One Sunday each month Mom and Dad host dinner. Sometimes my sister and her husband, Gary, and my two nieces and one nephew join us. Roast beef dinners include Yorkshire pudding, two kinds of potatoes, two vegetable dishes and twin salads. For dessert, Mom whips up pies, cakes or tarts. She cooks everything in pairs. As I departed last Sunday for the trip into the city, Mom handed me a bag stacked and stuffed with Tupperware as though I was a voyageur paddling up-country. Amongst the containers, I usually found a jam or jelly preserve to prevent scurvy. Mom leaned out the front door. Dad wore an expression that said, ‘Have patience, son. She thinks you’re bivouacking upcountry.’
“Don’t forget to return the Tupperware. You don’t have to wash the containers, but it would be thoughtful if you did. Make sure that you eat more. You’re too thin.”
“Ok, Mom. Supper was superb. You really outdid yourself.”
“We’re living on a fixed income, but we have extra food. Don’t forget to phone. Listen to your parole officer. Your father would have a heart attack if you went back to prison. Think about your parents. I just can’t harbour the thought of your father having to answer all those embarrassing questions again. We were so disappointed.”
“Ok, Mom. I’ll call next week,” I answered quickly, feeling shame and guilt slip in.
Dad offered practical advice. “The Q.E. Parkway is packed at this hour. Use Highway 7; cut down Airport road to avoid the crush.”
“Yes, sir. Loud and clear. See you Saturday.”
“Get a goodnight’s sleep Friday for ice fishing. Rendezvous 0600 hours. Catch an earlier train if you must. Your motorcycle is no damn good in winter and public transportation is undependable. Only that much better than your bike,” he told me holding his thumb and index finger open half an inch.
“Roger that, sir. We’ll talk Tuesday. I’m going boarding the following Sunday. I’ll call you about which types of waxes or pastes that I should buy. I don’t have much experience with the new pastes.”
“You don’t need to buy a thing. Save your money. You need to start thinking about the future. Plan ahead son. I have waxes and pastes for all conditions. Let’s see what the weather holds as the week draws to a close.”
“Copy that. I’ll be in touch.”
“Do up your zipper, son,” added Mom. “You’re going to catch your death in a cold. You know your father hates city driving. Long trips stiffen his bad leg. Do you want to see your mother riding the train and taking buses to care for you if you get ill? Where’s your toque?” Mom turned to Dad. “You’d think he’d show foresight. Jesus, Joseph and Mary. That’s how he ended up in trouble, charging off without thinking. I didn’t bring my children up not to use their God-given common sense. I just don’t know how the forces failed to teach proper discipline.”
* * * * * * *
Whenever possible, Sunday evenings found me couch surfing, usually nursing Kira’s kendo welts or I sat at my desk writing. It was a relief to arrive at work Monday where I could relax and dream up ways to break the ice between Kira and me. Her silky voice, feminine and classy demeanour, confident and seductive eyes, all packaged and trained to be lethal, was achingly attractive. Occasionally my desire caused me pain. Sometimes I endured shinai hits because I had paused to admire her form. Kendo twists and turns the body into positions that I applauded for artistic value. Kira exploited those art gallery pauses to score strikes ― enjoying her form was worth the cover charge, most of the time.
Kira seldom spoke beyond what was necessary to define my deficiencies and to correct them, all the while maintaining a strict teacher/student distance. A professional bubble surrounded us. We were as close as brother and sister in one regard, but as distant as block neighbours in other areas. Though we possessed intimate knowledge of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we were ignorant of the other’s middle name. Certain dualities existed between sensei and pupil. Kendo was rich with honour, discipline, codes of conduct and rituals, yet it esteemed feints and deception. Senseis instructed pupils how to become their best, not limited to, but including how to both execute blocks and how to receive strikes. Most Westerners would claim the goal was to beat someone with a stick, but that could not be further from the truth. When done correctly, kendo enriched and expanded one’s being. The only battle worth fighting should be to reconcile the conflict between the conscious self, with its inherent prejudices, and the subconscious self where universal harmony had the potential to flourish. Kendo was a lifelong journey to harmonize mind and body, thus the self with all of creation.
Kendo ennobled the human spirit.
Shinais are kendo’s most notable tool. They are a substitute for the katana ― the Samurai’s sword. Many dojos displayed katanas in showcases. Katanas weighed approximately seven pounds with a thirty-two-inch overall length. While the length of the shinai was determined by the age of the student, a katana’s exact specifications matched the owner’s requirements. Most kendoists dreamt of closing their fists around a katana’s leather-wrapped hilt, of feeling the comforting weight, of running a thumb pad over yakiba, the razor-sharp edge. A single miscalculation or a lapse of concentration and the business edge of a katana might cause disfigurement, even death. One should always treat their opponent as the enemy and leave camaraderie at the door. On any given day, wrapped and padded in kendo armour, pupils faced injury, albeit a lump, a bruise or a broken bone. However, if the hardened and folded tri-steel of a live katana replaced a shinai, both pupil and sensei would face potential death.
Respect and fear should exist in one degree or another between sensei and student. Not once did I imagine that lust would play a part. Until Odera and Kira had come along, accomplishing the celibacy thing had not been too difficult. Now, if I were to look inside my boxers, I would find two-thirds of the Blue Men Group.