WEEK 50: Bangers And Smash

WEEK 50: Bangers And Smash


The cold and sniffle had finally cleared and although I missed Monday’s fitness hour in the gym/dojo because I’d been invited to the Golden Shears young person’s fashion awards in London’s City (you weren’t expecting that, were you?), I was feeling, if not cock-a-hoop by Thursday, fairly fit.

The usual hour before Thursday’s karate was spent in usual gi trousers and T-shirt at home practising my katas, running through my kumite blocks and moves and scanning my World-Famous Heian Sandan Bunkai Chart. I still haven’t got my kumite sorted to an acceptable level. I’m fine following written instructions but keeping that information in my head is a real issue for me – but nothing new.

For instance, around 10 years ago I had the bright idea that I’d interview famous people live on stage to, as they say, “maximise the income streams”. I also thought it was healthy to put yourself phenomenally out of your comfort zone. I only did three in the end – Declan Lowney, the director of Father Ted, Charlie Higson from The Fast Show and singer-songwriter Luke Haines, formerly of The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder.

For each of these I tried to learn a script, complete with a five-minute intro. Not for love nor money could I memorise any words and as it transpired I made a financial loss on all three interviews anyway. With Haines, I changed tack and just drunk loads of red wine during the Q&A. That one panned out OK. But I see parallels with those interviews and trying to master kumite.

The clock span quickly and before I was fully kumite happy at home, I was out in the slashing rain and heading at full steam for the Green Lanes church’s back room/dojo. It isn’t a great feeling not being properly prepared but I thought as long as we don’t do that circle thing where everyone takes turns punching you in the head and chest, and kicking you in three different ways, and you having to show your kumite responses, I’ll make it through the night.

“Right then,” said Sensei Amrit, “we’re going to do that circle thing where we each take turns yadda yadda yadda…” The circle of death! The personal destination blind BUS NOT IN SERVICE arrived more quickly than even I was ready for. The punches came on both sides of the body and I became stuck in a familiar quagmire of self-doubt and a resultant brain freeze. Maybe I should get sozzled on red wine before karate, like I did with Luke Haines.

All was not error and ineptitude in our hour, mind. I thought our katas were pretty good and I even received a round of applause for my much-improved press-up style (I’ve been practising).

To finish there would be a sort of soft tappy-tappy combat. Although I thought my is-it/isn’t-it fractured right hand (the x-ray results have gone astray so I’ll never know if it was a break, fracture or muscle tear) might be better rested up for at least another two weeks, just to be on the safe side, I instead grabbed my fighting mitts and thought, “It’ll be fine – it’s almost non-contact fighting.”

Perhaps emboldened by my Heathrow competition performance (in which I hurt my right hand – oof!), I went on the attack and thought that chasing a few teenagers around the floor would do my spirits the world of good. And this worked for a while. Then, against a brown belt, came the lightning side-kick. My slow-moving attempted block with fingers spread like a fan was in Silly Billy territory. There followed the stab of pain in my wedding-ring finger – my left hand; not the suspected fractured right.

Straight to the kitchen and under cold water. It. Stung. Like. A. Bugger. I thought, “Mrs Gale will be annoyed.” You see, Her Of The Indoors loves playing tennis and I can’t lift a racquet up at the moment with my crocked right hand. I departed the dojo saying, “It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s just a jolt, that’s all.” In the fog of pain, I heard Sensei Amrit shout out, “It’s grading next week!”

By the morning my finger was a Porkinson banger with a tight wedding ring splitting the swelling in two. For the first time in almost a year of karate I felt strangely vulnerable – to injury and pain. Mrs Gale has gone from passionate supporter of my karate adventure to tentative, stand-off fan. In fact is was Mrs Gale who suggested I call 111.

In hospital, the Portuguese doctor told me about his old jiu jitsu days and rather than rush me through the x-ray he closed the door and conspiratorially told me about some of the fights he had in his youth. The x-ray results, once they came, showed no break or fracture but he wanted to remove the wedding ring by sawing it off. I managed to talk him out of this, but I was told no punchbag work for at least two weeks – but I’d be fine for press-ups. In short, I’d be back in business in a fortnight.

Before I departed hospital, Dr Portugal handed me a roll of tape and I was told to always wrap it round my middle two fingers before a karate session. As for combat, I need to develop an alternative strategy. My attack-dog routine has presented me with precisely two injured hands in a month. That, in my book, is failure.