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Sensei Chris of Ryu Renshi Dan Karate
I walk into the dojo, proclaim my space in the room with a large, traditional “Osu!” [Pronounced “us”], and proceed to the middle area—the place where we start and end every class. My sensei bows to me, and I return the favor. A proud Italian, Sensei Chris stands at 5 feet 9 inches and sports a shaved head, a feature uncommon for a man in his twenties. At first sight, you would not pick him out to be a fierce, highly-trained fighter; after all, he does look like the average worker, and he is. Owning a karate dojo is his second occupation to an everyday job of working for a coffee company.
“Get in a straight line, I’ll be with ya’guys in a moment,” Sensei rapidly spits out while having a side conversation with the parent of a child from another class.
“So, did anyone do anything fun today?” Sensei calmly asks when he returns. He waits patiently for an answer.
A kid named Devon raises his hand, ready to recite his entire day’s schedule: “I did some research—”
“OOOKAY!!!” Sensei cuts him off as a joke, claps loudly, and stands up, chuckling in a way only someone with complete confidence can. He cuts his laugh off abruptly with a glare completely devoid of the giddiness so recently present.
The class starts with a drill. All of the adults (I am one of the youngest in the adult class) join in a semicircle around Sensei Chris. Sensei calls up Ben, a 6-foot-plus man with one tattoo spelling “EVIL” on his neck, and others peeking out from under his gi (karate uniform), forming the twisting shapes of dragons. Ben dwarfs Sensei in regards to both visible muscle and height, yet Sensei calls him up to attack in the drill.
“Punch me full speed, full power—I’ll just use the first thing that I think of,” Sensei calmly suggests.
Ben punches him, full speed and full power, expecting to knock Sensei off his feet, a feasible prospect based on appearances. However, this does not happen, as Sensei Chris steps into the punch and uses both hands to drive it away from his face. Next, he grabs Ben’s wrist, carefully positioning his other hand, and twists. When I start taking in the situation, I realize that Ben is on one knee, his back away from Sensei Chris and his arm twisted painfully behind his shoulder. Within a few seconds, Sensei has let go and Ben has backed off, yet the picture of complete and utter control burns its way into my mind.
I just notice that no one has said a word throughout the entire drill; the display brings about a rapt silence on every one of the adults surrounding me, rubbing out their usually prominent personas.
“BANG!! Bssh!! Dsshh!! Boom!! Pang!!” I am startled, stepping back and lifting my hands, but the commotion is just Sensei air-punching near Ben, pointing out key attacks that would make any resistance futile. Several punches make contact, and with the last blow, Ben staggers back a good three feet, literally defying the laws of physics.
“Now, I could knock him out with a roundhouse kick or break his collarbone with an axe kick, but I’ll be nice,” Sensei Chris states with a grin, looking like a kid with a new present he cannot wait to open. He then kicks way over his head, missing Ben’s temple by less than an inch, causing Ben to cower down and set his arm to trap the kick. But the kick has dissipated, leaving just a group of quiet, enthralled adults, with a few whispering, “Cool” and “Nice.”
The class separates into groups of two, each one practicing the presented drill. The class is composed of a wide variety of people, from tattooed motorcycle-riders to doctors over the age of forty to kids like me; however, despite differences, every single adult and child is trying to perfect his/her technique, hoping that each of them can one day match the level of their fresh-out-of-college, hardworking young man of a Sensei.
Sensei Chris walks around the dojo, scrutinizing our long stances—“Make that stance solid! Solid enough to withstand a kick or a strike with a stick,” he turns to face me. “Make it perty, right Guaramenté?” (Guaramenté is Sensei’s pet name for me). Sensei winks at me and turns to face the class, kicking the air as he looks towards the center of the room.
“So…who wants to get me dinner after class?” A grin owns Sensei’s face once again.