Chito-Ryu: A Manual for Sixth Through Second Kyus in Eight Years.



(in unison)









We who study Karate-Doh,

Should never forget the spirit of the Warrior’s way.

With peace, perseverance, and hard work,

We will not fail to reach our goal.



A Manual for Sixth through Second Kyus in Eight Years.



She calls it gruesome, and he laughs. (They weren’t family then. Then, she only knew that he reminded her of her grandfather.) It was simple: grab the trachea and let the owner of that trachea try to pull your vice-grip fingers away. Maybe ninety percent of the damage was done just from them trying to break free.

She doesn’t know who they are. Them. She imagines someone with jackboots, a dirty mustache, a leather jacket. She can’t think of anyone whose trachea she’d like to latch onto like that.

He tells her a story. One day, a new student got threatened with a knife in the street. All she did was get into seisan-dachi, breathe, and her accoster realized that maybe he should pick easier prey than this five foot tall woman.

She thinks this is cool.

She won’t always. She will learn to live on both sides of their strange divide – here, they are unhappy at the thought of violence, proud of their prowess, their ability to react. They are almost all of them the least violent people on earth, except…

Except don’t fuck with them. They won’t ever tell you that – in fact, they are taught to walk away, exhaust all possibilities, profess cowardice before choosing to fight if really there is no way out. Pride exists – in ability, skill – but battle lust belongs two blocks down where the labels on the window are constantly changing because they don’t know who they want to be. Let them be the brawlers. Here, they are only interested in human beings.


His dad was sick a long time. The funeral was mostly in Polish. I latched onto that. I did not know the man for whom the mass was being celebrated. There were nine of us there, representing the school. His father had his brotherhood: ten rows of paramedics and ambulanciers. The karateka was an only child, but his family, blood and otherwise, were all around him. One of us was out of town. His fiancée came in his place. Afterwards, we gathered at our teacher’s house to be together. Our Polish friend was still at the church. We told stories about our pets. Some of us drank espresso. I had ginger tea, sharp and nourishing. Our teacher talked about mountain climbing, about getting lost on a walk in the rich part of the woods where nobody would answer the door.


Hit me harder. I know you can do it – I feel it when you hit into the bag. Just go for it! If I muss your hair, that means I would have hit you in the face. Keep your guard up! Hit me in the face – if I know that you’ll never hit me in the face, then I know your attack is only coming in from here to here, even if you fake a punch to my head. Try some jodan, and commit! Hit me in the face!

Okay, switch!

Always fake before you kick. That kick is the slowest – do a front kick, but feint first. What do you do if I push you into the wall? Remember, you have elbows and knees. Elbow me in the back of the head, anything! Out there, you can do anything. In here, hit me hard! That’s it! Way to go. Harder. That was a good one.

Change – changez.

So I’d like to work the body shots today, not so much the face, okay?

Remember to keep your guard up. Jam the kicks to block them. Keep your guard in front of your face but not too close. Okay, let’s break.

Change partners.

Hit you harder? Okay, I will. You hit me too, okay? I can take it. (Ouch, you block hard.) Hit me, okay? Really! Think I should block it like that? I can’t seem to get in at you. You have such a long reach!

Change – changez.

You again? Whoops! Keep your guard up! Yes, good! Hit harder!

Okay! Jogging!


One straight line. Seiza.


Mokuso yame.

Shomen ni rei.

Sensei ni rei. Thanks, ladies and gentlemen.

Thanks, ____!

Oh man – she was a real monster tonight – got me right in the eye! You don’t mess with _____!


I hit him in the balls. I did it in his kitchen. In our honeymoon phase, we liked to wrestle and playfight – his kitchen seemed perfect for that. It wasn’t for want of control that I hit him there. Actually, it goes to show how easy it is for a martial artist to hurt someone inexperienced – or maybe how easy it is for the inexperienced to hurt themselves. If I were practicing with someone else, they would have known what my next likeliest move was going to be, and wouldn’t have leapt into the air. I think it’s fairer to say that he hit his testes on my hand, and not that I hit him in the nuts. You see, when I go down into shiko dachi, and throw an uraken-zuki to the face, obviously my next move is going to be a backfist to the balls. He literally jumped up into it, driving his knee up. He attacked my fist with his crotch! Okay, yes, he is the one that fell down. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have been using karate outside of the dojo, even in jest, but I challenge anyone to learn as many techniques as we do and just sit on them and wait to use them.


It took her eight years to really learn (almost) all of the rules. The first ones she learned were to bow when entering and leaving, and to line up according to belt colour and seniority. Not being a person who normally wore hats, it wasn’t until she got a cowboy hat that she discovered that, even when passing through from the changing rooms, you shouldn’t wear one. Then, there was one that should have been obvious but wasn’t: the butt rule. When bending over for exercises, one had to face sideways. It was against the rules to point your butt at either the door to the building or the changing room doors. Probably the strangest rule was that they bowed to a building – strange until you learned to love and respect it – especially the floor, where everyone ended up often.


We are none of us violent people in our day to day lives. In the dojo, we don’t even kill spiders. One time, a drunk came into the dojo – yes, right into the dojo itself, and started making fake Bruce Lee noises. Our teacher grabbed him by the collar and the seat of the pants and threw him out. Actually, twenty years ago, maybe more, all the toughs in the neighbourhood used to come to karate. They all wanted to be tougher than the next guy over. They took it very seriously. Back then, people used to brawl in the streets. Now the students in the adult classes fall into three general categories: the young professionals, the university students, and the therapy cases that our teacher helps with from the local mental health institute. Most of us have kids, many of whom come to the junior classes on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. When our teacher fell sick last year, his blackbelts stepped up to run the classes. We worried endlessly. The biggest change when he got better was that he stopped shaking hands with people who were feeling under the weather. He can still lift a 200 pound blue belt to do sit-ups in mid-air. We sure like him.


The advanced class is tightly knit. The same people make up the weekly classes. After class, we sit lined up against the wall and talk – about class, hockey, work, hockey, anything. It isn’t like this in the “regular” class – and that means something to most of us. When you’re just starting out, there are a lot of nerves, and you’re pretty impressionable. The advanced class looks impossible. We are impressive. Our teacher accounts for this – he invites green belts and higher to come to the advanced class personally. He also does belt exams for less advanced belts without telling them it’s an examination. He’ll often tell somebody who is readying for the exam that they’ve just done it when they thought they were only practicing. He did it to me for at least one belt. I had my parents come once, but overall they didn’t understand what was going on. I told them that they didn’t have to come again.


No matter how much progress I make, and how strong I am, I am still a girl. I am still just “strong for a girl” – or maybe not. There’s a strange duplicity that we participate in. I work as hard. I am sometimes graceful. I have good form and flexible wrists. But our style, Chito-ryu, is what’s called seventy percent strength, developed from fifty percent strength Shorin-ryu and eighty percent strength Shorei-ryu. We do things like running with each other on our backs. Let’s face it: even if I ask the guys to hit me like anyone else, they would still hit me harder if I were a man. So I must have excellent technique, work hardest. I like my teacher, even if he thinks in his heart of hearts that women shouldn’t be police officers – especially the short ones. Equal rights want me to say that they should be, but do I really believe it? Even among men, it used to be that only the tall became police officers. I feel bad that I agree. Where did I leave my inner feminist? Isn’t that synonymous with “strong woman”? But even if they are stronger, it doesn’t mean anything if I correctly use the techniques at my disposal. To do so, I must have no illusions about my own strength, and choose the right tool for the job. I know for a fact that _____ can barely bend his wrists.


I bring my manual on vacation up to the lake. The entire time that I am there, I use it once. The lake is steaming at that time of the day. The sun wants to dry me up and I slip into the lake, swim out until I find the rock underwater that just lets me stand with my head out of the water. I am a whirling dervish, water gliding like only water can over my muddied skin. At the country, there are always pine needles and bark fragments stuck to my neck and breasts, sweat stinging blackfly bites. On the wharf, I dry my hands and take out the book. I practice empi-kihon-no-kata – something that I know so well that I cannot remember not knowing it. My aunt’s dog brings me the ball, and I throw it far.


She heard on television that some physical exertions are easier if you yell. There was a martial artist on a sports’ science show that timed how many planks he could break in a minute when yelling versus in total silence. When they let him make noise, he broke something like twenty percent more planks. In karate, they had the kiai, the yells done during certain moves in the katas. They yelled “hitsu” in deep voices coming from their bellies, breathing deep. Their karate focused on breathing and other principals like kime (focus, looking the opponent in the eye), rotation, and vibration. Speed, focus, power. There were ways of using the body that differed depending on the partner. Distances had to constantly be remeasured to take height and reach into account. They did it almost automatically, without conscious calculations. Their feet moved in half-moons and from their very first belt they knew seven stances. Short, Japanese phrases with no English equivalent nearly so concise. Take Shiko dachi – sumo stance – the stance where you spread your legs out and sank down low – a broad stance where your legs form a rectangle with the floor. They were constantly telling other belts “bend your knees!” Karate was learning a new language, a collection of skills, a philosophy, a history, a life. The students were something else, and also karateka.  At karate, they put aside everything else; at the end of class, they rejoined it.


In eight years, there had been renovations. When she used to look up at the ceiling, she saw the brown stains of water damage and fallen plaster. For years, she stared at the same stains every time she lay on her back – there was one that looked like a llama to her. _____ also had a student who thought, with all the damage, and their two ceiling fans set apart asymmetrically, it looked like a plane had crashed into the roof. To that day, the dojo ran on duct tape – it held kicking bags together, was wrapped around some of the wooden posts, and held the belts together that kept the two-by-fours near the front tightly wound, upright. It was even holding down some of the wood paneling that lined the walls up to waist-height on every wall except the one filled with mirrors. There were five flags on the back wall: Japan, Canada, Quebec, and two from games and clinics that the dojo had participated in in the eighties. There was an oil painting of their grand master, O Sensei Chitose, next to the girls’ changing room. The renovations had repaired the water damage, but the paint was peeling again. Their upstairs neighbours were always the kind of people that moved out in the middle of the night, and did stupid things to the plumbing. It was an old building to begin with. After the most recent renovations, a pipe had burst, flooding the dojo, hitting the walls. The floorboards had warped, leaving uncomfortable cracks for the students’ bare feet. But it was theirs, and they weathered the changes.

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