Two Hundred Black Belts and You and Me

two-hundred-black-beltsVirtually everyone in the auditorium is wearing a black skirt. This means that the auditorium is filled with black belts. Hundreds and hundreds of them. And me and PJ.

To be fair, there are some other non black belts, but we of the white belt level are in the considerable minority.

This does not do anything to bolster my mood.

We arrived this morning at 9:30. It’s a Saturday. The only physical exertion I want to undertake on a Saturday morning is rigorously spatulaing my scrambled eggs from a pan and maybe taking a few wild hook shots at the trashcan with grapefruit peels. Moreover, I am wearing the result of several Friday night beers in the form of a pretty piercing headache. And after a long week of work, I would rather be resting now and not exercising. But in all honestly, the main issue is the thorough rogering of my comfort zone.

Saturdays are a day for lounging and eating eggs that are riding carbohydrate vehicles to my mouth. They are for reading on the couch and then a walk that ends at a pub. A good Saturday is measured in the amount of naps I am able to slip into and out of, and by the vast solitude that I enjoy after a week of lecturing, teaching, and talking with students.

In a word: not an Aikido seminar. But here we are. With about 200 black belts.

PJ and I are very much on the same page as far as the picture of a perfect Saturday is concerned, so he is as uncomfortable as I am. The simple fact that we are in an auditorium being taught Aikido at 10 a.m. on a Saturday is enough to stress us out, before it gets exponentially worse when you throw in the volume of experts here, the fact that it cost us money to be here, and that the teacher is French.

We make a bilateral agreement to work only with each other this morning. This is despite the fact that the rules of an Aikido dojo dictate that a student must work with several different people and not just the same one. We hope that the amount of (better trained) people in the room will provide us with enough cover to allow our perennial teamwork to go unnoticed.

We try to focus on the bright side. After the seminar, there will be pizza in Nusle. There will also be beer. I know that after the seminar, I will be very happy that I did something new and different on a Saturday morning. In fact, we’ll probably spend most of our pizza and beer time after talking about that. Geez, sure was nice to get out and do that this morning. That’s all well and good, but it’s the during part that we have to get through first, though. And with about 40 minutes left, we are called out and scolded by one of the two hundred black belts about working only with each other.

“Guys, it’s a seminar, the point is to work with people from different dojos and not just yourselves.”

My discomfort is such that I am almost tempted to respond with something snarky, but the skirt she is wearing is solid evidence that she could force feed me my own belt, which is white. Still, I could tell her that simply being in this room is a pretty big move outside of my comfort zone. I am a relative beginner, everyone in the room having been in Aikido for (at the very least) 5 or 6 years longer than I have. Additionally, Czech is not my native language, so it’s doubly stressful to work with someone far more advanced than I. So couldn’t she just let us off the hook and leave us be?


PJ and I are separated like a refugee family in an old film and forced to work with others. PJ finds himself working with a couple of the black belts. I attach myself to a couple of guys I know from our dojo. Some of them even white belts. I watch the clock tick away. Twenty minutes left.

I love Aikido, but I don’t like this. I feel out-of-place and uncomfortable. After eight months of training in the same dojo, I have only recently gotten used to working with my fellow martial artists. They are a cast of characters that PJ and I refer to now with familiarity. The walk to the tram stop after class is filled with a recap of our training partners. I had to work with that dude with the thing on his cheek, not a bad guy. That Chilean guy does not fuck around. Beware. Do you think that tall guy has Hepatitis? That lady with the tattoo on her neck speaks pretty solid English. B2 I’m guessing…

But this dojo is plus two hundred more students. And they all have black belts.

With ten minutes left, I finally end up with a black belt; it’s a guy I have never met. He is an intimidating looking son-of-a-bitch, whose goatee looks as though it could beat a large Cuban in an arm wrestling match. However, like most others I have met in Aikido, the book is nothing like its cover and he is very friendly and helpful. He speaks a blend of English and Czech that sounds like a sort of proto-Swedish.

I work sort of distractedly, my right eye on him as he helps me, my left eye on the clock above us. I am waiting for the master’s Aye! to put a stop to our training and to let us get on with our day. Most of the black belts will stay here for the rest of the day’s seminars. And then they’ll come for tomorrow’s seminars. But not PJ and I, we are finally in good moods. The seminar is over and it’s time for pizza and beer. And not only that, we’ll be able to talk about how great it was to break out of our Saturday morning routine comfort zone, and in that discussion we’ll make fun of the fact that there were, like, two hundred black belts at this thing, and I worked with one of them.

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