Friday, November 21, 2003

The Missing Piece
For 5 years, I have been waiting to live in one place for long enough to find a karate school again. From 5th grade until I graduated from high school, karate was a large part of my life, one of the most constant activities I've ever had. Certainly, there were times when I was not so eager as at others, times when I was frustrated, but it also inspired me more than anything else many other times. It shaped me and in so many ways made me the person I am today.

But when I went to Grinnell, marvelous place that it is, there was no one there who had any interest in Shotokan, let alone anyone who had more experience than me or a school within driving distance. Therefore, if I wanted to practice, I had to teach, which I did, and not unhappily, but it was a far cry from learning anything new for myself. Even practicing more advanced kata on my own wasn't as satisfying as practicing in the atmosphere of a school of equally enthusiastic karate-ka. I tried in Japan, as well, but Shotokan was not taught in Sendai, and Shorin Ryu was just different enough to be annoying, particularly with a teacher who didn't seem thrilled to have a not-totally-fluent foreigner in his class.

Yesterday, though, I found a school. (Please cut their site some slack.) It's not Shotokan either, but rather an earlier form of Okinawan styles, Ryu Te. The kata appear much more similar to Shotokan than the Shorin Ryu kata were, which is of course a point of major interest for me. The main difference between the styles seems to be that Ryu Te is far more fluid and focuses less on power and more on form. It is, it seems, exactly what I want. In just the first night, the teacher showed me modifications from Shotokan to Ryu Te style that left me thinking, "That's the way I originally wanted to do it when I first started karate." So many times, I was told that the form of the kata was great, but I needed more power in my techniques. But you don't need to rely on power if you do your techniques right. I can't wait to learn more of the fluidity of this style.

Tonight, I went again. This time, though, I went to a weapons class. My old school was my home for 8 years, and I loved it, but I always wanted to learn more weapons techniques, and having seminars a few times a year wasn't at all enough. This school teaches all sorts of weapons: bo, jo, tanbo, sai, manji sai, tonfa, nanchuku, kama, and eku. Since I have sufficient prior martial arts experience, I could start weapons classes right away, too. Everyone starts with the bo, that being the traditional specialty of the family from which they take all their kata and the basis for many of their techniques. I cannot really express how much fun it was.

Mark says his mother expressed surprise at how much time I am willing to devote to doing this, since I plan to go 2-3 times a week. The thing is, it feels like I rediscovered a missing part of my life. I've been missing going to a karate school for so long. There's something about the atmosphere, the instant knowledge that I share the same appreciation and enthusiasm for this thing as everyone else around me, that I cannot recreate on my own. The fact that it is a small school, even smaller than Emory was, really makes it even better, because all the people there are people who really want to be. I am learning things again. I have goals to work towards. I have something to look forward to again.

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