Near and Against by Paul Schweer
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You do a little dance
and then you drink a little water.
-- Red Hot Chili Peppers
From somewhere in South Africa, he looks to be assembled from a few
long poles and angled blocks, edges exposed. He lets his head tilt,
curly locks hang, watches me tug and tie loose strands. Something
about his hands -- oversized? -- large, but not thick. Skin stretched
We're near glass not quite covered. Anyone can see, looking in from
outside, what it is I'm wearing, how I'm wearing it. Been a long time
since the night Big Sean taught me how to tie it on. Been a long time
since Sean's been around. He's with the cops now, last I knew.
An old man opens a door and joins me and the big kid from South
Africa. Short, soft-looking man with a belly. Worn at the edges,
threadbare clothes. Moves kind of slow. Pause and balance.
"Sensei," I say, "I haven't come up with a rational reason why I keep
He steps his feet into his black skirt, pulls it up. Smiles. "A man
has got to do something with his life."
Class starts with tenkan. I'm with the kid from South Africa. His
first time on the mat. We start with his feet. Left foot in, right
foot out, turn about the forward foot -- tenkan hokey pokey -- and how
in the world did he turn while leaving the front foot planted? Made
my knee hurt just seeing that. I tell him about it, ask him not to do
it, hoping he will understand what I mean by keeping his parts
We do a little bokken kata, breaking it down, looking at each part.
Lot of senior people on the mat. Training breaks down, old heads in a
corner, having some kind of group encounter session. "When I feel
this, I want to do this...." "Just doesn't feel that way to me...."
"Feels like it ought to be more like this...." Getting in touch with
Sensei shifts gears. Two-hand lapel grab, up, heavy right side. Ass
over elbows, lifting light left side, flying in a tight soft-padded
Train for a while with Dan The Pharmacist... not to be confused with
Dan the Web Man (Venerable Web Grandmaster.), or Mongo Dan (Don't make
me destroy you.), or our beloved Geriatric Dan (Founder, Old Guy
Dan The Pharmacist knows no peer in the art of spectacle waza. Couple
weeks ago, while helping the teacher during class, Dan's glasses flew
off and down to the floor early in the technique that was being
shown. Dan The Pharmacist went into a roll with nage following. The
glasses sat on the mat, squarely in the path of Dan and the following
nage. Dan brushed, without reaching or changing his roll or the flow
of our teacher's technique, the glasses softly to the side of the mat
into the hands of a seated student. Still not sure just how he did
So I've learned, with Dan The Pharmacist, to not be too surprised by
him. And, sure enough, when we train... when I grab him like I
grabbed Sensei... well, I'm hearing "sorry about that" and "are you
Little later on, training with someone else, I hear behind me Dan's
voice again. Question this time. I turn and look. He's missing his
glasses, squinting like he does when he's without them. He gets close
enough to recognize me. Starts to explain how he doesn't understand.
I say, "Sensei!" Dan's eyes get big. "Sensei," I say, "Dan doesn't
think this technique works!" Dan tries to slink away, but it's too
late. Sensei is there. And Dan gets to feel what it was he couldn't
Two-hand grab again, something at my throat. Sensei's soft hand on my
jaw line. Up on my toes, and something low, near and
against... withdrawn... knees bend again.
Mongo comes at me at a trot. Bow to each other. Two-hand grab. On
my toes again, something low again. But not withdrawn. Ride. Ride
the wild Mongo.
And I train with Shotakan Steve, which is a little like grabbing onto
a large electrical charge. And I train with Judy The Small -- think
rabid squirrel. And Wing Chun Brian, whom I'm supposed to grab and
pull, who shows me pulling means pulling a punch. His punch, into my
Then it's all over. All too soon.
On my way out, ready to go home, Bob is between me and the door. I'd
seen the bald head and beard before, while we were training. Off to a
side. Not wearing the blue shirt out on the wood floor, out there
where he's supposed to be, swinging a sword. Cutting through a rolled
mat stuck on a peg. Sitting, instead, quiet on the side. There in a
chair when I'm ready to go home. Sitting sentinel, keeping watch over
a fast growing garden of crushed cans and bent bottle caps.
Might as well sit, for a spell. For a while.
Man's got to do something with his life.
This column was originally published in Aikido Today Magazine.
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