Did you ever sing the wrong lyrics to a well-known Hit Parade record and only in later life realised that you’d been well wide of the mark? One of those for me, among many, was Matthew Wilder’s 1984 No.4 smash “Break My Stride”. Join in if you know the words… “Nobody’s gonna break-a my spine…”
The morning before karate on Thursday I did break my spine – well, it felt like it. I was unloading the dishwasher at 6.30am, bringing out a big plate, when – dwang! So now, do I have to perform warm-ups before taking part in general housework? When I mentioned this to Sensei Amrit she gave me a set of 10x “cat” warm-ups to complete when I wake every morning: feet on the floor, yawn, and cat back stretches forwards and backwards to stoke up my lumbar regions before any menial tasks. You’d think I was 81, not 51.
There was no Monday karate – Bank Holiday – but Thursday brought an outstandingly dull day in jury service. Sitting for hours, my back solidified. I contemplated crying off karate but I’d get martial arts fomo. By 7.30pm, Matthew Wilder would have felt my pain.
Press-ups with a crocked back is a rare delight but worse was trying to execute kicks with lighting-fast reflexes. I’m more construction site bulldozer than ninja at the best of times but I tried to hide my expression, which must have looked like a sort of quizzical flatulence. But karate is the cure-all and to my astonishment, my Hunchback of Notre Dame routine lessened.
The drill section was typically lengthy: L upward block, R punch, 90° to L, L inside block, R punch; 180° to R, R outside block, L punch, 90° to L, L flat-hand block and R dagger hand – kaia! And then, naturally, we reversed the whole drill. I was last to finish by a furlong in this endeavour.
Kicking practice was for round-house mawashi-geri, foot-strike yoko geri-kikomi and mae-geri – aimed at belt, midriff and shoulder. My feet soon had Sensei Harris’s gi acky-black. Daz Automatic required.
Cockily I thought I had the kata heian yondan pretty much in the bag and proffered my services early to showcase/show-off my moves. Duly chosen, I messed up on the cup and saucer side strike and elbow slap. I forgot the cup and saucer … I just slapped my elbow. I must have looked really daft – and worse, I was tutted.
Feedback: from first kiai! – slide L foot back, twist 180°, cross arms and lower them into a “U” shape – in back stance. Keeping hands outstretched, R punch, bring L fist back quickly and L punch. Then bring both fists back to waist and stretch to back stance again, crossing arms and bringing them again into U. L punch, bring R hand back rapidly, then R punch. And make sure the “head” you’re grabbing in the head-smash kiai! is at head height, not lamp-post height.
My favourite part of the evening is always the most violent bit, which invariably involves the breaking of elbows and knees and tonight was no different. This time it was part of the bunkai for yondan; in fact the first moves.
A punch swings R-handed towards your noggin, and you defend with flat-handed block but also flat-hand push to assailant’s face. They won’t like that. Mrs Gale certainly doesn’t – I practised it with her. While your attacker processes this unexpected data, you’re already on the move. Arms duck between attacker’s arm, twist at the wrist, get them where you want them – and hammer-blow on the elbow. Ding! Broken bone. Get a kick in the knee while they’re in a compromising position. Ding! Two broken bones! Now get outta there.
Let’s say your foe is left-handed – which would be unthinkable, because all the left-handed people I know are really nice. Regardless, the punch arrives from the left. Two-handed block again with one hand delicately touching attacker’s face. They won’t like that. L back-hand to the groin – and we must stop the film there.
I said to Sensei Harris, “What do you mean by ‘groin’? Because in the UK there are rules of engagement that means that below the belt is a general no-go area.” He was unequivocal. “Go for the willy.” So you glance the cobblers with a L back-hander. While the pain is in the post, R punch with a fist in the upright position (thumb at the top, like an “E”, rather then the straight on “M”. If your attacker has had a painkilling injection in the family jewels, for whatever reason, if he/she was to counterattack a flat fist he/she would be more successful than against an upright. Try it. It works.
I walked home on air. Showered. No wine. Read a chapter of a book (London Orbital – Iain Sinclair, haven’t read it for 20 years, superb all over again) and slept like a baby. The “broken spine” hung around to see Manchester United lose to Manchester City in the FA Cup Final but the lager and red wine that I sank in a Wandsworth pub with old friends meant that any pain by the week’s end was more focused in my head than my back. And I sort of remember giving my friends a karate lesson while wearing my Manchester United 1990 FA Cup Final Replay shirt. Oof. What a plonker!