New York City Diary

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Happy Karate New Year!

It's Sunday, January 9, 2005, 2:20 p.m. and I'm relaxing at home with Jenn. It's a pleasant afternoon, cold but dry. It was kind of sunny before, but now clouds have moved in, making the light over Brooklyn kind of brown and weird.

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, this morning was Seido Karate's annual New Year's training, called Kagami Biraki. A full explanation of Kagami Biraki, written by one of our most senior instructors, is here . If the link is bad just google kagami biraki.

Anyway, I set two alarms for 5:50 a.m. this morning and actually woke up at 5:40, got up and turned off the alarms before they went off. I shuffled, bleary-eyed, downstairs and had some grapefruit juice, a bagel, and some coffee. I showered, dressed, grabbed my gi (karate uniform) and belt, and went to the subway at 6:50 a.m. I made it to the dojo at 7:15 a.m., changed into my gi and went upstairs to help set up for the event.

Kagami Biraki started right at 8:00 a.m. I estimate that there were about 400 people there, but there could have been more. Our dojo has two workout floors, and the one on the third floor is the biggest, maybe 3,000 or 4,000 square feet, with wood floors. The place was packed. We lined up, senior black belts in front, first- and second-degree black belts (shodans and nidans, respectively) in a line ringing the edge of the dojo floor. Colored belts were lined up in the center.

Our master, the founder of our style, Kaicho Nakamura, guided us through a brief meditation. Then we bowed in and recognized Kaicho and the most senior members of our style who were present (in this case it took a few minutes, since lots of senior students come to the event). We had a group stretch and then a very vigorous workout. We started off with about a hundred punches, each punch punctuated with a kiai (shout). With all those voices and all those kiais, it was loud in that dojo, and the energy level shot up right away. All the windows and mirrors were steamed up. Everybody was dripping with sweat. We did several sets of blocks, kicks, and squats the same way, as well as various types of pushups and situps.

It didn't last very long, maybe an hour and a half. At the end we all sat down and Kaicho said a few words in honor of the new year. As always, he reminded us to appreciate what we have, and the opportunity to train together and form bonds with eachother. He reminded us of the saying "Karate and Zen are inseparable" (I can't remember it in Japanese). He showed us a poster with the Japanese kanji characters for Zen and explained that the kanji for Zen is the small character for "be" or "show" next to the larger character for "simple" or "simplicity."

He mentioned the recent tsunami and explained that although we may feel young and strong now, bad things can happen at any time, which is why we should take risks and work hard now to appreciate every moment, not just in the dojo but everywhere. Bring your karate into your everyday life.

At the end of it, every student in the place bowed to everybody else, shaking hands and wishing happy new year starting with Kaicho and forming a line in rank order snaking through the whole place. I actually cut out of line early, around the green belts I think, to help set up tables for the annual meeting of senior black belts (fourth degree and higher). The windows were opened and the cold January air rushed in and it felt refreshing. I changed back into my street clothes in the very crowded locker room and left. I didn't even try to take a shower. It was too crowded and the hot water was long gone anyway. I'd shower at home.

I walked from the dojo to Barnes & Noble and again, the prices were a measly 50 percent off for a dwindling supply of calendars. I guess it's just a waiting game but it's January 9 already.

I took the L-train from Union Square to First Avenue, just so I could pop out and buy bagels and lox spread from David's Bagels. I hopped right back on the train and came home to my wife, who had just recently gotten out of bed at 10:30 a.m. She made a delicious pot of coffee and I drank two mugs while sitting in my chair, reading the Sunday New York Times.

Now I feel sore from both yesterday's kumite class and today's new year's training, but I feel good. Kagami Biraki is a really cool thing to be involved in. I'm quite sure nobody else in NYC was doing what we were doing.

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