Aikido And The New Warrior
High whirling kicks, explosive punches powerful enough to smash boards, terrifying shouts: that’s the typical image of the martial arts, the one we see in the movies. Depending on our prejudices, it either thrills us or turns us off.
There were four of us, three men and a woman, who shared an ordeal, a rite of passage. In a culture that has turned its eyes from challenge and chance and possible tragedy, this was a rare gift indeed. We were up for black belt in Aikido — Richard, Lawrence, Wendy, and I — and over a period of about a year each of us in our separate ways confronted injury, exhaustion, humiliation, and despair.
A turning point in my life came one day on a train in the suburbs of Tokyo. It was the middle of a languid spring afternoon, and the car was comparatively empty — a few housewives out shopping with their kids in tow, some old folks, a couple of bartenders on their day off poring over the racing form. The rickety old car clacked monotonously over the rails as I gazed absently out at the drab houses and dusty hedgerows.
As a Westerner turning Buddhist in 1982, I was concerned about abandoning my “Christian heritage” for a foreign culture. I had never felt completely at home with that heritage: church seemed like a sterile routine, and any form of dogma affected me like one more arrogant know-it-all telling me how I should live.
Lord, I may be a man, but I am pregnant with grief. I have only just gotten used to crying, and now I am rolling about and wailing out loud, clutching my painful belly as if struggling to unhitch a beast who has leapt upon my center, clawing. But the beast is inside; my stomach has turned against me! It spasms and contracts in the service of an inexplicable distress. It bloats with the eruption of unspoken violence.
When I returned from Denver to Manhattan last fall I needed a job. My first idea was to be one of those guys who sit on boxes outside discount stores on Dyckman Street watching that no one steals plastic coat hangers — but all those positions were filled. My next plan was to be Santa Claus.