I was alone. Bright sunlight glinted off glass and chrome. Cars, pickup trucks, SUVs, and vans parked outside the warehouse gave off soft clicks as their engines cooled. I caught glimpses of two or three familiar vehicles, but I could not spare time to look for more. I was barely on time and had to hustle. My heart rate was up and I’d broken a sweat from a light jog around the windowless warehouse. In one hand I carried fist pads and a mouth guard in its case. I removed my shoes and socks and left them outside the doors. I tugged my dogi jacket and tightened my obi in order to make myself as presentable as possible. I was ready.
I remembered my instructions were to enter the warehouse through the right hand door and place my fist pads and mouth guard on a chair I would find in front of the left hand door. With a grunt, I pulled the right hand door open. Sunlight sliced into the darkness of the warehouse interior, but did not reveal anything but the chair beside the other door. Evidently I was not supposed to know who was there. Well, I knew at least three: I had seen their vehicles. Mindful of my instructions, I stopped trying to see what was inside the warehouse and laid my fist pads and mouth guard on it as I let go of the door.
The metal door boomed shut and I was in utter darkness. I knew the dimensions of the warehouse from having jogged around it. Now I tried to guess its contents. Empty, mostly, judging from the echoes. Before the echoes faded entirely, a powerful light somewhere in the middle of the warehouse ceiling snapped on, illuminating the mats of a karate tournament square. I saw no one.
I gingerly crossed the gloom between me and the mats, listening for any human sound, minimizing my own noise. I quieted my breathing, my heart rate slowed. I placed each foot carefully in the semi-darkness as I traversed the smooth, cool concrete floor. Sweat trickled down my back as I strained to listen. Somewhere beyond the light the whisper of a bare foot sliding and a slight creak of a folding chair indicated someone had shifted their weight. I peered into the gloom beyond the mats as I came to the edge of the square. Yes, very faintly, I could discern glimers of white dogi just beyond the square of mats – possibly four karateka, seated. I suspected more karateka were standing behind them.
“Step forward,” a familiar voice ordered.
I stepped onto the mats, entering as if for a tournament, then came to attention and bowed, breathing deeply as I did so.
“Announce your kata and begin.”
I performed Seipai as I have never performed it before. It was perfect from beginning to end. In real life I’ve never come anywhere close to performing any kata as beautifully as in this dream. The echoes of my kiai rolled triumphantly throughout the darkness. I felt the fierce joy throughout my performance.
Immediately after the final bow I woke up mystified. The dream had felt so real, but I know that I will have to put in a good bit of hard work on Seipai just to look decent for my next test. When that day comes, my real audience won’t see what the audience in my dream saw. I think it’ll take at least ten years until I can perform Seipai like I did in my dream. So how did I know what to do, what it would feel like? I’ve pondered it and came to some interesting conclusions.
I’m no psychologist, I know next to nothing about neurology, and even the top researchers in those fields can’t fully explain dreams. I do know that the brain stores information and makes connections among bits of information. Maybe, for the purposes of this dream, my brain put together the best of my memories of Seipai and of karate in general. There are memories of the few times when I’ve recognized that I’ve actually managed to perform a technique perfectly. My brain has also stored memories of videos and live performances of karateka who perform Seipai far better than I do. Mix those memories up with memories of my sensei(s) telling me what to do, and hey presto. A wonderful dream performance. From this dream I’ve learned that memory is powerful. It’s all in my brain somewhere – and the vast majority of it is maddeningly out of reach. But it’s there. I just have to coax my body into doing what little I can consciously remember, and trust my subconscious to help. Sigh – as I said before, that’s going to take at least ten years, if not more.
What else have I learned from this dream? I learned that I am brave. Did you notice the setting? A dark warehouse, a dramatic bright light, people observing from the shadows, their identities hidden? It’s a setting designed to intimidate, especially if there’s going to be fighting involved. Why else was I to bring fist pads and mouth guard? But I was not frightened. Nervous, yes, but I overcame that because I had an idea of who was there.
I recognized specific vehicles parked outside, recognized the voice that gave me orders. I didn’t know what to expect when I opened that warehouse door. I had no idea why I was being put to the test in a setting designed to put emotional pressure on me. But I trusted those who I knew were in attendance and those who I suspected were there too. That’s another thing I’ve learned from this dream – I trust my sensei(s), and I trust them at a pretty deep level. In the dream, I knew nothing bad would happen in that big, scary, dark warehouse. It was simply another thing to push me out of my comfort zone.
It’s really too bad I woke up before I was required to spar with someone, or maybe even spar with multiple karateka simultaneously. Dreaming about perfect kumite would have been a lot of fun! But maybe it’s OK that I didn’t get to dream about kumite. I learned what I really needed to learn from this dream. I will, someday, be able to perform Seipai kata like a boss. I am brave. I trust friends and mentors at a deep level. Maybe there’s more to this dream that I will see in the future, maybe not. For now, I take it as a sign that my training is coming along nicely.