To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Part 3: Post 9: Physical Education

I can’t remember if I mentioned this, but Charlie more or less decided he wants to be my athletics master, too. Technically I don’t need one, because I ran in high school and they said that fulfills my athletics requirement here, too, but apparently I’ve got one anyway. I’m not sure yet if Charlie thinks the other masters are wrong, and I really should do further athletic training here, or if he’s just decided that something physical is a necessary part of the spiritual training we’re doing, and I might as well get credit for moving around as long as I’m doing it anyway? I have to admit, I’m starting to get a little irritated with being told what to do all the time. I’ve heard some of the other masters offer their students more of a choice, or at least they provide something like a syllabus so you know what the process is before you get into it, but Charlie won’t do either. I asked him why, once, and he said “because God has to be a surprise.”
More recently, I got mad and asked him again why he wouldn’t tell me his plans. “What makes you think I’ve got any plans?” he growled back at me.
I could hit him.
No, I couldn’t.
Anyway, he decided that my area of athletics is going to be hiking trail maintenance. There’s a network of trails up through the woodlot behind the main part of campus, and then through the wildlife preserve behind that. The preserve is not really open to the public, so the trails are only used  
by researchers and by people from the school, but Charlie manages all of it. He says he will teach me how next year, and in the meantime I am to get back in shape and also to learn to move properly so I don’t hurt myself. Kit teaches series of workshops entitled “Practical Yoga,” about ergonomically correct motion and body awareness, and I’m probably going to take it a few times, though honestly I’m pretty aware of my body around Kit already. I’ve also, on Charlie’s recommendation, signed up for Karen’s “Personal Safety and Fitness” class.
It’s her introductory martial arts class, though she doesn’t teach much in it that seems like martial arts.
“You can take a martial arts class and learn kicks and punches and blocks,” she said, “and you can feel pretty good about yourself for being safe from bad guys out on the street. Except you won’t be. A couple of blocks and kicks won’t keep you safe in all possible circumstances. They’ll give you slightly better odds, if you can remember to use your techniques when you’re scared, which not everyone can, but a black belt doesn’t make you invincible, and a colored belt certainly doesn’t. What will keep you safe…er is situational awareness, so you can hopefully stay out of trouble to begin with, and physical fitness, so you don’t die of heart disease when you’re thirty-five. So that’s what we’ll work on here.”

I think if you take this class over a few times she lets you go on to other classes where she does teach fighting skills, and even here a lot of the exercises she’s teaching involve the same kind of movements the advanced students use for fighting. Like, there’s a pair of wrist stretches we do during warm-up that are gentler versions of nasty little joint locks. But I’m not really here for fighting skills anyway. I’m not much of a fighter, and I’m a big enough guy that people don’t usually bother me if I don’t bother them first.
Getting Better Balance
 But I like this class. She has us make a circle and bow to each other at the beginning and end of class, because we are all both students and teachers. She says that we learn whenever we push ourselves past the edge of our abilities, so whenever someone falls over during balance exercises she says “congratulations! You just got better balance!”

She plants things for us to notice, to improve our situational awareness. Our first day she tacked a sign to the wall that said “if you ask Karen, in secret, for a cookie, she will give you one.” Except I didn’t notice the sign so I didn’t get a cookie. Someone else told me about it. This week she provided a cooler full of snowballs and arranged for one of the outside students (there are students from outside the school here) to pelt us with them without warning, in the middle of class. Snowballs—and it’s almost June! It was awesome.
It’s a real class. She expects us to do our exercises for homework, and except for the warm-up she spends class time teaching us new movements or reviewing and correcting what we’re doing. We don’t use belts to signal rank (Karen says to approach everything with a beginner’s mind) and we don’t wear uniforms—not even school uniforms. She has us work in ordinary clothes because she wants us to be ready to defend ourselves in ordinary clothes.
I’m not sure what all this has to do with either spiritual development or hiking trail maintenance, but I’m using muscles I didn’t even know I had, and that has to be a good thing, right?

[Next Post: Monday, June 3rd: Philosopher's Stone Soup]

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