Late last year, Sapphire and I started karate lessons together. As a mother-daughter bonding exercise, karate was selected because neither of knew anything about it, it involved both mental and physical discipline and we got to wear some really cool pyjamas (see left).
Since that photo was taken, we've progressed so incredibly far that our once-pristine white belts now have a yellow tip on them - the very first step up the long ladder to black belted one-ness. I think I was more excited than Sapphire when they were presented to us and decided to ignore the fact that the tip was just a strip of yellow electrical tape stuck on by Mark Sensei five minutes earlier.
At this stage, it remains unclear as to whether Sapphire regards me as an equal in terms of learning something new. Our class is populated with about 5 other seven year olds, 3 ten year olds and then twenty adults ranging from 20 to 55. In true karate Dojo style, we are required to line up in terms of rank, so I must scuttle around the blacks, browns, blues, reds, oranges and fully-fledged yellows and stand right at the end of the line, a big old chunky pelican standing amongst the smaller, younger seagull chicks.
Not that it embarasses me because I too am a beginner and it's a real delight standing next to my child and seeing her listen, concentrate and - quite often - loudly whisper to me that "You're not doing it right, Mum."
At this stage we haven't done many official karate moves yet because I think the sensei (head honcho guy in the black belt and black pants) wants to wear down the energy of the kids before inflicting any head-shrinking chop-suey psycho-babble on them. As such, the lessons tend to focus on Army-style exercises in the local girls' school gymnasium - sit-ups, push-ups, laps around the basketball court, skipping and .........burpees.
Do you remember burpees? If not, this is my bumbling effort to describe them:
Then squat down and throw both your legs out behind you;
Try not to snap your back in half and keep your arms in a push-up position;
Half jump and bring your legs back under your bum in a squat; then
Jump up to standing position again.
Do it all over again ten times, in Japanese.
These were obviously designed by some satan-worshipping, sun-struck colonel from the French Foreign Legion and have absolutely no physical or mental benefit whatsoever. They merely leave the person in distress with a sore back, crippled toes and the sad realisation that they're about as coordinated as Stevie Wonder in a bubble catching competition. Add the fact that we're wearing 1000-cotton thread count Yoda outfits several sizes too large which makes any form of vigorous exercise about as easy as ordering a salad in the Lindt Cafe.
But wait, there's more. Forcing your body into such ridiculous movements in one-second counts means that you leave yourself open - so to speak - to bum rumbles that tend to explode out as a short, sharp 'TOOT' each and every time. At least they do for me. Thank God I'm down the end of the line away from all of the other grown ups, because even though the kids can still hear my 'efforts' it genuinely amuses them and they're too busy wasting their remaining breath giggling to dob on me to Peter Sensei.
Feeling like a white-sheeted Pied Piper, the children tend to gravitate towards me at break/drinks time, expecting me to somehow entertainingly fart at will or turn into a clown who can dextrously make poodles out of the balloons hidden in my long, baggy sleeves. The adults shy away from me, clearly relieved that I've naturally taken on the role of 'Comic Relief' and therefore they don't have to acknowledge or approach their own kids until home time.
When we're in the second half hour of the lesson, we do get to try out a few basic moves, but, even after hearing the phrases up to a dozen times now, I still have to surreptitiously copy everyone else as they get into their samurai stance/round-house kicks/groin punches. After a few minutes of these, the kids start to look at me eagerly, ready for their next round of arty arse entertainment. Sure enough, the sensei asks us to count to ten in Japanese and do ten high kicks on each side - and yep, that's twenty 'TOOTs!' that fire out of me like a stun gun, leaving the kids in stitches and the Senseis and adult participants perplexed. They see no evidence of me acting like the fool or saying anything particularly hilarious, yet can clearly see all their kids - the under-five footers surrounding me - convulsing themselves with laughter as they point directly at me. All I can do is smile sheepishly and wave.
One small positive note is that my regular runs with Dogadoo have enabled me to stay pretty fit despite my chubbo exterior. This can tend to surprise some of the more advanced brown and black belted adults in the class - how the hell does Sapphire's Mum keep up the laps around the basketball courts and the pepper skipping on the rope?
Any smugness that might dare overtake me is soon eradicated when I am asked to show the teacher the first kata. This can be described as the first choreographed set of moves that a beginner karate kween like Sapphire and myself need to be able to do successfully before our waists are encircled in yellow. Sapph got the moves down pat after the first class, whereas I stumble around like a drunk in the dark trying to avoid smacking her shins into the coffee table; all confused twists and turns with usually a topple-over at the end.
This is when my Comic Relief role changes to the 'Thank God That's Not ME' person for everyone in the class. Even when I've tried to practise Kata One at home I end up punching the cedar blinds, stepping on Dogadoo's beanbag and yelling out "OI!" in my native Aussie style at the Jane Austen paperbacks on our third bookshelf. There just isn't the space to try out the letter 'H' shaped fightin' footwork in our loungeroom, so each lesson finds me just as hopeless as the previous one. Even my midget admirers have given up trying to help me but instead stand there shaking their heads with a patronising, "If only she'd apply herself" expression on their cheeky little faces.
Oh well, it might be a while before I'll be walking over and bowing to the Sensei as he hands me a yellow belt with Sapphire, now fifteen years old in brown, looking on with shame and a tiny tinge of pride at her clearly retarded parent.
Wax On, Wax Off; but of course I don't have time or the energy to explain what that means to my little arse-end admirers.