THURSDAY MORNING COFFEE – When it’s for real

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Karate practice with weapons. Same old, same old… until a man deflects my attack at half-speed. His Okinawan sickles, or kama, are a natural appendage. Block. Hit my chin. Cut my arm – break my rib. Grab my neck with a wicked sharp blade, grab my hip and THROW. His half-speed  rushes down a mountain, curved road and no railing in the turns. Suddenly even a wooden weapon feels “for real.”

So if you’re lucky, like I am, you have a teacher that can transport you to that time-space where things are “for real. ” Over and over. Precise control. Distance, speed, reach. That twist of the hip would embed a steel blade two inches into my flesh. A wooden blade would bruise me – but not today, not with his precise control that took decades of dedicated practice to hone to perfection. And I’m in awe, once again, at how far I have to go.

“Let it flow.” “Relax.” “Use gravity – you need to fall to use your whole body… ” And that’s all fine and well, if you trust yourself not to let your flow become an overflow. If you can relax without relaxing too much and getting careless. If you can fall and catch yourself in time. Because, you know, the biggest human bone can withstand 57lbs of pressure, and a rib or a clavicle will snap at 20 – and if I fall as freely, as naturally, as I’m supposed to, then the hefty weight behind my blow might do the sort of damage I won’t be able to fix.

Too late for second-guesses. Accidents do happen and I’m a klutz, but I let it flow. Trust the technique, or else it won’t trust you. As the weapons arc and swish around me, splitting air and grabbing limbs, I hold back. Careful, hesitant.

“Don’t hit my hip, hit my ribs!” But what if I hit too hard. “Don’t be polite.” Ahh, and therein lies the rub. For once we bow to one another, we loan out our bodies. No need to be polite. Just… considerate. Controlled. Get inside that personal space. Break that personal bubble, hip against hip, shoulder into chest, blade against the throat – but don’t betray that trust. Small, mirrored room, six people, twelve blades whistling through the air. Reflection of one person mauling, throwing another. Like a preying mantis, using wicked blades as eating implements.

We bow – and it stops. Just people again, slightly eccentric, dressed funny, with strange wooden objects in our hands. It’s not always like this, feral and wild. Those moments are a rare gift, bestowed by the ones who dedicated their lives to preserve an ancient art. To pass it on. Those moments – they are precious. Shimmering droplets in a gray-streaked river of time, reminding us that what we do is, indeed, for real.

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