Thursday, September 10, 2009

Getting Down at the Dojo

(left to right )- Andre, Sensei Loeffler, Rafael Gutierrez, MD, Roy

Our friend Rafael (aka Rafa) invited us to attend his black belt trials (and subsequent award of it) at Shugyokan, 15205 Crenshaw, Gardena.

We were the only civilians there and since neither one of us knows anything about this sport, we watched with interest (and occasional horror on my part. Those guys are not kidding around!)

The class - four white belts, two green and Rafa in his brown belt busted a few moves for us and then "Sensei" ("teacher" I believe) walked in flanked by two assistants. All wore the coveted black belt.

A moment for silent meditation and then an oral exam -- "Who were your previous senseis and what did you learn from them - be specific" "How does karate color your daily life?"

Next he was told to do some 12 (?) different sets of complicated, connected moves up and down the mat -- first at half speed; then at full speed -- 50 times each!

More questions and responses: "Manners keep us from offending others and getting into trouble." "Courtesy -- listen and try to understand another's side."

Then, drenched in sweat and audibly panting, Rafa was told he would now have to go rounds with all three instructors! (Frankly I thought this wasn't very fair -- they'd all been sitting on their derrieres all morning long, but Andre later explained that you don't get to pick your time in a street fight. "You can't tell the guy, 'Hey, I had a hard day today; let's do it tomorrow morning." Still ...)

Apparently the fighting style taught here (perhaps everywhere for all I know) is to circle, then POUNCE! when fists and feet fly in a savage burst of activity! It seemed barely nanoseconds before Rafa had the other guy on the ground. I thought ... "OMG! This ... this maniac is our good friend! (wail) He comes to dinner -- at the house!"

Sensei and his assistants retired behind a closed door, then emerged and gave Rafa his certificate and a brand new black belt. The class clapped, cheered and hugged him as did all three of the instructors.

They got cleaned up and met us at El Torito, Hawthorne & Lomita, Torrance. The ease with which staff seated all 10 of us was a marvel to see. It made our experience at On The Rocks that night even more shocking.

Off the mat, so to speak, all three of the black belts were soft-spoken, courteous men. Richie told Sensei, "I learned something today -- I never want to do karate!" and Sensei gently smiled.

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