bit of trivia. Did you know that Nissan prefers the number 23 for motor racing? Two in Japanese is…? Ni, that’s right. And three? San. There you go, Nisan. You speak Japanese after all! Be seeing you!