Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Today was a national holiday, “Culture Day'” .. so I did something cultural. The Other Georgian, Big Brother, Ex-JET, and I all went to Himeji for the Hyogo Prefectural Martial Arts Festival.

The first part was participatory. We rolled in late (thanks, lostness.. you’re an ever-present pal), and asked if we could still join some activity. At this point I didn’t even care what I got to do, because they all sounded cool, and I didn’t really know what half of them were anyway. Nipponkempo? Jukendo? What? But Big Bro had his heart set on Nipponkempo, so that is where we went.

We stretched for approximately 2.5 minutes and then they strapped us in to some sweet chest protectors made of what I think was real solid leather, like in heroic times or like in video games where you have to start with leather armor. Then we all lined up and Other Georgian and I punched each other a few times before they formed a ring and started the practice matches.

Nipponkempo, by the way, is apparently boxing. Only, you can kick. And throw people, too.

I was not sure I would get a moment in the ring, and sparring was never my favorite thing in karate, but I was secretly really really wanting a go. I did get my chance, and tried to do all the ritualistic part right (when to bow, when to touch the ground, touch gloves, etc.).. probably failed. But the dude who totally let me win the match seemed mildly impressed. After this they taught us some moves, many of which I’d learned in a different form in what feels like a different life.

So then we cleared the floor and watched some tiny gymnastic dancers rehearse for a bit, and I did some thinking. Being barefoot on a martial arts mat brings something alive in me. I’m not thinking it’s because I was in any way born for it. I am incredibly clumsy and lack all but the most basic of coordination. I’m small and not especially strong either. I think it has everything to do with the fact that I spent some of those formative years of my life bouncing on the balls of my feet on martial arts mats. I fought tooth and nail for what precious little physical balance or semblance of skill I attained there, and the vestiges of it still have a way of making me feel energized. Somewhere in the hours and hours of practice we put in, my muscles remember something. What they remember makes me feel like I might be a little bit stronger and faster and more capable there than I appear.

It was cool to watch people who are so in touch with their bodies do their various things. And I mean, little tiny gymnastic dancer girls, karate dudes doing kata, and sumo guys stretching… they all had a great understanding of their bodies’ capabilities, and a practiced ease in the things they did. I miss that. I am in Japan and I miss martial arts. So I think I’m going to work a little harder to get involved in one. I really don’t think it will be that hard. If there aren’t classes nearby that mesh with my schedule, I can’t imagine our school Judo coach would refuse me, and the two Kendo teachers are two of my JTEs.

The downside is, I’ve never been good at the more judo-aspects of karate, and I’ve never swung a sword. So I’ll be flailing and bad at both these martial arts, which defeats the whole idea of feeling powerful and capable. Plus, I’ll be flailing in front of students who are supposed to try to respect me. Also, I can’t see it really being okay for me to grapple all over the mats with fourteen-year-old boys.

I’ll have to give it some more thought and research.

The other thing the budokai reminded me was that.. it takes a certain amount of strength to hurt someone. It takes more to not hurt them. And that the ultimate aim of growing stronger within a martial art is to gain not only the power to do harm, but the strength to control that power. It’s honestly true, that green belts are the most dangerous.. they know enough to hurt you, but not enough to perform their techniques both correctly and with just the amount of force that will not harm.

But you have to go through that phase in order to get past it. Sometimes, I feel metaphorically like a green belt in a lot of things in life. More on this later, perhaps. November writing challenge continues!

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