By Alex Mawby
I used to do a lot of karate when I was younger.
I must have gone every week for about four years.
It was fun at first, but then it just became a chore. Something I was duty bound to do by routine.
Anyway, I must have been fairly good because I got up to green belt.
Generally it was pretty uneventful, and I don’t have many fond memories of attending the local village hall every week.
Another Sensei (main karate teacher guy, like Marc but with less silly trousers) was visiting us from Croydon.
He brought some special fighting sticks to play with, but before he let us have a go with them, he wanted to talk to us about chi.
For those of you who didn’t grow up watching Jackie Chan on Saturday mornings, chi is basically a Chinese term referring to the essential ‘life force’ or ‘energy flow’ that is contained within everything.
Now this guy from Croydon with the pointy sticks thought he was a bit of a master when it came to chi.
And he wanted to prove it.
So he called someone up to the front for a demonstration.
That someone happened to be me.
I was to feel first-hand the effects of this ancient mystic force.
I stepped up to the plate. Ready to be chi’d.
The Croydon Sensei explained: he was not going to touch me. Simply using the force of pure thought and the flowing of energy, he would throw a ball of chi at my stomach.
I was told to stand very still, and brace myself.
I braced. He crouched, shouted rather loudly and thrust his hands in the direction of my abdomen.
I looked up at him and the rest of the class, all expectantly tense, awaiting my response.
“I didn’t feel anything”, I awkwardly shrugged, avoiding eye contact with my would-be attacker.
This didn’t seem to faze Sensei Croydon. He was just warming up for round two and he was really trying this time: crouched low and red in the face with the concerted effort of channelling all available chi onto me.
Again: big karate scream, thrusting of hands and…nothing.
Not even an itch.
Then I suddenly I realised I could feel something, very strongly. It was the heavy hand of expectation, and it was weighing heavily on my shoulders.
This poor bloke was kind of a big deal as far as karate goes, and he’d come all the way to our little village group to show us how it was done. My own Sensei had been talking up his visit for weeks.
And I was about to stand there and tell everyone he was just jumping around in a white dressing gown making monkey noises for nothing.
So I did what any sane person would do.
I clutched my stomach, bent over double and stumbled backwards.
There was no chi. No flowing of energy. No mystical, arcane force emanating from this strange man’s hands.
Just an awkward 14 year old boy and a room full of people now questioning their own beliefs.
And that is how I propagated a myth that has presumably raged on for thousands of years.
Because everyone expected me to.
It’s mad what we’ll do just to fit in.