Winter's GauntletFebruary 2002
“I must be out of my mind!” It’s a thought that keeps playing over and over, like some hysterical mantra, as I step barefoot onto the parking lot of the beach. The windswept stretch of yellow-lined asphalt is devoid of summer traffic; months gone. There’s limitless room for the cars of karate classmates who’ve come to join me in this maniacal venture. It is February 14th, a Sunday meant for warmth, for chocolate valentines, for flowers.
In case you are wondering why we are gathered on this frozen tundra, let me enlighten you. Martial arts practice is about fortitude, about courage and serenity in the face of danger, and I’m here to meet my most formidable opponent to date. By the looks of it, he’s dressed in wind and ice water. If I survive this, I may take up knitting.
My daughter has come to watch this special training, and I entrust my car keys to her. My classmates and I soberly exchange nods of acknowledgment. Nobody is smiling; teeth might freeze.
Sensei casually makes his appearance, and from his unperturbed demeanor, it may as well be June. He barks instructions a might louder than usual in order to be heard above the howling winds, and we begin jogging down the snow covered beach. Snow crunches under each step and I try to outrun the numbing cold. Barefoot prints perforate the snow and look rather sinister, not at all like the soft white powder that drapes bushes and reflects moonlight. There is a rhythmical cadence to the labored breathing and stomping feet. I can see the smoky puffs of winter air trailing out of our mouths. I’m hoping he finds his destination before someone passes out. We finally stop at the water’s edge.
Sensei wades into the black water up above his waist and turns to face the class. We are lined up, ready to begin the drills. The water swirls and sucks at our calves.
“I’ve had babies!” my mind tries to reason. “I can do this!” The sun is strong, blinding, and casts surreal shimmers on the scene, but it doesn’t offer even the tiniest ounce of warmth. The relentless gusts pierce all my protection: my gi and my skin, right down to my frozen bones. Will they ever thaw?
The count off begins and for about an hour that lasts a week; we punch and we kick. I desperately try not to give credence my feet, which are dispatching alarm signals to my brain. “Please stay strong enough to make that run back to the car,” I plead. I manage a few seconds of composure to focus on the rugged beauty ofthe day, the slow circling of curious seagulls, the icy white caps riding the waves.
It’s over and I’m back at the car, dancing around, trying to jump-start my circulation. l look for my daughter; more specifically my car keys. She’s several yards away, casually involved in a conversation. I allow myself one brief hot white moment of fury at her lack of consideration. The engine should be running, the heater on full blast. My thought waves reach her and she hurries in my direction; hand outstretched, she offers up keys.
Back at the school we toast each other’s bravery with heated saki. Later that day,standing under a hot shower, wondering if I’ll ever get warm, I vow never to participate in such foolishness again. Of course my heart knows that this is a promise is meant to be broken. The reality is, I was called, I was challenged and I prevailed and I know that my love of karate would never allow me a moment’s hesitation when bid to test my spirit.Back