Tab Tries: Combat Karate

Paul Southall bravely volunteers to try his hand at combat karate and unleash his inner Bruce Lee

Stumbling through the Student Union maze, my mind buzzed with images of Jackie Chan and Jet Li kicking chunks out of each other in the fight scene of The Forbidden Kingdom.

I will stress at this point I am not a martial arts person. The idea of flailing my arms about in an attempt at some sort of defence is not one I had previously entertained. If threatened by a combat situation, I would rather run away.

Yet here I was, filled with more tension than I ever am before an exam. My apprehension was not unmerited: wisely, I thought, I had done a little research on my evening’s activity.

Having first gazed at the Wikipedia article on Karate (which means ‘empty hand’; I know, I was fascinated as well), I then fell upon the UBU introduction to the organisation.

Our Tab man prepares for battle
Photo: Jessie Fuellenkemper

It was there I discovered “training is combat-orientated”. Gone were the images of my two hours spent practising slow-motion kicks to the head of an imaginary opponent. Instead, all I could now envisage was having my head kicked in repeatedly at the hands (or rather, feet) of some Bruce Lee replica.

My concern was obviously unfounded. Upon meeting the class of about 20 martial artists, ranging from freshers in ill-fitting clothing to a black-belt software technician from Bath, there seemed no intention to pound my head into the floor.

The atmosphere was jovial but turned more serious once the warm-up began. After 20 minutes of discovering the very embarrassing limits to my flexibility, the karate well and truly began. I was taught three different techniques of kicking and then given a partner with whom to practise.

It’s all kicking off..
Photo: Jessie Fuellenkemper

From kicking, the session developed through a quick summary of countering techniques before moving onto ‘pad work’. It was at this point the difference between combat karate and sport karate was explained to me. The lack of points scoring makes the former actually more akin to the brutal MMA.

Half an hour into punching a set of hand pads, sported by a partner, it dawned on me how red and grazed my knuckles had become. Even a soft inanimate object was getting the better of me.

The highlight of the evening came about half an hour from time, when the hall descended into what can only be described as ‘brawl time’. The class split into pairs and sparred for a minute and a half at a time, with bouts ranging from casual, mild-tempered practice rounds to full-on slogs. It was as I watched these spars I got what I hadn’t yet realised I was after.

I only saw it out of the corner of my eye, but as I glanced at the bout between the ex-MMA black belt and the fellow-black-belted ex-student I had spoken to earlier, I saw a full blown, roundhouse back kick to the head. It was epic. And even better, it wasn’t my head.

The two hours flew past; I was tired after 10 minutes and absolutely cream-crackered by the end. It may well not be for everyone, but for anyone looking for an active pastime, karate should definitely be on the shortlist. I went to sleep a happy man, replaying the head-jarring kick from earlier with a sadistic smile on my face.

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