A Kiai Cry Out to First Degree Black Belt,
Devon and I arrived home late last night after spending some seven hours together. This in itself is quite remarkable. Our lives are typically busy stretches of studying, doing the things we enjoy, and traveling. When we are home, we may be home together but really separate in focuses. So when our stars align it is something to pay attention to, and in hind sight to ponder. Last night was such a time.
We attended the Black Belt Review of a young friend, Cody Fitch. Cody is a boy I know from Swim Team. He and Devon were infatuated last school year. This was short-lived when his mother decided fifteen is too young to be concerned with girls. Long story short…my “romantic at heart” Devon was a bit devastated in the shut down. In all honesty, I was kind of grateful for this…in knowing there is a time and a season for all things. As a result, Devon learned lessons of the heart, or it’s yearnings, and of patience and understanding. Not easy to endure at any age.
Rightly so, Cody invited his friend, Devon, to the big event. This spark of remembering, and hope lit my daughter up. Filled her with the possibility of more than friendship. I know the feeling. So we went to Bountiful to a modest karate studio, tucked in between a number of run down businesses on the skirt of highway 89, across from Pace’s Dairy Ann.
Not a good sign to see dozens of people carrying lawn chairs into the establishment. Wondered if it would be five to six hours of standing room only. Not to worry. Cody’s mom was surprised to see us, but had seats saved for us anyway. Things were running behind. This gave me time to take in the setting, say hellos and thank yous, and soak in the wafting aroma of a dozen lined up croc pots. In time, found one small bathroom that did not live up to the buffet, in feeling more like a stranded Texaco near Lubock, Texas.
The evening officially began with the Grand Master, a Cuban man who owns and runs the studio. This mentoring MC called students to position. They lined up in rows in the order of rank, standing in a rainbow of colorful cotton, and flappy belts. Mostly white and black cloaks, with some red and blue accent spatterings. This meant something. I assumed that students in black with brown belts were going for their black belt. This was our Cody.
I regret not knowing anything about this art form and scene really. Without a background knowledge, operating sytem, and language base puts me at a disadvantage for writing about it. In some ways limits me greatly. In other ways gives me a unique advantage. Removes judgement to a degree, allowing me to see in the simplest terms. Filters out things so that I am left pondering facts and feelings and senses. So that is what I have to offer here.
The evening took form in a kind of sequence. Review, or evaluation was done mostly in order of rank from the lowest to the highest, but allowed for intuition and student needs to guide the assessment. First, students did a kind of warm up of forms together on cue. Then the actual testing began in which each performed a beautiful series of movements and forms.
This was a display of technique and emotion. Lumosity, memory, focus, breathing, and dance moves. No two people were the same in their delivery, although I started recognizing similar sequences and elements over time. I began to enjoy finding and feeling rhythms, predicting and hoping for favorite parts, utterances, emotion, tumblings, breathing, pacing.
It began to feel good… like listening to a new coffee cover on satelite radio, or attending Pastor Scott Fine’s Mountain Life sermon for a second or third time. In hearing whisperings and seeing familiarities. More and more easing into something to belong to. Allowing a total stranger to take my hand in sharing a prayer moment. Comforting in time and in feeling a unified heart beat. Being caught up in the moment and thrill, and emotion….until some nice person with a once beautiful face got the crap beat out of them. Something unsettling about all of this.
The majority of the evening was filled with second and third showings of forms from each participant. After forms, there was a kind of decomposition in defender/aggressor moves. In a breaking down of karate in which pairs demonstrated and explained what and why they were doing. First slowly, and then more quickly, requiring on your feet thinking out loud. Metacognition. This occurred until the entire floor was filled with motion. Rensei paced the floor weaving in and out of practical magic, keeping space, guiding practice.
Then there was a section in which students performed weapons pass offs.
Sorry, I don’t know much about these weapons. No names. And I don’t have any weapons either, so cannot offer much of a connection, unless the gun in the Lagoon Saloon picture counts, or the guns on my fancy Evanston Boot Barn hoofers count. Uhh. I think these don’t count. But I do keep these things on the low. Kind of out of respect for safe schools.
Let’s see….A short break was taken, and so Devon and I left to go across highway 89 to Dairy Ann. Burgers, fries, shakes….indigestion. And yes! A roadside fruit stand to redeem us. Peaches, nectarines, plumbs, raspberries!!!! Heaven.
After thirty minutes we returned to the smack down. Students were breaking boards and cinder blocks with chops and kicks as if snapping twiglike chopsticks. One rensei broke 8 cinder block slabs, that if were laid out flat would constitute a butcher block counter top. Amazing.
We had missed seeing Cody break…….his hand. And we were glad for this. Could tell he had done his share of young manly crying from where we sat. And from where he slouched with an ice pack. We had been spared the sight. Only wished Cody had been spared the experience. Sad 😦
So the night wore on as did the test subjects in a kind of endurance match. Finally, it was time for SPARRING! This the last big event, not counting the actual award ceremony. The room became transformed into a kick boxing gymn of sorts, only without a ring and roped perimeter. We seated in the front row were the perimeter. Several times the action came amazingly close.
Once or twice I thought someone would slap my hand and tag team me into action. Oops, that’s WWW. (World Class Wrestling) Even in my pink skirt, I felt an urge to maybe….uhh pretend fight? Held back this time.
So we watched Cody procede in the delivery and receiving of abuse. Wondered how this would play out with only a south paw to fight with. Lucky that Cody’s strong suit were his powerful legs and quickness. A few times outplayed and became more the fleeing defender. Many times more the aggressor in believing he had an advantage over his opponent. I wondered if the killer instinct comes easily to Cody, a gentle boy, much like my Donavon. Concluded that strength and fortitude comes in many forms….including deep waters.
In the end everyone just fought to stay alive and upright. So exhausted, they could barely raise lead arms and legs. Could barely see straight through the pain, and sweat, and in instances bleeding noses, lips, as some did not have face shields. Glad Cody had one of these, and that he was much taller than others. Thought it would be difficult for the many children to launch a kick quite that high at over six feet tall. Glad for this.
So we cheered and watched a crazy dreduction, and reconstitution. More like deposition of bodies, time and time again fighters going DOWN. Until there was only one guy left. Rensei Bright, whom I did not think was all that Bright in becoming a human punching bag.
He would not hit back. In Rocky Balboa form seemed to become a side of beef in hanging in there. So I watched curiously, searching his eyes for some indication of a come back, or killer inclination. Nothing. No vacancy.
Then two other Rensei on Staff took it to him. It became pathetic. In time I could NO LONGER watch. It just felt wrong. Wanted to throw a towel or something. I was never sooooo glad when the Grand Master finally called it. How does one decide when enough is enough?
In a thirty minute conclusion was the award ceremony. Everyone had had it by now. Tired, hungry, and just plain reduced to NOTHING in obsessing an amazing sport and art form. I felt I had just completed auditing an excellerated Karate class in six hours of observation. Wow.
So each advancing person took turns going up to the Grand Master to deliver and to recieve final honorary gut punches, shake hands, exchange hugs, and receive hand painted diplomas. In no way a sillybration. Rather a most serious undressing and redressing. A readdressing of rankings in the tieing of black belts. Honored recipients also read theses on “What Getting My Black Belt Means to Me.”
It was emotional to say the least. A culminating gushing moment of seven years of intense body and mind work. Hooray Cody Fitch! We are soooo proud of you! Congratulations to a young man whom we love for both his toughness and tenderness.