It was strange to be with people I don’t know well. Maybe the strangeness was an adult version of being shy; maybe it’s just residual shyness. I doubt anyone that knows me would think of me as unaggressive in such situations, but I am. And have been for some time. I like to know what I am doing. I like to look like I know what I am doing. And tonight, around those new strangers I didn’t.
I showed up to participate in an aikido class. To anyone’s eye I was a newbie. I did not have a gi, instead I wore a t-shirt and a pair of sweats. I’m new enough to martial arts to think that the traditional outfit looks pretty damn hokey. Compounding the effect of my unsubtle raiment was my highly suspicious milling about. I looked like somebody that wanted something but didn’t know how to ask. Or when. Or where. Or why. Someone that was about to cut and run.
This was my third time to the dojo. The first time I’d showed up at the end of the class I’d wanted to observe. The schedule on the website made it look to me that there were two start times not a start and an end. I stayed for nearly an hour of judo before I decided I’d seen enough. The second time I’d been in was a busy Saturday and it was easier to hide. So this time I was back nearly two weeks later. Plenty of time for the several people I already recognized on sight to have lost any inkling of who I was at all if they’d even had one to lose.
It’s a casual place and no doubt comfortable to those familiar with it’s surroundings. They know where all the doors go. They know if its left to girl’s and right to boy’s. They know if it’s warmer than usual, cooler, or just right. They know everyone but me. And I feel like I’ve just stepped into a stranger’s living room.
The small group of kids already there were experienced students of this art I know nothing about, but not particularly gregarious hosts. I am sure to the majority of them I was not only a newbie in my gym clothes but also an old guy. What I needed was an owner. Not the owner, but an owner. I needed someone to take charge and tell me what to do. For me this was too new and too foreign to know where to grab on. Fortunately an owner appeared.
In the years to come I’ll always recall this fear. When I am on the mat from now on, I am an owner. No one stays afraid long in my care.
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