Learning to Fall

aikidoTonight in Aikido class we’re falling. We’re falling forwards and backwards; sometimes we finish the fall by standing, sometimes we finish in a crouch. Sometimes in the middle of a fall we switch direction by shifting our legs and finish the fall at a different angle.

It’s important to note that “we’re falling” might be more accurately written as “they’re falling.” For, in some massive irony, I am no good at falling. But neither is PJ.

PJ and I decided a while ago to get back into martial arts. We have practiced other forms of martial arts both separately and together. He did Kempo in the US and I did Taekwondo. We both did Kung Fu for a couple of years in Prague.

Like any physical activity, martial arts teaches and trains so many different skills. Aside from martial and self-defense skills, it also teaches patience, mindfulness, meditation, fluidity, the ability to almost literally go with the flow.

One lesson martial arts has taught me is that I am very bad at seemingly very simple things. In Taekwondo it was breathing. How can a living human be bad at breathing? In Kung Fu it was standing. Standing. In the beginning I felt as though I had hidden talents for failing at simple exercises. After a while I swore that martial arts was an Asian practical joke on Western society. I got it! Let’s convince them they can’t breathe, stand, fall, or sit. hahaha. This’ll be great.

But after a longer while, and to our amazement, we actually started to improve at these skills. We’d sit in the pub exhausted after our Kung Fu lesson and say things like: “Yeah, my standing is really coming along.” or “I think I’m finally able to breathe.”

We got some judgmental looks from waitresses.

Whatever unfortunate part of my brain deals with the bigger picture knows there is a life metaphor afoot, sniffing around the troublesome humor. However, at the moment I can’t put my finger on what that might be. Breathing is being. Standing is strength.

Who the hell knows?

Today it’s falling.

Falling is recovery? The martially artistic embodiment of “get back on the horse?”

Most of the more experienced students fall, tuck, and roll, their ruffling Gis and pop up ready for action smoothness reminiscent of combative extras in Bruce Lee flicks. PJ and I fall with dense thuds, groan loudly, and struggle to our feet. Nothing resembling popping up happens. We are nowhere near ready for action and our partners pick at their elbow callouses as we get to our feet. Adding to the discomfort and pain is the fact that we are wearing new Gis which are so bulky, solid, and inflexible that it’s like working out wearing a door.

The instructor helps us out and by the end of the two-hour lesson 1 in 10 falls is a little smoother. We sit in the locker room after the lesson and moan and rub our shoulders and backs. There might be some metaphor to falling, but while we learn it, falling is ouchy.

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