Reader Article #6: Yoi

GUEST AUTHOR: Marie Lazeration Richter began her martial journey nearly seven years ago learning traditional Karate-Do at Shotokan East in York, PA; currently, she studies and serves as a junior instructor in Tai Chi Chuan with Sifu Steve Kleppe at Shao Lin Boxing Methods in Waukesha, WI. As a freelance writer, Marie assisted Master Kwon Wing Lam with the editing of his latest book, “Authentic Five Animals Style Hasayfu Hung Kuen.” She may be reached via email at mlrichter@ mac.com.


Taikyoku shodan. Yoi.

I heard the words. While I was hoping that it was merely a kind suggestion from Sensei, I knew better…it was a command. Karate mirrors life – commands are serious, specific, absolute. My only option was to obey. And funny how it wasn’t the first words that made every muscle seize up, but rather that one, tiny little “yoi.” Be ready.

In this moment, I was to prepare myself to perform taikyoku shodan, one of the first kata, or prescribed series of basic moves, taught to students of Shotokan karate. Ask any higher belt: this was the easy stuff. But somehow my arms, legs, hands and feet became wholly independent appendages – often jockeying for position and colliding with one another while my brain screamed,  “Left! Left! No, your other left!” Adding insult to injury is the fact that I am a reasonably intelligent adult who despises failure on any level. Ha! Yoi indeed.

How did I manage to find myself here, blatantly parading my inadequacies in front of men, women and children? Ah, love. It’s true…love will make you do crazy things, especially when you are a mother. My youngest attended classes for awhile and, in the process, piqued the interest of my oldest. Quite specifically, a near-teen boy who still thinks his mom is an ok companion. “Let’s do this together,” he said. Saying no was never an option.

So there we were, my beloved son and I, learning how to block, punch, kick and follow orders in a foreign language. You know how people say that kids are like sponges? Well, let’s just say that while my eldest resembled something akin to a bright, vibrant household cleaning tool fresh from its package, I could have easily been mistaken for some poor, forgotten sea creature whose crevices long refused to absorb anything of value.

Yes, old and craggy I felt, and none too pleased with the realization, either. But something incredible was happening simultaneously: I continued to try.  As feeble and awkward as I felt at times, I never gave up. Through the haze of exasperation and frustration, I recalled one of life’s most important lessons: A failed attempt does not equal failure. Who spoke such sage wisdom? Was it Vince Lombardi, FDR, or perhaps inspiration from Mother Teresa? No, wait…I said that. Certainly to my two kids, and quite possibly to my husband, when whatever was looming seemed just too hard to master. I told them countless times that the path of learning – heck, the road of life – is paved with mistakes. There comes a time when you have to stop focusing on all the wrongs and embrace that one, important thing that’s right: your willingness to stick with it.

Today, it’s different…it may have been the love of my kids that landed me in this alien universe of precision and discipline, but it is for the love of myself that I remain. Although I still hear my brain yelling out directions my body can’t quite follow just yet (or, more likely, the voice belongs to a blackbelt doomed to suffer from apoplexy as a reward for his attempts to correct my shortcomings), I try and focus more on what another part of me has to say in the matter. Regardless, I listen. With unwavering certainty, I know the command will come again. But this time, I am ready.