Sunday, 14 December 2008

Self-portrait with yellow belt

Ah karate, the gentle art of walloping. Last week, Sensei Jo was teaching us a sequence of moves, most of which - the kicks, the punches, the blocks – have obvious practical applications (as when you walk into your local alehouse announcing that Francis Bacon wrote Hamlet, and the Shakespeare crowd turns as one and whips out the knuckledusters). In amongst the kicks and the punches and the blocks, we did a fancy thing with our hands, something like grabbing someone's lapels and then brushing the dust from their epaulettes. And then we did another fancy thing, inscribing a circle with our left hands open and our right hands closed, the circle ending with the fist slammed into the open hand. I asked Sensei if the circle was just for decoration. As he answered I could feel my forehead scrunching the way it does when someone on the tram tells me there are too many foreigners about. "Not decoration," Sensei Jo was saying. "That's for when you grab his ear with your left hand and steer his head so that your fist lands on his temple and you get a sort of nutcracker effect."

So today I'm at my yellow belt grading, with a hundred other kids who I hope are not cultivating violent psychopathologies, and I'm thinking about karate, about how patriarchal it is (nine senseis at the grading today, all men; we bow to them), about how it sanitises and normalises violence, about how I've never actually walked into my local alehouse and said anything outrageous about Hamlet, about how in my real life, outside the Dojo, noone - besides my kindergarten teacher, once, lightly, on the palm of my hand - has ever hit me.

My Belt and I (special thanks to previous owner of Harlot Heights, who left her full-length mirror hanging on the wall)

In the first flush of my karatage, about five months ago, I was walking the streets feeling strong and steely, willing miscreants to fall upon me, just so I could show off my snappy backfist and the clever thing I can do with my foot. I'm warier now, having done some sparring, knowing that I tire quickly and that even if I protect all the bits of me that matter, a fist in the flesh of my forearm still leaves a bruise. If miscreants came anywhere near me, I'd run.

I'm growing more familiar with the mechanics of my body, and movements that seemed impossibly complicated are becoming simpler. I watched the brownbelts sparring today. There were headlocks and kicks thrown high around the ears. Trippings and taps and swift secret jabs below the ribs. They wore mouthguards and genital boxes and padding all along their limbs. I found myself wanting it, that skilled exhausting combat. What evil thing is it in me that wants to fight?

7 comments:

Ampersand Duck said...

Nothing evil! Why should the boys have all the fun?

I haven't been so excited by recreational sport reportage since I read Helen Garner writing about fencing.

Go girl!

[DB: uningit, which I think is the unbecoming of gitness]

Mark said...

Congratulations on the yellow belt and commiseration on the conflicted feelings about karate. If only you could personify them and then give them a swift kick in an area not protected by a genital box.

Your post brought back similar memories of when I did karate as a lad (I stopped at 15 just before my blue belt grading), especially the sense of better understanding the mechanics of one's body. Before I stopped I ended up really liking the discipline of learning fast, exact and powerful movements combined in a complex sequence.

I tried taking it up the same style (Soo Bahk Do) again at university but the instructor put a heavy emphasis on sparring over forms and combinations and I stopped after two lessons.

Good luck with those Bacon-denying crowds!

Martin Kingsley said...

I'm with ze Duck on this 'un, since gratuitous and highly specific violence amongst those who come prepared for such is an underappreciated joy in these here sanitised times, and should be enjoyed by all and sundry, irrespective of gender. Violent psychopathologies are useful and can be quite fun, provided you also cultivate compartmentalization and a healthy appreciation for context, so that you don't start to believe that hurling people by their eyelids into the street is an appropriate way to, say, punctuate moments of overly polite political tension during the G8 conference or negotiate the trickier moments of a romantic night-out with your lifeform of choice.

JahTeh said...

'a nutcracker effect', I like the sound of that but I'd be inclined to take it further south than the forehead.
If you don't do anything else, you could flick and take someone's eye out with the natty yellow belt.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Aw, thanks, team. You have invigorated my faith in violence. (And Helen Garner fencing! I'd like to see that.) Kingsley, you show uncanny wisdom for a callow youth.

Mark, you stopped at just the right time. The green belt is such a lovely colour.

Copperwitch, if ever I need to raise guerilla forces in a hurry, I'll know who to turn to.

Ampersand Duck said...

So would I.

The Feel of Steel. She has it.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Does she ever. I have a complicated relationship to la Garner. (While she has no relationship whatsoever with me, so I guess she won't bat an eyelid at my saying this.) I've read two books of hers this year - The Spare Room, which I admired for the narrator's ugliness - and - very belatedly - Joe Cinque's Consolation, which infuriated me, for the way it tried to train us away from empathy with Anu Singh. And (of recent decades) she's constantly exposing the badness or pettiness or manipulativeness of women, while figuring men as occasionally foolish but fundamentally decent. It feels like she's apologising for feminism. Still, I'd like to see her fence. She's sharp where it matters.