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Autumn 2010



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Karate Six Years on

Well who would have thought it? It seems no time at all that I was one of the first adults at a then new karate club in the scout hut that had just become alive and, well, kicking. It was all a bit strange really and I even wrote a piece about it for Barrow Voice ('A morning with Mr Punch', from memory). There was Mr Punch, whose name was Pete, getting us to do a range of odd Japanese exercises in a space that he explained was called a 'dojo', a word that is unlikely to be Japanese for scout hut. And six years on, a Joseph's coat of coloured belts have come and gone and to my surprise I find myself with a newly-acquired black one.

Quite a day all round actually, I reflected as I collapsed in the bath after the grading exam, if that's not an unattractive mental image. A gingerbread man clothed in white icing with a black liquorice belt had been presented to me on my return home and - get this - my teenage daughter (also a club member and, irritatingly, better at it than I am) said that she was proud of me.

But the really astonishing thing - the punch line, if you'll forgive the phrase - is that I am the living proof that pretty much anyone can do this, for sporting talent have I none. Indeed, throughout my school days, mediocrity did not so much describe my prowess as represent a distant goal of which I could only dream. A third place in the school sports day obstacle course aged 11 was as good as it got in primary school and I once made a third choice rugby team in secondary that got thumped by a bunch of Neanderthal men from Birkenhead. So no great sporting talent required: just being able to find the time to train once or twice a week and I now find myself lining up with the other black belts - if not the best, fastest, or strongest, then at least the baldest. And anyway, those of us longer in the tooth than we might wish, need our exercise like everyone else and karate is good exercise. Not just because you get out of breath, although you do, but because it works equally the upper and lower body, left and right sides, so limiting the likelihood of repetitive strain injuries. And as with any course of good exercise, you do start to look better, which is good for your own ego as well as - how can one put it - being appreciated by your significant other, which is as far as one would want to go in a magazine with a family readership.

You'll note by the way, that I haven't mentioned fighting. I don't like it much and strictly speaking, karate isn't really about fighting anyway. It's all got rather more to do with courtesy, self-awareness and confidence, all of which are far more likely to keep you out of a fight than knowing what to do if you were ever attacked (although there's no getting away from it, you do learn how to do this). Nor for that matter is karate about destroying pieces of wood with your bare hands. So if this is something you have a pressing need to achieve, then a small saw purchased from B&Q will accomplish the task rather better than taking a course of karate instruction. I did, however, once witness a very experienced black belt dispatch a wasp into the great scout hut in the sky with a single strike from the edge of his hand and in so doing, cut it neatly in two.

For all the wonky eyes, the gingerbread man was probably in better shape than I was by the time I'd finished the grading exam.

Guy Silk