Yesterday I wrote only shorthand questions, ticks, half marks and crosses- the accepted system for recording knowledge of theory from the students hoping to progress up a belt level. One new Black Belt sat at each side of me, being instructed and gently overseen in the art of questioning. I often land in charge of the theory table, having a sense for when nerves are dispersing diligent study. My two apprentices caught on to the empathy angle in a heartening way. Let's not get this wrong: we do learn to punch and kick, we do fight, blood gets spilt now and then, bones broken, eyes blacked. But social and emotional intelligence are nurtured and valued. The bonds we build, through training, competing and facing the grading process, spread out over lifetimes. A baby comes to the grading on Mum's lap, she cheers her fellow students on. A big sister holds a Black Belt certificate up to show her little yellow-belted brother. Teenagers in smart blazers pose for photographs. Instructors, like parents, share pride and disappointments.
In my head, of course, there is residual writing going on, strands of sentences appearing as Mr drives and fingers of sun lace through autumn branches. The best sentence of all appears over a bowl of tomato soup. It reveals the secret of a happy life.
To be the person who does not panic when there is no toilet paper, to be the person who is sublimely happy when there is.