Karate, KGBV Style

When the KGBV girls first showed me their katas, I was perplexed.  There was one kata that looked like Chito Ryu, but not exactly.  It had the Cat Paw technique, and the toes-out kibadachi stance, but then had a crouching stance that I’ve never seen before.  Not that I was expecting familiarity:  my inquiries into what style of karate they practiced were met repeatedly by the response:  Martial Art.  So, major language gap.  At the announcement of their next kata, I started to be relieved:  Heian Yondan.  This I know!  But as I watched, it was Heian Sandan that I was seeing – at least it is in my dojo back home.  The kata continued, and incorporated into it were the toes out kibachi stance, and Hapkido style shuto uke.  Oy.  Ok.  No problem, right?  Then came Heian Sandan, which looked exactly like what I know to be Heian Yondan.  And then another kata that looked again like a combination of Chito Ryu, Goju Ryu, and Hapkido-type blocks and stances.

I find it very interesting to find so many martial arts styles combined together in this remote part of the world.  It makes me wonder about where the influences have come from and how karate originally came to this area.  Due to lack of technology, the method of passing on the tradition is very much hands-on, teacher-to-student.  And I muse over what this style could evolve into.  And if this is what it was like on Okinawa as Karate was evolving into what I’ve come to know it as.  Quite fascinating considerations for this karateka.

Goodbye, My KGBV Sisters

My last day at KGBV was on Friday.  After eating, sleeping, singing, dancing, joking around, and, of course, karate-ing with these girls for 12 days, it was time to say goodbye.  When I first arrived at their hostel, they called me ‘Sister.’  They all wanted me to know their names – so important to them.  So here is me, their Sister, remembering:

Khushboon, Shabana, Shabanan, Sabina, Kavita 1st, Kavita 2nd, Kavita 3rd, Kavita 4th, Jyoti, Johanara, Guddi, Baby, Aarti, Nisha, Madhumalla, sisters Juli and Juhi, Sunam, Rajilla, Ruxana, Ruhi, Rehana, Ruma, Khushboo, Jehda, Amrita, Rita, Firoja, Nazmeen, Rachem, Rosen, Bharti, Lata, and Nikat.  Included as my sisters are also the caretakers at KGBV:  Pinky, Sanju, and Sharda.  And there are two cooks who made some of the best food and spoiled me fat, Malti and Sabira.

I will miss:  the laughter; the creak of the hand pump signalling someone getting water in the courtyard; the murmurings at night of the 10 or so girls in my room before falling asleep;  the ritual folding of dupattas before school; the song of evening prayers; laundry drying on the roof in the sun; the soft scuffing noise of flip flops on concrete floors; morning tea; afternoon tea; bright, inquisitive eyes; and the spark of each of their spirits.

The Teacher Becomes the Student…or…

One of my favorite experiences so far (there have been many, but too little time for internet) was my participating in a karate class at KGBV.  Two days ago, the girls’ regular karate teacher, Rupa Kumari, returned from her break.  She speaks no English, and I speak very little Hindi at this point, but through sign language and single words we communicated that she would teach the next karate class.  So, alongside the girls I had been teaching for the last 10 days, I punched, blocked, kicked, stretched, jumped, and push-upped.  Some moves I sat out for; they use a Hapkido-style of knifehand block and backstance in their drills and kata, for example, that I just couldn’t get the hang of so worked on my own off to the side so as not to distract class.   They also did some axe kicks that I passed on.  But other than that, I was reminded to retract my mawashi-gaeri, just like at the dojo, so that kind of made me feel right at home.  At the end of class, Rupa requested that I do a kata.  Oy.  I haven’t done a kata since Heian Godan almost two weeks ago in the village!  I decided to go with Kanku Dai, and, again, I did it competition style.  And so concluded class.  But it was only then that I realized the learning that had gone on.

The girls (embarassingly) mobbed me, each one wanting to tell me immediately what they thought about my karate.  They mimicked some of my moves and imitated the distinctive Shotokan breathing.  They were also able to communicate that they envied my focus during the kata and in class.  It was a great feeling to know that I was a good example for these girls; kind of like how I was inspired when I first started karate and looked to Alisa Ao, Cheryl Murphy, Shannon Ishi, and Eimi Kurite.  So, very cool, a great experience for me.

Fitting In – Experience From An XL

My clothes buying has been quite the experience here.  While Forbesgunge is considered a city by Bihar standards, it is a big village by India standards.  I have heard that there are very nice, posh shopping malls in Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata which rival the American shopping experience.  But here in Forbesgunge, one steps back in time in many different ways, not the least of which occurs in the realm of acquiring clothing.  Poorly lit big stalls open to the street and the incumbent noise, dust, bugs, etc., Forbesgunge clothing shops  have one long counter that spans the length of the stall.  Behind this counter are floor-to-ceiling shelves of individually packaged shirts, tops, and pants.  In order to see anything, it is required to tell the shop clerk what is preferred (long or short shirt length; cotton, poly, or mix for material type; short- or long-sleeved; size).  The clerk then goes and selects a collection that is bundled by size, which in the case of this American is XL.  The clerk then goes through the bundle and pulls out samples which he (I’ve seen no women shopkeepers or clerks) thinks would be liked and what they want me to buy (not unlike American car salespeople).  There is no such thing as browsing as I know it.  A few times I’ve taken matters into my own hands out of shear frustration, to the surprise of the shopkeep and my Apne Aap escort.  Additionally, the salesclerk inevitably lies about what kind of material the item is made; I’ll have requested cotton, but time and again I’ve been proffered garments with an avalanche of assurances such as “100 percent cotton, Madam.  You like.  Guarantee.”  There are no fitting rooms, so I’ve had to buy the item just by holding it up to me for size.  And, as I’ve found out after the fact, there is no ‘return’ policy, only an ‘exchange’ policy.  Nice racket.

It was my intent not to bring clothes to India but to buy them here, for several reasons:  1) reduce the amount of stuff to pack and carry; 2) support local business; and, 3) buy culturally appropriate clothing.  But what I did not consider:  my body type.  I am HUGE by Indian standards, although in the States I am a 6 – 8.

So I found it very comical that the ladies, old and young, at KGBV were so concerned with my garb.  I need to have not only an appropriate kurta (tunic) or t-shirt (loose fitting) and pants, but also a dupatta (long scarf) to finish the outfit.  When I refused the dupatta on the grounds it makes me very hot and sweaty, I was perceived as being unfinished and in danger of sticking out.  Well, LOL.  As if a scarf will hide the fact that I am five to six inches taller than most women here, that I have light colored skin not seen in this area, and that I have almost platinum blonde hair seen only on old people here.

So I am learning to embrace my different-ness; it does afford me a freedom that is rare for me in my current surroundings.  I say “hello”, wave, and smile at the strangers that sit down to gawk at me in train stations, at market stalls, and along village roads.  I have yet to be greeted back by anything more ominous than downcast glances (usually children), but am mostly responded to with smiles or astonished looks that I could possibly see and acknowledge that individual.  It is a truly unnerving experience, that just my smile can give someone such validation.


The SD card that I had got wiped, so no photos today.  I have another SD card, so HOPEFULLY, will be getting picks by the end of this week posted.  But at the rate I’m going, I’ll be lucky if it is by the end of the month. ; )

Thanks for reading.

Where to Start?

Disappeared for a little while as I was in KGBV and didn’t have internet access.  Came back to Forbesgunge for a little shopping, ATMing, and blog updating.
I have settled into a routine for the most part at KGBV, or as much of a routine as is possible.  Everyday there are new adjustments, big and small.  A normal karate class, for example, would be able to handle the age range of 10 to 16, and varying skill levels between white belt and green belt.  Now, let’s teach class on dirt in a schoolyard where other kids are playing.  So adjust to doing calisthenics that only require standing, and face the girls in the opposite direction of the playground.  And so class is outside in the schoolyard where broken brick and rock stick up.  Make the adjustment to scan area before class and clear what can be cleared.  An occasional monsoon rain, which will cut short or cancel class?  Adjust, and teach class on an 8′ x 8′ concrete porch which is semi-covered – and 10 girls are standing there, getting wet and desperately wanting you to watch their mawashi-gaeri.  Add that the previous teacher was teaching some kind of combination of Hapkido and Shotokan, and maybe some Wushu, so that familiar Japanese karate terms are as mysterious to the ladies as my English is.  Adjust by using lots of sign language and being basic, basic, basic.  If some of the students are of the Muslim faith and are now fasting for 30 days for Ramadan, and have to pray at 2 o’clock in the morning, making most of those students tired and weak, concentrate on simple drills, like stand-in-place reaction games.  If only four girls show up for class, but 15 minutes later 10 more girls show up who are now intrigued with what is being taught, finish up quickly with the four, and think up something new to incorporate the new arrivals.  If the school has other events going on that sometimes conflict with karate class, and we’re asked to stop when we were just getting started, continue in small groups throughout the evening wherever possible:  mess hall, rooftop, hallways.  If these young ladies come from some seriously challenging family and community situations which give them some emotional baggage, and all my lovely plans for a great karate class evaporate like puddles under an Indian sun, adjust and show kindness and understanding while modelling discipline and respect.
This is only the tip of the iceberg in my experience here; so much happens and so fast.  But I am glad for the foundation that I’ve had at my karate school back home in preparing me for these challenges, and am appreciative of my new experience in forcing me to really reach and extend in my patience, my creativity, my understanding, my compassion.
And through it all, at the end of the day, I just have to marvel at the universal experience that is Karate.

Note to Self – Part Deux

Note #6:  Remember to read the fine print about the side effects of taking my anti-malarial drug at night with milk to avoid waking up the following morning with my eyes almost swollen shut and cankles.  (Side Note to Self:  This is a look even Angelina Jolie couldn’t pull off. Oy.)

Note #7:  Don’t forget that the tailors in Forbesgunge are especially good at the game of “Having Fun at the Foreigner’s Expense,” and will capitalize on ignorance in spades.  Witness my ordering two simple tunics to be made, which required me to select a neckline.  I selected a very simple and conservative neckline from ones that were shown to me, taking for granted that the neckline in back would be equally conservative.  Enter tailors with a desire to embarass the unknowing foreigner:  very conservative in front; scandalously low scoop in back.  Yes, showing too much back is considered obscene here.  Well, out go the two tunics.  Total cost:  $6.

Note #8:  I am brilliant to think of packing instant coffee. : )

Days at KGBV

I’ll be heading back to KGBV today.  I will go by train, my third time.  It is not exactly an experience that I look forward to.  There is no sense of chivalry here, no ‘oh please you first’.  It is definitely every man/woman/child for themself when venturing onto the train.  Seating and storing arrangements give a new meaning to the word ‘haphazard.’  No rhyme or reason, so for those of you with just a bit of OCD, India is NOT the place for you ; ).

If I were in KGBV right now, I would have slept ’til 5 am, then given a karate lesson to very enthusiastic girls from 5:30 am until 7 am.  Right now, at 7:49, I would probably be trying to get a bucket to take into an unlit shower stall for a quick washdown, all the while trying to ignore the spiders dangling in corners.  Don’t get me wrong – things are as clean as they can be.  But with open windows and such, difficult to keep the elements out.  After a shower, it would probably be time for breakfast:  four cups of puffed rice served with a soupy curry of garbanzo beans, or lentils, or maybe potato.  I eat on a mat on the floor.  I am the subject of much mirth at meals as I have yet to master the art of Eating With Only One Hand.  I make a mess always ; ).  Ah, it’s just the first week.  Give me time.

After breakfast, the girls start heading off to school in their blue tunic tops, white baggy pants, and a white scarf draped around their neck.  There is some last minute studying usually, and some prodding by some of the caretakers at the compound, and then they are off, and I hand wash my clothes by hand pumped water.  Again, the first day I did this, one of the project managers came up to me and asked, very sweetly and tentatively in broken English, “Uh, have you do this before?”  Well, yes, but apparently not to their way of thinking.  I was kind of bunching the clothes up and doing a rough kneading kind of thing that I had seen some of the other girls do.  The cook came over, gently pushed me out of the way, and demonstrated the proper method of washing:  big dousing movements in and out of the soapy water bucket, then again in the clean water bucket, then wrench all water out and hang to dry in the sun.  This method requires changing the water several times – but water is quite plentiful so there is no need for conservation efforts here.  Yesterday, I got an approving look from the cook; a small sweet victory for me here.

I spend the rest of the day coming up with the next lesson plan, figuring out which words I will need to know in Hindi, and then studying those words, and working through the drills.  There is also lunch time and two tea times, plus time spent conversing with some young ladies who have not gone to school that day.

The next karate class is from 4:30 to 6 pm.  The girls get out of school at 4, so they come back and change and are full energy and ready to go.  I really have never seen the level of intensity for karate knowledge anywhere as I have here.  I found out recently that the girls’ regular karate teacher who had schooled them for two years retired.  They have been without a regular teacher now for a few months.  So I am like a glass of water to a girl dying of thirst.  Exciting and intimidating at the same time.  I want to make the most out of the short time I have with them.  Yesterday I introduced the concept of shifting.  Today I hope to work on some balance exercizes.  I am also trying to get some of the staff – caretakers/teachers, project managers, even the cook – involved.  I’ve got one so far.  Eight days left.  We’ll see what I end up with by the end.


Here are some glimpses of Forbesgunge and Apne Aap headquarters:

(above) Apne Aap headquarters as seen from train station platform across the street.

(above)  Local Forbesgunge schoolboys on their way to class.

(above) No wondering why power goes out so frequently.


I returned to Forbesgunge today to do some emailing and hit an ATM. Might I just say here that in this part of the world, they could consider putting more than one terminal at an ATM location.  As it is, I have to have a male escort to the ATM so that I, as a female, can cut in front of the 20 or so males who have been waiting for probably 30 minutes or more in the hot sun, and have a ‘security’ guard admit me (why I can cut in front of everyone, I don’t know but that is how it is done) so that the guard can push the buttons on the touchscreen for me and try to peek at my password and see how much money I’m withdrawing.    But I should really tell the KGBV story while I have the luxury of having internet access.

KGBV is in a little village called Simra.  The compound that the girls live in has an open courtyard in the middle with a hand-pump well.  The girls stay in rooms adjacent to the courtyard.  There is a kitchen, and an attached bathroom area.  I will not get into how different it is from back home, but suffice to say, it is very different.

The girls here are gems.  Here’s one shot of a few:

They have such spirit, and they all call me ‘Sister.’  It seems to me that there is, in fact, a chorus of ‘Sister’ whenever I’m around.  I should explain one small fact:  rarely is a foreigner seen in this part of India.  It is not a western tourist area by any stretch of the imagination, and I am gawked at constantly by men, women, children, goats, dogs, and I am sure by unseen small rodents, as well.  So the fact that something fairly rare and exotic has come to their school is a real novelty, and everyone wants to show their thing.  They are proud of their newly planted vegetable garden, their artwork, and especially of their karate.  It is difficult, let me tell you, to have 20 girls all shouting and tugging at you, literally, to have you see their kata.  And woe to the person holding a camera.  Most of them are hams and camera hogs, not unlike many young American girls.  In fact, there are a lot of similarities: they are very self conscious, take a lot of time doing their hair, have a hard time getting out of bed for school, and give plenty of attitude when they are not very self assured.  So, if I get the camera out to take pictures, I am mobbed.  Stay tuned:  I plan to get some candid shots.

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