It’s times like these – when I’m barefoot, beet-faced with sweat running into my eyes, struggling to maintain a horse squat (think riding a horse without a horse under you) for the last hour while kids twenty-five years younger than me punch the air shouting “Has! Has! Hyah!”— that I wonder,
“How the fuck did I get here?”
Through a Series of Unlikely Events I find myself taking a karate class with teenagers.
Once or twice a week I duck-walk around the municipal gym while being passed up by kids working off extra hormones and sweating so profusely that – and I’m not exaggerating this, because it would be impossible to exaggerate the profuse sweatiness of these classes – the soles of my feet lose traction on the floor because they are so sweaty.
The soles. Of my feet. Sweat.
I wound up in Mr. Myagi’s Inferno because I thought it would be a good idea for the Lobas to learn self-defense, both to boost their self-confidence and increase their chances of hospitalizing any asshole who attacks them. Because I know nothing about self-defense, I asked around and we got invited to join a free karate class. Naïvely, I told the Lobas that it would be mostly them on their own with the teacher, so they were unprepared when we walk in to see 25strange kids all looking vaguely fierce, and the Lobas collectively suck in their breath and shrank against the walls.
We run around the gym until my lungs burn and I’m pretty sure I just peed a little in my pants, and then we keep going another 10 minutes
Failing to see the long-term consequences of my actions, I blithely announce, “C’mon guys, there’s nothing to be afraid of, let’s do this thing!” and join the lineup. The girls are forced – by peer pressure and by my best glaring – to follow my lead. The class starts off benignly enough: yompeen yock (jumping jacks), neck rolls, a few squats, and then everyone runs around the gym, and by gym I mean small tiled room and by run I mean run half a length, then jump for 10-count, run, high knees, run, squats, run, frog jumps, run, crab walk, run…until my lungs burn and I’m pretty sure I just peed a little in my pants, and then we keep going another 10 minutes. We stop to do stretches, which here means classmates pushing each other down into the splits as their partners stifle screams and copious sweat pours down our bodies. At this point, dignity has left the building, and so only now are we ready to do karate.
And so each class goes, but as difficult as it gets, the Lobas and I are caught in a nightmare of Mutually Assured Participation – as long as I keep participating, the Lobas have to as well, and as long as they keep going, I have to participate.
On any given day participating might involve kicking above our heads, repetitive punching, blocking, or a diabolically difficult series of movements that is like dance steps only somehow infinitely harder to memorize.
I have to admit, I actually get a great workout because there is nothing like not wanting to look like an idiot in front of teenagers to motivate me. Let me clarify – I’m pretty sure I still look like an idiot, but I’m an idiot who never gives up.
If I can survive three hours of pushing a baby out of my vagina, I can probably survive twenty more minutes of “Hyah!”
I’ve also figured out that although I’ll be 40 on my next birthday, I have more stamina than adolescents. Turns out that birthing babies puts exercise into perspective. When the sensei makes us raise our knees to the side and kick across the room for 30 minutes straight, all the kids sneak around back trying to skip their turn. But I just sigh and kick out my leg, because if I can survive three hours of pushing a baby out of my vagina, I can probably survive twenty more minutes of “Hyah!”
Apparently this didn’t escape the sensei’s attention, because the other day he used me as an example in class.
“Concentrate! Show some effort!” He shouted at the class. “I’ll you something. She” – and here he points to me – “is older than all of you, but she is doing this exercise better than any of you!”
Talk about a backhanded compliment! But as the other kids – yeah, I’m one of the kids! – begin to faint and have to sit against the wall while I find that I’m still upright after an hour and a half, I think that maybe the sensei is right when he clasps my hand after class and looks me fiercely in the eye and tells me that I’ve earned his respect.