Often the judges' calls were drowned out by the disconcerting groans and screams of contestants psyching themselves. One of the less inhibited gave out with a startling "Aargh," "Aargh," with every punch or kick, but the most common sound was a guttural "Eeesa," "Eeesa," meaningless, really, but with such a feminine ring to it that one newcomer to karate nominated Eeesa queen of the tournament.
Stranger than any sound, though, or than any other sight, was that of lightweights competing against heavies. This is the way it is done in the All America Karate Federation. As an official explained, "People think a 125-pounder will be destroyed if he fights a 250-pounder, but if that big guy looks like a monster, then the little one is quicker, and an awfully tough target. That is the beauty of karate. It teaches you pride and confidence in what you are, no matter what your, limitations. We feel that this carries over into other areas of life. Try to tell people that, though, that there is more to karate than fighting and physical perfection, and they say, 'I go to church on Sunday. I don't need more of that.' "
But the old spirituality kept popping up. "Winning doesn't mean much," said Gerald Evans, 34, ultimately the tournament champion, and he seemed to mean it. Following his final match Evans was asked, "What did you win it with?" Turning to a friend, he replied, "I don't know. Was it a kick or a punch?"
"What really matters," said Evans, a Philadelphian who wants to become a karate instructor, "is that karate teaches you calmness and control of your emotions. You learn to function through anything and not to dwell on pain, which is a temporary thing." In a semifinal match Evans, only 170 pounds, was accidentally kicked in the chest by a 190-pounder, a half-point kick, but though in pain he remained impassive and moved to attack. He said, "I've seen guys win with broken ribs. If I'd hesitated, if he'd read pain in my face, he'd have been on me."
"Did you enjoy it?" the karate people were asking at the tourney's close, and if the reply was lukewarm they would dip into their bags of familiar arguments. One said that in 1968 Joey Giardello's punch was measured against that of Teruyuki Okazaki, currently director of the East Coast Karate Association and a seventh-degree black belt at the time. Giardello's punch measured 430 pounds per square inch, Okazaki's 2,240. The comparison was not made out of pride or because it revealed the essence of karate, which of course it didn't, but rather out of desperation. The karateka are looking for greater acceptance in this country. Unfortunately, in relating their art to American sport, they help unwittingly to delay the arrival of the day when karate is accepted for what it truly is, something subtle and private and, yes, on the fringe of spirituality.
On the wall of the Philadelphia Karate Club is this motto: "The Ultimate Aim of the Art of Karate Lies Not in Victory or Defeat, but in the Character of its Participants." Says Fred Borda, a club member, "Karate can help people avoid a life spent fearing what lies in the shadows. By helping them to be aware of what they really are, and of what they can be, it can free them from their fears."
Last week a new student came to the club, a tough kid. "How do I break a brick?" he asked Teruyuki Okazaki.
"Get yourself a hammer, son," Okazaki told him.