What I learnt from karate

What I learnt from karate
The writer (left) blocking a punch from her karate sparring partner back in the day. She passed the grading for black belt first dan when she was 15 years old.

I have always been a physically active tomboy.

By Secondary 1, at the age of 12, I had started training in swimming under Mr Neo Chwee Kok. He was a strict coach who believed in the theory of "no pain, no gain".

I like physical challenges and, as we trained with boys, to be able to keep up or even overtake them was something worth suffering for.

Soon after, my best friend in Nanyang Girls' High School persuaded me to join the Singapore Karate Association.

The majority of the other trainees were men. There were only three or four other girls and women. What the men did, we did too. But in sparring, we paired up with female trainees where possible. Occasionally, there was an odd number of female trainees, and one would spar with a man.

Though we could hold our own, I sensed that the men probably pulled their punches. Not only were they physically bigger, but they were also obviously stronger.

I especially enjoyed training on rainy days when the dojo was wet and slippery. Then our Japanese sensei would take all of us running. I always outran the men and had to hold back to make sure I remained with the rest of the group.

There were regular gradings and I moved through them until, at age 15, in Secondary 4, I passed my grading for black belt first dan.

I found the Straits Times newspaper clipping on this. The headline was "Her tough exterior hides a feminine touch", describing how concerned I was when another trainee was injured and bled. I have not the slightest memory of this.

At grading time, one concentrates on one's karate moves. I have always been very intense in anything I do, and can block out all thoughts except those relevant to the present challenge.

I got my black belt and continued to train at the Singapore Karate Association.

Once when I was in Pre-U 1, while sparring with my best friend, I blocked a kick with my left hand, but was slightly off the mark.

My friend's foot struck my clenched fist on the knuckles instead. There was immediate pain, but I have always had a high pain threshold, and continued until the training session was over.

Looking carefully at my hand later, I saw a protrusion - probably a bone had fractured and two fractured pieces formed an angle.

When I got home, I showed my hand to my mother, and she was quite upset. She managed to get an orthopaedic surgeon at the Singapore General Hospital to see me.

An X-ray confirmed the fracture, but I did not need a plaster cast. My arm was placed in a sling just to avoid unnecessary jolting.

Mama insisted I stop karate. I did not argue with her as I was in an officer cadet course for school army cadets, and was still training in swimming and long-distance running.

With my plan to enter medical school, and hence the need to do well in my A-level exams, some extra-curricular activity had to be given up.

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