“It’s fun to laugh at yourself, it’s the tonic tried and true. 

It’s fun to look at yourself, as other people do.”… Candid Camera Theme Song

I’m in the cereal aisle of my favorite super-store.  My snake-like peripheral vision catches a carelessly placed box of cereal about to fall onto my head from a high shelf.  Without hesitation, I turn into a left sanchin dachi and execute an age uke as I have done thousands of times in Gekisai.  The box explodes.  A cloud of Post Toasties rains down.  The other patrons are speechless at this masterful display of karate. As I swagger down the aisle, the only sounds heard are crunchy footsteps and gasps of admiration.  I turn to the assistant manager. "Clean up...aisle seven," I say, in my best Sean Connery brogue casually brushing a few Toasties from my shoulder. A Hispanic woman looks my way and mumbles "stupedo."  I believe that is Spanish for master.  I nod at her compliment.

A careless shopper almost hits me with her shopping cart.  I side step and chamber my leg Saifaesque style.  Her wide eyes tells me she too, is impressed.  She notices the backwards letters burned into my forearms.  "What does ihcabiH mean?"  I could tell her carrying a makeshift cauldron of hot coals is the badge of self-mastery, but I keep her guessing.  Only those who study the martial arts appreciate such things.  Her little girl asks; “ Mommy, why does that man’s head look like an onion?”  OK, so growing a Samurai topknot with my thinning hair didn’t turn out as planned. I scowl at her.  She assumes the Pouty Face Posture.  Tears will be her next ploy and the male warrior has no defense against female tears.  Little girl tears are the deadliest, debilitating as cobra venom.  I back down the aisle averting her stare.

I haven't been in this particular store for awhile, ever since I was told they don’t carry Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pajamas in 3XL.  I took my business elsewhere but I've come back because the prices are lower.

My wife practices her Shaolin here as well.  Looked for she cannot be seen, listened for she cannot be heard. "Where have you been?” I ask.  She insists she has been standing right here.  "I've been through this section a half- dozen times and I didn't see you," I add.  "Well, I saw you."  I guess she assumed I was playing shopping cart derby each time I went by. Yet, I must admit her ability to blend with her surroundings would make a Ninja envious.

This is my training ground.  A gauntlet of sorts to hone the ancient martial skills. Training here is stressful, but necessary.  There is no substitute for the real world.  So many carelessly placed items on the shelves.  Coupon clipping combatants who could instantly turn into deadly adversaries over a sale item. 

Adrenaline dumps into my nervous system as I hear the loudspeaker announcement, “Attention shoppers, for the next ten minutes we will be offering specials in our bakery section.”  I sometimes have nightmares about blue lights.      

I once made the mistake of entering the cookie aisle as a group of unsupervised children had taken it over.  I wasn’t prepared for a bunch of Keebler Elf like attackers.  I hadn’t trained for such low level attacks.  Only my quick thinking to rip open a package of chocolate coconut macaroons and toss them into the air saved me.

I have tried to visualize every possible attack when I train, but the Toasties thing really caught me off guard.  What if it were an institutional sized can of corn?  Would my defense have been adequate?  How can one imagine every possible attack while training?  I suppose it isn't possible.  Maybe the best thing is to just do.  No thought.  Become one with each store display.  Assume the identity of each foodstuff.  Be the mayonnaise.  Blend with the vegetables.  "Wax paper on, wax paper off." I need to place myself in the mind of the determined shopper.  See myself as the customer does.

I no longer visualize much of anything when I train.  My body is on auto pilot.  I am one with the kata.  At least I think I am since I usually start in one kata and finish in another.  Should that count as two?  Where was I?  Oh yes, doing without thinking.

Thinking clouds being.  I hate old martial philosophers who know the "way of enlightenment."  I suspect it is more a case of early onset Alzheimer’s than any real understanding.  I have tried contemplating my navel to reach a higher state of consciousness but belly button lint is all I noticed.

Maybe this is the answer.  The realization I will never know. One can never truly prepare. Such attempts are exercises in futility.  Despite a lifetime of acquiring knowledge I have come full circle back to the beginning.  So many theories, counter theories, advice and advice to the contrary, opinions and counter opinions have led to the answer of the ultimate Zen parable; “If a tree falls in the forest and no hears, does it still make a sound?"

Yes……..it makes a crunchy sound.