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Home > Columns > Paul Schweer > April, 2005 - Learning Opportunities

Learning Opportunities by Paul Schweer

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If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same
-- Rudyard Kipling

Could be most any airport, but the painted colors
look like the southwest and the souvenir shops
have desert themes. The terminal seems familiar
but is, at the same time, very foreign. But
I don't have to fit in or learn my way around.
I am a guest, a visitor. A tourist. Just watching
the signs, following directions. Enjoying
the sights.

I see the unexpected. Something I recognize.
A Starbucks. Something I'm comfortable with.
I get a coffee and take it to the baggage claim.

Sitting in the shuttle I hear, "Hold him."
Then there's a baby standing in my lap.
I hold him and he looks at me. Turns his head
a couple times, puts it on my shoulder.
I'm hoping he doesn't spit up on my shirt.
He doesn't seem to care what I hope for.

Shuttle driver is a talkative sort.
Tells us all about where we are. Tells us
all about where we're going, how to get there.
Tells us all about all we want to hear.
He doesn't ask about where I want to go.
Maybe I should want to go where he knows about.

I get my rental car, drive in circles for a while.
Finally escape the airport's sticky web of roads.
I find University, and head for the dojo.

My first time in Arizona. Everything looks new.
No traffic to speak of. Rough, rugged territory.
Phoenix. Bird rising from the ashes.
Myths and legends. Wyatt Earp country.
Widower, fugitive, sometime lawman.
Sometimes lawless. Fierce.
Loyal to family and friends.

I find the dojo, but the doors are locked.
No schedule in the window. I wait for a while.
Chuck Clark arrives. We sit in the office.
He talks, I listen.

And then it's time to train. I get changed,
get on the mat. Don't know anybody.
"Are you Jiyushinkai?" My feet give me away.

Knife taking. Soft hands. Balance breaking.

Sounds easy.


Next morning I'm early, but the doors are standing open.
Stan Conner's on the couch, in his gi already.
Looking tired. Comfortable. Says he hasn't slept.
I sit, enjoy the quiet.

Two attackers, in turn. One attack, right hand.
Keep it slow. Get off line. One technique.
One at a time.

A lot of family talk. Mothers and fathers. Martial ancestors.
Students and teachers. Adopted dojo members.
Black sheep, favorite sons. Abuse,
abandonment. Regret and resolve.

Three attackers. Keep moving. Don't push it away.
Take whatever's there. Save it if you can.

Sensei in the middle. Three volunteers.
We start slow and smooth.
Then a little more intense.
I see an opening and take my shot.

And things slow down.

Everything, down. Heavy and slow.
Then release, and light.
And sudden. Up.

Then there is nothing... but horizontal me.
Nothing but the mat a few feet below.
Nothing but surprise... and gravity.

"Wave got you, didn't it."


Six in the morning is a little early to be swinging sticks,
but I'm on the mat anyway. Trying to follow a kata
I've never seen before... probably never see again.

So I'm grumpy. So what.

So pay daggone attention to what it is you're doing
before you put a bokken in somebody's eye.

And it's all new to me, and I'm all inside.
And my feet are all thumbs.

I drive in circles looking for breakfast and coffee.
And the first place I try has gone out of business.
Second place I stop doesn't open til noon.
Finally find a place where the bagels look good,
but the coffee is poor. Like my attitude.

Demos in the afternoon. Feels like a celebration.
Nice time. Interesting. Promotions announced.

Open training follows. Free style. Reversals.
I find some openings. Feel good about that.
Give a lot of openings. Not happy
to learn I give that much away.

Why be unhappy to see my openings?

Why not be happy to learn my weaknesses?
Why not be critical of my successes?

Why not learn from missed learning opportunities.


"Housekeeping." While I'm shaving.

I send them away.

"Housekeeping." While I'm packing.

Yelling through the door.

I drive in circles looking for the rental car return.

The shuttle looks full. I ask the driver, "Room for me?"
He talks. He says a lot, but I don't understand.
Simple question, right? Seems simple enough.
I ask again. Same answer.
Still don't understand.

Time to go home.

Two items to check. What's in the bag?

"Sticks," I say.

She says, "What kind of sticks?"

"Training sticks."

And then.

"What kind of training?"

"Mostly pre-arranged," I say, "paired practice forms."

She nods, like that's good enough.


This column was originally published in the Jiyushinkai Budo News.

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