WEEK 39: New Year, Less Biscuits

WEEK 39: New Year, Less Biscuits


Christmas, as is customary, whizzed by. One minute I was ordering a kebab with Mrs Gale at Has on Green Lanes for our now-traditional Christmas Eve take-away and the next I had the Antiques Roadshow feeling of anguish and dread knowing that it was back to work the next day.

Three weeks on from my last visit to the Church Hall, I stood in the gloom of the car park with a fixed gaze on the darkened glazing of the dojo. I’d arrived, as always, early. I’d done very little practice since we broke up for Christmas. Didn’t have the time what with visitors and visiting.

My alcohol, biscuit and salted-peanut intake had been excessive. My katas had been performed largely as showpiece exhibitions for inebriated house guests. I’d played one set of tennis, on Boxing Day, and been beaten because my knee had given way within minutes: I looked like Liam Gallagher spider-walking in my attempts to reach passing shots. NHS physios are not easy to pin down – and so I wait in a holding pattern with a crooked knee that refuses to fix.

As karate Thursday came around, all was not well at home. Mrs Gale had tested positive for Covid earlier in the day and was ill. Although I felt worn out, my Covid test had proved negative, and I put my fatigue down to a very busy Christmas. Even so, I was slightly worried about re-entering the dojo on this dank evening. How long would my knee last?

Not long as it transpired – five minutes at best. Shooting pains cascaded around the left kneecap following some rigorous warm-up exercises. I flagged up the problem and was given special dispensation to try less exaggerated karate stances. It’s embarrassing. As always in my personal peptalk, I’d told myself: “Do everything they throw at you and enjoy it.” But this was a tough workout – and despite the knee, I loved it. At times I was breathing so heavily I though I might black out. Christmas slovenliness is your enemy. I didn’t sweat this much even in summer.

I was mainly paired with black belt Sensei Harris this evening, which is great for me because I learn so much from him. There’s no monkeying about – he’s route one. No hiding places. We were practising blocks in a sort of fast-paced flow – jodan, chudan, gedan, jodan, chudan, gedan – which was bone on bone for the greater part. You’ve got to use the more fleshy bits but I’ve very lean forearms.

Then I was told to do this while looking directly into Sensei Harris’s eyes. Now, I don’t know about you, but Up North the one thing you never do is look directly into someone else’s eyes unless you want your teeth knocking down your throat or you’re asking somebody to marry you – and often the latter is done without direct eye contact. But, as I’m learning, karate is all about deception. If you look into your opponent’s eyes, you can’t give the game away – and it’s intimidating.

After working through four katas (including the new spectacularly jaunty heian sandan), we finished up the 90 minutes with combat competition. My first was with Sensei Harris, of course. Although he was hugely holding back, my endless blocking defences started to make my left arm chime. It’s a pretty colour as I write. The main thing is – fighting is really, really tiring. Three weeks out of the dojo has taken its toll. Further rucks against a fellow yellow belt and a brown belt meant I was gasping by the end of the session like a goldfish out of its fairground bag of tap water.

I limped around the following day – it was agony. My knee was its familiar twisted mess. What if I’m told that my 51-year-old body simply isn’t up to the punishment and I have to call it a day – even though the mental positives have massively changed my life? There must be a way through.

On top of this I’ve joined a gym with two of the kids, mainly because they’re lacking fitness and I think a bit of exercise will make them better able to deal with life pressure and make them generally more upbeat people. We start next weekend. Exercise has worked for me, so I know it will for them also. Twenty twenty-three is the year I get properly fit – and the left knee had better get used to the idea.