Emanuel Lai walks serenely on to the red and blue cushioned mat. He bows respectfully. Then the 10-year-old stops and snaps into position. He proceeds to rip off a series of powerful punches and swift kicks and assumes defensive positions to ward off imaginary foes. He yells out his kiei, or "spirit cry. "Hight!," he shouts thrusting a fist forward.
He shifts forcefully and seamlessly from one movement to the next. It is his kata, a choreographed series of movements from the challenging isshin-ryu Okinawan style of karate -- the same system of karate used to train U.S. Marines in hand-to-hand combat -- that he is practicing on this day.
Watching closely is his teacher, or sensei, Rick Zimmerman. Zimmerman has been teaching a host of classes for children and adults in his Old Greenwich dojo since it opened in 1997. And Lai, who began taking karate lessons at the age of 4, is one of his star pupils.
"It's a way to get fit," says Lai, a fifth grader at the International School of Dundee. "It teaches me how to defend myself if anything bad happens."
Lai's practice continues. A back fist strike. A front snap kick. A double low block.
His performance is impressive and powerful -- but it is also beautiful. Graceful.
It is . . . . his karate dance.