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Home > Columns > Paul Schweer > September, 2005 - To Become a Better Someone

To Become a Better Someone by Paul Schweer


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Couple months ago, at the end of class one night,
I was helping a dojo mate practice for a test.
He'd been preparing to test for Sandan, and
test time was approaching. I was his uke
and happy to help. But I have to admit....

I don't like him. I don't trust him.

But I do train with him.

Train hard, test easy.
I was helping with the hard part,
attacking fast and strong. Preparing
for Sandan, right? Should be able to
handle it. Handle anything, right?

But like I said, I don't trust him.
And ukemi implies a level of trust,
in my partner or my own ability
to stay safe. And going that fast....
Thinking about it, I don't believe my attacks
were honest attacks. A fast and strong,
but uncommitted attack, is difficult at best.
Arguably... probably, inappropriate.
Not what I meant to do, but probably what I did.

But he managed at one point to control me,
take me to the mat. He tightened it up
and moved to the pin. Everything stopped.
It was over, but it kept getting tighter.
I raised my hand to slap the mat.
And heard a yelp of pain.
Then realized it was me.

He cranked my elbow, in a pin,
when it was over. It was done.
And my elbow still hurts.
And I'm still mad about it.

But I pushed him pretty hard
both in the way I intended, and unintentionally.
Pushed him past what he could handle.

I ended up where I started.
Still don't like him. Still don't trust him.
And I still train with him.

So, should I train only
with people I trust?
Whom should I trust?

Am I trustworthy?

Couple years ago, after class one night,
a beginner asked for help with a bokken kata.
He hadn't been there long. Big soft looking kid.
Quiet. Tentative. But making progress.
He learned the movements well enough,
but he was sad to watch. No focus or intent.
Unaware of what was happening.

First step in the kata. Watershed block.
Arms soft and floppy, bokken resting on his head.
Looking off into space at god-only-knows-what.
Expression on his face like he'd dropped his
ice cream cone on the sidewalk. Again.

So I lightly tap his bokken for him,
trying to illustrate while I try to explain
what's going on. What the threat is.
How he should defend himself. And
he doesn't get it. Doesn't do
what I tell him. And I talk
and tap his bokken. And his
shoulders start to slump.
And while I talk and tap
I see him shrink into
himself. And I start
to tap and stop and
shut up suddenly
and instead of
lightly tap,
I strike.

Hard enough to drive his bokken down across his face.
Hard enough for my weapon to continue to his head.
Hard enough to hear the rap of wood on bone.

I knew as I did it that what I'd done was wrong,
and I told him immediately that I shouldn't have.
And I told him I was sorry. And I meant what I said.

Didn't matter what I said. I did what I did.
Not for his own good. Not to teach some lesson.
Because I wanted to.

He trusted me, and I hurt him.
In spite of his being weak and unsure.
Because he was weak and unsure.

Maybe he understood threat all too well.
Something in his life to overcome, defend against?
Had he begun training for reasons like these?

He never came back.

So, am I trustworthy?

You have an answer, I'm sure.
I have a few of my own.
I dislike them all,
but I'll tell you what I know
about the best I've come up with.

The better I become at portraying someone admirable...
if I can more often, more consistently act
as my ideal, even though I know better....

Even if I fail to become a better someone.

Even if I remain, essentially, me.
Well... that's my dirty secret.

Should I persevere
my secret may,
with me, die
unremarkably.


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