This is my first attempt at a diary. Please forgive transgressions.
I began Shotokan karate training in 1984.
Years of benign neglect left me crawling off of the dojo floor about twenty minutes into the warm ups during my first class, to collapse in a sweaty, overheated, and sick to the stomach heap of, gasping for air, flesh.
I showed up for the next class and I was smarter, it was better.
I really liked the art and remained a student and, eventually an instructor until November 2008 when a bus accident left me unable to continue.
There aren’t many pieces of equipment in a Shotokan dojo. There may be a stack of kicking pads in a corner but not a lot of anything else.
One piece of equipment that is prominent in most Shotokan dojos is the makiwara.
The makiwara is a board, usually a 4x4 split on the diagonal, with the wide end sunk into the ground or anchored to the floor. The thinner, springier foot or so top end is wrapped with straw or padding, covered with a piece of canvass which, may or may not, be wrapped with hemp rope. This surface is where you hit it.
It stands about four and a half feet tall.
The idea of training on the makiwara is to develop proper punching, striking and kicking techniques. This device allowed you to make hard contact but it also tested your stance, balance, rotation, tension and relaxation and how well you could connect your weapon (fist, foot, elbow etc.) to your technical basics.
The makiwara was a great training tool.
It stood there and took a beating. It didn’t hit back.
Kind of like my Democratic Party for a long time. The D’s logo could have been a makiwara.
So now I’m hearing the Romney/Ryan folks talk about the meanness and the Chicago Style politics of the Obama campaign.
Which brings me to the makiwara story below.
A major tenet of Shotokan Karate-do as voiced by its founder, Funakoshi Gichin, is, “Do not foster aggression”.
Shotokan is rooted in techniques to immobilize, force compliance and bring to a conclusive end,, an assault.
The basics of block and counter are a part of every class.
We are in class one evening when in walks Tom.
Tom is a high level brown belt about four months away from his black belt examination.
Tom has a big old black eye. It’s a beauty.
The story, as Tom told it, is that he was out for a drink, a guy gets rowdy just a bit too close to him, a “fuck you” or two gets thrown around, the guy jumps in close.
Tom holds his ground but did not see the punch coming, didn’t block, got clocked but got control, took the guy to the ground and held him until the bouncer took over.
It wasn’t very long after, at an evening training, when the floor was just buzzing with the gossip that Pete, a 2nd Dan (level) black belt, cold cocked some guy at a beef and beer and he was having a talk with the Chief Instructor in his office.
Our Sensei was a tough, little guy who made his bones under the brutal Japan Karate Association instructors of the late ‘50’s and ‘60’s.
He came out of the office with Pete and the assistant instructor called the class to line up and get ready to begin.
Pete assumed his place in the line and we went through warm up, basics, kata and sparring as usual.
Everyone had to train while getting past the distraction of what was going on with Pete.
It was a good exercise in focus.
The last half hour of class was dedicated to self-defense for street use.
Tonight was a little different.
Sensei had us line up in front of our three makiwara and every student performed ten punches with each hand.
When that was finished he asked us to sit down.
“I know that you all had Pete on your minds tonight. I saw it in the way you were training. There was something else in your heads beside karate”, he said.
“A little while back, some of you may remember the night that Tom came in with his shiner.”
“Tom was not the aggressor in that situation and his actions were true to what I try to teach here. The same goes with Pete”.
I think that everyone sitting on the floor had the same thought, “but…..but…..but….Pete threw the first (and only) punch”.
“The only difference that I can see between Tom and Pete is that Tom took just a bit longer to identify the aggressor”.
“Pete understood that having someone loudly get in your face and make threats was the beginning of the attack and, rightfully so, ended the assault.”.
“We learn from makiwara practice but we also learn not to be a makiwara.”.
“Hit ‘em back……………………..first”, he said.
He then dismissed the class.
It’s about time that my party chooses not to be the makiwara.
“Hit ‘em back, first!”