Tap a Keg

I first started my karate life at a small dojo on 99th street and Broadway. There are a lot of things I remember about that place. Most significantly, how hard it is to climb three flights of stairs on your way to a sparring class that you are deathly afraid of. And the broken parts of drywall where students had "fallen" into the changing rooms. (Read: punched through a wall by a man who will remain nameless. Well ok, his name was Paul. But we had like 7 Pauls in the dojo back then, and all of them will probably think this is about them, because it was, so its fine.) 

The other thing I remember about those early years was that the dojo was above a restaurant. It changed multiple times over the course of my training, but when I first joined it was called Bahama Mama. I have no idea what kind of place Bahama Mama was because I was a teenager at the time. After class we went for pizza. But the grownups would sometimes go in there and we youngins assumed all kinds of wildness was happening. (Turns out, there was only some wildness. Most of those girls quit soon after.)

Many years later, the dojo moved to a larger location on 104th street. I was a black belt by then, and eventually, a fully "of age" grownup. After class we would wander across the street to a hole in the wall called Tap a Keg. Tap a Keg was a bar bar. It served beer and whisky and had a couple of TV's and a pool table. There was no kitchen but you could order pizzas to be delivered in, which people did often. The bartender knew everyone. After sparring, a few of us would go there with our instructor, have some drinks and talk about stuff. Nothing crazy happened, ever. Just long conversations. Occasionally there was a bar fight, which of course none of us were ever involved in. We got to know a lot about our teacher. We watched baseball. (Well not me, I hate baseball. But them, they watched it.) Every so often there was a boxing match on, which of course our teacher watched with the critical eye of a professional.

It was cool. 

For a very brief period, someone opened a sushi place on the opposite corner from Tap A Keg so we stopped going to the bar and started going there. They had some ridiculous all you can eat beer and sushi special on Friday nights and you would be shocked how much sushi a bunch of fighters can eat. That place lasted about two months before going out of business and I am positive it was all our fault. (Well not mine. Turns out all the sushi I can eat is not very much sushi. But them. It was all their fault.)

Our current dojo is on 106th and Columbus and on Fridays we all go to a bar down the block called Amsterdam Tavern . It is a step up from the old days of stale beer smells and peanuts on the floor. AmTav (as we call it) has food and in the summer, outdoor seating where you can pet cute doggies and be as loud and obnoxious as you want. Sometimes the neighborhood crazies wander by for a chat. (With themselves usually.)

But for the most part it is the same deal. All the bartenders and waitstaff know us. On many nights it is just the ladies who go out, so we spend our time drinking blood orange margaritas or red wine (one of us likes Jamison, she is a badass), eating greasy fries and talking about boys. Sometimes we eat beignets, delicious creations of fried dough, powdered sugar and Nutella that make you truly appreciate life. Like the boys, we talk about karate, but unlike the boys we also talk about feelings, life, relationships. And sometimes we Google pics of half naked UFC fighters. Well one of us does. Or at least she used to before she found out he was kind of a jerk.

What is it about the dojo bar that is so compelling? True, there is no better tasting beer than the one you have after 10 rounds of sparring. But it is more about the shared experience I think. There is not much room for talking on the dojo floor, but we so desperately want to talk to each other. Just taking class and then going home is not good enough. This is family and among family there must be laughing and silliness and sometimes drunken shouting and inappropriate jokes about high ranking black belts. It is what makes getting punched in the stomach repeatedly ok. (Somewhat) It is what makes the scariness of promotion day ok. It is sometimes what gets me through the last few rounds on a tired night, the knowledge that I am just moments away from an ice cold beer on a bar stool. 

It is what makes a dojo different from just going to the gym. Well that, and the fact that we are actually learning something meaningful. But don't get me started. God, I hate the gym. If you love the gym, I apologize. At least you are exercising. Don't listen to me, you just keep running to nowhere and picking up heavy things and putting them down again. 

Jesus, I really am I smug-ass bitch sometimes. 
Go to the gym. Seriously. Its good for you. 
Afterwards, go to the bar.

Of course, its possible I am just an alcoholic.



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