Breaking the Brick

November 10, 2012 § 2 Comments

I am sitting outside Shaw’s Karate in my car, grading papers and waiting for my son to finish class. He runs out to me excited, but he doesn’t get in the car. I roll down the window. “Julia’s breaking a brick!” he says. I put my papers down, get out of the car. This is serious. Parents stream out of cars and into the building. We gather around Julia, a red headed girl, maybe fourteen years old.

I should mention that I have been converted to the cult of Shaw. When Jack Henry begged to take karate, I resisted, thinking it would pass, but it didn’t. When I caved, he was about seven. Now, he is eleven. The mantra he learned the first day was: Do our best! I stole it, of course. I also stole Mr. Shaw’s parenting skills. He has no children of his own, but he knows way more than I do. I found myself saying, “What would Mr. Shaw say?” when Jack Henry did something I didn’t like, or when he did something I was proud of. It is the magic of quiet and steady personal responsibility. I forget this when I lose it and yell at my kids for the forty-ninth time to take the trash out. Most days, I am as steady and consistent as a moth.

There is a balance of boys and girls here, at least until you get to twelve. You remember twelve—when the world divides and all you owned at ten years old, held onto at eleven, starts to slip away. Julia is the alpha girl, a brown belt, with stripes toward her black. She’s the gentlest bad ass I’ve ever seen.

In karate, there’s a sound you make, a ki-ya! Whenever you really want to add power. Some translate it as the “spirit sound.” Julia’s ki-ya is wimpy. Mr. Shaw is constantly telling her to put more power into her voice. But today she is breaking the brick. We gather around her, Mr. Shaw coaches, she tries. “Use your arms,” he says. Your arms? I realize I know nothing about where the power lies in my own body. Julia raises her arms then pulls them sharply into her body as the heel of her foot hits the brick. The brick does not break, and Julia cries. Mr. Shaw asks us all to move away for a while.  “It’s not in the foot,” he says. We scatter politely.

I know that brick. It is one of the tests for a black belt. I have seen other kids and grown people unable to break the brick. I have seen a strong man crack it like a peanut shell–with his hand then with his head. It is the reason I am so inspired by Jack Henry and his karate. It is the reason parents crane their heads in from the waiting area whenever a kid does something powerful. It is everything we thought we could never do. It’s in the arms and in the voice. Break the brick.

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