He comes in and announces: today, we're going to do one thousand kicks. One thousand mawashi-geri! Let's go!
There isn't even time for the sinking feeling that trying to comprehend "one thousand kicks" deserves. No, he just lines the four of us up and we start off. Kick ten times (ishi, ni, san, shi, go, roku ...) the length of the long room, turn, kick ten times (ishi, ni, san, shi, go, roku ...) back. Up and down, back and forth, on and on, tens turn to twenties turn to hundreds.
I'm keeping this up by thinking of nothing else -- and I mean nothing else -- but the next kick. Getting it right. Plant, swivel, raise the leg, lead with the heel -- visualize leading with the heel! -- kick firmly and swiftly above the horizontal, keep your head up, plant, repeat with the other leg. Ishi, ni, san ... hundreds turn to seven hundreds and I'm not even sure how it happens.
On we go, on we go. And suddenly we're there. One thousand. In tired silence we bow, break formation, change out of our gis and leave. For the rest of the evening, I'm exhausted deep in my bones. But exhilarated too. For every time we do this, it is an achievement like no other.
Shotokan karate taught me kicks and punches and several flowing katas, some of which I hope will return if I ever need it. It also kept me lean and fit, and I hope that returns too, one of these days.
But I've often thought that the fundamental thing it taught me was none of those things. Instead, it was willpower. The meaning of, the value of willpower. The power of a focus. Cut out the distractions, concentrate, get up that mountain one step at a time.
I never was particularly interested in winning karate belts. But that lesson about willpower was worth dozens of them.