Martial Arts Monday by Johanna Tesson
15.04.2003, Monday evening
I don't know, I was a little bit worried about getting hurt. Somewhere in the back of my mind that seemed reasonable.
It was Monday night after work. I quickly finished my spag bol and donned my jogging bottoms. I was ready to take my first steps into the mystical world of martial arts I had so long dreamt about. I wanted to be Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and, for want of alternative female role models, the wonderful, irrepressible Jackie Chan.
New to Bristol, I'd found out there was a Ju-Jitsu class at a leisure centre nearby, so I first did my research, to make sure I wasn't entering some kind of Japanese cult, specialising in vigilante field trips. I appeared to have opted for the least threatening option, described in the leaflet as "a practical and realistic Martial Art that caters for anyone." Lovely.
Having mentioned this class to my new housemate, Zoe, she said a work colleague of hers, a lady called Pearl (40), teaches this class with her husband. I was sufficiently reassured, and looked forward to a pleasant evening.
I arrived a couple of minutes late, but luckily there's another guy who seemed to know where the class is. He ushered me through, saying, "Oh I think they've already started. Just join in at the back, join right in." To my dismay, not only was there no sign of Pearl and her hubby, I was met by the sight of thirty muscle men dressed in black, punching the air in perfect unison, led by none other than Kirk Douglas in his early Spartacus days.
Affected apparently by the cloud of testosterone wafting through the gym, I quickly adjusted to male-type behaviour, and casually removed my shoes and made a move to indeed 'join in' at the back. This was not so easy. There was no part of what Kirk was yelling at his mesmerised troops that I could successfully imitate without looking much better than a butterfly in a tumble drier. And this, apparently, was just the warm-up.
Suddenly, as if subliminally controlled by a series of coded oriental-sounding grunts from 'Kirk,' to my relief, the sea of perspiring warriors parted and in walked a much less threatening-looking teacher, a soft-spoken baldy man. I was still wafting at the back of the hall, so Kirk came steaming towards me and pointed with his piercing blue eyes in the direction of the dunce side of the room, to which I gladly scuttled.
I then began to notice there were actually four other females there, of a class of thirty odd, of around my age, so I began to relax a little, and gladly waved my hand in the air when finally asked who didn't know how to "back crack" or something. I seemed to be the only beginner not willing to break their neck for the sake of keeping face. You idiots, save yourselves! I thought.
On his side of the room, our gladiator friend began instructing his ace killing team in classic Bristollian to "juss' poke ‘em in the oiyes." His grey be-sweated t-shirt flapped in the hurricane fuelled by some strange style of oriental star jumps I'd never seen before. This appeared to involve scraping one's knuckles along the floor before leaping as high in the air as you can, with legs and arms akimbo, and repeating this twenty times. Piece of cake. Why didn't he pick me for his team?
While he was doing that, I explained to my unthreatening baldy teacher that I had this neck injury and, here's a crazy thought, maybe I should take it easy. I don't know, I was a little bit worried about getting hurt. Somewhere in the back of my mind that seemed reasonable. Perhaps that voice was my feminine side; the side that stops me jumping in front of speeding trucks, and sticking my hand into an open fire.
On request, I eagerly demonstrated my preferred version of falling over backwards, masterfully avoiding actual contact with our old pal, the floor. This duly noted, he was happy to tailor the approved standard neck-garrotting technique for my benefit, sadly the core movement of this mystical art. Instead of the neck, we would focus on the wrists. I agreed my wrists appeared to be in good order, so he commenced by putting me in an arm lock and cracking my wrist with a grim knowing smile. Baldy man not so nice now. That's it, I thought; I'll never be able to write again. However, after a few minutes there seemed to be no ill effects, so the rest of the lesson flew by; which I spent gleefully knocking a chubby girl with glasses onto a mat.
I say to all women and girls out there who feel they'd like to do a sport, but think aerobics is daft, and running on a treadmill is boring – don't let the men have all the fun! The more women go to these classes, the more others will be encouraged to follow, and they will see its not just for boys, but can be for skinny chicks with glasses too!
My first step onto the path of Eastern enlightenment was tinged more with machismo than with mysticism, but I have learned a valuable lesson. Never trust bald men. No, it's this: don't let anyone push you about. Take heed of your feminine side; then kick them gracefully in the shins!
I also learned that Pearl teaches macramé, not karate.