Painful Lessons With Lumber and Fists

Since tonight was karate night, it’s time for some blather about studying karate.

One of the problems with studying karate in the USA is that a lot of the teachers take themselves oh so seriously. Instead of practical skills they focus a lot on fake mysticism and cliche buddhist quotes. Imagine going to a gun range to learn how to shoot a pistol and being taught Gun Kata instead of a reload drill and a Weaver stance.

They also let pseudo political attitudes bleed over into the teaching.  For example:

Conservative Dojo: “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentations of their women.”

Leftist Dojo: “You have hate. You have anger. But you don’t use them.”

??????? Dojo: “Let me test your midichlorians.”

Libertarian Dojo: “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side.”

Japan is, in general, much more practical, although you are expected to remember the techniques once they’ve been taught and apply them yourself. For example, back when I started studying karate, we (my friend Charles and I) were taught how to do a punch and then, after a few months, asked to do the board-breaking-thing. This isn’t the kind of thing I was looking forward to doing, but I though I’d give it a shot, especially after seeing the kids in the dojo mess up some half-inch boards. When it was my turn, the teachers took out a seven inch thick board (well, actually it was only one inch thick, but yeah, intimidating nonetheless) and said “Go ahead, break it.” Without offering any real advice. Remember, we’d already been taught the proper punching technique.

In a case like this, an American teacher would give you some mystical bullshit advice like “See the board. Be the board. Soon you will realize that there is no board. There is only you. It is not the board that breaks. It is you.” Now, it turns out, and in defense of American dojos, after my first few attempts to break the board failed, it WAS me that broke, or more specifically, it was me that messed up the middle knuckle on my right hand (the biggest one sticking up when you make a fist). It also, I have to say, made a very impressive sound that gave lots of people sympathy pains. Cut a golf ball in half, paint it purple black and blue and set it over your knuckle and you’ll understand what my hand looked like for the rest of the week. On the other hand, I was able to kick through board with no problems (except on the day of my black belt test–long story.)

At the next practice my sensei was “ahh, well, see that’s what happens when you try to punch the board rather than punching through it. Oh, and don’t slow down as you reach the board, you’ll mess up your hand.) And my reaction was “Thanks. Great advice. If I don’t have to cut off my hand to save my arm, I’ll try all that next time.”

Nothing mystical about it. Just a painful lesson. I did eventually break the board, then I moved to the Tokyo area and got a new sensei and have never been asked to break a board again. Instead, we started fighting in tournaments and I got the opportunity to understand the phrase “seeing stars”. But that’s another story.

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