Welcome Back, Kata!

I have had some great pleasure over the last 8 years or so reconnecting with some old friends via Facebook. I don’t consider myself to be a social media addict but Facebook has reconnected me with friends from the Navy, high school, or relatives who live far away that I have not seen in many years. Some of them, I may possibly have lost contact with forever had it not been for the Internet and social media or, at the very least, it would have been much hard to track down these connections or for them to find me.

About 3 months ago, I was searching for a friend from high school named Jeff. First, I should provide some history. Jeff graduated about 6 years ahead of me. He then went on to be the instructor for my high school’s karate club. A mutual friend brought me to a karate club meeting after school one day during my 9th grade year. Since I was a first time visitor, Jeff gave me some individual attention. My first lesson was to never address Jeff as “sensei” (teacher). The reason why was that Jeff, while very learned in karate, was not a black belt in karate. Sensei was reserved for black belts. Jeff then taught me chudan oi zuki (middle lunge punch). He taught me how to hold my fist (thumb tucked inward) and to punch from the hip. He explained this way: “If I punch you with my arm, it won’t hurt much. If Lou Ferrigno punches you with his arm, it will hurt like crazy BUT not as much as if he had put his hip into the punch.” Clearly, Jeff understood the use of humor as a teaching tool which clicked very well with me. After practice, since several of us did not have access to a car, Jeff drove us all home. This was very generous given that several of the students lived on the other side of town. Over time, I would find that the generosity of Jeff’s time knew few boundaries.

Over the course of my sophomore and junior years in high school, I continued in karate club whenever it did not conflict with my first obligation which was drama club. Jeff was kind enough not to give me grief over giving theater priority over karate as he understood my passion for it. He simply welcomed me into every karate class I could attend. When I got my driver’s license, I would even visit Jeff at his home as he had become as much of a friend as an instructor. Many visits would result in us practicing a kata (formal exercise). Jeff even wrote out the steps of several different kata on a legal pad one day to help me retain the steps better. Again, his generosity knew few boundaries.

As my senior year if high school was approaching, Jeff moved from our town of Savannah, GA to the Atlanta area. Soon after, he was married and he had a son. He called me at Christmas time that year to catch up and tell me about his son and wife. The following spring, I went with some friends to Six Flags Over Georgia. Later that day, we met up with Jeff at his apartment. It would be the last time I saw him before I left to join the Navy.

Two years later, I was out of the Navy and living in the Atlanta area with my parents. Jeff was one of the first people I looked up. As it turned out, Jeff lived with his wife and son in an apartment that was less than 5 minutes from my parents house. I could not believe the blessing. Jeff and I bonded all over again. His wife was always nothing short of hospitable.

Of the next year and a half that followed, I was also married with 3 step children (my first wife had three kids from a previous marriage). Eventually, I moved to western New York (to my ex wife’s home town) for a fresh start. Jeff and I lost contact after that.

Fast forward to around September 2016, I searched for Jeff on Facebook. I had searched previously to no avail. I happened to recall his son’s name and searched for him instead. PAYDIRT! I sent a message to his son to confirm I had found the right person. Within the next several days. Jeff sent me a friend request on Facebook. I would find out that his son had not yet read the message I sent. Jeff coincidentally found me through a mutual friend. His presence could not have come at a better time. I had been laid off from my job. Plus, between August and December 2016, my wife and I faced the death of 10 friends, family members, or other loved ones. This would sadly, include a close high school friend and the aforementioned ex-wife. IN short, I was a wreck and reconnecting with Jeff was like hitting the play button on a song that had been paused for 30 years. Not a single note was missed.

One day, Jeff presented me with a challenge. The challenge was to do a kata every day. In spite of my obesity (or perhaps because of it), I was intrigued by the idea. He then added that we were to do the same kata 5 times per day every day for 6 days. After a day of rest on the 7th day, the cycle would start again. I figured if Jeff was willing to do it in spite of some severe orthopedic issues. I had no excuse not to participate.

The kata is 20 steps and takes about 40 seconds on the average. The first several days, I nearly fell trying to remember the steps and perform them correctly. As always, Jeff never judged. He always provided support and encouragement. He reminded me to do the steps as well as I can. Master Gichin Funakoshi, who basically created the form of karate that Jeff studies (Shotokan), has a very simple adage: “Each to their own ability”. The goal is simply to be better at karate today than you were yesterday.

I cannot begin to tell you the benefit that this challenge and connection has provided for Jeff and me alike. Every morning, we bond from 1000 miles away. We even drafted a long range plan and have used Facebook to share the challenge for others across the globe. Several people close to Jeff or me have joined the challenge.  I post daily on Facebook with my progress. Jeff provides input and support on my posts. He knows the technique. I help to communicate our challenge with the world. We are connected and in tune with one another. Like Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Simmons and Stanley, Maurice and Verdine, peanut butter and jelly, or RC cola and a moon pie; Jeff and Shane go well together. I’ll keep you all posted over time with the progress. If you’d like to join the challenge, feel free to add a comment. I can provide some basic information to get you started. OSU!