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Time flies, like a kite cut free of its tethering string, borne on the fickle winds, fluttering and drifting aimlessly against a backdrop of dark clouds and gray sky. In between being out of town and being sick, I hadn't been to the dojo in over a week. A week on break from training feels so long, and my internal sense of time gets knocked off kilter. The hours bleed into days, and I forget where in the week I am without the benchmark training evenings to regulate myself.
It serves me right for being healthy for such a long streak—I knew that whatever I got next, it would be heavy enough to knock me out for a while. Memories of the last few months' events drift into my prescription-drug-induced unconsciousness, of Sensei badly injuring his knee during the Hawaii Doshu Seminar, of his surgery and time away from the dojo. Sensations of jo training with Sempai lace my dreams; I am struggling to manipulate the jo to bring him down in a shihonage, but the wood bends in the middle and refuses to lend me its strength. "The wood is strongest along the grain," Sempai tells me, "so extend through the jo." I understand, but I cannot physically move to make it work. Sweat drenches my brow and soaks into my shirt as I sleep. It's all I want to do for a long while, and I shun the sensations of consciousness and the healing sunlight to stay in that Sandman world where I hope my body can heal.
But I do wake. Yesterday, I stepped back onto the freshly-varnished wood of the dojo floor. My body feels weak from muscles left unconditioned and from the release of antibodies to fight the foreign intrusion. My lungs ache from the constant, hacking cough that still lingers. But Sensei is there for his frequent visits, hurt knee free from the clunky brace, and now walking without crutches. He's been off the mat for a lot longer than me—since February—so I know I don't have a right to complain. He inspires me to heal, shows me that if you work at it, it becomes possible. I bow in, and I take it easy during my first evening back, but I still sweat and struggle. My coughs bring forth a copper-tinged taste of weariness, like there are holes inside of me that bleed out my energy and passion. I have been off the mat, but I have never stopped fighting. It feels like a constant battle against the grain to get better and regain my strength. How can I blend and make it work? "Take it slow, but don't baby it," Sempai would advise. "Keep training," Sensei would say. So I do. I take slow and steady steps back onto the mat, say "Onegai-shimasu," and give the best that I can from this body recently broken.