Sunday, June 29, 2008

Being a master means many things...


I'm in the middle of this story now, trying to tell it from the
beginning, and no doubt at some point, will look back on this and
laugh because things will have shifted again.

It started years ago, one evening, when I got a phone call from a
friend asking if I wanted to take a sword class with her.

Sure, why not?

My kids were young, and I hadn't really gone out and done something
just for myself since they were born. I'd always thought swords were
"cool." And it sounded "fun."

And besides, it was a rapier and dagger class, not those frou-frou
"foils" that people waved around while wearing white suits and
looking silly.


But right from the first minute of class, from the moment the Fencing
Master introduced himself, I knew there was something about this,
something beyond what I thought I was looking for. Something I
needed at some level I wasn't even aware of.

I had never been particularly interested in sports. Played soccer
when I was ten or eleven. A year of Tae Kwon Do in college. That
was it. And here I was, sweating and miserable, out of breath and
dying- and it was just the warm up. At the end of the warm up, the
master said something along the line of "you should be starting to
feel slightly warm now" and I wanted to kick him in the shins. I
didn't.

Good thing.

Instead, I doubted seriously that I could even finish out the class.

Surprisingly, I did.
And I came back the next week. And the next. And I even looked
forward to it, crunches and push ups and all.

It wasn't the swords. We weren't even using swords. For the first
couple of weeks, we worked only on footwork. Then we used dowels,
called "wasters," as practice swords. Heavy. Unbalanced. Clunky.

Kind of like me, now that I think about it.

So why did I keep coming back? What was I enjoying? Was it fun?

I don't have answers for those questions. At least not short answers.

But I can tell you this. There was something about this person, this
fencing master, that was compelling. Part sense of humor, part
presence, part some undefinable thing.

It was the way he moved.
Controlled.
Smooth.
As if he was completely focused on every move- and as if he gave it
no thought at all.

I could not manage this. Not even close.
My feet had minds of their own. My shoulders wanted to go every-
which-way. When I intended to go forwards, I started out moving
backwards. And vice versa. Don't believe me? Try it. Watch
yourself in a mirror, and see if you can move directly forward, with
your entire body as one thing. No shifting your weight, leaning
backwards, no hint of moving your shoulder first when you want to
move your foot.

He moved like no person I'd ever seen. And he did so, demonstrating
each movement, while talking, telling stories, encouraging our
attempts, and keeping an eye on the whole room to be sure none of us
were accidentally killing each other or ourselves. Without breaking
a sweat.

Very odd.

That was the beginning.

I kept going to classes. Started taking individual lessons. Still
working with rapier and dagger, "real swords."

The more time I spent around him, the more I couldn't help but notice
there was something different about him.
He perceived things in a very different way than I did, than anyone I
knew did. He talked about things that didn't seem possible, or make
sense, but to him, they were clear and simple. He was direct, blunt
and unapologetic. And people were drawn to him like bees to a
flower. You could feel when he entered a room because the energy
changed. After classes, people would stay as long as he did, never
wanting to leave first. Not wanting to miss anything.


I could tell dozens of stories- and perhaps I will- of times when
things worked for him that wouldn't work for anyone else. Parking
meters. Doors. Clocks. Sometimes, even rain stopped. It has become
a running joke between us- "being a master means many things."

It took a long time, but I finally figured it out. I know how he
does it. I know why things- both animate and inanimate- behave
differently around him.

He stops time.

2 comments:

Groovy Mom said...

I don't know if this is what you're talking about or not, but I wish something would come along that captures my imagination so fully that I'm willing to do whatever it takes to become a master at it.

So far, I've found lots of things I enjoy. I dabble. I become efficient at many things. I've cultivated many talents, but I am a master at nothing. It seems to me that it would bring a brand new level of awareness and change the way I did everything else in life.

hilinda said...

Yes, that's a large part of it.
Most people get good at a number of things, but never achieve excellence at anything.
Reaching excellence is a challenge. It requires a level of commitment, of dedication, that most people think they want to have, but they often give up when it gets too difficult. Partly because excellence is not really valued, while competence is seen as "enough." And partly, I think, because they don't have anyone to guide them through the process.
Mastery of something- almost anything- DOES spill over into everything else you do. That's a lot of what I was seeing so early on that made me choose the path I'm on.