In Karate, one of the most important lessons you learn is to take an ass-kicking. You understand that you need to pick yourself up and move on.
Before every session, you socialize with your opponents. They are your friends. You like each other. You also take pleasure in roundhouse-kicking them during a sparring match. Because there are competitive elements to it.
Karate breaks down the art of fighting into algorithms. A series of rapid-fire decisions. And at times, someone figures it out quicker than you do. Then, you will fall down, palming the bridge of your nose in pain. When you get back up on your feet, you are stronger in the broken places.
I studied at Budokai Karate Institute in Chennai. Its owner and resident Yoda, for over 8 years, was Renshi RVT Mani. Known as Karate Mani, he was a respected practitioner in India. A behemoth of a man, with a mustache that can body-shame the most promiscuous of prawns, he had also co-starred in a few unintentionally hilarious 80s Tamizh movies. He had issues. A wild fellow when he had alcohol in him. But he was sober whenever he was around us.
He had issues. A wild fellow when he had alcohol in him. But he was sober whenever he was around us. He was a father figure, of sorts. Or rather an uncle who showed up once a week to discipline, encourage and educate us in his own indomitable way.
He taught us many lessons that went beyond physicalities. None more than how we needed to pick our battles. He joked about a lesser known fighting technique called “Maan (Deer) Karate”. It is the act of confidently running away, like deer from a pack of wolves, if the situation calls for it. To back off when outnumbered. Or because of our inability to control our emotions
He spoke about the fight or flight response mechanism. How we should listen to our instincts, and respect them – no matter what our body and mind dictate, as separate entities. He told us that our gut instincts must decide whether we should run away or stand our ground.
At the end of every year, at the Budokai institute, we were evaluated to see if we deserved to graduate. If we did, our belts would sport a different color. One time, I got a double promotion from Brown IV to Brown II. Renshi Mani had preceded the daylong process. He came up to me and congratulated me. He said, “good”. Nothing earth-shattering or soul-immersing. He just thought I had done a good job. I felt proud of myself.
Then, I started to giggle. Because I couldn’t stop thinking about his strange acting choices. He looked at me, nodded his head with a smile, and walked away
I haven’t thought much about him in ages. I quit karate after he had to close down the school in 1997. But some of his teachings were etched in me. Especially the one in which I am able to leave a situation with my pride, dignity and body parts intact.
(Images: Pixabay, Google)