A New Room

I’ve been doing karate katas for more than thirty years, in all kinds of places.

For those who don’t know the martial arts, a kata, a.k.a. form, is a series of movements that contain offensive and defensive techniques. You move about a bit–the performance space is roughly twelve feet square. The rarely take more than a minute.

Because I have had surgery on both knees, I leave out the dramatic jumps, unless I’m on sand or a floor that absorbs heavy landings. I made a small change (putting my foot with the instep down, instead of on my big toe) to accommodate arthritis.

For the last few years I would do them outside, on the lawn, which, in summer, meant being eaten alive by  bugs on days when the wind didn’t blow. I did them on a cruise ship, adjusting comically to the rocking of the ship. I’ve done them on a soggy lawn in England, on a beaches up and down the east coast, on the sides of mountains and in odd places in hotels that people don’t visit.

When the weather was hostile, I’d go to a gym and wait for the exercise classes to leave. This, of course, wasn’t as easy as it should be. Like most people, I have to force myself to go to the gym, and it’s just too easy to find things to do at home.

Last summer we rearranged the downstairs room that used to be my “office.” Furniture went up and down the stairs. A couch went against a wall and we had to go shopping for end tables.

This movement was inspired by a visit of son Brandon and daughter-in-law Charron. They came and went and the room became a refuge, where my wife could go to read magazines, do laundry or sit outside under the deck and fret about the garden.

Why did it take me so long to do the katas down there? I don’t know. Yesterday I was determined to teach myself a new kata, Junro Godan (the Fifth Way), and didn’t want to go to the gym.

The room was nearly perfect for it. I had to allow for a post, a nearness of furniture, the lip of a rug on top of carpet (where I could snag my toes when sliding forward).

But it worked! I got the kata “down,” and did others with it, feeling that familiar blend of confusion and familiarity a new kata brings.

I felt as if I’d found a new room in a house that I thought I knew completely.

I’ve often likened education to the discovery of such “rooms,” in your mind, in your memory, in your work and your relations with others. It isn’t as intense as the thunderclap of revelation, but it feels very, very good.

May you find a new room of your own, soon.

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