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Did this great interview over Skype with the sweetest guy in Paris who worked at a physio clinic in Mysore for years, treating yoga injuries. At the end he asked me about the picture on the rail above me. "Is that Ramana Maharshi?" He couldn't quite make it out. I turned around and wondered what he could be looking at. "No! That's Leonard Cohen!" I said, laughing. He said "Well you know Ramana was gravely injured by sitting in meditation too long. Do you think injuries obstruct a yogi's capacity for enlightenment?" "I doubt it," I replied. "That would be pretty bloody ableist!" We laughed and then hung up and I thought about all of Uncle Leonard's injuries, and how often we mistake one person for another, and how it's all connected.

-- Matthew Remski via facebook

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Once

When learning how to dance with a partner my teacher told me
 '"The highest technique is to have no technique. Your movement should be the result of his movement and his the result of yours."
It took me a long time to understand what that meant.

 I've since found out he borrowed that quote!


 "The highest technique is to have no technique. My technique is a result of your technique. My movement is a result of your movement." -- Bruce Lee

(thanks for sharing the video David!)

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Ukemi, The Art of Receiving

By Barrett Bowlin

(originally posted on The Rumpus on May 29th, 2014, and re-posted here with the permission of Barrett Bowlin)

 

In my daydreams, my kindergartener is a samurai.

My daughter is five-years-old and three-and-a-half feet tall, not grown-up like she will be someday, but a child. She differs from her elementary school peers because she’s gone through extensive training and has muscle tone and has seen battle. She’s as fearsome to her enemies as she is to her mother and me just before she needs to be put down for a nap, and in those daydreams, she is wearing blood-tinged armor and is staring down her enemies with a bright daito curved in the air, a pink and purple shoto in her belt for close sword combat.

There is a rage in her heart and barrettes in her hair.

When I remember the laundry I’m folding and am back at attention, however, she is there with me at home, putting on her gi for her karate lessons that afternoon and asking about her missing socks.

We’re late, I tell her. Just grab your sandals, sweetheart, and let’s head out to the car.

On the way to her dojo, I think of her as a feudal retainer in the Kyoto countryside from centuries ago, training others so that they can protect their lord like she protects their lord: with practice and discipline and steel. And as we get close to the entrance to her school, she says, “Um, daddy?” just before I miss the turn. We loop her belt carefully around her waist―just like what I remember from my days in judo―and we follow the other students inside, where her sensei will teach her how to kick and how to block haymakers before we go out for ice cream.

*

My wife and I have plans for the kindergartener. We have the usual hopes of the middle class for their children: rigorous academic programs for her that are funded by our taxes, enriching family time, structured recreational programs, a knowledge of healthy eating habits that will let her maintain low-cost life insurance policies, and so on. For right now, though, we want her to know how to swim and how to deal with potentially abusive fifth-graders.

One or two Sunday mornings each month, we go to the community pool and outfit our children with swimsuits and water shoes that will prevent them from catching athlete’s foot from the tiled deck. While I try my very best to keep my son from drowning as he jumps from the edge into my arms over and over and over again, my wife teaches our daughter how to swim.

 

When we first started dating, my then-girlfriend was a NCAA Division I swimmer. Years before she tells our daughter to “kick, kick, kick,” she plowed through the water in backstrokes, wrecking her shoulders and burning enough calories to justify trips to the Sonic drive-through after practice, where she would pack away two cheeseburgers at a time. Today, my now-vegetarian wife tells our daughter that she loves her and that she needs to keep her face in the water. Meanwhile, the boy and I shiver in the shallow end and huddle together for warmth as sexagenarians lap-swim behind us.

We spend this time at the pool because our children love the water, of course, but, like everything else we do as a family, there’s always the underlying and unmentioned contingency plan we’re all building. Will our children be able to swim when they’re not with us? Will they be able to save their drowning friends? Will saving a particular friend’s life lead to a fulfilling relationship couched by happiness and mutual respect built off of that initial, life-saving moment followed by a make-out session?

Each time we leave the pool, my wife and I are little more relieved. Today, our kindergartener swam ten feet back to the wall. Next time, we’ll try for fifteen. We envision Saturdays in the future when we have to get up early to take her to her swim meets, one where we all wear micro-fleece vests and mom jeans. Barring that, we envision a report back from her when she’s seventeen and when she’s just come through the front door after a camping trip with her friends, and how she’ll tell us all about the incident at the lake where she’s saved that cute boy or girl’s life.

There will be a chance recreational drugs are involved, but we won’t care, we’ll tell her; we’re just glad everyone’s safe.

*

This is the second time my daughter has taken karate lessons. I don’t imagine she’ll encounter a lot of street fights as a kindergartener, but I know the upper-grade bullies are slouching somewhere in the halls of her school, and I want her to avoid them. So she and a bunch of other four-to-six-year-olds study for five weeks at a time with Master Hidy Ochiai, one of upstate New York’s unknown treasures. Founder of the Washin-Ryu school of karate here in the U.S., the sensei trails a cloud of legend and tradition. He’s trained a lot of black belts since coming to America, and I like his school’s philosophy of self-respect over martial artistry. But what I love about the sensei is what pops out of the rumor mill. In his rough English, for example, he talks in vague terms about his training and the temple where he learned his art. His school’s website claims he was sent here by his own sensei in 1962 to extend his branch of karate to the U.S., and there’s some merit to the notion that he’s got a full martial-arts entourage each time he returns to Japan. His father was a kendo master, and Ochiai himself has a belly wound he once received from an opponent’s katana. He has his own IMDb.com page, and there’s a legend he was the guy who taught Bruce Lee his famous nunchaku routine in Enter the Dragon. I don’t quite believe that last bit of trivia, but I want to.

All I know now is that my daughter is laughing but also taking very seriously the stilted words this small Asian man is saying to her. He is telling her all this through an infection-control mask that loops around his ears. The children have been told that Master Ochiai was recently very sick―cancer―but that he’s feeling much better and that it’s time to get into their assigned positions for warm-ups and a light jog around the safety mats.

*

An obstacle all children must suffer through is the passions of their parents. If a parent was once a model or if they were a fan of woodworking, for example, there would be a strong chance that they would pass these personal fervors down to their children so that they, in turn, would learn to love these activities as well, or at least fake it enough for recognition. Our children want so badly to be loved and noticed that they’ll sign up for a lot of what we throw at them. Since there are as few reasons for child pageants to exist as there are Pinewood Derbies or cheerleading camps, then, I think it’s important to remember this when dragging children into passions.

Mine were martial arts. For years, I took judo classes and ranked my way up through the belts, never achieving a black belt, though, which is probably why I’m seeking closure through my daughter. I took karate and fencing in college, neither of which got me laid, and I picked up judo again when I went back to school. I’ve learned submissions and sweeps and throws, and I’m a good enough student to appreciate getting my ass kicked by a training partner.

I took to judo quickly because of my size. I have a linebacker’s body without any of the desire to get into pads and a helmet and run sprints, so it feels natural to use my weight to push against other objects. I think this is why I went into judo, actually: for the chance to use my body as a force without hurting anyone else, for the chance to create and receive violence in a controlled environment. A few years after coming to judo, I realized I had learned not to fear violence anymore because of this desire and ability. I looked forward to being thrown and flipped, and I was thankful to learn about technique in those long seconds after having the wind knocked out of me and while I was pounding for breath. So when I started up the occasional grappling sessions with my kindergartener, it was because I wanted her to know how to defend herself, against her younger brother’s bouts of rage in the future and against anyone else who might wish her harm.

Tonight, we are working on a juji gatame, a crossed armlock, one of the fastest and strongest holds to build in judo and jiu jitsu. If you don’t want someone going anywhere up and away from the mat, you put them in an arm lock, and then you hyperextend their arm if they sass you.

“It’s a good hold,” I tell my daughter. “Feel free to use it on your brother once he gets to kindergarten.” And I hope she will. I’m doing this for him, too, so that he’ll always wonder if his sister or any other woman in his life is going to pin him and make him submit. So I’ll get more entertainment value out of watching my children fight if they both know pressure points and finger locks.

Like I’ve shown her before, the kindergartener lifts my arm up while I’m on my side on the floor, and she wraps her legs across my face, leaning down to the ground while pulling my arm as close to her chest as she can. She has my arm locked in place but not as tight as she needs it, and I pull away from her and escape as I think about the fact that I need to start sautéing dinner.

We try again.

She lifts my arm up once more and goes right back to the floor with it, scooting her bottom up close to my deltoid and pushing her legs across my throat with as much strength as she can. This time, she keeps my arm from getting any leeway, and I can’t leverage out of the lock unless I cheat and push her off. But I do cheat anyway by tickling her with my free hand, and we laugh and roll around on the floor like we’re supposed to, like the parenting journals encourage, and then we practice it again.

When she hits first grade, I tell myself, we’ll start working on those kimura locks and gi chokes.

*

At Hidy Ochiai’s dojo this afternoon, the children are rehearsing one of the sensei’s favorite katas. The stances they hold as they punch, kick, or block in formation are shown first by the master in front of the huge mirrors that line the mats and then by the students, including the volunteer instructors who hold black or brown belts themselves. Another thing I like about this particular school is that a diverse body of older students come to help instruct the Little Pandas: hard-jawed high school graduates who owe something back to their sensei for years of instruction, middle-aged women with black belts and glasses and paunches, and slightly effeminate, aryan man-children whose gi pants run just a little too high-water to be taken seriously. Everyone is there because they want the children to learn from the best, and the best is now demonstrating how to dodge hammer fists.

Near the entrance to the dojo, the families of the students are given folding chairs to sit in just off the mats. Parents stare down intently at their shoes to make certain they don’t touch the rubber pads directly, as if it will bring their children dishonor. I’ve seen some of these other parents in the elementary school’s lobby or around my daughter’s pre-k classes. We’ve bonded over strange smells from the auditorium or from complaints about dietary strategies, and now we meet each others’ eyes when the children laugh after watching their sensei disable one of the volunteer instructors in a demonstration. Each time a brown belt is hijacked to the floor by a quick flip and a loud yell from the master, our kindergarteners screech with delight. They’re getting a taste for violence, and we’re all paying tuition for it.

The mother of one of my daughter’s friends in class turns to me and whispers, “He’s so good with the kids!”

“He is,” I affirm. “And he’s so patient with them.”

 

This is true. Master Ochiai is full of smiles and nods and gentleness for our children, and his school is open and mirrored and has a soundtrack piping out from somewhere of a wooden flute playing softly. The place has an air of Pier 1 serenity to it that’s propped up by the off chance that a rival school of ninjas just might show up to challenge Master Ochiai and his Little Pandas to combat. Parents are invited to watch the instruction of their kindergarteners and first-graders, and there’s even a place for us to hang up our coats near the entrance, which is why none of us in the audience are thinking right now about the reports of another karate instructor from a few years ago.

The sensei of another dojo in an adjacent town, one right across the Susquehanna River, was charged with raping one of his own students, a 16-year-old who would often volunteer to help instruct the smaller kids, and so we’ve been holding our children a little closer when it comes to having other adults instruct them. But not Master Ochiai. He’s there again with my daughter, heavy with the smiling nods and the genuine approval for his students’ hard work, and we would have a hard time doubting the character of a guy whose bio claims he once performed stunts in The Chinese Connection.

*

The joke with fathers is that we all see ourselves at the door the first time, standing right next to our daughters when their date comes to pick them up. We don’t have to say anything, but the date knows that we’re serious: bring her back home in the same physical and emotional state you found her in or better, or we’ll find you and hurt you. We want them to feel as though we might have had sniper training before, or at least that’s what I imagine the fathers of teenaged daughters feel regularly.

“This is called ukemi,” I tell her. “You’ve practiced falling in Master Ochiai’s class before. This is just a little more of it.”

In Japanese martial arts, the uke is the ‘receiver’ of the technique, the one who attempts to attack their sparring partner, the tori. The tori defends against the attack of the uke, who usually winds up on the floor after getting flipped, swept, thrown, punched, or kicked. And so we practice landing safely. Where to slap the carpet when she lands on either side of her body, where to roll if she’s pushed backwards, and why it’s important to always, always tuck her chin.

“It’s like gymnastics,” I say. “You tuck when you do a somersault, right? This is just like that.” And I roll forward and into the path of the living room I’ve cleared for the occasion. Upstairs, her brother is taking an afternoon nap, and we’re downstairs making the floor shake. When it’s her turn, her frame falls forward, hitting the carpet hard, but she slaps it with a giggle so I know she’s not hurt. She is the uke, the receiver of the pain, and she’s learning how to absorb it.

On my end, I realize now that I don’t want to be the enforcer. I don’t want to be the threat of violence against someone she might love someday. Instead, I want my daughter to have the capacity for it if she’s ever threatened. I want her to be the scariest monster in the dark when it’s just her alone with her date, which is why we’re here on the floor again, learning how to land after being pushed off balance.

“I don’t care if she plays sports,” my wife says to me. “She’s going to learn how to swim.”

“And she’s going to learn pressure points,” I reply. We are wondering what our daughter might want to take lessons in after this round of karate ends. A soccer clinic is starting up soon, but I don’t know if she’ll be interested. “Scarf holds, chokes, submission techniques. I want her to learn how to bring bullies down by their thumbs.”

We whisper to each other on graduation day at Hidy Ochiai’s, on an afternoon when we’re both tired but on the same schedule, with cameras at the ready. The soft music of a wooden flute bounces off the polished floors from a speaker with audio cables that need to be readjusted.

“Just so long as she learns how to swim,” she says.

In my daydreams, the kindergartener is all grown now, and she has a man or a woman she loves, and the two of them have gone on dates to the pool―my daughter’s backstroke is amazing; the lifeguards make comments about it―and to the local Sonic for cheeseburgers. In the afternoons, between class sessions, she and her boyfriend or girlfriend will tell each other their histories while their roommates are out on errands for birth control. They’ll gossip about mutual friends and they’ll compare notes about the sports they played and how strange their parents’ behaviors are. My daughter’s love interest at college or culinary school will ask her about the photo I’ve sent with her, the one where she’s receiving her orange belt from Master Ochiai and looking into the space above the camera.

“What’s that from?”

“I took karate when I was little,” she’ll say. And this is where I hope she’ll continue with “And I stayed with it through high school. I’m a shodan black belt.”

And her significant other will say, “Show me,” and they’ll clear a space in the middle of the dorm room’s floor, kicking over bean bags and Calculus books. They will bow to each other and spar playfully there on the third floor of an expensive room-and-board dormitory, where my daughter will land her friend into a scarf choke on the area rug and will feel the tap-tap-tap of a hand, a matte, a signal to let up. And my daughter will smile because she will feel safe and equal to this person in her life. She will know full well how to cut off circulation to carotids and jugulars, but, more importantly, she’ll know when to release.

***

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the life and (movement) times of a lefty....

 

When writing, the side of my left hand will be painted in the metallic lead of a pencil, or smudgy ink from a pen by day’s end. This makes me strangely proud.

I tend to think good stuff is on the left and bad stuff is on the right, even though consciously, explicitly, everything in language and culture is telling me the exact opposite.

My Grandad used to tell me left-handers benefit from their unexpected left hook…maybe I should take up fighting…

If I played the guitar, it would be like Elizabeth Cotten . Born in 1895, she was a completely self-taught guitarist. She was left-handed, but played a right-handed guitar that wasn’t even re-strung to be played lefty. She simply turned it upside-down, which meant she played the bass strings with her fingers and the melody with her thumb.

I have trouble opening/locking locks, organising files “back to front”, tying ties, using rulers, working out wind-up toys, writing cheques out, undoing wine corks anti-clockwise, using knives, veg peelers and scissors that were made for your right hand,

I have momentary problems being greeted with a handshake or a kiss on the cheek, hugging, crossing others path on the pavement, being helped to put on a jacket, receiving change…unless the other person is a lefty too.

When I interlock my fingers, my left thumb always sits proudly ontop, I nearly always put belts on ‘upside down’, I'd cup my left ear to tell you I couldn’t hear what you are saying, I start with my left hand to count, I hold my phone to my left ear and would look through a telescope with my left eye and feel much more comfortable seated to the left of someone. If I played the guitar I'd do so like flick through magazines from back to front, line dance on the wrong foot, prefer to start my vinyasa’s on the left and visualise things the opposite way around (it seems to me).

But, perhaps to make sure I fit in, I favor the right side of the bed, when i clap, my right hand is on-top, I scroll with the mouse, brush my teeth and my hair with my right hand, my right eye does all the winking at strangers and if i have an itch to scratch on my back my right hand will be first to the rescue.

My body is less than total in its devotion to my favored side, but I still think my skeleton would give it away. I like to think someone could discover this about me from the writings in my tissues.

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Up and Down are Relative

Here is an 'Upside-Down' world map and 'The Peters Projection' (an equal area projection of the world) and a 'Red Hair Map of Europe', just because I wish I had Auburn locks. At first glance nothing what-so-ever to do with the world of human movement and my art practice musings that is the main reason for this blog, but consider this....

The earth is round. The challenge of any world map is to represent a round earth on a flat surface. There are literally thousands of map projections. Each has certain strengths and corresponding weaknesses. Choosing among them is an exercise in values clarification: you have to decide what's important to you. That is generally determined by the way you intend to use the map.

The implications of any projection are enormous. Images we see shape our perceptions of the world. It's enriching to see a variety of points-of-view. Like the 'Upside-Down' map, whoever said that North must be "up"? We are literally on a moving ball in space and, as Katy Bowman wrote on her facebook page a while back (it has stuck with me), "UP and DOWN are relative and the maps we've come to memorize have shaped our brain to one particular perspective. This "south is up" map is just a reminder that what we've come to understand as right and wrong often depends on how you've set up the problem."

This was of looking at the world can be used with the small universe that is your own body too. Maps/diets/exercise routines/fitness fads/ancient movement practices/meditations techniques are based on a variety of assumptions, most of which are subliminal and below our threshold of consciousness. We can all benefit from challenging implicit assumptions and deciding for ourselves what 'maps of the world' are valid and useful for us.

The moral of the story? keep researching, try different things, gain different perspectives, challenge what you think to be 'true', include lots of variation and KEEP MOVING.

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I am shy. I also have a big ego. Practically speaking, that means everyone is looking at me, and it makes me uncomfortable. Actually, "big ego" has a negative connotation. I'll say "healthy ego." Which, sadly, for women, still has a negative connotation. We aren't supposed to have an ego. It's unseemly. It's arrogant. It's not ladylike. Serena Williams was called cocky when she said she wanted to be the best in the world. Well, what the hell is she training so relentlessly for, to be the 37th best in the world? (No disrespect to the 37th best in the world.) A poster of Serena in mid–epic scream should be required on every little girl's bedroom wall so they can be reminded daily how beautiful it is to be a badass....

Click HERE to read on and find out how Sports gave Director Gina Prince-Bythewood swagger...

 

(image and quote form Lenny Letters)

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What my missionary mother taught me about movement

By Jennifer Gleeson Blue.

When I first started studying alignment and movement, my mother told me I came by it naturally, by which she meant that she grew up wanting to be a doctor and my interest in the way the body works reflected her own desires. ; ) Unfortunately, she didn't really know how to become a doctor in the 1960s and didn't receive any help when it came time to go to college. She ended up at a teacher's college; unsurprisingly, she became a teacher.

After a long career teaching and doing missions work "on the side" and with all five kids out of the house, she sold her house, packed her bags and moved to Guatemala to pursue the life that brought her the most meaning. She formed a religious organization with several Guatemalans and set about teaching prostitutes how to sew for a living, feeding and clothing the poorest of the poor, teaching English to those who wished to learn and sharing the truths she held dear to her heart. 

Here's my mom in classic missionary mode:

 


But lest she seem one dimensional, I also offer this pic of her swinging at the pinata that was bought for her 65th birthday (and I think that's her badass truck in the background):


My mother was a serious evangelist for most of my whole life and I saw repeatedly how she navigated a really basic problem: when people are hungry, they cannot hear anything you have to say. And what you say is irrelevant because what they really need is to eat.

To some degree, this went for all aspects of the way she approached her missionary work. She had what she considered to be the answer to the highest need (this is what she would preach on), but she saw that there were more fundamental needs that she wanted and felt called to meet first or simultaneously (the need for food, physical safety, education...). 

My mom and I disagreed about a lot when it came to religion and how that intersects with other people. But for the sake of her religious convictions, she could have turned a blind eye to the full scope of a person's needs. She didn't do that. 

She believed in the dignity of each human being and in the importance of meeting them where they were, be it in a need for tortillas, a need for clothing, a need for job skills or the need to believe in something bigger than themselves. 

She was intentional about helping people meet their basic needs first.

Are you wondering what this has to do with movement? 

I'm getting there...   :)

Understanding that there is fluidity (and limitation) within any framework, we can look at Maslow's classic hierarchy and explore our motivations, our drives toward change and growth. And what are the most basic needs that we seek and need to meet? Physiological ones. 

My mother understood this. She wanted to speak to the parts of the brain evolved to construe meaning and follow curiosity, the parts that were interested in the exploration of ideas about God/Spirit; however, she needed to ensure at least some of those basic physiological needs were met first. 

In watching her tend to this principle in her work, I have learned to apply it to myself. I really, truly need to tend to my basic, physiological needs if I want to fully engage in explorations of meaning and self-love and community and personal development. 

If I am not ensuring that my basic, physiological needs are being meet, then I can expect to move more slowly and more superficially in these other areas of my life. 

Have you felt this in your own life?

How when you are hungry (not even literally starving, but just in need of some calories), you lose some of your rationality?

How when you are worried about your physical safety, you are not available for explorations of meaningful work?

How when you don't have enough money to pay the bills, your relationships suffer?

Here's what you might not have fully grasped, however: 
 

Movement is a basic, physiological need.


In most conversations about meeting our basic needs, we forget about movement. If you're reading this, my guess is that, on the whole, almost all of your physiological needs are generally met. But what about movement? Even if we skip the part about aligned movement (which is REALLY important) and exercise (which helps us get aligned!), almost all of us are simply under-moved.

Our bodies ache.

Our lives are busy.

We have too much pain.

We aren't sure where to turn.

We are given poor information about our health.


Our lifestyles don't support more activity.

We are out of the habit. 

We lack basic knowledge about our physiology.

We are scared. 

We are indoctrinated to be sedentary.
 

None of this changes the fact that you need to move. It helps you meet your basic biological needs. And enhance your relationships. And deepen your sense of community. And grow in love. And be available for the big questions in life.
 

Are you meeting your physiological need for movement?

How can you know if you are or are not?


I'm going to leave you with these questions to ponder. As you think of them, also consider what you want for yourself. Importantly:
 

How would meeting your movement needs support other areas of your life?


I hope you'll share with me what comes up for you, what emerges as you think about these questions.

*******

Jennifer Gleeson Blue is a certified Restorative Exercise™ Specialist, having trained extensively with the the Restorative Exercise™ Institute. The wonderful story above originally went out as a newsletter to her community. You can find out more about Jennifer and her varied and brilliant practices in the links below.

www.restoreyourwild.com

www.theresilientbody.com

www.heartbodymethod.com

www.launchyourresilientlife.com

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Once, on a summer trip to Norway, I jumped in to the Arctic sea.
I did it because everyone else was doing it (yup) with what looked like ease...
And, I've been swimming since I was a tiny...one of the only things my parents were adamant me and my brothers stuck with...so I figured I'd be strong enough.
The cold was such a shock to the system I had to be pulled back out, gasping and numb.
When I swim in the ocean now, I step into the water slowly and with great care and although I rarely think about that time in Norway, it always feels as though I'm absentmindedly touching a scar.

-- Rachel

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Jump Rope

By Benjamin Nugent

I never intended to become a jump-roper. I only wanted to box. I wanted to box because boxing is ancient and sanguinary. It was practiced by the Greeks and Romans, and by Hemingway. It’s everything that jumping rope is not. But to become a boxer you have to jump rope.

 

I did not know this when I showed up for my first boxing lesson at a basement gym run by my friend, a writer-turned-trainer. Minutes after I arrived she handed me a black plastic jump rope. It was a sinister object, emasculation itself, coiled like a snake in her hand.

 

She told me I had to jump rope three minutes at a time, with thirty-second breaks, because the rounds of a boxing match run three minutes with thirty-second rests in between. She did not say why jumping rope was something a boxer had to do, but it seemed unboxerlike to ask.

 

The room was full of teenage boys. Some sparred, some punched the heavy bag, some did pull-ups, and some punched pads held by a partner. I quickly learned that jumping rope is one of those activities that becomes nearly impossible when you are self-conscious. I couldn’t get my feet over the rope, could barely get the rope over my head.

 

My friend coached me patiently, but I was hapless. One of the teenage boys stopped what he was doing and watched me flail. He introduced himself, speaking softly, and placed a fatherly hand on my shoulder. “It’s like this,” he said, and pantomimed, showing how instead of swinging around the handles of the rope I should keep my forearms still and rotate my wrists. “You’ll get it,” he said. “Don’t worry.”

 

My friend took pity on me and we moved to the heavy bag. But she would not let me spar until I had mastered the basics. Before I could come back and hit someone and get hit, I needed to learn to jump rope on my own.

 

I consulted my boxing books—I have several—seeking a course of instruction in which jumping rope was avoidable. I learned that jumping rope is a time-honored and essential element of the pugilist’s exercise regimen, going back at least to the middle of the twentieth century. Watching the heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson train for his 1962 fight with Sonny Liston, James Baldwin wrote, “We watched him jump rope, which he must do according to some music in his head, very beautiful and gleaming and far away, like a boy saint helplessly dancing and seen through the steaming windows of a storefront church.” Sugar Ray Robinson developed a distinctive jump-rope technique, the way another fighter might develop a singular jab. A. J. Liebling, watching Robinson work out in 1952, observed that “[m]ost fighters jump rope as children do, but infinitely faster. Robinson just swings a length of rope in his right fist and jumps in time to a fast tune whistled by his trainer. He jumps high in the air, and twists his joined knees at the top of every bound. When he jumps in double time to ‘I’m Just Wild About Harry,’ it’s really something to see.”

 

I went to Modell’s Sporting Goods and bought a brown leather jump rope, nine feet long, boxing standard. It seemed unlikely that I could use it in my apartment without disturbing the downstairs neighbors, so I went to the park and tried to find a place where a man in his thirties could jump rope ineptly without attracting notice. I settled on a grassy field labeled with a graphic of a cavorting child; this was the only field in the park not reserved for soccer. It must have been designed as a place for little kids to run around, but was used by teenagers for touch football, wrestling, and catch.

 

I struggled along for a while before a teenage boy approached. “Can I see that rope?” he said.

 

I gave it to him and he halfway closed his eyes. The whoosh of the rope was metronomic. He seemed not to jump but to levitate slightly above the grass.

 

I came to understand, watching him, that jumping rope is how boxers learn to follow Muhammad Ali’s famous injunction: Float. If you expend the minimal effort required to lift yourself off the ground, you can stay off the ground almost continuously. And if you can do that, you can move smoothly and unpredictably. It is because of the jump rope, I realized, that a good boxer seems to hover like a vengeful ghost.

 

After a minute the boy stopped and gave me the rope back. “You’re doing good,” he said, which was not true.

 

The next day I found a secluded spot in the same park, a concrete path near the handball courts. Once I was alone, something changed: I no longer jumped as high as I had been jumping. I was able to jump steadily for about thirty seconds, empty-headed, like a child or an animal, and for a moment it was as if I was not jumping but doing a kind of nodding with my feet, and then I became proud of myself and reflected on what was happening and tripped.

 

To learn the heaviest, manliest sport, you must learn the lightest, most girlish one. Is that the general way of things? Does every serious endeavor contain a germ of its own antithesis? To paraphrase The Sun Also Rises, it’s pretty to think so.

 

--

 

Benjamin Nugent's fiction appears in Best American Short Stories 2014 and in the forthcoming The Unprofessionals: New Writing from the Paris Review.

short story

On a family trip to Ireland I fell in love with Irish Dance.
On my return home my mum found a local class for me to attend.
I was besotted for years.
It's still my favorite kind of folk dance, especially the tap.
Dancing those rhythms is like laying your heart beat on the floor.