Loser Takes All

"...learning the strange cunning of the defeated, those weapons that are not weapons, the dharma of survival."
Vikram Chandra (Red Earth and Pouring Rain)

When a boxer stays away from the ring too long, he might lose his edge, when a karateca strays from karate he might lose his soul. But you can lose sight of karate right smack in the middle of the dojo.

What did it mean for me to walk into Kimo's dojo? I remember it as a peaceful chaos. Throwing people and getting thrown. Losing it continuously, fighting back tiredness with only a sliver of pride. Feeling a kick and a slap during Sanchin, getting hit in the ribs. Kimo jabbing a shiatsu knuckle in my butt to lower a back spasm. Getting reprimanded for my by now rotting Gi.

There is a strange cunning to be learned from not being that good a karateca, from knowing you look like a soggy pretzel doing kata. In a dojo you learn a lot of stuff you don't precisely understand. The ratio is sometimes 20 minutes of mechanics versus one of magic.

I took forever to learn saifa and more than ever to learn seiyunchin kata. The myth was that the old masters taught a new kata just once. Mind-boggling proposition. Miyagi surely would have kicked me down a ravine and good riddance. Kimo had just about given up on me with Kakuha, his signature kata. Then he told me to just do it however it came out when he attacked me. And so he did. I didn't have time to think I didn't know it because it simply meant I would get kicked again or punched in the face. They were not hard blows, they were humiliating.

Survive you must somehow. After many blows I felt no fear at getting hit. It happens and you got to deal with it. After a time I got used to being hit, thrown, limping through kumite, blocking with my fingers cramped and injured. Until I didn't care anymore about looking good or "winning."

Karate, empty hand. That is all you got. Nothing, but it's everything. You just got to know how to lose it.

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