The loft at my parent’s house used to carry a benevolent majesty to me. I could happily spend hours there. And I did. Mostly on weekends. Every Saturday and Sunday, my mum and dad would trundle off to their warehouse to run the family business, and if I was canny, I would get to stay home and look after my sister under the guise of homework. As soon as they’d left, I’d let my sister take control of the television and I’d head upstairs, and into the loft. Because the loft was a treasure trove of 70s porn and martial arts.
The origins of both in our household is still a mystery to me so I’m obliged to blame the previous tenants of our family home.
In a bag in a box labelled teapots and china, was a handful of 70s porn magazines. I’d stare at them with the appropriate curiosity of a pre-teen for a long time trying to work out what was going on. I had my favourites. I occasionally wondered what they’d be doing that day and how much older they’d be. I even smuggled a couple down to my room, choosing an elaborate hiding place for them. I’d prised open a panel in an unwanted briefcase (who in their right mind accepted their parent’s insistance at taking a briefcase to school?) and placed them in there for emergencies. The guilt, the prospect of being found out, everything usually exploded in a crescendo of panic and I’d eventually dispose of them.
Along the back wall of the attic, though, was two bookshelves of books. The books were either about finance, economics and money in the 1970s or instructional martial arts books. One of them look special because it was orange, had its own cardboard box for the hardback cover and was black’n'white (ergo classy) with lots of stop-motion photographs of the moves. No one seemed to be using the book so I moved Dynamic Karate down to my room and gave it pride of place on my bookshelf alongside football annuals, fantasy novels and Crime and Punishment by Fyjodor Dostoevsky, something my pre-teen self could relate to when reference in a teen book about American summer campers but had no clue what it was about.
Dynamic Karate became my after-school totem. Using the stop-motion photographs, I practised various punches, kicks and combos. I learnt how to block punches and counter-attack with a variety of moves. I didn’t know if I was doing the moves right. I didn’t even know if they were the moves I was supposed to be doing. All I knew was ‘jump, left knee raised, snap right leg outwards from knee, connect with opponent using heel of foot’. My mum would demand to know what the thumping and banging on the floor and the bed represented as I threw myself around the room, practising the photographs of the moves to perfection before incorporating them into imagined scenarios. She probably would have preferred me wanking to all the loft porn than snapping myself to injury learning karate moves I had no context or instruction for.
While the kids at school boasted of porn, pirated videos and female attention, I walked the corridors knowing how to defend myself. The kids whose parents indulged their whims, who went to martial arts classes whilst mine said they cost too much money and took me away from my studies, may know the moves, I’d think, but they hadn’t taught themselves. I could do roundhouse kicks, punching combinations, sweeps, defence of punches to the chest, punches to the chest. I could defend, I could take the offensive. But I never would because that was the opposite of self-defence.
I took Dynamic Karate to school one day. I left it on my desk for various lessons. I sought to be seen with it during breaktime. I held it under my arm. I showed it to my people. It only illicited one communal reaction. That of the offensive ‘Hooooi’ sound that people make when they’re referencing the noises in kung-fu films the chop socky hai ya. They called ‘hooooooooi ka-rat-ey.’ They asked what belt I was. And I nodded, like I was internalising all the aggression, building up to the big gun explosion. It never came.
I was never able to use the moves I’d learnt in Dynamic Karate. Instead, quickly painfully, I learned that you couldn’t learn everything in books. Sometimes, life required conventional teaching, learning and practising. All I had was a book, the will and a bedroom that housed my every whim.
The following year, the porn mags seemed a lot more alluring.