Apparently, I’m a martial artist now

… Albeit a fledgling one.

Last week I was away at a training conference for my real job. The conference is held in a very nice state park lodge in one of the more remote areas of the state. Conference attendees who stay in the lodge have little option but to socialize in the evenings because there is quite literally nothing else to do.

On the second-to-last night of the conference, the organizers arranged for a nice bonfire for the attendees to gather around and share some drinks and cigars. I walked away from the group near nightfall to talk with my wife on the phone, and as I walked back on the narrow paved path in the dark, I didn’t see where the path turned and I made a misstep, rolling my ankle off the side of the path where the paved portion was an inch or two higher than the gravel on the sides.

My ankle rolled, my knee followed up immediately by buckling, and it was obvious: I was going down. My next conscious thought was as I was rising up from a kneeling position with my iPhone still in my outstretched hand… With eight or ten amazed & impressed conference attendees looking on. Without even thinking about it, I had extended my left arm in an arc, made myself into a big roundish shape, and rolled from my left shoulder across to my right hip, rising up on my right knee and left foot as I pushed my hands forward. I’m sure that somewhere in my subconscious my Sensi’s voice was screaming, “make round! Make round!” Quite possibly my smoothest zenpo kaiten ever. My ankle hurt from when I twisted it, but otherwise, not a scratch or sore spot on me from rolling across the rocks and gravel along the side of the path.

My ukemi has been one if my bigger struggles in my Aikijutsu study. I still think about it way too much. Sensei sometimes plays a warmup game where we throw a koosh ball around, catching it and keeping the motion going in the same direction while practicing ukemi. When I concentrate on the koosh ball, I can pull off my falls & rolls with passable white-belt proficiency. Without the koosh ball, my brain spends too much time worrying about what I’m doing to actually do anything, Never mind doing anything right.

My trip and fall by the campfire was one of the first times I’ve actually felt like a martial artist.

Tripping. Tripping made me feel cool.

I don’t talk a lot about my training. Only my closest friends and family even know I study martial arts. So this campfire ukemi was one of the first times that I had seen other people look at something I had learned through my Aikijutsu study as something remarkable. And they did. They talked about it for the next couple days, calling it my “SWAT ninja roll.” I never explained the roots of what they saw as a remarkable ability to fall; never mentioned that it took me 8 months of rolling around on a mat to figure it out at even a novice level. I just let them think it was a sweet ass SWAT ninja move.

So I’m learning. I’m progressing. It’s slow, and sometimes the progress is at an imperceivable pace, but the progress is there. Slowly polishing the pieces until they all fit into place.

It’s funny how a twisted ankle and a “summersault” can end up being encouraging.

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