When I woke up Wednesday morning, I felt like my body had been flung into a hardwood floor, perhaps more than once, on the evening before. Later in the day I discovered the bruises to prove it.
Because I had got to thinking again, and you know how dangerous that can be.. and I thought, you know, I’ve sweated through a shirt while outdoors in the afternoon climbing a mountain, but what I haven’t done in a while is sweat through a shirt indoors while punching at invisible targets. Basically, I hadn’t been to a karate class in an un-air-conditioned space in August in Japan.
Seeking to remedy this issue, I stopped in at the nearby sports center to inquire as to whether there were an available class. I did not perfectly understand the guy behind the counter, but he ended up writing down a bunch of stuff for me, all in kanji (really, I appreciate the implication assuming my literacy), the gist of which was, there are karate people, they get here at 7pm, they use that room right over there. Come on Tuesday and meet them.
Tuesday night, I toted myself and another ALT, I think I’ll call her Ze German (this is an almost totally racist application of nickname and may later be rethought; Ze German is the replacement for TheCat, and is strikingly her opposite in appearance. TheCat was short, dark, and Asian; Ze German is tall, fair, and blond/blue-eyed. But she also took German or participated in some kind of German club, so…), to the sports center, where she would have tennis and I would have “karate.”
It’s not actually karate, it’s Shorinji Kempo. They spent some time explaining the difference to me at different points during the class. On the ground, the punches are different, but the integration of self-defense and more natural stance work into the system is not foreign to my brand of karate.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
So there we were, but even just upon my arrival, the old dude behind the desk was trying to tell me he’d made a mistake (he actually just meant the I-sent-you-to-Shorinji-Kempo-when-you-asked-for-karate mistake, as well as a new revelation that the kids’ class started at 7, the adults were from like 8:30.. shoot). But then the sensei showed up and all seemed to be well. Older, with silvering hair that suggested he’d one day have the hairdo of Epic-sensei, he carried himself with that calm presence that martial arts guys sometimes have. The very self-assured, I can kick your ass if I have to, but I basically never have to kind of mien. He regarded me with a smile devoid of confusion or worry. My foreignness and potential inability to speak Japanese did not daunt him. My femaleness and potential inability to handle shit did not scare him.
True martial artists are rock stars, and beyond.
Before he’d even arrived, the kids began opening up the room, turning on the fan and opening the windows. I guess I expected there to be mats on the floor, but it was hardwood like any gym surface. Better for balance and harder on falling, I guess.
I recognized one of my elementary students in the class, the kid who plays janken like his life depends on the outcome of that rock-paper-scissors contest. I followed the class as best I could, encouraged by the presence of a girl beside me much younger and newer at all this than me. Encouraged, too, by the way the slumbering memory of how to move in a martial arts setting cocked its head and paid close attention.
All things considered, I was on fire. Of course, my arms had a tendency to resume the fighting position I’d practiced first, and my punches had a tendency to rotate. The guy assigned to work with me noted these things but was overall pretty impressed at how quickly I was picking stuff up. There was a zen meditation and I was also taught how to sit down and stand up and get into stance properly. We worked on ukemi, forward and backward rolls. All this and more I kind of remembered, and I threw myself into it all with intensity and alacrity. Maybe I’d been caged too long.
There was So. Much. Sweat. But that was okay, too. I noticed it and considered it a good sign of workin’ hard.
Another good sign of hard work is the soreness that follows. But apparently, your muscles will be mad in the morning if, after years of not doing a thing, you do it at 100% and many times. And, if you never really rolled correctly on your left side, you might end up with bruises to prove it. What cracks me up is that I have visible bruises on both my left shoulder and the back of my left hip (about where your backpack would sit.. ow), but not on the right. I did it properly, it seems, on that side. So Tuesday night felt good, even if there was so much sweat. Wednesday morning (and beyond), there was just So. Much. Pain, between my bruises and the ridiculous soreness of everything.
But that’s just the kind of thing that makes me want to try again, to see if it gets any easier.
I thought about my full schedule and how I might have to give up a little of my girliness or scholarliness if I want to pursue martial arts (and I do, whether it's this Kempo stuff, or straight up karate, to which the desk guy gave me info... they meet on Sundays). I spend a lot of time going to Japanese class, taking things like ikebana, etc. I feel like my badass side needs a little nurturing (martial arts, maybe taiko drumming) so I too can be as a Valkyrie going into battle maybe once a week-ish.