More Sara Lee Than Bruce Lee
by Nancy Franklin
I signed up for karate classes because I figured a little ‘wax on, wax off’ would be good for me. As an older woman, it might make me less a target and more of a ‘stay away from that bee-atch’ kind of woman.
How proud I was when I first put on my dogi and tied that white belt around my waist (getting it right only after several tries). Then bowing and stepping onto the hardwood floor in my bare feet; sitting ‘seiza’, followed by the drums, meditation (‘mokuso’), the reciting of the ‘Dojo kun.’ I couldn’t wait to become a real badass!
Whoa, slow my roll! First, I had to learn deference and humility. There’s lots of bowing and saying “Osu” to your Sensei and others. “Osu” is pronounced like “ohsss” and means ‘I give my instructor great respect or understanding’. For example, “I give you great respect, Sensei, when you tell me that my Caesarian section will not burst open as I hold this position.” Or “I understand you are training me so that it feels as if my bones will explode into dust.”
Anyone who thinks jumping rope, hand stands and roundhouse kicks are good exercises for a woman over a certain age needs to have a talk with a gynecologist or structural engineer. At the end of almost every class, I felt like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz after his encounter with the flying monkeys– “That’s you all over,” as the Cowardly Lion said. My dignity, decency, grace, pride and poise were strewn all over the dojo.
Karate, when done correctly, is a beautifully choreographed representation of ancient fighting rituals. When done by me, it looks like a frantic person trying to ward off a swarm of angry bees. But with a dream of acquiring color-coordinated belts to go with my business suits, I advanced through my classes with the dogged determination of one seeking Louboutin shoes on sale.
One year, I competed in the senior intermediate division of kata at the Los Angeles World Karate Championships. At every turn, I was confronted by one of four Japanese judges whose faces suggested they’d spent the afternoon eating bad sushi. The best I could do was to ‘kiai’ as loudly as I could and hope for the best. I placed third in a hotly-contested field of four, only because the fourth person blew the opening kata move…twice. A trophy as tall as the Washington monument is now collecting dust, much like me, in the very back of the trophy case at the dojo.
Sadly, my time as a badass ended a few years ago. When your joints scream louder than your opponent, it’s time to hang it up. But karate was one of the best things I’ve done with my life. I lost 20lbs and my blood pressure and cholesterol levels improved dramatically. I’d never been more fit. I can also proudly say that I achieved brown belt status.
I may not be the karateka of my dreams, and I’m certainly still more Sara Lee than Bruce Lee, but if you ever need someone who can chop through streams of tap water or tautly-held toilet paper, I’m your gal!
Nancy Franklin writes about life’s absurdities wherever and whenever she finds them. She has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Slackjaw, The Belladonna and Points in Case, among others. More of her work can be found at www.mirthquakes.com. Follow her on @mirthquakes_.