Leaving karate

File:Falls of Kirifuri at Mt. Kurokami, Shimotsuke Province LACMA M.2011.135.2 (1 of 2).jpgInsensibly, I moved from “I won’t go to karate tonight” to “I don’t go to karate”. None of my reasons would have been enough by itself. Even now, the shin guards are in the bag, ready.

There we are, dancing, kicking and hitting without hitting anything. I had just found what a difference hikite makes to my snap. When I punch or block with my left hand, I pull my right hand back, palm upwards, fist at waist-height. This seems counter-productive. The non-striking hand is needed for defence. Yet it feels as if it adds force to the blow. I don’t feel great aptitude for sparring (kumite) and while I felt I could get to Presence, or singleness of mind, in kata, I did not feel it in kumite. “Don’t be so tense,” people said.

I felt no hostility because I was trans, yet I did not like practising without my wig. I kept an old one, the hair flat, almost matted, for sweating into. Sometimes, I had to take it off, as a Gi is warm. Once, last Summer, I came home and ran a cold bath to cool off. I used to go round the community centre turning the radiators off. I was perplexed and disconcerted when S, who is about 4′ tall- ten?- went round turning them all on again, after. This felt like a challenge. How to respond?

File:Hokusai portrait.jpgCertainly not as, when we were advancing across the hall, turning, advancing back, and always turning back foot muarte so as to move down the hall towards the door, to crowd her against the less experienced children. That felt like bullying. Then we practice second kata together, I concentrate on hikite to get my blocks full focus, and she did it faster than I.

There were other reasons as well. £6.50 per evening, when the tutors are all volunteers, seems steep. Mick’s class on Monday evenings, with its difficult balance of keeping discipline yet entertaining the many young children who turned up, was too much for the children for my taste. That is great- start them at seven, and by fifteen they will be naturals, skilled for life- yet it was not the class I wanted. I preferred Andy’s high-priestly seriousness, his humour there as an undercurrent, carefully fitting moves together. Mick by comparison did not always seem to get quite how to make a sequence of blocks and blows. Andy’s class was where S. was.

I rather resented learning kata by standing in a line doing them. I can’t see what is going on, and I can’t remember the moves from one week to the next. I spent hours in my huge living room with the videos, learning Saifa, Bassai-dai and Seiunchin. I need to do one count repeatedly, and learn what each limb does, rather than running through the whole, however slowly. (The DVDs are still by the telly, not away on a shelf somewhere.)

Lots of reasons. I can’t get to grading on Sundays as the bus does not run, and I have something else scheduled for each second Sunday of the month. Mostly that girl, though.


HikiteIf I strike someone, why on Earth would I pull my other hand back so that the fist, palm upwards, was by the side of my lowest rib, and my elbow pointing backwards? Is that merely silly? A sensei tells me to practise hikite. Oh, OK then.

An aim I have is to strike in a state of no-mind (if I use the word correctly)- the autonomous nervous system does what it need do, and my fist comes out with the right force to the right place. I might also say, striking with my Qi. If my conscious mind judges what I do, I become tense and robotic, so that my strike is less powerful. So I practise striking the air to learn what the ideal muscle movements are, so that I can later make them, without thought. Striking the air must satisfy any tuptophilist desires. But why would pulling back the other fist be part of that?

I am bothered about the strength of my strikes. Perhaps I need more press-ups. Oestrogen takes away muscle strength, which is why the IOC allows trans women to compete as women. (That link- I can’t actually find the recommendations themselves.) Oh well, try it.

As I perform the different set blocks, slowly, I concentrate on that hikite of the other limb. The full force of the striking limb should exert just before contact, rather than throughout the strike, and the pulling back of the other limb occurs in that moment. It seems that the movement of both limbs enhances the force of the striking or blocking limb,http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/47/Gogen_and_Goshi.jpg/518px-Gogen_and_Goshi.jpg even though the torso stays in the same place and the withdrawing limb goes in completely the wrong direction. The sense is clearest in the blocks- I contract the back muscles on both sides at the same time, and that feels powerful. In a strike, it is the chest muscle on the striking side that contracts: the value of hikite feels less. In the mirror, however, I see my hips moving as I strike: this could be the way of putting the hips into the strike.

In sparring, I want to use my other limb for a quick follow-up strike, or at least to block possible blows. Having it by my side seems useless. One rule of interpreting kata is that “a hand returning to chamber usually has something in it”- grab a wrist or arm or hair.

Speculating wildly, perhaps mammals fighting, being more open, prevents males doing too much damage to each other; or it could have something to do with the efficient way a quadruped walks or runs, moving opposite limbs alternately.

Taigyoku shodan, first kata. At my level, I am allowed to have two stages, preparing then moving. First count- prepare: place left foot, look to left, left fist at right shoulder preparing for gedan berai; then move- turn at hips to face left while sweeping the left hand down; at the last moment pull the right fist into chamber. With force. Having so much to think of before it may flow without thought, I need to practise each count separately and repeatedly. And- it appears that the hikite may increase the force of the block. Unless I am just fooling myself.

Why hikite?

Grizzly bears fighting

Kata seminar


Shihan and senseiI looked at the attractive woman in her thirties, and caught her eye. We reached an unspoken agreement, and smiled. -I’m Clare. -I’m Lindsey, she said. Then we started hitting each other. Funny way of spending a Sunday morning.

Each blow was practising a particular move, explained by Shihan Stacey Karetsian. My problem is that the blow has to come in very slowly before I may see it and block it.

There were over two hundred of us in a sports hall in Nottingham, to hear Shihan on kata. First we did press-ups, and I am mortified to see how few I could do, even girly press-ups, balancing on the knees rather than the toes. He said to make the strike count, we need that upper body strength: chest, back, biceps, triceps, exercised by variations on the basic- he called them “push-ups”. Squatting, and rising very slowly, holding position, can get the thigh muscles working. So can staying in sumo stance.

What do I take away? Lower the stance, making it stronger and more stable. There is not one bunkai (application) of any one move in a kata, but whatever you want, or can make of it. For example, a block can be used as a strike.

Gichin Funakoshi- I only heard of him on 26 March, and I am fascinated- could defeat an opponent without a strike or block, by facing them down. Reading that, I see how at the moment I cannot. I practised Seiunchin for this morning, and because I am fed up with standing in the class on Saturday, seeing others make moves and not knowing what P1000638they were doing, so just adopting the posture they end up in. This morning the orange and yellow belts were told to do Saifa, my next kata for the grading, and I made a mess of it, among several others all doing it correctly. I hear the snap of the gis around me, and botch, after all that practice.

I wanted to ask why we teach kata in that way. I was rather hoping for a mystic explanation from morphogenetic fields or Ki. Unfortunately I have only felt that working the other way. I know it is strike, kick, and so should the people around me- and unaccountably I was confused at the count of Ni, and kicked first. I sensed others doing that too. And while Dave can do a sequence faster than I can, having had the experience, with him beside me I find it difficult to do it slightly slower, correctly- so I do it wrongly, at his speed. However the explanation I have had was prosaic: it is the only way. It is easier with one-to-one tuition.

So I could have come away dispirited. But I enjoyed the chat in the car. S’s granddaughter is just setting up home, and she talked of troubles when she did- not knowing how to cook, and everyone has turned all their washing pink in the machine once. Oh, well, cheese on toast again. And Zara said she had only known two people she did not like in karate. One of the senseis is gay, and this man said something really stupid and offensive to him. She can’t think why anyone would be like that. He did not stay long. The other tried, but could not control his punches. He would hit people hard, and it hurt- so at the grading a sensei hit him hard so he could feel what it was like, and he did not come back after that.

Zara gave me a lift, and five of us picnicked in the car, sharing food.


Feeling virtuous

I posted the photo, saying Something I can do which is absolutely Good, creative, and caring, with absolutely no down-side, and D commented, And makes one feel virtuous. Words…

Bernard Crick, commenting on the lessons of Wells’s Mr Polly and Orwell’s George Bowling, writes: Life is all right, good even, if one looks at it with the simple wonder of a child exploring everything as new, or with the heightened delight in ordinary things of a stoical person who knows that he or she is soon to die. Does one call this the mysticism of common sense? Though both Bowling and Polly have run away from their tedious lives and jobs, which got all too much for them.

I certainly did want to feel virtuous: I look back at that time and it is quite clear from what I did and how I was. And- I was not conscious of it at the time. I knew that I wanted to be good, which is a different thing. I consciously wanted to be good, because unconsciously otherwise I did not have a right to exist. As my morality changed from that of the Daily Mail to that of the Quakers I still wanted to be Good.

Mark 10:18:  ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good – except God alone.’  I don’t think Jesus is denying being Good here, so much as challenging concepts of what Good is. Are we good enough? Perhaps it does not matter: analysing how Good a past act is, is- I was going to say, backward looking, ineffective, I am not sure of that. Circumstances alter cases. Sometimes useful. Something not to do “too much”.

Now, I want- I claim- that sensation of being in the Moment, mind and body integrated, carrying out a purpose. I would have called it a Spiritual Experience, an amazing wonder, and as I have it more it remains a delight, a heightened way of being. Like in my kata practice this morning. I want my Taigyoku Shodan to be beautiful: torso upright, head gliding at the same level not bobbing up and down, hips on or off properly, place the foot not fall onto it, turn with the legs after placing the foot rather than throwing onesself round- so much detail to master, the most important being full power at the moment of the block or strike, with relaxed movement to that point. The body just does the move, without effort, because conscious effort actually gets in the way.

It is perfectly beautiful and delightful, and I still make excuses and find myself not doing it, or stay in bed a bit longer. I have moments checking my watch in my meditation space, and also moments with delight- why on Earth would one avoid it? Do you avoid your meditation time? Can you imagine why?


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.


At the shore of the lake

Some are clothed

Happy new year to all my Chinese readers. SSSSSSssssss!

What is going on at the tower by the lake? Action and stillness, armies marching forth and philosophers exploring, the hunting of two birds.

The sun shone through my window, and the rose pattern on the net curtain cast a shadow on my wall. The sun shone through a tree waving in the wind, so the shadow flickered and shimmered. It seemed worth a haiku:

Net curtain roses

light through trees makes their shadows

shimmer on the wall

It had been

Net curtain roses
their shadows on the wall
shimmer in light through trees

but that does not have the 5-7-5 syllable shape which some say English haiku should. Odd to be lying in bed in the afternoon. It is cheap to be warm here, but that is not the only reason.

I coddle and castigate myself. I must do something, and have no idea what. The parable of the talents runs in my mind: For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. The saying is in Matthew 13:12 and 25:29, and Mark 4:25.

Probably better not to be “playing” spider solitaire at 2am. It is boring yet compulsive.

On Saturday 2d. at karate, Chris referred to me as “he”, and Andy, responding, did too. It is difficult. Command. Hai! we shout, Yes. “Responses, guys!” Hai! we shout, louder. And we Kiai: like the grunt a tennis player makes, it focuses energy and intention on the strike. The other adults here are brown and black belts, and I worry that the class could be more focused on their needs if this orange belt was not here- and I love how it stretches me. With my heart pounding, having taken off my wig because I am hot and shouting below the break in my voice, I do not feel particularly feminine. That is Chris who leant me a coat and drove me to the Kancho Sullivan seminar.

“He”, he says, and I just feel-

It would be nice if someone else would correct him. I hope to have the courage to ask Andy to do so. Now- away from the class- it feels more appropriate to ask him in person, at the class, rather than by email or facebook.

It does not show me respect. I am entitled to respect. I did correct Andy, then.

I recorded the script to create a trance-appreciation of the World as perfect. I have not listened to it. I think I will. I read a bit.

I am not happy with this situation, and- I retain my belief in progress. Appreciate, I tell myself.

Saturday 9th: I agonised quite a lot about asking Andy to correct anyone who used the wrong pronouns: and of course he was fine, and apologetic about last week. All that worry.

The central pool

Trust II

It becomes clearer to me how much I may trust my world.

That man with the big dog, f’rinstance- lovely bloke. One might consider how much to trust other men with similar dogs, but- he was alright. And the blessedness of the encounter delights me: it was random, and it was just what was right for me at the time. A synchronicity.

Or the karate class, how supportive and friendly it is, and how it exercises me physically and spiritually.

I try to create empathetic understanding for born-again Christians in me. They are entirely wrong about the date of creation, evolution, and LGBT issues, and substantially wrong about God, the Bible, Jesus, the world, the spiritual realm and other things. Yet they have strong community and a desire to do Good, they value the instruction to Love and they feel Loved by God. It is not my path, and I can see value in it.

My world is so beautiful. The park, the birds, my flat, my estate, my village, the towns-

the people

And it becomes clearer to me how much I may trust myself. From “I can’t do X” I move to “I can’t do X yet”: I relinquish the need to be perfect immediately, and accept the possibility of learning and improving. Saturday 26th in karate we advanced in pigeon-toed stance. The knees are bent, the toes point inwards, and the leg and torso muscles are tensed. The inside of both great toes goes white as I push my feet outwards on the floor. In stepping forward, one relaxes the muscles, moves, then tenses again. I noticed how easy it is to tense, and how difficult to relax again. How wonderful, to be able just to let the tension go, in an instant!

In Meeting the next day I noticed how tense I am,  particularly my upper back, and thought of relaxing that and letting it go. This is a skill I can learn. Then in my ritual space this morning (Monday 28th) I felt that tension and accepted it. It is how I am now. It is OK. I might like to be less tense, I might develop relaxation skills, I may make things better from a place which is sufficient for now.

That is OK, and- I move to noticing my breath. That is beautiful and amazing. The most quotidian thing, and so perfect, for giving Life and for communicating.

I am sensitive

and I have seen that as a problem or weakness, and I have denied it. As I accept it, it ceases to be weakness, and I learn how to be with it.

PS: after scheduling this post, I have a reminder of that on facebook, and I tense- that experience is over, though the processing of it is not, and I want to be over it. Honestly. Lust, admiration, envy, fear, resentment- clusterfuck or omnishambles of emotion, entwined with learnings of myself which I have denied then resented and feared, and which now perplex me-

I want to be over it.

Even this is bearable.

Like water

Best to be like water,
Which benefits the ten thousand things
And does not contend,
It pools where humans disdain to dwell,
Close to the Tao.

-Tao Te Ching, 8, trans. Addis and Lombardo.

When you do not-doing
nothing's out of order.

Tao Te Ching, 4, made verse by Ursula LeGuin, who comments that wei wu wei, Do not Do, act without acting, is the heart of the book; the whole book is an explanation and a demonstration of it.

Saifa and pictureThe kata Saifa has violent bunkai. It is one thing to hit a man and let his natural inertia make his body absorb the energy of the blow; it is another to hold a head so that it takes that energy. After Saturday, I am encouraged to get out my kata DVD at last and do some serious practice. I started in pyjamas, but putting on the gi felt fitting, as did tidying the room, already my ritual spiritual space, as my dojo. One hour yesterday, one hour today, I have practised Saifa and studied the video.

And I am tense. This is Fighting, so my muscles tense and I think about the force of my blow; and that takes away from the force. In the bathroom this morning, 7°C with snow outside, I first tense in the discomfort then relax. I do not want to be in this cold for long, but I can be here, just letting my body cope with the temperature. Practising kata without any tension at all is difficult- it is a blow, it must be tense- and making the move in a relaxed doing-notdoing way with the snap, the tension, only at the last moment is particularly difficult. And it means taking the ego-mind out of the equation, so that the body does what it must.

Tao te ching 5: Wise souls aren’t humane. To them the hundred families are straw dogs. LeGuin comments that this “inhumanity” is not cruelty, for cruelty and altruism alike come from the ego-mind. “Followers of the Way, like the forces of nature, act selflessly.” I seek to strip away my socialisation, which constrains me, and rely on the creativity and God-ness of that inhumanity to be sufficiently good. I imagine cracking a skull not because I want to do that, but because I want to do what is necessary.

And- U, falling in love with me, saw the warm humour of my left eye; and falling out, noticed my right eye, its cold watchfulness. These are visible in the picture. She said it out loud as she thought it, and I heard the sub-vocalisation, which hit me in the throat. It is a reason, to go along with all the causes, that I do not trust my unself-ed being.


http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/33/Enis_Imeri_002.pngSix of us stand in the snow, waiting for the janitor to open the community centre. I expected it would be open, so have no coat: Chris lends me one he has in his car for use on building sites.

We practise kata, beginning with the first. We break it down, without the arm movements at one point: Place the foot, then turn. My temptation is, instead, to fling the leg and arm round and let the body follow: this is one of the points I work on. In blocking, I need the muscle tension at the moment where my fist blocks the blow. We have long preparative moves before the effective part, and those moves should be made in a relaxed manner, without tension. The temptation is to be tense throughout, which inhibits the move; if I do it relaxed and freely, it flows better. We practice with the whole of each move relaxed, and then with tension at the end where it is needed.

In this class I am an orange belt, and the other adults are brown belts. I am glad to be here, and hope Sensei need not teach only at my level. In Saifa, he tells me hints- the back leg comes up, then you turn following the raised leg- and says “Your body knows it. Don’t overthink it, trust your body to make the moves.”

Much of the bunkai (purpose explanation) of the kata Sepai (watch here, it is beautiful) relate to breaking free of grapples. Sensei Andy demonstrates with Chris, who grasps him from behind, his hips up against Sensei’s. “Chris remembers I have told him this before: in a fight you do not lean in like that, you http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b9/Hiza_geri.jpg/640px-Hiza_geri.jpgbring your whole body close to control the opponent.” It is like the more intimate hug, I think, rather than the leaning in, touching shoulders only hug.

And I am triggered.

I try to hold my feelings, and carry on, but they are too strong and I weep. I have to bow out. “Are you OK?” -Er, it’s my ‘stuff’ coming up- I wonder whether my jargon is understood. Andy sets the others up to practise the kata then comes over to ask how I am.http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/17/Liudmila_Andreevna_VEDERNIKOVA.jpg

No, it is nothing he has said or done. But- unselfconsciously using the body as in that grapple to hold an opponent reminded me of a closer hug. The physical is so close to the sexual, and it brings up for me how I have seen my own sexuality as wicked and perverted. So I have controlled my body with inhibitions, fighting myself. I want that unselfconscious action which is so much more elegant and effective, in bodily movement, in relating and in conflict- in an office, as well as physically- and it is so hard for me.

I do not wish to act as if uninhibited, normally, but for my actions to be at conscious choice rather than fearful inhibition. How completely I restrict myself!

Last Saturday was tough on the thigh muscles. Chris really felt it next day. Moving with the knees bent all the time was a strain and my thighs eventually started trembling. They were weak and I limped until Wednesday. “Pain is weakness draining away,” says Andy happily. I am glad I have the willpower to hold a pose to self-harm.

Grace, schoolgirl brown belt, asks if I do yoga to deal with these feelings. No, I meditate. She is concerned and accepting. I would rather not weep in a karate class, but it is alright.

Heartbeat II

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ee/Colorful_blur.JPGHalf of us are one end of the room, the other half at the other end. One comes forward to dance our anger, then her half come forward to do the same move, to back her up. I lead, once: in sumo stance, I am doing head-level punches, eight forward, four to each side. It is Wonderful, haka-ing at each other like this: there is no sense of threat for me, just the huge energy.

Later, we are in a circle. Again, one comes in to dance her anger or fear, and I do, twice. My fear is a relaxed move, quiet, lithe, eyes turned upwards, with some desperation, some resignation and expectation of nothing, some misery. -This flavour of fear: join in if you feel with it. Watch out for becoming disconnected from your feelings. Oh, Sue, you have understood so beautifully.

File:Zoom blur.jpgAt the start we are in a circle, and we show how we are in movement. My mind is-; my body is-; my heart is-. It can be difficult to differentiate promptings of the body from those of the heart, the physical response always seems to be an emotional response, to the intellect- and there are non-rational, simply physical responses.

You can plan, before, if you want to. You can even do as you plan, that is alright, it is not always perfect: or, you can move in the moment. I moved in the moment, spontaneously without thought or planning, and surprised myself. Others apologised for standing up rather than doing a motion kneeling or sitting, and I moved around the whole circle. Yes, there is a difference: my mind is inquisitive, eager to experience and to see, playful; my body is relaxed, stretches, loosens; my heart is open and responsive. The conscious I sees that, from my own spontaneous movements: and the memory of the movement is more precise than the words used to classify it.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e5/Munich_-_Two_dancers_captured_in_blurred_movement_-_7800.jpgLater. In the circle. I go into the centre to dance my anger. Sumo stance again, karate moves are dance-like and can be brought into dancing. In sumo stance, I am tense. My fists are up, defensively, and I turn, to face each person. “Give her a moment to find the movement.” I feel more and more threatened, then I am on the floor, either Salaaming or banging my head on it, then curled up, then writhing. Rage and hurt become conscious, real, present for me in the moment, in the movement: I am they.

In the end, we move in a performance, which is quite unplanned. We may emerge from the audience to the four instruments at the end of the room, or two seats at the side where one may speak, or the floor space. Here I speak without thought, spontaneously: I evoke titters from the audience, always a pleasing response. I love to perform to an audience, I need to find spaces where I may develop and use such talents. I participate in all four spaces: chairs, audience, instruments and floor, and on the floor dance alone or with others, in harmony.

All this evokes the judgment of another: “Beautiful soul”. Mmm. I mentioned that before, didn’t I? I breathe it in.