Sword and daggerI start the kata Bassai-dai with my feet together, knees bent, right fist touching left fingers, forearms at 90° to each other, fist in front of my mouth. It is a strange posture. You would not think it a power pose. My mind is whirring away: I want to memorise the kata, because I am fed up doing it in the centre of a group, trying to see what the others are doing, and following them, and barely getting the stances right. That looks like the arms windmilling again: actually it is the third block, then the second. So I have the video.

Alex said he watched the video over and over again, each count repeatedly to see what was going on, then to copy it, then to do one after the other, starting from the beginning, venturing a little farther in each time. So I do too. Which block is that? Which foot moves, and how? This morning (Tuesday) in over an hour I have learned the first ten counts in order, though I will have to refresh my memory tomorrow.

So I stand, tense, mind whirring, knees bent, mouth covered, tense. Suddenly, I- step through the looking glass. Or turn 1º away from the shadows at the back of the cave. I relax. From frightened and submissive I expand. This is my world, and I have a right to be here. I may do what I need to do.

Only in my living room. Only for a moment. I am not certain of it: there is an arguable case that thoughts like this make me less, not more, able to face the World. And yet it seems to me that my habitual way of being is frightened and angry and hiding away, and this is an alternative way of being, and the more I access it the easier it becomes. It is that meditative state of presence which I sometimes reach, kneeling in my ritual space, which I wish to reach in action and movement, and in social situations.

It is a state which I fear, and avoid. So I put off meditation and watch TV, or “play” spider solitaire repetitively, compulsively. In practice I do not simply relax and go there, reliably. This verbal analysis, probing and thinking, who am I? How am I?- is how I make myself more able to be in that state, for I notice it, approve it, pat my own back, pat my own head.

It might be useful to challenge myself. Not going to the Quaker meeting frightened me. Rather than dragging myself unwillingly I want to encourage myself to go back to CAB and other situations I find uncongenial.

Sanctifying had something to do with a sense of constant wonder – feeling gratitude and finding significance everywhere, in every action, relationship and object.
– Vanessa Ochs

Stance 18, pictured, is definitely a power pose. Doing it naturally, I sag. I have to think about standing properly upright with my arms like that. Count 18“Gratitude and significance”, I say to myself.

2 thoughts on “Bassai-dai

  1. I did Shotokan karate for a few months, didn’t continue – couldn’t seem to keep my eyes open whilst the punches were coming during sparring. I always loved katas though, especially Bassai-dai (didn’t know the spelling until today!)


    • Yesterday morning, I did it straight through for the first time. I need more practice, and I love that fluid spinning on the balls of the feet.

      This morning’s class: how do I get my weight out of the way of that punch? By pushing with one foot? It is much quicker and more responsive if I collapse the other knee, pulling as well as pushing myself. Rather than using strength to resist, I yield so the strength is wasted. Then striking, the tension is only in the last moment.


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