While skateboarding was good transportation and exercise, it was not a regular exercise regimen. So I decided that I needed more exercise. I had done some karate in high school and was impressed by some friends who were very good at it, so I took up karate again. There was a large selection of karate classes available at Michigan State University and I looked into a couple of the clubs that offered classes and decided on one of them. I went with a Shotokhan Karate class that focused on conditioning and sparring. Classes were three times a week and well attended by a wide range of people with varying skills. I soon realized that I was not in as terrible shape as I had feared and that I was still quite flexible from my high school karate class. The skateboarding must have helped maintain some physical conditioning, too. I could make class after doing research and on my way home in the evening.

Within karate they teach organized forms called Katas. Katas are a choreographed series of blocks and blows that help people practice punches, kicks and defensive moves. There are many katas and some are done fast and some slow, so they can also help with conditioning. I remembered a lot of the karate katas from high school, so I moved up the ranks quickly. The karate ranks are designated by different colored belts. A white belt is the first rank and black belt is the highest. Between white belt and black belt there are different colored belts: yellow, orange, blue, green, purple and brown.

A black belt can also have stripes, kind of like sergeant stripes to designate higher degrees of black belt. There are ten degrees of black belts.

To get promoted a person must test on certain skills. Generally the skills are: karate knowledge, katas, general skills and sparring. Sparring can be like a controlled boxing match or can be structured with just one punch and one defense. Sometimes both methods are tested for a karate promotion. I moved up the ranks quickly and felt good about the skills I was learning as I got in better physical condition. Every year the university had a karate tournament to demonstrate skills and pit martial artist against martial artist. There were multiple competitions including katas, katas with weapons and demonstrations like breaking boards and cement blocks. I decided to participate the sparring competitions only, in a non-black belt category. This gave me an incentive to keep up the training and something to work for. The sparring rules were very strict—you were trying to obtain points and not to hit, hurt or knock someone out. It was definitely a test of skills and not killer instincts. Ann was concerned at first that I might get hurt, but she was soon convinced that it was quite safe as well as a good diversion and good exercise.

I trained for several months in my limited spare time to prepare for the tournament. It got very busy in the lab just as the tournament was coming around, so effective training became difficult. I had little time to meet and train with sparring partners, which is very important for sparring competitions. But I did the best I could to get ready.

In this type of martial arts sparring there are basically two types of fighters. There are the street fighters who throw lots of punches and kicks. This can be effective in a single fight, but on a tournament day the participants can be expected to have 5 to 10 sparring matches. The street fighting technique will make someone very tired after a few matches and the other competitors will see this technique and be ready to defend against it. The defense is to let the person get tired and strike when they try to take a break from their barrage, which by now is usually not too effective. The other type of fighters are the tacticians, who conserve energy and pick and choose their moves to maximize points. These sparring matches are won on points from punches and kicks.

I was more of a tactician fighter. I thought about my moves like a chess player and tended to want the other person to make a move and then I would try to force them into a mistake, where I could score points. There were no knockouts and no knockdowns. The tournament really had little in the way of injury because the scoring was on points. You could get points even if you do not hit someone. So a punch to the head that does not connect but could have is a point. A punch to the head that hits someone can be a disqualification, especially if the person was not looking. This was a rule because if you did a kick and got turned around, it was forbidden to hit someone in the back of the head.