Many decades ago, in a long forgotten board meeting, in a now destroyed and decrepit building, a group of elderly gentlemen sat around an exquisitely crafted wooden table and decided that they damn well had had enough. From here on out, they said, students at Howard college would no longer be lethargic sloths, a common state of being for many college students, but would instead be required to take physical education classes. These classes, they thought, would teach these lay-abouts to respect their bodies and be active, thus increasing their wellness. They were of course horribly wrong. All that the P.E. classes ever did, and have ever done is teach students how to pretend to try. The active people remain active, and the sloths go back to slothing.
But the P.E. requirements remained, and so it happened that I found myself standing in front of World Oyama Karate ™ Dojo on a particular Tuesday morning with my Gi in one hand and an almost unquenchable thirst for power in the other. The Dojo itself, located in the heart of scenic SoHo, was a bizarre conglomeration of industrial warehouse, Karate Dojo, studio apartment and bamboo forest. Per last class’s instruction, I formed my free hand into a fist as I entered and swung it about madly as I shouted “OOOOOHHHSSSSS!,” a Japanese word that I’m sure means something or other, at no one in particular. Sensei Frank, our fearless leader, paid me no heed. I took his inactivity as an invitation to enter, and did so. The rest of the class was already there, though they hadn’t looked up at my entrance. They had probably become immune to random shouting by now, by merit of being students of Sensei Frank. Sensei Frank thought that outside voices were inside voices, and that inside voices were pathetic. He must have decided long ago that Karate students needed to use larynx-crushing Karate voices. The most surefire way to win any sort of confrontation, by his logic, was to shout, shout and shout again. After all, wasn’t that how the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon?
I headed up a rickety staircase that was seemingly held together by duct tape to change into my Gi. We were required to bring the Gi’s to the Dojo and change there because it is a great insult to wear one’s Gi outside of the Dojo. Sensei Frank told us that we would bring great dishonor on our families by changing at home, and the class, after taking a collective gulp, realized that by dishonor he meant a good ol’ fashioned beat down, courtesy of Sensei Frank.
This took some tremendous patience on Frank’s to communicate, however, because it was very difficult to make out anything that he shouted. This was due to his peculiar accent and cadence of speech, which he most likely picked up during his years of tutelage at the feet of a great karate master, or perhaps during his childhood, when he watched too many Godzilla movies or un-dubbed anime shows. The accent was a bizarre witches brew of Japanese, midwestern and southern accents, all delivered with a Japanese pacing. The shouting didn’t aid clarity, nor did the fact that he sometimes shouted actual Japanese words. All of this added together to form an unintelligible, slightly eastern sounding babble that was lightly seasoned with Japanese and English words. This would be excusable if Frank was from Japan, but he wasn’t. He was a Caucasian male of less than average height from the greater Birmingham area, and he took to Karate like most people take to breathing. If Karate was a cocaine, then Frank would be scarface.
The upstairs changing rooms were hardly changing rooms at all. They looked more like a creative use of empty attic space. The room was littered with disused equipment, cleaning products and malodorous pieces of clothing. Some showers had been installed at some point for the students convenience, but looked like the perfect place to get raped and athletes foot at the same time. They were disturbingly dark on the inside, and seemed to actively beckon one into the shadow. The death, they promised, would be almost painless, and take no longer than the act of drawing the curtain. They called to us, but we remained steadfast in our resolution to never, ever partake in the dark enticements of the Dojo showers, and merely changed into our Gi’s huddled together on the ratty old carpet several paces away. When I finished tying my belt, I saw a package lying on the ground that had hitherto escaped my attention. It had shin pads in it.
“Neato!” I exclaimed. I recalled Sensei Frank shouting something about shin pads on Thursday, so I decided to put them on. I greedily tore the bag open, cut my finger on a shoddy staple.
“Damn,” I said as I started bleeding everywhere. This was bad. I had arrived late to the Dojo due to the speaker at convocation that morning taking 18 centuries to get his point across, and there was simply no time to stem the flow of blood. To make matters worse, my pristine white Gi and white belt were now peppered with dark red spotsspots.
I took moment to consider that, of the myriad of things that could stain one’s Gi, blood would be at the top off the forgivable list, right after sweat and the tears of thine enemies. Even a madman like Sensei Frank would be able to understand that it was an accident… at least I hoped he would. Recalling my first aid training, I applied pressure to the wound and headed downstairs.
The class consisted of yelling, stretching, yelling, push ups, Sensei Frank yelling that we should yell more, us yelling more, Sensei Frank yelling back, punching, yelling, stretching and some yelling. Oh, and we yelled. I think there was some yelling too. The wheel of fate must have been spinning favorably that day, for I had managed to make it through the entire class undetected. I did this by cleverly turning my belt inside out, where there was only one blood spot instead of 35, and by constantly keeping my left shoulder out of Sensei Frank’s eyesight. This made me appear to be some sort of Karate Quasimodo who lacked the ability to dress himself properly, but I didn’t care. It was far better than bringing dishonor down on my family and then getting kicked in the face.
Sensei Frank shouted for a bit at the end of class, and then instructed us that at the end of every class we would form a line and shake his hand. While we shook hands, we would shout at each other. A line quickly formed, and I somehow found myself in the very back. When at last my turn came around, I hobbled up to Sensei Frank and feebly slapped his hand with mine, crippled as I was with trying to hide my blood stains. He finally managed to grab my hands and shook them vigorously, shouting nonsense in my ear as I cringed back in pain, and then he suddenly stopped.
“Uh What,” he shouted, “Is that a on your-a Gi?”
“Oh, this?” I asked, pointing to the blood on my shoulder, “It’s nothing really, just some blood. Nothing to…”
“YOUR BLOODARU?” he screamed.
“What? My blood?” I laughed nervously. “Oh no. Ha ha ha! This blood, this blood is my enemies blood”
“HOW DID THIS UH BLOODARU GET ON YOU?”
“Well, you see, it’s actually kind of a funny story, actually, because, well, when I left class on Thursday, you know, when we got our Gi’s, I had, um, taken my Gi out of it’s bag to admire it’s… honor?” I looked at Sensei Frank for confirmation. He nodded.
“Yes, it’s honor!” I continued, encouraged by my small success. “I found it to be quite honorable indeed. I had no doubt in my mind, none whatsoever, that this was the most honorable piece of clothing I had ever possessed. I was thinking about this, you see, when out of the blue, I ran right into my enemies.”
“ALL OF THEM?”
“Oh heavens no! Only some. Anyway, they were out looking for trouble, and they thought that they had found it. “Nice dress,” one of them said, grabbing my Gi by the sleeve. I could feel the blood rage building deep within my bones! “Oh you pitiful fool!” I replied, tugging it away. “I would have you know that this is a Gi for my Karate class, and I will not stand idly by while you besmirch it’s honor!” With that, I drew my fist back and delivered a stinging Ukigawa Shinawobi straight to his temple. Needless to say, he went down like a sack of most dishonorable potatoes, and I turned my attention to the enemy directly to his left. I delivered a thundering Kinawabi Okigowo to his insteps, and then proceeded to Yoshimitsu his nerve ganglia. Hard. He spun in the air several times and then fell flat on the ground. By then, his ally had swung a clumsy haymaker in my direction. I struck him with a swift Kinobobi Yoshimwubikimiatsu before he could connect, stunning him a creating an opening for a full Yokigowo Kimosabe strike, which I executed perfectly, dislodging several of his teeth before he too struck the pavement. Unfortunately, some of his teeth landed on my Gi, which I had carefully folded and laid reverently on the ground, of course (because I mean come on, who wouldn’t do that?) staining it with blood.” I finished, breathing heavily from the exertion of fabrication. Sensei Frank stared at me for a long moment.
“NONE OF THAT MADE ANY SENSE! YOU JUST MADE UP UH ALL OF THOSE JAPANESE UH WORDSU!” I paused, weighing my options.
“Yes. Um… sorry.”
“BRING A CLEAN UH GI NEXT TIME. OOOHHHSS?”
“Ooohhss.” I said meekly. We shook hands and both went our separate ways, he to go back to his desk and practice Karate moves and yelling, and I to go get some food and then find out how to get blood stains out of a Karate uniform.