Strange and fitful days

It’s midnight and you’re in an unfamiliar kitchen. Your hosts are asleep — as should you be — but even as tired as you are, you feel restless, tense with nervous energy.

You make the frog rattle.

What seems like a lifetime ago, there were people who would snap to attention when you entered a room. You never considered yourself particularly skilled, but the same stubbornness that now drives your study of Japanese was once channeled into the martial arts; five days a week, for both noon and night classes when your schedule would allow, you would train at your dojo, arriving sweaty and out of breath from the hour-long bicycle ride it would take you to get there.

You make the frog rattle.

You remember with clarity the day you decided to quit. You had arrived an hour early to get in some training before class, and G — a fantastically gifted practitioner just one stripe away from his black belt — was entertaining a few of you with a story. He related how he and his girlfriend had been out for a jog, and when a group of men made some inappropriate comments, G went over and beat the shit out of all four of them. Those of you listening, yourself included, had practically cheered. But then the pit of your stomach felt heavy and sick, as you realized you were in danger of becoming what you despised — someone who could take pleasure in inflicting pain upon others. You quit the dojo that evening.

roopYou make the frog rattle.

Hoping to undo any violent tendencies you’d acquired, you threw yourself into Tai Chi — specifically Wu style, a blend of hard and soft that included both forms and practical applications. After years of street-ready karate, it was a welcome and invigorating change. Your classes only met twice a week, but you constantly practiced what you’d learned, such that your teacher often remarked how you had improved from one week to the next.

But then your teacher was gone, work having taken him back to Taiwan. You found yourself directionless again.

You make the frog rattle.

A chance meeting led to you encountering not one but two schools of capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian dance/martial art. You cross-trained in the flashy, acrobatic Regional style, but your preferred choice was Angola, with its slow rhythms and emphasis on groundwork. It was the last martial art you would study before coming to Japan, and you have yet to practice any since.

It’s midnight and you’re in an unfamiliar kitchen.

You haven’t spoken your native language in a week. The people here stare at you constantly – even more so when you speak Japanese.

Your job will soon be no more. Your chosen work sector is in meltdown. You question what your life has become, and you increasingly find that you don’t like what you see. Your outlook is, frankly, rather bleak.

But for just these few moments, none of that matters.

The light in the kitchen is fluorescent. It’s activated by a pull string, at the end of which a small plastic frog dangles at just above eye level.

You launch another right hook kick. The hem of your jeans smacks loudly as your foot again strikes the plastic ornament.

And you make the frog rattle.

5 Responses

  1. Don’t worry, I probably spoke enough English for the both of us this last week.

    You ain’t missin’ nothin’.

  2. You’re a great writer, my friend. Just thought I would let you know.
    And If Billy didn’t speak enough English for the two of you, then he and I combined did more than enough, I am sure.

    We’ll do that movie & food stuff sometime soon, I think we both need some chill bit of American life.

  3. These are strange days indeed we are living through.

  4. And may they become less strange for you, I meant to add.

  5. […] I blogged about not too long ago, I once studied martial arts — the combative kind rather than the defensive. […]

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