When Hanshi turns to me in the middle of class and says, “How do you feel?” I do not reply for what feels like an eternity.
We’ve just finished working Anaku kata, way ahead of the game for me, a little white belt, and the green and two blacks I’m practicing with move like they’re floating. Most of the kata is in honbon kabadachi (45 degree horse stance—a low stance where you’re basically squatting as though you were on a horse, except there is no horse there to support you) and at one point I had to close my eyes and exhale obnoxiously loud just to hold the stance. We’ve done the kata a few times—and did I mention that I foolishly practiced kicks for 20 minutes before class tonight?—and my legs feel as though they are on fire. My knee? I don’t know where it is on my body, except that when I look down, I am glad to see it is still there. My shoulders? My center? I’m too tired to pay as much attention to them as I should be.
“How do you feel?” he says.
I stutter: “You mean how do I feel right now? As in here, now?”
A pause. Thick silence. All I can hear is the sound of my own brain, heavy with the weight of overthinking. Hashi looks at me, waits, blue eyes expectant.
“I’m fine. I feel just fine.”
“Good, he says. Come to the front. Jeff, you too, so she’s not alone.”
And then we work Shino and Wunsu katas and answer in-your-face questions and practice our blocks and punches (in honbon kibadachi). The black belts watch us and I can feel their eyes through my back. Not in a bad way, but it’s their perception and experience I can feel. It’s their job to watch at this juncture, as Hanshi is trying to see where I’m at in terms of readiness for yellow belt test and Jeff’s brown belt test could be a few months away. That’s why we’re in the hot seat.
After more moving basics from one end of the dojo to the other, we come together for a bow. Bantering all the way out the door, the four of us have a lovely energy at the close of a good class. I can feel how we each want to linger in the buzz and cut of hard mind-body-spirit work. It’s a beautiful thing, to get to practice being “fine, just fine” in the moment. We can spend so much of every day building stories around the answer to that one question, “How do you feel?” when what really matters is what you’re going to do with the present moment.