WEEKS 64-76 Purple Refrain

WEEKS 64-76 Purple Refrain


Hello, have you missed me? I thought I’d check in with you to give you a progress report. Well, as you can see by the main image, I went up a belt – to purple, which is, I’m informed, halfway to black belt. Halfway to black belt! But the passage from green to purple was no simple task. In fact, it was a near-disaster.

Finding my left hip getting ever more sore, I had it x-rayed at the local hospital and the result was osteoarthritis – not sciatica. The doctor suggested physio. That’s all well and good when you have a stable timetable to work around but when you’re on long-term jury duty planning becomes problematic. The short answer is, you have to live with arthritis. Plod on.

In July we were due to be graded for purple belt. I came down with a virus and had to cry off, but it seemed that the virus had taken its toll on my fellow green belt at the dojo too and grading was postponed. We then went into a summer break – which for me was a few weeks to take stock and try and mix jury service with daytime job requirements.

With most people away on holiday, for three weeks I had one-on-one karate training, which kept me ticking over nicely – this was millionaire territory. Yet at the back of my mind was the niggling fact that Phil – a pal who lives locally – never progressed beyond green belt. Phil tackled karate when he was in his late 40s and when I bumped into him I asked why he’d given up and he told me, “It’s my knee Lee, it’s ****ed – I need an operation to make it right.” I thought, “Hmm, I’m not so light on my feet either with this hip – perhaps I’ve gone as far as I can take this.”

When the dojo was back to its usual capacity, with me surrounded by teenagers, I became monumentally confused on a fairly simple Combination No.1 ‘round-the-clock’ drill (prepare, punch, rising block, punch, outside block, punch, low block, punch, turn 90 degrees, repeat x3). I ground to a halt and felt gravely embarrassed. My kata, heian yondan, was far from exemplary and then I watched in disbelief as one of the teens ran through yondan, having done no karate for six weeks, and performed a perfect run-through.

By the time I’d put the key in the front door, I’d made my decision to quit. I couldn’t keep up, I struggled to follow simple instructions, my hip was bothering me, I was looking like a prat, I was holding up the dojo and there was no way I was good enough to shift up a belt. I’d reached my green belt ceiling. I was through, done, ex-karate.

That was Monday night. Come the day of the second karate session of the week, Thursday, Mrs Gale had suggested I wash and dry my gi just in case. “No point,” I said. “I’m too old for all that malarkey.” I’d already pushed my karate notebook out of sight onto the top bookshelf. Nevertheless, the gi went in the washing machine and just after it had been pinned up on the line, the sensei called – to discuss my resignation.

I gave my reasons – my age, stupidity, failing joints, etc, etc, and then heard a few minutes of “bigging up”. “My gi’s on the washing line,” I mentioned and then took a deep breath. “Shall I come along tonight? See how it goes?”

I noted there were no drills on Thursday, which gave me a chance to try and rebuild my shattered confidence and at the close of the session, we were told, “Grading next Thursday – I think we’re ready.” Gulp!

For a week, I practised kumite (blocks and counters), katas, bunkais and drills of my own making whenever I had any spare time. I worked really hard. By the time grading day came around, I thought, “Well, if you fail now, it won’t be through idleness.” I felt more confident in going up a belt than I ever had before. But there was a problem. I was coming down with a cold that had roared through our house – one of those pesky, scratchy, sniffly September school colds. Mrs Gale had really suffered with it so I knew what was in the post.

We were drilled for 15 minutes. On the whole I was fine, but still there was the stopping and starting as I tried to decipher the trickier instructions . But I kept going, with my throat become more prickly as every minute passed. Despite endlessly gyrating through the various katas in my living room, I had a stammer on heian sandan, but did a quick rewind and got on with it. Kumite was a shoo-in. Bunkai of sandan and yondan had been thoroughly revised and gave me no worries. Now, the moment of truth…

To be presented with the purple belt felt more special than all the other belts before – because a little over a week ago I’d given up. I’d told myself, “You no longer do karate – you’re a civvy again.” My predicament was described to me as a “wobble”. This one would have rocked a Weeble.

I’m glad I washed my gi that day. It was Mrs Gale who’d suggested it. And then the sensei talked me round. Now, of course, I feel a bit of high-maintenance numpty. The cold descended full-scale once I was back home and the joy of achievement was quickly subsumed by feverish suffering. This cold would kill the next man, I’m telling you. Let’s hope it’s shifted by the next karate class.