How the Little Grasshopper on my Foot Continues to Transform Me
by Peekay Marianne Briggs
I have a tattoo of a grasshopper on my right foot. There is a small group of people who immediately understand what that symbol means and what TV show inspired it.
Naturally, the inspiration is not the whole story.
I imagine anyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s remembers how big karate was in the media. I know, it isn’t all "karate." We loved the Jeet Kune Do of Bruce Lee, Tang So Do of Chuck Norris, Steven Siegal's Akido, and the kickboxing of Jean Clude Van Damme. David Carradine—and the TV show “Kung Fu”—was at the center of everything I loved about martial arts. My cousin and I would practice the diction of Carradine’s speech and mimic the funny noises they made in the show. I tried to get my cousin (and best friend) to call me Caine—he never did. We knew these lines by heart:
Master Po: Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Po: Do you hear the grasshopper which is at your feet?
Caine: Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Po: Young man . . . how is it that you do not?
Now you know the inspiration, but there is more to my Tat Tale . . .
As a kid living in Georgia, I wanted to take Karate lessons, especially after the movie The Karate Kid came out. My friends and I tried to learn from books just like the lead character, Daniel, had done before he met Master Miyagi. I think we all hoped that some crazy master would notice and take us as students. In those days, money was so short we weren’t even guaranteed food in the fridge. So obviously . . . no Karate.
As a young adult, I finally had my opportunity to learn Shotokan Karate. It did not take long for martial arts to begin to define my life. If you knew me then, you knew two things about me; I worked at Concordia Language Villages and I practiced Shotokan. My Sensei teased me about my inquisitive nature and reprimanded me when I tried to “know it all.”
He started calling me Grasshopper whenever I would question anything or try to say too much. It was a childhood dream that I would be connected with one of my most beloved characters, even though I know the moniker Grasshopper was to indicate my impetuous nature. After a couple of years of training, Sensei and his wife (Senpai, an older role model) pulled me out of a depression, quite a serious one, in fact.
My depression included suicidal thoughts and . . . well, that is another story. I had stopped training and they got me back into the fold. Sensei even let me tell him a little about my depression. But really, talking about feelings wasn’t what he did. He made sure another Senpai, Marshall, watched me closely.
Karate was everything to me. This was my family.
I finally realized that I had to get a grasshopper tattooed on my foot. Right!? The tattoo artist was not keen on the location of my tattoo. He said no one would see it. I explained that I go barefoot all the time, and most importantly, I was always barefoot in the dojo. I learned that tattoos on the foot are relatively much more painful than tattoos in other locations. I was nauseous. I turned white. I did kata in my head. When it was over, I looked down and had a bloody foot with a vibrant green showing through. I was thrilled—even though something was a little off about the creature . . . was it missing a leg? (Why, yes, yes it was.)
Naturally, I sought approval from my Sensei. I have to chuckle a little as I remember his three reactions. First, he said that I should not have gotten any markings on my body that showed during Karate and separated me out of the group. Second, he loved demonstrating proper stomping technique on my foot—he would yell: “EEK! A bug!!” and whoosh, I could feel the air as he stopped a millimeter from my skin. Third, he gave my tattoo a nickname. He'd ask, “How is Hop San (Hops on) today?” He was very clever with nicknames. It was an important part of his relationship with his students.
I had a falling out with my Sensei (and Karate) involving a spat about equality and an injury. I tried to continue to train, but I was angry. It would come as a surprise to Sensei that I felt this way, because we did not discuss feelings. I am not sure a week goes by that I don’t remember my training, my chosen family. Hop San still adorns my foot, there for people to question my tattoo choice. I get to tell them all about Sensei, my training, and my Karate family.
My little grasshopper is the best talking therapy tool I could imagine. It has allowed me to work through my falling out and forgive Sensei. I do wish I could get the grasshopper's final leg added, though.
Maybe one day I will.
About Peekay Marianne Briggs
I live in Moab, Utah, but will always prefer Bemidji, MN. I balance my time between my cats, a partner, work, cooking and baking, and trying to stay mentally and physically fit. I dream of finding the right mental and physical space to train again, but I find hiking and lifting weights a nice way to spend time. My guilty pleasure is Netflix. My partner says that I am loyal to a fault, but I think that the world needs all the love and fierce madness it will allow.