Monday, April 27, 2015

If the Belt Fits...

In college I took a class in karate, Okinawan Kenpo to be exact, to fulfill part of the school's phys ed requirement. On the first day of class the sensei, an honest-to-God living legend in the world of martial arts (he was in Fist of Fear, Touch of Death for gosh sake - it said so on his business card), presented each and every one of us with a brand-spanking-new, starch-white, plastic-wrapped karate gi that he pulled from this ancient and mysterious-looking brown corrugated box. 

I can still sense the excitement that filled the air that afternoon. When the last kid in line got her hands on the last gi in the box, she begged our new martial arts master to ink her "Japanese name" on the accompanying white belt, the color belt worn by all karate greenhorns. 

He gladly obliged with a smile on his face and then with a twinkle in his eye proceeded to brand each and every one of the belts belonging to about fifty or so students with their own "Japanese name" to brandish about their waists. Penned with broad sweeping strokes, the indecipherable Japanese lettering transformed my most ordinary of names into a thing of beauty. It had to have been the pinnacle of my educational career up until that point. 

It was just sooo cool! I wore my karate gi like all the time, around the house mostly but on occasion outside the home. It was on one such occasion, a few months down the road, that I was informed by someone more erudite than myself that the inscrutable word penned so stylishly on my belt said "STUPID." While I was sure the master meant it as a compliment, I soon grew out of the belt anyway. Thanks largely to a steady intake of pizza along with barrels of beer, a common diet fad among my peers at the time, I was forced to eventually hang the belt up for good.

The funny thing though is that now, a lifetime later, I live in Japan, where people, more often than not, refer to me by my same old "Japanese name." I guess the belt still fits.