Thursday, 16 August 2012

Karate Part II: Senior White Belt

There is an adorable lady named Thelma who attended the same karate session I did. I would guess she is in her late 70s/early 80s. Thelma came to class wearing a Caribbean holiday t-shirt over a purple hoodie with knee-length, oversized Adidas shorts. She had a beige stocking on one leg. The look was completed by a white belt wrapped around her waist over the t-shirt. As evidenced by its fraying edges, this belt had clearly been to many karate classes. Thelma has a gentle chin tremor, which gives the impression she is always in agreement (though her words often reveal her confusion). In class, she sometimes followed what the rest of the class was doing. More often, she moved to her own rhythm, in her own style. She wandered in and out of the class multiple times during the two-hour training session.

When it was time to line up at the end of the session, everyone scurried to their places. There is a very strong hierarchical structure to karate. You must line up according to belt colour, and then seniority within each belt. The chief instructor stopped the class to make a point of moving the handful of first-time karate participants (all girls in their early 20's) down the line so that Thelma could take her place as senior white belt. It was explained very clearly that she had trained longer and therefore outranked them. It was a beautiful moment. I think too often, the more vulnerable among us are overlooked. But, we all have something to learn from each other. Thelma teaches the class a lesson in persistence. Her presence offers us the opportunity to tap into a softer side of the human spirit.

I hope that when I am in my 80's and have dementia, I will be welcomed to take my place in line at the end of class as senior white belt.

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