Just Roll With It
“I kind of just rolled with it. Adaptability — that’s from the training.” That’s what one of my Ninjutsu training partners said to me last week while we were heading home after a rare training session. We hadn’t seen each other or been in much contact over the past year, due to lockdowns and social distancing and busy with work, etc., so we were catching up on how each of us fared during the upheavals of 2020.
A filmmaker friend of mine is making a short documentary about women being independent, and asked me if she could film a training session. I jumped on this excuse to get back on the mats and contacted a couple of guys I knew I’d be able to go hard with. Everyone jumped on the chance — we’ve all been missing the mats. One guy unfortunately had a work conflict and couldn’t make it, but the other two could.
(Of course we self-isolated and took every hygiene precaution before we met up to train, and only trained one-on-one. It’s five days later and so far no one is showing any symptoms of illness.)
I got to train with my first training partner for 90 minutes, going hard. It felt great to be back on the mats, but different too: I’m 52 years old, I’ve definitely added some weight and lost some muscle tone from hibernating in this pandemic. And my body is still working its way through menopause, and still working its way through profound grief.
The last 4 1/2 years of my life have been intense and emotionally challenging as I started the work of living in a new city with no contacts or pre-established support system; with launching my business full-time and all the mistakes and failures and challenges and victories along the way; from losing some friends whose paths turned away from mine; and from losing my remaining parent and the tectonic drift away from siblings that happens as families learn to re-form around parental loss. All of these things have been stored in my body, and have had no real outlet for some time, especially over the past year. It’s a lot of weight, with nowhere to go.
Training usually keeps me grounded, more stable and balanced, and is a great way for me to work through the challenges of life; but the place I had originally found to train in Berlin had some internal politics that, being new, I had no investment in, and didn’t want to invest in. My own students are all very new to the art, their progress severely hampered by the pandemic (although their dedication to our online classes should earn them all a belt promotion!). So I haven’t been on the mats in a while, and I haven’t gone all out for a couple of years.
I had been watching my diet for about 10 days in advance of our scheduled training date: very low carbs, no sugar, no alcohol, good sleep. I was rested and ready to go, but what a shock when I was knocked on my ass by my first training partner — a guy about 15 year younger than me. And what a shock when I didn’t immediately bounce back to my feet like he did — years, weight, everything else was slowing me down, my movements stiff and awkward and choppy.
I was looking for that flow, that moment when you connect so purely with your partner that you move as one, where your ego completely recedes and you just let pure movement take over. You become energy, and you move with the energy in the room, in your partner, and in you. You become supremely and sublimely connected, and when you train long enough, you maintain that connection even when something hurts.
I thought I was good enough to just jump right into it, and was frustrated with myself for not being able to, for not remembering how to do some things, for making stupid mistakes. And I thought: maybe I’m really bad at this? Maybe I’ve never been that good and people have just been kind to me, cheering me on out of pity and the generosity of their hearts rather than any sincerity or even respect; and maybe I’ve been fooling myself all along. Maybe I’m not a martial artist — not a real one — and never was; and now I’m just a foolish middle-aged woman with a goofy hobby and a false sense of accomplishment.
Of course, the more I focused on everything I was doing wrong, the less likely I was able to connect to that partner, and the worse I performed on the mats. I finally stepped aside long enough to do a few simple forward rolls — to remind my body, if not my mind, that it at least knows how to do this.
When we started again, just two minutes later, I put my entire trust in my body, in my muscle memory and just let it go. I stopped trying to control, to judge, to critique. And there it was: the connection, the flow. The judgement suspended, the self-doubt on pause. It was just movement, and nothing else.
Knock down, get up. Block, get up. Roll, get up. Throw.
I moved into a throw that sent my partner directly over my head, flipping onto his back as he lands on the mats behind me; me hanging onto his Gi to complete the circle, rolling backwards to end up on top of him, pinning him with my weight.
But as he went over my head, the bridge of his foot hit the bridge of my nose, and I cried out, which broke the connection and stopped the flow. I was concerned it was broken, and was already thinking about doctors’ bills and bruising and how this was going to affect my face. “Are you ok?” asked my training partner. I felt around, and discovered that my nose was fine — there was no blood or bruising, just a hard knock that was sore for a couple of days. “I guess so!” I said, and got up.
I’m curious about that “I guess so.” I was really in the moment, and now no longer remember what was going through my head exactly, but on the footage, I sound exasperated for some reason, like I guess I just have to go with it. I don’t remember if I was secretly hoping (as we sometimes do) that the injury would necessitate a time out, maybe even long enough for the second guy to turn up, someone who is also 52 and fat from life and with whom training is less defensive and more connective, more open to flow.
Maybe that’s what I hoped for; I really don’t remember. I do remember feeling hot, sweaty, exhausted, out of breath and not entirely sure I was going to be able to continue for much longer… even though I continued for another 45 minutes.
“I guess so.” I guess I can take it. I guess it’s not as bad as I think. I guess I can keep going. I guess I might as well. I mean, that’s what we’re here for, isn’t it? To keep going.
“Do you want to try again?” asked my younger training partner. “Yeah,” I gasped. I do.
You can view the full training clip as captured on my iPhone here.