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maura @ 10:31 am

Tuesdays after work and Saturday mornings I do karate. It’s a small group who of us who train in a now-virtual dojo for women and transfolx. Looking back at my calendar just now I realize I’ve been training for 4 years this month. I started karate after taking a self-defense class offered at an anti-violence org in the same location as our dojo. A work friend had recommended both; in Spring 2017 I was on sabbatical and trying to get myself together in the early days of the last federal administration, and taking self-defense felt like a tangible, helpful action to take.

Starting karate was the first time in a long time I’d intentionally done something involving moving my body, which I’m increasingly aware is so necessary as I get older. I appreciate that exercise makes me feel better, but exercise has for most of my life been kind of boring to me (with a few exceptions). It was also my first time in a while being a complete novice at something. It’s hard to do new things, especially if the new thing involves continuing to return to an activity that you’re not very good at, and being patient while building skill, accepting that progress may not be linear. In the immortal words of Jake the Dog, sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.

Before the pandemic I could only make it to class on Saturday mornings. I wrote early on in the pandemic about missing my routines, and I was sad about that Saturday morning karate routine for a long time: getting myself out of the house by 9:30am and dropping off compost at the farmers market before walking down to the dojo, changing into my gi, leaving everything except karate outside the dojo during our initial meditation, chatting after we finished training, and walking home. Maybe I struggled with learning whatever kata I was working on, or trying to get my body to execute a technique in the same way on the right side and left side, but I always left feeling so much better than I had before class.

When the pandemic started I quickly realized I could attend the Tuesday evening class too, which fit neatly into the time I’d previously spent commuting, so I started training twice a week. I made space in the bedroom, already arranged differently because of our paused renovation. When the renovation started up again and the bedroom was inaccessible, I figured out a way to shift the living room furniture so I could train there. And once the renovation finished and our bedroom was back to (new) normal, I settled into what’s now my usual karate space, a rectangle of about 5 feet by 10 feet, rug rolled up so that my bare feet can grip the wood floors, just like in the dojo. I’ve mentally mapped the dimensions of our old dojo onto my room, so that when one of the teachers says “step out left toward the mirror” I know what that means in my space.

In yesterday’s class I was in a breakout room working on my kata with an advanced student, talking about showing katas, and we realized that I’ve shown 5 katas since we moved to virtual karate. I’m not always comfortable feeling proud of myself, so I sort of brushed off the compliment from my classmate — I’m still closer to the beginning of our kata list than the end, these were easy katas, especially the two in short stances that don’t require lots of space. But the more I think about it I should be proud. Two of these katas are in our widest stance, and I had to do lots of thinking and adjusting and practicing to fit them into a 5’x10′ box. One of the five is still vexing me, to be honest — I learned it well enough to show it a few months ago but it’s complex enough that now that a classmate is learning it I’m struggling to remind my body about one section in particular. It’s a process.

With the warmer weather we’ll hopefully be able to train in the park occasionally, as we did last year, and with vaccination rates increasing I wonder if we’ll be able to get a new dojo space in the not too distant future, too? The org we rented our old space from has given up the lease during the pandemic, not surprisingly. I still really miss training in person — especially when learning a new technique it’s much easier for my brain to see it in 3D with a real person than zooming. Though a benefit to our virtual dojo is that the folx who’re no longer in Brooklyn can train with us too, a small group that includes former students returning and current students who’ve moved since last year. And that community of our dojo is a super important part of karate for me, too.

I am getting better, and I still have so much to learn.

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