I was flubbing a block in a kata, so the dojo sensei came over to give me some pointers. He told me to kick him in the groin. I was taken aback. I know from kicking foam shields just how much power I’m capable of generating with a kick. Timidly, slowly, I threw a wimpy gedan mae gheri (front kick to a “low” target).
“No,” the dojo Sensei admonished, “Kick. me. in. the. groin. I’m wearing a cup,” (I blush easily, so I probably turned beet red), “You won’t hurt me.”
I reset and went full throttle for, ahem, that target. I need not have worried about the Sensei’s safety. He deflected my kick easily with the block I’d been flubbing in my kata. I experienced exactly what that technique can be used for.
Where does my reluctance to go full out with an attack come from? When I’m called up to help demonstrate something I go slowly unless instructed otherwise. That way I don’t inadvertently cause harm and the other students can see exactly what is happening. But my hesitation to go full speed and power with that kick to the groin was more deeply rooted than that.
Two past experiences clouded my thinking. I saw a guy racked in a tournament when I was a teenager. Yes, ladies, men do know what real pain is. I was reluctant to inflict that pain on a mentor and a friend. I have no doubt I could inflict pain on an attacker with no trace of reluctance, but harming someone I like and respect? That’s a different matter. I have harmed someone in karate. I won’t go into details out of respect for the other person’s privacy. What happened could have come about at the hands of someone else, but even knowing that, I still felt so awful that I came as close to quitting Karate as I ever have.
I’ve only had two negative experiences that pertained to my reaction to being told to kick the Sensei in the groin. In contrast, I’ve had many, many positive experiences with throwing techniques full speed and power against a black belt during demonstrations or while exploring bunkai. I’ve neither been able to inflict harm nor have I sustained harm, and I’ve always learned something. I should have remembered the numerous positive experiences.
Two days later the Sensei and I were with a group of other karateka. We were discussing self defense seminars and someone told us he’d been in a big foam suit with angry women kicking him in the groin for an hour. The Sensei who had taught me said, “We should teach them to go for the knees, not the groin. Everyone knows how to protect their groin.” I shook with silent laughter as he grinned at me.
Later, I asked myself if, in that moment when he instructed me to throw the kick, I had trusted his abilities to keep himself safe. Reluctantly, I had to answer myself that really and truly, I had not trusted him. I should have realized he knew exactly what was coming and there was no way I could throw that kick too quickly for him to block. But I was too wrapped up in what might happen to realize that I should extend some trust. I was focused on the tiny chance that things would go wrong, not the high probability that I would be happy about what I’d learn.
I’m used to being responsible for other people. It’s a huge part of my job as a mother. It’s part of my professional life too, and I love helping college students get the resources they need. It’s also part of my karate life as a Sempai (higher-ranked student). After the little demonstration of what the block can do, the Sensei reminded me that if he gets hurt, it’s his fault, and if I get hurt, it’s his fault too. This was exactly what he’d told me a few months ago when he was instructing me about the duties of a Sempai. It works the other way too. When I’m the kohai, I have to not be paralyzed by the weight of a responsibility that isn’t mine.
This was more than a lesson about that block that I wasn’t doing correctly in the kata. From time to time I really understand that there is more to Karate than just the proper way to set a stance or execute a technique. Obviously I’ve thought a lot about this one little part of just one class. What other lessons am I learning that I haven’t processed on a conscious level? I’m thinking more than I could possibly know. What I do know is that I am growing and learning through these experiences. It’s a process and a journey.