Stretch Like a Tiger

Sensei Pete teaches that there are many lessons to be learned from the animal kingdom. Most students have heard him talk of monkey-catching techniques from South Asia long before they don a black gi. To catch a monkey, he says, one need only cut a narrow hole in the top of a coconut, affix the coconut to a tree, and place some shiny stone or metal inside the coconut. Monkeys like shiny things (humans do too), and a monkey can squeeze its hand into the coconut to grab hold of the shiny thing. But once the precious trinket is wrapped in their fist, they are trapped -- an empty hand can slip back out, but a clenched fist cannot. And so the trapper has their monkey.

This parable, like Aesop's own fables, is as simple to understand as it is instructive for the karate-ka. To escape a wrist grab, a student learns to avoid the monkey's fate by stretching their hands wide, naturally spreading the bones and tendons around the wrist to make it larger and harder to hold -- and easier to break free.

One of Sensei Pete's more rarely told lessons from the world of mammals is that of the caged tiger. A man, confined in jail for a time, usually sits or lounges or sleeps. He rests. A tiger, in contrast, constantly stretches, flexing its terrible muscles and limbering its long legs for that singular moment when it might be unleashed upon its captor. The tiger is always ready.

That readiness is the fruit of endless preparation and effort, so too the karate-ka must constantly practice and prepare to be ready. The execution of karate in true earnest will, for any of us, last for only a few short moments in a lifetime (and one should hope that such a time never need come). But in those vital seconds, hours and years and decades of practice -- of sweat, of grunting effort, of constant readiness -- will come to the fore.

Stretch like a tiger.

Andrew Trexler