The other day, I punched a girl in the face and knocked her glasses halfway off. She’s the quiet, academic type, much smaller than myself of course, but she didn’t mind too much.
“It’s karate,” she said. “It happens.”
Learning martial arts is one of those things people decide they are going to do every time they watch Fearless, and although I decided to check out the several mixed martial arts gyms in the city during the fall, they were all extremely expensive.
That would’ve been the end of my dream of ever becoming a samurai right there, but then I heard Temple has a Shotokan club that meets every Tuesday and Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the IBC Student Recreation Center. I’ve been a member since January.
“Repeat the Dojo Kun,” said Bao Nguyen, president and founder of the Temple Shotokan club.
All of us in the club kneeled on the dojo, or exercise room, floor – lined up according to rank with Nguyen kneeled in front of us, facing away.
We repeat the Shotokan philosophy: “Seek perfection of character. Be faithful. Endeavor. Respect others. Refrain from violent behavior.”
When we finish this mantra, we bow to the sensei and say “osu,” which – as far as I know – means, “Yes, I am a kung fu master.”
When practicing Shotokan, it is more than just teaching participants’ bodies to memorize a series of steps in which they move forward, swing their hips backward and throw a punch in perfect synchronization. Participants are a part of something important and beautiful, so when they step into the dojo, the space where martial arts are practiced, they leave everything that isn’t Shotokan outside.
The dilemma I usually face is this: I am a fairly silly person, so shouting “Kiai!” while I punch an invisible opponent doesn’t come naturally to me. It also didn’t help my inability to take myself seriously when, in the middle of a serious, silent but strenuous practice of our kata, I let out a loud, coffee fart.
Having desecrated the dojo, I then began to laugh uncontrollably and mess up every move because I was laughing. I consequently made it nearly impossible for the people around me, who sympathetically tried to pretend they didn’t notice, to continue.
Fortunately for me, someone invented the color coded belt system in karate that handily identifies me as a worthless white belt.
“I started in a two-credit course here,” Nguyen said. “Then, Sensei Taka asked me to started a club, so I started a club, and I guess its been two and a half years [since it began].”
It’s a fairly new club and small enough to be personal.
At first, it felt more like I was playing make believe than learning a martial art, but the moves became more advanced and more fun. I began to respect and really consider the dojo kun, or rules. Showing up for the first week was easy, but making it twice a week throughout midterms and various personal crises became a discipline.
“More so than just seeking perfection of characters for yourself, we are seeking perfection of character in ourselves as a group,” said Sam Siporin, a junior business major and treasurer of the Temple Shotokan club, when asked how learning Shotokan has helped outside of the dojo.
I never thought I’d be serious about martial arts, but now, I’m testing for my yellow belt in a couple weeks. And I’ve been told I could make orange by the end of the summer. My “Kiai!” may sound like a really old man sitting down, but this stuff is just plain fun, so I think I’ll stick with it.
Greg Trainor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.