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Martial Arts

Martial arts have been on my mind this week. At a local sports event recently (“A Super Saturday of Sport” I think they called it) various clubs and gyms were promoting themselves and offering chances to sign up for classes and competitions. The classes that always catch my eye are for karate, for reasons I’ll tell you about later in this piece.

My children have yet to sign up for any self-defence or martial arts classes. I hope that they won’t need to defend themselves from danger but it’s as well to be prepared. We can’t protect them every hour of the day. My son will be 13 in November and some teenage boys are targets for other teenage boys. I was lucky to get through my teen years relatively unscathed but my awareness of danger was probably better developed than my son’s. I might occasionally have sensed danger where there was none but also managed to avoid trouble at all the punk and post-punk gigs that I went to, at all the pubs where I did my under-age drinking, and on every London street I walked along. The only mishap came on a tube train, where there was no escape route.

Like many people of my age I have now become invisible to most teenagers. Even if they’re not looking down at a screen their awareness of someone like me will be minimal. I like it that way. I feel no nostalgia for the time when inadvertently catching someone else’s eye could lead, at the very least, to the impolite query, “What are you looking at?” But my children are about to enter that phase of life and lessons for them in karate (or Kung Fu, Taekwondo or something similar) would help my peace of mind in the years ahead. They had trial kick-boxing classes two years ago and it didn’t work out. I was impressed by the clear instruction that they were given: if you are attacked, the first thing you should try is to run away. If that’s not possible, the next thing is to defend yourself, and kick-boxing gives some very effective ways to do this.

The reason why karate lessons always catch my eye is because that was the martial art my brother and I did in the 1970s, when I was 12 and he was 15. It didn’t last long, maybe a term, partly because he was so much bigger than me and we couldn’t really practise together, and also because it took place on a Thursday. That meant missing “Top of the Pops” every week. (This was a time before video recorders, the iPlayer or catch-up TV of any kind.) I write about it in “1000 Memories” and it’s here on the Memories Menu.

I have often wondered what would have happened if we had continued our lessons. Would we have kept it up long enough to become black belts? Would it have affected our education? Would I even now be suffering from some injury acquired while showing off my skills? That’s what happened to the brother of an old school-friend. His martial arts skills helped him to overcome shyness and he became renowned for his flying kicks, his ability to leap in the air and safely kick an object off someone’s head. Then, urged to show off this party piece from cold, he snapped a hamstring and had a six-month recovery period during which he could no longer practise. Last I heard, he had withdrawn even further into his shell than he had been before training in martial arts. Based on my inability to concentrate on a single sport for any length of time (a bit of football here, a bit of running there, the odd few months of intensive swimming, long periods of not-very-much) I suspect that something similar might have happened to me. As with all the other activities that I began and didn’t pursue I don’t have any deep regrets about this one and am grateful never to have snapped a hamstring or broken an ankle. Maybe, as with so many other things, my children can improve on my attempts: try karate and stick at it long enough to acquire greater expertise than my brother and I did. And they should be better able to take care of themselves, even on tube trains.



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